Earth Day, Moses and Fracking
Earth Day is next week. Earth Day is something relatively new. It's also very old. Earth Day was called out as an event in 1970. But, humans have focused on the Earth as sacred or a sacred trust for millennia. Gaea was the ancient, primordial earth-goddess in Greek mythology, and evidence is that goddesses representing Mother Earth have been worshiped in one guise or another for millennia before that. In fact, Gaea worship, or Earth worship, is one of the oldest manifestations of Paganism. Not that I mean to call Earth Day observers Pagans. I mean there is nothing new in the idea that reverent regard for the Earth is a sacred obligation.
Whether she is called Mother Nature or Mother Earth, the idea that all life sprung from the dust of the earth, that we continue to be nurtured by the earth, that idea is ancient as human consciousness. Recently some politicians have taken the position that the earth is ours to master, or subdue. Church leaders recently have taken a different position, that we are to cooperate with the earth, not master it or have dominion over it. The Bible is pretty plain on the subject.
If as Christians, Ephesians calls us to lovingly care for our slaves, or subordinates over whom we certainly have dominion, how much more are we to care for the Earth over which we also have dominion.
Let's look at dominion versus ownership. While we are given dominion over the earth, the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof. The earth belongs to God, not to us. We are not really even legitimate stewards. The steward has responsibility and dominion until his own death or termination of responsibility by the master. The Bible takes great pains to remind us that our stewardship of the earth is not permanent. Our stewardship is temporary - for a fixed time. This is dramatically shown in the principle of Sabbath Years and Jubilee Years.
Leviticus 25 ordains the Sabbath years every seventh year. After every seven of these, the Jubilee comes every fiftieth year, when all land reverts to its patrimony. Property “rights” can be sold, but at the end of the 49 year period, the land must revert to the original property recipients to whom God gave the land. The land cannot be sold in perpetuity because it is not the property holder’s land to sell. God makes it clear that we are given the crops, the reproducible produce of the land, not the land itself. Leviticus spells out that what we buy or sell is the number of crops, not the land. Therefore, as the number of years - and crops - before the Jubilee is long, the price is higher. As the time is short, the price is lower. Why. Because it belongs to God and will revert to whom he gave it.
As you can see, it isn’t so obvious what our relationship to the earth really is. We are at best tenants permitted to use it and enjoy its production, its crops, for a brief time. It is certainly stupid to not take care of this temporary trust, whether it is ours to subdue, to master or to live in harmony with.
The ten plagues of Egypt that "shook the Jewish People free" is a perfect Earth Day reminder of the potential impact of ecological breakdown. The ten plagues of Egypt were an ecological disaster in the extreme. They can even be regarded as a precursor to what night happen if we flaunt our stewardship. The Ten Plagues of Egypt were:
Dominion of the Earth sounds like mastery. Subduing the earth could sound like support for fracking, or extraction of fluids from the earth by means of fracturing the rock of the earth. But the Bible has a more nuanced view of fracking. Fracking can be positive, but scripture also points out the negative consequences of fracking. There are two clear examples of fracking for fluids in the Bible. In Exodus 14 the newly freed Jewish nation was trekking through the desert of Sin. And they were thirsty. God and Moses got them out of Egypt, but Moses led them to this place of thirst and certain death without that most precious of all commodities available in the Middle East - water. Yes, not oil - water. We are so hooked on the value of Arabian Light Crude we forget that God can make a single cruse of oil or a lampstand of oil last indefinitely. But water is far more precious. It must be searched for and found. And then carefully tended and guarded as the precious, life-sustaining commodity it is.
The people grumbled against Moses and demanded water. Moses prayed to God for help and instruction. Always the best and first resort in time of need. God told Moses to take the rod which accompanied him and Aaron from Egypt and strike the rock. Moses did so and abundant water flowed for the people and cattle. This is a case of prayer leading to instruction to frack, with very positive results for being obedient to God's voice.
But, Numbers 20 tells us that Moses did another fracturing of the rock years later at Kadesh in the Desert of Zin. Again the people were thirsty and had pressing need for water, and they let Moses know what they thought of his stupid leadership that brought them to sure death. The Lord told Moses to ... speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will pour out its water. But Moses was angry with the whining and complaining mob. First Moses yelled at them. " Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?" “We” implied, Aaron and me. This salvation from thirst was to be by the angry and powerful hand and staff of Moses, rather than by the supernatural hand of GOD.
Then, instead of speaking to the rock and allowing God's power to be seen, Moses took the rod and whacked the rock with it. Not once, but twice Moses whacked the rock with his staff, and water gushed out for the people. The people and their animals drank their fill. But Moses was punished. His punishment; God said, Because you did not trust me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.
