Monday, October 4, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Have you ever had an experience in a wilderness area or a forest or at the beach that changed your life? Lots of people have had them. Why does unspoiled Nature have such an attraction to us? In my case, I feel rejuvenated and relaxed after I run along Rock Creek in D.C. It’s not just “runners high,” mind you, because I don’t have the same experience as I run around a track. No, there’s something unique that happens in a park or unspoiled wilderness area.
E.O. Wilson takes up this question in chapter 7 of his book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006). My wife and I hosted a discussion group in our place this Sunday on his chapter, “Wild Nature and Human Nature.” A lot of us have had powerful spiritual experiences in wilderness areas, but we are at loss for words when we explain them to others.
This is the topic that Wilson addresses in chapter 7. In order to win us over to the project of saving creation, Wilson has to show us how important Nature is to our nature, development, and well-being. He wants us to understand how we neglect Nature at our own peril. Many people in the modern, industrial West are under the illusion that the man-made world (cities, cars, technology, etc.) they inhabit is the sum total of what’s important to their lives and well-being. In contrast to this complete dependence on technology, Wilson argues that we are actually just as dependent on Nature for the things that matter in life—including health, mental well-being, a sense of place, and deep spirituality.
Wilson also holds that our spiritual lives and aspirations are rooted in Nature. In one particularly powerful quote, he argues, “The spiritual roots of Homo Sapiens extend deep into the natural world through still mostly hidden channels of mental development. We will not reach our full potential without understanding the origin and hence meaning of the aesthetic and religious qualities that makes us ineffably human (p. 12).”
There’s a lot to reflect on in Wilson’s chapter. In the Christian tradition, many theologians and scientists of faith have argued that God communicates to humanity through two means: “The Book of Nature” and “The Book of Scripture.” Science can tell us about God’s work that is found in “The Book of Nature.” I find this way of thinking about God’s communication to us valuable and insightful, especially when I am reading Wilson’s illuminating theory of humanity’s relationship to Nature.
Through writings such as Wilson’s, we get a glimpse of a time when people of faith and people of science will be able to sit down at the same table and talk about what unites them (an awe of Creation, for example) rather than what divides them.
Think about how revolutionary that kind of reconciliation could be!
Monday, March 15, 2010
Last night my wife and I hosted a lively book discussion on the first two chapters of E.O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006). Our book discussion group just started, and we are working our way through four interesting authors each of whom has a different perspective on the relationship between humans and nature. Three of the authors specifically are writing about the looming ecological crisis. I chose these books because they help us to grapple with the relationship between science and spirituality.
We are starting our discussion by examining the unique project of E.O. Wilson, a Harvard biologist, who is urging the science community and the faith community to work together to save the earth’s biodiversity. He writes his “appeal” to a hypothetical fundamentalist pastor who is not aware or concerned with the slow poisoning of the planet. Wilson argues that human activity is directly and indirectly wiping out species through spoiling wilderness areas, encouraging unsustainable agricultural practices, and climate change.
There were a number of reasons why the group thought that Wilson’s project was groundbreaking and exciting. First, he is attempting to build some bridges between communities that have sometimes been at odds (not for everyone, of course). Most of us thought that Wilson’s project was long overdue. We sense a hunger to integrate science and spirituality. Second, he’s made a pretty compelling argument that time is of the essence in both sides working out their differences. Earth’s biodiversity hangs in the balance. During the discussion we thought about some individual and corporate ways we can do our part. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) was mentioned as one way to support positive change.
Wilson’s project is one part of some larger movements within the faith community and the science community to better understand and connect with each other. Through his initiative, groups of religious leaders and scientists are being challenged to rethink their relationships with each other. We live in a unique time, when the two communities are forced to grapple with the others’ perspective on truth and life. We no longer have the luxury of researching nature, or praying, in isolation. And that’s a good development.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Just spotted an interesting article on a study released by Pew on the religion of 20something adults: Young Adults Doing Religion on Their Own? Blame It on Politics -- Politics Daily
Appears that many 20 somethings are protesting the religious right by cutting their institutional ties to religious communities. When I read the article I had two thoughts. First, this should be a wake-up call to members of the religious right. In my experience, many members of the religious right do not understand how they come across to the American mainstream of society as they pursue their goals with a fiery rhetoric. It's a free country to engage in political activism, but at what cost are these successes coming? It looks like a whole generation is being alienated from faith communities as a result of this activism.
