“We are not our own”
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Mark 1:14-15; Romans 14:6-7
Another Voice: Te Urutahi Waikerepuru of Aoeteroa, New Zealand Indigenous Faith Leader
By Rev. Don Ludwig, March 1, 2020
Welcome to Lent. Kairos time. Time to make a choice.
Sometimes I wish that I as Catholic. There is something special about the traditions that they hold onto as markers of the liturgical calendar year. Ash Wednesday, 40 days before Easter, came and went and most progressives, including me, hardly paid attention. I remember going to church with High traditions in the past, and attending an Ash Wednesday service and receiving ashes in the form of a cross on my forehead. How meaningful that was to me — a reminder that “for dust you are, and to dust you will return”.
Lent, this season of 40 days before Easter, reminds us that we are not our own. We are a part of CREAtion. Many of you know, the root word for Creation is “CREA” — it comes from the Latin which means to create. Some have said, perhaps this is the most important word in our language or any language. Our world (earth, planets, animals, trees, civilization), together with all the qualities of heart and mind (passion, creativity, intellectual pursuit), depend on the CREation of Scientist as well as artist. In this season of Lent, we will focus on CREA in its many forms and relationships. CREA – CREATION reminds us that we are not our own.
In today’s bible lessons, the Greek word Mark uses for time is carefully chosen. It is ‘kairos’. It means not clock time but a critical time of special significance, a time of danger or when an opportunity has to be grasped, a time to be awake and alert and prepared to act, a sense of urgency. That sense of urgency is also evident in the Old Testament lesson where Moses presents the people of Israel with a challenge. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse: therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may continue to live in this land.”
We are in Kairos time when it comes to our planet. We have a choice to make. We need both scientists and artists to combat the forces that would have us only look to ourselves and our interest. We need both rational-minded people and creative-minded people — both science and faith if we are going to move forward as a people.
When I was in college, I had never really felt connected with the language of God, because I couldn’t imagine some all-powerful bearded guy sitting up in the sky controlling my life. But then I went on a three-day survival trip which was a part of my outdoor recreation final exam & included two days completely by myself in the wilderness. I had to survive with just one layer of clothing and a small soup can of resources. I remember being alone in the forest – I was afraid – it was very uncomfortable at first. Yet, I felt held by something larger than me, something that felt like God.
As I looked around, it seemed that every leaf and rock and even each fallen pine tree was where it should be. I felt, like our anthem today named, For the Beauty of the Earth. I discovered connection with the divine in the direct relationship between my own heart and the rhythm of the natural world around me.
When I feel spiritually alive in this way, this gift from the earth makes me want to connect and give back. I experience this each time I go on a mission trip or bike trip and am forced to get out of my comforts and see the world anew — I experience this when my family went to Costa Rica recently, I experienced this when I walk my dog Snowflake in the park and see the world through her eyes, — or practice mindfulness in the isolation in my office.
Science and Rationality
Those experiences have given a profound awareness that we are not our own. In terms of the reality facing this planet that we inhabit, all the statistics of how things are changing in the environment are pretty sobering—overwhelming, actually. After centuries of pollution, clear-cutting, and damming of rivers, and decades of mountaintop removal, mining, fracking, and pesticide use, NOT TO MENTION our increasing consumption — we have inherited a suffering earth.
To top it off, just this past week, J. Herbert Nelson – Director of the Office of Public Witness PCUSA, sent a letter describing that on January 10th, when most of us weren’t looking, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposed changes to roll back the National Environmental Protection Act. This will adversely affect vulnerable communities. The changes would roll back protections for the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the lands where we live Nelson states in the letter, “It is our job to protect all of God’s creation. These changes will make it much more challenging for us to do just that but we Presbyterians must stand as one.” We are in Kairos time. We need to act now. The proposed rule is currently open for public comment until March 10th, 2020. I will send out this letter to all of you this week with a link so that you can make your voice heard.
All too often I notice in myself that feeling of being inundated and that can quickly be followed by a sense of fear and dread. I don’t quite know what to do. I’m not sure where to begin. Last August I was able to attend a conference on Social Justice in New York City. The president of the conference, Nancy Mezey, gave one of the most powerful presentations on Illuminating the SOCIAL dimensions of Climate Change. She declared that climate change is no longer a question about the what—that life as we know it has changed and is going to continue to change—you have to be living under a rock if you do not know the effects of global warming and climate change — she said that the question before us is the how. How will we face this going forward?
