Water is Life

Two headlines grabbed my attention on Thursday morning.  The first one, in the LA Times said, “With less water, Southland will see browner landscape. Officials are imposing limits that could get even more strict.”  The second headline was from The Week and said, “Ocean animals face potential mass extinction from climate change, according to a new study in the journal Science.”  That headline was followed by a synopsis that said, “Rising temperatures and declining oxygen levels are cooking, starving and suffocating marine life.  Unless humanity takes swift action to curb fossil fuel use and other planet-warming activities, climate-fueled die-offs could rival the demise of the dinosaurs, research shows.”

It was an interesting juxtaposition.  Both stories were about water and climate change.  The first story emphasized how the drought is going to affect the aesthetic preferences of humans in Southern California.  With the new water use restrictions, our green lawns will be fading to brown.  People are not happy about that.  The second story was about how creatures that live in water are threatened with extinction because the emission of greenhouse gases from human industries and transportation has warmed their environment too much.  I would like to think that people aren’t happy about that, either.

Water is life.  That’s true for every living creature on earth.  Somewhere between 20% to 80% of all the earth’s creatures live in water.  The number is uncertain because no one really knows how many species live in the depths of the oceans.  Their need for water is obvious.  It’s their habitat.  But land creatures need water too.  Water is an essential element in all kinds of organic processes.  We have never found any living organism that can flourish in a completely dry environment.

71% of the earth’s surface is covered by water—332.5 million cubic miles of water—but that water only accounts for 0.02% of the planet’s total mass.  97% of the earth’s water is salt water in the oceans.  Only 3% is fresh water.

2.5% of the earth’s fresh water is unavailable because it’s locked up in glaciers, polar ice caps, the atmosphere, or soil.  Or it’s highly polluted.  Or it lies too far below the earth’s surface to be extracted at an affordable cost.  It the end, only 0.5%–one half of one percent—of the earth’s water is available fresh water, the water we drink, the water we use to water our lawns and gardens.  If the world’s total water supply was 100 liters (26 gallons), our usable supply of fresh water would be only about 3 ml (about half a teaspoon).

In ways you probably haven’t thought of, you are a water creature.  The human body—your body—is 60% water on average.[1]  Your brain and heart are 73% water and your lungs are about 83% water.  Your skin is 64% water, your muscles and kidneys are 79% water, your blood is 90% water, and your eyes are 95% water.  Even your bones are 31% water.  You can go a month or more without food, but the average person would die after only 2 to 4 days without water.  

Water is life.  Water is life because it has unique properties that make life possible.  It is the only natural substance where all three physical states—liquid, solid and gas—occur naturally on earth.  Water is the universal solvent. That means that it can carry other elements and compounds.  Your blood is 90% water but that water carries sodium, potassium, iron, and all the other minerals and nutrients your body needs.

Water is life.  And water is holy.   

Water is mentioned 478 times in the Bible:  

The primordial waters of Creation with the Spirit hovering above them.

The waters of the Flood.

The wells where relationships were formed, where Rebekah is brought to Isaac, where Jacob meets Leah and Rachel, where Moses meets Zipporah.

The waters of the Red Sea which Moses parted to reveal a pathway to freedom.

The waters of salvation which Isaiah speaks about and invites everyone to drink: “You will drink from the wells of salvation; Ho, all you who thirst, come to the water.”

The waters of justice that Amos calls us to produce: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!”

The waters of the Jordan where Jesus was baptized by John, where the Spirit descended upon him like a dove and the voice of God proclaimed “This is my son, the Beloved.”

The waters of Galilee where fishermen were called to follow Jesus and became disciples of the Way, waters that Jesus sailed across and walked upon.

The waters of the well in Samaria where Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink, talked with her about worship and told her that he could give her living water.

The waters of the Mediterranean that Paul sailed across to carry the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles and diaspora Jews in far places. 

The waters of the River of Life in Revelation, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God where the Spirit echoes the words of Isaiah and says “Come, let everyone who is thirsty come.  Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

Water is sacred.  

In his baptism, Christ was immersed in the waters of the world.  When we were baptized, the water we were submerged in or sprinkled with was a sign that we are immersed in the love and life of the triune God but also in the waters of Creation, the waters of the world.

What does it say about us when our way of life on this planet leads directly to the death and extinction of our fellow God-created creatures who live within the sacred life-giving waters of the earth?  

