Sustain Chapel

It seems that holidays come thick and fast in the spring, especially when Earth Day follows directly on the heels of Easter.  Given the hard time mother earth has been having with too many Republicans waging war on her, it’s worth taking a few minutes to consider finity.  Our planet is not infinite.  The resources with which it came loaded out of the showroom are all of limited supply.  Somehow we’ve managed to convince ourselves, at least in this hemisphere, that there’s always more where that came from.  Unless, of course, you’re referring to the degrees that contribute to global warming.  Of those, the GOP narrative goes, there really aren’t any.  No credible scientist doubts climate change, although those who are already old and who are benefitting from it will claim otherwise.  Any story depends, of course, on the teller.

Over the holiday weekend I was out of town.  Driving home a few hours I was distraught at just how much litter lines our otherwise scenic highway system.  Stuff falls off of trucks and, despite advertising against it, out of car windows.  The few trash bags piled for pickup by the earth-conscious can’t keep up with the cast-offs of a throwaway culture.  We desperately need to take the narrative back from those with the loudest, and most incoherent mouths.  We all rely on this same planet and the power we cede to the wealthy is due to our complicity in their claims of ownership.  They’ve proven themselves, should I dare to be biblical, unfaithful stewards.

The earth, it is true, is a place of immense beauty.   It’s not aesthetics alone, however, that motivate us.  We simply cannot survive without this biosphere in which animals, plants, microorganisms, and minerals coexist.  We evolved in it.  The mythical narrative of special creation unwittingly played into the hands of those who will claim it all for themselves if the rest of us don’t deny that they had indeed “earned” the right to be considered the most prestigious.  Our societal sin of rewarding bad behavior has led us to this crisis.   We pollute far beyond our needs.  We “speculate,” hoping that “development” will lead to “growth.”  The wealthiest build rockets to escape our planet, but there’s nowhere to go.  Might it not be better to invest in this gift that we already have?  To learn the lessons of nature?  To become students in the classroom of Mrs. Earth?  There have been many holidays lately, but this may indeed may be the most important of them all.

A Parable

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a holiday known as Earth Day. Now, Earth Day was a poor holiday. She didn’t prostitute herself to commercialism, she wasn’t attached to any religion, and people didn’t even get the day off work. Still, she was an optimistic holiday. One of her prophets was a woman named Rachel Carson. A science writer who could see that our rampant greed and fatal shortsightedness were leading to environmental catastrophe, Carson wrote books of warning. People began to take heed. An ecology movement was born. New concepts like “sustainability” and “stewardship” and “moderation” became part of national consciousness. Other nations joined in. Earth Day was born. She was a happy child.

But there were demons in this land. Huddled in filthy holes in the ground, these demons cared only for owning as much of the earth as they could. They wanted to heat the planet so much that Earth Day couldn’t survive. They would drown her in the waters of her melted ice caps—her very tears. These demons couldn’t do it alone. They lived in the dark and since they cared for no one else, they had to find a Devil among them. A Devil who could quote Scripture. Such a Devil, they reasoned, would make the followers of the dead God join them. The followers of the dead God were like sheep without a shepherd. And the demons had all the money in the world. So they decided to kill Earth Day. Nobody would stop them.

With Earth Day gone, the weather went wild. Winds constantly blew. Hurricanes of new and intense savagery emerged year after year. The demons laughed, for when the people’s things were destroyed they would have to buy replacements. The demons would become even richer. The followers of the dead God clapped their hands in glee. But the demons and their Devil didn’t know that Earth Day couldn’t die. They did as they pleased, taking what they wanted from the what they supposed was her corpse. Then the weather, Earth Day’s dearest friend, began to do what it would in its rage. The demons awaited summer when they might feel hot again, but summer only comes after Earth Day. Oblivious, they lived their lives of plunder and greed until the followers of the dead God were all gone and they had no one left from whom to steal. Rejoicing in their acquisition of all the earth, they failed to notice the storm. Earth Day was returning and all their wealth could not save them.

Earth vs. the GOP

They used to call her “Mother Earth.” Now she’s simply a commodity to be liquidated into cash at the country club where rich white men play. That’s why I’m spending Earth Day on my third protest march of the year. Of all the things the Republican Party has done to show its true colors the clearest has been to participate in the destruction of the world we all share. There’s only one word that answers the question “why,” and it used to be considered one of the seven deadly sins. Greed. These acts of planetary terrorism are carried out by men who believe lining their own pockets is the highest possible good. Even moderate Republicans have locked in their goose step to keep in the good graces of madmen who want to cram as much lucre into their coffers as they can before they die. When the planet’s a smoldering ruin their grandchildren will surely thank them.

Son, behold thy mother.

