In nomine Jesu!
God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.' -- Genesis 1:28
"Subdue." "Have dominion." That's the problem right there: At least for western civilization â€” Christian civilization. It wasn't so bad in the beginning; in the Middle Ages or even into the early 18th Century when wooden plows broke up the soil and manual labor defined production. "Subdue the earth" and "have dominion" over its non-human inhabitants had a different content and impact then. Yet it was in those days that a distinctly western Christian dogma developed, an anthro-centric dogma, in which man was seen as the center of all creation with everything that is "all creation" meant to serve him. This dogma had serious problems â€” my use of the noun "man" and the pronoun "him" is but one case in point â€” but it understood the Hebrew word for "subdue" â€” kabash (as in, put the kapbash on something) in its mildest sense, "tame" and the Hebrew "radah" "have dominion over" in its
mildest sense, "be responsible for."
Then came the industrial revolution with labor-saving, profit-increasing technologies, with all sorts of coal- and oil- and gas-powered tools, vehicles and weapons. The times had changed, but the theology had not. In a short time and without much thoughtful reflection, "subdue" morphed into its harshest sense, "exploit" and "have dominion over" into its harshest sense, "dominate." Industrious western Christians justified their exploitation of the earth, its resources and its peoples by pointing to the first story of creation as not only God's permission, but God's command, to exploit and dominate the whole creation. Within 150 years, by the 1950's and 60's, much of eastern "civilization;" civilization whose indigenous religions once treated the earth with piety and reverence; civilizations who had just thrown off western imperialistic domination, joined the exploitation frenzy. "Climate Change" is but one sign of the damage we have done. Unreflective western Christianity led an eager world into the ecological mess we're now in and, I believe, western Christianity has both the resources and the responsibility to lead us out.
The key to that kind of Christian leadership can
be found in Jesus' own understanding of what it means to "have dominion."
In Jesus' day, to have dominion meant to have power to control and use â€” "to exploit," the same meaning prevalent in our world today. Picture our world as a gigantic pyramid, with the most powerful at the top and everyone and everything else meant to "serve" them and you've got a pretty good picture of the ways things were then and are today.
Although much of western Christianity still fails to notice it, Jesus turns that pyramid upside down. Jesus exercises dominion â€” Jesus is Lord, as the Bible puts it â€” by getting under everyone and everything else in order to serve. "Kneeling at the feet of his friends, silently washing their feet, master who acts like a slave to them," is the way one of our hymns puts it. "To serve, and not to be served." That's the way Jesus puts it. Or, as he says it today, "who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?"
If today is to become more than just a march, but a transformational movement; if we Christians want to lead the world out of the mess we got ourselves into, we need to adopt Jesus'
way of having dominion by serving. It seems counter-intuitive, but there's ample recent-history evidence that it works. Think Martin Luther King, Jr. Or, if you like to think "outside the box," think Gandhi. Insurmountable odds defied and worlds changed by strategic thinking and non-violent serving. Reading scripture to suit ourselves, we Christians led the world into this mess. Reading scripture to serve the world, we Christians can lead the world out of this mess. By his living, dying and rising, Jesus gives us both the strategy and the tactics to accomplish this.
Before we march this day, Jesus gives both nourishment and tactics for our journey: Nourishment by feeding us with himself; tactics by serving us by himself. All we need to do is eat, drink and follow.
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York
CARE OF CREATION
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
September 21, 2014, 8:45 a.m.