Saturday, March 7, 2009


Forgive the adolescent opening – with a definition, as the cliché goes, from my Funk and Wagnall’s. A covenant, in its varied interpretations, is essentially an agreement, a contract, a compact between two or more parties. Lynn’s excellent homily of this past week examined, among other things the covenant between God and his people to never again destroy the earth by flood, in response to, in retribution for the actions of its occupants – however reprehensible. The ‘signature’ on this document, if you will, is the ‘bow’ in the sky, reassuringly appearing, as the clouds clear and the sun peaks through again to settle that bit of anxiety that percolates up in the psyche of the literalists among us. Lynn goes on to point out that this particular contract is as much a pledge given by God with no attached condition – as it is an agreement between. . . Sounds a bit like Grace to me.

As I attended to the rhythm of her text – as always accompanies a good homily in my experience – the linkages began to click and whir (again as usually accompanies) with the somewhat unexpected shunt to An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s diatribe on the earth’s (inevitable?) march toward global warming and all the attendant fallout. In particular, the graphic projections came to mind of what parts of the planet might look like 50 or 100 years hence. Namely that what is now heavily inhabited ‘land’ would have morphed into sea bottom. ‘Free-associative thinking’ being what it is, next stop was a recent Globe & Mail piece on computer modeled predictions of the disappearance of the Antarctic ice shelf with its kilometers-thick mass relentlessly dissolving and pumping up sea levels. And I started to wonder a bit about said covenant.

Pledge or contract, these ‘arrangements’, at least in the human world, have both a need to be revisited and renewed from time to time – boasting a distinct shelf-life as it were. Granted, such mortal agreements generally have a term attached – but even those so-called open-ended deals (pension plans, pledges of undying love, you name it) seem to have a way of yellowing around the edges after a while and slipping into the nether world of ‘that was then; this is now’. And I began to speculate if global warming was not, in some way, Gods serving notice that the terms of his covenant were in need of ‘renegotiation’. Just that little tickler that “I know what I said, but things have changed – and it’s not pretty”.

Now I’m all in favour of Grace. A pretty good deal: behave as you will, deny as you might, diminish for that four score and ten – and, with God’s grace, all is forgiven. (In passing, for those of you who haven’t seen the new Brideshead Revisited, there’s a great scene wherein the dissenting dad, on his death bed, does a little gestural recant of his ill-spent ways and, presto, the family is reassured of his future, post-mortal coil existence, as it were. Good ol’ Grace!) But being in favour of something and adopting it as the moral instruction manual for structuring one’s life decisions are two pretty different issues. In my world, contracts are a two-way deal. It may feel like it’s management piping the tune and we poor workers have no choice but to comply or else. But contracts are a binding agreement that obligates both parties to fulfill certain conditions. I work for 40 hours; you pay me an agreed upon rate. I die prematurely; and you agree to continue to provide pension coverage for my surviving partner. And so on. And further, we typically have input into the terms and conditions that comprise the contract. Put more succinctly, there is a mutual responsibility that attaches. No free (Grace-driven) lunches!

So what of God’s pledge? As Lynn indicated, the world is a much-changed place. Our capacity to wreak havoc and ruin is much-amplified from those days some 600 years BCE. And what’s that (schmaltzy) line from Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility”. So maybe it’s time to start mutualizing things a bit – and to lean a little less heavily on the ‘management’ obligation to keep a finger in the dike or to turn off the celestial faucet before we hit the 40 day mark. Maybe it’s time for the worker contingent to flesh out its side of the contract a bit more fully.

A year of so ago Nicola had researched a unique spin on stewardship as part of her then involvement in that ministry, creatively coined Green Stewardship – and somewhat confusingly and distressingly, had the ideas marginalized as ‘flavour of the month’. Undaunted she continued to assemble reference material, much of it originating from Earth Ministry and distilled into a succinct manual of parishioner responsibility entitled: “Greening Congregations Handbook”. (The website for those interested in looking a bit further is ) In keeping with the stimulus for today’s blog, reprinted in this handbook is a speech given by Bruce Babbitt, former Arizona governor and environmental activist, “Between the Flood and the Rainbow”, which too is worth perusing – when speculating about our side of the deal (online at ) So next time the clouds break and the bow appears, enjoy the show. But I’d wager that little tickle in the gut is as much one of felt responsibility as it is relief that the pledge is still good.

David Howard

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