The original instructions to humans in Genesis are that we be gardeners. The original ship, according to Genesis, was built to save species from extinction, humans included - all in the same boat. However, though Genesis contains teachings common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, we don't find many prominent leaders in business, media or political professions talking about caring for the Earth and its endangered plant, animal and human critters. Yet these leaders belong to such major faith traditions.
At a meeting of the United Nations decades ago, Onondaga Iroquois Faith Keeper Oren Lyons opened his address to the assembly by observing, "I don't see anyone here representing the trees." Last year at Bucknell University, Lyons, now an octogenarian, commented on visits to Greenland and Alaska. Of the former he noted how much the glaciers have melted, and in Alaska he visited a native village that must move to a rock-solid area from its age-old location because the permafrost foundation is thawing. The retreat of glaciers exposes more rock to solar heat, thus increasing the rate of glacial melt. The thawing of the permafrost releases methane, a gas twenty times more effective than carbon dioxide in raising global temperatures. Despite recent areas experiencing intense cold, overall global warming is going on.
Looking around, we might ask, "Where did all these dang ticks come from?" Oren Lyons answers, "Mother Nature is merciless." Nevertheless, like other traditional Iroquois who tie faith with reason, Lyons is confident that we of faith and reason (?) will rally to the challenge before he "passes over." Perhaps.
The Psalmist proclaims that "the Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" - not ours. Do we buy into this? Or sell it away?
Today in Southeast Asia, in Ethiopia, along the tar sands of Canada, big corporations and big governments seeking resources drive indigenous peoples out of their age-old homelands. We, however, are citizens of these governments; we are stockholders in such corporations, corporations which augment our portfolios and help fund our retirement ease. They heat our homes; they make and fuel our cars; they elect and re-elect our representatives. To a great degree they run our lives. To a significant degree, as Pogo said, "They are us."
Nevertheless, when it comes down to it, we must live off the land (and the seas) and the fullness thereof, and we owe our neighbors and succeeding generations of critters like and unlike us a sustainable planet that contains farmland and wilderness. Henry Thoreau said it right: "In wildness is the preservation of the world." Oren Lyons would call it "balance."
Islam advocates a concept called hima requiring environmental stewardship of developed and undeveloped areas. The traditional Jewish Law commands that one not covet a neighbor's land, not accumulate land and wealth to the point at which neighbors become needy. The Christ of Christians sought rest, renewal and challenge in wilderness. Faiths even put summer camps there. We of these faith traditions that instruct us to be gardeners can be caretakers in a larger sense. Here in Marcelliana we can be among the few who represent the trees. Faith matters indeed-in deed.
By the way, why are mosquito-tracking bats and tick-eating toads disappearing? What's with all these dang ticks?
Coates, a member of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Williamsport and retired Pennsylvania College of Technology professor of language and humanities, is a member of the Social Concerns Committee of United Churches of Lycoming County.