Sunday, February 26, 2017

Dirty Hands Can Save You from Hell

"Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place." --Pope Francis, Laudato Si

     Wonder and awe abound in the natural world for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

     Perhaps we are caught short by a vibrant purple emanating from the petals of a wild lupine. We might stare wide-eyed at the lazy circles of a turkey vulture soaring on thermal air currents. Even the most agoraphobic city-dweller can find something beautiful about a landscape even if it's simply the warm and varied red, yellow, and orange of a sunset glowing on a building.

     "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" asserts the Psalmist. If that verse is true, why don't we live like it? Why are we flabbergasted trying to come up with the names of the many plants and animals we pass by everyday?

     All people respond to beauty in some way or another--even those who have willingly or unwillingly surrounded themselves in ugliness. Beauty is still free, accessible right outside your door. But it can disappear.

     Pope Francis recently declared that care for our common home is a corporal work of mercy--this to a list of many other things most of us can do.

     How should we care for it? First, let's drop the hubris about "saving the planet," we aren't capable of destroying it and neither can we save it. However much damage we inflict, and we can and have done much, the planet and life will go on. It might be vastly diminished from the present state, but march on nevertheless it will. "Life finds a way," so says the fictional Doctor Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park.

     Secondly, move beyond the "I recycle so I'm a good person" thinking. Yes, recycling is good, but caring for the land, and getting your hands dirty, is richer and more rewarding than breaking down cardboard and sorting through plastic.

     Start with learning the names of the plants and animals that should be all around you. Be Adam-like in knowing what the landscape bears. It will transform from an indistinguishable mass of green, wall of bird noise and flitting of insects to individual species that you can observe, get to know, and perhaps love.

     Caring for the land--and the water (and the air to a lesser degree)--should have a three-fold purpose:

  1. We should love what God loves. 
  2. We are given regency over creation.
  3. Mitigate the damage we have done and prepare for the coming King.
     At times it may be hard to love what God loves--your sister-in-law, the guy driving through your neighborhood with the booming bass at 10:49 PM, yourself--but Jesus has made everything (OK, he didn't make this keyboard, but he did create the raw materials that constitute the keyboard), he loves what he made, and we are to be like him (1 John 2:6).

     God made the rivers and water molecules, ailanthus trees and garlic mustard, squirrels, pigeons, and even mosquitoes. Who are we to say something is not worthy of love? Especially God's infinite, incomprehensible love?

     There is no getting around this as much as we might want to.

     The mandate given to Adam and Eve in the primeval paradise was to rule over the earth. Before you pull out that Lynn White essay, slow down. Whom should we emulate in and out of the polis? Jesus, right? To quote Ken Myers, "What kind of king is Jesus?" Rapacious, greedy, myopic? Hardly, he is the superlative of all the virtues.
     As C.S. Lewis showed in his Narnia series, we are God's regents, caring for creation because it is his and he has given us this great gift, and secondly, because we need the elements of creation to survive and flourish. Caring for the land and water and all the teeming ecosystems (and the exhausted ones especially) from the charismatic megafauna down to the microbes in the soil and water, means we nay not always get to make record breaking profits or extract resources as absentee landlords. Perhaps we should listen closely to the thinkers who show that ecological love doesn't necessarily mean the end of innovation and contemporary conveniences.

     Lastly, to quote the band King's X, "King is coming." Jesus will return to the earth (and according to my favorite bumper sticker: He is pissed missed.) To what kind of world do we want the king to find upon his return? A planet of diminished birdsong? Depleted oceans? Mountains turned into poisoned valleys? One where soil can't support human food? Water filled with lead, dioxins, and PCBs? Air so filled with particulate matter that people have to wear masks to breathe?

     The answer should be a shouted "No!"

     Giving of your treasure is important, and needed, but we should also give of our time and our talent. We need to get our hands "dirty." While we work to help the poor, reform criminal justice in our country, and encourage the reduction of the gross amount of sin present in the anthroposphere, we also labor to restore the earth. We do all the while knowing that we will never restore everything lost, never achieve perfect or lasting harmony, but we do it nevertheless, as a small, humble woman once remarked, "with great love."

     An easy way to start is in your backyard or your neighborhood. Learn the names of the creatures you encounter daily or weekly. Reduce the amount of turf grass in your yard with native plants. Know, protect, and love your watershed. Get the soil under your fingernails and in the whorls of your fingers. Do these things and you will find yourself not far from the Kingdom of God, for what is faith without works?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

PESD? Post-Election Stress Disorder

Image courtesy vox_efx, creative commons

As I write this, the presidential election is still undecided. Which is fine. The Republicans have campaigned for 17 months now...there ought to be a law against that!
When I wake up tomorrow morning, we will have a new President-elect, and frankly I don't care who it is because both the major party candidates nauseated me.
I voted for a small third-party that I was actually excited about, that I believe(d) in, and may try to get involved at the local level at some point. That was important to me--voting for something, rather than against.

