Years ago, Christine Bird gave me a cartoon that pictures a man in a lab coat standing in front of a door labeled, “Scriptural Biology Lab.” In smaller letters the sign continues, “Please close mind behind you.”
The truth behind that cartoon makes me both laugh and cringe. It aptly depicts one aspect of the culture wars that have polarized our nation in recent years – the tension between science and religion.
For many years, the heart of that tension was the debate over evolution, a debate that most Episcopalians I know find ridiculous. Most of us have no problem believing the truth behind the Bible’s creation stories – that the earth and the universe are God’s creation, while also acknowledging the scientific truth of the theory of evolution.
One of the things I love about the Episcopal Church is that it does not require us to close our minds when we deal with the world God has made. We acknowledge that our minds are one of God’s greatest gifts to us.
We take to heart the words of the apostle Paul, “I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also. I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also.”
And we remember that Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind.”
Indeed, a faith that requires you to close your mind in order to believe is not much of a faith at all.
In recent years the assaults on science have gone from ridiculous to dangerous. Those assaults were the motivation for yesterday’s Marches for Science, held in every major city in this country, and on every continent in the world.
Thousands of scientists and their supporters marched to show support for the sciences, and in protest of government policies that undermine scientific facts and research, and leaders who disparage climate change as a hoax and cast suspicions on the safety of vaccines.
It was not just a coincidence that these marches took place on Earth Day.
From rollbacks of regulations safeguarding our air and water, to budget slashes in programs aimed at cleaning the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, to proposed border walls through fragile ecosystems, to lifting of regulations to allow the hunting of hibernating bears, this fragile earth, our island home, is increasingly vulnerable.
Naturalist John Muir, considered the father of our National Parks, said, “Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed — chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent backbones.
“Few that fell trees plant them; nor would planting avail much towards getting back anything like the noble primeval forests.
“It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods — trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra.
“Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools — only Uncle Sam can do that.”
The fear today is that Uncle Sam will not do that, in fact that Uncle Sam will hasten their destruction.
That is not just a scientific concern; it is a religious one.
In today’s reading from Genesis, we heard that God created humankind in God’s image and gave humans dominion over creation.
The word dominion is part of the problem. Too often we have taken that to mean we are superior to the rest of creation, that we have God-given authority to dominate and control the world God has created.
And so we fill in the wetlands to build luxury developments, we pollute the air and water without regard for the health of people or the planet, we devour natural resources, and chop down the rain forests.
We live on this planet as if we have another one we can go to when this one is used up.
But, as one sign I saw yesterday put it, “There is no Planet B.”
A better translation of the Genesis story, one that is closer to God’s intent, is to say that God gave humans stewardship of creation. We were created to be God’s partners, to care for the earth God created.
We at St. Dunstan’s know this. We cherish the beauty of creation, beginning with these five wooded acres we call home.
The banner hanging behind the altar is a testament to this land. Everything depicted on it and on my stole is from St. Dunstan’s – the beech trees, the azaleas and hydrangeas, the great blue herons and owls and turtles and deer and foxes – all make their home here.
Just by looking out our windows we can see the truth of John Muir’s words – that “when we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
We are connected; the earth is what we all have in common. And we have a God-given responsibility to care for it.
Now more than ever that means not only making responsible decisions about how we as individuals live on the earth, it means making our voices heard by those in authority, demanding that issues of science, especially care for the environment, be a priority.
Georgia Sierra Club President Ted Terry spoke to a group at St. Dunstan’s last week. He noted that a majority of people in this country understand that climate change is real and believe it should be a priority.
He also noted that the technology to make a difference already exists, and in many cases is already working. But the funding for those programs, and for further research must continue.
Individually, we cannot save the planet. But we can do the work that has been given us to do – to save what is in front of us and to make our voices heard by those who have the authority to do more.
I leave us today with the words of poet and environmental activist Wendell Berry:
“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”