Not all dog sitters are created equal.
If you’ve got pets, you know what I’m talking about. Dog sitter, cat sitter, fish sitter, whatever pet you might have in your house, when you entrust your pets into someone else’s care, you want to know they are in good hands. More than that, you want to know you can trust that person because it’s not just the pets you are leaving in their care, it’s your whole household and to most of us that’s pretty sacred. For the most part, we’ve been blessed with some pretty great dog sitters like Tracey and Arlo and Kelly. They would care for our pets, bring in the mail, update us regularly, and make us feel like everything was okay. So it came as a surprise when we had a dog sitter who didn’t quite live up to the standards we had grown used to. They didn’t fail. Our dogs were still alive and healthy when we returned home. But when this person came over to meet the dogs for the first time, they weren’t all that affectionate with them. Usually, dog sitters love dogs and this one just didn’t give off that vibe. Then while we were gone, I received an email thanking me for my purchase on our PlayStation. Granted, it was a free purchase, but why were they using my account in the first place? And then when we got home, we found things out of place, not put away correctly, not quite cleaned up, and even a few things broken. We know things happen and it was likely just an accident, but do you leave it hidden for the homeowners to find on their own? Or do you own up to it and just say, “I’m sorry, I broke this by accident.” It’s really a matter of trust.
A lot of it depends on how you look at the job.
A good dog sitter looks at the job as a responsibility to care for what’s been given to them and return those in their charge at least as good as they found it. Maybe even better. A bad dog sitter doesn’t have to be an evil person or have evil intent, but instead looks at the job more about what they get out of it than what they put into it. Which one do you want caring for your pets? The same is true in other situations. People look at it as a responsibility or they look at it as an opportunity. And while it can be both of those things, most of us want the person looking after our stuff to be the kind of person who looks at it as a responsibility first and an opportunity second instead of the other way around. When it comes to the Earth, which kind of person are you? Responsibility or opportunity?
At the end of the day, we’re all just planet sitters.
The earth doesn’t belong to us. God put it in our care. As David wrote in the Book of Psalms, “The earth is the LORD’S and everything in it, the world and all who live in it… (Psalm 24:1)” We’re here to look after it, but it belongs to God. How do you think we’re doing? If God were going to give the human race a Yelp review, how many stars do you think we would get? We tend to be pretty oblivious to the damage we’re doing to the earth, either consciously or unconsciously. The big disasters get all the headlines. The Exxon-Valdez oil spill. The disaster on Deepwater Horizon. Those are the ones that make us wake up to the harm human beings are causing to the planet. But the real harm doesn’t come from these one-off disasters as awful as they are. The real harm comes in the little things we do constantly, every day. Sometimes, it’s things we do without even knowing it. Like CFC emissions. Do you remember when CFCs were a big deal? Hairspray would get the bad rap, but that was nothing compared to the CFCs coming out of refrigerators and air conditioners all over the world. That’s what was causing the real damage. It took us a long time to figure out that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer, the tiny, thin sheet of protection the earth had against the sun’s killer radiation. Once we did figure it out, it still took us more than a decade to do something about it. Big manufacturing companies blocked our way, claiming the results were inconclusive or the study wasn’t done properly. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It’s part of the Playbook of Greed. These big companies didn’t want to let go of their profit margins or put in the hard work of doing what’s right. And while it would be easy to blame it on nameless, faceless companies, we have to remember it was people like me and you behind those companies. It was people like me and you who chose to drag our feet instead of doing what was right. It was people like you and me making the decisions to put profits over people.
We’re supposed to be caretakers of the planet.
Our mindset should be one of responsibility, not opportunity. But too often we give in to our own weaknesses instead of doing what’s right. Now I’m as guilty of this as any of you and we’re all guilty to some extent. Our crimes don’t have to be on a massive scale like DuPont dumping toxic sludge into the rivers of the Ohio or Hyperion pushing out syringes and tampons onto California state beaches. Again, it’s in the little things we do as much as the big ones that add up to the ongoing damage to our planet. We have to treat our planet with respect. And that’s the point of this passage from Leviticus.
The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.
23 “‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. 24 Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.
Even the land was granted Sabbath rest.
You work the land for six years and on the seventh, you let it lay fallow. Again, God built this natural cycle of work and rest not just into our bodies but into the very planet itself. Farmers do this all the time. They rotate crops and allow fields to lay fallow for a season so it has time to replenish itself and doesn’t get overworked. But even in this passage, God reminds the people of Israel that the land belongs to God. And then that last line resonates with our call to care for the earth. God tells them, “Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.” Even the earth itself is important to God, not just the people living on it. The very earth is deserving of redemption. And you can see how this plays out in this time of crisis that we are in with weird but wonderful ways. Over Beijing, there is this permanent cloud of haze caused by the poorly regulated pollution in China and the billions of people living there. It wavers and wanes, but pretty much there is a constant cloud of pollution just hovering over the land. Until now. After just one month of quarantine, after one month without factories churning out American cell phones and workers driving to and from work, the skies over most of China are again clear and clean of nitrogen dioxide. After just a month! The same is true for every major metropolitan area in the United States, from New York to the Bay. Even the notorious LA smog has been reduced dramatically since shelter-in-place orders were given. It’s simply remarkable the earth’s ability to heal if we simply give it the chance. With so much less human noise in the world right now, animals have started to come out of hiding and roam into places once dominated by people. Bears have come all the way into Yosemite Village, mountain goats are coming down the hills and strolling into town, and coyotes are wandering about San Francisco. This crisis is opening up our eyes to the world in many different ways, and this is one of them. God is showing us that we need to do a better job of working in harmony with his creation instead of abusing it for our own purposes. We need to slow down once in a while and appreciate what God has created and give the earth time to breathe and to heal. And we need to take seriously the responsibility that God handed to us to care for this planet before it is too late.
This year celebrates the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
And Creation Justice Ministries, an interfaith group dedicated to preserving the environment with the belief that God is calling on us to be better stewards of the planet, adopted the theme of “The Fierce Urgency of Now” for this special occasion. Borrowing from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they challenge us not to wait, but to do something about the crisis of planetary abuse human beings are inflicting on the earth. We cannot afford to wait. In the words of the great Dr. King himself:
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood—it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect.
Let God know you were vigilant for the earth. Let God know you took the path of responsibility over opportunity. For we are all planet sitters and it’s up to us to be worthy of the trust that God placed into our hands.