If tomorrow morning you wake up in agony at the thought of our new president, ignore it. Better yet, put that energy into your community. Fill blessing bags for the homeless to carry in your car. Go to a parks commission meeting. Tutor a struggling student. Learn the names of the trees in your neighborhood. Know your watershed. Help a neighbor rake leaves. Learn your neighbor's names! Join a civic group. Buy some coffee for the teachers in the nearest school. Volunteer to watch children of the single parent down the street for two hours.

The point is..forget Washington, D.C., they've already forgotten you by Wednesday. Real change is going to happen in homes, churches and synagogues, schools, neighborhood groups, watershed organizations, Boy Scout troops, you name it. Slogans created by a focus group mean nothing. The time and treasure you put in to building your neighborhood are where it's at. It may not be sexy, but so what?

Challenge yourself. In what incremental way can you make your block a better place?  

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Worth Quoting

"Science and technology are not sufficient to locate their own significance."
--Allen Verhy, Nature and Altering It

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Worth Quoting

From Robert Nisbet's The Quest for Community:
We may regard totalitarianism as a process of the annihilation of individuality, but, in more fundamental terms, it is the annihilation, first, of those social relationships within which individuality develops. It is not the extermination of individuals that is ultimately desired by totalitarian rulers, for individuals in the largest number are needed by the new order. What is desired is the extermination of those social relationships which, by their autonomous existence, must always constitute a barrier to the achievement of the absolute political community.
The individual alone is powerless. Individual will and memory, apart from the reinforcement of associative tradition, are weak and ephemeral. How well totalitarian rulers know this. Even constitutional guarantees and organic laws dim to popular vision when the social and cultural identities of persons become atomized, when the reality of freedom and order in the small areas of society becomes obscure. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Taking Up a Journey into Hell

And so this is Lent and what have you done?
No Happy Easter, not yet,
the war has just begun.

Aside from some fasting/abstinence I'm reading Dante's Inferno, considered by many to be the greatest poem of the West, greater even than Homer's duo.

I'm three cantos in and loving it.
I came across this today from Canto Two (Anthony Esolen translation):

"What is it, then? Why stand here, why delay?
     Why let such cowardice come take your heart?
     Why are you not afire and bold and free,
Seeing that three such ladies blessed in Heaven
      care for your healing from their court above,
      and what I tell you holds forth so much good?"

The character Dante is hesitating before he begins his journey out of the dark wood with the Pagan poet Virgil. Virgil is urging him on, testifying that the Virgin, Beatrice (a woman that the real Dante fell in love with when very young) and St. Lucy are praying for Dante.

The lesson in this (for me anyway) is that great cloud of witnesses who pray for our success to find our end in God. There is no reason to fear life's absurdities--even if there is plenty to be afraid of.

Here my Lenten journey begins with an exhortation to take heart and be courageous. May you find the same message.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The 11th Hour

If you haven't celebrated Christmas by now, you're not likely to start. Conversely, you don't have to quite let it go yet.

Fight the ahistoricity! It's a feast of twelve days and depending on how you count, this is eleven or Epiphany Eve.

In the Christian East, tonight is the vigil of Theophany.

Theophany/Epiphany are two different sides of the same coin.

East vs. West

The West honors the Magi--who represent all of us goyim--and the miracle at the wedding at Cana (water for wine, anyone?)

The East honors Jesus' baptism, and in more minor ways his circumcision and the Magi, too.

It's all about a manifestation, a revealing, a shining forth. The Trinity is revealed (at the baptism), salvation is revealed to all the world (the Magi), the start of Jesus' public ministry (Cana).

Just as the Incarnation honors all bodies, as the Son suddenly was born with one, so Theophany honors all the Earth's waters.

Paralleling the Jewish Festival of Lights, this perfectly winds down the season of light we call Christmas.

Follow the Theotokos' example and ponder all this in your heart.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Holy Ten Lords-A-Leaping, Batman!

I have yet to complete my multi-year meditations on the twelve days of Christmas (I didn't write any last year--one of the worst years of my life) but here I am with number TEN!

Courtesy Creative Commons

The Christmas decorations may be put away now--at work they are definitely down. There is only the leftover and marked down Christmas branded merchandise at stores.
Corpses of Christmas trees are laid at curbs like rejected sacrifices.

And yet...Christmas isn't done with you yet.

If you'll allow it, you can savor it for two more nights. Forget the artificial deadlines of the culture. Christmas is stronger and more joyous than the Wal-Marts of the world--though at times, admit it, you've thought Christmas has been swallowed by economics.

Think of teachers, especially the good ones, and ask St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to pray for them.

Think of the ranks of your friends and then ruminate on the 70 Apostles--the next concentric ring outside the non-anonymous 12.

Think of St. Phillip tutoring the Ethiopian Eunuch of Queen Candace about how Christ is found in the book of the prophet Isaiah and then Phillip vanished when the lesson was completed (Acts 8).

Think of Apollinaria of Egypt who so desperately wanted to serve God in contemplation that she disguised herself as a man.

Christmas saints? No weirder than the God beyond existence i.e. He who doesn't exist, dressing up in human flesh.

Make Christmas weird!