When we talk about stewardship of our resources, we mostly think about our finances, our dollars. Stewardship drives in congregations are usually all about money. How much are you able to pledge? Can you increase your pledge this year?
However, our resources are so much more. I attended a Southwest Conference Boundaries Training a week ago on the topic of resources. Our facilitator asked us to name our resources — what resources do we have as Pastors.
It got me thinking, what resources do we have as communities of faith to support our ministry, our work for the Realm of God?
money — financial giving
time — volunteer time of the members of the congregation
That is usually as far as we go in contemplating our resources. But there are more...
Resources we have and don’t think of as resources:
Authority, Power and Privilege
The expertise of our congregation members — such as teachers, social workers, lawyers, etc.
Resources we ignore:
How we are known in the community: My ordaining congregation was known as “that liberal Baptist church” in a white conservative suburb of Philadelphia. This label actually worked well for the congregation. It freed them to be fully themselves. It definitely lead progressives in the area to their door. However, many of us ignore how we are named, identified or thought of in our communities. When we don’t it can be a powerful resource for getting the word out about our ministries.
Trust. It used to be that churches were places of trust. You walked in the door and expected to be welcomed. You could trust that no harm would come — whether that was actually true or not. Churches were trusted.
However, we live in a time when the Catholic Church is no longer trusted — too much child sexual abuse and misconduct by priest covered up by the institution. We live in a time when queer community has and continues to experience spiritual abuse in the name of Christianity — done by evangelical conservative, alt-right. Both of these experiences have shadowed the Trust that congregations and churches were outrightly given.
Having acknowledged the harm the church can do, there is still a deeply level of trust that the Church will not do harm. When someone walks in the door to visit a church, they are trusting that they will be welcomed, embraced, heard, not harmed.
Trust is a resource that we have and can build upon. What if St Paul’s was known as the progressive safe (trustworthy) community of faith in Rio Rancho? Would that not be a tremendous resource for us?
I have named a few resources to get you thinking.
What resources would you add to this list?
How would you like St Paul’s to be ‘thought’ of in Rio Rancho?
How does Rio Rancho know St Paul’s? Does it know us at all?
What resources are we ignoring?
We, as western-thought humans, have not been taught to listen to the Land. This causes problems when it comes to understanding how best to be stewards of Mother Earth, her waters, and all beings who live upon her. This is one of the reasons we struggle with what it means to have dominion over creation.
Dominion: Governing of People
When we think of dominion and having sovereignty over people, we think about the voice of the people. There is an expectation that those in power, in our case, the President of the United States, our Senators and Congress-persons will listen to the voice of the people. Our country was founded upon that. “No taxation without representation.” Voice of those being governed is key to being a healthy, respected sovereign.
Dominion: Sovereignty of Creation
However, this concept does not seem to be thought of the same when it comes to Earth and all the creatures, plants and trees that live upon it. Many of us do not think about listening in relation to Earth, to plants, to rocks, to animals.
Listening to the Voice of Plants and Nature spirits: However, if we believe that everything is created by Spirit; if we believe, as Hildegaard of Bingen did, that everything contains the spark of God (soul); then we need to open ourselves to listening to the voice of creation.
All plants, all animals, all trees, all insects, all rocks, the waters — everything has voice because it has spirit. Our indigenous brothers and sisters know this to be true. They have taught their children and grandchildren the practices of listening.
The Singing Plants of Damanhur
(Click here to watch the You Tube video)
"The Music of the Plants research began at Damanhur in 1976, when resident researchers created an instrument that was able to capture the electromagnetic variations of the surface of plant leaves and roots, and turn them into sounds.
The desire for deep contact with nature has also inspired the "Plant Concerts," in which musicians perform while accompanied by melodies created by trees. The trees learn to control their electrical emissions, so they can modulate the notes, as if they are aware of the music they are producing. This research has continued, and today, the device used for concerts is available to the general public so that this profound experience of plant world communication may be shared by anyone who wishes to do so.” (http://www.damanhur.org/en/research-and-experimentation/the-plant-world)
To me this is so cool. The trees and plants change their song according to the music that humans are playing. They listen and respond. For me, these videos, this experience, shows us that plants do have voice and are in conversation with us — if only we had ears to hear.
However, we, western-oriented people, have never learned to listen. We were not taught to listen. There is no one way to listen to the Land and all of Creation.
You can listen through:
Art: I have a friend, Damini Celebre, who taught Conversations with Land, a way of connecting to the Land and allowing it to paint through you. (http://creativeworks.daminicelebre.com/creative-works/conversations-with-land)
Walking meditation: Take a walk out in nature, away from houses and busyness of life. Allow your mind to quiet as you walk. When something catches your attention, stop and spend time noticing the beauty of whatever it is. Open your heart to that plant, flower, tree, rock formation, petroglyph — whatever it is. Allow yourself to listen from your heart, to feel the nature-being’s presence and sharing. Something will come: a vision, a sense, a color, a word. Listen with open ears and your will experience communion.
Prayer and meditation: Crystals are awesome beings to pray with. Find a crystal that you are attracted to and meditate with it. Open your heart and listen. The crystal will bring forth a vision, a word or phrase, a memory, a healing, a feeling.
These are only a few ways in which you can listen. Spirit invites you to find your own way. Trust in Spirit’s guidance and you will hear God’s Creation speaking to you.
Chose one of the above suggestions and give it a try. Be aware that when you start a new spiritual practice, it can take a few times before anything noticeable happens. That does not mean it is not working. It means that it will take a few practices before you truly open to this practice.
How do you listen to God’s Creation?
Sing or speak to your plants and see if you notice them listening. Do this daily for awhile and be aware of how your plant’s health is transforming.
