On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, I was finishing up my freshman year at Stanford. I had already learned so much! Coed dorms. How to throw a pretty mean Frisbee. That I was no longer one of the smarter people in the room. That the amazing Dean of the Chapel (Davie Napier) wanted us anti-war protestors to meet in the large Memorial Church and hear Joan Baez and the Berrigan brothers sing and speak.
So it was natural on April 22 that I took part in yet another massive protest and teach-in in San Francisco alongside tens of thousands of other folks. But this one focused on clean air and water rather than napalm and the military-industrial-university complex. (Although we now know how interrelated these issues are.)
The guy in the picture is Denis Hayes, then recent Stanford grad and coordinator of the first Earth Day. He helped plan nationwide events where 20 million folks marched demanding great environmental protection. Because of that massive public momentum, the Nixon Administration was convinced to pass the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, The National Marine Sanctuary Program and to establish the Environmental Protection Agency. (Remember when government did stuff?)
Seven years later, in 1977 I was back in California, now a student at Pacific School of Religion, and I took a course called “Eco-Logic” at Starr King School, the Unitarian Universalist seminary across the street. In the class we read Earnest Callenbach’s just published novel, Ecotopia, about a utopian community 20 years in the future (1999!) in Northern California/Northwest that was based on ecological principles, an influential novel that promoted many of the same values as Earth Day. (Still a great read.) I think we went to an Oakland Earth Day march.
I got thinking about the 1970’s and Denis Hayes and Ernest Callenbach this week when I read these “Earth’s 10 Commandments” because Callenbach wrote them.
I learned at Stanford about the power of activism (we did bring the war to an end). In seminary we learned about building communities that are sustainable and just. And we learned that the Ten Commandments are really more like a Bill of Rights for such a covenant community, a description of how to live according to God’s righteousness.
A lot has changed since the 70’s, but this reworking of God’s call for a righteous Earth Community still rings true.
Earth’s 10 Commandments
Thou shalt love and honor the Earth for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.
Thou shalt keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.
Thou shalt not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.
Thou shalt give thanks for thy food to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.
Thou shalt limit thy offspring for multitudes of people are a burden unto the Earth.
Thou shalt not kill nor waste Earth’s riches upon weapons of war.
Thou shalt not pursue profit at the Earth’s expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.
Thou shalt not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.
Thou shalt not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth.
Thou shalt consume material goods in moderation so all may share Earth’s bounty.
(My weekly “Blue Theology Tide-ings” posts usually address ocean issues from a faith perspective. Earth Day spends a little too much time on the green, and not enough on the blue, in my humble opinion. The ocean covers 70% of our planet’s surface - our planet should be called Oceanus. Actually there is a World Oceans Day in June – our Blue Theology ministry celebrates then too! Just remember that the ocean needs our activism and compassion as much as the dry land.)