April 28th, 2008

Don't drink this in remembrance of me

Every five or six weeks, I read in church. That means that a few days early, I look at the passages to figure out if they are full of Hittites and Gergashites and other people with difficult names that I will have to say with confidence, knowing that no one else there (now that Gary, my dear friend and careful scholar, has moved to Denver) will have a better idea of how to pronounce them. Fortunately, this week I just had straight reading.

The first reading was from Acts, Paul suavely preaching to the Athenians. He begins where they are, with their city and their religion. He quotes their literature. And he works to move them toward his view, leading up carefully to the preposterous notion that God has raised Jesus from the dead.

The psalm was the typical blend of praise and violence. I often find myself hoping that in Hebrew there is some kind of magical cleverness of form that gives coherence to these poetical outpourings.

I will take liberty to quote from the epistle, 1 Peter 3:13-22: “Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

Episcopalians, being an oddly formal people, do not let lay people read the gospel. So I did not read the passage from John about loving Jesus by obeying his commandments, but I did listen to it.

One of my little games in church is Guess the Sermon. Which of these passages will the preacher focus on? Will he or she tie them together? Will I be surprised? Will I drift off into contemplation of the stained glass? That last happens more often than would probably be ideal.

Yesterday, however, I ended up paying attention because I got irritated. The sermon really didn’t have anything to do with any of the passages, but rather with the conjunction of Earth Day with Rogation Days. (I didn’t know what Rogation Days were either; they’re a time of petition and fasting and apparently happen in this time before the Feast of Ascension. Aren’t you glad you asked?) The real text of yesterday’s sermon was a news article on how Earth Day may actually harm the environment. Isn’t that a lovely window over there? I really like the snake in that one…

And then a woman on an airplane flight refuses creamer for her coffee because it comes in plastic containers. The man next to her, who is telling the story in the article, can’t believe she would take such a ridiculous environmental stand on an airplane using tons and tons of jet fuel. And my inner Puritan rises up and begins to rail, not at the woman, who may have had to be on that plane for work or who may have purchased carbon footprint offsets or who may just have been overly focused on the little picture, but at the man and the people around me in church chuckling at the silliness.

Were they not listening? We’re supposed to do the right thing. Maybe that woman screwed up a big thing, but that doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t do a little thing right. If she has coffee every day and skips the creamer every day because of those little plastic containers, eventually it will add up to something. Maybe she will convince other people to do likewise. Maybe she also refuses plastic water bottles, plastic bags, and plastic spoons. Maybe she will come to refuse to ride in airplanes, to travel further than she can get using her own power. But even if all she does is to keep one plastic container out of landfill, that is something.

Very few of us can save the world by large gesture. I personally can’t mandate recycling or reduced emissions or organic, local food. This is one of those places where the little things are going to have to add up, the little rocks are going to have to start the avalanche.

And, frankly, I’m annoyed that my church isn’t telling us to dislodge a few pebbles.

And I need to go re-read that section about gentleness and reverence. Sigh.