Friday, May 2, 2014

Inalienable Resonsibilities

"A Wilderness Paradise"
-Outside the Desert Retreat House-

The first time I ever encountered the word "inalienable" was when I was a boy in school studying the U.S. Declaration of Independence - every human being endowed with the "inalienable" rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  That word "inalienable" isn't used a lot but it sure is a powerful word.  Something "inalienable" is immutable and permanent - it cannot be taken away nor can it be given away.

Several decades ago the people of the world, speaking through the voice of the United Nations, issued a "Declaration of Human Rights," similarly proclaiming that every human being was "endowed" with  basic universal, inherent, inalienable rights: life, liberty, security, the right to be treated with equal dignity, no one better than anyone else under the law. 

This morning, I've been thinking about those universal and inalienable human rights. It seems to me that human beings are also endowed with "inalienable responsibilities."

Born into the human condition, it is our duty and our joint responsibility to care for our world and to take care of one another. This responsibility cannot be taken away nor can it be given away - it's inalienable. 

One of my favorite biblical stories is found at the beginning of the Hebrew Bible, in the Book of Genesis. While some people take this story to be a "literal" and sometimes even "scientific" account of how God created the world in seven days, I see the story as a wonderful, powerful, poetic "myth." Far beyond recounting how the world began, the Genesis creation story is a window into the human condition.

"In the beginning," the world is created as a perfect harmony (The Hebrew word for this harmony is "shalom").  It's a "Garden of Paradise:" rocks and hills, rivers, oceans and sky, all living things that walk or crawl upon the earth- all dynamically interrelated and interdependent.

After creating humankind (Adam and Eve), "God" instructs human beings that they now have the duty and the responsibility to "take good care" of all that has been created.  Human beings are endowed with the inalienable responsibilities of living in harmony with the natural world, to facilitate "shalom," to guard against polluting or rupturing the creation, and to take good care of one another along the path of life.

I like this Genesis "myth" so much because it shows me that,  from ancient times our ancestors understood something about our inalienable responsibilities as human beings - the duty universally endowed upon all of us,  inherent in our human condition.

Care for the world. Take care of one another. 

There is a beautiful trail running just outside my house leading into the desert wilderness. I walk along the trail almost every day, always  surprised by the wonder of creation that I encounter along the way - majestic mountains, clear-blue skies, soaring birds and flowering bushes - just like that Garden  of Paradise, shalom, harmony, beauty.

Yesterday as I walked the wilderness trail, I was aghast to see that someone had carelessly polluted it with a bag of trash - the remnants of a lunchtime meal scattered all about. Paper cups, cans and bottles, uneaten food tossed everywhere. As I looked at that trash on the trail, I actually felt as if somehow I myself had been violated and polluted.   In  fact I had been. Everything and everyone belongs to one another and the many are part of the ONE. What we destroy or pollute in any part, we do to the whole.

Yesterday as I cleaned up the mess, I also realized that, while some trash on the trail may have been a little thing, it was also an icon for me.  Someone had failed to do their duty as a human being,  dishonoring and shirking the inherent responsibility placed upon us all to care for the world and take care of one another.

We are endowed with universal and inalienable human rights and we are also endowed with universal and inalienable human responsibilities.

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