Rev. Jacob Bolton is the Associate Pastor of Huguenot Memorial Church in Pelham, New York. Jacob is a Certified Christian Educator and a GreenFaith Senior Fellow.
I was raised in a small town in rural Michigan. We had forests and fields, we had ice and snow. As a child I would hike through the woods with friends, not needing trails, to take us “there and back again;” just needing our sense of adventure and our canine companions. We would swim, we would sail; I learned through my outdoors familiarity that one could experience, could immerse one’s self in the divine while in nature, for experiencing creation provided me with an opportunity to participate with and praise God, in a fashion that in my formative years seemed pure and true. Now along with hiking, camping and the like, one of my most vivid childhood memories, a memory I have of great bonding, is that we would hop in our family car, drive to the dump, and feed the bears.
Now feeding the bears may sound a tad bizarre, but that is what we did for fun, along with a good portion of our village, on random summer nights. We would order two pizzas from Jim’s Pizza Shop, one for us, one for the bears, drive out to the dump, where we would all have supper together. I vividly remember my dad hand feeding black bears slices of pizza from the front seat of our car.
Of course I was never allowed to feed the bears by hand because I wasn’t old enough; I had to sort of lob slices of pizza toward them. And by the time I was around eleven or twelve, the dump closed so the fun was over. But as I reflect on this fond memory, it has become clear that this was not the greatest of pass times.
Let’s look at the issues; first our town had a dump. Not good. Second, we were infringing on the bears habitat, they were not learning how to hunt, scavenge or act as bears do, and they merely became entertainment. But third, what was the message that was being passed on to younger generations, or the message to new people who moved into town when we showed them that this was a really great time? Who was looking at this situation and saying, “This isn’t right. Enough already.”
Now I am not throwing my parents, or grandparents, or anyone’s forbearers under the bus here. As a father of two, I know the spiritual undertaking of raising children. The holy duty has only deepened my prayer life. But, we are certainly not the first generation of people to realize that there has been a shift in our reality that a new way of thinking has emerged. There is wisdom to share and it is imperative that we seize the moment and act. Sacred texts from all traditions share the wisdom of generations; wisdom that we must interpret and put into practice, as we strive to heal our world and ourselves.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has played a faithful role in interpreting that wisdom and then applying it to the world. There is no doubt that she has left her mark on the minds and hearts of those who will shortly gather in Portland. And when it comes to caring for creation, it is in fact the Weaver of the Universe that calls us back to protect, to till, and to serve it. And so friends, our time is now. We are called to act upon that wisdom, as a people and community of faith.
Which brings me back to the community feeding bears at the dump. While this may have been a thrilling activity, I certainly can’t look back on that experience without chagrin. This unintentional “eco -tourism” was certainly not healthy, or safe, for either the humans or the bears. This juxtaposition represents a much larger issue that the world faces in relation to the concept of earth care, and that issue is our relationship with fossil fuels.
The way we destroy the foundations of the earth, rip apart the birdsong canopy, and suck dry the underground oceans of carbon that fuel our lifestyle is wearing away at our collective souls. Not only are we depleting our resources viciously fast, but people are benefiting from the complete exploitation of entire communities. Neighborhoods are raising a generation of children who suffer from asthma due to intense smog. Watersheds are being destroyed. Multi-year droughts are happening right now. As a people of God, as a denomination, we are at that time when someone must stand up and say, “Enough, this isn’t right. There has to be a better way.”
And so PC(USA) it is time to stop feeding the bears at the dump. I say this as a pastor in a community that is still emerging from Hurricane Sandy and the devastation it caused. I say this as we continue to experience the hottest years ever recorded. We need to divest from fossil fuels, and join the anthemic chorus of denominations, schools, municipalities, and institutions that are boldly proclaiming the time is now. We are all pilgrims along the journey of faith, and if the intention is to apply the sacred wisdom found in our sacred text, if we want to appreciate creation, in all her beauty and mystique, we must learn that we can no longer feed the bears. For the bears in my story were the harmless, oppressed members of God’s great Web of Life, but the bears we are feeding now are savage, and have already bitten us back. They have bitten us back in cycles that are incredibly difficult to escape, in cycles that perpetuate dependence and over consumption, and cycles that cast aside, “the least of these.”
The time is now. There has to be a better way. It is time to stop feeding the bears.