Inspired by Matthew 6:25-34
Scripture grows stale disconnected from the suffering of creation. But release scripture into the jagged edges of a broken world and it will echo back to us a message relevant to the challenges of our day.
Without this spiritual practice of release and return, today’s passage can easily be manipulated to promote comfortability in a catatonic state despite a climate crisis demanding holy urgency.
Standing in the doorway of the sixth mass extinction and a planetary collapse, “Don’t worry, God’s got this,” is not the message returned to us today. More likely, this passage functions as a funnel narrowing our anxieties down into that which matters most to God. We are to release those worries born of our self-absorption and return to the work of healing the nearly irreparable gap between God’s vision for creation and the state of creation today as a direct result of human greed.
This scripture prohibits the presence of anxieties distracting us from the consequences of our humancentric narcissism. Yes, this is a message for humans, but it is a message on behalf of all of creation for whom God cares for as our siblings on this shared planet. We are the readers of a story not our own and as such, we are not the reason for which Creation exists. We are, unfortunately, the reason it may not exist for much longer. Which makes anxiety a reasonable response. One might say a “holy” response.
Anxiety is holy only if and when it is birthed from an awareness of our sins against creation and inspires acts of repentance to right the wrongs of which we are aware. This is highlighted in verse 33 which reads, “But strive first for the kin-dom of God and Their righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
In these words, we are given agency over the distribution of the resources needed to sustain our lives. It is not God’s act that will save us from the consequences of our actions, but it will be our righteousness that reorients us into right relationship with all of creation. This reorientation alone and nothing else is to be our focus, our priority, our purpose.
A righteous and nonanxious life is dependent on our willingness to transform into a community that organizes and orients around the notion of sustaining life. It demands the abandonment of anxieties that compel us to dominate and destroy for no other reason than the (false) assurance of our own survival.
We are not here to worry about our survival but to anxiously attend to the work of caring for God’s creation. Without notice, we have remained apathetic to the perpetuation of the patterns of our colonial ancestors. Ancestors who arrived to this land believing their responsibility, their right, was to subdue and reform the land so that it was predictable. So that the land could provide the settlers with that which they wanted without consideration of what the land was already giving. Colonial settlers arrived to the greatest assemblages of mammalian biomass the world has ever produced in the form of the plains bison and drove it to the brink of extinction. And we lament the massacre of the bison even as we continue the massacre of uncontrollable species in the same way today.
This point was made by biologist and wildlife advocate, Mike Phillips, in a podcast I listened to as I drove out to The Land on Ash Wednesday.
Mike Phillips was a member of the Montana State Senate from 2013 to 2021. In early 2019, he brought a bill to the Montana Senate to prohibit the killing of coyotes by snowmobiles. The bill did not make it out of the Senate Fish and Game committee. Not yet ready to concede, Phillips removed the Coyote Killing Bill from the Fish and Game Committee and brought it to the full Senate for a vote which would permit the Senate to discuss the bill.
Phillips described himself standing on the Senate floor, saying, “members of the Senate, this is an important bill we should consider as a full body. As you consider that, note that if we knew of a 12-year-old boy in our neighborhood that was using his bicycle to run over the local cat, we would be deeply concerned for that young boy’s mental health. This is no different than that. Please vote for this blast motion, so we can properly consider this bill.”
The motion failed 18 to 32.
Phillips was asking something very simple, let’s not torture coyotes to death. And they said no to discussing the issue at all.
“I’m quite confident that God holds coyotes in high regard and would not want his coyotes to be tortured to death.” Phillips explained in the interview. “It’s the old (settler colonialist) tribe, that continues to get in the way because we have this gross inability to accommodate wild and self-willed nature.”
On my drive to The Land, listening to Phillips tell his story, I wept for the tortured coyotes chased until exhaustion and then slowly killed by the torturous theatrics of humans who had a chance to become righteous and instead wielded ignorance to determine they were right. I wept for the humans, once children, who were raised to believe torturing an animal was okay. And I wept for Phillips who confessed he could no longer pray with his colleagues after that day.
When I meet with the engineers, the City planners, and the developers, I advocate for the needs of the humans in our community. I advocate for buffers between our site and the roads being built around us so that I can keep our children safe. I advocate for parking near the canopy and the garden so our elders can have accessibility to fully participate. I advocate for the humans I love based on the needs made known through our connection because I care. I know how to care for ‘us’ because we are connected to one another.
This is the same connection we must cultivate and nourish with the other species who are also invaluable members of our congregation with their own unique needs. The prairie dog, the meadowlark, the antelope can no longer bear the burden of our ecological illiteracy or our colonial customs. To care we must reconnect ourselves with their story, their ways, their needs. To do otherwise should rightfully cause us great anxiety for it is each of us called to care for the creation that sustains and supports our lives.
With all my heart, I believe our righteousness will be made visible in our ability to accommodate wild and self-willed nature. I believe this because I know that we cannot love the Creator and not love Creation. And if we love Creation, we will find ourselves confidently incapable of standing by and watching as life is needlessly destroyed without rising in defense.