Saturday, July 20, 2019

Righteous Gentile: A Personal Recollection of Jan Karski

Rev. Douglas Olds

Jan Karski Statue at the Warsaw Museum of Jewish History
(photo credit: Thomas Kennelly)

I met Jan Karski in the early 1980s.

He was a neighbor of mine, an old-world, courtly figure who taught history at Georgetown University.

In middle age, he had married the renowned modern dancer Pola Niresnka, a Polish Jew who had escaped the Holocaust spending the war years in London, yet whose entire family disappeared in the concentration and extermination camps. They met after the war. Pola told me she married Jan because "He is a good man."

Now an older man, Jan told me over the course of a dinner of his and Pola’s past. 

In…1940 Karski[, a Pole], began [as] a courier … [between] … the Polish underground [and] the Polish Government in Exile. During one such mission in July 1940 he was arrested by the Gestapo in Slovakia [and s]everely tortured. He managed to escape.

In 1942 Karski was…twice smuggled by Jewish underground leaders into the Warsaw Ghetto for the purpose of directly observing what was happening to Polish Jews. Also, disguised as an Estonian camp guard, he visited a sorting and transit point for the Bełżec death camp. Karski then met with Polish politicians in exile and the British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, giving a detailed statement on what he had seen in Warsaw and Bełżec. In 1943 he traveled to the United States, meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Oval Office, telling him about the situation in Poland and becoming the first eyewitness to tell him about the Jewish Holocaust. He also described the Holocaust to Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Frankfurter, [a Jew himself, sat politely through] Karski's report. [1]

Recollecting, Karski told me that Frankfurter had told him, "I cannot believe you of what’s happening to the Jews in Poland. I do not say that you are lying, I am saying that I CAN NOT believe you.”[2] 

If FDR had acted immediately to stem the atrocity by bombing the gas and incineration complexes in the death camps, perhaps 2 Million Jews could have been saved from destruction.  By the time Allies did act against the camps, Karski’s efforts were estimated to have saved ¼ million Jews, making Karski the most effective savior of European Jewry during the war. Yet Karski lived with the knowledge that perhaps 10 times more could have been saved, IF ONLY. If only FDR had acted immediately.

While he acknowledged that perhaps deeper levels of military strategy may have prevailed upon FDR, Karski told me that he regretted that he had failed to find the right words in his efforts to convince FDR and the other Allied leaders of the necessity to act. Karski, who had trained for the diplomatic corps, strained every diplomatic muscle he had in trying to persuade the Brits and Americans. In his appeal, he even extravagantly addressed FDR as, “Lord of Humanity.”

Karski also struggled with words around the prisoners: their condition almost rendered him silent. He recognized he was in the midst of the struggle of good and evil.  In that struggle, there were moments of irrepressible holiness by the prisoners straining every sinew of their being to help each other stay alive. Karski recognized these were stories of struggle, stories of fierce love inside inexpressible trauma and horror.

Later, Karski volunteered to sneak into the darkness of the Warsaw ghetto and the transit point of the Bełżec death camp to bring the news of Allied efforts to the prisoners. He brought hope. He was an example of the volunteering saint, representing the Prophet Isaiah's "send me" attitude.  Karski felt the call of his Christian upbringing to make a prophetic difference to people who were enslaved, oppressed, and daily murdered.

In 1985, the French Film Director Claude Lanzmann released a 9-1/2 hour documentary series Shoah which documented the living witnesses of the Holocaust.  I committed 4 afternoons of a winter week in early 1986 to seeing Shoah at the Key Theater in Georgetown of Washington, DC. During the second installment, Jan Karski appeared on-screen discussing the conditions he had found of the Jews confined in the Warsaw Ghetto, and he wept. Then I was moved to tears in the dark and flickering theater by his descriptions of what he saw and what he experienced in the conditions at Bełżec.  

I left the theater that gloomy Tuesday emotionally spent and got on the bus. It was raining. I sat down and focused internally on my memories of the moving witness to the Holocaust in the documentary. I then became aware of a disturbance at the front of the bus.

It was my friend Jan Karski, whom I had just seen on screen, off from his shift as a professor at Georgetown University. He was having difficulty putting away his umbrella while trying, in flustered English, to secure his senior citizen bus discount. The bus passengers were surly at the delay and, hearing his accent, cast their anger frontward at him: some shouted, “Down in Front!” and “Go Back to where you came from!”

