A plea and a prayer for creation care

Posted 4/28/21

Scientists now refer to our era as the Anthropocene Epoch, meaning that the collective actions of human beings (“anthropos” in Greek) have substantially altered the environment — the lands, …

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A plea and a prayer for creation care

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Scientists now refer to our era as the Anthropocene Epoch, meaning that the collective actions of human beings (“anthropos” in Greek) have substantially altered the environment — the lands, oceans and atmosphere. And our impact has been disastrous. Instead of the benignly worded “climate change,” it is more fitting to speak of the impending “climate catastrophe.”

Here in North Carolina, the rising global temperature is expected to result in higher sea levels, extreme heat and more powerful hurricanes. Not only will we pay for the shifting weather patterns in terms of our agriculture and economy, but climate catastrophe will cost lives.

Now is the time for bold action. We must summon the collective fortitude to revamp our energy sector.

I was heartened to learn of President Joe Biden’s 10-year plan to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to half of the levels of 2005. Biden’s plan to innovate and implement renewable forms of energy will not be cheap, quick or painless. Significant changes to our society rarely are. Yet, the sacrifices necessary to transform our energy economy seem quite inexpensive in light of the potential cost of life.

What’s more, I believe such sacrifice for the future of the world is our sacred responsibility.

In the creation account found in the opening chapter of the first book of the Bible, the Creator makes humankind, both male and female, in the divine image. Some have interpreted that this entails an exalted status for humans, and I agree that humans have a unique role to play. But I hasten to add that this role is often misinterpreted because of one word — dominion.

Genesis 1:26 states that humankind has been given “dominion” over all the earth; however, this Hebrew word does not mean to lord over with power. Dominion does not mean to exploit for selfish purposes. Rather, the term connotes the sense of lowering or descending. It implies humility and service.

Elsewhere in the Bible, the metaphor for this dominion is that of a shepherd. Not only must sheep be guided and protected, but the wellbeing of a shepherd is directly connected to the welfare of the flock. The shepherd does not live at the expense of the sheep; shepherding has costs. One ancient rabbi made such sacrifice explicit: The good shepherd lays down his or her life for the sheep (John 10:11).

In ancient Israel, the king was viewed as a shepherd. We can view elected officials in our democracy as good shepherds charged with caring for the public and the creation at large. This can unite citizens across the political spectrum.

I realize we live in a time of hyper-partisanship. Pundits and citizens alike call their adversaries “sheep” and not as a compliment.

But cynicism is a cousin of despair. I disagree that reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is a futile climate gesture and that the majority of Americans are unwilling to make sacrifices for future generations. We need everyone, regardless of religion or creed, to commit to shepherding our planet.

Seeking unity, let me close with a prayer outside the Judeo-Christian tradition from poet Emily Dickinson: in the name of the bee, and of the butterfly, and of the breeze, amen!

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His forthcoming book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”

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