Thursday, October 29, 2009

Truly Alive

The Gospel lesson for All Saints Day this year is the end of the story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11: 32-44). After Jesus calls to Lazarus, who comes out of the tomb still bound with burial cloths, the story ends with Jesus saying “Unbind him, and let him go.”

I’ve been thinking about what binds us as individuals, parishes, dioceses, and a society. What are the norms and expectations that keep us from flourishing, truly living, as we might? In particular, what binds us and makes it so difficult to accept and begin to make the changes needed to deal with pollution and climate change?

Chuck Morello of the Episcopal Ecological Network (EpEN) sent out a message this week that originated with Skip Vilas of the Diocese of Newark, a founder of EpEN and member of the EpEN leadership team. (Click on Episcopal Ecological Network above or under Good Green Resources in the right hand column of this blog to see more about the network and to sign up for e-mail updates from EpEN.) The message was about an article entitled “Dr. Rowan Williams says climate crisis a chance to become human again” that appeared in The Guardian on October 13.

In this article, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, suggests an answer to the question of what binds us. In an address at Southwark Cathedral, the Archbishop said that we have allowed ourselves to become “addicted to fantasies about prosperity and growth, dreams of wealth without risk and profit without cost”.

When our primary focus shifts from Christian discipleship to quick and easy ways to build or hold onto wealth, we bind ourselves with self-centeredness, love of money, and conformity to the marketplace. These things are binding or restricting because they keep us from doing what our deeper, better selves long to do: following Christ and living in a way that is fitting for people whose primary identity is Christian discipleship.

Changing the way we live so that life as we know it on this planet can continue for future generations does more than benefit the environment and, in turn, the people who stand to suffer if environmental deterioration goes unchecked. It also helps us to create better lives for ourselves, lives centered on values that nourish our souls. Rowan Williams says: "If I ask what's the point of my undertaking a modest amount of recycling my rubbish or scaling down my air travel, the answer is not that this will unquestionably save the world within six months, but in the first place it's a step towards liberation from a cycle of behaviour that is keeping me, indeed most of us, in a dangerous state — dangerous, that is, to our human dignity and self-respect."

Our lessons for All Saints Day also include Psalm 24. Remembering the first verse of this psalm, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all who dwell therein”, can help free us to be good stewards of our planet. We are free to follow Christ and live fully into our humanity when we remember that God created us and the world in which we live, and that the fullness and flourishing of our lives depends on staying in a whole and healthy relationship with God and with God’s creation.

In the end, making the changes we know we need to make is a good thing not only – and possibly not even principally – because it is good for “the Earth” in the abstract or even for our fellow creatures, human and nonhuman, who stand to suffer the most from environmental deterioration, but because it is necessary for the health and vitality of our own souls.