How Did We Lose Our Way and How Can We Find Our Way Back?: The Universal Salvation of All Creation
By Rev. John Juno Song, Pastor of Watsonville 1st UMC
The Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters: danger and opportunity.
“This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Humans are not the only show in town. Yesterday, I saw a hawk flying and landing on the branch of a tree in my backyard. I was frozen in awe staring at this magnificent creature as feeling of gratitude welled up inside of me for this rare bird showing herself to me. In that moment, I felt true kindship with the bird. The hawk is my relative. There is a quote in Richard Powers’s latest book, Bewilderment, from Allie, the late wife of Theo and late mother of 9-year old Robin. She says, in a testimony, “the creatures of the land do not belong to us. We hold them in our trust.” The first people who lived here knew, all animals are our relatives.
There are two different classic conceptions of humanity’s relationship to nature. There’s the Western Judeo-Christian idea of dominion over the natural world, and wrongly interpreted as it has been given to us to use without impunity for our pleasure. And then there’s also this idea you see in many indigenous cultures, which is that there’s a kinship with nature, that it is full of our relatives.
Whether your concern is climate change or animal extinction or mass migrations or economic inequality or global pandemic or any of a list we could keep going, there is just a chasm between what we should do and what we are willing to do. And what makes that even worse is that often, insisting on what we should do, telling people that what they’re doing right now is wrong or not enough, that they need to make sacrifice or change, that can lead to tremendous political backlash. I think what gets forgotten is you need to change minds of people to change politics. If you want a meaningful change, you can’t just impose it.
So how do we change the way we see each other and the world? How do we create a richer, deeper soil for better political climate that is conducive to meaningful change that will avert our current trajectory of mass extinction and climate catastrophe? I believe from a Christian perspective, people need make a radical shift from our current consciousness to the transcendent consciousness of God that push and change us in the other direction. And I think the one hopeful thing about the present is the growing number of people trying to challenge our conventional thinking and break away into a new way of looking at human condition on earth. And there will be a threshold, as there have been in history where somehow it goes from an outlier to absolutely mainstream and common sense.
But for now, why is it that we have been able to wage war against the non-human world for so long with such impunity? Because I will call it capitalism gone bonkers that sees the non-human world as not really interesting, not really alive, certainly not sacred in the way that we think of human beings and, instead, really just resources for the human gain. Under capitalism, there tends to be a view of nature as a resource to be extracted and use it for satisfying our avarice without the awareness of the unintended consequences.
The characteristics of this dominant culture are the fixation on control, the fixation on mastery, the fixation on management and accumulation and the resistance of decay and mortality. As we seek out the old, familiar, stable hierarchies of control, anything that’s not quite controllable and manageable, exploitable or leverageable, is terrifying and threatening to us humans. I believe what has to break down is our sense that we can force and deform, and will nature to conform to our desire for maximum efficiency and maximum return on investment. I believe a push back against materialism, consumerism, and insatiable want, is an important change in our society that we desperately need in this moment in time.
If we want to stay around much longer, we need a new paradigm from the one we’ve been living out of. Albert Einstein said that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If we want to begin this process of rehabilitation and transformation of our consciousness that we are part of the community of living Earth, it is going to take new way of seeing our place on earth along with the rest of creation. The shift in consciousness will require giving up the notion of human exceptionalism and separatism that may be driven by an anxiety about our own animal nature and start seeing ourselves as members of a community with other creatures. We need to stop denigrating animals for being that thing that we are afraid of in our own nature. We need to give up this sense of separateness from nature in favor of a sense of kinship.
There was a man who was tossing and turning all throughout the night on his death bed fearful of dying. Next morning he saw out through a small window of his room, a shadow of a bird perched on a branch. When he saw that bird on a branch, it reassured him that he was not alone and separate. A sense of deep peace flooded through his troubled heart. Shortly thereafter, he was able let go of fearful grip on life and able to ease into death with peaceful heart.