Carried by instinct, I got up from my seat and went to the front and embraced Karski, giving him my arm for support as I almost carried him to a seat. At our seat, I told him of my emotion at having just then seen him in Shoah.

“Yes,” he said, “Lanzmann has made a necessary document of the time. Pola can’t watch it, it’s too painful for her.” 

Since that bus ride, I’ve often wondered if I should have addressed the surly passengers on the bus—shamed them, perhaps with the words, “this is a great man, people!” 

But in the presence of holiness, I was silenced. 

I sat a mostly silent vigil with Karski during the bus ride back to the Maryland suburbs. I had nothing profound to say, and the moment seemed to require something moving and deep and profound that I couldn’t utter.

For me, like Zechariah, Nicodemus, and the prophet Isaiah, there is the season of speaking out—a time of moral revival and assertion. There may also come a season when we can find no words. In those times, connection isn’t in the thundering eloquence of the pulpit or in the rebukes of the crowd we offer, but in the soft companionship of standing firm next to someone until they are ready to go their own way.

There may be in our recollections times when we were silenced—when our common human inheritance for communication was brought up short.  These times should be approached with great tenderness and discernment of recollection because I believe our souls have at those times been confronted with something intended and sent from God. Something of holiness. 

Practicing the virtue of recollection, we might gather a spiritual truth from these times when our voices failed. For at the risk of his life Karski took forth into history’s deepest darkness a message of hope, compassion, and concern. Risk is the price for the companionship with the Holy and the vigil with the Divine that we all crave.

My silence on that bus, I later recollected, inadvertently had discovered that holiness—that common, unobtrusive love-- is not found in rebuking the mob, but rather in companionship and chaplaincy with an elderly and disoriented man on a rainy evening as he struggled with his umbrella and the hostility of the crowd.

Sometimes, we are not called for the glamour positions—the shiny speaking positions, the apostleships, and prophecies—but rather to fulfill our role companionably in the local milieu in which we are called—to a witness of presence—a witness of presence for righteousness and compassion through silent accompaniment.

We may often experience ourselves as bursting with expression which threatens to overwhelm others’ capacity for listening.  Especially when events and personalities make a mockery of our deepest, shared morality. At those times, being given to silent companionship can provide the ailing and the onlookers a sign of our trust in goodness when the world is hostile and collapsing. 

Twenty-five years after these encounters with Jan Karski I became an ordained Presbyterian minister. I have come to regret not asking Karski, a Catholic, how his personal theology was impacted by his experience of the events of the Holocaust and their horrors. Of course, the Holocaust has exerted a major influence on later 20th C theology. There was great wisdom in the man I came to know, and now some of that is lost to God's keeping.

But the small wisdom I derived from encountering Jan Karski on that bus ride was that our human task is to companion and bring stories of enduring wonder with the mystery of God and the enigma of faith, speaking and living life to the fullest.  In this, we risk that even our words and stories will for a season fail.  Holiness—God’s humble love--demands it.

[1] accessed on 6 August 2015.
[2] Pers. Comm.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Biblical Witness to the "End of Ice"
Rev. Douglas Olds
July 9, 2019

Dahr Jamail's The End of IceBearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (2019) proposes a vision of the Earth at its end.  The Bible provides various witness about this implications of Jamail's thesis that ice, frost, and cold are disappearing as a result of runaway global heating from a combustion economy. Here are some quotes:

The Book of Job locates with God the power and prerogative to give ice:

Job 37:10 
    10By the breath of God ice is given, 
    and the broad waters are frozen fast. 

Job 38:29 
    29From whose womb did the ice come forth, 
    and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven? (Implied: NO ONE BUT GOD)

Also:  Psalm 147:17 
    17He hurls down hail like crumbs— 
    who can stand before his cold? 

Cold is likened to faith for the servant of Israel's God:
Proverbs 25:13 
    13Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest 
    are faithful messengers to those who send them; 
    they refresh the spirit of their masters. 

Cold immobilizes agricultural pests, and heat invigorates them:

Nahum 3:17 
    17Your guards are like grasshoppers, 
    your scribes like swarms of locusts 
    settling on the fences 
    on a cold day— 
    when the sun rises, they fly away; 
    no one knows where they have gone.

And heat comes after human treachery to wither foes away:
Job 6:14-17 
     14“Those who withhold kindness from a friend 
    forsake the fear of the Almighty.
    15My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed, 
    like freshets that pass away, 
    16that run dark with ice, 
    turbid with melting snow. 
    17In time of heat they disappear; 
    when it is hot, they vanish from their place. 

