Of the Earth
written by Rev Gary Heard
On one visit to a remote Indigenous community during our Australian sojourn, we were struck by the amount of rubbish strewn through the streets. The initial shock at the casual way in which rubbish was discarded belied a deeper truth.
I recall many years ago hearing from an Australian serving in a remote mission community where there was no garbage collection. The image of rubbish having to be left on the floor of her home or on the ground outside was – for her – a reminder of the waste which is generated by households all around the world – but taken out of our sight – by our regular garbage collection.
I’ll take the opportunity to confess to a weakness (well, only one this time!) I am partial to the odd bag of potato chips. A small bag of chips can be consumed in about 5 minutes, but the bag will take over 100 years to decompose.
Visiting Ubirr, an ancient aboriginal sacred site in Kakadu, the only physical evidence of aboriginal habitation is in the ancient artworks which adorn the walls of rocks. These are some of the most ancient of their kind anywhere in the world. Yet the landscape is pristine: uncontaminated. Aboriginal tribal justice carries a strong emphasis on how one leaves the land for those who will follow us upon it.
Which brings me back to the first paragraph and the rubbish-strewn streets. Although initially discomfitting and conjuring images of lack of cleanliess, it is clear that the rubbish which is left is all of Western origin: packaging, cans and plastic which have no other practical use except to bring a product to a consumer. Indigenous tribes have for millennia ensured that they have left no such footprint: to consume all their food, remove their fires, and ensure that their mark upon the land does not remain a scar. Fundamental to Aboriginal culture is relationship with the land. It is an ancient thought, one which underpins Hebrew anthropology.
The first chapters of the Bible depict human beings as being made “from the earth”. We are part of it, and return to it once our days are gone. Our physical being is intricately linked with the physical creation, something we are only now beginning to learn. Abuse of creation is a form of human abuse. We pollute the air, and damage our lungs, change our climate, destroy the landscape, reduce our crop potential, impact the availability of clean water… It is somewhat ironic that the greatest damage is caused in the construction and maintenance of non-organic creations: cars, electricity, production of so many things we eventually discard. It is a lifestyle which we are only now learning to be unsustainable, not only in terms of the physical planet, but in terms of our own being as humans.
The apostle Paul spoke of creation groaning in anticipation of God’s people coming to life (Rom 8:19f). Our life is inextricably linked to the earth. How then shall we live as an image of that hope?
May 11, 2008