i. Congratulate the principal Rev. Dr. John Samuel Raj for supporting the proposal to initiate an online course on Eco Justice. UTC is setting a trend in this regard. I wish the institution and the course facilitators the very best and God’s blessings.
ii. Thank Dr. Alan S. Palanna for the invitation to be at the inaugural and deliver the inaugural address. I am no expert on the subject. However over the last three decades I have been associated with several people struggles and attempted to facilitate a theological reflection of the same. I bring you greetings from Dr. Udaykumar whose inspiration and life style led to the people’s movement in koodunkulam against the illegal nuke plant. I had invited Uday to write a brief message for this occasion but he is quite ill and apologised. Even as we launch this programme, let us thank God for women and men like Dr. Udaykumar. I wish to make mention, for the record, Rev. Y. David. Y. David Annan was a pioneer in the anti nuke struggle three decades ago. The lives of such person’s are a living text. In this text lies the truth. Their truth is one of the promise of life for the entire cosmos: human and all other life forms.
iii. It is indeed a welcome sign to have the Council for World Mission (CWM) partner with UTC. Let us hope this will not be the first and last programme partnership. It is promising to have Dr. Sudipta Singh with us. Over the years that I have known him, he is a person overflowing with ideas and encouraging the church to be dynamic in her obedience to the Mission of God. Once again I congratulate Dr. Alan S. Palanna and Dr. George Zecharaiah for this fine initiative and pray God’s blessings.
Frame work for the Reflection
1. Let me set a frame for my talk by reading texts from the Bible and the Earth Charter and drawing from an Eco Cultural Festival.
a. There is a time for everything and a reason for every activity under the heavens. Eccl. 31
b. The earth mourns and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants, for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes. Is.244-6
c. We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations. Preamble to the Earth Charter
d. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain for the earth shall be full of knowledge of the lord. Is.119
2. Greetings of Pongal and Makkara Shankranti. An auspicious setting for the launch of the course on Eco Justice at UTC. The Image is one of the pot over flowing. Abundance of the yield of the land to be shared by all. I pray that UTC will be authentic in their labour, of inspiring theological imagination to see earth as neighbour, earth as subject and yearn for the abundant blessings of God like the pot that overflows. Pongal O Pongal.
The selection of the texts reflects my proposal that the Global On line course be simultaneously rooted in three independent and yet related areas. They are Christian Scripture (to start with but not excluding other religious texts), folk traditions especially its liberative dimensions and the volume of work on international conventions such as The Earth Charter and peoples struggles (yet to be authentically documented).
Groaning of the neighbour.
While we celebrate Pongal; reflecting on the earth, peoples labour and the bounty of earth as God’s blessing, we must remind ourselves that the ground reality is not as romantic and rosy as portrayed in our cinema. Lush green paddy fields, colourful sarees, songs and dance. This kind of portrayal takes us away from the harsh realities of unfair land distribution, wanton chemical use in the land, feminisation of labour, child and bonded labour. Come travel with me to Mandur, a site that made big news last year. Mandur is about 10 kms from our campus (Visthar Academy of Justice and Peace). The land and its people are our neighbours.
Mandur is groaning like a woman in labour. (Romans 824) Mandur is groaning because of human sin. The pollutants in Mandur comes from our society’s consumptive practice and our ignorance of the rights of poor people and the earth. This of course is compounded by poor governance. Our inability to see the earth as subject and as a neighbour, prevents us from listening to her groaning. The earth and I owe our life to God.
Invitation to earth healing
Let me return to the Pongal celebrations. On day one, as part of the celebration, the community will dig out things from their house, things that have been accumulated and considered worthless. This will be piled up and set on fire. The on line course that is being inaugurated is an invitation for us to examine our accumulated theological positions: Perhaps that which has come from Euro centred, Powerful and ‘male ist’ and ‘statusquoist’ positions, which make the earth as object and that which is perishable and not eternal. We must cast this out and set it to the flames with humility. We must discern in the blaze of the Holy Spirit, fresh theological imagination and embark on a theological enterprise such as this course.
