What is Mine to Do?
Continuing with our Lenten series on healing in this fifth week of Lent, Rev. Joanne discusses healing our planet earth. She reminds us that there has been for many centuries a common Christian doctrine that humanity has a God given right to dominion over the earth, as laid out in Genesis:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. Genesis 1:26
Historically, from this verse theologians, religious leaders and rulers of nations have taken this to mean that God gave Earth to humans to use as we see fit. When the human population was small, the thought that we could ever cause widespread irreparable damage rarely, if ever, occurred to people. Estimates for the population of the entire planet at the time Jesus lived range from 200 million to 300 million people. Today there are 7.9 billion people with the population increasing by approximately 80 million people per year. That is more than 219,000 people per day. The greatest impact we are having as a species is due to our rapidly increasing numbers. Most theologians no longer hold the view that we can use the planet in any way we see fit.
As a master teacher, Jesus spoke Truth in ways that resonate across the centuries. That is what Truth is. He understood the nature of humanity and our relation to nature and to each other. Rev. Joanne shares another passage from the Gospel of Matthew:
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Matthew 8:18-27
Unlike the healing stories we have studied in the the previous four weeks, this Bible passage does not address a “healing” miracle of Jesus. There is no curing of leprosy, restoring of sight, or raising from the dead. But as Rev. Joanne explains, when we interpret this story metaphysically, or any biblical story, it asks us to consider what are the ideas that stand under the words that speak to us today. How can we take the message here and find words for ourselves today?
In this story, a Teacher of the Law says that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes. As Rev. Joanne explains, this is no small commitment. She asks us, “Do you have that type of commitment?” Wanting to explain to the man the size of the commitment he is making, Jesus says that while foxes have dens and birds have nests, the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head. Rev. Joanne tells us that this statement may represent our looking into the world for places that give us comfort, security and protection. This passage tells us that we will not find it “out there.”
And what did Jesus mean when he said, “let the dead bury their own dead?” Rev. Joanne tells us that this may represent the ideas about the past we carry with us and cling to, because we believe that it is those stories that make us who we are. Asking the dead to bury their own dead is a metaphor for releasing the ideas and stories about ourselves that no longer serve us – stories of regret, victimhood, and blame. She tells us that the Christ Spirit invites us let those stories “bury themselves” and to follow me.
The final segment of this bible story tells us about Jesus sleeping in the hold of a fishing boat during a storm, and not being awakened by the turbulence. When the disciples awaken him he asks them, “What are you afraid of?” Then by the power of his word he calms the storm. Rev. Joanne tells us that this passage asks us to find a place of peace (in our consciousness) and the storms of our lives will be stilled.
If we are to facilitate the healing of our planet, one idea that we must release is that we have been given divine dominion – as in rule, control, and domination - over the planet. Rev. Joanne explains that the Hebrew word from which we receive the translation for dominion is radah. It is often a challenge when making translations from one modern language to another to provide the true essence of meaning. When we attempt to make translations across the centuries, the challenge is even greater. Also, in most languages any given word has many different meanings that are dependent on the context in which they are used. If a translation is being made where multiple meanings are possible, it may be either a conscious or subconscious choice to use a translation that favors an idea or view we already hold. According to the Ancient Hebrew Research Center, radah can be translated to mean “that man is to rule over the animals as his subjects, not as a dictator, but a benevolent leader. Man is also to walk among and have a relationship with his subjects so that they can provide for man and that man can "learn" from them.”1 Rev. Joanne tells us that Unity does not teach the idea of dominion as commonly understood from Genesis, but that Divine Mind is within all of creation.
Rev. Joanne says that with the start of the Industrial Revolution and the increase of capitalism and consumerism that we have looked at the resources of the earth as something we can use and exploit for our purposes. While it is true that industrialization and a profit motive do contribute to that mindset and accelerate the use of resources, industrialization and capitalism did not create that worldview. People the world over in all cultures, Christian and non-Christian, have exploited their environments for their own purposes. For the vast majority of human existence, day to day survival was a major issue. People have understood the ideas of crop rotation, not overfishing and the dangers of deforestation for a long time, but faced with a choice between starvation or cutting down a tree, the decision was easy. It is natural for people to develop philosophies that support their actions rather than their actions following a philosophy.
In the twenty first century, there are still places in the world where daily survival is an issue. But in much of the world now - North America, Europe, and the increasingly prosperous countries in Asia, Africa and South America - we do have more options beyond mere survival mode. We have the luxury of scientific advances in agriculture, medicine and sanitation that allow for longer, healthier lives. Rev. Joanne cites a number of sobering statistics about the increased use of natural resources. One example is that in the United States between 1960 and 2008 consumption of natural resources increased six fold while population increased only slightly more than double in that time. It is unlikely that many of us will be willing to give up our modern way of life to reduce consumption. In developing nations, the likelihood that people will slow down their consumption is even lower. In these areas survival vs. conservation is still a daily decision.
While true, the question is what do we do about this situation? Unity Worldwide Ministries created an Earthcare Ministry approximately ten years ago. Their Statement of Purpose:
The Unity movement is guided by a vision of sacredness and the inter-connectedness of all, the interdependence of all life. It is a journey of spiritual relationships with Earth and its creatures. It is through awakened consciousness that we see everything as the presence of God.2
It would be difficult to disagree with this mission statement. Addressing all of the challenges surrounding healing our planet is a very large task that may seem intractable. But taking our cue from the story in Matthew we examined this week, we can all make a start today, right from where we are by “letting our dead bury their own dead.” We can begin by releasing any ideas of regret, victimhood and blame and deciding for ourselves what steps we each can take individually to begin living into the idea of radah as living in a healthy relationship with nature and not as a lord over nature.
Now Go and Be the Light.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. Romans 1:20
The words of Jesus we highlight this week from the healing story are, “follow me and let the dead bury their own dead.” This may seem like harsh words, and yet we hear Jesus’s urgency. Now is the time to move, no matter how difficult, we cannot wait. What is past is past. There is brokenness and there are casualties in its wake. But we can move forward. What is one way you can move forward this week to contribute to the healing of our earth home?
2Unity Worldwide Ministries Earthcare: https://www.unityworldwideministries.org/earthcare