Guest commentary by Matt Schmidt
In the 1970s, hippies in California, inspired by Native American prophecies of rainbow warriors who would someday rise up to save the earth, sailed into the Pacific Ocean to peacefully protest the military, which was actively testing nuclear bombs under water and thus inflicting massive amounts of death and destruction in the ocean.
The now infamous ship they sailed is called Rainbow Warrior, and each of her iterations has been the flagship of Greenpeace.
A decade ago, I worked as a Greenpeace grassroots organizer to help stop global warming, a peaceful attempt to curb the rising levels of CO2pollution that so many of us worried would cause the earth to warm beyond repair. We worked on behalf of polar bears, and we feared melting glaciers, rising sea levels, severe droughts and superstorms. It was prophetic work, and today we’re living through the early effects of a long-lost fight.
I remember being trained in nonviolent direct action (NVDA) at the Greenpeace warehouse in Oakland, California. We hand-painted rainbow-colored signs and banners to fly in the name of peace and protest.
I turned to a colleague who had red, green, yellow and blue paint smeared on her hands and face, and said, “We’re like Noah.” She asked, “You Jewish?” I said,“Christian.” She said, “Christians are the worst at this stuff,” and asked me, “Why Christian?” I said, “Actually Presbyterian. Also have you heard about Noah? He’s totally a Rainbow Warrior.”
The story of Noah (Genesis 6) is simple: Long ago, the earth was corrupt, evil, violent. God saw this violence and was grieved, sad that humans had such propensity for evil. God said to Noah, a righteous man amongst evil men, “The earth is filled with violence because of them.” God warned Noah that because of these violent humans, all flesh with the breath of life would be blotted out by a cataclysmic deluge, a flood, to purge and destroy everything. So let’s be clear, this is a story about human-caused worldwide destruction. It’s our fault, not God’s.
Interestingly, God tells Noah he needs to build an ark for his family, along with representation from all flesh, of every living thing – birds, animals, creeping things – for a singular purpose: “to keep them alive with you.”
With absolute, apocalyptic death pending, God anoints a family to keep and save as much life as possible — to save a huge portion of the planet from destruction. How do we read this story and miss this most basic point? Noah is a Rainbow Warrior.
The ark’s only purpose is to keep and save life. To make sure we can’t read the story of Noah and the flood without seeing a wide-sweeping theme of care for creation, the story ends with a critical new covenant: God promises to “never again” destroy creation. Flip that into affirmation: God makes a covenant to save creation.
The Noah story ends with the rain stopping, the waters receding and the ark hitting dry land as a renewed creation bursts forth.
Cue the doves and the rainbow. A fresh green peace unfurls.
And in a move that many Christians today don’t seem to remember, God signs and seals an everlasting agreement with Noah: “you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature” (Genesis 9:9-10). God’s covenant to keep and save is with Noah, and the humans after Noah, and with all the animals, but also with the whole earth. The rainbow is literally “a sign of the covenant between me [God] and the earth” (Genesis 9:13).
God makes a covenant with the earth, signed with a rainbow.
This is arguably far more important than the righteous conservation efforts of Noah. Remember, covenants with God are rare and significant promises to be kept by God’s own faithfulness. God is the Original Rainbow Warrior.
The great creator and artist and originator of this universe cares deeply about the continuing work of sustaining and creating life that begets more life that begets more life.
cares to keep life,
all the complexity,
while working towards peace,
Can I get an amen?
So should Christians care if creatures of this covenant are destroyed, if their habitats are ruined, if their lives are endangered? Should Christians care if this earth is polluted and poisoned?
Should Christians be concerned with billions of microplastic fragments sinking to the deepest parts of the oceans, where they poison entire ecosystems? Should Christians care when Deep Horizon spews oil over mile after mile of the Gulf? Should Christians care that Monarch butterfly populations are collapsing, from the millions to the thousands in mere decades?
Should we? Yes. But do we care?
Do Christians care that today, scientists are becoming aware of a disease that is killing starfish from Mexico to Alaska, and is exacerbated by human-caused climate change? The sea stars develop “dermal lesions,” then their arms detach, gonads spill out and they die with shriveled up, detached limbs.
Many of these sea stars are apex predators that help control urchin populations, which are now becoming out of control. The overabundance of urchins impacts kelp forests, which negatively impacts wider biodiversity.
Pathogens like this disease are made worse because of how humans treat the planet today —with little to no regard for the consequences of our collective behaviors.
Do we care enough to change our personal habits and societal ways to stop the extinction event we’re currently living through?
We must do more than care. We must protest the violence of destruction with peaceful conservation. Ironically, when we don’t care, God’s promise to protect and care for this creation persists. So count our sins amongst the stars and against the Original Rainbow Warrior.
May we repent of the incognizant and the intentional ways we mistreat this earth.
May we repent when our faith tradition fails to be shaped by the story of Noah, and fails to see that this world was made for God and God’s delight.
May we be cultivators and conservationists —protectors of life on earth, with hearts painted red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and nonviolent: Rainbow Warriors.
May we be united by the One God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of everything.
MATT SCHMIDT is the creator of exploriosity.org, a blog about curious theology and faith formation. He is the pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Grand Haven, Michigan.