Friday, November 16 , 2018, 12:46 pm | Fair 67º


Catholic Church of the Beatitudes: House Rules for Planet Earth

Ecological awareness is in the wind these days, but most of us don’t associate the word “ecology” with its original root having to do with “hearth and home.” Rather, we think of ecology as pertaining to the world of nature — what goes on outdoors. Yet any worthwhile definition of the term will point to its Greek roots: oikos (οἶκος) = “house/ home”; and logia (-λογία) = “study of/ words about.” So ecological stewardship (like most good things) begins at home, where people first learn to get along with one another.

A few decades ago, in 1974-75, when our children were very small and we were living in Cleveland, my wife and I got involved with a social service program called Birthright. It provided room and board in safe private homes for young women who found themselves pregnant and wanting to carry their babies to term.

Over the course of a couple of years, we had a total of five young Birthright clients living with us, helping out with child care in return for a safe place to live. They had all been disinvited from their own homes when their “disgrace” was discovered. In the end, some of those young women chose to keep their babies, but most opted to give them up for adoption. Maybe seeing firsthand how much work child-raising was led them to choose the adoption route.

As a result of weeks and months we spent as an extended family, under the same roof, there evolved in our household (our oikos) a need for some practical rules to help us all get along. Here are some sample house rules that we eventually provided to our Birthright clients: (1) Pitch in with household chores; wash the dinner dishes! (2) Try to help out with the children, especially in the late afternoon before supper; and expect to babysit several evenings a week. (3) No smoking anywhere in the house, and no drinking while you are pregnant. And so forth ...

Why couldn’t what worked for one small oiko-system (household-system) — simple house rules — be upscaled for our greater oiko-system, planet Earth? We already know what the compilers of the Hebrew Bible considered to be their essential rules for survival in tribal times: the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. But we live in a much larger world with much broader issues than those addressed in Exodus 34:28 or Deuteronomy 10:4.

What would 10 new “House Rules for Planet Earth” look like? I began thinking about this when the year 2000 arrived. What follows is a summary of those thoughts, adjusted a bit to fit a 2015 world-view.


Here we are on lifeboat Earth, spiraling along with our life-giving star, the sun, through a lifeless void in a distant wing of the Milky Way galaxy. We are still drinking the same water that our cave-painting ancestors drank 25,000 years ago, still breathing and rebreathing the same air.

For the most part, we walk the same dry lands and bask in the same sunshine. We now are aware that we humans are all related genetically, having basically the same numbers and types of chromosomes and DNA. We are no longer isolated tribes. We are more like an extended family. And we probably need some practical rules to help us get along. Here are my suggestions:

Ten House Rules for Planet Earth

» 1. Remember that we’re all one big family — brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or cousins. So let’s start behaving that way! Let’s try harder to love one another, help one another and work our way through those nasty rivalries that have led to violence and wars in the past.

» 2. No violence, please, as we’re family now. It’s not polite! If you have a gripe against someone, find an older brother or sister to discuss it with, and let the older folks help, too. Together, we can work it out.

» 3. No guns in the house. No guns in anybody’s house! The kids might get seriously hurt or killed.

» 4. Clean up after yourself; don’t leave a mess for others to deal with. It’s a fragile ecosystem and a precious planet. We just can’t leave our garbage around indefinitely for other brothers, sisters, and cousins to clean up! (Some folks call this rule “environmental stewardship.” I call it common sense.)

» 5. Be gentle with the old folks. We’re all going to get old, if something doesn’t snatch us away sooner. When it’s our turn, we will want to be treated gently, too.

» 6. Make way for the next generation. Be sure there’s peace, love, support, good living conditions and some useful work for them to do when they come along. And by the way, please don’t forget to have children, and to nurture them well!

» 7. Naked you came into this world, and that is how you will leave it. So treat whatever you acquire in your life’s journey as borrowed property — or things you will inevitably outgrow. Let those with two give one to those with none. There truly is enough to go around if we all share.

» 8. Be charitable. Think of yourself as your brother’s and sister’s keeper! When they fall on hard times, they will need help. Give to them of your time, treasure and talent with an open heart and two open hands.

» 9. Be kind to the planet’s creatures, great and small. We are a big family now, with lots of cousins: dolphins, condors, whales, gorillas, robins, geese, and even butterflies and hummingbirds. Let’s keep them all swimming, soaring, swinging, singing, honking, fluttering and humming for posterity! They are beautiful blessings.

» 10. Finally, don’t forget to celebrate! Get out and meet one another in person (not just on a computer screen). Share a meal or a drink. And let’s celebrate our Creator, too. Why not set aside some time for a foretaste of the joy we will encounter when we pass from this life to the next? (Faith communities can be helpful here.) It may come as a surprise, but the kingdom of God is already within us; we just have to experience it.

Thomas Heck is a member of and music minister for the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which celebrates Mass at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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