God asks, as quoted by a distraught Ezekiel, “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet?” (Ezekiel 34:18)
The Amazon Rainforest is burning. The Amazon, “the lungs of the world,” the source of 20% of the world’s oxygen and a massive carbon sink absorbing greenhouse gases that would otherwise cloud our atmosphere contributing to climate change, is on fire. Meteorologist Eric Holthaus says smoke now covers half of Brazil. The midday skies in Sao Paulo, a thousand miles away on the Atlantic coast, were blackened by the fires’ smoke.
“Mind your own business” were essentially the words of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro when the Group of Seven (G-7) meeting in France pledged $22 million to fight the fires. Lectures from North Americans and Europeans who have left their lands largely treeless by centuries of deforestation were unwelcome and appeared sanctimonious.
But the admonition given to Noah is one given to all who claim the Bible as their inspiration: Save every species, fish, winged creatures, plants and those that walk on the earth. Losing the rainforest will have huge potential for warming the planet. “Must you tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture?”
We are complicit in causing the fires. The trade wars with China resulted in a 94% drop in U.S. soybean exports this year over last year. Over the past 20 years soybean farmers in North Dakota have spent “millions on grain storage and rail-loading infrastructure while increasing plantings by five-fold” (Karl Plume, Reuters, August 22, 2019). China bought 70% of North Dakota’s soybeans to feed livestock and produce cooking oil. That was before the trade wars. Today, farmers are sitting on a huge inventory, watching prices plummet. The US trade war with China opened the soybean market to Brazilian farmers.
President Bolsonaro made clear before his election last year he intended to exploit the Amazon. He is watching as deforestation, at fever pitch, is clearing land so soybean fields can be planted to satisfy China’s demand. Environmental concerns are ignored.
“War, what is it good for?” asked singer Edwin Starr, “Absolutely nothing, its only friend is the undertaker.” Trade wars, writes Marc-William Palen, have a long history of failure and the trade war with China, if followed through, could spin out of control causing a major structural shift between the US and China. Trade routes for soybeans have already changed and may not be restored.
Palen recalls the words of historian Barbara Tuchman who wrote in The Guns of August, a step-by-step telling of how leaders stumbled into the disaster of World War I: “War,” she wrote, “is the unfolding of miscalculations.”
The Aaronic blessing concluding worship borrowed from Numbers 6:2 includes the Hebrew word “shamar,” “The Lord bless you and keep you.” The word “shamar” translated “keep” is not a promise to maintain us as in a jar of formaldehyde but is the promise of a blessing that nurtures all of life and life-sustaining relationships with family, neighbors, friends, the land and all creation.
“The power of God is present at all places,” Martin Luther wrote, “even in the tiniest tree leaf. Do you think God is sleeping on a pillow in heaven? …God is wholly present in all creation, in every corner, behind you and before you.”
We can’t sit. We face an environmental crisis. Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon writes, “This is an emergency and for emergency situations we need emergency actions.” “Miscalculations” could be disastrous. Our human pursuits are causing irreparable damage to the earth. We must pray and be conscientious, tireless environmental stewards, caring for the earth, participants in “earth healing actions” that are demanded of us by our faith. We must because our faith demands this of us and our children and grandchildren deserve air to breathe, water to drink, earth to grow food to eat and a good, beautiful planet earth they can call home.
God isn’t sleeping on a pillow in heaven but is in every tree leaf, bug, bird and animal living in the Amazon Rainforest.