Land of the Free?

Phoebe Morad, Executive Director of Lutherans Restoring Creation

Tomorrow is Earth Day 2023. We need more than one day a year to remember the impact homo spines have made on the earth, but a day is better than nothing. I’ve been away this week with a few friends on a getaway to Ohio’s wonderful Amish Country. This blog is from Phoebe Morad, Executive Director of Lutherans Restoring Creation. Her passion for caring for creation is contagious and worthy of a large audience. She speaks wisdom.

Whose Land of the Free?
By Phoebe Morad

Chief Seattle is credited for the sentiment: “The Earth does not belong to us, we belong to the Earth.” Many native peoples share this cosmology. This sentiment has been acquired by many environmentalists, at times with reverence, at other moments, perhaps just as an easy tagline.  As a group facilitator in the eco-faith movement, Lutherans Restoring Creation, I often I casually refer to indigenous teaching; yet, I have no concept as to which community was the original keeper of the lands on which I stand.  Only recently, have I started the practice of including time for “land acknowledgement” before meetings commence.  This offers time to recognize whose ancestors lived on, and/or what people continue to care for, the piece of Earth from which we speak.

Whose Rights Matter Most?

A broader understanding of stewardship is finally drowning out the “domination” reading of the Genesis story.  Earlier generations were eager to utilize the Biblical message as a pathway to conquest via the “manifest destiny” theory.  In The Sacred Contract with America, Caroline Myss reflects on the new-found freedom and equity celebrated by well-meaning colonists who were eager to embrace their rights to till and keep.

However, that genuine self-determination turned sour as patriarchal practices overcame the peaceful beginnings. Initially, some European settler communities did experience peaceful relations with native peoples. But as the numbers of new European arrivals grew, so did tensions of land use.  As Vine Deloria, Jr. explains in Red Earth, White Lies, a fundamentally divergent understanding of land-use was the foundation for broken promises: “The justification for breaking up the tribal land estate was to enable individual Indians to have land of their own – thus taking advantage of the great civilizing forces of private property – and to enable Indians to learn how to manage property.”

Property Managers vs. Property Owners

Through alternative teachings of “stewardship” from progressive Christian traditions, we hear that the duty of a steward is inherently tied to an acknowledgment that what you are caring for is not yours.  It all belongs to God.  How can we, as a contemporary society, reconcile with our past, while we live on and are fed by land that was never ours to re-distribute?

Dr. Tink Tinker, Osage elder, candidly shared the following as part of Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis:

“Never forget that your wealth, the home that you live in (whether you own it or rent it), the salary you earn, comes from the theft of Indian land, the extraction of resources from that Indian land, and the oppression of forced labor on African peoples who were kidnapped and brought here to work this land. And then, in order to keep labor prices low, Asian peoples were brought in to compete with African people after the Civil War. All of this so that your christian people might have and keep all the more. When you’re on the receiving end of that land and wealth, you might see it as “God’s great gift.” But in reality, it is a tragedy. When you’re on the receiving end of that oppression from the christians, their God is an abject oppressor and not at all a savior.”

Listen with New Ears

Woody Guthrie wrote, “This Land is Your Land” in 1940 and since then it has been taken on as an alternative national anthem by people of various political perspectives.  I urge you to listen with new ears as we continue to wrestle with those little prepositions that mean so much.  Is this land that we belong to or come from? Are we a country that cherishes freedom of religion or from religion?  Have we made it a land of the free or are those who are free the only ones with land?

Phoebe Morad is Executive Director of Lutherans Restoring Creation (LRC), a grassroots movement promoting care for creation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. For updated resources, events, and worship ideas visit: Lutherans Restoring Creation 

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Mary Brewster’s Love Life and Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures: available wherever books are sold.; Mary Brewster Brewster’s Love Life
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