Heat--and the lack of cold and frost/ice--is also associated with God's future day of judgment:

Zechariah 14 See, a day is coming for the LORD, when the plunder taken from you will be divided in your midst. 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped; half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4 On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. 5 And you shall flee by the valley of the LORD’s mountain, for the valley between the mountains shall reach to Azal; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. 
6 On that day there shall not be either cold or frost. 7 And there shall be continuous day (it is known to the LORD), not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light. 

Global heating confronts us with how we will discern each cool breeze we experience going forward.  Whether our idea of an immanent God (involving the Church) is able to halt this calamity I am not hopeful. Whether the transcendent God has determined to bring human history to an end is still for me an open question.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Grazing on Ashes
Sermon by Rev. Douglas Olds
First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo
June 16, 2019

Sermon Texts: Galatians 5: 13-18,
Isaiah 44: 9-20

A few weeks ago, my mother returned some shoes she purchased to the mall.  She asked for a receipt, and the clerk then asked her for her email address. My mother said, “I really don’t want to give that out. Why do you need my email?’  The clerk retorted, “Ma’am, we want to email you the receipt:  we’re trying to save the planet!"

My mother gets home, and there are two emails from the shoe company.  Neither is the receipt. Both are trying to sell her more shoes.

Welcome to America, where saving the planet always involves some renewed plan to sell you.  If only we make smarter purchases, or switch to more efficient products, then we will indeed save the planet. Consumer capitalism figures out the angles to get you to purchase more and more in order to change the world.  This is the capitalist ideology.  Their world is driven primarily by business and consumerism.

Yet the quote from Einstein on today’s bulletin suggests that business as usual is not the remedy to solving the problems that are coming about from business as usual. I am very skeptical that the profit motive can cure the mess that heedlessly seeking a profit regardless of environmental impact has caused.

Our reading from the Prophet Isaiah this morning is the Bible’s signal and unique message regarding the scale and misuse of fuel combustion.  In this passage from Isaiah, the idol maker is charged with diverting combustible resources away from personal warming and cooking toward the creation of idols.
14 He cuts down cedars …. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it can be used as fuel. Part of it he takes and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Then he makes a god and worships it, makes it a carved image and bows down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he roasts meat, eats it and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Ah, I am warm, I can feel the fire!” 17 The rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, bows down to it and worships it; he prays to it and says, “Save me, for you are my god!”…
20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded mind has led him astray, and he cannot save himself or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a fraud?”

In contemporary terms, that fraud in his right hand is our economy’s idol of luxuries produced by the diversion of combustible fuels away from God’s intended provision for subsistence needs.

The Prophet Isaiah in this centrally marked text is to my reading condemning an idolatrous carbon combustion economy.

Some of you may be following the  ‘Juliana’ lawsuit  “Trial of the Century” that began last week in Portland.  21 children are suing the government for violating their Constitutional rights to life by subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.  My children know that their elders in prior generations have created the climate crisis while they display continuing moral inertia neglecting to change our ways.  Older generations are providing the young with unassailable grounds for moral grievance, not just the foundation for an innovative lawsuit against the government.

Not only is grievance culture toxic to community, it brings down the church and the Kingdom of God in four ways. First, grievance by the young delegitimates institutions, like the church, promoted by earlier generations. Second, grievance interferes with a healthy appreciation for Creation’s goodness, running down the idea and our message of a Creator. Add to this the environmental destruction resulting in mass extinctions, where the totality of God’s worshiping community is disrupted. I refer you to the vision of the assembly of animals praising God in Psalms 104 and 148.   Finally, Is. 44 specifically condemns the combustion-fueled economy that diverts from subsistence as idolatrous and thus is counter to God’s intended Kingdom.

Isaiah’s message to us is to consider our profligate combustion-fueled economy as both idolatrous and an immoral wrecking of God’s Kingdom purpose.   Our heat-trapping pollution is a source of grievance by God as felt in God’s favored future, today’s children. As Christians, we must take this prophetic challenge seriously.  Not as a moral scolding (prophets like preachers can be moral scolds), but as a message to align your lives to be Saints with the direction God intends.

And I believe that God’s intention for the planet involves humanity developing the virtues that preserve the atmosphere, specifically the virtues of thrift, self-denial, and loyalty. 

