Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
By Rachael Bullock
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
If you haven’t noticed, the conversation around fossil fuels can often be a fairly tense one. This is especially true as political discourse in North America becomes increasingly polarized. As I’ve listened most recently to arguments about Kinder Morgan’s pipeline, oil sands in Alberta, the future of environmental policies, I notice that the general arguments in favour of nonrenewable energy rests on the assumption that there is not enough – in general, not just economically. This makes sense given that when discussing “environmentalism” or any other subject, it is never simply a conversation “about the facts”. Rather, it becomes a dialogue in which participants are often not even aware that underlying life experiences, societal messages, and driving ideologies are brought into play.
Before diving in, I want to acknowledge that conversations about how to engage with the natural environment are complex because of people’s varying worldviews, and especially the stories they carry with them. Even for myself, the coal and oil industry are what have sustained parts of my immediate and extended family. I am still in the process of wrestling with the significance of that fact and that I am only where I am (including writing this) because of the people who have gone before me. As I listen to those supportive of the fossil fuel industry in my family, blue collar mining communities I have grown up in, media, large multinational corporations (yes hello Kinder Morgan we see you there), I hear two main desires. The first is a desire for certainty driven by a fear of instability. The second is announced less vocally, but remains a stubborn assertion that, “We have a right to because this is the life we were promised we could seize.”
It is most frustrating for me when I see this line of thought coming from Christian identified circles. What is continually seen in scripture is the assurance that we are loved, will be provided for, and then a call to give up what we have for those who are on the outside or marginalized with the knowledge that more will be provided. What is distinctly absent from overarching Biblical narratives is an affirmation of western individualism, pursuit of financial wealth, immediate gratification, and a focus on personal salvation at the expense of shalom. Part of what is most painful about these narratives being unconsciously and uncritically held up by churches is that this is so far from the picture of what the God offers us. The economy that the Creator calls us into is not one of scarcity. Rather, it is an economy of providence, which offers us a radically different paradigm than what western society offers. Living in a way that asserts, “There is enough, there will be enough,” has the potential to significantly impact many of our relationships. These include not only how we relate to land and natural resources, but also to our communities, newcomers to a country, and even our enemies. A kingdom centred economy of abundance challenges our values and restructures how we steward our resources.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Trust is not a blind act, nor one that is uninformed by other experiences in a relationship. For me, spending time in nature has been one of these crucial places where I experience the goodness of God. The world around us showcases vast and intricate landscapes on dazzlingly large and microscopic levels. I find myself in awe in so many places, whether looking off a mountain top at sunrise, dozing by the ocean waves on a lazy summer afternoon, or simply being entranced by the sheer determination and strength of ants. (Seriously, have you seen those little folks move? If you have an hour to kill, do yourself a favour: bring a small pile of sugar or other species appropriate snacks to your local colony and then watch the magic.)
We, however, are not ants. And even ants take time to rest! Amidst my normal busyness, I find that gratitude and grief are some of the key things that cause me to slow and to rest. For myself, I have found both when looking at creation. Some of the times I have felt most alive and at peace have been outside and/or with animals. Alongside this incredible awe, there is also a profound heartbreak at the damage that we as humans have inflicted to the land and the people here. There is much grief in the ways that settlers to Turtle Island forcibly divorced the spiritual stewards of this place from their home, and doing so called it (and continue to affirm it as) good. In the devaluing of the relationships with the Other, be it Indigenous/racialized people or land reduced to natural resources, the logic of white supremacy and resource extractivism are closely linked. This flies in the face of what Genesis tells us was intended to be: a symbiotic cohabitation of this planet. Although we are imago dei, we are still one of many created. To forget this is to ignore one a key relationship that make us fully human as the Creator intended.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters.
More often than I’d like, my internal landscape is a damning example of the ways that I choose to keep more than I need, and to prioritize material security over relational wealth. As I write this, I am acutely aware of the places I have neglected my own body as creation, and how that has impacted my ability to tend to the relationships I have with Creator or created.
I don’t always know how live into a kingdom economy, nor am I always comfortable affirming that systemic healing and economies assuming abundance are possible when I look at the state of the world. However, in the times and places I find myself exhausted and grieving, I am continuously reminded of places that God has shown up. Sometimes this has been in metaphorical pastures and waters, but it is often through the literal embodiment of these places.
He restores my soul.
In a culture that values productivity over presence and capital over compassion,
rest can be a form of resistance. At the risk of sounding too pretentious, I think it is also prophetic. It speaks to a different way of living, and quietly but insistently asserts that there is enough in this world for all of us. Sabbath, or a regular rhythm of rest, points back to our relationship with God as that which sustains.
I’m sure there’s more that could be said on the subject, or that this could be said more eloquently/concisely, but I will leave this with the knowledge that spiritual and societal change of heart does not depend primarily on my effort. I think I’m going to take a nap now.
Ma Hua is a guest living on the occupied, unceded, traditional territory of the Musqueam people. Her family is tied to China, Scotland, and Ireland. She’s never been to any of those places, but is grateful to have spent most of her life growing up in Vancouver and in the East Kootenays on Ktunaxa territory. At present, something she thinks a lot about is how a lot of people are trying to run a lot more pipeline from one side of the mountain range she calls home to the other. If you have the means, consider donating to the legal fund for land protectors at stopkmlegalfund.org. If you have the energy (and an established framework for you to rest and be replenished), continuing complex conversations and relationships with people different than you also seems helpful.
Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in scripture, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.