Returning to the Scene

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Exodus 3:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

I have been experiencing depression for the first time in my life over the last year or so. While not recognized as an official pathology, climate depression (or climate anxiety) is on the rise. I lose a lot of sleep. I find that I simply cannot read certain portions of the newspaper. At last year’s Ekklesia Project, I had to excuse myself during Mike Budde’s talk because I couldn’t bear to hear him detail the irreversible damage happening to our home, our planet.

Part of the problem is recognizing how complicit I am in climate change. The militaries of the world, aluminum smelting, concrete manufacturing, global shipping, industrial agriculture, certainly these are all among the chief culprits of our crisis. But I have traveled extensively around the world. I cool my home so that it can be more comfortable. I shop on Amazon. I am trying to change my habits and choices, but I also recognize I have so far to go.

I can’t imagine how Moses must have felt, realizing he was being called to go back into a situation that he had royally messed up. Without social media, he was blissfully distanced from his Israelites and from the scene of the murder he committed. It must have been so nice, the routine of tending to the flock out in the country.

But no, Moses had to go back. Moses had a role to play in the redemption of his people. And I find this to be so very encouraging.

A lot has changed for me since leaving California for seminary in Kentucky. At that time, I thought I would become a pastor, probably in the Vineyard. After a colossal faith crisis, I find myself a PhD student, studying American Christianity and ecclesiology. I no longer want to be a pastor (at least the paid pulpit kind of gig). Rather, these days I daydream about farming. For Moses, tending the flock was an escape from a crime scene. For me, farming is returning to the crime scene.

I know that I cannot save the world. I surely wish I could. I am not very optimistic about the world saving itself, based both on my theological and sociological take on the world. I am, however, optimistic about small acts of faithfulness. My third-of-an-acre lot qualifies as small, but I am trying to do big things with it.

The pollinator population is plummeting, so I am being intentional about planting not just produce, but flowers that help bring balance to the kinds of insects in my garden. Soil erosion continues apace so I am working on building up the soil in my yard. People are very disconnected from their food sources so the bulk of my gardening efforts these days are in my front yard, where I have more opportunities than ever to meet neighbors and passersby, to share about my garden, and to offer some peppers or okra.

I wish that I could eliminate herbicides and pesticides, shut down concentrated animal feeding operations, park every military jet, and make everyone content to explore their own neighborhoods instead of the four corners of the globe. I cannot. Nor can I shake my fist too mightily. After all, my hands are as dirty as anyone else’s.

The lectionary passage from Romans is also a neat and tidy manifesto for people who know that their hands are dirty. Paul’s emphasis on goodness over evil, about striving to outdo one another in nothing but honor, being patient in suffering, blessing our persecutors; I need these words of a peacemaker ringing constantly in my ears as I grapple with how to be faithful to Christ and my neighbor in a world that is burning down. These acts of faithfulness that we are called to won’t make the 24-hour news cycle that is feeding our world’s pathologies. But, they are opportunities to invite the next person to consider returning to the scene of the crime, ready to get their already-dirty hands dirty in the soil.

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