“Seek the Lord why he wills to be found, call upon him when he draws near, Let the wicked forsake their ways and the evil ones their thoughts. Let them return to the Lord” Isaiah 55 – returning, the essence of Lent.
This spring, the people of Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin experienced horrific flooding. Livestock died by the scores. Fields lie contaminated and unplantable. Corn reserves are lost. The effects of this disaster has yet to hit our grocery stores, gas pumps, or perhaps even effect those living on the coasts. Caused by record snowfalls, a sudden warming trend, freezing and thawing and being unprepared for the sheer magnitude of the water – it was an epic confluence of events. We saw the power of God in snow and rain and flood, a harbinger of the power of nature to disrupt our lives. But in the area between Grand Island and Kearney, Nebraska each year during Lent, people from all over the nation come to witness the annual migration of the Sandhill Crane. It is a sign of God’s perfect rhythms – like grace, ever present to those willing to receive it from their loving Creator. From time immemorial these regal birds make their way, resting, feeding, and preparing for the journey.
We can learn a great deal from nature. Considering that we have so much information, we are slow to remember that God has made his presence known over and over again in different mediums, the voices in our pulpits, the words inscribed by type in our Bibles, the pens of monk and scribe, the teaching of our Lord, Paul, Peter, and John, the prophets like Isaiah, and yes, in nature whom God declares good.
I found myself wrestling with the problem that the flooding and the migration of the cranes came at the same time. In my parish, St. Stephen’s in Grand Island, Nebraska, we have celebrated “Crane Sunday” for eight years now. The legacy of our Archdeacon, Betsy Bennett, Crane Sunday is a time of wrestling with our responsibility to care for God’s Creation, preserve what we have been entrusted, and, in the words of the Baltimore Grotto Caving Society, “”Take nothing but pictures. Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.” I fear, this odd timing, was a chance for us to get real with each other about our role as a church in setting things right. The time is now to look at being a church committed to Creation Care.
The theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote that we could learn a lot about God from nature, which he called general revelation. This world’s rhythms and laws were established by God in creation. While science tells us how these laws work, it is God who tells us in the Creation account why. Aquinas saw the reality and dignity of being a human person in the fact that the individual is able to come to know the truth and choose the good. While I can imagine there are many differing views on the science of climate change among those who will read this, I think that one thing all of us could agree upon is that whatever power we may have to refrain from hurting this fragile earth, we ought to be doing it. God is still speaking to us about our own responsibility to be a steward of his creation, telling us – return to the Lord.
For too long we have figured that it was “Someone else’s job” to begin making changes. If it does not begin with individual churches and church members, who then will begin the action. Will we suffer more flooding? More lives changed and businesses lost? There is a problem of theological myopia – the initial problem with humankind – what’s in it for me? Creation care asks a different question, “What’s in it for those who will come after me?” It begs us look at different solutions like curbing our consumption processes, rewarding those who minimize their packaging and use of plastics. True, we have taught our children reduce, reuse, recycle, but we have been blind to real amendment of life.
In our super mobile, toss-and-go society, we buy new and rarely repair. We rarely reduce, in fact, we buy multiples. Our landfills are full because disposing of garbage is cheap – or is it? Consider that less than 100 years ago, our trash per capita was a fraction. We had newspaper drives. Things like aluminum foil were washed, reused, and saved. New uses were found for old things. Our culture was built upon repairing things that were broken.
This past summer, I had a little confrontation in a window store. I came in shopping for storm windows to cover my 1921 double hung windows. I did this partly to protect my wavy period glass, but also for another level of insulation. The salesman told me that no one sells storm windows anymore (a lie by the way)– they are too inefficient. He then proceeded to show me all of his special argon filled windows. And I patiently listened to his talk. And then he asked me, so what kind of windows would you like to have installed in your home.
I replied, “I should imagine something with wavy glass, century old hardwood, and with a protective cover.” I pointed out that I had done my research and that no window had an R Value that could economically justify the destruction of the old window. I also pointed out that I could replace my panes, should they break, with glass points and glazing. He looked stonewalled.
I then asked him, “So, if your windows break, how do I fix them.” He said, “Well, you have to replace it.” So then, window after window will end up in a landfill. This is being penny wise and pound foolish in our attempts to reduce our carbon footprint. When did you last see a construction site that re used lumber? Or plumbing supplies? If not for the Habitat for Humanity re-stores dotting America, we would thing that anything you remove from your home is, essentially junk – and not a treasure for another.
Seek the Lord, why he wills to be found, call upon him – he is drawing near. God has given us to the tools to avert our causing part of the disaster of the warming of the planet, but we just keep choosing not to fix old things, choosing to throw away, instead of save and reuse. The difference between innocence and wickedness is that we know different, better ways and we still choose selfishly.
But the good news is that God is still in the business of choosing us. He gives us warnings in things like abrupt changes in our weather. As if to shake us up and say ‘We can expect more”. Scientists tell us that as the average temperature of our planet creeps upward, precipitation will increase because evaporation does. Every act of material conservation we do lessens the water or snow drenching our backyards.
Seek the Lord while he wills to be found – there will be a time when we can’t escape judgement. Like when we have been warned, we used up our trees, warmed our world, and left nothing for our grandchildren.
Lent is a time of being at a crossroads. A choice has to be made. We all share a sin filled world and it is our task to live into our baptisms in such a way as to show Jesus’ light in the midst of the brokenness. Opportunities abound in the midst of the aftermath around us. Let’s be like the cranes – sure and certain signs that God’s patterns are still working. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. -Joel 2:12-13 Now, will we listen?