Thursday, May 19, 2011

Of Creation, Silent Spring and Jesus as the Gate

Of Creation, Silent Spring and Jesus as the Gate!

Genesis 1: 1: 1 - 2:3; Ps. 23; John 10:1 - 10
            “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”  Genesis 1:31

            Today we are observing “Environmental Stewardship Sunday.”  I’m excited about this and grateful to Mary Whittemore who has been the driving force our observance today, and to Mary and Roy Talbot, who in the past couple of years have been diligent and thoughtful about how to make St. Paul’s Church more environmentally aware in our thinking and more environmentally conscious in our practices.  As a result, we are using less paper and plastic, recycling more and controlling our use of electricity. 
            This past year, at the urging of our “Green Team,” a subcommittee of our Stewardship Committee, Florida Power and Light came and performed an energy audit so that we could find ways to reduce our use of electricity.  Construction projects performed, or being considered by St. Paul’s, now include a review of the products to be used with an eye, where possible, toward using those that are most environmentally responsible.  In short, St. Paul’s is increasingly getting on-board with being “Green” and striving to lower our carbon footprint and our negative impact in the environment.  It is a matter of stewardship:  stewardship of our community, stewardship of our nation; stewardship of our planet. 
            Many years ago, the Episcopal Church Center in New York made the statement that “Stewardship is the main work of the church.” [1]  This was intended to indicate that Stewardship is not merely about money given for a church’s annual campaign; stewardship is about our care of all that God has entrusted to us: yes, our money, but also our bodies, our families, our communities, our church, our nation and this planet, earth our fragile island home.[2]
            Concern and care for the environment is a central theological concern and mandate.  God made it and saw that it was good, and then God gave dominion over it all to humankind.[3]  Perhaps it sounds quaint to you, or perhaps presumptuous, to assert that humankind has this kind of power and dominion over the Earth and its living things.  But it’s not quaint…It’s not presumptuous.
            Of all the living things on Earth, humanity alone has the capacity to artificially alter, even destroy, the planet and especially the eco-system, and to do it in short order. We also have power to repair much of the damage done and to restore some of it.  The demands of our faith require us to stop doing the former and to start doing the latter.  
            On any list of the pioneers of what has become the modern environmental movement, one must certainly place Rachel Carson, who would have been 104 at the end of this month,  at or very close to the top.  Her landmark book Silent Spring,[4] credited with launching the modern environmental movement, caused what the New York Times described as a “noisy summer” in 1962.[5]  In Silent Spring, Carson argued that the broad and indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides, many of them synthetic creations of the laboratory that nature had never had to adapt to before, was not only polluting all of the earth’s eco-systems, but that this pollution was killing birds, fish and other animals.  It was also harming and killing human beings, whose bodies are, as Carson rightly observed in Silent Spring, “permeable,”[6] and thus vulnerable to these chemical toxins and their effects and especially as these were seeping into our earth, our water supply and our air.  Carson biographer, Linda Lear observed “Silent Spring proved our bodies are not boundaries. Chemical corruption of the globe affects us from conception until death.”[7] 
            In her introductory essay to the 40th anniversary edition, Linda Lear, wrote about the impact of the Silent Spring in that summer of 1962.  She noted, “In the few months between the New Yorker’s serialization of Silent Spring in June and its publication in book form that September, Rachel Carson’s alarm touched off a national debate on the use of chemical pesticides, the responsibility of science, and the limits of technological progress.   When Carson died of breast cancer barely eighteen months later, in the spring of 1964, at the age of 56, she had set in motion a course of events that would result in a ban on the domestic production of DDT and the creation of a grass-roots movement demanding protection of the environment through state and federal regulation. Carson’s writing initiated a transformation in the relationship between humans and the natural world and stirred an awakening of public environmental consciousness.” [8]  
            Needless to say, major chemical companies, producers of pesticides, did not appreciate Ms. Carson’s work.  Lear described what happened: “In 1962...the multimillion-dollar industrial chemical industry was not about to allow a former government editor, a female scientist without a Ph.D. or an institutional affiliation, known only for her lyrical books on the sea, to undermine public confidence in its products or to question its integrity.”[9]  
