The Prius shall lie down with the pickup

April 22nd, 2015

Today — Wednesday, April 22nd — a little church on the outskirts of Austin, Texas will celebrate the Feast Day of John Muir (founder of the Sierra Club) and Hudson Stuck (Archdeacon of the Yukon) according to the Episcopal Church’s published cycle of Holy Women, Holy Men. As expected, this crowd-sourced service will include scripture, music, prayer, and a Eucharist. Unexpectedly, this liturgy will hold together motivations for creation care, motivations which are too-often regarded as at odds with one another.  

In making room for all of these voices to join together in common worship, we’ll try to do right by John Muir and Hudson Stuck, reaffirming the belief that diversity in a community is good for creation and good for the body of Christ. 

The liturgical planning group for this ecological feast day brought together about thirty folks from varying Austin backgrounds: ranchers and hippies, techies and teachers. This curious cross section of central Texas chose Matthew’s beatitudes as the Gospel reading. Our reading will announce that the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed are the ones God favors. Reading these verses in the context of a John Muir service, we hope that all will be made aware that the earth and all her creatures fall into this especially blessed category.  

According to our reading, creation care is a justice issue. The voice of John Muir rings out across the decades as his prophetic fight against the Hetch Hetchy Dam finds present-day amplification in the eco-justice writings of Sally McFague and the courageous actions of local conservationists who drive their Priuses all over TX to Lower Colorado River Authority meetings to rally against the subsequent damming of local rivers. However, creation care is not just a justice issue. 

There is a groundswell of support for the re-introduction of native plants into urban areas of central TX. Much of the momentum behind this transformation comes from people claiming their role as stewards of creation. To these folks, creation care is an issue of faithfulness. Our service will reflect on this idea, using Genesis 1:26-31 as the Old Testament reading. In this reading, God blesses and charges humanity with the care and responsible management of the earth.   

Filtering these verses through the life of Hudson Stuck reveals that true “dominion” involves service to the other (as he served the native people of the arctic) and to “subdue the land” is to work with it to help life flourish. Many of the principles that guided Hudson Stuck’s remarkable life in the Yukon are brilliantly refined in the writings of Aldo Leopold, whose Sand County Almanac can be found on the front seat of every pickup driving around Austin helping to replant the long lost little blue stem grasses.   

And so the Prius and pickup lie down together and they find peace in the hill country because they recognize their common creatureliness. Our final reading will be Romans 8:18-23; all of creation groans for redemption, or, as Jurgen Moltmann put it, “There is no salvation without this earth.”* Even to compartmentalize and reduce creation care to a justice issue or a faithfulness issue alone ignores the breadth and interdependent nature of the gospel. To chop up and cordon off our natural environment into isolated pockets of parks and wilderness is to shrink the Kingdom of God. To relegate and pigeonhole worship to the realm of humans and angels is to silence the greatest Hosannas.  

This recognition of interdependent salvation is especially vivid in the writings of Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry, and I suspect some day they’ll join John Muir and Hudson Stuck in the cycle of Holy Women and Holy Men. In the meantime, though, we do their words credit by amending our personal and communal lives; such an amendment emerges as this liturgy moves from word to sacrament.  

As we finish the readings, we will confess our sins against God and our neighbor to include all of creation. We will then offer up not just the prayers of the people, but the prayers of the land. Our offertory shall consist of monetary gifts, the first fruits of our gardens, and the seedlings we intend to plant to heal our lands. The birds will join in with the choir in the singing of the sanctus, and the communion bread will be made with local ingredients by familiar hands. 

We are all in this together; this is our common prayer. This is the body of Christ.   

*from "Jesus Christ for Today's World"

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