The virtue of carbon thrift takes stock of daily decisions to consume and pursues the path of least combustion. After worship this morning, in our Sunday Seminar, Marin Interfaith Climate Action will present some steps we can take to pursue carbon thrift in our living situations and lifestyle.  I hope you all will attend. The virtue of carbon thrift is the most compelling of our calls to reduce carbon emissions.  Individual thrift in combusting carbon compounds is the foundation for directing society toward sustainability and Atmospheric Care.

The virtue of asceticism, or self-denial, is not taking that jet vacation to exotic, long-distance locations even though we can afford it. We Christians are not part of today’s culture of self-creation, where diverse and flashy experience determines or fleshes out our identity.  We are people created anew in God’s love. We are people of the Holy Spirit, not of the jet. Our identity is not self-created but realized in the love we’ve experienced of God and that we reflect outward.  The selling of capitalism’s idea of a jet-travel bucket list is pure consumerist propaganda. Christians are meant to be counter-cultural.  At my stage of life, exotic travel is not essential to my growth in character or in effectiveness. The bucket list is capitalism’s implant into our desires. I have given up the goal of worldwide travel in retirement for the sake of the atmosphere.  As I’ve learned to testify from my good friend, Royce: I will only fly for family.

The next virtue, loyalty, applies to planet and place.  Loyalty to the planet is not falling for the Hollywood, NASA fairy tale that humanity has a destiny on another planet so that we can trash this one getting there. Loyalty to place encompasses people vacationing far closer to home and purchasing food from local farmer’s markets.  Two people driving a car to Los Angeles emits about ¼ of the carbon compounds and its equivalents than those two people flying to L.A. 

Loyalty to place displays to neighbors the changes in personal lifestyles one is making for the benefit of the atmosphere.

I’ve brought to you this morning the message that profligate consumerism founded on a carbon-combustion economy negates the Kingdom of God in many ways, and that the solution is found in our commitments to pursue the virtues that commit ourselves to the care and stability of the atmosphere.  I mentioned that the prophets were moral scolds when they called ancient Israel’s attention to God’s intention for society.  I want to try to suggest how this prophetic scolding for the sake of the atmosphere and reduced carbon-combustion consumerism is actually pastoral.  In other words, my message this morning is intended to stimulate saintliness and the rewards of virtue brought about by carbon thrift, loyal, and consumer self-denial.

I mentioned at the outset of my reading from Isaiah that the passage Is. 44.9-20 is not in the Protestant lectionary.  That is, it is not part of the usual cycle of worship readings in the Church.  I have come across only one person who has heard this passage preached before in the Presbyterian Church, and that was 40 years ago. But I want to point out that this passage is integral to the yearly cycle of Bible readings in the Jewish synagogue.

Reform Judaism employs Isaiah 44 (including 44.9-20) in its annual sequence of parashah and haftarah readings.[1] That sequence of Isaiah’s condemnation of fuel idolatry is particularly linked in its readings with God’s Final Judgment. In the year 2020, the Va-yikra service of 5 Nisan 5780 (March 28) has as its haftarah reading Is. 44.6-23, with the description, “God’s greatness contrasted with the sin of idolatry.”  The following week (Tzav) has a haftarah reading of Malachi 3.4-24, described as “Approach of the Day of Judgment.” This sequence of haftarot that follows the betrayal of God through idolatry with the Approach of the Day of Judgment is repeated in the year 2021.  This sequence is instructive regarding how seriously Judaism takes the sin of idolatry described by this morning’s reading of Is. 44. 9-20: It is to be followed by God’s Judgment.

So as a preacher with a pastoral intent for his call to virtue this morning, I intend to direct your path to saintliness in your economic and carbon-consuming life. God’s final judgment awaits us all.  And here’s why I believe that matters existentially beyond solely the legitimate fear of a powerful and demanding God holding us accountable.  I believe God’s final judgment will assign us to our eternal destiny.   While no one knows what happens after death, our Reformed predecessors thought long and hard on our final destiny as Christians.  They believed, and it makes sense to me, that our final destiny with God will reflect the values, virtues, and commitments that we display in our current life of freedom.  If our values, practices, and virtues pursued in freedom in this life support God’s natural creation (including atmospheric care and thrift in carbon combustion), then I believe that our final destiny at God’s assignment will include God’s ongoing richness of natural creation.

On the other hand, if our values and commitments in the freedom of this life focus solely or mainly on technology and material consumption, I believe it is possible that our final destiny would involve an environment of primarily human-derived features. I don’t know about you, but I choose the destiny of Saints who rely on God’s ongoing creative, infinite goodness more than the limited and flaw-infected creations of humanity no matter how seemingly spectacular and impressive. If we pursue the values of self-creation through consumerism, it’s possible that will be our final destiny. If instead, we pursue the values and virtues that serve God and God’s creation, then I believe that we will receive the exceeding overflow of benefits in the eternal destiny of God’s goodness and creativity.