            Lear continues, “It was clear to the industry that Carson was a hysterical woman whose alarming view of the future could be ignored or, if necessary, suppressed.   She was a ‘bird and bunny lover,’ a woman who kept cats and was therefore clearly suspect.  She was a romantic ‘spinster’ who was simply overwrought about genetics.  In short, Carson was a woman out of control.   She had overstepped the bounds of her gender and her science.  But just in case her claims did gain an audience, the industry spent a quarter of a million dollars to discredit her research and malign her character.”   “In the end, “ Lear notes, “the worst they could say was that she had told only one side of the story and had based her arguments in unverifiable case studies.”[10] 
            Lear also notes, the effort by the chemical companies to discredit Carson backfired because it made Americans more aware of Carson’s work.  Silent Spring caught the attention of President John Kennedy with the result that federal and state investigations were launched into the validity of her claims.  As Lear notes, “Communities that had been subjected to aerial spraying of pesticides against their wishes began to organize on a grass-roots level against the continuation of toxic pollution. Legislation was readied at all government levels to defend against a new kind of invisible fallout [remember it was 1962 when the Cold War was in full swing and the greatest concern heretofore had been nuclear fallout].  The scientists who had claimed a ‘holy grail’ of knowledge were forced to admit vast ignorance.”[11]
            In the final paragraph of chapter one of Silent Spring, Carson’s own words remain hauntingly appropriate and prophetic for us today.  She writes, “There is still very limited awareness of the threat.  This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits.  It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at any cost is seldom challenged.  When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth.  We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts.  It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate.  The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts.  In the words of Jean Rostand, ‘The obligation to endure gives us the right to know.’”[12]
            Carson’s words in 1962 remain prescient today as we continue to address the problems of toxic pollution and global warning even as too many in industry spend billions of dollars attempting to feed us “little tranquilizing pills of half truth,”[13] or, even worse misinformation and bold-faced lies in the face of research, facts and evidence that is clear, compelling, overwhelming and alarming! 
            It is striking that our Bible opens with the Creation account of Genesis in which God creates a new aspect of creation on each of the first six days, sees what has been created and affirms that “it is good.”[14]  We don’t need to be naïve about this account, asserting that it was literally in six days 4,000 plus years ago that all of this occurred.  That would be nonsense and flies in the face of reason and evidence to the contrary.   No, the Creation account tells theological truths in a poetic way.  
            The poet theologian looked around the world, saw order and beauty and understood that behind this there must be an “Orderer” and a Divine Artist who made the whole creation beautiful and who also gave his human creatures the capacity to see and comprehend this beauty; as well as the power to reason and to be co-creators in the world with God.   That’s theological truth told poetically; so I uphold the truths of Genesis, even if I am unwilling to argue for the “facticity” of the book as history. 
            On the sixth day, we are told God created humankind in his image, male and female, created he them, and gave them dominion, stewardship of all that is.[15] And the poet theologian tells us, God saw all that he had made, and “indeed, it was very good.”[16]  It is our conviction as people of faith that the creation is inherently and of its nature good and beautiful and that it has been given into our keeping. 
            But we should note, immediately after chapter one of Genesis, immediately after the Creation account, when everything had been created and recognized as “good,” as “very good,” come chapters 2 and 3, what has been labeled  the “Fall” and with it “original sin” - the example of humanity’s distorted use of its God-freedom; disobedience, self-assertion and selfishness.  And from chapters 2 and 3 until this very day, the relationship of sinful humanity to God has been strained as God attempts to call us back himself, call us back into his divine love; call us back into Eden.   It is an enormously challenging task, and especially in our post-modern age.