What does it say about us when our own trash pollutes the waters we rely on to such a degree that now our own bodies are tainted with microplastics?  

When we are claimed by the waters of baptism, we enter into a Covenant with certain declarations and promises.  We reject sin.  We renounce all the forces that defy God.  We renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God.  We renounce the ways of sin that draw us away from God.  We promise to “serve all people, following the example of Jesus,” and to “strive for justice and peace in all the earth.”  

In the waters of baptism we pledge our allegiance to the Kin-dom of God.  We volunteer to stand against evil and its power in the world and to live in the Way of Christ.  We vow to stand for justice, to be peacemakers working for God’s shalom.  We pledge to reject all types of violence, coercion, domination and oppression,  and to care for and protect all of Creation with fierce love. 

I’m pretty sure he would never claim to be speaking as a follower of Jesus in the Covenant of baptism, but Joaquin Phoenix, interestingly, captured much of what our baptismal covenant is all about in his Academy Award acceptance speech in 2020.  Here’s part of what he said:

“I think the greatest gift is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless… I think at times we feel or are made to feel that we champion different causes.  But for me, I see commonality.  I think, whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice.

“We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, one species, has the right to dominate, use and control another with impunity.

“I think we’ve become disconnected from the natural world.  Many of us are guilty of an egocentric world view, and we believe that we’re the center of the universe.  We go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources…

“We fear the idea of personal change, because we think we need to sacrifice something; to give something up.  But human beings at our best are so creative and inventive, and we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and the environment… I think that’s when we’re at our best: when we support each other.  Not when we cancel each other out for our past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow.  When we educate each other; when we guide each other to redemption.

“When he was 17, my brother [River] wrote this lyric.  He said: “run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.”

In our covenant with God and the earth, we are called, as Joaquin Phoenix said, to be a voice for the voiceless.  Water has many voices—the thunder of a waterfall, the waves that lap against a boat or crash against the shore, the burbling of a stream, the splash of a puddle, the rushing flow from a tap or shower head.  Water has many voices, but the world has forgotten how to listen to them.  We need to speak for the waters.

We need to speak for the waters because the waters have spoken for us.  Every drink of water is a reminder of how God provides for us.  Every time we shower or bathe, Christ is in, with, and under the waters that cleanse us, singing about our baptism, giving us a sign to remind us that we are immersed in the life and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  When we wade or swim, the waters that embrace us are a sign of our inclusion in this wet and wonderful God-made world.  Water is our intimate connection to the natural world. All the waters of our life tie us to the well-being of the earth and all its creatures.  The waters remind us that we are water creatures, too.  

In the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, St. Francis sang, “Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water who is so useful, humble, precious, and pure.”

May God teach us to love Sister Water.  May the Spirit that hovered over the waters of Creation, empower us to conserve and care for the water that sustains us and all life.  May Jesus, by the Living Water of his word keep us in harmony with the water that flows in our veins.  May the One who made us continually remind us that we have a kinship with water and all the creatures that live and move and have their being in water.  

We humans have brought distress to the waters of our world.  May we, as people of faith, be inspired to “run to the rescue with love,” trusting that peace will follow.

In Jesus’ name.

[1] The actual number varies from 45% to 75%.  Body composition varies according to gender and fitness level and amount of fatty tissue.

The Days of Our Lives

I was reading through the Book of Genesis, as one does, when a repeated phrase in chapter 5 made me pause. The phrase was “all the days of” as in “Thus all the days of Seth were nine hundred twelve years.”  As I noted, the phrase gets repeated: “all the days of Enosh;”  “all the days of Kenan,”  and so on.  Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech—each of them was given lots and lots of days, according to Genesis 5,  but after telling us how many years of days they lived, each account ends with a stark “and he died.”  Well, except for Enoch, but he was a special case.  

Apparently God thought this kind of longevity was excessive.  Right out of the chute in chapter 6 we read, “Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.”  It looks like that was meant to be an upper limit and not a prescription for everybody because almost nobody actually gets that old.  The longest verified human lifespan in recent times is that of Jeanne Louise Calment of France (1875–1997).  Genesis would say the days of Jeanne Louise were one hundred twenty-two years and 164 days; and she died.  So she got a couple of bonus years on top of the 120.  Good for her. 