Scientists have their ear to the tracks: they can hear the massive vehicle of climate change off in the distance, but the enormity of the signal they pick up complicates their prediction as to the timing of arrival and magnitude of the effects:
The refugees, the droughts, the famines, the extinctions.
The problems loom catastrophic, and many of the effects of climate change have already begun arriving.
In addition to the cultivation of the virtues of carbon thrift, self-denial, and loyalty to planet and place, I suggest a visualization exercise for atmospheric trusteeship. Of course, carbon dioxide and its gaseous equivalents are not visible, which is part of the problem. However, I’ve begun to visualize products and processes as the “ashes” that result from their production.  

When I look at my unconsidered purchases of two gadgets for my kitchen, I wince as I visualize the ashes embedded in their production and operation and the dust of rust from their obsolescence. 

When I see a plane’s contrail (which scientists are still studying as a potential, significant source of global warming), I visualize it as a train of ashes. 
The Prophet Isaiah is warning us: Is. 44’s image for the modern combustion-fueled economy is feeding upon ashes.

The vision I want to leave you with is the picture of ashes as the material goods and services one consumes. Ashes of injustice against the poor and other species, ashes of the futility for material consumption to enable happiness and satisfaction.
Try visualizing ashes yourself, and you may find your resistance to the carbon combustion-intensive tragedy increasing and your participation in it abating.
Radical political and social change is necessary, but even more so is rapid change in personal lifestyle practices and responsibility.
Our children and grandchildren are begging, poignantly begging, that we panic over global warming, but panic with purpose. Let’s turn aside their basis for grievance against us.

We can have vast carbon-fueled luxuries, or we can give our children and their children a decent life. We can’t have both.

Let us stop grazing on society’s consumer ashes.

Let us learn instead to embrace and Kiss the Sky. AMEN.

[1] Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK. “Calendar of Torah and Haftarah Readings: 5779 – 5781/2018 – 2021.” The Movement for Reform Judaism, 2017. Accessed April 13, 2019.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

 Theological Reconstruction of Human "Domination" of Nature in Genesis 1
Rev. Douglas Olds
21 March 2019

