My parents moved the family off the farm five years before I was born. They sold the farm when I was a junior in high school. Once I said to my Dad, “You know, if things had been different I think I might have liked being a farmer.” He looked over his glasses with that distinctly paternal glance and replied, “Son, you have never wanted to work that hard.” As with most things, I have finally come to admit that he was right.
Yet, my roots are still deeply planted in Nebraska soil and there is nowhere I feel more at home. This heritage now finds limited expression in gardening – some call it yard work, for me it’s a spiritual practice and psychological necessity. Just today I was inspecting seed packets at the store in anticipation of planting my garden. I even gave our compost bin the first turn of the season and looked at a CSA website considering a summer membership.
Whether we are farmers at heart or not, we all must admit that “being human” defines us — creatures formed from the dust, from rich humus! By nature our DNA orients us to value the earth as our home and our fulfillment is found by growing in deep respect and appreciation for the integral relationship we humans share with the natural world. The United Church of Canada says it perfectly: “Creation is not just a handsome backdrop for human history!”
Nostalgia easily provides a wistful diversion from the reality that ice caps are melting, Arctic sea ice is collapsing, water supplies are stressed, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are going extinct. The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants. A report released this weekend by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concludes that the worst is yet to come! We have heard this litany before. But have we heard?
Two decades of international efforts to limit emissions have yielded little result. While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many wealthy countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from rising economic powers like China and India. The report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have especially dire consequences for the poorest nations. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions have already reversed decades of gains against global hunger. Don’t the poor always bear the brunt of social dysfunction?
We face scientific challenges with economic consequences that require political will we have not yet mustered. Yet, these are not merely – perhaps not even primarily – scientific, economic or political issues. Ours is a moral crisis that cries out for a quality of leadership in desperately short supply. All the more reason to be encouraged by news that Pope Francis’ first encyclical will deal with the environment. Let’s hope Francis’ moral gravitas will augment the urgent appeals of scientists, warnings from UN commissions and focus a tidal wave of moral determination among all peoples of faith.
Outrage easily provides a diversion from my personal obligations. I too easily blame spineless politicians or demonize corporate greed for immediate profit. I discover myself shockingly “hierarchical” with my expectations of the pope and other faith leaders! I even self-righteously rehearse our grandchildren’s exasperation: “Why didn’t they do something? … How could they let this happen? … What were they thinking? … Were they thinking!?! … Were they only thinking of themselves?” Then, I look in the mirror. What am I going to do? How am I part of the solution? What is my moral duty?
Perhaps the most counter-cultural change I need requires an even deeper personal conversion – to finally admit the world does not exist to serve me, my lifestyle, my comfort, my stuff! Taking a page from my parents, it’s about a self-less love for others. Yes it will take hard work, the kind none of us have wanted to do. But, it must be about the lives we give to our children! Dad, I’m beginning to understand your sacrifice.
Those wanting to read the many statements of Francis on the environment, can look to “Pope Francis on Care for Creation,” found on the website of Catholic Climate Covenant [link].
I rely on an article in the New York Times [link] for information about the United Nations report on climate change.
I am dependent on notes taken at a Wisdom Ways program in October 2013 on Hildegard of Bingen for the quote from the United Church of Canada,