Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Love and Loathing
distributed 2/15/02 - ©2002

The question came from an author working on a major new curriculum project: What are some Bible texts that we should include for an eco-justice perspective?

Coming up with an answer is both easy and hard. There are so many texts that point us in the right direction and inform our understanding. And there are so few texts that deal directly with the sorts of issues we face in our technological, globalized world. What key passages do I want to lift up?

If I had to pick just one, it would be a message that I'm sure is already in every Sunday School curriculum, one that is familiar to every church-goer. The words come from the Jewish scriptures, and are quoted in the Gospels. In Matthew, for example, Jesus is asked, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" And Jesus answered:

'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
This teaching has a profound eco-justice meaning as soon as we stretch the definition of "neighbor" into a broad realm. (Such a stretching into a scandalous new area, you might recall, is precisely what Jesus did with the parable of the good Samaritan.)

Who are our neighbors? We certainly are called to look beyond our family and friends, the people who live next door, and the folk in the adjoining pew on Sunday morning.

We are to be neighbors to the poor and people of color who are the frequent victims of environmental injustice. We are to be neighbor to the residents of Pacific islands and Bangladesh, people whose countries will be inundated by rising sea levels. We are to be neighbor to the indigenous people of Indonesia whose forest homelands are being clearcut. We are to be neighbor to the residents of urban areas whose health is degraded by smog, and to agricultural workers who are exposed constantly to dangerous chemicals.

And still we can stretch. We are to be neighbor to those of future generations who will bear the brunt of today's destructive lifestyle -- those who will be forced to live in a hotter world, a world without thousands of species, a world with more people but diminished resources.

And we must stretch, too, beyond our human neighbors. We are to be neighbor to all the variety of life with whom we share this planet and with whom we relate in ways both dramatic and subtle -- the whales and the coral and the salmon, the wolves and caribou and prairie dogs, the complex communities of life in grasslands and forests and wetlands.

The biblical basis for eco-justice is not drawn just from obscure interpretations of the story of Noah's ark, or the Garden of Eden, or God's proclamation to Job. It does not depend on subtle twists of Greek meaning in God's love for the cosmos. Those are true, but we don't need to start there.

The biblical basis of eco-justice is found in the message that Jesus named as central, in the commandments that support all of the law and the prophets. Love God and love neighbor. As our hearts and minds and spirits perceive ever-broadening circles of "neighbor," eco-justice emerges as an essential, basic expression of our faith.

May God's Spirit expand our love and vision to encompass all of our far-flung neighbors.

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Our failure to live gently and lovingly in the world may be explained by looking at the words Jesus quoted from Leviticus. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

We don't do well at loving ourselves. The evidence of self-loathing is pervasive, but a recent newspaper story provided a vivid example.

Use of the injectable drug Botox -- made of the neurotoxin that causes botulism -- has become the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure in the US. The substance is injected directly into muscles in the face, paralyzing them and thus erasing wrinkles.

The drug "is a staple for affluent professionals, television talking heads, ladies who lunch and actors who refuse to age." In some circles, it has become rare to see a woman over the age of 35 with the ability to look angry, because the drug has been used to deaden the muscles between the eyebrows that enable such a facial expression.

Humanity's tragic abuse of God's whole creation makes some sense when we see the abuse that we heap upon ourselves. Rather than loving and accepting who we are, we destroy ourselves as we try to attain some artificial ideal. If we so readily sacrifice our own health and character, it is not surprising that we are willing to destroy our neighbors.

May we discover the grace to love and accept ourselves, as well as our neighbors.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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