Posterity awareness. An awareness that what I do, what we do, what humanity does affects not merely me, us, and humanity, but future generations as well.
This is actually a rather Biblical perspective. Hebrew Scripture particularly is full of references to posterity awareness, though to be honest usually in a rather nagging, negative way. “The sins of the father” if you will.
In Exodus 34 we are reminded that while God is merciful and gracious … there are limits and, quoting, “…that will by no means clear the guilty: visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.” In other words, “Watch it. What you have done will affect not only you, but the future.”
In Amos chapter 4 we are reminded that they who, “oppress the poor, that crush the needy … the Lord God hath sworn … that ye shall be taken away with hooks, and your posterity with fish-hooks.” Ouch!
A sentiment attributed to the Iroquois Confederation puts it rather more positively – that in every action we take, we should consider its effect seven generations ahead. Posterity awareness.
But that’s not really where we are at the moment, today, in the 21st century. There are exceptions, but our culture essentially divides us into one of two camps. There are those who think entirely or almost entirely of themselves. “How will this affect me?” This is personified in the movie Wall Street, where Gordon Gekko informs us that “Greed is good. Greed works.” But there is a second camp that believes in “Love thy neighbor. Help thy neighbor.” Mostly, we consider this second camp the good guys.
I would suggest that however laudable and indeed important “Love thy neighbor” is, and we’ve spoken about its importance here, it leaves out another important and indeed crucial element that as spiritual people should engage us. … Love thy neighbor? Good! But what about thy neighbor’s children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren? Being awake to this question, on a daily basis, is what for me makes up posterity awareness.
Posterity awareness does not in any way suggest that we ignore our own lives. Nor am I suggesting that we ignore the lives of those around us who may be suffering. Those lives must not be ignored. So I am not suggesting “posterity fixation,” but rather suggesting and urging posterity awareness – being aware not only of what effect an action I take will have on me and my neighbors, but how might it affect posterity.
Posterity awareness has some strong American roots. The founders of this country, imperfect as they were … as we all are … got it right. I believe they got it hugely right and codified it in, of all places, our Constitution. Say what?!! Glad you asked.
Not unlike Scripture, a lot of people revere the Constitution, indeed even point to the Constitution as a rationale for their actions, without necessarily reading it.
I’m prone to quoting Article Six, Section Three. I willingly confess that as a minister and Interfaither, it is the most relevant to me. Article Six, Section Three, “… No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” It’s worth repeating, “… No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Just this year, a candidate for the U.S. Senate declared that no Muslim, because they are Muslim, no Muslim should be allowed to serve in the Congress. So much for upholding the Constitution.
But today, what I would like us to look at is the Preamble to the Constitution. Really?? Really! I’ll share it with you. It’s one LONG sentence, the second half of which is what will prove to be so crucial to us this morning. And yes, the accentuations are mine.
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility,” and here we go, “provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”
“Common defense.” – not simply the defense of the entitled. “Promote the general welfare.” – not simply the welfare of those of a particular ethnicity or income. And the “blessings of liberty” which are not only for ourselves but our posterity.
Interestingly, while the Constitution can be amended, the preamble cannot. The reason for the Constitution is the common defense and the general welfare. Just parenthetically, you may have noticed that a lot of people seem to have fixated on their own welfare and forgotten about the general welfare. But what I’d like for us not only to think about but to take home this morning is the notion of holding at the same moment, as we move through our lives, both “ourselves and our posterity.”
This is not a call to martyrdom. This is not a call to sacrifice our lives for the sake of our grandchildren. There are times when indeed sacrifice may be called for. But what we are talking about this morning is holding “ourselves and our posterity” both in our hearts and our minds when we act. Day to day, week to week, let us make the spiritual commitment to hold ourselves and our posterity in our hearts and our minds. Ok. How?
One example. It was brought home to me when I had dinner out with friends a few weeks ago. I couldn’t finish my large meal, so I asked for a container to take the remainder home. When I was given a styrofoam container I was moved to consider posterity. Styrofoam is not ecologically friendly. While some of it is indeed recyclable, and should be recycled, most of it ends up in landfills. And it stays there a very long time. I wanted to take the food home, for myself, but not in styrofoam. Posterity awareness.
I knew a few local restaurants, like the Sisters in Everett who used compostable containers for their take-out. So I wondered, is there a compostable container that is available to the public? Is there some kind of eco-friendly container I might bring with me the next time I go out to dinner?
When I got home I went online and it turns out that there is! It’s made of compostable wheatgrass. So I ordered some. They are made by “Earth’s Natural Alternative.” I’ve brought enough with me this morning for ten of us to take home five containers each. My suggestion: take a few with you when you go out for dinner – or if you get “take-out” from a fast food place that uses styrofoam, try them out. If you find them as useful as I do, order some. They cost about $0.30 each. For that thirty cents you can get take home or get take out in a container that can be composted instead of contributing yet more packaging to our dumps. Holding in mind ourselves and our posterity, we can still have the convenience of take out, or leftovers from a restaurant, while keeping the future in mind. Yes, it’s simple. That’s the point.
Ourselves and our posterity. The two are not incompatible. That’s really what we want to keep in our hearts and minds. It’s not, not that we should make our own lives miserable in the name of posterity. But rather – what as spiritual beings, as caring humans can we do to keep posterity in mind as we enjoy life?
“For ourselves and our posterity.” As we enjoy our lives, and we should, we also want posterity to be able enjoy theirs. It is these twin concerns that I believe needs to inform what we do. And while it is as old as the Constitution, indeed as old as Hebrew Scripture, I believe the time has come to renew that commitment.
At a time when it is hard for our leaders to think seven minutes ahead, let alone seven years, let alone as the Iroquois Confederation might ask, seven generations, it is time for us to act with intention to keep posterity in our hearts and in our minds.
Let’s be clear, posterity awareness can be complex, and we cannot possibly even begin to examine all of its implications this morning. As but one important example, how we treat a people today can come back to haunt generations to come. We are living with the reality of that right now, and yet so many seem to have learned so little from it. So my purpose today is not the impossible task of exploring every avenue of posterity awareness that we would do well to keep in mind, but rather to get us to think about it and, as we can, to integrate it into how we live. So this morning, just one, bite-sized aspect.
We are, as I’m sure everyone in this room knows, trashing our earth as humans have never trashed it before. Our dumpsites are overflowing. We have turned our oceans and even our air into dumpsites. We are creating and leaving behind for posterity an uninhabitable earth. What to do?
I would suggest that a major building block is remembering to call and write our representatives asking, perhaps even demanding that they think of posterity as well as today before they build, as but one example, yet another oil pipeline. Another major building block is calling and writing our mega corporations, asking, perhaps even demanding that they think of posterity as they seek bonuses for their CEO’s and dividends for their shareholders. But a third building block is seeking out actions we can do ourselves in service to posterity as we enjoy life.
That is the spirit with which we are sharing compostable food containers this morning. It’s a small something, a simple something, as is using bamboo instead of wood pulp for toilet paper. Believe me, I know that. But if we will do it, and talk about it, share it perhaps on Facebook, maybe we can get others to join with us. And if we empower others through our example to act for themselves and for posterity, little acts can take on a life, indeed an important life of their own.
There is a saying from our Christian brothers and sisters: “Act as if you have faith, and faith will be given you.”
What I’d suggest this morning is we become more posterity aware. If we will act as if we believe in the future of posterity, posterity will indeed have a full and good future.
Yes, we need major action from our leaders – from governments and corporations.
But individually, we don’t need grand acts, we need little acts. Little acts, every day for ourselves and our posterity. We can do that. We can. I pray that we will.