Second, I am wondering why 20 somethings are cutting their ties to all religious communities, when many of these communities do not support the religious right. There has to be more research on this topic. There are a few big questions that remain to be answered.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
The Kingdom of God is one of those phrases that pops up in the teaching of Jesus over and over again yet it is hard to define it exactly. In Matthew 5:3, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is always inviting his listeners to recognize and live in this reality he calls “the Kingdom of God.” But what is it? At the missional church gathering called Ecclesia that I attended recently, Dallas Willard gave his take on living out this important part of Jesus’ teaching.
Willard is a philosophy professor at USC who has written several key books on how the spiritual practices can bring your faith alive. According to Willard, the Kingdom of God is about embracing a certain perspective on the world and living in partnership with God. As you follow each of the challenging teachings of Jesus, you are forced to rely on God. You can’t do them alone. For example, to love your neighbor as yourself is impossible to truly practice on one’s own. But rather than throwing up our hands in frustration and walking away (or giving lip service to it but never doing it), we can partner with God to give it a try.
And as we partner with God to live out this teaching of Jesus we find that God provides the strength to take small steps in loving our neighbor as ourselves. This God-ability to love and care for others means we are living in the Kingdom. As we find that God is with us as our partner, we truly begin to understand and live in the Kingdom of God.
What I appreciated most about Willard’s message was his description of the experiential dimension to faith. Faith is never something that exists only in the head, but it comes about—it is known—as we take those first steps with God’s help. And as we take those steps, we experience the Kingdom at a deeper level.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Panic People, Two Feet of Snow is GOING TO CRUSH YOU!!!
At least that's what they wanted to hear.
You can see from this video who's the photogenic one in the family.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
When the earthquake in Haiti hit, we all had a lot of why, where, and what questions: “Why did God allow this?,” “Why Haiti of all countries—it’s so poor already?,” “Where was/is God?,” and “What can I do?” This last question is one of the most significant on many levels. We should think long and hard about that question.
We can think about our response to victims of disaster in terms of either helping people temporarily or helping people over the long term to thrive (so that such a disaster can never happen again). The former position is a kind of charity, and the latter gets close to what I would call justice. And each of us has to ask what kind of response God expects of us.
When one of my friends from South Africa was asked recently to contribute a donation in church to earthquake relief, and he raised the point with his American friends in church leadership that charity alone was not an adequate response. He explained to them that he rejected both blaming God and only giving charity. He thought there were deeper questions to ask and a deeper response to pursue. To those who blamed God, he replied that blaming God “takes the human agency out of the human experience.” In other words, when we blame God we deflect our personal responsibility to address the disaster.
But he also argued that temporary charity was not enough either. He wrote: “We have more control over matters here on earth than we think. Jesus too, gave bread, wine and healings ... [but] usually attached with strong messages about communion and community in word and deed. I did give what I could in cash to my Church yesterday (Lord's Day) for Haiti relief. But how many disasters will it take for us to offer all humans the same earthquake-proof cities that we enjoy?” I like the way he says that Jesus gave bread and wine along with “strong messages about communion and community.” We frequently forgot those strong messages, don’t we? Or, we aren’t sure how to live out those messages.
My last blog post linked to a New York Times op-ed by Michael Danner, a writer on Haitian history who lists the innumerable ways that human choices, priorities, and actions (in Haiti, France, and the US) over the last 200 years rendered Haiti uniquely vulnerable to the earthquake. Danner’s analysis powerfully captures how human corruption and indifference can have deadly consequences. And why we should pray and act for a just world as followers of Christ.
To have faith in Christ should mean more than giving temporary charity. To have faith means to fully recognize all the sources of brokenness (personal, spiritual, economic, etc.) in our world, and then pray and act for the healing of that brokenness. Because of our talents, gifts, and experiences, each of us has a unique perspective on the brokenness in our world. And because of our unique resources, each can help with the healing.
Jesus invites us to experience both a new relationship with God and a new relationship with others. And that includes addressing the systemic reasons that earthquakes bring such deadly results in a country like Haiti. As my friend put it, Christ gave food to the hungry and “strong messages about communion and community” to his disciples. It’s up to his disciples to put those ideals of “communion and community” into practice. Sound like a tall order? It is. That’s why we need faith.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
Saturday, January 30, 2010
If we are to truly come to terms with nature of the Haitian “natural disaster” we have to understand what role humans played in creating it. The earthquake toll was in part caused by long festering man-made problems—political corruption inside the country, long-term neglect from neighboring countries. The Haitian earthquake was one part natural disaster and several parts human disaster. Mark Danner makes the following point in a recent New York Times Op-Ed piece:
Haiti is everybody’s cherished tragedy…And yet there is nothing mystical in Haiti’s pain, no inescapable curse that haunts the land. From independence and before, Haiti’s harms have been caused by men, not demons. Act of nature that it was, the earthquake last week was able to kill so many because of the corruption and weakness of the Haitian state, a state built for predation and plunder. Recovery can come only with vital, even heroic, outside help; but such help, no matter how inspiring the generosity it embodies, will do little to restore Haiti unless it addresses, as countless prior interventions built on transports of sympathy have not, the man-made causes that lie beneath the Haitian malady.