Don’t knock tree-hugging unless you’ve tried it. Trees tend to be much better company than Republicans anyway. Never have I had the feeling that I’ve had to celebrate Earth Day with such a blend of angst and anger. That one that your teacher always warned you about—the one who ruins it for everyone—now has control of the country. Immediately he insisted we start dumping coal waste into our streams and rivers. Burn more coal so he can play a few more holes with what passes for a clean conscience in a filthy soul. I march because I must. We can’t sit silently and let the darkness fall. If you can see through the coal dust you’ll understand that the planet weeps. It’s her that we celebrate today.

Matricide used to be considered a heinous crime. Now it’s just good business. If we were an honest species we’d admit it’s been bad business from the beginning. We’d never elect a businessman with inherently conflicting interests to the White House. The goods of the few outweighs the good of the many. The commodification of nature is the worst kind of unnatural selection. Here science and common sense agree—in order to survive we must preserve our planet. I confess that I’m unapologetic in this regard. So, although I’ll be spending this Earth Day in the artificial environment of Manhattan, marching in the cause of science, and if push comes to shove I’ll be the one hugging a tree.

Mother Earth

Son, behold thy mother.

Behold thy mother.

As a planet-locked earthling, I’m thinking about Earth today. Such a quotidian planet. While I’ve been to others in my mind, this is the only one on which I’ve ever been or am likely to be. And yet there are no laws protecting it from my own species. Corporations are treated as individuals, legally. Only they’re much, much bigger and have lots more money. They can drill and dig and spew and slew all they wish. I can mutter a feeble, “Hey!” but they legally have to pay no attention. It’s like that guy with a loud device on a quiet bus. Or someone smoking too close to the door. They invade the little space you occupy and there’s nothing you can do about it. We look to our politicians to learn how to be better bullies. Our corporations look past us to the bottom line. When the planet dies, that will indeed be the bottom line.

We tend to make fun of those who believe there’s other life out there. Whether sci-fi nerds or gullible believers in conspiracy theories, we tell them all intelligent life is located right here. In your bank account. Your net worth. The contribution you make to the GNP. It all comes down to numbers. As if there weren’t something magical about walking in the woods. As if all of this is just dress rehearsal for the play of getting rich. The beasts we had to fear used to lurk in the jungle. Now they brazenly drive through our cities in expensive cars with tinted windows. They build towers to defy the spacemen to come down. “Don’t worry,” they seem to say, “our money is great enough that we can come to you.” And yet, we are still left with only one planet. And it seems to be getting quite stuffy down here.

I worry about our throwaway culture, because there’s nowhere else to go. You can’t prevent me from fracking the very ground beneath your feet. Or like Martin Luther, prevent me from flying over your head. You don’t like my loud music? You don’t like my noxious fumes? I can blow my vape into the shared, public airspace if I want. Ownership is a funny concept. Our species has been on this planet for a geologic sneeze and yet we plant our flags and bray our allegiances. It takes treaties and accords for us to act like civilized people. We won’t call it “global warming” because that offends those big people called corporations. If it feels a little warm in here to you, turn on the air conditioner. If we use up this planet, we can always buy another one.

Worth Saving

Once we speed past Easter/Passover, holidays start to fall by the wayside as we try to get back to the serious business of either finishing up school for the year or, in a more pedestrian view, just plain business. Holidays interrupt the flow. Break the continuity. Stop and start. That’s why those of us on the working end of the spectrum appreciate them so much. Nevertheless, what should be the most important sacred day of them all is just another work day. Today is Earth Day. Recognized by no major religion (what religion wants to shake the status quo of business that brings in lucre?), Earth Day is a chance to pause and think about the undermining that we dole out to our long-suffering planet. We are nearing the point, many scientists warn, where climate change will become unreversible. We’ve had years, indeed, decades of lead time, during which the wealthiest nation in the world has been digging the grave the fastest. Even the popular media has been sending its subtle hints: anybody wonder why flood stories predominate in this climate? Think about it.

Reading books about environmental degradation is a depressing exercise. The size of the task is overwhelming and we’ve lost the ability even to reach our own government officials who are nevertheless impotent before big business. We can try to plant a tree, pick up trash, or recycle our plastics, but the destruction is taking place on an industrial scale. Ironically, as we go about making our own planet uninhabitable, scientists are beginning to believe that there is life on other planets. Some of us have suspected that all along. And if they come here that must mean we have something worth preserving. My guess is that it is nothing big business can provide. We can be so much more than consumers.

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Businesses are like all of the selfish motives we’ve had to suppress congealed into an anonymous venture in which none have the ultimate responsibility. Driving at night with the headlights off. I have worked for companies that have wanted to be seen as environmentally friendly. None of them, however, have taken the step of making Earth Day a recognized holiday. A moment of silence. A requiem for a dying planet. The draw of profit is just too strong. The old adage is that if a business is not growing it’s not healthy. Instead of ensuring that the only planet we can reach will be able to sustain us for a few more years, we want to go out with our pockets full. And where, I wonder, to we plan to spend all that money?

