A paper was expected in the environmental ethics class at my seminary and I was casting about for a theological support of an investigation into whether or not Just Coffee was “fair” to the people and land, if grown in countries where it had never been a crop. My professor suggested looking in the Book of Revelation. I sputtered and ranted about my understanding of that book given my Southern Baptist roots and how the last book of the Bible was the final and biggest scare-you-to-death story. She told me to go find Rossing. I headed straight for the library, fuming, cussing silently, and certain I would find nothing good. I quickly changed my mind! Rossing, (Barbara Rossing ThD., professor of New Testament at Lutheran School of Theology Chicago) explains Revelation as a story of the earth—the one we are lovingly housed in at the start of Genesis. Barbara tells about our relationship to that first and last Biblical encounter with the land God created. Up until then, if someone asked if I loved the Bible, I would cross my fingers and say “yes”. It was almost true—if you left off the last book.
Years later I was sitting in an Earth Ministry group. We were introducing ourselves and telling where we lived. A woman on the other side of the circle said she was Barbara Rossing. I ducked down, got out my smart phone and looked for a photo of the author I had loved so long ago. It was HER! I was a bit star-struck but in a few minutes of conversation we found many connections and had much to discuss.
I am beyond excited that she is going to be the keynote speaker at our September conference (http://presbyearthcare.org/events/). She shares some of her thoughts with us below:
The heart of the message of Revelation is not that God plans to destroy our world, but rather that God wants to heal. Healing in Revelation comes not directly from God but from the leaves of a tree, from creation. The tree of life is an image common to Christianity, Judaism, Islam and many other religious traditions.
As we face crises such as global warming, the question for us is this: How can we take to heart that healing tree and its medicinal leaves today? How can we reclaim our ecological and spiritual vision for planet earth to be shaped not by Armageddon and war, but by a healing vision for our world?
It is interesting that the notion of a ‘‘shared vision’’ is a technical term for one element of the work of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen. Under the Bali Action Plan, nations of the world must agree on what it calls a ‘‘shared vision’’ for long-term cooperative action to ‘‘ensure the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention.’’ This shared vision is to include a ‘‘long-term global goal for emission reductions.’’
The Book of Revelation also offers a shared vision for the healing of the polis, the healing of our common life. Revelation’s vision of God’s life-giving river in the center of our cities can give a shared vision that will motivate churches and faith communities to make the changes necessary for our healing.
The Book of Revelation can help us in the ways it calls upon people to live as citizens of God’s New Jerusalem even now, right in the heart of empire. Revelation’s glimpses of a renewed earth can inspire and motivate us to undertake the exodus journey out of the unsustainable ways of empire and to live as citizens of God’s renewed world. It is not too late. As Patriarch Bartholomew prayed, ‘‘May God grant us the wisdom to act in time.’’
[originally printed in "God Laments with Us: Climate Change, Apocalypse and the Urgent Kairos Moment," in The Ecumenical Review, Volume 62, Number 2, July 2010, 129.]
Holly Hallman lives in the Pacific Northwest among the foxgloves and next to the waters of Puget Sound. She, and husband Fred, grow great radishes that they hope to eat with fresh crab—soon.