As you read this blog, what blocks, limiting beliefs, obstacles arose in you? Write them down. Spend a few moments meditating on them. Look underneath each limiting belief, each disbelief response for what is below the surface, what is truly bringing that forth. Offer that prayer to Spirit, noticing how Spirit offers healing, transformation and Love.
Help us to remember that you are the source of life, and are intimately connected with all living things. You bring form out of chaos, and call all things into being. Everything that we have is thanks to you, O God.
When we think about stewardship of the Earth, about what it means to be care-takers and gardeners, we often times ignore importance of our voice in this work. Gardening is physical. It uses our bodies.
Today, our voice is extremely important in our work as care-takers and guardians of the Earth and its Waters.
Tony Stark is the CEO of Stark Industries which used to sell weapons. Iron man 1 and 2 were Tony’s journey from being the leading weapon manufacturer to being the leading voice in clean energy. In Iron Man 1, Tony gets kidnapped and almost dies. His life is saved by what is called an Arc Reactor, which as Tony researches it more he realizes is a clean source of energy.
Avengers begins with Tony Stark using arc reactors to light up Stark Tower, a huge building in the middle of NYC with his name on it. The Arc reactor is a self-sustaining energy source.
Meanwhile, SHIELD has the Tesseract, an Infinity stone, that holds unlimited energy, in their possession. Because SHIELD is using the Tesseract without understanding it, Loki (Thor’s adopted brother) is able to open a portal and come to Earth to conquer it.
SHIELD has called in the Avengers: Tony Stark, Captain America, and Bruce Banner to find the Terreract and stop Loki. They are all on the flying aircraft carrier…
Conversation between Stark, Banner and Captain America:
Captain America: You need to focus on the problem, Stark
Stark: You think I’m not. Why did Fury (SHIELD’s leader) call us in? Why now? Why not before? What isn’t he telling us? I can’t do the equation unless I have all the variables.
Captain America: You think Fury is hiding something?
Stark: He is a spy. He is THE spy. His secrets have secrets. (pointing at Banner) It is bugging him too, isn’t it?
Banner: Ahhhh… (dodging the question) I just want to finish my work here…
Captain America (interupting): Doctor
Banner (looking at Stark): “A warm light for all mankind” — Loki’s jab at Fury about the Cube (Tesseract)
Captain America: I hear it.
Banner: Well, I think that was meant for you (pointing at Stark). Even if Barton (SHIELD agent kidnapped by Loki) about the tower, it was still all over the news.
Captain America: The Stark Tower? That big ugly building in NY?
Banner: It is powered by an Arc Reactor, a self-sustaining energy source. That building will run itself for what, about a year? (asking Stark)
Stark: That is just the prototype. I am kind of the only name in clean energy right now.
Banner: So why didn’t SHIELD bring him (Stark) in on the Tesseract project? What are they doing in the energy business in the first place?
After the conversation
As the movie progresses we learn that SHIELD has been using the Tesseract to create weapons, not clean energy. Because they have been creating high-tech weapons they have come to the attention of war-oriented aliens. SHIELD has inadvertently signaled to the cosmos that Earth is ready for a higher form or war (according to Thor). Thus Loki’s arrival.
Our Current Political Climate:
This is a dynamic that we are aware of in our current climate. We currently have a President who is more interested in the ‘might’ of America through displays of weapons, power, aggression; than in the ‘might’ of America through invention, innovation, intellect. Our national government has focused on weapons and destruction instead of clean energy and healthy innovation.
Our current administration has taken this a step further. President Trump has been backing away from supporting clean energy, placing tariffs on solar panels imported into our country. At the same time, he is working to remove protections of our lands and oceans, opening them up for drilling oil.
Why is our government taking away priority for creating clean energy? How would going back to oil be a positive move for us? Why protect the oil corporations or their own political careers over our Land and Waters, and the rights of Indigenous Peoples?
We currently have a government, Executive branch as well as Congressional branch, that is more interested in their personal financial investments than in the health of the Earth. Certain Congressman, Senators, and the President are creating laws to remove protections so that oil companies (where they are invested, who are funding their campaigns for office) can expand their profits. Greed is more important than caring for the planet we live on, the planet that will need to sustain future generations.
Spirit, however, calls us to be stewards of this Earth. God desires that we are care-takers and custodians, not polluters and destroyers. We are to focus upon what Mother Earth needs not our own personal gains. It is about humility not domination and greed.
Standing Rock: An Example of Transformational Stewardship
Standing Rock challenged and transformed me. I watched and witnessed on social media the injustices that were being done against our Indigenous brothers and sisters who were standing on the side of Mother Earth and clean water.
In the act of prayer, they came together in protest of a pipeline that was re-directed over their land instead of going close by a more populated area. Racism created the situation. The populated area, mostly white, did not want an oil pipeline that could leak and contaminate their land and waters. So the company redirected it across the water source for our Sioux brothers and sisters.
Here a people were calling out the injustices of racism, as well as the ecological injustice. And our government was silent. President Obama allowed brutality to be the response to peaceful protests. I wept as I watched and read and kept myself informed. To me, Standing Rock was a transformational example of true authentic stewardship, with all the costs that sometimes accompany it.
This is the call to stewardship.
Our Standing Rock brothers and sisters stood a true stewards against the powers of domination, racism, and violence. They stood in prayer and song and Power. Their faith and spiritual practice informed their understanding of stewardship, and they took their stand! They held their vision, stayed true to the call of Spirit to be guardians and caretakers of our Earth and Waters.
Spirit invites us to reflect upon our own apathy toward to eco-justice and stewardship. I’m not suggesting we should all be out protesting like Standing Rock. I am suggesting that Spirit is inviting us to step up, to engage the policies that are harming Mother Earth. Stewardship requires that we use our voice as much as our bodies and minds.