In Psalm 90 that upper limit gets a few more years lopped off.  “The days of our life are seventy years, perhaps 80 if we are strong,” we read in verse 10.   Tradition says that Psalm 90 was written by Moses.  If so, then Moses was in a pretty dark mood that day. It’s not a happy Psalm, Psalm 90, and the curtailed life span is the least of its gloominess.  Oy.

The point of all this is that our days on this earth are numbered.  Frankly, I’m okay with that, even though I’m indisputably closer to the end than to the beginning.  C’est la vie, as Jeanne Louise would say if she were still here.  I’m okay with going on to what comes next, especially since I’m pretty sure that time will be experienced in a very different way—if we experience it at all. It’s all in God’s hands, so it’s all good.

Here’s what’s not good and what I’m not okay with: if we don’t clean up our act, then life on earth, at least life as we know it, is in real trouble.  If we don’t make some major changes starting yesterday, then our days as a species are numbered…and we’ll take a lot of other species with us.  Scientists are already calling our age the Anthropocene. They give names like that to bygone eras of mass extinction.  Anthropocene.  From anthropos, the Greek word for human.  When they call this current era the Anthropocene, they are saying that this is the era in which humanity has caused the extinction of massive numbers of other species.  Not our proudest moment.

I don’t care so much about my own personal extinction.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any hurry to shuffle off this mortal coil, but I’m also not worried about it.  It will come when it comes.  On the other hand, I care quite a lot about the threat of extinction to the various biomes of this beautiful planet, and all the other creatures that share the earth with us.  I quite like dogs,  for instance.  And cats and horses and frogs and dolphins and owls and even crows.  And octopuses, who, it turns out, are quite smart!  They didn’t have a say in the damage we’ve created with our massive carbon footprints.  They weren’t given a vote when our plastics were swept into the waters of the world.  I rather suspect they would have objected.  Strenuously.  I also care quite a lot about my children and grandsons and their potential progeny.  I would like for them to live in a world at least as nice as the one I’ve lived in.

Helen Caldicott once wrote, “We didn’t inherit the earth from our parents, we have borrowed it from our children.”   She has a really good point.  We did inherit some things from our parents, especially attitudes and habits that can have a profound effect on what the world will be like when we hand it over to those who come after us.  It would do us all a world of good if we treated the world as if we were renting it from the future and wanted to return it in better shape than when we entered it so we can get our security deposit back.

We are Easter people.  We believe that God can and will give all of creation a new birth, a resurrection life.  But let’s leave the timing of that up to God, shall we?  Killing the planet simply because we believe that God can un-kill it would not reflect well on us.  It’s not a good look and it will upset our grandkids.

There is a lot of amazing work being done to develop new energy and transportation sources as quickly as possible (see https://www.sciencedaily.com/news/matter_energy/batteries/.)  The world of science and technology has finally realized that we’re on a pretty serious deadline here and that there’s more at stake than impressing their colleagues.  There is really is hope for the future.  It’s slim, but it’s there.  We can help is if we all figure out how we can conserve and contribute less to the problem.  You’re all using LED lightbulbs, right?  

Your days and my days are numbered, but let’s do what we can to make sure that the world God loves (John 3:16) has a much longer and healthier run.

Back to the Dirt

Genesis 1:26-31; 2:1-15

When I was a kid, almost every summer we would travel back to Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas to see my aunts and uncles and cousins.  One of the things that was always a treat when we were at my grandparents’ dairy farm in the Ozarks of Arkansas was the fresh vegetables from my grandmother’s garden.  The soil in that garden was a rich, black humus the color of chocolate cake, and it produced the juiciest tomatoes, the fattest cucumbers, the most savory okra, and the sweetest sweet corn I’ve every tasted.  Those vegetables spoiled me, and I’ve been disappointed with grocery store produce ever since.  

My grandmother and my aunts were expert vegetable gardeners.  They knew when to plant, when to weed, and the perfectly ripe moment for picking.  Their skills brought the vegetables to the table.  But it was the soil that made them delicious.

Genesis tells us that God formed the first human out of “the dust of the earth.”  The Hebrew word for “human,” adam, is derived from the word for earth: adamah.  The word we translate as dust, ‘afar, can mean any loose dirt.  I like to imagine that the “loose dirt” we’re made of is not dry desert dust but the dark, chocolate-cake soil made rich and fertile from eons of composting as the ground organically recycled the fallen leaves and stems of earlier seasons and renewed itself.  I like to imagine that we humans were made from humus.