Chick Trick

Yesterday was our local town’s Earth Day clean-up day. I have always thought we lived in a clean town, and generally it’s true. When you look closer, however, the litter becomes all too obvious. Now, I know the purpose of this exercise is to get rid of pollution—my family filled five trash bags in the morning’s jaunt. As I reached for a bit of paper, I instantly recognized that I had found a half-torn page of a Jack T. Chick tract. Jack Chick is an old school Fundamentalist who draws some of the scariest cartoon evangelistic tracts imaginable. He is personally responsible for many of my childhood nightmares and phobias. Even as an adult, I still find myself believing, at some level, the tripe he serves up at the food of salvation. Children, you see, are extremely vulnerable to suggestion. Chick unremittingly claims we all deserve to burn in Hell, literally, and that only those who buy his version of Christianity can avoid it. He scares me. Instead of putting the torn comic strip in the trash, it went into my pocket. I needed to exegete it.

As a child I purchased every single Chick tract available from our local Christian bookstore. I was terrified of Hell and absolutely wanted to make sure I had double-covered every single base. A Chick tract can be read in a matter of minutes, but they can stay with you for decades. The one I found yesterday was one I’d never read. It consists of part of pages 5 and 6 of a black-on-black violence story involving a seriously looking tough guy called Ice Man. As the story opens, in media res, a photograph of “the preacher’s boy” is on a cell phone. Ice Man is seriously pissed off, and on page 6, in a drive-by shooting with an assault rifle, blows the young man away. His death, as in most Chick tracts, is violent, but bloodless. Chick spares most of the blood for the cross, where, sometimes it trickles eerily down over the repentant sinner.

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If I might be forgiven for some textual criticism, in which I might be guilty of a modicum of eisegesis, let me guess that the preacher’s boy had been suggesting that Ice Man change his sinful ways in the previous lacuna. In a fit of Icy rage, the PK becomes a sacrificial victim. Most likely, by the end of the pamphlet, Ice Man will have come to realize the evil of his ways and will end up on his knees. Depending on Chick’s mood that day, he may even end up dead. One thing is certain, the story will attempt to scare a youngster to a life of righteousness. The area where we were gathering trash is on the relative “wrong side of the tracks” for my little town. Some real violence does occur here, but it is mostly out of sight. Having grown up with Chick tracts guiding my every thought, I wonder if somebody got the message before it was too late. I see this torn page as a small sign of hope.

Honor Thy Mother

Earth Day should be an international holiday. Perhaps the most disturbing attribute of some varieties of Evangelicalism is their tendency to read the “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” of Genesis 1 to be a mandate not tempered by a literal reading of Genesis 4. As I noticed when tweeting the text yesterday, Genesis 4.11 has God say to Cain, literally, “And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand.” Her mouth? What is this if not a biblical affirmation of Gaia? The earth, according to Genesis 2, is literally the mother of Adam. Yahweh is the male element, the fingers molding the dirt (those who have ears, let them hear), while the womb of this bizarre conception is the earth itself. She has a mouth to receive the blood of Abel. The planet beneath our feet, according to the Bible, has not only a mouth, but also hands (Psalm 89, for those who doubt). It is our duty to grasp these hands and save our mother from ourselves.

In the spirit of the day, I decided to fix that pesky leak in the bathroom sink yesterday. We rent, of course, and our landlord—the nicest I’ve ever known—can be a bit slow when it comes to non-emergencies. I fixed the kitchen sink a year or two back, so I stuck my head under the cast-iron monster, baptized by the drips that continued to appear above my head from pipes far older than Methuselah, to see what I could do. After trips to every hardware store in the area, watching bemused DIY experts scratch their heads at photos on my phone of the Byzantine arrangement under my sink, I finally had to admit defeat and reassemble the old faucets again. The drips that fall are Gaia’s tears.

When I was in college I learned of Pascal’s wager. A philosopher who liked to hedge his bets, Pascal deduced that if God exists then our eternal fate relies on our obeying him (always him). If God does not exist, we have lost nothing by behaving ourselves, Pascal concluded. While many Evangelicals find that reasoning attractive, they do not apply it to their mother planet. If God is not coming back any day now, we’d better take care of the planet that sustains us. If God does show up, against all odds, what have we lost? Watching the plants burst back into life after a gray and dank winter, who can help but wonder at it all? Literal or not, the earth is so maternal that we should all pay her the reverence she is owed. Even if it means being a literalist for a day.

NASA's picture of our mother.