The highest heavens belong to the Lord,
but the earth he has given to mankind.
Psalm 115:16 (NIV)
“Always keep a litter bag in your car.
When it fills up you can toss it out the window.”
– Steve Martin
Along my life journey, I’ve seen tremendous change. Here are some things I remember as a child:
Smoking was acceptable anywhere. Every car came with an ashtray, and there was an ashtray on the armrest of every airline seat. I remember always knowing which door led to the teacher’s lounge because the smell of smoke permeated it. When it came time to get grandpa and grandma (both smokers) a birthday or Christmas gift, we ponied up for a new cigarette case, a pipe lighter, or a box of cigars. One year we got grandma a little case that looked like a treasure chest. When you pushed the button a door would open and a skull and crossbones would bring up a cigarette from the chest as it played the deadman’s dirge.
There were no “adopt-a-highway” programs cleaning up the roads. Trash tossed-out car windows was prevalent and everywhere. Tossing trash out your car window was commonly acceptable.
There was no recycling. There was no composting. There was no “waste management.”
Every autumn, everyone raked their leaves in to a giant pile and burned them. Weekends in the neighborhood were one giant, cloudy haze as pillars of smoke rose from every back yard. The smell of burnt leaves permeated everywhere.
I could go on but will stop there. Our culture has come a long way in the last 50 years. There has been so much progress toward health, safety, and conservation. As technology has increased exponentially, so has the opportunities and expectations for taking care of ourselves and the world around us.
In today’s chapter, Psalm 115, the songwriter reminded me of something that is spelled out very clearly in the Great Story. It is not, however, taught or discussed very often.
At the very beginning, in the Creation story, God creates the universe and then creates Adam and Eve and gives humanity “dominion” over all the earth to be caretakers of it. So when the songwriter of Psalm 115 says, “The earth He has given to mankind” it is a reminder that humanity has both power and responsibility in caring for God’s creation.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself meditating on a couple of things.
First, I am reminded that the paradigm Jesus modeled in His teaching and ministry was one of radiating influence. Jesus didn’t do the thing that everyone expected Him to do which was to use His power to destroy Rome, ascend to the throne of earthly power, and force His will and justice on the world. Jesus, the individual, influenced and changed the lives of other individuals and then called them to follow His example. The individual radiated influence over those in his/her circles of influence, and it continued to expand to more and more and more.
I observe that we, as humans, often prefer the top-down paradigm in which I gain earthly power through wealth, politics, fame, or media so as to have the worldly dominion that allows me to force or impress my will on others.
As a follower of Jesus, that was never the paradigm He exemplified or asked of me. The only dominion that I know I have for sure is over my own life and actions. I find myself asking how I can play my role in being a caretaker of creation in my own world, and model it for others.
The second thought this morning is an observation. I increasingly see a generation rising up for whom human progress is “not enough.” It’s even condemned as if in the world of my childhood, I could and should have looked into the future, perceived 21st century ideals and somehow hit a cosmic “fast forward” button. The tremendous advancements made in my lifetime fall short of a perfection that is expected, even demanded, immediately.
Which brings me back to dominion. I can’t control others. I can only control the tiny circle of dominion that I have been given. So, I’ll ask myself to keep being a better caretaker of God’s creation in the ways that I personally control and interact with. I will continue to get better at being a positive influence on my circles of influence in my example, conversation, and encouragement. (Like the neighbor I saw throwing trash out their car window as they drove by my house. It still happens far too often. I went out to the street and picked it up.)
I find it ironic as I mull over these things that I have often heard people shun institutional religion for all of the “rules” it places on a person, while increasingly there are those who would dictate rapid change to reach the ideals of their world-view through institutional commands and control.
That was never Jesus’ paradigm. He was about changing hearts and souls so that individuals would positively change the world through love and responsibility that was motivated by love and sacrifice. I’ve been walking that path for forty years. I think I’ll press on.