Saturday, October 01, 2011

On Being Accountable, a reflection on snakes and laundry detergent, among other things...

A reflection on the readings for propers for Season of Creation Sunday 2A: Genesis 3:1-13; and Romans 5:12-21

My sophomore year in college I lived in a house with three of my girlfriends. On hot summer days we’d load up in the car and make a drive out into the country for a swim in our favorite small lake. A remnant from ancient glaciers, this lake was tucked into a crevice bounded on all sides by rock cliffs and hills. Given the terrain we had to park the car some distance away and hike back through a patch of woods, a meadow, another stretch of woods, and down a hill to the lake. Along the way we would occasionally encounter a rattle snake sunning itself on a rock. The tell-tale rattle would give it away as it announced its presence long before we saw it. Always cautious, the humans and snakes would keep a healthy and suspicious distance from one another. The snakes preferred to slither away under a rock rather than attack or be aggressive – although no doubt they could be if we came too close.

When we finally arrived at the lake shore the first thing we would do is throw rocks into the water. Our goal in doing this was to scare away the water moccasins, large black, highly poisonous water snakes, who lived in and around the lake. After a couple of minutes of throwing rocks the snakes moved on and we went for our swim.
One day, upon leaving this watering hole, I had my dog with me, a small poodle. It, like most small dogs, thought he was much bigger than he was, and decided to not only thrush out, but bark and pursue a large water moccasin through the grasses and path. At one point the snake coiled up, and I was certain my dog was going to get bit. But he didn’t, I got him to back away, and the snake moved on.

Looking back over these memories I am astonished that no one was hurt; that neither me, nor any of my companions, nor our dogs were ever harmed. Denial is powerful, blinding us to all kinds of poor decisions. Nonetheless, these memories give me a different perspective on today’s reading from Genesis – of a deceptive snake out to lead the humans down the path of deception and sin. Snakes are not really inclined to approach humans, preferring to be left alone, sunning on a warm rock.

This is part of our Christian creation story – how we, and all the earth, came to be – how God created an interactive world intended for beauty and well being, and well, perhaps a little bit of naiveté. A story of how human beings are not only driven by our curiosity but by our desire for knowledge. And, a story about the nature of free-will, of God’s gift to us, a gift of choice – we can choose how we behave. We can choose to follow God’s desire, or we can choose something else. And, it’s a story of how humans are not always willing to take responsibility and be held accountable for our actions.

I didn’t do it” says Adam. “She did.”

“Well, I didn’t do it” says woman, “The snake did.”

And, if the snake could talk it would probably say,”I didn’t do it, the tree did” and the tree would probably blame the apple, and the apple would blame the seed and the seed would blame the soil, and so forth.

But mostly this is a story that reminds us that whether or not we accept responsibility for our actions, there are always consequences, for better or for worse.

Barbara Brown Taylor, a well known Episcopal priest, preacher, and professor, in her book, “Speaking of Sin” says that sin is not so much a set of prescribed actions and behavior, rather sin, at its most basic element, is about broken relationships. What happens to cause us to become broken in our relationship with God, with self, with others, and even with the environment? How are we contributing to the brokenness of the environment through things known and unknown? The season of creation reminds us that we are accountable for the wellbeing of this earth, and our actions matter.

Today the focus is on the land, its beauty, and our responsibility to care for it. This includes becoming aware of and, more responsible for, the pollution and trash that we humans produce.

On the internet science site, “How Stuff Works” I learned that, according to the EPA, Americans generate trash at the rate of 4.6 pounds per day per person, which translates to 251 million tons per year [EPA]. This is almost twice as much trash, per person, as most other major countries. The trash production in the United States has almost tripled since 1960. Trash in this country is dealt with in three primary ways: put in a dump which is an open hole in the ground where trash is buried. Or buried in a landfill, a more carefully designed structure built into or on top of the ground in which trash is isolated from the surrounding environment, with intent of protecting, more or less, the nearby groundwater and air quality. However, trash put in a landfill will stay there for a very long time. Inside a landfill, there is little oxygen and little moisture. Under these conditions, trash does not break down very rapidly. In fact, when old landfills have been excavated or sampled, 40-year-old newspapers have been found with easily readable print. Landfills are not designed to break down trash, merely to bury it. When a landfill closes, the site, especially the groundwater, must be monitored and maintained for up to 30 years! (

And, some trash is recycled. Evidence suggests that recycling reduces landfill trash, increases jobs, helps the economy, and reduces production pollution.
We are challenged today, to think about the way we can reduce the trash and pollution we produce in our homes. For me this means using real dishes, cloth napkins, powered laundry detergent, and dish detergents with a low phosphorus count, and recycling plastic, cans, and paper.

Being accountable for our actions means each of us will do what we can to care for the world, tend to the land, and do our best to reduce the trash we produce and increase our use of sustainable products.

Because the world we live in is interconnected in small and amazing ways. I blog with people around the world, from whom I learn a great deal. One friend is a woman who lives in Zimbabwe. I delight in her descriptions of the landscape of her country. Located in the southern hemisphere Zimbabwe has winter when we have summer, spring when we have fall. The telltale signs of the seasons changing include migrating birds from Europe with names I’ve never heard of. And a cycle of beasts, from elephants to lions, that move through her town. This year I shared with her my delight in the beautiful blooming trees in my new home town of Dearborn, especially the cherry trees. It turns out that at the very same time cherry trees were in bloom here, they were also in bloom in Zimbabwe.

Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us that God’s grace is abundant, for God makes all things well. We are called to participate with God in the protection of and restoration of this world.

We’ve been given a precious gift, this island home called earth, let us care for it as God intends, in much the same way as God cares for us.


Purple said...

Powerful images and sermon Terri. Love, love, love the title. Also the way in which you use the Genesis story and how we keep shifting blame to "the other". What reaction did you get from the congregation?

My sermon is back up. I had an inquiry from an academic revgal on my use of segullah...and I wanted to make sure my use was indeed within was.

revkjarla said...

amen. our island home, indeed~

Terri said...

Thank you for your comments and feedback. I don't get many comments from parishioners, not sure if I have found a preaching vein that speaks to this group...or, they just don't give feedback...? I keep trying different approaches to see if anything seems to work better than another. It did seem to go well this summer, preaching short sermons with out a text...

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