Reflections by our members
One of our members, Pete Wyman, suggested that we share member's reflections on the website. He started us off with his thoughts about some of the adult education classes he's attended at St. David's. Opinions expressed below are those of the writers alone.
What I learned at St. David's adult classes -- Genesis, Christianity and the Environment
by Pete Wyman
(Note -- class summaries do not follow any rational order)
In honor of Earth Day, I recall a series of classes on the above topics led by Rev. Finn Pond, PhD. We looked at a series of Genesis issues, and a Christian response. Genesis has spawned conflicting political and religious views.
Genesis 1 “multiply and subdue”
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over…every living thing that moves upon the earth.” This Genesis view was at the heart of the 19th century faith-tinged Manifest Destiny conquest and is apparently behind the Fundamentalists' anti-environmental crusade. The late Representative Helen Chenoweth-Hage, Idaho, called conservationists “tree hugging, pagan worshipers,” (True to her anti-government tirade, she died in a pickup accident while not wearing a government mandated seat belt.) Hege was a leader in urging the selling off of public land-National Parks, Forest Service, i.e., your land.)
A noted book, “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis,” by Lynn White argued that the Judeo-Christian tradition had driven Western civilization to elevate the human and devalue the natural. “We shall continue to have a worsening ecological crisis,” he wrote, “until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.”
Genesis 2 “till and tend”
The second chapter of Genesis offers readers a different spin on the dominion command. This version suggests that humankind is “to till and to tend the land,” which has been translated in, “till and keep,” “cultivate and care.,” in different Bibles.
Dominion, from the Latin word dominus, means to rule over. The question is whose style of domination will we follow? Kings and emperors ruled using violence and exploitation. Jesus’ reign is characterized by mercy and compassionate service for others. Instead of violence and exploitation we must adopt a reign of responsibility.
White’s essay has also been misread. He says Christianity is not monolithic, that it contains strains more ecologically gentle than the dominating one that became the Western norm. White found an antidote to anthropocentric in the teaching of St. Francis of Assisi. “Francis tried to depose man from his monarchy over creation and set up a democracy of all God’s creatures.”
In addition to the study of each aspect of Genesis –the bird, fish, animals we noted Aldo Leopold’s famous book –the “Sand County Almanac,” he argues for a land ethic and the importance of interdependence and relationship. He argued against thinking of land simply in economic terms. “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” What should be a Christian view of the natural world?
Rabbi Daniel Swartz explains, the earth does not belong to people but is entrusted to them. Pope John Paul II emphatically said, “Men and women…bear a unique responsibility under god: to safeguard the created world even to enhance it.” Episcopalian Reverend Charles W. Treadwell puts it, “We have multiplied. Now it’s time to focus on the Second Creation story.” “Caring for Creation is a fundamentally religious imperative that transcend denominational differences and partisan politics.”
In the past, Mother Elaine had a blessing of the animals including my dog as did the Episcopal cathedral St. John the Divine, N.Y., complete with elephant.
Disclaimer: No actual dogs or elephants were harmed during these blessings. I was an activist and held office for the Sierra Club at the local, state and regional level.)
What I learned at St. David's adult classes -- The Prophetic Jesus
by Pete Wyman
(Note -- class summaries do not follow any rational order)
The Prophetic Jesus
A Korean lady admonished her husband because everything was “my, my”… In Korea it is “our” house, husband, school, country. Prophetic theology advocates God’s justice, which is structural, i.e., the common good not the dominative system. When we become primarily concerned with individual justice, we tacitly legitimize the existing structure that serves the top 1% only. A society in which the top 1% own 43% of all the wealth s not what Jesus advocates. Before Constantine (Nicaea, 320 A.D.) Christians concentrated on what one must do, after it was what you must believe.
There are two types of justice – personal or individual and structural or systemic. Structural justice is more than doing our own thing. It is the common good – what Christianity is about – human rights, fairness, and a disciplined state.
The results tells us something about the system. We are constantly at war, have increasing poverty and incredible inequality because we are not a just society. The first 200 years after Moses, Israel was an egalitarian state. Every 50 years, the year of Jubilee, goods were redistributed This prevented the formation of a domination system by the few.
If you want to see what God is like—see what Jesus is like.
What I learned at St. David's adult classes
by Pete Wyman
The following does not necessarily represent the views of any class participant, Mother Elaine, our Bishop, the Presiding Bishop, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope, etc. The points made are mine alone.
I am not surprised by the decline in church attendance nationwide with the aggressive proselytizing, End of Times, hate, “I’m going to heaven and you are not,” and TV evangelists who can raise over $100,000 a week for Haitian orphans who only receive $8,000 —the remainder pays for the “evangelists” three homes and Cadillacs. This is not the Jesus of my Episcopalian childhood. My brother always maintained that our Church was a thinking man’s church, along with the Unitarians, a point echoed only by Mother Elaine. The variety of classes offered by Mother Elaine restored my faith in search of what the real Jesus was saying. The discussion of class members also added to my journey.
1. Living the Question film series presents scholars of different denominations concentrating on one topic. The first Christians referred to themselves of followers of the way. They also concentrated on what one must do – the underlining theme of the films. Unfortunately, following Nicaea (325 AD) the church moved to authoritative dogma emphasizing what you have to believe – with torture if you don’t get it right.
2. To better understand Jesus; it is helpful to understand history. M. Elaine presented a history series, where one presenter wondered what happened that the multitudes cheered Jesus entering Jerusalem but three days later screamed for His execution. The answer – they did not! Pilate would have never allowed a mass of subrogated people into his courtyard. The second “multitudes?” They were a small number of Jewish hierarchy who were threatened by Jesus. This one mistaken passage has led to the “Jews killed Jesus” and 2,000 years of violence against the Jewish people by supposed Christians. (Historically dictators and the elites have almost always resorted to violence against those who didn’t follow their view, e.g., police shooting peaceful strikers in the back in the 1930s, “Bull” Conner unleashing the dogs during the Civil Rights walks and baton wielding police hammering on Wall Street demonstrators.)
3. On St. Patrick’s Day I heard about a book saying Patrick was Celtic, not Roman Catholic. When I mentioned this to Mother Elaine, she fired back it was true and many other things including how he was criticized for even going to Ireland because the inhabitants were considered sub-human before my sound waves had even hit the wall! I had always known there were non R.C. Christians in Great Britain before the Romans arrival; no one even explained the rich Celtic tradition until her classes. I learned that the Celts taught by example by doing good things and they had female priests. Unfortunately, this tradition was lost when they gave into the later arriving Roman Church who emphasized beliefs and did not want females in any authority position.
My summary from notes and materials is presented that it might better show us His way.