Creatures, Creation, Creator…..Nicely alliterative, coming from the Greek root Kreas, which means form, flesh, to bring into existence, to be. “And God created the world and saw that it was good.” But after a while Man became wicked and so God brought on the Great Flood. But he instructed his faithful servant Noah to construct an ark and bring onto it pairs of each living creature. And when God delivered Noah and the Ark from the flood, he gave specific instructions to Noah:
Genesis 8:18 said: “Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground, so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it.” And God made covenant with Noah, in Genesis 9:2….. “The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon the fish of the sea; they are given onto your hands.”
But too often in the course of mankind’s history, this charge has been interpreted as being that Man has dominion over all creatures and can do as he pleases, that Man is God. As people of faith and true followers of God’s son Jesus Christ, we know better. Man is not God. Only God is God.
Today there are many troubles in the world of God’s creation, not the least of which is the status of the creatures, the animal kingdom. Our world is at a crossroads in how we relate to other creatures and the Creation. The IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, estimates that of 40,000 species studied, fully 40%, 16,000, are in danger of becoming extinct in the next 25-50 years. Forty percent!!
In my life I have been blessed with the opportunities to engage directly with the world’s wildlife in many places—koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and wombats in Australia; kiwis and other flightless birds in New Zealand, tigers and their prey the chital and sambar deer in the wilds of central India; the unique variety of lemurs in Madagascar, the vast herds of plains animals in East Africa,; the famed Kruger National Park and Umfolozi-Hluhluhe conservation reserves in South Africa; the veritable Garden of Eden that is the Okavonga Delta in Botswana; the rainforests in Costa Rica with New World monkeys, butterflies, and frogs; and the giant tortoises, seabirds, marine iguanas, and finches in the Galapagos Islands which Darwin studied and which gave rise to his theory of Origin of Species.
My most recent trip to an exotic place was this summer going to Montreat NC, in the mountains just east of Asheville. Montreat is the site of a Presbyterian Conference Center and also a college, operated separately. The conference focused on Faith and Environment, and was sponsored by Presbyterians for Restoration of Creation a group in existence for 20 years, and just re-named Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC). In a week of plenary presentation sessions, devotionals, workshops and worship, people of faith-Presbyterians and others- engaged in consideration of what I would call the ‘seven deadly sins’ wrought by modern man: global warming, climate change and CO2 emissions; the industrialization of agriculture, deforestation, habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity, pollution, depletion of natural resources, and overpopulation.
The sustainability of the Earth, which is God’s Creation, now really depends on what we, God’s children, do to reverse this destruction. We could spend several years of Sundays discussing all of these incredibly complex and vitally important issues we face as people of God, but we’ll focus today on just one of these.
It was at this conference that I truly experienced the confluence of my passion for wildlife conservation with my faith, developing a broader and deeper theological understanding and biblical underpinning.
Indeed, the theme of the conference was:
But ask the animals and they will teach you; the birds of the air and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth and they will teach you, and the fish of the sea will declare to you…..Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?…..In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being.
The Creatures are speaking to us, crying out their distress as their habitat dwindles and their ability to survive becomes ever more challenged by men’s action, our “careless dominion” over creation. In our charge to keep Dominion, God really calls us to echo the love, care, and responsibility that the Lord has for All in his Created world. We must maintain Creation’s biodiversity, which is both functional—providing for humans—as well as sacramental—of God. The vast majority of species serve no functional purpose to humans, but all creation has integrity and intrinsic value. it is a reflection of God, and God cares for even the smallest creatures, the scaly and crawly as well as the fuzzy and the flighty. No being is insignificant in the eyes of God.
Today, to achieve sustainability of the creatures we must blend ecology and economy to achieve eco-justice, so that human beings can live in harmony with the creatures of the world. Unlike earlier times, today there is a more complex relationship between creatures, habitat, and human beings as our needs expand and as we encroach upon wilderness areas formerly reserved by God, and scripture, for the ‘wild things’. But God has given us the tools to understand what we must do to save species.
Ecology is concerned with applying scientific principles to understand and properly manage man’s interaction with Creation. Ecology provides for saving populations of species, not all individuals. Eco-justice meshes ecology and economy to create equity between species, human-kind and other creatures. SUSTAINABILITY REQUIRES INTEGRATION OF THESE FACTORS.
Here’s an example of sustainability: Pull out the alligator
Alligator and crocodile populations worldwide were heavily decimated just a few decades ago. Female alligators lay about 100 eggs per season, but only 20% at best reach maturity, due to predation, floods, local peoples’ needs, and poachers. But scientists discovered that by taking hatchlings and feeding them a special mix, a Purina Reptile Chow, if you will, that survival rates to maturity reached 80%!
Now let’s do the math….
Mama gator lays 100 eggs, and we let her keep 20 of them. Of the remaining 80, we feed them the ‘Purina Reptile Chow’. Now 80 percent of those grow to an adult size where now their survival rate is assured. That gives us 64. We put 20 of those back into the wild, and now we’ve more than doubled the wild population, because we’ve put 20 survivable adults back.
What do we do with the remaining 44? Pull out the purse…..