Humus and human come from the same root word in Latin.  Our language itself gives us a clue that we are intimately connected to the earth.  In recent generations, though, we’ve often lost sight of that connection.  We have separated ourselves from the earth in far too many ways, and that separation has affected both our health as a species and the health of the world.  

Humility is another word that comes from humus.  Douglas Kindschi, the Director of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute wrote: “Fully understanding who we are requires the realization that we are part of the earth, the soil, the humus, to which we will return.  It is only by God’s grace that we have life.”  We didn’t create our species.  We didn’t create the amazing world that sustains us.  If we all disappeared tomorrow, the planet wouldn’t miss us; if anything, it would breathe a sigh of relief.  It is only by God’s grace that we have life.  We need to be humble enough to remember that.  When life is over, the stuff we are made of will return to the earth.

Did you know that the smell of humus elicits a physiological response in humans?  Breathing in the scent of Mother Earth stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin.  That’s the same hormone that promotes bonding between a mother and her child.  It’s the same hormone that helps us bond with our dogs and cats and other pets.[1]  Clearly, we were made to feel a bond with the earth, but it’s hard to keep that bond strong when we live our lives primarily indoors and cover so much of the ground with asphalt and concrete.  I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we all went outside once a day, scooped up a big handful of humus, and deeply inhaled the aroma of it.  Maybe we would treat our planet a lot better if we did that—if we reminded ourselves in some physical, ceremonial way that we are bonded to the earth.

“Being human,” said Richard Rohr, “means acknowledging that we’re made from the earth and will return to the earth.  We are earth that has come to consciousness.”  We are earth that has come to consciousness, but we have been destructively unconscious in the way we have been treating the earth.  We take the earth so much for granted.  We forget that the very ground we stand on is a mystic wonder of theology and physics and a biological and chemical marvel.  It is the stuff from which life arises.

One afternoon when the philosopher Brian Austin came home from hiking with his family, he found himself contemplating the mud that was stuck to his boots and he realized that “the mud, still glistening with the mist that makes dust come to life, harbors mysteries as magnificent as the mountains.  From that mud, from its carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and assorted metals, a child can be woven.  The atoms in that mud, the same kinds of atoms that comprise my children and you and me, have existed for billions of years…This mud is spectacular, and we believe that God made it so.  This mud is rich, pregnant with possibility…To see ourselves as made of the same stuff that rests under our boots as we journey a mountain path is no insult to human dignity, no affront to the image of God in us; it is rather a reminder of the majesty of inspired mud, a reflected majesty that gives us but one more fleeting glimpse of the blinding brilliance of the maker of the mud.”

If we are going to repair the damage we’ve done to the earth, we need to learn to love the mud.  And the dust.  And the clay and the sand and the stone and the water.  We need to relearn how to love all the plants and animals—“the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle and all the wild animals of the earth, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”  We need to relearn how intricate, complex, balanced and beautiful our amazing planet really is.  We need to cherish more deeply the air that fills our lungs, the water that cleans us and quenches our thirst, and the dirt that feeds us.  We need to rekindle our sense of wonder.  

If we learn to listen to Genesis in the right frame of mind and heart, those first two chapters have a lot of wisdom that can help us restore our relationship with this beautiful world.  In those first two chapters there is a lot we can learn about God, about ourselves, about the earth, and about our relationship with God and the earth.  Genesis tells us that this world was made for us and we were made for this world.  Genesis tells us that we were made in the image and likeness of God, but that the stuff we are made of comes right out of the dirt.  We like the idea of being in the image and likeness of God—but we get carried away sometimes and act like we are God.  We need to pay more attention to the part about the dirt.

Genesis tells us to make ourselves at home—to be fruitful and multiply and fill up the earth.  Well that job’s done.  It’s full.  But we keep filling it up more which is hard on the earth and hard on us.

Genesis tells us to subdue the earth, to learn how the earth works so we can use its rhythms and systems to produce what we need in due season and with due care.  But God didn’t tell us to completely subjugate the earth, to bleed out its resources until its life-generating abilities are depleted.