Our first task in facing the future—as daunting and as overwhelming as it can be—is to look at how we might face that future in ways that don’t just replicate the problems that we already have and repeat the patterns that have gotten us to this place already. Some of that comes with the recognition of our own privilege and how we have perhaps benefited from some of those very systems that have brought so much destruction. And it is important to also note the parallels with how our treatment of the earth reflects our treatment of our fellow humans as well, be they Native Americans or people of color. As we see ourselves as part of something larger, we are more able to see our path to challenging the many divisions in our world—all the isms that disconnect us from each other. What touches any one part of the system affects the system as a whole. This is why Climate change and other task forces at Southminster are so critical in our time.
The Other Way to Listen
But science and our rationale plans will not get us out of the mess we are in. CREA also reminds us that we are all artists. Each one of us. We need creative approaches. I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s words: “We are all at once both a composition and a composer. We have the ability not only to compose the future of our own lives but to help compose the future of everyone around us and the communities in which we live.” Ultimately, we can’t make real change in how we “help” the earth until we recognize that the earth is us and we are the earth. We must learn what a balanced ecosystem looks like. And perhaps to do that, WE MUST LEARN TO LISTEN!
In the book, The Other Way to Listen, author Byrd Baylor tells the story of an old man teaching a child to use more than just her physical senses. It begins with these words: “I used to know an old man who could walk by any cornfield and hear the corn singing. ‘Teach me,’ I’d say when we walked on by.”
The little girl can’t understand what the old man means when he says that he can hear that a rock and a lizard like each other. He explains to her, “Sometimes EVERYTHING BEING RIGHT makes a kind of sound. Like just now. It wasn’t much more than a good feeling that I heard from that old rock.” He also tells the child about a friend of his who once “heard a whole sky full of stars when she was seven, and later on, when she was eighty-three, she heard a cactus blooming in the dark.” The child tries and tries to listen to the world around her and understand the old man’s meaning, but she becomes frustrated when she only hears “wind & quail & coyote & doves – just things that anyone could hear.”
Finally, as she walks through the hills one morning near her home, she decides to sing to the hills since they wouldn’t sing to her. “Hello hills, hello hills, hello hills, hello.” Then she says, “All I know is, suddenly I wasn’t the only one singing. The hills were singing too. I stopped. I didn’t move for maybe an hour. I never listened so hard in my life… Of course, their kind of singing isn’t loud… It isn’t made with words… All I can say is, it came straight up from those dark shiny lava rocks humming. It moved around like wind. It seemed to be the oldest sound in the world.”
To listen like this, we have to put ourselves in the state of mind of being PRESENT to help us connect with the world around us. I know we all have so many things on our minds all the time, 1. but even just pausing to notice the way that raindrops create ripples in a puddle on the sidewalk, 2. or trying to imagine all of the people and places that someone you’re having a conversation with has known, can be ways to connect with this interdependent web. For me, this practice of noticing, and of presence, has led me to be more and more aware of the impact that my consumption and habits have on the earth, and to strive to truly only take what I need — trying to repair old items rather than buying them new, trying not to waste food — my wife Kathy, believe it or not, still uses an iPhone 3. For me, that is taking things a bit too far. OR IS IT? For years, she has said, it works well for what she needs, why she needs another.
For you, as it has me, this may lead you to reading and listening to indigenous voices, or vowing to find something that reflects the divine in every suburban block you walk, or just becoming more aware of your own connection to the earth and seeing where that leads you to. //
So my invitation to you is, rather than saving the world, listen to the land. Listen to yourself — the part of you that IS the earth. Listen with humility, knowing that you are just one small part of something so much bigger, and let the earth change you. Practice the other way to listen, listen with your heart and your spirit — with the other part of CREA.
We live in times that ask much of us, friends. This is not a time to be timid. This is kairos time. A time to make a choice. Let us not forget, as CREA scientists and artists, we are all in this dance together. We are not our own.
So be it. Amen.
Live with your hearts open, good people, listening to what the earth might be telling you. Walk gently, love fiercely, and in all your days give thanks. Amen.