Sunday, July 12, 2009

The context of concern

I've been trying to follow the General Convention from a distance, which isn't easy, given that the issues I care about tend to be ones not seen as major or newsworthy by others, and so are not reported.

What I have heard about environmental issues is that much more attention is being paid to them than at earlier conventions. But what I see in the documented "mission priorities" is that ecological concern is once again seen as a subset of social justice, the last item on the list, a tagged on concern.

I appreciated Mike Schut's comment on the economic justice panel, in response to a questioner, that the vocation of Christians has not changed, but the context has. I want to push that a bit further, and say that the context hasn't changed, but our awareness of the context in which we respond to Christ has expanded to comprehend a much larger, more complex, interrelated creation - not just the human sphere.

Now it may be that my struggles with this are a bit of the pot calling the kettle black. I am after all, spending most of my time on food systems rather than other environmental issues. And one of the reasons I am doing that - in addition to liking to eat, of course - is that food systems are an area where all the banner concerns come together: water, land, air, biodiversity - and social justice, too.

But I think there is a difference between seeing social justice issues in the context of mercy toward all creation - and seeing human well being as the canon by which we measure environmental decisions. And please don't say it's a chicken and egg thing: we are just one species, and our existence is not privileged.

So that's the context - but there's a kind of back drop against which I have been mulling this over - and that's reading the Desmond and Moore book Darwin's Sacred Cause.
Learning about how Darwin, his kin, and his mentors worked for the abolition of slavery, and how that value set was one of the drivers in Darwin's work on human evolution, gives me pause. In reality there is no way to separate our concern for other people, for their freedom and dignity, and our attitudes toward the rest of creation. Compassion and respect for the other in its integrity is an attitude which we hope depends only on the other's otherness, not the details of who and what that other is. Compassion for other people can open us to compassion for all creation - if we have an opportunity to experience it. Darwin did. I did and do. Many people today - not so much, or only when it bites back.

Here's a sound review of Darwin's Sacred Cause:

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