Genesis 1:1-31; Psalm 8:1-9; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
Anyone living in the Pacific Northwest should read Timothy Egan’s The Good Rain. It is a thrilling yarn by a modern day wilderness adventurer who follows the route of a trailblazer from 1853. Woven through many historic threads, is Egan’s reverence for Creation in the Pacific Northwest. Let me read a small passage, chosen at random.
Near Vasiliki Tower (a mountain in the North Cascades), wildflowers grow from rock slits high above timberline. A hummingbird buzzes overhead, and I see goat prints on a patch of midsummer snow. As it has for many citizens of the Information Age, computer time has cut my attention span and reduced my patience. To come up here, I must slow to glacier time.
In a class at Seattle U, several of us from St. Andrew read a half dozen books, at least four of which also captured an enchantment with Nature in these parts.
I was reminded of the creation story Pat read that begins Genesis. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And it was good. Farther down, at verse 26, God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing.... God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion….
Early Westbound settlers in our country, with the thought of Manifest Destiny, believed that God encouraged their conquering of the land and the native peoples. Some hoped that the indigenous tribes might be converted to Christianity. To be sure, some people just came to make their fortune, with little thought of God, or who or what might be displaced.
But this doesn’t seem to be God’s approach to dominion.
First, God creates us in God’s image, then immediately says let them have dominion. Let them rule as God would rule, let them care for and love this creation as God loves it. Peterson translates “have dominion” as, “Be responsible for.” Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann says that Genesis establishes the relationship between God and Creation, and between God and humans. He continues that “the world is positively valued by God. (And “God saw it was good.” God created them in God’s image.) This planet and all living things must be valued by the creatures to whom they have been entrusted.
Another, very Presbyterian, word is to be good stewards. Steward: a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs.
Joseph served as a steward to Potiphar, the Pharaoh’s captain (Gen. 39). He was put in charge of everything that was Potiphar’s, who had complete trust in Joseph. This is how God is entrusting us with Creation. We are to look after everything for God, caring as God would care.
Historically, we have not been the best stewards. We dammed rivers, ruining salmon spawning in much of the lower Pacific Northwest. We hear more about Alaskan salmon for a reason. They produce 97% of the commercial salmon in our country. And yet Oregon and Washington had rivers that teemed with tons of massive salmon a century or two ago.
In our reading The Final Forest: Big Trees, Forks and the Pacific Northwest, we could see that being good stewards wasn’t always easy to define, and that well-intentioned people could take very different positions. William Dietrich showed us many sides of the conflict over the great woodlands, particularly the old-growth forests.
We meet National Forest rangers who in the early days were mainly supervising the cutting and selling of the trees, just what their job was understood to be. We are drawn in by the stories of daredevil loggers and enterprising small mill owners who chose to live near their beloved woods, but who also depend upon the cutting of the splendid trees for their livelihoods and way of life. We see biologists and environmentalists and how their understanding, arguments and methods evolve for the protection of the forests, but at the peril of our hardworking Forks residents. If you are old enough, you will remember the spotted owl, and the rancor of the day:
save a logger, kill a spotted owl
We learned that some of the timber companies have replanted responsibly and harvest after the saplings have matured and grown tall. But we also read about old growth forests with Great Granddaddy trees that have been untouched and are 500 and more years old. The habit that old growth forests support is intricate probably even with species we haven’t identified. The spotted owl was just a representative chosen because it could be lured and counted. The smallish birds need a broad area to fly and hunt under their old growth canopies. One big old tree wouldn’t keep the owls alive, and neither would it nurture all the small mammals and insects and plants that are specific to these ancient forests. You realize that if we cut all the old growth forest, it is gone, along with all its denizens. We can not just replant and have a 500 year old growth habitat again. Likely, scores of plants and animals are gone from that area forever.
So, what do we do? A start is educating ourselves. I didn’t know much of the history of our area beyond Lewis and Clark. I highly recommend these books.
The Good Rain, Timothy Egan
The Final Forest: Big Trees, Forks, and the Pacific Northwest, William Dietrich.
Breaking Ground: the Lower Elwha Klallum Tribe and the Unearthing of the Tse-whit-zen Village, Lynda V. Mapes.
In the Blast Zone: Catastrophe and Renewal on Mount St. Helens.
Armed with knowledge, we can begin with small things. Choose your interests, help in a way that speaks to you. I read this week about Giovanni DeGarimore who sells fish in Morro Bay, CA. Buying the catch of the day at the docks from a fisherman who had a 70 pound octopus in his hold, Giovanni purchased it so that he could release it back into Morro Bay. He said that during a recent diving expedition, he played a game of hide and seek with a playful cephalopod, and felt connected. The last straw for him was witnessing a live octopus being butchered at a sushi restaurant. He paid several hundred dollars to redeem this creature, but shrugged. He can’t help every creature, but he could help this one.
Speaking to me these days is reducing plastics usage. Plastic straws, plastic bags, plastic one-use utensils. We can do better. Your cause will be what calls to you.
Maybe most importantly, for your sake as well as for the greater good, begin with appreciating and enjoying this spectacular world of ours. Look around—it is magnificent! We have seasons! I marvel that our Creator provided us with such variation. Some comes with predictable regularity—the rising of the sun, the phases of the moon, the tides. Some changes are completely unexpected—snow in April, daffodils in both January and May, trees that snow, rainbows, or banks of poppies by a construction site.
A friend from Oklahoma moved to Spokane a year or two after we did, and she posted a question on Facebook, asking how people dealt with the darkness as the first winter closed in. I was surprised that out of the many recommendations for light boxes and herbal supplements and all, I was the only one who said to walk outside, every day, no matter what the weather was. At least 15 minutes, 30 minutes if she could manage the time.
Getting outside makes anything better. Even when our son was a baby, he was not a fussy baby, but when he was hard to calm down, walking outside worked like flipping a switch. Babies are smart. They are connected. They know a good thing when they feel it.
Get out, enjoy creation, and then do your part to care for, nurture and protect it!
St. Andrew Sermons