What Reist (1991,167-171) calls the “heuristic” function of theology to address social and human problems is a reconstructive task that revisits traditional Biblical doctrines and readings that have ceased being useful or helpful to contemporary human challenges.  Examples given by Reist include McFague’s (1993) proposal that feminizes the divine and discerns the natural world as God’s “body.” By this reading, Reist and McFague intend to bypass problematic patriarchy and focus on divine transcendence that gives rise to hierarchical cultures that too readily exploit nature for humanity’s material desires and refuse to engage with the enchantment of our non-human surroundings.
          The primary reconstructive task, therefore, is heuristic: it is to find an alternate reading of texts and traditions that answer urgent contemporary problems. Jenkins (2013, preface) describes the process this way:
Religious creativity is always particular and contextual, so throughout the book I work with Christian projects and make constructive theological arguments. I do so in order to depict one moral tradition undergoing change as it is variously redeployed and renegotiated, and for the wider freedom one has to make constructive proposals as a participant within one’s own tradition.
We understand we are engaging in heuristic hermeneutics when we read the Bible with “contrition” (Reist 1991, 170), lamenting how prior readings of the Bible have caused pain, suffering, injustice, and degradation. Today, that may include as most paramount Global Warming and the Crisis of Atmospheric and Climate Disruption. Reading the Bible heuristically as with a sense of contrition enhances the reconstruction of an appropriate Atmospheric Care ethic—Trusteeship—and a reconsideration of the disruption of human moral agency that leads societies to treat the atmosphere as a cost-free carbon dump.  Reconstructing the theology of Genesis 1 is designed to re-read its supposed “domination” by the divine over the disorder of nature, and its supposed grant of “dominion” qua “domination” to humanity by God. Heuristically—from the vantage of contrition--I recover a more appropriate reading that is gentler and harmonizes with God’s task to humanity given in Genesis 2.15.
      Genesis 1 has been a problematic reading for environmental ethics since the advent of European monarchy and the imposition of Roman Catholic imperium.  As White (1967) famously publicized during the awakening of the Ecology Movement in Western societies, the presuppositions of Western humanity’s relationship with the natural world that surrounds it were shaped by its formative intellectual traditions—in our case, Christianity as it moved from considering nature as heuristics of the divine to a more utilitarian and anthropocentric material substrate:
 [S]lightly before A.D. 830 … Western illustrated' calendars [changed]. In older calendars the' months were shown as passive personifications. The new Frankish calendars, which set the style for the Middle Ages, are very different: they show men coercing the world around them-plowing, harvesting, chopping trees, butchering pigs. Man and nature are two things, and man is master… Our daily habits of action, for example, are dominated by an implicit faith in perpetual progress which was unknown either to Greco-Roman antiquity or to the Orient. It is rooted in, and is indefensible apart from, Judeo-Christian teleology.…Especially in its Western form, Christianity [became] the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen. (White 1967, 1205).
White’s use of words such as “coercing,” “master,” “teleology,” and “anthropocentric” demonstrates the medieval cognitive presuppositions regarding Creation and humanity’s placement in and struggle with it derived from the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. 
          I am convinced that Genesis 1 has been misread since the time that White describes, up to (and in part including) post-modern Christianity.  I propose a reconstruction of Biblical theology regarding human “dominion” and “coercion/subuing” of nature.  This hierarchical epistemology was associated with and influenced by medieval social structures (Glacken 1967, 293; 312-4).
          Others have proposed this reconstruction to a more biocentric, less hierarchical and anthropocentric placement of humanity within the scheme of God’s creation (Reist 1991, McFague 1993, Tinker 2008).  I will attempt to justify my reconstruction not by transcendentalizing immanence and sexuality (McFague 1993) nor by resort to non-Christian spiritual traditions (Tinker 2008).  Instead, I will engage in a close reading of the Hebrew of the Creation accounts in Genesis 1, Genesis 2, and Deutero-Isaiah (specifically Is. 45).  As will be discussed toward the end of this chapter, Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-48) contains a neglected but supplementary account of Creation.
          Rather than beginning with Paul’s gospel--as is often the case with Christian theology--of the need of humanity for a restored relationship with God through Christ’s redeeming work,[1] I start (with Tinker 2008) with a reconsideration of the Christian doctrine of Creation as found in the first statement of the Creeds professed by many Christians over the centuries.  I begin by unpacking God’s creation of the earth and the Spiritual wind hovering over the waters, then I move into a harmonization of the prior vision with the latter directives to humanity to take “dominion” over nature.
          It is often claimed that the Genesis 1 account of Creation inhabits the Ancient Near Eastern worldview of the divine ordering of pre-existent chaos as exemplified in the Mesopotamian epic, Enuma elish.  Herman Gunkel in the 1890s proposed that “Chaoskampf” (struggle with chaos) and the larger motif of "Theomachy"—divine conflict—is a thematic constant of ANE creation accounts (Walton 2008, 48-9).   The vanquishing of a personified chaos-monster by the divine is indeed part of Enuma elish. However, with Walton (2008), I find no evidence of this conflict—or violent force of any kind--in Genesis 1:1–4 (NRSV)
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept [hovered][2] over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
It is therefore important to re-read closely the imagery of creation that is involved in the opening paragraph of Genesis 1. With the non-violence of the verbal aspects discussed, I conclude that the foundation of the Gen 1. 1-4 creation account is non-violent and does not presuppose theomachy between the Creator and pre-existent or natural chaos.  The latter myth arises in Mesopotamian accounts where a “strong man” (Marduk in Enuma elish) as proxy for a later monarch exerts his violent will to organize and introduce order, hierarchy, and peace in his society.  The possible priestly writers of Genesis 1 are reacting against this domination and are innovating a different type of foundation myth that, as I will argue below, presupposes a Hebrew ideology of servant-monarchy that contrasts with monarchical dominion inside other ANE cultures. This distinction of monarchical ideology is reflected in the contrasting and distinct foundation cosmogonies of Babylon and exilic Judah.
Contemporaneous with the Babylonian exile, the prophet in Deutero-Isaiah (“First Persian Isaiah” [Coote 2004]) weighs in with a distinction between the Mesopotamian and Judahite Creation accounts:
Is 45:18–19 (emph. Added):
18 For thus says the LORD,
    who created the heavens
    (he is God!),
    who formed the earth and made it
    (he established it;
    he did not create it a chaos,
    he formed it to be inhabited!):
    I am the LORD, and there is no other.
    19 I did not speak in secret,
    in a land of darkness;
    I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
    “Seek me in chaos.”
    I the LORD speak the truth,
    I declare what is right.
This prophet from the Isaianic school seemingly recognizes Exilic Judah contemplating Mesopotamian cosmogonic foundations and warning against them. It is during or soon after this time that the Priestly writer(s) of Genesis 1 integrated a novel cosmogony absent hostile chaotic forces.
At the end of the sixth day of Creation, God pronounces the integrated whole “very good.”  The penultimate act of the 6th day of Creation is portrayed as the divine instruction to humanity:  
Gen. 1. 27 So God created humankind in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
With the use of the imperative verbs for “subdue” ( כָּבַשׁ kāḇaš) and “have dominion” ( רָדָה rāḏâ) we seem to re-enter the ANE cognitive environment of forceful monarchical power granted to divine agents, standing for an historical relation between human groups. However,
Gen. 1:28 (like the entire text of vv. 26–28) does not envision [the] dominion [of humans over others]. Instead, it supports the utopian anthropological maxim that every human individual is a “ruler” of the world.
 [T]he “land” is not to be thought of in literal (e.g., agrarian) terms, but as the whole territory shaped by human habitation, as an historical entity…The Hebrew verb kāḇaš …always presupposes a stronger [human] party as subject and a weaker [human] party as object (Wagner 1995, TDOT VII, 54-56).
With the contemporary attitude of contrition for the manner in which this hierarchical consideration of coercive force has been applied against weaker force, it is my reconstructive intention to propose that this verse is NOT to be applied to humanity’s ecological surroundings (as a modern person might read “land”) but instead characterizes the reality of human political history (with “the land” standing as a proxy for sovereignty considerations).  “Subduing” in Gen. 1.28 is a consideration for political history and not necessarily part of an environmental ethic. As discussed above, it coheres with the negative application of divine force as “resistance” (Aikido) and not the positive force of coercion or domination.
          Regarding the divine grant to humanity to “have dominion” over the land as political rather than ecological construct (employing the imperative of רָדָה rāḏâ), another heuristic thought may be ventured:
The idea of “dominion” requires its meaning be established by determining how monarchy functioned in the Hebrew scriptures and what monarchical dominion entailed.[4]  There are two foundational textual strands germane to these determinations: first, there is the critique of kingship theme in the Deuteronomistic History (DtrH) and second, the precepts in the Law of the King (Dt 17. 14-20) limiting his autonomy and prerogative.  Both theme and precept involved in these textual strands fit in with a more general theme of Israel’s adaptation to vassalage in the Hebrew Bible than with hierarchy and domination (Wright 2014). This critique of kingship is one of the most important themes of the Deuteronomic scriptures. From the foundation of the institution of kingship in Biblical Israel, kings were judged for their failure to bring in God’s blessings of security and righteousness.  And the consequence for that failure was the loss of “the land” (=loss of sovereignty) (Campbell and O’Brien 2000, 18-19).
 A steady drumbeat of acrimony to the institution of monarchy was kept up by keepers of the Deuteronomic scrolls.  This acrimony was remarkable because the monarchic court funded the production of the very rhetoric that limited its own power. The court funded the storage and dissemination of that anti-court rhetoric during the half-millennium of kings from Josiah to Herod.
To bring about wise rule in the conditions of vassalage under the rule of dangerous superpowers—first of Philistia, then of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon—the temple elite subordinated the House of David as the glorified servant of the Torah. This process begins with prophetic legitimation of the monarch.  As the Deuteronomic Torah is written, the subordination of the king progresses, so in Dt. 17: 14-20 (known as the “The Law of the King”), the king is humbled by compulsory Torah performances, limitation on his appetites, and humility with regard to his kinsfolk. It is in this context of monarchical limitations and piety that the Hebrew concept of “dominion” needs to adhere. Dt. 17.18-20 describes how the ideal monarch may become a long-term trustee of his domain:
Dt. 17.18 When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. 19 It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel.
Yet is the failure of dominion to adhere to this humility and trust that leads to the alienation and estrangement of God’s people from their historical construct labeled “the land.”