How are you using your vote, your voice, to speak for eco-justice?
Reflect upon one thing you can do this week to create change and protect Mother Earth.
Go for a walk and carry a small trash bag. Fill it with trash and debris that you come across on your walk. Notice how this small action enhances the beauty of your walk, of the Land, of Spirit’s reflection on Earth.
The ocean and the land are yours, O God. Too often we have treated them as a means to an end or an unlimited resource, without realizing the delicate balances of nature. As we pave over farmland and pour oil into the ocean, forgive our over-reaching ways.
One of the things that continually comes to mind when I contemplate stewardship of God's Creation is "the size of my footprint." How much does my way of living impact the Earth? What is my responsibility to lessen that impact for my descendants?
Avenger’s Age of Ultron:
After defeating Ultron, the Avengers come together at Tony Stark’s (Iron Man) new headquarters in Upstate NY somewhere. Tony, Captain America and Thor are debriefing, chatting and joking around as they walk. Thor must leave and go in search of the Infinity Stones (prelude to Infinity War) and learn what he can about them.
Once outside, he holds us his hammer calling the Bifrost (the rainbow bridge). The Bifrost picks him up and takes him way, leaving its intricate mark on the ground — a huge circle that destroys the lawn beneath it.
Tony Stark (jokingly) to Captain America: That man has no regard for lawn maintenance…. (walking away) I’m going to miss him though…
What size footprint do you leave?
The Bifrost leaves quite a huge footprint on the ground of where ever it picks Thor up. The ground underneath is ruined by the power of the Brifrost’s rainbow bridge. It creates a symbol that reminds me of a cross between Celtic cross and a crop circle.
This conversation between Tony Stark and Captain America made me laugh. Yet, it brought forth in my heart the question: what size footprint do I leave?
In the eco-justice circle of thought and dialogue, we hear that question often. How can you lessen your footprint? There is tremendous encouragement to lessen it as much as possible.
Those lists of how you can lessen your footprint sometimes feels overwhelming.
When I look I already do the easy things: recycle everything I can, have a chemical free house, buy organic and fair trade foods, use more ecological lightbulbs, etc.
I also already do many of the moderate tasks: I carry my own bags rarely using plastic bags, lessen the use of plastic in my life, walk to destinations that are close enough instead of driving, etc. These require me to be more conscious. They are not always habits. Many of them require more of my time and awareness.
Then there is the list that always feels like if I put my energy there it will take quite a bit of effort. It feels like the expert level of lessening my footprint. It is the list that requires commitment! as well as resources to accomplish: no-waste, alternative power like solar and wind, hybrid cars, eco-homes, etc.
I get the importance of lessening our footprints. As the human race has grown we have dominated the planet, maybe even overwhelmed it. In urban and suburban areas it can be challenging to find open space, let alone green space. Cities are allowing developers to create housing where there were once parks. Forests are being encroached upon. Wildlife habitats are disappearing as human require more and more space.
We do need to lessen our footprints in order to allow all the other beings on this planet to continue to have homes, to continue to thrive.
Taos, NM and lessening my footprint:
When I lived in Taos for nine months, I decided to see how much I could lessen my footprint. Since I was on sabbatical, working on my business, I decided that I had the time to see how close I could get to zero waste living.
I will totally admit it took a great deal of my attention and time. I had to make conscious choices about what I bought at the grocery store: could I recycle that container?
Styrofoam presented the greatest challenge and ask me to make changes in how I did things. Because most grocery stores sell meat in styrofoam, I thought I might have to become vegetarian again. However, I found that the local health food store had a butcher and I could buy my meat wrapped in paper (recyclable).
Styrofoam did require me to change my habits about eating out. I had to begin to bring with me my own “take home” containers when I went to restaurants, just in case there contains were styrofoam.
Buy local and bulk
I joined the local Taos Co-Op and learned all about bulk food buying. Investing in glass containers meant that I was making choices about how I spent my money. I had to sacrifice other areas so that I could afford the glass.
I began a compost pile on the Land I was staying on, caring for it regularly. I learned that, because I backed up to desert wilderness, the animals were quite happy to feast on that pile. That felt good! I was not wasting food, I was feeding the wildlife.
By the time I left, I had my trash down to one tiny bag a month. This experiment taught me how my choices affect this planet. How I chose to use my time and energy is one of the foundations of stewardship of creation. The greatest impact we have on our immediate environment is how we chose to use our time and resource to care for our property, land, water, etc.
Lessening my footprint required commitment. There were days when I was exhausted. In those moments that “I don’t care” feeling arose in my body and spirit. It was asking me: how committed am I to this experiment, to this lessen in stewardship? Each time it arose in me, I had to deepen and strengthen my level of commitment.
Currently, I am not able to be anywhere as close to zero-waste as I was in Taos. Because of this experience, my heart yearns for me to be in living situation where I can step back into the experiment again. Although this experience required focus, commitment, energy, shifting in how I do things, giving up habits, etc; it deepened my connection to Mother Earth! I desire to bring that disciple back into my life.
All that Spirit asks of us is that we become conscious of how we live on Mother Earth, on God’s creation. Spirit invites us to contemplate ways to be more aligned, more in partnership with the web-of-life so that we feel Her presence in all that we do.
What is the size of your footprint?
How can you lessen it, even a tiny bit?
What habits would you need to change?
How do you use your resources to protect and care for the environment?
We call on your mercy and your grace, O God, to carry us into a new communion with the created order. Pour your compassion and your forgiveness over us. Give us a vision of healing and togetherness for your entire world. We know that, with Christ as our helper, we can restore justice and balance and live in harmony with all that you have made.