            There are a lot of voices with a lot at stake who have tremendous power and influence in our society and in our world and also tremendous self-interest that is often not congruent or consonant with the common-interest of all people.  These voices too frequently attempt to seduce us in this country and in the world into a continuing pattern of environmentally unstable and unsustainable practices that are neither good for us nor for our planet.  They are like the thieves in today’s Gospel reading who only come in to steal, kill and destroy.   Why would anyone listen to these voices; especially when another voice calls us to a higher and better way?
            “I am the gate,” Jesus says... “I am the gate for the sheep... Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.....”[17]
            At its very core, the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is about the calling all people to a life of sacrificial love and service to one another and to all human kind.  It is about love of God, and love of God’s creation.  It is about love of neighbor with a love that is to be as strong as love for one’s self.  In this view, putting self-interest above neighbor’s interest is inimical to the Gospel and Christ’s Summary of the Law.[18]  These demand and require that we work together, comprehending the essential interdependence we share; that is, we all need one another and we all need common goals and understandings, of which the preservation and cleanliness of our planet and its ecosystems is of paramount importance.
            Rachel Carson was a brilliant woman with extraordinary courage and morals.  Her courage and morals launched a movement.    Six years after her death the first Earth Day was observed; Congress passed the Environmental Policy Acts which established the Environmental Protection Agency.  The domestic production of DDT was banned.[19]
            One woman, one voice, created a movement for good...It always requires a single conscience to call forth the consciences of others….
            Multi-national corporations provide us all with so much that makes our lives and quality of living easier and good.  I know we are all thankful for this and should be.  And many multi-national companies and others are making an earnest effort to be “green” – to be environmentally responsible.  Nonetheless, there are still many multi-national corporations and others that act in ways that are harmful to us and to our environment.  It is urgent that we be what Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell speech speaking about the potential abuses of the military-industrial complex, called us to be - an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry.”[20]   It is also important that we consider carefully and critically the question about “needs and wants” and the cost to the earth of supplying our every want, while those who need throughout the world suffer and the planet is increasingly degraded in supplying us our wants.
            It’s a really difficult challenge to discern what voices we should listen to in our world; so many shout out and compete not only for our attention, but for our allegiance...Some try to lead us in healthy and good directions; some try to mislead us; to get us to stray as wandering sheep.  What voices do you listen to?  
            The voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Gate,  is the one that calls to all of us.  If we listen to his voice attentively; if we attach ourselves firmly to him, to his love of God and God’s creation, attach ourselves to his love of all humankind; if we attach ourselves to his voice and his Spirit living in us, then he will guide us in such a way that we can discern which of the other voices might be worthy of our attention:  voices like that of Rachel Carson in Silent Spring which tell truth in the face of power.  Jesus’ voice and his promise are sure, “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture....”[21] We are called to respond to that voice and through it to discover life; the sweet, green, unpolluted, pasture of real like lived in Christ’s name in such a way that God will be able one day to look out and see that verdant pasture and see us and God our Creator and Sustainer will be able to say on that day, “You know, it is still good….It is very good!”

[1]    From an essay “Stewardship is the Main Work of the Church” by The Rev. C.W. Taylor adapted and affirmed by The General Convention of the Episcopal Church meeting in Detroit in 1988 (Resolution A-163).  See
[2]   See Book of Common Prayer, Eucharistic Prayer C p. 370
[3]   See Genesis 1:26 - 31
[4]   Carson, Rachel Silent Spring  (Boston & New York:  A Mariner Book published by Houghton Miflin, 2002)
[5]   Quoted in Linda Lear’s  “Introduction” to Silent Spring 
[6]    Lear  p. xvi
[7]    Lear p. xvi
[8]    Lear p. v
[9]    Lear  p. xvii
[10]  Lear p. xvii
[11]  Lear p. xvii - xviii
[12]  Carson, p. 13
[13]  Carson, p. 13
[14]   Genesis 1: 1 – 31
[15]   Genesis 1:26 ff.
[16]   Genesis 1:31
[17]    John 10:9
[18]    See  Mark 12:28 - 31
[19]    Lear xviii
[20]    Eisenhower, Dwight David  “Farewell Address” delivered January 17, 1961 – See
[21]    John 10:9

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