It's Holy Week 2013. The crabapple in our backyard has burst into luscious magenta bloom. Bee buzz is the very sound of the air. A faint aura of sweetness hovers around the tree. My tulips shout hallelujah along the front walk. Perfect clouds race each other across a perfect blue sky, and vanish east of the mountains without leaving a drop of rain. It's beautiful springtime. And it's dry as dust.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed that Good Friday and Earth Day coincide this year. The day of sacrificial love conjoined with the day of action on behalf of our ailing planet. It's tempting to rephrase William Jennings Bryan's great populist statement about humankind crucified on a cross of gold--the whole earth is being crucified on a cross of greed.
How appropriate, too, that the news is full of retrospectives on the monstrous Gulf oil spill of two years ago which has to date cost BP multi-millions and the people of the Gulf their livelihoods and the creatures of the Gulf their lives. Does anyone remember? Or how about the Fukishima power plants that are still oozing the Lord knows what dreadful radioactive slush? But they've left the front page. So does that mean there's no danger? No cost? No impact on the planet's species, oceans, islands? Are we unable to see anything that lies deeper than the surface of our narcissism?
Last Saturday, I committed a sin. I reacted in anger to a rally at the plaza in our town where a thin blonde woman dressed in red, white and blue whipped up the Tea Party crowd by proclaiming that "The Environmentalists" had stolen the American agenda over the past forty years "while the rest of us were raising our children." As if environmentalists don't raise their children, but simply abort them or abandon them to be raised by wolves.
I hollered back at her from my car that it was her crowd that had stolen America's agenda--the climate change denying politicians, the short-run focused oil and energy corporations, the bought and paid for media. I felt such rage--it lasted for hours and perhaps still lurks behind these words, though I did turn it over to God and try to quiet my heart by imagining that I could become a Republican, infiltrate, transform from within. I mean, I believe in free enterprise, small business, the values of Abraham Lincoln. If Arlo Guthrie can do it, I can, too.
The thing is, the public view of the environment wasn't like this forty years ago. Who proposed and signed the bill that created the Environmental Protection Agency? Richard Nixon, for heaven's sake! And when he announced his plan for the EPA, the joint session of Congress stood up as one person to applaud him. Can you imagine anything remotely like that today? Is there one Republican today who would come out and admit that climate change is a reality, let alone sign on to legislation that would do something about it? Republicans Pete McCloskey of California and Mark Hatfield of Oregon both championed environmental laws in their day and were praised for it. Pete's now a Democrat, of course.
But the final word isn't politics. The final word is the Word. And what does God say about his creation? "The earth is mine and all that live therein." "Consider the birds of the air. Consider the lilies of the fields." Will there come a time when there are no birds outside of aviaries, no lilies growing wild? I know romantics have asked these questions for years. The Pre-Raphaelites, John Muir and the early Sierra Club, the back-to-the-landers of the 70's, Greenpeace, and others. But how is it that Christian people cannot seem to see that the creation they ignore, misuse in the pursuit of wealth, pretend is infinite in its ability to heal, belongs to the God they worship, not to them? That anything created by God is itself holy and therefore not available to be abused, raped, used up, polluted?
The earth is the Lord's. The earth includes glaciers, polar bears, vegetable fields, cattle in stockyards eating reprocessed manure, garbage dumps laden with computer waste where hungry children separate heavy metals and plastics, streams polluted with PCBs, pristine mountain lakes where the frogs are mysteriously dying, children with autism, tide pools that have lost their sea anemones. This earth was born from God's omniscient mind and omnipotent hand. It is not a thing, not the unintelligble and meaningless Other, not a huge uncomplaining slave existing only to serve the extravagant wants of the post-industrial world. The world is itself. A Thou.
Why would we, how can we dare to harm it? Our nest, our neighborhood. Who wants to live in an ugly filthy house that breeds disease among the inhabitants and is about to fall down on their heads? Who wants to intentionally smash a beautiful priceless work of art? What kind of horror of a human being would strip and mangle a living thing because it was easier than caring for it? I am amazed that so few seem to really consider these questions about the place they are utterly dependent upon, that so few actively work to take care of the earth that is our home.
I love the Easter morning story in the Gospel of John, because Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene as a gardener. In his parables, he describes himself as a shepherd, a gate, the path to truth, the truth itself. But when Mary sees him, she sees a gardener. Someone up early in the morning caring for the plants and the creatures. It's a lovely image. The resurrected Christ tending his creation that longs for the appearing of God's new kingdom. Maybe while we are all awaitng that kingdom we can help hasten it by readying the garden that will be the place of its manifestation, the beautiful earth that is the Lord's.