Genesis tells us to have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.  But God wasn’t telling us we could erase their habitats, destroy them in their dens, and hound them to extinction.  We were given permission for a certain amount of domestication, not for eradication.

We share this beautiful world with all the rest of God’s creatures.  It belongs to them as much as it does to us.  They, too, are made from the stuff of earth and stars.  God’s life is in them as much as it is in us.  The earth and all its creatures (including us) belong to God.  “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it,” says Psalm 24.  “O Lord, how manifold are your works!  In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures,”  says Psalm 104.  Your creatures.  We may have “dominion” in the sense that we are the species most capable of manipulating our environment and impacting all the other living things on the planet, but that greater ability means we have more responsibility to take care of the species that don’t have any way to protect themselves from us and the changes we make.

If we’re serious about doing a better job of living in harmony with the earth and all God’s creatures, this is where Genesis can guide us yet again, especially if we pay closer attention to the original language.  Genesis 2:15 tells us “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it;” that’s how it reads in the New Revised Standard Version.  The word that’s translated as “till” is ‘ovd in Hebrew.  It means to work or to serve.  The word that’s translated as “keep” is shomr.  It means to watch over or to preserve.  So let’s try this translation:  “The Lord God took the humans and put them in the garden of Eden to care for it, watch over it, and preserve it.”  We were made to care for the earth.

Sometimes we say that God has called us to be good stewards of creation.  That’s a good idea as far as it goes.  The concept of stewardship is good for reminding us that the earth belongs to God and not us.  But the idea of stewardship also has some problems.  When we think of ourselves as stewards, we tend to see ourselves as somehow set apart from and above creation instead of seeing ourselves within creation.  Stewardship depicts the relationship of humans to other creatures as vertical with us above and them below.  It depicts us as caretakers of creation, which is good, but it doesn’t acknowledge all the ways that creation cares for us!  We need to remember that we are creatures, too.  We need to remember that we are also embedded in and interconnected with the earth and all God’s other creatures.  We are part of the community of creation.

Archbishop Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, “As people of faith, we don’t just state our beliefs — we live them out. One belief is that we

find purpose and joy in loving our neighbours. Another is that we are charged by our creator with taking good care of … creation. The moral crisis of climate change is an opportunity to find purpose and joy, and to respond to our creator’s charge. Reducing the causes of climate change is essential to the life of faith.”[2]

Reducing the causes of climate change is essential to the life of faith.  Frankly, we’ve reached a stage where reducing the causes of climate change is essential to life.  Period.  As UN Secretary-General António Gutteres said recently, we’re living in a 5-alarm fire.  As people of faith, we need to do whatever we can to put out the fire and repair the damage.

One of the great theological ideas that Saint Francis reawakened in the church is the understanding that Christ is revealed in creation.  Luther was thinking along these same lines when he said that Christ is in, with, and under the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the eucharist, but Francis was thinking of Christ’s presence even more broadly and deeply.  This is another reason why care for the earth is not just a nice idea; for followers of Jesus, it’s an imperative.  We have been called to see and experience Christ not just at the table and the font, not even just in the community of faith, but in all the world around us.  

Franciscan theologian Ilia Delio describes Christ in creation this way:  “Where is the risen Christ?  Everywhere and all around us—in you, your neighbor, the dogwood tree outside, the budding grape vine, the ants popping up through the cracks.  The whole world is filled with God, who is shining through even the darkest places of our lives.  To ‘go to church’ is to awaken to this divine presence in our midst and respond in love with a yes: Your life, O God, is my life and the life of the planet. We have an invitation to go to church in a new way, by praying before the new leaves budding through the dormant trees or the wobbly flowers by the side of the road pushing through the solid earth… [With Francis of Assisi], we too can sing with the air we breathe, the sun that shines upon us, the rain that pours down to water the earth.  And we can cry with those who are mourning, with the forgotten, with those who are suffering from disease or illness, with the weak, with the imprisoned.  We can mourn in the solidarity of compassion but we must live in the hope of new life. For we are Easter people, and we are called to celebrate the whole earth as the body of Christ.  Every act done in love gives glory to God: a pause of thanksgiving, a laugh, a gaze at the sun, or just raising a toast to your friends at your virtual gathering.  The good news?  “He is not here!”  Christ is everywhere, and love will make us whole.”[3]

Love will make us whole.  Love of God.  Love of our neighbor.  Love of ourselves.  And love of the earth.  Richard Rohr once said, “The only way I know how to love God is to love the things that God loves.”  Well, in Christ, God has already shown us how much God loves the world.  It’s time we showed our love, too.  In Jesus’ name.

