The summer solstice arrives and it is very green here in Dubuque. The seasons change; we cannot control the rotation of the earth or its revolution around the sun. Climate changes; we have been agents of that change, often thereby controlling other people’s lives.
I love the long days. My friends in Namibia and Australia have the darkest days of the year now.
I love the green where I live, but why is it so green here and not elsewhere and at whose expense is my enjoyment and prosperity? Am I simply “more blessed” because I live where land is fertile and water is plenty, at least most years? Oh, we live with danger here in the Upper Midwestern United States, too. We had a drought last year. And a week ago Wednesday evening we went to our “safe place” twice at the sound of the tornado warning sirens. But my question this beautiful green, long summer day is, “What do I think and believe about who changes the seasons and about our responsibility in regard to the control of change we do have?” And how does that compel me to act?
Mother Nature: I don’t know who this “Mother Nature” is today. Historically and pre-historically images of mother and goddess focused on the life-giving aspects of nature. Today the concept is more elusive and “she” is more often blamed than respected.
“Luck”: Likewise I don’t know who “Luck” is, but an awful lot of people believe in it. For some, it is their only guide and compass. But a chancy guide at best. Belief in Luck may help some people give reason to the unfathomable, but it fails to lead to responsible action of planning and prevention in regard to the needs of the earth.
A God of Personal Protection: “The Lord protected me.” And not my neighbor? Immediate feelings of relief are understandable and gratitude toward one’s God wonderful, but concern for the welfare of the neighbor is also at the heart Christianity and the other major world religions as well. When one rests one’s belief on a God who “protects (only) me,” survivor guilt can set in. What do we do with the reality that one is taken and another spared? And when one’s family or house was not protected? Does one blame or turn away from God? And what about the need for the protection of the earth itself and the role we play in that? Religious leaders and faith communities are called to help their members dig deeper into the profound meanings of having a Protector God.
Studies of religions, anthropology and history reveal many stories of the origin of the earth and humankind. These stories shape one’s own and a whole people’s view of how one’s cares for, cherishes and honors the earth, or dominates, disregards and abuses it. For those of us whose creation story rests in Genesis, the interpretation of Scripture is crucial, (and not just how long a “day” was).
Creation for Domination: Some Christians interpret Scripture believing that human beings were created as special among all the creatures of the earth, with a calling to dominate the earth. This interpretation can lead to a presumptive attitude that it is, “our God-given right” to do what serves human beings, even to use up the earth because heaven awaits as a “better place.”
Creation for Stewardship: The interpretation I and the church body to which I belong holds, places the emphases on being stewards of the earth. We are called to care for creation, preserving the earth for all its creatures, vegetation, land and waters, not just for human beings, including not only for this generation but for all generations to come.
American Exceptionalism: This, too, is a belief system, a powerful one, that contends the United States is the “greatest nation on earth,” and also “exceptional,” with special rights and privileges. This thinking, explicitly or implicitly, states that this country can expect others to conserve resources while at the same time using way more than our share.
Regional exceptionalism: “I have a right to my good life where I live, but you do not.” This results in a blame-the-victim scenario. After a large flood, sympathy pours out for a few days, followed shortly by, “They should change where they live: not so close to a river.” When tornados struck Oklahoma City twice in two weeks, dramatic pictures or heroic rescue awed America the first time, but the second time one could hear words of chastisement. Fill in the blanks for those who live on a sea-shore or in a forested area.
The truth is everyone lives in some danger of some natural disaster at some time. Climate change has raised the danger for us all, and for some, who have few choices, the increase in danger is much greater. Blaming another or expecting the other to change so I won’t have to, or won’t have to feel bad, avoids collective responsibility. We are not in complete control but we are agents of change. It is important for each of us to examine our goals and our gods to see how they shape us and compel or impede our mutual accountability and care for our common earth.
The seasons turn for us all.