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Sabbath Day – Stewards of the Uninhabitable?

July 21, 2017


“The rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”

Gandalf, in The Return of the King

I have been a poor Sabbath keeper this year, and a worse blogger (the two are very much related). I’ve yet to take a serious long hike in the wild this season, or to spend even a night in my tent. I have spent too many Sabbath days in my office. I have more often than not been immersed on my Sabbath days, when I get them, in reading: lots of theology, ecology, local community and church history. My reading lists and interests are growing with every page I read. Often my mind is so full at the end of a Sabbath day that I want to keep thinking rather than write, because I am not ready, yet, to share all that is going on inside me. Present political and ecological realities have me pondering, like Gandalf, the destruction of much or all I care about – and in my darkest reflections on an uninhabitable earth by the end of the century, the passing even of all “that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again.” It’s a real possibility that neither Tolkien nor Gandalf considered.

A week ago David Wallace-Wells published “The Uninhabitable Earth” which became almost immediately the most-read article in New York Magazine‘s history, outlining how “parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.” He has since had to justify his alarmism, which is more than justified. “I don’t even understand what “too scared” would mean. The science says climate change threatens nearly every aspect of human life on this planet, and that inaction will hasten the problems. In that context, I don’t think it’s a slur to call an article, or its writer, alarmist. I’ll accept that characterization. We should be alarmed.” A few weeks ago we learned that aircraft can’t fly when temperatures exceed 118 degrees (it’s simple physics). We learned this because Arizona hit 119 and all planes were grounded. About the same time Iraq City hit 129 degrees (real feel 140). I can’t even imagine – I’m listless in the mid-90s.

In a report that had more to do with politics as usual than climate reality, though the two are now always related, the United Nations predicted that Gaza will be unlivable by 2020 – but just look at it now. Can you imagine living there now? And both of my U.S. Senators from the State of New York have signed on to a bill that would criminalize the BDS movement, a non-violent protest against Israel’s ongoing occupation. I am a New Yorker, and Democrat Co-Sponsors Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are my responsibility. Free Speech is a Constitutional Right, except, apparently, when it comes to Palestine and Palestinian Solidarity. My own denomination, the PC(USA), is currently studying whether Boycott, Divestment and/or Sanctions (BDS) is a faithful way to pursue human rights in the absence of a just peace in Israel-Palestine. We already endorse boycotts of products made in the illegal settlements. Are we felons? Will we be? Westchester County has already passed an anti-BDS ‘resolution.’ Agree or disagree with BDS, this strategy of criminalization is unconsionable and sure to backfire. But at what cost?

In two weeks I will be in Guatemala, and then Costa Rica, as part of a Presbyterian Peacemaking and Environmental Ministries Travel Study Seminar. Preparing for this trip has re-immersed me in language, theology, economic history, and human rights struggles that were at the forefront of my theological formation in seminary. Twenty-five years on they are unsettling me again with a passion and anger that were academic the first time around. That’s not really fair … there was passion and anger back then, but, to quote Bob Dylan, “I’m younger than that now.” I revel in complexity – I’m a historian, after all. But commitment, solidarity, resistance, resilience: these are becoming simple, obvious, and the only measures of faithfulness. They send me back to scriptures that first formed me and have never let me go, though I have not reveled recently in their simplicity. I have been told before – by my professors in seminary (Mark Lewis Taylor), my favorite journalists (Naomi Klein) and most recently through my own experience (with Standing Rock) – but in ways I am only beginning to understand, indigenous peoples will chart our future or we will not have one. I am keenly anticipating my time in Latin America.

Tolkien has also been a major reading interest this year, not least because of his imaginative critique of resource-extractive economies. My son and I are working our way together, and aloud, through The Lord of the Rings. He’s read the whole before, and experienced the movies, but this is our first ‘read aloud’ together. Tolkien makes one comfortable with struggles that last for, and find meaning, over centuries and millennium. If only I believed we had that much time…

“For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”




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