Saturday, December 18, 2010

Following the First Profession (no, it's not what you think)

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26 (NIV)

I recently watched a video in which many people in places of leadership in many Christian organizations spoke out against what they called a great evil.  In this short three minute and eight second video "Radical Environmentalism" is credited as being the greatest spiritual battle we face today.  I sat in shock surprise and revulsion as I watched presidents and pastors and directors from organizations I normally respect.  These leaders, one from a denomination of which I am a member, spewed derogatory and judgemental names for people who's greatest crime is trying to take care of this earth that God has given us.  These associations, whose publications I read regularly and whose radio shows I listen to, used names like:
"tree hugger"
"radical environmental agenda"
"own morbid, pessimistic fears"
"exaggeration, myths and outright lies"
"so-called global warming science"

They accused environmentalists of promoting humanism, and then went on to contradict their own statement by saying that environmentalists are "consigning the poorest people around the world to grinding poverty, to disease, to premature death."  Yet it is the humanist movement that works to raise the level of human condition.  Not only are these so-called Christians sitting in condemnation of some stereotypical environmental group, but they're contradicting themselves while they do it.

But my visceral reaction to this video didn't start when I read the article this morning.  This is something that I have spent the last several years studying and trying to understand.  How can so many Christians seem to have a complete and utter lack of compassion, and more personally what does God want me to do with my life. 

I have spent much time in my life wandering, looking for direction.  While my sister seemed to know exactly what she wanted to do from early high school, straight through he PhD, I took the eight year plan flitting through four majors before finally eking out a BS.  And even then I hadn't found my direction in life.  It was more a matter of wanting something to show for all the years I'd spent in college.  I often say I have the best liberal arts education you can receive from a technical school because that's just how convoluted my journey in life has been.  So I continue searching, and what better way to find the will of God than by reading the word he has given us. 

I'm holding it open right now, to the very beginning, day 6, the one where we're first mentioned.  Man, and the charge God first gave to us.  God said of man to "...let him rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  I've gone back to the very begging.  I can't find anything that takes precedence over this charge, to take care of the earth that got has made and it's animals.  Does God charge us to take care of the poor and diseased people on the earth?  NO!  Possibly because they did not exist yet.  After all, this predates the fall of man.  We didn't know that we were poor and naked yet, and I assume no one had caught the common cold. 

God goes on to reinforce the idea that we should care for his creation only two verses later.  "'Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'

Then God said, 'I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.'" Genesis 1:28-29 (NIV)  Here we're told to take care of not just the animals and the fish, but we're supposed to value the plants as well.  While I wouldn't go so far as to say that this is a direct order to go around hugging trees, I also thinks this is a strong indication that we are charged to take care of ALL of God's creation.

I want you do notice here that we're still on the sixth day.  This wasn't on the seventh day where God was resting.  No, this is the job that God has laid on mankind.  The first 9-5 task that God has ever given to people.  I take this to heart.  I accept the charge that God has laid on me and I still think that this is the most important job that we can do.  To care for God's creation is to show our reverence for God. 

This is reinforced in the second chapter of Genesis, "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." Genesis 2:15.  Here we have the first name given to the first profession.  We are to be gardeners, not yet farmers, there's a difference.  Farmers toil in the soil and eat what they grow.  Gardeners tend the living plants.  This makes it clear to me that it is my job not to re-shape the earth to fit whatever idea I have of it, but to tend it the way God has given it to me.  I am to preserve it, not to strip-log it and build condominiums. 

The Bible continues to honor those people who take car of Gods creation rather than resorting to violence.  The people of the bible understood farming.  Cain and Able learned it from their parents, and Jesus knew that it still applied to the people he was talking to when he told the parables of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-8) and the Tares Matthew (13:24-30). 

The all important job of caring for God's creation, of being God's constant gardener if you will, resonated with the people of the Bible.  They understood that we are so closely tied with nature, and that if we hurt it we are ultimately hurting ourselves.  Why does this seem to be so lost on people today?  Is it because we are so insulated from nature?  Most of us in a post-industrial society spend all of our time indoors, or on pavement moving from one roof to another.  We go days without actually touching a plant other than our house plants.  We're more likely to kill an animal as we run over it with our vehicle than to take into account the source of all that nicely pre-packaged meat in the grocery store.  Most new neighborhoods that are built start with clear cutting the trees and leveling the earth to the point where it becomes unrecognizable. 

We are very disconnected from our environment, but I don't think this is the actual cause of our misunderstanding of God's greatest calling.  I think our disassociation stems from something much more insidious, something more evil than the love of money (though one may cause the other and vice verse). 

Lack of compassion. 

I believe that lack of compassion in many of the most influential and out spoken Christians is the biggest stumbling blocks to people today.  Compassion is what makes us realize that when we over exploit the earth we're destroying it for those who come after us.  Compassion is what makes us aware of needless destruction.  And those of us that have compassion notice these things and hurt.  I hurt when I see a squirrel dead in the middle of the road.  I hurt when I drive by a sign for new development, and stretching behind it a bare scar of red Georgia clay.  I hurt when I hear one more self entitled prig's needlessly inflammatory remarks.  They lump together a diverse group of people and play the blame game.  What makes it worse?  They accuse the others, whoever the others are at the moment, of fear mongering, yet that's exactly what I hear when I listen to them. 

Is this one of the cases where it takes one to know one?  I'm a Christian, a devout one, but one with diverse beliefs.  I don't fit the stereotypical conservative, and I'm not really liberal.  I find that what I abhor most of all is extremism in either direction.  Extremism doesn't lead to understanding.  It leads to opposing sides screaming at the top of their lungs loud enough to make anyone undecided deaf.  It doesn't lead people to see wisdom, it blinds them to the true need.  I won't say I'm all that in touch with nature, and I definitely don't want spiders in my house.  But I also want children, I want them to see the gifts that God has given us, to value them; and to see that the first profession, the most worthy profession, is the one that God gave us on the sixth day. 

I am not the best at this profession, but like any career path I get better at it as I gain practice and knowledge.  Sometimes I think the extreme right is afraid of knowledge, they see it as humanism.  But I would remind you that God gave you that brain, and he expects you to use it.  Use it to think of ways to internalize compassion, and use it to find ways to care for the plants, animals, and world that God has given us.