“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
Sun Come Up is one of this year’s Oscar nominees in short documentary films. It’s a story from Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific about the Carteret Islanders relocating to a new home on Bougainville, fifty miles across the open water. The Carteret Islanders are among the growing number of climate refugees in our world, people who must leave their home because the effects of climate change are making it uninhabitable. These people have a language and culture unique to their islands, but must now go live in a different place because their islands are disappearing due to rising sea levels and erosion. This film tells the story of these people and the people of Bougainville who, despite their own hardships after ten years of civil strife, welcome these refugees. Here’s the trailer of the film:
Tomorrow’s lectionary includes Micah 6:1-8. Micah’s message from God tells us that God wants us to do justice. A big piece of doing justice in today’s world is paying attention to people like the Carteret Islanders who are losing their homes. Doing justice also involves working not only to ensure there are welcoming places for them to resettle, but working to bring the levels of carbon and other greenhouse gases down to a point where the effects of climate change can be kept to a minimum. The longer we live with carbon levels above 350 ppm, the more severe will be the effects of climate change. (The December 2010 reading from the Mauna Loa observatory was 389.69)
The kindness of the Bougainville Islanders is extraordinary. As the synopsis of the story on the Sun Come Up website explains:
Many Bougainvilleans remain traumatized by the “Crisis” as the civil war is known locally. Yet, Sun Come Up isn’t a familiar third world narrative. Out of this tragedy comes a story of hope, strength, and profound generosity.
Verse 5 of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12), tomorrow’s Gospel lesson, is “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” The Tulele Peisa website (‘Tulele Peisa’ means ‘sailing the waves on our own’) includes some background information about the situation on the Carteret Islands . As on other Pacific Islands, their staple food has been taro. When the groundwater on islands becomes too saline due to sea level rise and rising storm tides, the taro crops fail. The conditions on the islands have certainly made the people humble, and no doubt much of the world would prefer that climate refugees be meek in all possible nuances of the word – submissive, not creating a stir, nonassertive.
In the film trailer, one of the people with whom they are negotiating on Bougainville says, “I’ve heard about you Carterets, you are easy-going people.” But while easy-going, they are not passive. They have carefully thought through their circumstances and their options, and are relocating in a way that will help their family units and some of their culture to survive and in a way that allows them to be productive people in their new home. They are gentle people, but they are not allowing circumstances to push them around completely. Without such planning, they know they would become, as some already have, “the new marginalised fringe dwellers with serious social problems and stigma” living in slums on the Papua New Guinea mainland.
Perhaps some meekness is called for on our part, in a willingness for those of us living in places that are habitable to step aside and, following the example of the Bougainville Islanders, make space for this new kind of refugee. Meekness would call for us to set aside our desire for everything to continue to grow bigger so that others can be ensured the essentials in life. Surely that is part of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. If we do these things, we might stand a chance for all of us to inherit the earth.