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Monday, September 18, 2017

The Problem When We Play Auto-Correct: the difference between dominion and domination

 Exodus 14.19-31
      Anyone who texts or types knows a thing or two about this devilish thing called “auto correct.” It’s an automatic editing function that anticipates what you are typing. It automatically corrects your words to match words that are programmed into it. The problem is, that sometimes auto correct anticipates incorrectly, or doesn’t “know” a particular word – it’s not part of its vocabulary - and assumes your word, or at least its spelling, is wrong. Other times it’s as if the program simply cops an attitude and tosses out the one word you really want to use. 

      There are a number of “churchy” words that auto correct really doesn’t like. For instance, it will routinely kick out the work ‘lectionary’ and it consistently changes ‘pericope’ – the word for the scriptural text assigned for a day -  to ‘periscope’ – something that you might use aboard a submarine. 

When word processing systems don’t like your word choice, they will sometimes just underline it with an obnoxious squiggly red line; other times, they allow auto correct to take over, and replace the word with something that is similar but doesn’t even come close to meaning the same thing. Auto correct likes to take control.

       Case in point: This week I attended a monthly Clergy Discipling Group. We are a group of pastors who gather for prayer, bible study, and ministry support. Imagine my surprise when I took a second look at the calendar printed in the bulletin last week. Perhaps you saw it - that your pastor was attending a “Clergy Disciplining Group.” I want you to know that, really, everything is fine! It truly is a “discipling” group.

        In life, it is easy for us to act like “auto-correct” at times, to change the core meaning of something to something else that may or may not be like it.

        Back in chapter 1 (v. 26) of Genesis, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” That’s quite a gift that God presented humankind. It’s quite a responsibility God gave us as well. Dominion is defined as power, authority, sovereignty or control. But the biblical emphasis on dominion does not mean destruction, but responsibility. The Christian is called upon to exhibit this dominion, but exhibit it rightly: treating the thing as having value itself, exercising dominion without being destructive. 

            God created so many things for the good of the world and for our good use and care. But we confess that all too often, humankind has resisted the call to responsible use and care for what God has given us, and instead simply takes, uses, and corrupts our natural resources and elements held sacred within the natural world.  The results have been catastrophic to entire ecosystems, lands, rainforests, waters, species of creatures, and now, oceans and climate. All too often we wipe our hands clean of the responsibility part of dominion, and, in an attempt at exerting our domination over creation, to resort to overuse, misuse, and abuse of the resources God has made.

            What God has given into our care as gift, we take as our right. What God created in balance, humankind has brought to destruction and death through its use, misuse, and overuse, and our world is paying the price. We auto-correct God’s intention, attempting to transform it from gift to entitlement. Rather than exercising dominion, we desire to exercise control. Rather than taking seriously the stewardship aspect of God’s gift, we seek to exercise domination over the resources of the earth.

            As we observe Climate in the Pulpit Sunday, we confess our culpability in the degradation of the natural environment, and the effect our choices are making on our planet. We ask God’s forgiveness and pray for the wisdom and earnest desire to repent of the harmful choices and actions we’ve taken. Today we reflect on our call to care of the natural world God so generously creates. It’s not easy. It sometimes requires tough choices.

            Science tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The Bible tells us is that what God has created is good, and that we should use, care for, and preserve it diligently. Good, diligent care means acknowledging that there is an environmental cost to every action we take; and then working conscientiously to make the best choices that serve our needs while still caring for the health and welfare of our world.

            While acknowledging that we don’t fully understand the role that natural cycles of meteorological events play might in our weather systems, we can no longer deny that human activity has detrimentally affected our climate, resulting in rising seas, and increasingly frequent storms of increasing intensity while also, ironically, playing a devastating part in the sub-Saharan droughts and famine.

            The truth is that humans have exercised an immense power over Creation dating back to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Rather than giving us a call to exercise domination over the natural resources of the world, God has appointed us as their caretakers. This is a call and charge to humbly serve and care for creation; to work it, serve it, observe and preserve it.

            As Moses led the people of God out of Egypt, God parted the seas and gave Moses the responsibility to lead and care for these people that God put in his charge. In the parting the Red Sea and later, when Moses produced water from a rock at God’s command, God gave Moses limited powers over the natural world for the sake of God’s people.    

When Moses lifts his staff over the waters, he follows Divine instruction; he interacts with nature in order to let the oppressed go free – in order to do God’s will. The Israelites are saved from a continued life of slavery through Moses’ obedience to God.

            Just as we understand Newton’s third law – that action/reaction stuff, we must understand that whatever we do has a cost, a risk, a reaction at least equal to and in some cases, bigger than the initial action. It is all the more important, therefore, for Christians today to develop a much more exciting and faithful view of stewardship – of dominion that takes seriously the welfare and not just the harnessing of natural resources for our use. Our work in this world is to right the wrongs of systems of greed and domination that have so severely impacted the climate and the creation.

            In the text from Exodus, Moses led the marginalized Israelites out of oppression. Dirty methods of energy production, irresponsible use of natural resources, and the production and irresponsible waste and disposal of natural resources do just the opposite. They disproportionately harm the “least of these” by polluting the air, soil, and water. More than ever we need to auto correct from domination back to dominion again.

            The same God who loves the world calls us to actively pursue justice, including environmental justice. God knows what a struggle this is for us most days. God knows how deeply we fail at taking seriously our stewardship of the earth. So, God sends Jesus to walk along side us while we wrestle with a new commitment to responsibility and advocacy for the environment.  May God grant us healing for our fractured relationship with the natural world, that as Christians we might grow in rightly valuing the gifts of the earth.

            May we who have been redeemed by God’s love, through the power of  Jesus Christ, be empowered through the Holy Spirit to make wise choices, and be assured of God’s forgiveness when we falter. May our wise choices be our response to what God has done for us. May we participate in the generous work of God, as agents of God’s common grace as we devote our skills, talents, and treasure toward building up and caring for the beautiful and awesome products of God’s creative work. May we grow in our understanding of dominion expressed in sacrificial service that serves God and the common good.          

            The Apostle John tells us that God loved the world (Greek cosmos, the entirety of creation) so much that he gave his son to save those who believe in him. Our lives and work here are not about ourselves, but instead the good of the entire created order. We have a unique and critical role to play, however small it may look to us, in fulfilling God’s purposes for the world.
In doing this work we will truly find our purpose.





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