"Naturemade Living"


Naturemade Living Job 38:1-11 and Mark 4:35-41 Paying attention forms one of the critical and confusing traits of preaching. Here is an account of what happened when I paid attention. At first glance these two readings do not seem to have much in common other than bluster: God’s speech and the storm. Job appears more confident than the disciples in the midst of crisis. God berates Job but Jesus begins to do the same but then functions as a calming presence. I selected these readings to create a point of reflection upon human relationships with nature. In the conversation and at times strong debate between nature and civilization that has taken place for most of the modern period, the relationship is clear: humans are superior to nature. Modernity has taught us to conceive of human supremacy and the necessary subjugation of nature. Those of us who take the cries of the earth seriously evident in global warming, climate change, and the demands for vital resources such as food and water cannot accept this proposition. We believe that we need to live more in harmony with nature and to advance what some are calling an ecological civilization. I set out to expand our thinking on how biblical texts like these help us to pursue the cause of justice for the earth and at the same time achieve a more equitable form of human living. With the title, Naturemade Living, I am playing with several concepts to show how humans should not just live in harmony with nature but that we can derive God’s will in nature as the basis for an equitable and just social order. This broad mix of ideas draws upon natural theology, the transcendentalism of Emmerson and others, liberationist thought, ecological theology, and other ideas I have learned but not readily named in my thinking. The hyper-individuality of modernity has convinced us that personal decisions will be sufficient to make changes to sustain the earth. So many of us have choose to buy organic food, drive electric cars, install solar panels on our houses, refit our houses with low flow plumbing, or compost and recycle. While all these steps are critical, thinking that living in harmony with nature requires only a few adjustments in our personal behaviours misses the fact that the health of the earth requires us to also amend our human relationships. I cannot help but think that the practices around the earth are deeply related to how humans treat each other. That sins of human waste, mistreatment of the earth have correlates in sins of the various isms that have marked human community. The fate of all humanity is tied up with the fate of the earth. An ecological civilization must be an all-encompassing and cooperative human venture that avoids the sins of exclusion, hierarchies, preferences based upon artificial identities, and the economic systems that promote inequities. These would have been the points I would have stressed on the topic. Then along came word of Pope Francis’ encyclical and it seemed that he covered most of what I wanted to say in that document. Rather than speak at length further on these ideas, I invite you to read the 184-page document. A few weeks ago, I paid attention to Bill McKibben describe the aggressive actions of oil companies to extract as all the oil in the earth. I also listened to Vandana Shiva’s moving account of what it means to eat actual food produced by natural processes rather than genetic modifications. Herman Daly’s ecological economics that pushes away from growth as an unchallenged economic virtue and Wes Jackson’s ecological agriculture also caught my attention. To hear these speakers integrate their work with theology caused me to refocus texts like these. These readings in similar yet different ways offer us a challenge to connect with the earth and to order our living in response to nature. As Henry David Thoreau discovered when he set out to read nature as having more to say than the Bible, nature is wild, unpredictable, at times dangerous and evil. His discovery taught him the necessity for an ethic that connected earth with humans but also humans with each other. This ethic draws upon the values and insights of nature that can enhance and challenge human living. Any one who paid attention this week could not avoid the scene in a church in Charleston, SC. We all may observe different things at the scene but today I want to focus the scene on precisely what I set out to do in this time. We can learn from nature how to order our human community to promote justice. Human community failed in spectacular and painful ways. Some of us feel this pain more deeply than others. The scene of death in a church connects us in more ways than we may care to acknowledge. For us worshipping in a United Methodist Church our Methodist connection points to a shared history as well as a history of shame. The origins of the African Methodist Episcopal Church go to heart of the scripturally justified segregation and theologically affirmed racism from which Methodism continues to be recovery. Despite the numerous attempts in our social organization that would enable us to occupy comfortable positions from which to talk about the events of this week, other human interactions in our past or present draw us into the scene in that church. For some of us “African” makes that connection. Perhaps for others “Methodist” or “Church” performs that work. Most certainly human being should involve all of us in that scene. The