Now, nobody in this congregation truly needs a reptile hide purse or alligator shoes, but……
Just years ago, most of the world’s crocodilian species population in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Phillippines, Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, was decimated by natural disasters and poachers. Coastal peoples living in these countries relied on this wildlife for their sustenance—much like our Native Americans in the plains areas depended on the buffalo. With the loss of the crocodiles, these peoples no longer had a resource they could rely on.
Today, the situation has changed. Because of ecological science and the reptile chow, poachers have turned protectors of nesting females, recovering the eggs, and the peoples now have a sustainable food source, economy and income based on crocodile hides.
Now, the largest population of crocodiles in the world is the marshy Upper Nile area in the Southern Sudan—close to Darfur. Sustainable crocodile farming has become a source of industry for the Christian peoples of the Southern Sudan. And which church has been an instrumental partner in all these endeavors with the crocodiles? Our very own PCUSA!
Indeed,, Presbyterian involvement in many areas of wildlife conservation has given rise in the secular press to such juicy titles as “Crocs in the Pews: Interfacing Crocodilian Conservation with Church Mission Activities.” “Tagging Turtles for Jesus”, Presbyterians get Asses off Ossabow Island—referring of course to a feral, non-indigenous species which didn’t belong there.
But it will take much more than the foregoing efforts to save other species.—-Such poster species as the polar bear demands that we resolve the issues of global warming and our thirst for oil. To save the tiger we must not only retain habitat and provide for human-kinds needs, but we must also defeat the cultural traditions that view tiger bones as medicinal. To save the Panda also requires that we maintain habitat. To save the incredible biodiversity in the rainforests, we must cease the unsustainable logging which feeds our insatiable thirst for paper and building timber, or planting for palm oil which goes into alternative fuels and cosmetics.—Just two weeks ago I saw a bumper sticker which said “Daddy, what did forests look like?”. And then there is man’s greed, avarice, and hunter/killer mentality which threaten to undo the comeback of gray wolves in our West. Also, we must discontinue use of poisons and pesticides against predators and non-predators alike the world over.
But large or small, fuzzy, flighty, scaly or crawly, we must remember that God cares for all his creatures. They are all here in His Creation for a reason—even if we don’t know why. The loss of any species through our carelessness and not through natural laws of nature, is unacceptable. Who knows what new medicines and drugs, or resistance to pollution and toxins, certain species may carry within their genes and their very existence? If we lose them, we will never know. We learn evermore about the interdependence of all creatures, but even without such understanding – all Creatures have a right to existence because God made them.
So how should we live? We pray for discernment, enlightenment, and wisdom as we learn about the issues concerning other creatures and educate ourselves. Then we must advocate, both in word and actions, within our families, teaching our children reverence for the natural world which is our gift from God, and witnessing within our church, our communities, and to our societal government leaders in holding them accountable in representing us to do God’s will.
Reduce, re-use, recycle – this is a theme that we will hear again and again, and we must practice many times over, for when we engage in these practices we help wildlife by saving habitat. Buying only sustainable-supply animal foods, and not purchasing any items related to endangered species, directly or indirectly is crucial to saving wildlife.
Saving God’s creatures will not be easy, but we have many positive examples before us. Just look at our own Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie and the return of over 40 species, back from the dead just 40 years ago. Today there are more nesting sites of bald eagles in Ohio than there were over 100 years ago. The buffalo was brought back from extinction with just 19 animals over a century ago.
Just a week ago, how many of you watched the Ken Burns documentary series on National Parks? The establishment of these reserved areas of creation was instigated by men of faith—John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, Stephen Mather, Harold Albright, Franklin Roosevelt—and the establishment was a distinctly American initiative. As the parks evolved, they came to include wildlife conservation as well as majestic scenery preservation. Today that model of National Parks and conservation areas has been followed the world over. Blending creature sustainability with human eco-justice is now coming more into vogue. A good example would be the Snow Leopard Trust in the mountains of Asia in which the snow leopard lives. In return for keeping safe the snow leopard and not killing them, local sheepherders are paid by the trust for their wool—thereby achieving sustainability through economy.
And internationally, let me share this story with you:
In 1986 I was in Eastern Europe at the time of the Chernobyl accident. Some have said that is how I may have even acquired my ‘glowing and radiant personality’…… However today, in a 10 kilometer radius exclusion zone of no-human interference , wildlife flourishes, with an abundance of moose wolves, deer, rabbits, river otters and birds, which have now repopulated the area. Mother nature, as God’s agent of Restoration, has indeed been active.
In closing, let me site an historical note. Hildegard von Bingen was an 11th century German Christian mystic, Benedictine Abbess, naturalist, philosopher, scientist, poet and composer……. In short a veritable Da Vinci of her time. She said: “ We shall awaken from our dullness and rise vigorously toward justice. If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion.”
For a thousand years since then, we have largely kept silent, and have ignored our responsibility to sustain Creation. Let Hildegarde’s charge be a renewed clarion call to all of us.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
It is only when we human beings learn to act in tripartite harmony with our fellow Creatures, in this earth, the Lord’s Creation, will we truly become engaged in the peaceable kingdom that our Creator always has intended. Amen