If you’ve been attending public worship here, then you know that the theme for this summer is “growth.” We are talking about spiritual growth, personal growth, about growth in the church, and about how things grow – what it means in our culture and society to grow.
It seemed fitting to me, then, that as I was crafting sermons and messages on issues of growth, the publishing offices of the Vatican should release Laudato Si’, a Papal Encyclical letter addressed to the whole of the human community. His Holiness writes that “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” These letters, often written merely for the Catholic Community, speak to the critical moments and concerns of our time. In this case, the letter reaches beyond Catholicism, beyond even Christianity and into our common human experience, in all walks of life.
This was a hard letter to read for three reasons: firstly it is quite long. I have, in fact, run out of time to read it fully before our publication deadline in the Chimes – it is some 180 dense pages of environmental facts, theological connections, and calls to action.
This is the second difficulty of the letter – it is thick and rich like an excellent stew, full of food for thought and meditation. It presents complex ideas, challenging truths, and nourishing hope in equal measure.
Mostly, though, it is difficult because it speaks to a reality we would love to deny – the reality that the Earth “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” In every area of human life and development, in mining and farming and fishing and construction and waste, as well as in our social structures and our systems of government, we have aligned ourselves against the earth – against her stewardship, and in favor of plundering her resources, not to be cultivated for us all, but to be squandered by a few.
In many parts of our country and the world, we have commodified access to safe, clean water – made it a product to be purchased, rather than a resource to be shared. We in the United States are guilty of enormously selfish use of the Colorado River, draining it for our own populations and agriculture and leaving only a trickle to our southern neighbors in Mexico. Even in Denver, the gathering of rainwater for personal use is banned as an abridgment of the water rights of others. In the poorest parts of the world, there is no access to safe drinking water at all. “Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights,” says the Pope.
A full recitation of our environmental ills would take many pages of the Chimes, so I will stand with the Pope and the leaders of the Catholic Church to say this: “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world.” In short, our contributions to global climate change will not be felt most keenly in Denver or Phoenix or even in Fresno. They will be felt in Kinshasa and Nairobi, in Cuzco and Brasilia.
I, along with the Pope, the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Evangelical Environmental Network, and many other organizations, feel this to be the greatest moral issue of our times. Our global irresponsibility is having life and death consequences today on the world’s most vulnerable. If we hope at all that the church will be a place of growth, we must start by tending to our own, literal gardens – caring for this “very good” (Genesis 1) world that our God has created for us. We must recognize that we are all interconnected, and that we have a moral responsibility to lives in Peru and Rwanda, in Angola and Argentina, to preserve the world and to share its resources that all may thrive and flourish.
I encourage you to read Laudato Si’, and to investigate with the Evangelical Environmental Network and other such organizations how you can turn today to make a contribution to the well-being of all the people of the world. Our time is running out – there is no better time than today to make a change in your own life.
Blessings be to you all, and to our Sister Earth.