Symbolically, the movement engaged by Jesus walking on the water has some aspectual analogy to these verbal aspects in the Gen. 1 account, which has verbs indicating “treading” as subjection.  In the Jesus vignette, however, the treading is not an application of domination over the Sea of Galilee upon which he treads, just as the “hovering” by God’s ruach over the deep waters is not a domination of those waters.  Contrary to Peterson’s (1999, 137ff) universalizing Chaoskampf, the Jesus divine force does not wrestle with watery chaos in order to impose order and dominance hierarchies.  The symbolic nature of Jesus treading on the Sea of Galilee is equivalent to the presence of the divine ruach over the deep of Creation.  As Jesus walks on water, he symbolically “hovers” (Gen 1.2) above it, and in a horizontal movement he “subdues it” by establishing a flattening hierarchical relationship with it that does not imply the application of force, just his “presence.” Reading Gen. 1 inside the canonical narrative that culminates with Jesus’s walking on water demonstrates that God’s imperative to humanity to “subdue and have dominion” in Gen 1.28 is not a domineering and coercive or violent application for humanity towards the rest of creation. Humanity is to “subdue” the land through its Christ-like presence.  Gen. 1 should be harmonized into an Atmospheric Care ethic--with רָדָה rāḏâ in Gen. 1. 28 heuristically translated for humanity to “have trusteeship” for rather than “have dominion” over “the land.”