Being stewards of God's creation invites us to awaken and notice how the Sacred is reflected in all beings on earth -- from animals and birds, to flowers and trees, to insects and bugs. Everything is alive and has spirit! Conservation is an important and vital aspect of stewardship.
Keeper of the Lost Cities
My niece shared with me a book series that she loved reading, Keeper of the Lost Cities. This series is a fantasy series best described as the female Harry Potter. Sophie, the main character, grows up amongst humans and learns she is an elf. She then goes to live with the elves and learns that she was created by a group of rebels elves who are seeking to dismantle an evil-oriented group of rebels.
In the fourth book, Sophie and her friends are in hiding with the Black Swan (the group that created her). She is growing in her leadership abilities. Her human upbringing has given her a vastly different world view than that of the elves, which from time to time bring about interesting discussions.
During this scene, Sophie, and Mr Forkle and Granite (two members of the Black Swan) are discussing the Timeline to Extinction. The elves believe that everything was created for a reason. They have over the centuries of Earth’s existence, created a conservation sanctuary where all animals that humans believe are extinct still live and multiply. Up until recently they had only found one ‘alicorn’ (a unicorn-like creature). Sophie found a second one who is now pregnant.
Explanation of the Timeline of Extinction:
(Keeper of the Lost Cities: Exile, book 2, Shannon Messenger, p 111-112)
“What does that mean? (timeline of extinction) Sophie asked, squirming as all eyers turned back to her.
“Hasn’t anyone educated this child in the fundamental principles of our world?” Councillor Bronte shook his head so dramatically.
“Councillor Terik was referring to the Timeline of Extinction.” Alden said, reminding Sophie that there were more important things to think about. “With only one alicorn in our care, and no guarantee that we’d ever find another, we’ve been facing the very real possibility that this majestic species would someday go extinct.”
He whispered the last word, like it was too horrible to say at full volume. The elves believed that every creature on earth existed for a reason, and to let one die off would cause irreversible damage to the planet’s delicate balance. That was why they’d built the Sanctuary and worked so hard to protect and conserve the creatures humans thought were either myths or lost.
Discussion of the Timeline to Extinction:
(Keeper of the Lost Citiies: Neverseen, book 4, Shannon Messenger, p 465.
“Are you guys even sure that’s a real thing?” Sophie interrupted. “For all you know, the planet could be fine if something goes extinct.”
“Is there any creature that you could imagine the world without?” Mr. Forkle asked.
“I doubt I’d miss spiders,” she mumbled. “Or mosquitos.”
Granite’s cracked lips twitched. “I’ll admit, those aren’t my favorite either. But nature is an intricate jigsaw puzzle, and every piece matters. Unfortunately, that means that certain species — like the alicorns — leave us vulnerable. But that may change with the baby. And thankfully the Sanctuary has extensive security measures.”
All Beings Reflect the Sacred’s Light:
When we redefine dominion to mean being an ethical compassionate sovereign who protects all under their governance, we awaken to the invitation of the Sacred to widen our who-is-included-under-our-protection tent to include all beings on Earth: plants, animals, birds, fish, etc.
Many of us were taught that animals, birds, fish, plants, trees, etc do not have souls, do not feel, do not need to be thought of as under our protection. However, if you watch certain species behaviors then you begin to awaken to the fact that EVERYTHING created by the Sacred has soul, spirit, heart, feels.
Hildegaard of Bingen wrote in one of her visions about how God showed her that everything contained the spark of God, the Light of God, even the grass itself. She saw all of the natural world as a beautiful Incarnation and reflection of the Sacred.
Here are two examples:
Elephants: A saw a video of an elephant swimming into flood waters to save humans who are struggling in the water. They sense the fear and react with concern, protection, love.
Whales: Recently a mother whale made the news because she has been carrying around her baby who died. She is deep in grief and holding onto her love, her baby. As you watch the videos of her swimming there is no way you can miss the depth of her grief.
These are just two examples of how our animal friends show their reflection, their spark of God to us.
The Elves have it right!
The elves in the Keeper of the Lost Cities have it right. Something is lost when ananimal becomes extinct. Each of us reflects a unique spark of God, expresses one aspect of the Sacred. When we lose one reflection fully from our world, from our lives, from our knowledge and experience, then we lose the understanding and awakening of one aspect of the Sacred. God becomes smaller.
Conservation of our Natural WorldWe must work to conserve our endangered animals from extinction. This is the work of stewardship — of working toward the most truthful experience of the Sacred.
Every being is an integral part of our web-of-life, of our world.
Take wolves as an example:
There is a video that talks about how wolves we reintroduced into the habitat of Yellowstone National Park after having been allowed to be removed, hunted, killed to non-existence. When the wolves were gone, the deer population became over-populated. Plants, trees, greenery began to die due to the deer eating habits. Other consequences were beginning to be noticed.
The National Park Service decided to re-introduce the wolves. All of a sudden, Mother Earth started to experience balance again. The wolves were bringing the healing that was needed. Abundance in plant life began to return. Lushness was noticed. The river changed course for the better. Balance and harmony became the result.
That Land needed wolves. Without them, the land in Yellowstone began to deteriorate toward devastation. With wolves, the Land healed and thrived again.
Conservation vs Extinction
Stewardship invites us to work toward conservation, toward protection of the entire web-of-life. It reminds us that everything plays an important part in how our world works. When we allow one voice to become extinct, we lose an experience of the Sacred.
How has the natural world reflected the Sacred to you today?
Where have you witnessed the integral balance of the web-of-life around you?
How is the Sacred inviting you to engage in stewardship of Creation?
Yesterday I began our discussion about the stewardship of creation. I referenced that the word "dominion" creates all sorts of issues for us in terms of our care for Mother Earth. Today I want to talk more deeply about how ‘dominion’ causes issues and corrupts our understanding of care-takers, custodians, gardeners — stewards of the Sacred’s creation.
