on earth day (in your neighborhood)

Today is Earth Day, so I’m offering a few thoughts on the earth and how we inhabit it. It seems to me that in order to think well about the earth we must first consider the way we share our human existence in it. I like to think of my approach to others as a community park where anyone can wonder in and enjoy sharing space, hardship or conversation. In reality, though, my default approach is often more like a country club where certain others are deemed worthy (or not) of welcome. This is the worst! It reveals my instinct to make my self and my preferences exceptional. I privilege me. Deep down, although I know I am ‘one of many’, I somehow keep behaving as if I am ‘the one.’ On this day set aside to honor the earth, it is a helpful exercise to think about the way we think we fit together. Fundamentally, do I want to share, or hoard?

God is a big fan of community. We know this because our origin story is not about a guy, but a community comprised of Father, Son and Spirit God. Genesis explains that God created Adam and Eve as partners, and later sent pairs into the ark in order to preserve life after devastating destruction. God also sent disciples out in pairs, and then made sure his mother and best friend did not forget to do the obvious—care for each other in his absence—upon his death.  God is a creator of community; long lasting, through cycles of scarcity and plenty, togetherness is one of the messages of Scripture. God’s neighborhood—God’s ‘us’—is bigger than ours.

God created the earth: Sky, light, sea, land, and all the plants and animals in it, and then proclaimed the creation “Good.” He created people and called them, “Very Good.” For the first work God asked Adam to build a community with the animals. To name them. To care for them. To be with them. This work gave Adam dignity and purpose, charging him with stewarding his dominion as a shared participant in the community. It was the second manifestation of God’s love of community. First, the Trinity.  Second, living things sharing space. Neighborhoods, if you will.

 Just as God created the cycles of day and night, the growing process had a cycle of working and resting. We work to plant the next harvest or child or litter, and then wait for life to come and grow. This waiting, being one part of a bigger whole, is a manifestation of the necessary humility built into the universe. We have the privilege to do our part, but we know our part is ultimately insufficient. Our human experience fundamentally reflects and mimics the experiences of others, following the earth’s rhythm repeated all over the world.

And yet, we do not think of ourselves as mimickers. We are not like them, those other living things. We are “very good”, not merely “good.” Our notion that we are not just different from but actually better than provides a foundation that allows stewarding dominion to become arbitrary abuse. Sharing becomes hoarding. We often are unthinking and selfish in the way we relate to natural resources, but some of us justify our abuse of the earth as somehow embodying the role given to us by our Creator. But we are not exceptional. We are part of the whole. We are one of many. 

The earth’s cycles speak of humility in the very sharedness of our neighborhoods.  We cannot live apart from the earth. We cannot live apart from other people. We are not self sustaining. In fact, we can only sustain our own lives when we acknowledge our dependence on and place in the whole.  A responsible ethic of living and stewardship must be rooted in recognizing that we are part of an ecosystem, and that our notion of community must expand to include the earth and all that is in it.  It is singularly terrible that in America, those who identify as Christians seem most likely to ignore the fragility of the earth and the people trying to live in it. Giving ourselves the mantle of ‘exceptional’ in our ecosystems has led to privileging our perspective, our needs and our wants over every other stakeholder in our environment. If we do not see ourselves as an important part of the fabric of sustaining life that God created then we will indeed, become exceptionally destructive, vulnerable, and, ultimately, unable to flourish in the world we were given, and then destroyed.

This Earth Day, might we each take a moment to recognize our dependence on the earth and those with whom we share it? Dependent humility, not exceptional arrogance, is the posture best suited for those of us trying to love our neighbors well. Sharing, rather than hoarding. How can your actions (in your very neighborhood) add to the flourishing of your environment (human and natural), rather than making sure you get what you want in the short term? Together, let’s do the hard work of expanding our thinking about neighboring to also include the animals and water and earth and food with whom we share the task of sustaining life.

I want that! (No, I don't...)

Sunday mornings, for parents who also go to church, can be the worst. These mornings often involve grumpy children, yelling parents, and breaking speed limits. Exacerbating the delays, the tension, the meanness, is often a subtle despair that Sunday mornings should not be like this!! On the way to church, for goodness’ sakes!

