Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Gaining the world and forfeiting life

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

The Gospel passage from today’s Daily Office lectionary, Mark 8:34-9:1, has stayed with me all day. Having completed training for the Climate Reality Leadership Corps just last week, the realities of climate change – both the current scientific consensus about what is happening and the ways in which climate change is already affecting people and other living things around the world – are more present in my thoughts than ever. Had I not been reading the above sentences in their Gospel context, they might be taken as very fresh and relevant questions in the context of our environmental challenges. Those who want to cling to a comfortable and familiar way of life thinking that will shield them from reality will lose that life, and those who let go of their old way of life, of our old consumer culture and notions of success, for the sake of sustaining all living things in God’s creation will find a deeper life. For what good does it do us to have all the stuff in the world and destroy the web of life on our planet?

Even though that’s what I first heard in this passage today, I dismissed it because when Jesus said these words, he was talking about something entirely different. This passage from Mark is about the possibility of losing your soul, your core or essential self. What good does it do to gain power or wealth or success in some arena and lose who we really are in the process? True life, says Jesus, is setting aside all of the things on which we usually focus our efforts in order to focus on Christ and his gospel.

I know all of that, but the way these words first grabbed my attention this morning stayed with me. An old school friend wondered on Facebook about where all the grasshoppers had gone. In our childhood in northeast Ohio, grasshoppers were plentiful; he said that when his Ohio grandchildren saw a grasshopper on a trip to West Virginia last year, they asked what it was. Other people from various places commented about missing monarch butterflies and crickets and a couple of wildflowers. Their disappearance is about habitat loss as well as climate change, still another way that our way of life is causing the web to unravel. Then later on in the day I read about NOAA releasing its 2012 State of the Climate report, full of news about rising ocean temperatures, rising oceans, loss of Arctic sea ice, and a continued overall warming trend.

“What will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” I began to wonder about a connection between losing our souls and losing the web of life that supports us. Our way of life, a way of life that has brought many of us comforts and conveniences that previous generations could not have imagined, has caused the web of life in which we live to begin unraveling. We are not separate from “nature”; when everything else is suffering, we are suffering, too. And if everything else dies, we will die, too.

We are, after all, creatures of the earth. Genesis 2 talks about the human being, adam, being created from the soil, adamah, inextricably connected with the earth, dependent on air and water and food from other living things to stay alive. We depend on animals and plants for more than food and ecosystem balance, though; they are our companions on this planet. The IUCN Red List of endangered species contains photographs of some of the animals and plants that are not flourishing today. A look through the pages of the Red List website is sobering. The prospect of losing these other living things to whom we are connected is very sad indeed. Their loss touches our souls because their lives and ours are bound together. Losing all of this means losing our souls, our very lives.

Right now, human beings are destroying the conditions necessary for human life to flourish. We can forfeit our souls, life itself, and continue with business as usual, or we can let go of all of that and change the way we live so that we and future generations can live. For what good does it do us to have all the stuff in the world and destroy the web of life on our planet?