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Column

CLERGY CORNER

Let first commandment be to love Mother Earth Day

Judas has left the room. On the cusp of betrayal by one of his disciples, Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: “Love one another.”
The term “commandment” deliberately recalls God’s covenant with Moses. The new world — the new covenant — which Jesus ushers in is marked by love and service, not by betrayal and violence as Jesus himself would soon experience.
Jesus’ new commandment falls within that portion of John’s Gospel generally referred to as the farewell materials. The public ministry of Jesus has ended and now Jesus focuses on “quality time” with his closest friends before his violent death, the first major crisis for the first disciples.
But how is this a new commandment? There is nothing to suggest that love was absent from the disciples’ lives in the tradition of their Judaism. Was it new in that the disciples were entering a new time of life in the world? Was it new in that only now had Jesus begun to talk this way to them? Or perhaps the nature of their love for one another was to be different now? They were to love as he had loved them.
And what was the nature of that love? It was, according to John’s Gospel, a matter of telling the truth, being faithful in sharing the word of God, continuing to act for those who may not be responsive, and, if need be, to give one’s life.
If love is understood as acting toward one another as God has acted toward the world and as Christ has acted toward his disciples, then love is not simply a feeling. If love is a way of speaking and doing and being for one another, then perhaps it is not strange to speak of love for one another as a “commandment.”
This past Monday was Earth Day, with celebrations and observances across the state and the country. From the showing of the film “Elemental” at the Jane Pickens Theater to beach cleanups and recycling efforts across the island and state, Rhode Islanders were busy talking, thinking about and caring for the earth. Most of our Earth Day efforts were voluntary, but some, like recycling, are mandated. Some of our earth care is required of us as part of our civic duty.
Who remembers the first Earth Day in 1970? The brainchild of Sen. Gaylord Nelson and inspired by the antiwar protests of the late 1960s, Earth Day was originally aimed at creating a mass environmental movement. It began as a national teach-in on the environment and was held on April 22 to maximize the number of students that could be reached on university campuses. By raising public awareness of air and water pollution, Nelson hoped to bring environmental causes into the national spotlight. Nelson succeeded in his goal.
The first Earth Day was effective at raising awareness about environmental issues and transforming public attitudes. Public opinion polls indicate that a permanent change in national priorities followed Earth Day 1970.
During the 1970s, a number of important pieces of environmental legislation were passed, among them the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
Another key development was the establishment in December 1970 of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was tasked with protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment — air, water and land.
Since 1970, Earth Day celebrations have grown and so have environmental laws, government policies and local initiatives as well as directives in organizations across the globe to conserve energy and reduce consumption of fossil fuels.
Here on Aquidneck Island, Lisa Woodbury Rama, spokeswoman for Newport Naval Station, shared statistics from a recently released report at the base, “Lowering our Operating Costs: Energy Goals & Achievements.” Primary goals at Naval Station Newport include reducing energy consumption 50 percent by 2020 from a 2003 baseline and that 50 percent of all energy consumption ashore should come from alternative sources by 2020.
Note that the Newport Naval Station has reduced consumption 47 percent since the 2003 baseline. Recent/Upcoming Energy Conservation/Utilities Improvements are equally impressive. For fiscal 2010, a $9.5 million energy saving performance contract netted $1 million in annual savings.
For fiscal 2013, $12 million in energy conservation measures at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center is expected to yield $1 million in annual savings. For fiscal 2013, $1.2 million in multiple energy conservation measures is projected to yield $235,000 in annual savings. And 5,800 pounds of used cooking oil have been recycled, thus creating a 58 percent landfill diversion rate.
Now how about that for a return on investments? Every day is Earth Day at the Newport Naval Station.
For people of many religions and walks of life, the very first Earth Day was the first day of creation when God made the earth and all therein, entrusting human beings with its care. In the Bible, there is a moral imperative to care for what we have been given, to love all that has been left to us. Jesus commanded the disciples the night before he died to “love one another.”
Sometimes we want to love one another. There may be days when we choose a path that leads to hurt and destruction. Thank God we are always commanded to do the right thing. Whether the commandment is new to us or not, let us embrace the clear instruction to care for this fragile earth and its inhabitants.
From our workplaces, schools, religions and spiritual practices, let us follow the commands we are given to care for the earth. Let us be sure that every day is Earth Day.
The Rev. Dr. Anita Schell-Lambert is rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Newport. The Clergy Corner, written by various clergy in Newport County, appears each week in The Daily News.
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