The concept note to launch this course sets a context. The context as presented by the Course Coordinators is one of the colonization of the earth, distress of the earth (from the Vantage of marginalised community), faced with an ecological crisis, presented as a crisis of faith. Hence the need to enable and equip women and men to become conscious and contribute towards a creation of intentional communities of creation care.
This is exactly the context and goal of the Earth Bible Project. The Earth Bible project is a programme associated with the Centre for Science, Theology and Culture at Flinders University of South Australia. Dr. Norman Habel lays out 6 principles of the Earth Bible.
1. The Principle of Intrinsic Worth:
The Universe, Earth, and all its components have intrinsic worth/value.
2. The Principle of Interconnectedness:
Earth is a community of inter-connected living things that are mutually dependent on each other for life and survival.
3. The Principle of Voice:
Earth is a living entity capable of raising its voice in celebration and against injustice.
4. The Principle of Purpose:
The universe, Earth and all its components are a part of a dynamic cosmic design within which each piece has a place in the overall design.
5. The Principle of Mutual Custodianship:
Earth is a balanced and diverse domain where responsible custodians can function as partners with, rather than rulers over, Earth to sustain its balance and a diverse Earth community.
6. The Principle of Resistance:
Earth and its components not only suffer from human injustices but actively resist them in the struggle for justice.
The principles laid out by Dr Habel is primarily based on a critique. A critique of an anthropocentric world view. A world view that makes the earth an object and not integral to God’s creation as we ought to read it in Christian scripture.
Lyn White is forthright in his observation when he says “especially in its western form, Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world is seen”. Mcfae, yet another contributor to the Earth Bible Project says “it is very much an open question whether a theology based on a fundamentally anthropocentric scripture can bring us to the awareness that we live on the earth”.
This should resonate with the world view that we have uncritically accepted – an anthropocentric world view and hence the reading of scriptures from this lens.
Echoes of Earth healing principles
The Earth Charter is a Civil Society initiative with the help, primary of the Government of the Netherlands. The Earth Charter, is an international declaration of fundamental values and principles towards the design and building of “a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century”. Historically the origin goes back to 1968 and ‘The Club of Rome’ when the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (UNWCED) called for principles and practice of Sustainable Development.
The Earth Charter has four major pillars and sixteen principles. The former includes.
· Respect and care for the community of life
· Ecological integrity
· Social and Economic Justice and
· Democracy, Non violence and Peace
Clearly the principles of the Earth Bible and Earth Charter resonate with each other. Significantly both are set in a framework of relationships; not merely that of humans alone. Relationship of sharing, caring and respect for each other. This symbiotic relationship is also the goal of the creation narrative. The Earth Charter in more ways than one, goes beyond the Earth Bible. More specifically by including Socio Economic Justice and a working towards democracy and peace.
Multiple Applications in Ministry and Mission
As I conclude, I wish to draw your attention to the following.
Existing Courses on Eco Justice that are being offered by seminaries around the world. The one I found to be particularly helpful is the Ethics course at Bangor Theological Seminary, Portland campus. Secondly, a significant work carried out by the faith based advocacy organisation, Bread for the World Washington DC, USA. The three volume, lectionary reflections on Food and Justice titled “Hunger for the word” is an excellent resource for the churches. Thirdly and in continuation with the earlier point, I hope and pray that the Global Online Course on Eco Justice will also inspire fresh liturgy and music. The text below is an example and can be sung to the traditional music of Amazing Grace. Lastly while the course is designed to be an online learning programme, I do not think there is any substitute for a practical immersion of learners in people’s struggles for Justice and Peace the world over. This should be a path to an alternate pilgrimage.
The COSMIC CHRIST
The hidden Christ sustains for us
the blue print of the skies,
The window in each fragile form,
The Soul that lights the eyes.
The cosmic Christ moves deep below
To heal the wounds within,
When all creation groans in pain
Because of human sin.
As Christ unites the universe,
Restores this Earth once more,
A cosmic song reverberates,
A rich symphonic score.
The earth is the Lords and we are called to be in partnership, in a process of Gods healing of ourselves and indeed the whole cosmos. I pray that the launch of this course will aid this process.
Rev. David Selvaraj
Visthar Academy of Justice and Peace