Why Noah's Ark?

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Originally published on National Catholic Reporter

Noah's ark climate march

The ark comes to mind as a good symbol for crowded, unpleasant conditions, ones we get when try to repair or resurrect the environment, along with Noah. Credit: Creative Commons/Taiwan boi

We are five days out from the People’s Climate March in New York. The ark, a float in the upcoming march, is built and on its flatbread truck on its way to Manhattan.
You are probably wondering why the ark became the symbol for Green Faith.  Obviously, we are looking for a miracle to happen on September 21. We want God to repent God’s anger and give us one more chance.  We want to see the bow in the sky.  And we are mightily interested in all the colors of all the animals on earth coming together to create a new beginning for humanity.  In fact, the biggest question being asked internally about the march is why people of color should participate in it.  The answers so far are less invitational than they might be.  But I’ll get to that.
We know the march will be big, if for no other reason than our phones are ringing off their hooks. We don’t yet know if it will be a miracle or not.  Miracles are something the divine pulls off, even if we assist mightily as partners in miracle making.  Plus, there is always the possibility it is too late for the climate and that repair, not restoration or new beginning, is all that we can hope for.

At my church, we’ll have forty students from Hampshire College, 100 members of the Poor People’s Campaign, 100 assorted United Church of Christ members who will come from near and far, and eighteen people from Judson Memorial Church (our partner) in Minneapolis.  That’s over 200 people.  We have stocked in major boxes of toilet paper.  We don’t have a shower.  We have floor space – and it is a kind of miracle that so many are willing to live on the floor for the earth.  Dozens of other congregations are sporting similar miraculous hospitality.  The ark comes to mind as a good symbol for crowded, unpleasant conditions, ones we get when try to repair or resurrect the environment, along with Noah.
Why the ark, beyond this desperate cramping?  Because we didn’t want the secular activists to imagine that they were in charge of climate change.  Nor did we want to insert our own agency inappropriately in the key moral and material dilemma of our time.  We don’t march because we think we alone can turn the Titanic around.  We do march as partners with Noah and God.  We know we need a miracle and we know God is pissed off.  We understand that God may have had it with us and our ways.
The ark also praises human agency, while not letting it get too big for its britches.  Noah did what God told him to do.  The ark also allows for repentance.  We have gone way too far down the fossilized road of fossil fuel.  It is time to do something different.
The ark also has a funny streak, as any child knows.  Who goes in first?  The Elephants or the turtles?
Of course the ark is not a perfect symbol.  It is mightily Abrahamic in source, as our Buddhist friends and more are right in saying.  It is nowhere near a universal religious symbol.  But people know “it” when they see “it.”   Religious people are way beyond universal symbols.  Instead, we use what we have.
Why should people of color come on the ark?  Why not?  God made a point of magnificent diversity in God’s orders to Noah.  Plus, climate change is not so much a curse as an opportunity, a way to look at how deeply instrumentalized we have made the world.  Yup.  We use the earth shamefully.  We use each other shamefully.  We especially dominate people of color, if we are white.  The finger wagging argument that “poor people and people of color are the front lines of damage during climate change”, while utterly true, is also utterly excluding and exclusive.  Who are “we” to tell other people that they ought to protect themselves, especially if we haven’t even shown up for the last police murder or the next one? People of color belong on the ark. That’s the answer.  Anything less just keeps the old thought bumbling and baffling along, as unnecessary suffering increases.
The ark is about a lot of miracles at once.  Redemption, repentance, maybe even resurrection.  Surely it is about covenant and covenant keeping, that which God initiates and we may be lucky enough yet to say yes.
When God put the bow in the sky, wasn’t the miracle that the world was sacred again and not to be used?  Wasn’t the motion after the flood to resacralize the desacralized?  Doesn’t that matter to racism and sexism and Wall Street’s abuses as much as it does to the next flood?  The ark tells us we have another chance.  We have another chance to get it right.