As today is Earth Day, I thought I would give a shout out to Mother Earth, to which we owe so much. Our food comes from the earth, our bodies are but dust and to dust we shall return. We are, of necessity, earthy creatures and we need to recognize that just as earth’s resources are limited, so our time on this planet is finite. Such a perspective is a good kind of earthiness. We have to know that we are going to die, and we have to know that how we use our time between now and the grave is important. And one way of using that time is, of course, to take care of this planet with which we have undeservedly been entrusted.
I have a friend who speaks about his own earthiness in a slightly different way. He sees the fulfillment of his own earthly desires as defining his earthiness. And I get it: if you’re hungry, why not eat well? But the kind of earthiness he speaks about seems to me to have a downside, too, for he uses it as a kind of excuse to say, “Well, I can’t believe in God—I’m too earthy.” So, on this Earth Day, I thought I would explain why being earthy does not preclude faith in God. It might even encourage it!
How can I say that; isn’t earthiness condemned in the Bible, after all? Well, no, not really. Worldliness—e.g., being someone so shallow that you actually want to emulate the Kardashians—is condemned, but contrary to popular belief, earthiness is not. I will draw on a worldly quote from Joaquin Phoenix to explain.
That actor, who is to play the new Joker in the forthcoming Batman movie, was cast, too, for yet another film involving Jesus; it seems to me there’s been a lot of them lately! I am not going to say anything about typecasting because of the fact that the name Phoenix implies rising again. Nor shall I say that Mr. Phoenix looks too old for the part—I saw a trailer of the film. But I will say that a scene from John’s gospel, which Joaquin Phoenix refused to do (make mud with his saliva and put it on the eyes of a blind man to make him see), is one of Jesus’ many earthy moments. “Who the [expletive] would do that?” the actor is reported to have said. Too bad, for Joaquin Phoenix misses the point: Jesus was earthy, he was born in a stable (hard to get much earthier than that) and lain in a manger; that’s a trough from which animals eat. He lived among the poorest of the poor, touching them, healing them, loving them. He died on a cross and was put in a grave in a garden.
And even when he rose from the dead, he appeared to people—first women, then his disciples. He didn’t go all “Super God” on everyone and ride up to the heavens in a chariot or ship or a fancy horse. Instead he came back to his people, his people on Earth. On Planet Earth. On Mother Earth. And they touched him, and ate with him, and they loved him, and he them. Hard to get much earthier than Jesus, very hard. He was so earthy that the aforementioned famous actor wouldn’t recreate one of Jesus’ miracles. That’s earthy.
So, to my earthy friend I say this: you can’t cheat a cheater, you can’t outfox a fox, and you can’t outearth Jesus. He came down to us, because we couldn’t go up to him. So, if we’re sort of earthy and acutely aware of our earthy needs, it’s okay, because he became earthy among us, he became earthy alongside us, he became earthy right here with us. And he did so for us. And in his death, he took away once for all time the penalty not just for our earthiness, which is a relatively minor problem in the grand scheme of things, but for our neglect of the poor, our unkindness toward our family members, our failures to our friends and even to ourselves. Our addictions, our thoughtlessness, those embarrassing moments when we said precisely the wrong thing, forgot to do something for someone when we had promised to do it, our failed relationships, our failures in general. The stuff we hate about ourselves that we wouldn’t admit to anyone except our psychiatrist—and maybe even then we wouldn’t admit it. You see, Jesus is as earthy as we are, if not more so.
So I say to my earthy friend—and I don’t deny that he is earthy—Jesus may have been too earthy for Joaquin Phoenix, but he’s not not earthy enough for you. Or you, my dear reader, or me.
Happy Earth Day!