[1] In the history of Western religion, however, earth and nature have commonly been subordinated to the centrality of the drama between humanity and its God. The Bible “presumes a sharp dichotomy between redemption and creation.… Thus nature [in the Old Testament and the historical Church] is not only separated from human culture, but it is regarded as subservient to it.” (Hiebert 1996, 3-6).
This decentering by Biblical religion of the world of nature became the organizing environmental ideology of the European church age.

[2] NRSV confusingly translates the Piel participle of רחף as "swept" when lexicons translate the Piel of רחף as “quivering, meaning to hover with fluttering wings, characteristic flying behavior.” Koehler, Baumgartner, et al . 2000, 1220)..
While Piel Hebrew verbs were thought to intensify the Aktionsart of the Qal verbal stem, “Piel tends to signify causation with a patiency nuance.”  (Waltke and O’Connor 1990, 355.
 The Piel stem of רחף  applied in Gen 1.2 “represents God as the agent and the [wind] as having been caused to be put into the state of” trembling or fluttering. (Ibid., 363). The English translation of “swept” neither adequately conveys the causative aspect of agency (divine medio-passivity) nor the “patiency nuance” applied to the verbal stem. (Ibid).
See also: “PIEL, to brood over young ones, to cherish young (as an eagle), Deut. 32:11; figuratively used of the Spirit of God, who brooded over the shapeless mass of the earth, cherishing and vivifying.” –(Gesenius 2003, 766).

 [3] Gibson & Driver (2004, 7). See also Walton (2008).
Also see these ANE parallels of Chaoskampf:
1)       “The conflict between the Storm-god and the forces of chaos represented by the serpent (illuyanka- in Hittite) was the focus of two different tales known in second-millennium Anatolia, both of which served as etiological cult myths of the important Hittite festival.” Hallo & Younger (1997, 150).
2)       Merikare (Egyptian Instruction), Hallo & Younger (1997, 64):
 Well tended is mankind — god’s cattle,
  He made sky and earth for their sake,
  He subdued the water monster,
  He made breath for their noses to live.
  They are his images, who came from his body,
  He shines in the sky for their sake;
  He made for them plants and cattle,
  Fowl and fish to feed them.
[4] As footnote 6 details, I am presuming that the Deuteronomic scriptures were formalized prior to the Priestly.  Thus reading Genesis, primarily a priestly source (Carr 2015), hermeneutically within the strictures of the Deuteronomic is neither anachronistic nor unwarranted.  Understanding what “dominion” means to the Priestly writer builds upon what P knows of the critique of Kingship in the Deuteronomic scrolls.  The idea of “dominion” to P is founded on what monarchy’s limited and humbling prerogative is in D.  Add this to the exemplar of Kingship demonstrated by Jesus, and a Biblical theology of “dominion” must dispense with the aspect of “domination.” As Carr (2015, 465-6) notes, “the D/Deuteronomistic tradition remained an important source of pentateuchal conceptuality and phraseology.”
[5] A parallel may exist in the reference to “smelting” in the Egyptian Creation myth, “Hymn to Ptah” (4, 3–5, 1; Hallo & Younger (1997, 21):
  PHARAOH has come before you, Ptah:
  he has come before you, god distinguished of form.
  Greetings before your originals,
  whom you made after you evolved in the god’s body,
  (you) who built his body by himself,
  without the earth having evolved, without the sky having evolved,
  without the waters having been introduced.

  You tied together the world, you totalled your flesh,
  you took account of your parts and found yourself alone,
  place-maker, god who smelted the Two Lands.