May 6 — Two ecological careers

I met Jessica Edgerly a few months ago after receiving a phone call from her inquiring if we could host a presentation on a new business idea which might be kind of up our alley.  Her company is trying to get solar panels on the roof of every house in Vermont.  (Actually, I’m not sure their goal is 100% saturation, but why not?)  Jessica’s job is now essentially PR.

As we talked, however, we realized that our careers are essentially similar.  We both went to school intending to become environmental biologists and both soon discovered a calling to exercise our ecological commitments in ways quite different than wither of us first imagined.

I’ll leave Jessica to say what she may about her call; for me, it had to do with God.

Let me clarify that.  I did not hear a voice saying, “pastor, not scientist!” (unless you consider my grade in chemistry a voice from God! which  . . .)

I did nurse a strong feeling that Joseph Sittler was right, that God is the fountain of all livingness.  Contrary to much of what I heard people suggest about Christianity my rather nascent understanding of God could never be threatened by the science I loved to study, nor by the stars I loved to watch nor by the amazingly beautiful code of DNA I was learning to read. The tug I felt to explore this fountain of all livingness was in no way contrary to the tug I felt to be an ecologist.

In fact — it seemed to me then, as it is clear to me now, that both endeavors — the endeavor to talk about God as the source of all that is good and the endeavor to explain the world around us in the pursuit of the common good, both needed to pass philosophical muster.  One career was not pursued at the expense of the other.

It seemed to me then, and is clear to me now, that much of what happened in both realms, the scientific and the religious, threatened our potential to have a full relationship with this fountain of all livingness.  AND that both realms could — both realms could be ecological in the sense of understanding and being sensitive to the various ways in which we as organisms interact with our environment.

My call was propelled by this hope that both realms could be ecological.

1) I grew up on a farm where I watched farmers destroy the land by monocrop plantings and repeated applications of chemicals that left the soil almost lifeless.

As a farm kid, I still remember what it was like to pull weeds in rows of beans 1 mile long.  Anything that could relieve that back-breaking tedium so that the necessary production of food could go on, is welcome.  Don’t get me wrong. The scientific research that has led to chemical and mechanical weeders of greater effectiveness is welcome.

But were we oblivious to the ecological imbalance we farmers often caused? To me, it seemed the answer was yes.  There had to be better ways of doing this — hence my original desire to be an environmental biologist.

2) I grew up in a UCC congregation much like this one.  And most of the time, it seemed obvious to me, that if we were to trust God and offer our loyalty to this God who alone is worthy of our trust,  that this meant we could not ignore  at the same time willfully ignore the issue of relationship.  And yet . . .

My Christian experience was also full of contradictions — I was encouraged to have this relationship with God — but God and Jesus were both imminently non-relatable.  Jesus was everywhere and nowhere.  Fully man fully divine.  God was permanent, absolute, unchanging, remote.  It began to strike me that my troubles with the Christian realm were generally not questioned by anyone, and left us, as a result, unsure of our scientific responsibilities.

B. Conclusion

I had a conversation with someone this past week about how a parent might address the desire of his child to learn about the stories in the bible.  It seems like a simple question with a easy answer.  But one thing we definitely want to avoid when teaching a story like the one found in Genesis 1 is the idea that the story stands alone or that it does not have embedded within its grammar and language and structure clues that put the story into a larger context.  I, for one, when I hear this story, still think of a sandbox with the Creator God masterfully building the world below, because I was not disabused of that idea early on.

We read from Robert Alter’s translation of the Creation story this morning because he translates it as poetry. It is impossible to read Alter’s translation literally.

Pablo Neruda wrote in his memoirs about his life as a poet that for him “poetry is a deep inner calling in humans; from it came liturgy, the psalms, and also the content of religions.”  As poetry, we might hear it and think about it differently — that is, as relational, calling its to a common cause, to community, to an ecology. As an originative story, it suggests that our thinking about the great questions of existence should be from the perspective of relativity and not pure unchanging being, as we have done since Plato.

Here’s where I want to end. I want to remind us that we each face a call to be ecological, and that this call is not some oppressive call to put on hair shirts, disdaining the luxuries and comforts of the modern world. To be an minister of Christ means that we find our living as part of the great fountain of livingness so that in all that we say and think and do, in all our commercial dealings and in all our leisure, we honor the great commandment to love God and related to it, to love your neighbor as yourself.

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