scene in that church demonstrates for us in stark ways how human beings have perpetrated injustices upon one another that find no support in nature. That scene exemplifies how the same broken human relationships play out in distorted relationships with the earth. These days we process most of our information about the world and community through newsfeeds. My newsfeed this week framed the events around white supremacy. No doubt a potent term to talk about whether with admiration or in denunciation. I raise the term here to point to its unnaturalness. The reading from Job affirms to us that the idea of human supremacy is a lie. When Job cries out for a response from God to his sufferings little did he expect God to look past him and point to nature. You may find Job relatable as someone who suffers but as the one who thinks his suffering the center of God’s concern, then Job becomes hard to take. He makes a big show about wanting God to prove his innocence to sever once and for all the link that suggests his sufferings result from a moral fault. Job might be satisfied with this equation for other persons but for the wealthy, socially influential, and spiritually righteous Job such afflictions are intolerable. Only a divine intervention would settle his case. So God intervenes but talks to Job like Carl Sagan introducing the earth as “a pale blue dot.” As Sagan emphasized all human striving and imagined self-importance rest simply on a single speck. God similarly points Job to his unimportance in the broader scheme of nature. Through bluster God challenges Job about his knowledge of creation, his inability to control nature and his to affect changes in existence. The relentless questions press against Job’s sense of superiority that his case merits special divine attention. God uses nature to remind Job of the futility and unacceptability of ideas of supremacy. The idea of human supremacy cannot stand in the face of creation; a creation held together by intersecting and interlocked relationships. This creation built upon mutual dependence has never once named any portion of it supreme. Ideas of human supremacy are not only unjust they are unnatural. Equally ideas of racial supremacy are unnatural built upon the myths of race and perpetrated by accidents of history and oppressive actions. Human arrogance has led us to believe that God made humans the center of creation. This misapplied theology has resulted in the scriptural justification for several forms of discrimination of other human beings as well as the ravaging of the earth. When God puts a beat down on Job and sends him to consider nature, we should hear God’s no to the expressions of supremacy. A loud no to the expressions of racialized violence that we have experienced in this country in overt and subtle ways. If human supremacy is a lie then so too is the idea of race and its correlate, whiteness. Racial theories have constructed for us an artificial world that aims to upend nature to create a world that conforms to human image. Miracle stories delight our fancy that we can have the kind of world we want because God can suspend the laws of nature on our behalf. The story of Jesus calming the storm opens our imagination to the type of world where there are no more storms or if they arise, Jesus will still them. This enticing vision invites us to an unreal world but since we are also convinced that most of what we experience is natural the seduction is easy. Ideas of race are as unnatural as a world without the tempests. We identify with the disciples amazement with Jesus’ power to control nature because this power fascinates us. With such a power we can fix this world, that is change nature, suspend the laws of nature. And we have done so. We create an artificial world that separates humans from each other into tribes believing that the basis upon which we do so is natural. We solidify these categories with philosophical, biological, and theological data convincing ourselves that the categories are natural and that they are real. In the process, we invest these artificial constructs with meaning and power that at times prove deadly. This pristine world with a place for everything and everything in its place frequently falls apart in experiences of violence, hate, strife, poverty, desperation, discrimination, and death. Do we really want Jesus to stop that storm? To live with nature requires living with unpredictability. As people of faith we live in the midst of uncertainty and should be wary of the inducements that offer us certainties. Jesus’ question to the disciples “Why are you afraid, have you still no faith” comes to us not as the indictment of faith or no faith. Rather this question asks us the nature of faith. For the disciples this would be whether their faith rested in the certainty of having ready to hand someone who will illuminate all the challenges they would face. For us does our faith consist in the God who creates nature to suit our need? Nature that supports ideas of supremacy, hierarchies, exclusions and the god would promptly iron out the kinks. Nature that ensures that it snows when it should and the temperature rises and falls based upon our artificial overlays and Jesus who can deem the natural unnatural. Rather intervening in nature our faith should be in God who upturns human constructs of injustice and presses to live in harmony with one another and world.

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