Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Global Community and Hope
distributed 2/9/18 - ©2018

A few months ago, a friend pointed me to worship resources on the theme, "All God's Creation Is Very Good!" I expected some rather generic and nicely safe materials, and took my time checking them out.

I discovered a set of study documents that have surprised, delighted and challenged me.

They are all part of the packet for World Day of Prayer 2018, developed by women in Suriname. (The first learning is that the Republic of Suriname lies in the northeastern part of South America. Maybe I knew that once, but it wasn't a fact that came back quickly.)

I started to recognize that I was in for a treat when I looked at the two-page Bible study sheet, dealing with Genesis 1. The first paragraph of the introduction dives right in to serious issues and thoughtful analysis.

In recent years, there has been much talk about climate change. Suriname, along with many other countries in the world, feels the effects of climate change due to global warming. Our main city, Paramaribo, is settled near the Atlantic Ocean, and many places are now flooded in the rainy season. ... We note the devastating effects of natural disasters on the environment and manmade disasters like polluting rivers with mercury when mining for gold. The harmonious life of humans, animals, and nature is totally out of balance. Many agree that we, as human beings, are responsible for much of that. At the same time, we are the ones who can bring solutions and restore the harmony between humankind and God's creation.

This isn't abstract musing about a pretty story from the Bible. We're guided through a process of "contextual Bible reading" which is tied to specific issues of today's world, issues called out and detailed by women in Suriname.

The contextual reading starts with a careful look at the text, then moves into interpretation. We're called to look at verses 22 and 28, where God blesses the animals and humankind. Then comes the question, "How do you hear the blessing of creation in the face of environmental pollution, natural disasters, the impact of advanced technology, and the abuse of human beings and nature?" The follow-up asks, "How do we, as human beings, use our gifts in caring for creation?" OK -- tough questions. This is going to be a challenge.

There's no rest as we come to the third step in contextual reading, conversation. There's one big question. "How can we ensure the future of the earth for following generations?" Again, we're not allowed to hide in generalities. The women give for examples for our consideration -- details about food growing; extraction from creation, whether of minerals, deforestation, or the poaching of endangered species; waste management; and finally "all forms of violence against children, youth and women." Lest we circle into frustration and despair, we're supposed to end the conversation by summarizing what "All God's creation is very good!" means for us as we receive the charge of caring for God's creation. This is serious theological work, naming good and hope in the face of very real threats and crisis.

But we're not done. Part four of the contextual process calls for "application" that continues into work on an environmental project, artistic expressions, or other commitment toward the care of God's creation.

It has been many years since my last contact with World Day of Prayer. I have been blessed by rediscovering this great organization, and reading through this year's resources. I will lift up prayers of thanks and celebration when women in more than 170 countries join in this year's worship on March 5.

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Last week's Notes, I suggested an "outside observer test" to help us discern what is important. Somebody who is not part of our political and cultural bubble can point out when we're too fixated on our own situation -- the NIMBY problem of caring for my backyard, without worrying about the backyards of others.

The outside observer also helps us break through the strong domestic bias of news reporting in the US, which has largely ignored the rest of the world. When we didn't even hear about last summer's devastating flooding in Sierra Leone, India, Bangladesh and Nepal, we had no context for considering the flooding the flooding in Houston from hurricane Harvey.

Last week, I lifted up BBC World News as an external (to my context) news source that helps keep the world in better perspective. Today, I lift up the ongoing work of the World Day of Prayer network as a model for global connection that goes beyond simple information, and that engages us in dialogue and community.

The organization's detailed Guiding Principles provide a philosophical and practical framework for entering into that dialogue.

"Prayer is rooted in listening to God and to one another. On World Day of Prayer we listen to the Word of God and to voices of women sharing their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows, their opportunities and needs." Real listening means that we know more than one or two factoids about a place or an event.

The worship service for this year's World Day of Prayer has stories from seven women of Suriname reflecting the great diversity of the country. The Bible study questions draw us into the experiences of women in Suriname. A fascinating and candid supplement, "About Suriname," provides information about the country's history, environment, economy, and culture, so that we hear the women's words in context. These voices from tropical cities and rainforests become vivid and real.

This sort of detailed study and listening "helps us to recognize better what is our own and to appreciate and respect what is other than our own. ... Thus we build a global perspective that resembles a rainbow of many colors and that is different from forces that drive 'globalization' in a way that devalues people's lives and cultures."

Too often, appeals to action on issues like climate change resort to a familiar list of widespread problems -- dangerous heat, drought, extreme weather events, crop failure -- that don't touch our hearts, bring us into relationship, or stimulate our prayer. (Mea culpa!) My exploration of World Day of Prayer reminds me that "informed prayer leads to prayerful action." We are far more likely to act -- even to be transformed -- when we have been touched by the voices, experiences, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows of people who face these big issues in a personal way.

In our work for the healing of creation, may we find the time and take the risks to really encounter people from other parts of the global community. May we discover and use new avenues for that study and dialogue. (In addition to World Day of Prayer, look at denominational mission projects, immersion and study trips, and global connections through advocacy groups like 350.org and Avaaz).

As we really engage in that deep community, we're able to face the long list of threats and problems, and still work back to the affirmation that "all God's creation is very good!". In community with our kindred around the world, we can act to bring hope and healing. Let's do it.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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