By Zoë Tobin Peterson
I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. Deuteronomy 30:19
Growing up in Vancouver, a “green city,” I have been at the forefront of a shift towards choosing life. A shift towards environmental consciousness; but consciousness isn’t always enough. We can say we choose life all we want but until there is action behind it nothing is going to change. Our reasons for action matter as well, as they determine the proportions of the actions we take. If our intentions are to save the world for our generation alone, long-term changes just aren’t going to be made. Are we choosing life out of spite? Necessity? Validation? Love? Or are we acting because we see the Earth as more than just a witness?
If we see the Earth as an autonomous being, something that many cultures around the word do, it creates a basis for long-term future sustainability and ecological stewardship of the land. If this is a new concept for you, remembering that the Earth has been taking care of itself long before us, long without us–as a self-governing being–might put it into perspective. In the context of climate change, when we hear this passage telling us to choose life, we can hear more than “Save yourself and save your home!.” Additionally, we can hear, “You must stop killing this Earth and begin taking care of it.” To me this is a very important distinction to make because it means we aren’t just choosing life for ourselves, but for the Earth itself. This way of thinking of the Earth as autonomous also matches up with the passage in Deuteronomy telling us that Heaven and Earth has been called to witness our choice. The Earth is not only a witness to our collective actions, but something that is directly affected by them as well.
I’ve talked a lot about choosing life, but what does that actually mean? As the story goes, the Lord had just saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, but before offering them the holy land, set before them life and death and told them to choose life. The Bible often doesn’t have just one meaning behind passages, words, and stories, and different people might answer that question in very different ways. To me, right now, choosing life means protecting the Earth; it means doing what we can. Yes, it means making personal choices like taking public transit, buying local, reducing the animal products we consume, etc… It also means shutting down mines, factories, pipelines and investing in sustainable energy. It means talking to the people who have been taking care of the land for generations and listening to what they have to say. It means looking past short-term gain and towards longer-term future sustainability and ingenuity.
Being a young person today, it’s sometimes difficult to not be cynical about the future of the Earth. It can feel easy to blame previous generations for depleting natural resources, polluting skies and seas and harming the Planet. While those thoughts absolutely have truth to them, it’s important to remember that when we get caught up in the curses that were handed down to us, we forget that we have a choice to make, and we have been given the blessings we need to make it. It’s a choice that needs to be made now and followed through on. In the words of Greta Thunberg, “Maybe they [future children] will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.” If we don’t do more to help, maybe they will call ours the generation that did nothing, or perhaps the generation that didn’t do enough.
The passage ends by telling us blatantly to choose life not only for ourselves but for those who will come after us. “Choose” so obviously tells us there is a choice to be made. A choice between: paper or plastic, single use or reusable, farming industry or local, fossil fuels or sustainability, Indigenous or colonial. A choice between being the generation that did nothing or the one that turned it around. Which will you choose?
Zoë Tobin Peterson is a high school student of mixed European and Mi’kmaq descent who lives on Coast Salish Territory, East Vancouver. Zoe works for climate justice through activism and volunteer conservation projects and spent her summer as a junior staff person with Salal + Cedar’s environmental leadership program, Sacred Earth Camp.
Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in the revised common lectionary, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.