From a spiritual development perspective, at this late stage of the forty-year journey in the desert, the rock was to be appealed to in prayerful voice. The pilgrims had progressed a long way from the early stage of the journey where violence against Egyptian armies and unyielding rock was more appropriate. For us, as our own pilgrim journey progresses, we are also now expected to act with compassion, charity and love. By this stage we are expected to check our instincts to act violently and impulsively. At all times, we are cautioned to check our impulses, to cautiously ask God, and then follow his direction.
So fracking may have its time and place. Ecclesiastes teaches there is a time to sow and a time to reap, a time to laugh and a time to weep. So too, there may be a time to frack and a time to speak.
Another lesson from this - mastery does not imply mistreatment. Whether we are to subdue the earth or cooperate with it, we are neither to abuse the earth, nor are we to worship the earth.
Attitudes towards the earth have changed over time as humanity has evolved. Human evolution is more than survival of the fittest. I think the Bible has been the teacher and director of humans' continuing evolution from Bronze Age pagans to where we are today. And, as I am sure you will agree, humanity has a long way to go yet. In a sense we’ve come a long way from Gaea worship. In another sense, we haven’t moved an inch. We are conflicted about our role with respect to nature, or the earth.
Speaking of fracking, we Christians still seem to revel in our schisms - our divisiveness and differences. Not just Christianity; this is a universal human problem. All religions claim service or submission to God. But, each religion asserts their way is the only true way. Even within a religion there is invidious divisiveness and conflict. For example, within Islam, Shi'a struggles violently with Sunni and many Shi'a and Sunni disdain the more mystical Sufi. Within Sunni there are Salafist puritans, or reformers. And within reformist Salafism, there are the even more extreme Saudi Wahabi. Not to mention other frackings of Islam, such as Baha'is and Hafiziz, Sikh and Druse, Alawites and Zaydis, Babis and Taibis.
There are about eleven different Christian Churches in our tiny town. We are approaching Earth Day next Sunday, a day for all of us to realize and celebrate our common stewardship of the earth and its resources. Are we going to approach Earth Day as a day of Gaea worship or God worship? Will we, say, look for a way to celebrate our stewardship of the Earth in Christian accord?
It's good that we do an occasional "ecumenical" Stations of the Cross or Easter worship with many of the Churches in town. But even then, not all. Lately, we can't even seem to get an ecumenical Vacation Bible School together for our kids. It seems unusual for all the Christians of Skaneateles to come together as a common Christian Church to worship or fellowship together as a Christian Church. I wonder, where are the all-community Christian programs for our tweens and teens? Is there anything but sports that brings us together as a community?
Some year in the future I'd love to see "No Fracking" signs nailed to every Church door, a healing of the fractures in Christ's Church. Some day. Of course, that's just a dream. But don't we need a dream.
It may be human nature to fracture and fractionate, to break things into pieces rather than look for the harmonious whole. I think a key benefit of Earth Day is to remind us of the interdependency of humans and our environment. God went to a lot of trouble putting this all together and bringing us to this point. It often looks like we are intent on unwinding it.
As we draw to a close, here's a reminder of the charge we've been given, and who the boss is. It's Psalm 8:
When I see the heavens, the work of your fingers,
Earth Day is a celebration of our Lord who created the Earth and set us over it - FOR A WHILE. Why, "a while?" Because here's the deal: For now, we are one step lower than the angels. But we are going somewhere. Jesus invites us to become Sons and Daughters of God with him, to join him. We and our parents and children are in Church preparing for this transformation. I believe that along with penitent, loving hearts, the care we take of the Earth and all creation will be one of the gifts we bring when we show up at the "welcome to the family party."
I tried to show this morning there is a time for sowing and a time for reaping, a time for exploitation and a time for conciliation. Perhaps the era of striking the Earth with a rod for its resources is drawing to a close and it's time to use our skills to pursue other sources of energy and raw materials. The Bible does not prescribe specific behaviors and rules, and in my opinion, neither should religious leaders. I believe the objective of faith, scripture and pastoral leadership is to prepare us, to spiritually nurture us to the point where we can make mature, spiritually sound decisions ourselves.
In the words of a German friend of mine, “...the church (and religion in general) should be a lighthouse, not a fussy pilot, chatting away about every single cliff and shallow. Its job is to teach you how to navigate, how to be a responsible human being, how to be good.”
I don’t have a prescription for how to be more gentle with the earth. But it’s important to remember that we are at best stewards – tenants who don’t even pay rent. There is no Gaea, no pagan Earth goddess. God the Father has given this gift to us, to gently use what it repeatedly produces, it's crops. That is the nature of crops. They and their energy are reproducible.
Once the moral commitment is firmly made, our physicists and engineers will find ways to use the massive power of the moon’s gravity, the sun’s heat, the convection of temperature for energy. Our chemists and engineers will find more ways to fabricate machines from sand, cloth from plants and food from the sea. We will learn how to speak to the rock, speak gently to the earth and listen, not to the seductive voice of Gaea, but listen for the instruction of God.