I've been reading an awful lot these days about the debate between the creationist and the evolutionists. Science teachers are now being told that they must say that evolution is only a theory and just one possible reason that human life exists. I thought we had put that debate to bed a long time ago, but it seems, that we are still debating.

Now we have theories about creative evolution. A synthesis between the two schools, that says, yes, we evolved, but it was the creative spark of God that caused the evolution. And here we are, homo sapiens, at the end of the evolutionary chain, the very end-all and be-all of evolutionary process and God's design. At least that view doesn't want to disregard science, but still it wants to hold onto the idea that we are the final creation. I wonder why there is such a need to hold onto the creationist view of humanity's beginnings? Could it be because any other view somehow diminishes our "special" place in relationship to the Holy? I can't see how it would. Wouldn't we be in fact extra special because of evolution?

Or perhaps it is because the evolutionary view means ultimately that we homo sapiens will become extinct? Assuming the evolutionary process didn't just stop dead in its tracks, somewhere down the line we too will become extinct. If you don't believe me, just ask any Australopithecus, if you could find one.

And that must be a little frightening for people, to know that really we're not the end-all and be-all of life on this earth. But I'm not particularly afraid or, for that matter, even concerned that we might eventually evolve out of existence. I just hope that we do not cause our premature extinction by continuing on a path of disregard for and abuse of the very earth that sustains us.

The creationist school of thought uses as it textual basis the book of Genesis from the Hebrew bible. I rather like how Gary Kowalski has reframed the Genesis story to reflect more correctly the billions of years it might have taken to actually create a universe. And one thing he illuminated was that tricky little passage in Genesis that gives humanity dominion over the earth and its creatures. We have too often taken that part of the text to mean that we can do as we please and exploit the world's resources to our own gain. But dominion over the earth comes with a great responsibility.

Anyone who has ever had "dominion" over anything or anyone, whether as a parent, or a boss, or a king or queen (though I don't know anyone who holds that particular title) knows it means that you are responsible for the care and well-being of those over whom you have "dominion." You are responsible for making sure that they are healthy and fed and well-tended. So the Genesis text tells us that we are responsible for the health and well-being of this earth. We may cultivate the land that feeds us, but we may not do so in a way that destroys the other creatures who inhabit it. If we have dominion over all of earth's creatures then we have a responsibility to all of them.

Later this week we will celebrate Passover. It is a celebration of the journey of the Hebrew people out of bondage in Egypt into freedom. And we will remember the people as they wandered for forty years in the desert until they came to the land of milk and honey. While the people were in the desert, they were given the Torah, the law. And even though they were nowhere near the land they would eventually inhabit, the law spoke of how to take care of the land. It said that every seventh year the land should lay fallow, be allowed to rest. The people were not to farm or cultivate the land during its Sabbath year, but they were to only take what the land would give them. Again, a reminder that we may use but not abuse the earth.

The Western-based biblical view, is of course, only one way of thinking of our relationship to the earth and all of varieties of earthlings that inhabit it. I heard a story recently about a Buddhist monastery in a remote part of Thailand called the Temple of the Tigers. Because development began encroaching on their natural habitat, animals began to show up at the monastery. First there were birds and then a wild boar who was wounded by hunters. The monk fed and cared for the animals and then set them free, but the boar returned with a whole group of other boars. The monk cared for them all. One day someone came with a wounded tiger, and the monk took care of it too. Pretty soon villagers were bringing all manner of animals to the monastery, and the monks there took care of each of them. Now they have fifteen tigers and a whole assortment of animals. All of them live peacefully together.

When asked why they took such care, the abbot explained that the spirit of the tiger may have been the same spirit of another monk, or someone's mother or brother or friend. And that the spirit of a tiger may be the same spirit that is now inside of the abbot or another of the monks. We cannot know whose spirit is reincarnated in any of the animals or for that matter the plants that feed the animals. What we do know is that we are to care for all of the spirits of the earth. Unlike Western conservation, which begins with the land and then the animals on it, they begin first with the spiritual nature of those who inhabit the land. As the abbot said, if you save the animal's life, in turn it means you save your life. If you do the best for the other life, the best of qualities of life you will earn as well.

All religions, Western, Eastern, Native, Indigenous, Earth-centered or God-centered, theistic, pantheistic, and atheistic, all of them call us to nurture this great big blue marble we call Earth. The basis for this call may differ, but the message is the same, you have come from the earth, you will return to it, and in between you must care for it.

Now, I am a city girl. I can barely tell the difference between a tree and a telephone pole. It wasn't until recently that someone informed me that I had to actually give my plants food. And living in a city I sometimes think that the environment is somewhere out there and that these issues don't really affect me. Or that there are other issues that I would rather devote my time to, such as racial equality. But these issues do affect me, they affect all of us. When I look at the alarmingly high rates of asthma among children in urban areas, and in particular in communities of color, I realize that environmental justice is not just about saving trees in Oregon but it is just as much about saving lives in East Harlem. When our city and town legislatures decide to place sanitation plants in poor neighborhood as if the people who live in them are not worth as much as those who live in affluent communities I know that environmental justice, racial justice, social justice, and economic justice are not separate issues, they are profoundly connected. I cannot speak for one issue without addressing the other.

So what are we to do? We are so small and the issue is so large. But as Sydney Smith said, "It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do a little. Do what you can." And there are things we can do. Lawn and garden season is beginning soon, and we can ask ourselves what kind of products will we be using to feed our beautiful lawns? Are they environmentally friendly or not? When we do our spring cleaning what types of cleaning solutions will we be using. How are we conserving our most precious resource--water? When we go car shopping, will we intentionally seek out cars which use alternate forms of energy?

We can write letters to our congress people to push our government to sign and comply with the Kyoto Protocol, which calls on nations, and especially the developed nations, to intentionally restrict their carbon emissions which are directly linked to the destabilization of the earth's climate. But the first thing we can do is to understand and believe on an intellectual, emotional and spiritual level that we are indeed ultimately responsible as stewards of this earth for the care, the nurturing and well being of this big blue marble.

This week in addition to Passover we celebrate the 35th anniversary of Earth Day. Some of us remember the first Earth day. On April 22nd 1970 some 20 million people across the nation marched, gathered, celebrated, and worshipped in countless ways to make a statement that the unchecked abuse of the earth must stop. It was a momentous occasion when people from all walks of life and all political parties, people from cities and farm, rich people and poor people all stood up and called upon this nation to protect the earth. It led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts. It was unprecedented in scope and action.

Twenty years later, in 1990 Earth Day was celebrated in 141 countries by over 200 million people. From talking drum marches in Ghana to a gathering on the National Mall in Washington D.C., people had awakened to the need for environmental consciousness and action. The actions of the 1990 Earth Day led to the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. It became the imperative of all nations to address the issues of the environment. By 2000 there were over 5,000 groups world wide focused on the environmental justice. And the movement continues to grow.

This year the theme of Earth Day is to "Protect our Children and Our Future". What better theme could there be, for it is our future that is at stake. There will be programs and activities all over the globe to celebrate and call attention to our most precious and simplest gift, the Earth. She is in dire need of our help. We are in dire need of help. Get involved, do what you can, however you can.

Indeed, we may one day be extinct as a species, but don't let it be because we failed to act to stem the tide of destruction. Let it be because we have evolved into a new creation however that creation is brought about.

May you each receive the blessings of this great earth, this big blue marble quietly circling the sun, may you always remember to pass that blessing on to others, known and unknown throughout the world, and in all that you do may you return to the earth the blessing she has given you.


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