Friday, April 17, 2020

Iron Eyes Cody

Espera Oscar de Corti was an Italian-American actor known for portraying Native Americans in films in the 1940’s and 50’s. I knew him as Iron Eyes Cody. Growing up in the 1970’s he was a fixture on TV in what we know as PSA’s or Public Service Announcements. You see, public interest in the environment began in 1970, with the establishment of the first Earth Day. It is hard to imagine today, but many industrial manufacturers and public sewer plants would simply dump thousands of gallons of untreated waste and chemicals directly into nearby rivers, lakes, streams, as well as the ocean. When I was younger, I lived in Ohio. I remember news stories of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, literally catching on fire, so thick were the chemicals floating on top of the river. Littering was a real problem too. Without a second thought, people would just toss their wrappers and empty food containers on the ground. The ditches on the side of highways were filled with empty fast food bags, cups, and other assorted trash. It took years of pressure to get fast food companies, like McDonald’s and Burger King, to switch from serving food in Styrofoam containers to wrapping everything in biodegradable paper, but it was the right thing to do.

Iron Eyes Cody did a PSA in 1971 where, dressed as a Native American, he stood on the side of a highway as people drove by and threw their trash out of their car windows. When some lands at his feet, the camera then shifts to his face and we see a tear roll down his cheek. It was powerful PSA, and America responded. This new focus on our caring for our planet inspired President Richard Nixon to create the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Slowly, over time, we began to see our lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans start to improve. We can always do better, but Praise God, I do not see pollution or litter today any way near the level it was fifty years ago. When I was a boy.

This is as it should be. God created the world in the first five days. On day six, He created animals, including humans. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Then in verse 28, God gives humans a responsibility. He says to them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it” (Genesis 1:28). This means we are to have babies, start families, and take care of His beautiful creation. We are reminded of this responsibility again in Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15).

I mention this, because my heart is broken as of late. I feel a bit like Iron Eyes Cody. I understand we are in the midst of a challenging time. One most of us have never experienced before, and God willing never will again. We need to wash our hands, use hand sanitizer, practice social distancing, and many people wear gloves. All in order to keep from being infected with the coronavirus. Those are all good ideas, and we have reason to be concerned.    

Nonetheless, the concern for our own safety and health, does not release us from our divine responsibility to “govern the earth,” to care for it. We will all be held accountable for how we care for the earth. So it breaks my heart when I walk from the grocery store to my car I look at dozens of used gloves lying on the pavement. As if, okay, they did their job protecting me from infection, so the heck with protecting the earth. I’ll just toss them on the ground. Every time we do that, I believe a tear rolls down God’s cheek. 

When God finished creating the earth, the Bible says, “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” (Genesis 1:31) God took as much care creating the earth as He did creating you and me. The earth is precious. It sustains us, and we are its caretakers. Please. Dispose of your gloves and all other trash in a proper way. Honor the Lord, and the responsibility we have all been given to care for this amazing place we get to call home.
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