Union Theological Seminary in New York recently held a chapel service encouraging students to confess their sins to plants (I am not making this up). The purpose of the service was to remind students that human beings have sinned against the created order. Loosely following Christian teaching, the organizers of the chapel service wanted the students to confess to those they had sinned against.
This raises a lot of questions for me. I grew up in the middle of 10,000 orange trees. Our livelihood was dependent on those trees. We did not wish them harm or mistreat them. We watered them, fertilized them, sprayed them, and kept them as healthy as possible. When I was a child, we still had trees my great-grandfather had set out in 1860. I don’t think we sinned against those trees.
The other part of our modest agriculture operation is cattle. Cows eat grass. I suppose I could go out in the pasture and apologize to the grass for being stepped on by the cows. I suppose if grass had nerve endings it might scream when a cow wraps its tongue around a stem and chomps down. But in all my years around the pasture, I never heard the grass scream in a tiny voice “Please don’t eat me!” It’s hard for me to see where apologizing to the grass would do much good.
I wonder what the students in Union Seminary ate for lunch after chapel. A salad would definitely be off the menu. All meat comes from animals who process plant material into something amazing (Have you ever thought about how amazing a pig is? It can turn plants into bacon!). No bread for lunch either. Maybe they could chew on some plastic.
If I am supposed to apologize to plants, can I do a blanket apology? Maybe right before I go out to cut the grass I’ll go to the front yard and say, “I’m sorry. I don’t want to do this. My homeowner’s association is a cruel master and they insist on me keeping my yard neat.” I’ll go to my closet and offer an apology to the 60% of my shirts that are cotton. I’ll have to confess to my sport-coat, which is 100% wool, produced by a sheep, which eats plants, that I am sorry for the energy transfer.
I’ll be the first to agree that human beings don’t take very good care of God’s creation. It’s not limited to the plant world. We take no thought if trash blows out of our trucks or about the damage a gold mine does to the environment. I’m not sure how to solve global warming, but I think we ought to recognize that the oil supply can’t last forever.
It’s hard to think about taking care of God’s world when we don’t take care of our own souls. We don’t care for relationships God provides or steward the bodies God gives us. We neglect our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health. Long before human beings learned to pollute the earth, we were masters at polluting our souls. Maybe we need to take care of our own souls so we have the motivation to take care of God’s world.
God did tell the first people that the world was a good place. He even told them to eat the plants. Adam was put in a garden and told to take care of it. As best I can tell God wants us to enjoy the world he made, take care of it, and let it provide for us.
All sin is ultimately against God, because sin comes from abandoning God’s plan. If the Union students had spent time before God confessing humanity’s failure to take care of the planet, they would have been on target. That would be the logical extension of Jesus’ parable of the three servants and the talents. In case you forgot, a rich man was going on an extended trip and gave three servants a sum of money to manage. Two did very well. They were praised. One didn’t do what his master desired. He was punished. I think humanity is more like the third servant than the first two. When I think about this parable, I remember I need to ask God to forgive me for my part of not caring for his world.
But confessing to a plant? I’m sorry, students of Union Seminary. I just don’t get it. Plants feed me, clothe me, shade me, and process my carbon dioxide back into oxygen. But if I confess, “Forgive me fern, for I have sinned,” I’m certain the fern will just sit there, like it was designed to do.
What I really need is a Savior who will tell me, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” There is a Savior like that. He once hung on a tree. The tree never asked for an apology. Hanging on that tree, the Savior said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
We don’t know all the wrong we do. He does. He forgives. No fern can do that.