[1] This idea is beautifully expressed in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific  Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

[2] Season of Creation 6, Introduction by Archbishop Justin Welby

[3] The Hours of the Universe: Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey; Ilia Delio, OSF, Ph.D., as quoted in Daily Meditations from the Center for Action and Contemplation

For God So Loved…

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be destroyed but may have everlasting life. For God did not send his son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world could be saved through him. –John 3:16-17, translation by Richmond Lattimore

You get used to hearing a thing a certain way and it’s hard to hear it any other way. You get used to seeing things a certain way and it’s hard to see them any other way. It’s not just attitude or stubbornness that does this, it’s at least partly the way our brains work. The human brain, says psychologist James Alcock, is a belief engine. It automatically creates neural pathways to reinforce the patterns, ideas and meanings that we already know and it automatically reacts with wariness to anything that doesn’t quite fit the familiar paradigm.

Take that Bible verse above, for instance. John 3:16 is the most memorized verse in all the Christian scriptures. But I think most of us learned to see it and hear it a certain way when we were small. First, if your experience is like mine, you learned it in Sunday School and you learned it in isolation from what comes before it and after it. You memorized it and treasured it, but it pretty much stood alone in your mind, isolated from the story of Nicodemus, set apart from the very important message that Jesus didn’t come to judge but to save. I was a full grown adult before Pr. Darcy Jensen called my attention to that very important verse 17, and frankly, I was a bit gob smacked! Jesus did not come to judge (or condemn, depending on your translation) but to save!

And to save what? Well, the world, of course. Except not exactly the whole world, because most of us, I think, thought of “the world” as “the people,” the “everyone” the “whosoever” from verse 16. So what we really heard was “God so loved the people that he gave his only son…” And that’s okay as far as it goes except that the word for “world” in the original Greek text is kosmos. As in cosmos. As in all creation. God loves all creation. Jesus came to save all creation!

And there’s that verb to save again. Most of us learned, I think, that this meant Jesus would rescue us from a very painful and nasty afterlife that was the default destination for everyone except his special pals. And yes, to save can mean to rescue. But it can also mean to heal, to make whole, to restore, to preserve.

The point of all this is that sometimes new information does break through the old patterns so that we can see and hear old, familiar things in new ways and our world is enlarged. Sometimes that new information can be life-changing.

In The Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett, Masklin, a gnome, tries to come to grips with all the strange ways that new information has been turning their comfortable little gnome world upside down. He does a capable job of leading their community through a nearly catastrophic series of changes, but the power of new information doesn’t really hit home with him until his girlfriend, Grimma, discovers an encyclopedia. New information changes her world, and by extension, his. He laments to a friend,

“I told her we were going to get married, and all she could talk about was frogs. She said there’s these hills where it’s hot and rains all the time, and in the rainforests there are these very tall trees and right in the top branches of the trees there are these like great big flowers called…bromeliads, I think, and water gets into the flowers and makes little pools and there’s a type of frog that lays eggs in the pools and tadpoles hatch and grow into new frogs and these little frogs live their whole lives in the flowers right at the top of the trees and don’t even know about the ground, and once you know the world is full of things like that, your life is never the same.”

Once you know, your life is never the same. “Knowing things changes you. You can’t help it.” says Masklin in a later chapter. You can’t help it. And maybe that’s another reason we resist new information because once we see something in a new and different way, we can’t unsee it. But the transformative power of our faith lies, at least in part, in our ability to see the world and each other with fresh eyes. We are to continually be transformed by the renewing our minds.

For centuries our theology has, for the most part, been anthropocentric, centered on humanity. On us. But we don’t have to change too much in the way we read or hear our sacred texts to develop a theology of ecology. For God so loved the cosmos… This is how much God loved all of creation…

God, in Christ, is certainly calling us to do whatever we can to rescue the people of this world from the various and sundry miseries that can make life a living hell. But if we read it just a little differently, with new information, we might see that we, in Christ, are really being called to an even bigger job, to the healing and restoration of the whole world. All of it… including those tiny frogs who live in their tiny pools in the bromeliads in the tops of the Amazon trees.