And yet, things are often not like they ought to be. My family’s Sunday tradition involves getting donuts on the way to church. Yes, it unfortunately means having to leave earlier, but yes, it also means no breakfast making is required, so it’s a win overall. A few years ago my kids were on the trampoline, in pjs, wrestling, on Sunday morning. I, using my I’m-an-amazing-mom-gently-reminding-you-that-we-need-to-leave-soon voice, calmly yelled out the back door that if they wanted donuts we had to leave in ten. 

“We do! We do want donuts!”  Wrestle-mania continued.

Three minutes went by. Still wrestling.

“Hey savage ones! If you want donuts get in here and get dressed!”

“We do! We do want donuts!” More Bouncing. More wrestling.

Three more minutes went by.

“You have lost your everloving minds if you think I’m getting you donuts if we are not pulling out of this driveway in 3 minutes. “  Less gentle. Less amazing.

“We do! We do want donuts!”

“Really? Cause I can’t tell AT ALL. You say you want donuts but you are doing NONE OF THE THINGS REQUIRED to get donuts. At some point you have to move your bodies toward your closets if you actually, in fact, want donuts. You can’t just keep saying it while performing pile drivers on each other.”

And just like that, 4 little bodies tumbled out of the netting, onto the grass, up to their closets, and into the car. Donuts received, along with tardy slips from Jesus.

As we slide into 2019, there are lessons here for us. Like children—especially when it’s resolution time—we wholeheartedly claim to want things we have no intention of pursuing. The kids adamantly asserted their desire for pastries, but really they just wanted to play. Last week I suggested we do the self-reflection required to tell the truth in the new year. If we want to share meaningfully engaged lives with others, we must work to stop our subtle practice of defending ourselves, seeing only our best intentions, and revising history to make ourselves seem noble in every encounter.

Extending that thought, it is helpful to recognize that we often say we want certain realities in our lives without taking steps to realize them. Some examples are easy:

We say we want to be healthy, but we like Doritos more than running.

We say we want a good night’s sleep, but we drink too much or watch TV late into the night.

We say we want to be less busy, or to have less distracted kids, but we overcommit everyone we care for without blinking an eye.

We want to be people who read, but we pick up a book and then pick up an iphone…and then an hour disappears.

For the next few weeks I’d like to slow the tape for us, offering time to think about how we talk about the things we hope for.  Approaching middle age, it is easy to imagine one day looking back on a few decades of failed attainment. I never got the rhythm of rest and work down. I never got my kids to put their phones down. I never got the whole family dinner made at home thing to work. I never had the relationships I wanted with my neighbors.

My fear is that this narrative of failure is coming for all of us, and rather than understanding how we got here, we will revise history to make ourselves seem disciplined and intentional, while painting our dreams as idealistic or impossible. In other words, we will easily assume we all live in a circle of failure because it is too hard to be the people we hope to be. We tried, and repeated for years that we hoped for X. Since X never happened, it must be that X is impossible.

Our tendency to assume our unrealized hopes are impossible is another way we lie to ourselves. For instance, I talk and teach a LOT about neighboring. This is a clunky word, but it conveys the idea that we want to care well for the people we know. We literally want to be good neighbors to our neighbors. We want to be people and have people to call in a pinch. We want to share meals and watch babies and walk dogs. Nevertheless, for many of us, we say we want this while we actively chose our own agendas at the expense of those very relationships.

 For years, I said I wanted to be a good neighbor. However. When a knock came at an inopportune time, or when a never-ending chat in the yard made dinner late, or when being outside somehow beckoned a visit, or when a big party landed cars in my space or noise in my ears, I got annoyed. Without realizing it, I longed for friends-like-family neighbors while actively avoiding such relationships. The truth is that I only wanted amazing neighbors when I needed a favor, or on the one night a year when communal grilling and cocktailing seemed like all I ever wanted in life. I said I wanted to be a good neighbor while sort of hating all the things neighboring requires.

Alas, our capacity for hypocrisy is enormous. We will spend a few weeks here examining the dreams to which we aspire. For now, pay attention to the oft-repeated hopes of your frustrated soul and then examine the ways you approach or fail to approach those hopes. I suspect our problem is not that our dreams are out of reach, but that we fail to understand all that they require. Do not abuse the dream because you lack the stamina to realize it.