Save the human habitat

  • Published in MyView

A sermon preached for the second annual Mad River Valley Interfaith Service

By Rev. Sister Laurian Seeber

I want to begin by talking about two books, the first is Bill McKibben’s “Eaarth.”  That’s Earth spelled with two a’s. He cites 585,000 entries he found through Google that include the words global warming and grandchildren in the same sentence. As in saying, “We need to save the planet for our grandchildren.” But then he gives statistic after statistic to show that we should forget about our grandchildren. Climate change is here and now. That’s why he calls his book “Eaarth.” His idea is that we need right now to learn to live on a new planet, different from the one we grew up in. We cannot prevent things from happening. Rather, we need to come to grips with how we are going to live in the altered place that we have created by our negligence.

Now, I believe that our destruction of the world we live in is not a new phenomenon. I think that there is evidence that some Native Americans pulled up stakes and moved when they had exhausted the resources of a given area. Certainly our original settlers did. That’s the focus of the whole westward movement. At the same time, it is appalling that we are a species that destroys its own habitat. I’m sure you have heard that when a habitat for a species is destroyed, the death of that species follows. Well, in the westward movement, we’ve hit the Pacific Ocean and there is no place else to move. And that is a grim fact that we live with now.

The other book I’ve been reading is Gus Speth’s “The Bridge at the Edge of the World.” He talks about the need to make all sorts of fundamental changes in the way we live in order to be in a sustainable situation. “The seriousness of environmental threats is slowly sinking in. ... Religion can help us see that the challenges we face are moral and spiritual and that sin is not strictly individual but is also social and institutional, and it [that is, religion] can call us to reflection, repentance and resistance,” he writes.

Which is to say that we cannot individually do enough to make the needed changes. We need to get our care for God’s Earth on the agenda of our society, our government.

One of the things we learn when we study the Bible is that the New Testament is written in a tension between Greek and Hebrew concepts of how life operates. The Greek concept of salvation is personal -- the individual connects with God; the Hebrew concept is communal -- it is the community as a whole that grows toward God or grows away from God. I like that tension between those two concepts. It is good to think about and act around both sides of this concern. But when we talk about things like atmosphere, air and water, it is really necessary to function as a people.

I’ve paid attention to various debates of political candidates and have seen that candidates spend seconds on global warming. That’s not their fault, it’s our fault. We the voters are not demanding that they talk about these issues and I’m asking you to make that demand.  

I remember when I was thinking I would vote for Al Gore for president because someone told me he was interested in the environment. But I was disappointed that I never heard him talk about the environment! His organizers told him not to talk about the environment because it would not help him to get elected. Nationally, it is clear that caring for God’s Earth is very much on the back burner. I guess because God doesn’t vote. God has no votes but our votes. We need to work to get a higher priority put on God’s Earth in every level of our government. Well, maybe not the school board. But we need to challenge everyone else running for office to make clear what their actions are going to be to protect our habitat.

You may be thinking about now that I am not supposed to talk about politics from the pulpit. That’s not quite accurate – I’m not supposed to talk about specific political candidates from the pulpit – and I’m not. What I am talking about – and asking you to talk about – is what political candidates talk about. We need to get that changed.

This is all about loving God, our neighbors and ourselves. Part of loving God is taking care of the gifts God has given us to take care of, which includes our Earth. Part of loving our neighbor is sharing those gifts in an equitable way. And beyond that, there are our children. Surely loving our children means leaving them a world that they can grow and flourish in. I’m afraid that we are not doing that. And loving ourselves surely means protecting our habitat. Not doing so is at least passively suicidal.

I’ve been praying regularly for our Earth. As a result of writing this sermon, I’m going to stop doing that. Our Earth is not in danger. It will circle the sun for millennia to come. So will Mars. It is the human habitat that is in danger. That is what I – what we – need to pray for.

The problem is that the water we have is finite. God gave us this much water and it is recycled again and again. It shows up in rivers and lakes, in rain and snow, in clouds. But also it is present in tree sap, in mothers’ milk, in watermelons and cucumbers. It is always the same water.

Our responsibility in Vermont is Lake Champlain. And since the Mad River runs into the Winooski River which runs into the lake, our responsibility here in The Valley is the Mad River.  

With the Rio Grande and the Colorado River both not reaching the ocean, the problem of quantity of water is real elsewhere. Here, our major issue with water is quality. What can we do to pollute less?

Well, you could join the Mad River Watch program or the Friends of the Mad River. We could – and indeed should -- protect the river by not putting phosphorus on our lawns. But there is another gentler thing that we can do. We can plant rain gardens.

I love this idea because it is so low-tech. The thing we need to pay attention to is our stormwater runoff. The idea is to plant water-absorbing plants in key places so that the plants will serve as a sponge to suck up the water that is washing out of our polluted spaces so that that water will not reach the river. And right now, people living in the Mad River Valley can get help in doing this from a program that Friends of the Mad River have initiated called Storm Smart. Call them up and make an appointment and an expert will come help you figure out what is best to do with your property. Storm Smart. Make a note of it.

God pours on us many blessings. What we need to do is take care of those blessings we have received. I remind you of the camper’s creed: Leave the campsite a bit better than you found it. I’m sure you all think of your own plot of land that way. But here is a delightful way to think a bit beyond your own plot.

As we thank God for water, let us care for it. And as we thank God for our wonderful Earth, let us demand of our leaders that they care for it.

Seeber is vicar of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church.