The Matrix will be our jumping off point. The idea of the Matrix is that artificial intelligence has found a way to turn humans into batteries that allow them to continue to function and rule earth. Neo, is ‘the one,’ the hope to bring balance back between machine and human. Morpheus searches his entire awakened life for Neo. Having found Neo, he frees him from the matrix and then explains it to him.
In this scene, Neo is learning what the matrix is and how it was created…
Morpheus brings Neo into the construct — an in-between space — between the real world and the matrix. The construct allows them to upload anything they need before going into the matrix. It offers them a way to educate their new members and prepare them for what they will encounter once entering the Matrix.
Morpheus: This is the construct, our loading program. We can load anything from clothing to equipment, weapons, training simulations — anything we need.
Neo: Right now we are inside a computer program?
Morpheus: Is it really so hard to believe? Your clothes are different. The plugs are no longer in your arms. Your appearance is now the mental projections of your digital self….
Morpheus (turning on a TV): This is the world that you know, the world as it was at the end of the 20th century. It exists now only as a part of a neuro-interactive simulation that we call the Matrix. You’ve been living in a dream world Neo. This is the world as it exists today.
Morpheus changes the channel on the TV to show devastation, destruction, no sun, only machines, thunder and lightening, darkness. The camera then spans itself down to the base of a cliff where Morpheus and Neo are sitting.
Morpheus: Welcome to the desert of the Real. We have only bits and pieces of information, but what we know for certain is that at some point in the early 21st century all of humankind was united in celebration. We marveled at our own magnificence are we gave birth to AI.
Neo: AI? You mean artificial intelligence?
Morpheus: A singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines. We don’t know who struck first — us or them. But we know that it was us that scorched the sky. At the time they were dependent upon solar power and it was believed that they would be unable to survive without an energy source as abundant as the Sun. Throughout human history we have been dependent upon machines to survive.
Fate it seems is not without a sense of irony. The human body generates more energy that a 120 volt battery and over 5000 btus of body heat. Combined with a form of fusion, the machines had found all the energy they would ever need…
Morpheus continues to explain to Neo what the Matrix is — a form of control that turns humans into a battery…
Arrogance trips us up every time.
This scene in the Matrix reminds us of what can happen when we are arrogant and caught up in our own magnificence. We begin to think that nothing can harm us. Humans are so powerful and intelligent that nothing can take their place, overwhelm, overpower them; so no worries about our actions.
In the Matrix, humans create artificial intelligence which then began a life of its own, overpowering humanity, creating war, devastation and destruction. Agent Smith, Neo’s arch nemesis in the matrix, speaks of humans as ‘a virus, infecting everything around it with death and destruction.’
This is where arrogance can take us. We can see the signs, the warning that we are being caught up in our own arrogance, especially now.
Our President and many in our national government do not believe in climate change. They have withdrawn us from the Paris Accords and are undoing other environmental protections so that humans can hunt and have as much oil as they desire.
This arrogance, just like in the Matrix, will lead nowhere good.
This is not what the Sacred asked of us when God gave us ‘dominion’ over “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."
The Oxford dictionary definition of dominion:
1. sovereignty or control.
"man's attempt to establish dominion over nature"
synonyms: supremacy · ascendancy · dominance · domination · [more]
2. the territory of a sovereign or government.
I was curious about sovereignty. When we contemplate dominion in regards to sovereignty it shifts the meaning for me. Dominion is not domination. Rather, it is about ruling, government oriented ruling, not domination ruling.
Wikipedia defines sovereignty this way:
"Sovereignty is understood in jurisprudence as the full right and power of a governing body to govern itself without any interference from outside sources or bodies. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme authority over some polity. It is a basic principle underlying the dominant Westphalian model of state foundation."
When I contemplate what it means to be an ethical rulers, governor, sovereign — it means that we are responsible for all that is under our governance. Everything is under our protection. It is our responsibility to protect all of nature: flowers, trees, animals, birds, fish, water, earth, etc. We must protect our resources so that they continue to be available for our people and the generations to come.
It is short-sighted as a ruler, a governor to use and abuse your resources. There will be nothing available for you, your people, your children, your descendants. Then as ruler, you have no legacy to pass down.
However, if you are a kind, compassionate, generous ruler and governor — one who protects your resources, creates optimum conditions for Mother Earth to grant abundance, cares for all who are under your protection — then you have a legacy to pass down generations.
Dominion requires humility and compassion:
The Sacred’s call for humanity to have dominion over creation is more like the compassionate ruler who protects and cares for all that is in his/her realm.
Genesis chapter two, God put the earth creature (human) in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. God’s idea of dominion was to til and keep the Earth. All the earth’s resources are there to feed and shelter humanity as well as all other creatures and being on Earth.
Lessons from the Matrix:
Unless we want to end up like the humans in the Matrix: either enslaved on a devastated earth or hiding in Zion at the core of the earth, we must re-think ‘dominion’ and allow its true definition to become our working connotation.
Stewardship invites us to till the Earth, to garden it. Stewardship invites us to be ethical compassionate keepers of all creation.
What is your inner definition and experience of dominion?
How would you like to shift that definition to be more in alignment with the Sacred’s invitation?
How are you tilling the land you have been gifted?
When are you participating as a compassionate keeper of Mother Earth and all who live upon her?
This morning I will be preaching on what it means to be stewards of God’s Creation. We, at St Paul’s UCC, will be reflecting upon Genesis 1 and 2, the stories of creation.
All spiritual traditions have creation stories. They are there to teach us about our humble beginnings, about how the Sacred brought all things into being. The creation stories serve as a reminder of Spirit’s instruction to us to be good stewards and custodians of what the Sacred created.
