The Third Sacrament (or 8th depending on your Western Christianity)

Doug Sikkema follows up on his previous post about the earth as a sacrament, with acknowledgement to Wendell Berry. He explains why the language of sacramentalism is good for promoting care of creation:

I like this word, sacrament, because it demands a certain seriousness towards the necessity of death through which we have our life—a truth as physical as it is metaphysical. I also like its suggestion that there are not really sacred and unsacred places; rather, there are only sacred and desecrated places. There are places where we have abused water with toxic chemicals and waste; places where the air is so polluted we now have smog advisories to warn us to remain indoors; places where topsoil depletion, extreme deforestation, and mountain-top removal irrevocably alter—and diminish—landscapes for future generations. Such desecration is sickness. It’s a working “against the grain” of the natural processes of the created world within which we were made to move and have our being. It’s a breakdown of shalom.

And yet, he concludes this post with a point about the importance of language:

. . . language is important, and if we were to look back at the older meanings of certain words being tossed around, it might shape how we interact with our places today and change the landscape we pass on to those of tomorrow.

For starters, economy, from oikos (house) – nomos (law), is rooted in an understanding of household management. It’s a word rooted in local community, devotion to place, and the long labour of properly caring for a home that is passed down for future generations. Because of this, economics has always been tied to resources, much like it still is today. However, from the Latin resurgere (to rise again), resources are not simply commodities—although they must be used as such. Resources are meant to be replenished, to be a source we can return to repeatedly and, given the proper care, last as long as the sun gives us energy. Yet both words are tied together to sustainable home building.

If the industrialization of everything first ushered people off the land, the commodification of everything is keeping people off, to the land’s—and, subsequently, our—detriment. Yet if we are interested in our place, economics and resources might be the very new language we need. For if we will buy the lie of consumerist monoculture that we can be at home anywhere, one day we might realize, too late, we’ve been sold a bill of goods.

So if language is important, then perhaps someone with Sikkema’s last name should be careful about words like sacrament. I may be presumptuous in thinking Sikkema from a Dutch Calvinist background, but the name and the operation fit. In which case, he should need no reminder about what sacrament means:

We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith.

He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what he enables us to understand by his Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us.

For they are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. So they are not empty and hollow signs to fool and deceive us, for their truth is Jesus Christ, without whom they would be nothing.

Moreover, we are satisfied with the number of sacraments that Christ our Master has ordained for us. There are only two: the sacrament of baptism and the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ. (Belgic, Art. 33)

Again, I have no objections to looking to Wendell Berry for instruction about the dangers — even evils — of industrialization, nor do I believe Sikkema’s concerns about the environment are off. I just don’t know why he needs to import the language of redemption to justify an earthly conviction that generally makes sense to most creatures. We don’t like it when people dump trash on our front lawns or in the hallway outside our front door. Why would the inhabitants of a region or the God who providentially (not redemptively) put them there object to people exporting waste to these inhabitants’ homeland? I don’t know why you need to gussy this up as some kind of gracious or salvation activity, unless, that is, if you’re used to blurring the temporal and the heavenly as so many neo-Calvinists are.

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