May 10, 2020
Then God said, ‘Let Us Make Humankind In Our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
I wasn’t going to make the ferry from Mull to the Mainland of Scotland in time to make my train. I was 20, studying abroad, and had just visited Iona for the first time, and I was new to train timetables. I grabbed a cup of tea in the little town of Fionnphort, waiting for my bus to take me to the ferry, and was feeling a little panicked. That evening, I was supposed to check into my flat in Glasgow, and head to a pub to check-in with my study abroad group. I took a deep breath, figured out how to use a payphone with British coins, and called my trip leader, explaining I’d be late, but I was safe. A few tables away a middle-aged English couple overheard me, and invited me to sit down. They shared that they were headed to Glasgow, and offered me a lift. I was thrilled. They asked if I wouldn’t mind making a few stops on the way, since they were on vacation, and I figured why not?
A few hours later, I was standing at a power station next to the beautiful Loch Awe. We got in an electric people-mover, and started to head down into the earth, below a massive mountain, called Ben Cruachan. When there is extra electricity in the Scottish electric grid, the turbines are reversed, and water is pumped from Loch Awe, up over a thousand feet to the top of the mountain to a dam. When extra electricity is needed, the turbines are powered by the water falling down the pipes, and into the Loch. Heading down to the power station, I wasn’t quite sure what I would find. What I saw was the last thing I expected; a massive cavern, with four turbines, that made sense, but they were surrounded by stunningly beautiful tropical plants, growing under sun lamps. The heat and humidity from the earth provides exactly the right environment for all kinds of beautiful things to grow. The engineers who worked in the power plant wanted a reminder of why they spent their days a thousand feet below a mountain; to care for the earth that surrounded them. What impressed me most about this power plant was the delight so many took in its ingenuity; this was a power plant that was designed to work in concert with the earth, not against it. In a nation that, in 2006 was setting the ambitious goal of becoming carbon neutral, there was a deep sense of pride and joy. The changes that were needed to reverse human climate change were not seen as losses, but as a way to be more fully in relationship with the earth. It was one of the first times I experienced the delight of being good stewards of creation. And this wasn’t something individuals were doing, but large corporations, businesses, manufacturers. As a US citizen, it was disorienting at first; wasn’t this the opposite of how businesses worked?
One of the lessons my mother taught me growing up, not necessarily through words, but through her actions, was the joy that could be found when we are motivated by delight. God gave us a beautiful world to delight in. When society creates systems where others can’t delight in God’s gifts, we can step up to do what we can. This week, her wisdom, and the delight of the engineers at Ben Cruachan have been on my mind. When I think about being good stewards of our world’s climate, in the midst of a pandemic, it seems like we may want to think of the delight that is possible, instead of just our fears. Often we approach Human Caused Climate Change through the lens of disaster, or of moral obligation and guilt. These are ways to motivate people, but it’s not something that is particularly sustainable. We’re all a little exhausted. It’s not that there aren’t terrifying possibilities with the climate crisis, but what would it look like to frame our response through delight?
Our creator gave us a world with enough food, land, water, sky, air, seasons, the sun moon and stars, for all to delight in creation, God, one another, and ourselves. We have been given enough for the wild animals to eat, enough soil and water for ourselves and for the stunning diversity of plants, enough air for the birds, enough seas and lakes and rivers for fish. Our calling is to glorify God in thanks, and delight in God forever. When being a good steward of the earth is something that brings delight, and provides enough for all, we can learn the beauty of limits. In the first of the two creation myths in the Book of Genesis, God sets about creating limits; there is light, and dark, separated from one another, with sunset and sunrise as places of beautiful transition. There is the separation of the waters from the land, with limits set to each. The waters above in the sky are separated from the waters flowing within the earth. There are limits on what is for each animal to eat, and where to live, and humanity is given the task of caring for these boundaries, these limits. We often read this text, of having dominion, as God giving us control over creation. But Dominion connotes being the arbitrator of the boundaries, the lines, of being responsible for keeping the relationships in check. And when we enter into this role, of being responsible for keeping the balance, of being agents of grace, through the graceful limits, we can delight in the beauty of creation in a way that leads to flourishing.
I think of our rain Gardens, dedicated to the memory of Pat Cornman and Branch Warfield. I’ve been watching as the plants return to bloom, as flowers and grasses re-emerge. I delight in these all year round. By repairing the relationship between rain waters and the soil, by giving space over to native plants on our property, we can give space to each part of creation in a way that not only lessens our impact on our land, but also brings joy. What if our response to climate change was similar?
I’m not talking about individual responsibility here, although that is part of the climate response. What we’ve realized in the past decades is that the largest carbon contributors are large corporations, particularly in manufacturing and coal power production plants. The delight of solar farms, wind farms. Need for reduction in energy usage, sure, but also supply that is renewable. What if about delight? Large enough to be above bird flight paths. Seeing the Solar arrays in the desert.
God has given us good gifts, and we can try to hoard financial treasure through these gifts, playing into the insatiable greed of capitalism. Or, we can set limits, and experience a new way of living.
I have seen this in the work of our young climate activists, the delight of limits that can lead to thriving and beauty. There is the fear, the anxiety that many young people, myself included, feel about the climate crisis. But there is also the longed-for delight of being good stewards. And there is the beauty of solar and wind energy.
Scotland has a large number of its citizens who live in public housing, and a decade ago a pilot program was developed where households had an electric meter installed in their kitchens that shared what energy was available from wind and solar. Based on this information, households were invited to make decisions for their household work. They always had access to power, but if they decided to run their washing machines could be powered by the wind, they received a small credit for their electric bill. In the long winter evenings, when the wind was howling, they could see that there was plenty of energy to make a cup of tea, and watch the television. Folks started to change their behaviors based on the weather. And there was a delight that residents reported. The amount of money saved was miniscule, maybe a few pounds a month. But much more deeply was the sense of living in concert with the wind, the weather. When wind farms started to be built on the hilltops on the outskirts of cities, folks shared the joy they felt watching them turn, and knowing how they could live connected.
Beloved, we have been given a good creation, the love of a gracious God, and a spirit that invites us to delight, even as we love and serve the lord, through loving our neighbors, and being good stewards. In the midst of this pandemic, may we advocate for living in relationship with God’s creation, not through fear, something our world has plenty of these days, but through the delight that God has given to us, when we provide enough for all.