The issue with the Hebraic creation story, at least in the Christian translations of the Hebrew Bible, is the use of the word ‘dominion’ or ‘subdue.’ Most of the translations write:
“God blessed them (humanity), 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.”
This translation many times is poorly interpreted as God creating all things to fulfill human needs. Therefore, we, as human, can use the resources Earth has as we chose. This is a wrongful interpretation.
Genesis chapter two is another telling of the Creation story. In this chapter we learn:
“The Lord God took the earth creature and put Adam in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the earth creature, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
God create Adam (earth creature) to till the garden of Eden. God gave an instruction that humans could eat of the plants of the garden except for the Tree of Good and Evil. That was to be left alone.
What I find interesting here is that God’s job for humanity is to till, to care for, what God has created. Not to have dominion over it as humans see fit.
These two stories go hand in hand. Together, they bring an understanding of what is means to be stewards of Mother Earth and all God’s Creation.
This week we will dive deeply into this theme.
Stewardship of Mother Earth and all God’s Creation is about:
The imagery of being the gardener requires us to engage the stewardship of Mother Earth and Creation from a sustainability perspective, from a place of humble hard working, hands in the earth, partnership.
We have, as a culture, lost this understanding. Many take our earth for granted, ignoring her hurt and pain.
More and more of us are awakening to the need to truly care for Mother Earth and our resources. We are stepping into a theology of ecology and stewardship.
How are you being a steward of Mother Earth?
What in your life is preventing you from deepening your stewardship of God’s Creation?
Much of our stewardship talk is about how we use our resources in the outer world. How generous are you with your finances? Where do you offer your time, talent, skills to help others? How do you call others mercifully and compassionately to accountability for their actions, their lack of stewardship?
These are all outer-world questions.
Stewardship of our inner world is just as important as stewardship of our outer world. When we are unhappy, not in alignment with our Highest Self and the Highest Good (Spirit), in our inner world, it reflects out of us. Misalignment inside creates poor stewardship outside of us.
We must pay close attention to what is happening in our hearts and souls.
Lady Mary offers us a beautiful example of this. She is frustrated and unhappy by her own life choices. She has created life choices that are preventing her from marrying the person she loves because he is not ‘equal’ to her. Equal for Mary is about finances and position. The man is equal to Mary in all other ways but financially. She is unable to see that.
Then, her sister, Lady Edith, is asked to marry by a man Lady Mary considers to be poor. Turns out he is the heir to a huge estate, richer than Mary. This makes Mary jealous and she ruins Edith’s chances and life by revealing a huge secret spitefully.
Lady Mary, in her unhappiness, then turns on her Father blaming him for a servant’s attempted suicide.
She continues this downward spiral until Branson, her brother-in-law (Sibyl her late sister’s husband), calls Mary on her unhappiness.
In a powerful scene, he speaks truth to her:
Branson: Well, you got what you wanted. Bertie has left for the train. Now Edith will not be the next Marchioness of Hexham.
Lady Mary: Well that is not what I wanted.
Branson: Isn’t it?
Lady Mary: I still can’t believe she never told him. How was I to know that?
Branson: Don’t play the innocent with me.
Lady Mary: I didn’t mean…
Branson (raising his voice and interupting Mary): Don’t lie! Not to me. You can’t stop ruining things — for Edith, for yourself. You’d pull in the sky if you could — anything to make you feel as frightened and alone.
Lady Mary: You saw Henry (her love that she will not acknowledge) when he was here — high handed and bullying and unapologetic. (actually that is Mary not Henry) Am I expected to lower myself to his level and be grateful I am allowed to do so?
Branson: Listen to yourself! Lower yourself to his level. You are not a princess and the prisoner of Zenda…
Mary: You don’t want to understand me.
Branson: You ruined Edith’s life today! How many lives are you going to wreck just to smoother your own misery?
Mary: I refuse to listen.
Branson: You are a coward Mary. Like all bullies, you are a coward.
Mary looks insulted and unsure what to do. Branson storms out leaving her to her thoughts.
Branson then writes to the Dowager Lady Grantham, asking her to return and help heal this situation….
Mary begins to pay attention to her inner world, a little. She has paid enough attention to her heart, that when Dowager Countess, Lady Grantham, Mary’s Grandmother returns from her trip , Lady Mary is about to hear her Grandmother’s gentle compassionate call to accountability. The Dowager encourages Lady Mary to be happy and to right the wrongs she has committed.
Mary opens her heart, accepts Love, and seeks a way to right the wrong she committed against Edith. By the end of the season, all is righted.
Paying Attention to Our Inner World
When our inner world is out of alignment with Spirit, our outer world will reflect that. We find ourselves cranky, doing things we do not ‘normally do.’ Things are not working out for us. We are getting frustrated, angry, increasingly unhappy.
These are all signs to step back and pay attention to our hearts, to our spirits, to our inner world.
It happens quickly…
I had lost my spiritual practice when I moved here to New Mexico. All the transition, getting myself fully into what it means to pastor St Paul’s United Church of Christ, as well as settling into living here in New Mexico took all my time and attention. I told myself that I did not have time for meditation, etc. Yet, my heart longed for it, longed for quiet prayer-filled moments, slowing down connecting with Spirit.
One morning I decided, Today is the Day!
I began. The practice came back quickly. Morning walk, followed by meditation, journaling, listening. I noticed sycronicities occurring more and more. Life was flowing freer, more fully. I was laughing more. There was less stress weighing me down. Creativity increased. All these good things began to reassert themselves in my life!
Then one Sunday afternoon I got a migraine like I have never had before. The migraine lasted two days. Then it took my body another week to recover. Within that week, I had lost my practice.
Losing my practice...
I noticed that I was not practicing. I gave myself grace and permission because I felt horrible.
