Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Harriet Tubman's Window on the Environment

Last weekend I preached about the environment. That got me to thinking about the antique stained glass window with a hand-painted picture of a bluebird chasing a butterfly that hangs in my living room.

The window is beautiful, but that's only the beginning. I received it as a gift from my brother. He died two years ago, in Kelowna, BC, of ALS. My sisters, mother and I looked after Art round the clock for over a year before he died. It was hard. My stained glass window reminds me of that time, and of the very precious time I was able to spend with Art.

Art got the stained glass window from of my grandparents' house in St. Catharines. Our extended family used to gather under that window, every Sunday, to enjoy each other's company. Twenty years ago, when my grandparents died Art bought the window from the new owners of my grandparent's home. So that window also reminds me of my Grandparents, and one of the happiest places in the world I ever experienced.

The family thinks my grandparents' house was a parsonage for the African Methodist Episcopalian church down the street. That church is a Canadian national historic landmark. We figured that since the house was a parsonage, its pastors and leaders must have met under the stained glass window. That means Harriet Tubman, the famous conductor in the Underground Railroad also sat under that window. So every time I look at it, I think of how, at its best, Canada can be a place where racism doesn't have the last word.

The window may be worth thousands of dollars. But owning it isn't about its economic worth to me. Its beauty and memories are not the window's most important qualities either. What matters is that my brother said, "Take it John. Keep it safe. Enjoy it." So I do.

And the environment? Well, it is beautiful too. We are often tempted to make lots of money or save jobs by letting the environment slip a bit. But most of us also have good memories of camping or hiking in the wilderness. Are these the deciding matters worth considering when it comes to keeping the environment?

No. What really matters to me is that according to our faith, the world and all that is in it was entrusted to us, by God, to care for. "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." In fact, this is the first command that God actually gave humans, according to the Genesis story. It is what we were created to do. And if God says so, that is good for me, no matter what the cost.

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