But it has been two weeks and my practice is not back. It is like I walked away.
My creativity dropped. You may have noticed that there was a week of no blogs. Yep. All creativity was gone.
Call to accountability
This past week, things have happened that are beckoning me back to my practice. I feel it — a spiritual pull, an invitation to pay attention to my inner world, a call to accountability from Spirit, “You are not being a good steward of your spiritual life and practice.”
I am walking again, slowing down paying attention to the natural world. Meditation is arriving back in my life. As I bring back my spiritual practice, I feel myself returning to ME.
It is important that we pay attention to our inner worlds.
How are you being a good steward of your spiritual life, of your inner world?
Have you paid attention to the stewardship of your heart?
What does that look like for you?
If you have not paid attention to your inner world, to your spiritual life, before, spiritual direction is a powerful practice to guide you into a practice that works for you, that deepens your connection with Spirit. Spiritual direction teaches you how to be a good steward of your inner world. Contact me if you would like to spend time contemplating Spirit’s invitation to stewardship of your heart and spirit.
I have talked a great deal from time to time in this blog about accountability. Stewardship requires us to be accountable for our actions and to hold others accountable for theirs as well. It is through accountability with each other, that we learn to become more and more responsible, become better stewards of what the Sacred has entrusted to us.
Downton Abbey: Season 4, Episodes 5 and 6
John Pegg is a young man from the village whom Mrs Crawley, at Dr Clarkson's urging, agrees to help find a job as a gardener. Isobel persuades Dowager Countess to let him come on at the Dower House. However, when a valuable letter opener of Dowager Countess goes missing, she is convinced Pegg stole it while watering plants in her study. She threatens to sack him, but Dr Clarkson and Mrs Crawley persuade her not to until an investigation can be conducted.
Things only worsen for Pegg when another possession of the Dowager's goes missing, so she sacks him. But then Spratt, the Dowager’s butler, finds the second missing item.
Mrs Crawley, determined to prove the Dowager wrong, stops by the Dower House when she knows the Dowager is out, fakes feeling faint and asks to take a few moments in the sitting room. When alone, she searches the room and finds the first, which had fallen between the cushion and arm of a chair. She instructs Spratt to alert the Dowager to this incident.
the Call for Accountability
The next day, Mrs Crawley stops by with Dr Clarkson to confront the Dowager for wrongly accusing John Pegg…
Dowager: To what do I owe this treat?
Dr. Clarkson: Lady Grantham, you have already changed for dinner. We will come tomorrow.
Dowager: No, my curiosity would not take such a delay.
Mrs. Crawley: Did Spratt give you the paper knife? (the lost item)
Mrs Crawley: Then it is quite clear that Peg did not steal it. Or are you going to argue now that he sneaked it back in here when he realized what kind of trouble he was in?
(Note: For those who do not watch Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess hates being wrong and rarely admits to misdoings or mistakes. This is a regular play between Mrs Crawley and the Dowager.)
Dowager, as she is ringing her bell to call Spratt: Well, its a thought..
Mrs Crawley: But a despicable one. What can I say to persuade you out of your injustice and stubbornness? Can’t you see the damage you do?
Dr. Clarkson: Now, hold your horses Mrs Crawley. Lady Grantham has a right of reply.
Dowager: Thank you Dr Clarkson…. (after Spratt enters the room) Spratt, has the young gardener Peg brought in the vegetables yet?
Mrs Crawley: What?
Dowager: Please ask him to step in here…
Mrs Crawley: I don’t understand
Dowager: If you wish to understand things you must come out from behind your prejudice and listen… (when Peg enters the room, to Peg) Could you give an account to Mrs Crawley of what transpired between us this afternoon…
Peg explains everything that happened that afternoon, how the Dowager called for him, apologized for being wrong and hired him back.
Dowager to Mrs Crawley: Well?
Mrs. Crawley looks annoyed….
Dr Clarkson: I’d say that is game, set, match to Lady Grantham…
Accountability Strengthens our Stewardship
We are human. Even on our best days, prejudice seeps into our way of being — whether that is sexism, homophobia, racism, ablism, holding onto fixed perspectives on people that does not allow them to grow, etc. Whatever it is, we usually fall short of our expectations for ourselves and others. This is a normal part of what it means to be human.
How does it affect our ability to be good stewards of what we are gifted by Spirit?
Accountable for our actions
In this case, the Dowager allowed physical things (things that she owned and treasured) cloud her judgement around helping someone — around being a good steward of her resources and generosity. When she was brought to accountability, when Mrs Crawley found the mail-opener, she realized her error and came back into alignment with what it means for her to be a good stewards of her resources and position in the community. She corrected her behavior.
Accountable for our fixed perceptions
At the same time, Mrs. Crawley was called to accountability around her actions, her fixed perception of the Dowager. Mrs. Crawley is a tremendously powerful steward in terms of companioning the poor, the underclass, the untouchables, and guiding, mentoring, helping them to better themselves. She has time and time again opened her heart and home to change the lives of people nobody even looks at, let alone thinks or cares about.
Because this is her work, her ministry, her calling, she can be prejudice towards the Dowager. Dowager Lady Grantham holds herself above others in many ways. She does do generous things for people in her community when Mrs Crawley pushes her to. Other times, she does the right thing for the wrong reason — to remove anything controversial from Downton estate. (She helped an ex-prostitute find a new place to be a maid after Mrs Crawley taught her to be a housemaid so that the ex-prostitute would not be connected to Downton in anyway. Right things, wrong reason)
The Dowager calls Mrs Crawley on her fixed perception. Mrs Crawley never gives the Dowager the benefit of the doubt. She assumes that the Dowager will not do the right thing when it is presented to her. This mindset, this fixed perception, prevents the Dowager from really growing and changing. It prevents Mrs Crawley from truly celebrating the growth and expansion of the the Dowager.
By calling Mrs Crawley on her fixed perception, the Dowager reminds us that we need to open ourselves to allow people to grow, change, transform, forgive. This is mercy and grace. Stewardship requires mercy and grace to be gifted generously.
Accountability gifts mercy and grace
By holding each other accountable, Mrs Crawley and the Dowager are gifting one another with the opportunity to generously offer mercy and grace to Peg (the gardener) as well as each other. They are reminding themselves, humbling themselves, aligning themselves once again to what it means to be good stewards of their position and calling.
For Mrs Crawley, being a good steward is about helping Peg keep his job and better himself, not one up the Dowager. For the Dowager, being a good steward is about learning to value a person over objects, learning to give people the benefit of the doubt, learning to trust.
Together over the seasons of Downton Abbey these two women companion each other in strengthening and expanding their ways of being good stewards of their position and resources. Through accountability, the push each other to grow in their skills and abilities as stewards.
We are called to hold each other accountable. Spirit invites us to encourage each other to expand and strengthen our understanding of stewardship in our lives.
Who is pushing you to expand your understanding of stewardship?
What person in your life holds you accountable for your actions?
How do you hold others accountable, offering grace and mercy as you do so?
Because the Sacred has gifted us all that we have in our life, we must use our gifts, abilities, and skills responsibly in this world. It is our responsibility, as stewards, to create positive change that brings the experience of compassion, peace and justice.
Avengers: Civil War
Tony Stark is seeking additional help for his side of the Avengers disagreement. He has seen videos of a spider-boy doing amazing things on YouTube. Tony visits Peter Parker...
In Peter’s room:
Stark: Why are you doing this? I got to know what’s your M.O.? What gets you out of that twin bed in the morning?
Peter: Because I’ve been me my whole life, and I’ve had these powers for six months. I read books. I build computers. Yeah, I would love to play football, but I couldn’t then, so I shouldn’t now.
Stark: Sure, because you’re different.
Peter: Exactly. But I can’t tell anybody that, so I’m not. When you can do the things that I can, but you don’t, and then the bad things happen, they happen because of you.
Stark: So you wanna look out for the little guy, you wanna do your part? Make the world a better place, all that, right?
Peter: Yeah, just looking out for the little guy. That’s what it is.
Stark decides to bring Spiderman on, temporarily, as an Avenger, changing Peter’s life. Spiderman: Homecoming begins after Peter’s experience in Avengers: Civil War concludes.
Stewardship invites us to use our skills and abilities responsibly
Peter Parker, for being so young, has a very mature understanding of his super-powers. He recognizes that “with great power comes great responsibility” (to quote Uncle Ben, Peter Parker’s uncle, from the Tobey Maguire spiderman series, 2002).
Peter has all these powers that have suddenly appeared in his life. He is different than he was 6 months ago. He could have easily shown off and used his powers to create wealth, instead of (as Tony Stark put it) being a dumpster diver to acquire the beat-up old electronics he currently had.
But, as he tells Mr Stark, it would not be right to use these powers to show off for personal gain — “I would love to play football, but I couldn’t then, so I shouldn’t now.” Something inside Peter knows that these are gifts given to him to create change, to help others, to do good.
So, he uses his powers to help others — to be the friendly neighborhood Spiderman. This is Spirit’s invitation to us — to use our abilities to help others.
Even in Spiderman: Homecoming, after he saves his classmates in the Washington Monument and is the talk of the school as Spiderman, Peter keeps his identity secret. Ned, Peter’s best friend, asks Peter in the school hall…
Ned: What is it like being famous when nobody knows it is you?
Peter: Crazy dude.
Ned: Crazy. Should we tell everyone its you?
Ned: Can I tell everyone?
Peter: No, dude. That is not a good idea….
If Peter Parker had told he was Spiderman and used his power for his own personal gain, he would have lost his soul. This is the concept that Tobey Maguire’s 2007 Spiderman 3 was exploring. Self-aggrandizement serves nobody but you. It brings no change, only heart-break, loss, greed, corruption, hatred, divisiveness, and more negative consequences.
President Carter vs President Trump: How we use our abilities...
It is the difference between President Jimmy Carter (humble servant-leadership) and President Trump (self-aggrandizing narcism).
President Jimmy Carter has used his life, his gifts, his abilities to transform the world. He has created a powerful legacy. He is the President who cared more for the lives of the hostages than his re-election campaign. We know him as the past President who still, at the age of 93, continues building houses for Habitat for Humanity. We know him as a person of faith, who stands in integrity and authenticity, working to create justice and peace in all that he does.
President Trump. We know him as the President who thrives off of bullying, especially through Twitter; who makes governing decisions that serves his own interest, cutting programs aimed at helping those in need. We know him as a disrespectful womanizer and belittler. His gift so far to this country is that of divisiveness and hate.
Spirit’s invitation is to use our spiritual gifts and abilities to create positive change! All that the Sacred has blessed us with in our life is at our discretion to use to help others, to transform the world, to create justice, to grow compassion, to invite peace and harmony.
This is God’s call, for each and everyone of us: to use our skills and abilities humbly in service to the Sacred. This is how the Sacred creates transformation in the world — through us, through our willingness to work toward justice and offer compassion.
How will you use your gifts and abilities responsibly?
What does that look like in your life?
What changes do you need to make to be a better steward of the Sacred’s gifts to you?
Where are you engaging this world to create justice and compassion?
Pastor Jocelyn Emerson weaves together her training as a Light and Energy worker, Reiki master, spiritual director, and Pastor with her life experience as a mystic and contemplative to offer a space of trust, safety, and honesty to support you on your life's journey.