Danner goes on to list all the man-made contributors to Haiti’s misery, including how the US forced the new republic of Haiti between 1804 and 1860 to pay reparations to France for all its lost slaves. Now there's something I never knew before!?!?!
It’s important to understand these man-made contributors to disasters when we react to them. When we see the role of people’s choices in creating the disaster we can make different choices in responding to it.
(to be con't)
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
The Dallas News reported yesterday that “two doctors, a nurse and a load of medical supplies flew out of Addison Airport on Monday in one of the first Haitian relief trips arranged by a network of Texas Baptist organizations.” This is just one of many examples of faith groups sending medical teams to Haiti. This outpouring of generosity represents a significant commitment of people to live out, not just talk about, their faith.
As I argued in my last post, the significance of God entering the world in the form of Jesus challenges our first questions about disaster. Instead of first asking “Why did God allow this?,” people of faith should be asking “Where is God in the disaster?” (Although everyone wrestles with God in a different way). The life of Jesus shows us that God wants to embrace us in love and in our painful circumstances. He sifts through the shards of a broken world to find us. Rescuing people is what the life of Christ is all about. Christ suffered horribly and unjustly, and he is with us when we suffer like that too. But the message of Jesus is not just about God being with us in suffering, his message is also us being sent out as his disciples to heal the world holistically (spiritually and physically). Jesus was always healing and helping people, and sending out his disciples to do the same. More and more followers of Christ are taking this aspect of his message seriously.
God invites us to join with him in saving and redeeming a broken world. And many are doing just that, joining with God to help those who suffer. And sometimes even the Dallas News takes note.
(to be con’t)
Monday, January 25, 2010
When asked by reporters to respond to the earthquake, the Archbishop of York John Sentamu said he had “nothing to say to make sense of this horror.” It’s good advice on one level—why spend time debating the role of God when we could be helping the survivors—but many of us cannot help but immediately jump to the Why? question: “why would God allow such suffering, especially of an already ravaged nation?” Even atheists can’t help but jump into the debate. The discussion is of pressing interest to both believers and skeptics, even though they come to radically different conclusions.
Pat Robertson brought up the Why? question up in the most awkward way possible. The televangelist made some truly callous remarks on his network when he suggested that God was punishing Haiti for some supposed “deal with the devil” to win freedom from slavery 200 years ago. You would think from Robertson’s odd remark that God was against justice and for slavery.
But I wasn’t satisfied with how the Why? question was framed and answered by the media either. The BBC online magazine featured philosopher David Bain who put it this way: why would a good God allow natural disasters? Bain then listed the different philosophical responses to disasters and suffering that believers and skeptics have given over the years. But having faith is not the same as holding a philosophical position so I always feel dissatisfied by these kinds of discussions. They just don’t capture what it means to have faith, or to lose it for that matter. Perhaps that’s what Archbishop Sentamu is getting at in his remarks.
Perhaps we need to distinguish between how people wrestle philosophically with disaster as opposed to wrestling with disaster through their faith. As a Christian, I ask “Where is God in the disaster?,” not “Why did God allow it?” Because of the Fall, humanity and nature are in rebellion against God’s good intentions making disasters and death our constant companions. As I understand the Christian faith, the Fall explains why there is so much suffering in the world. Others of course, take a different position. Some hold that the world is the way it should be and if you are suffering you must be under some kind of divine punishment. Still others expect that if God is the great watchmaker who created a perfect world, there should be no suffering. But from my perspective, a belief in the Fall means severe problems already exist in the world but such problems are not created by God. Suffering is my starting point, but it is not my ending point. God did not originally create a world of disaster, but actually is moving through us and history to heal us from disaster. That’s why I find Pat Robertson’s remarks so disturbing, they imply that God actually crushes the world and people.
No, God is in the rescue business. He is in the middle of our suffering. And when we help others who are suffering we are doing his will.
(To be con’t)
Friday, January 22, 2010
The Haitian government is now saying that the confirmed death toll in their country has reached 70,000. No doubt it will keep rising.
If we are honest with ourselves, suffering on this scale forces us to reexamine our most basic assumptions about life no matter what position we take on God. In the email exchanges that people send to me I can tell that we are all shocked and jolted by the suffering we see in Haiti, even if we only experience the pain as distant observers. Just like the Haitians themselves, some of us turn to God for spiritual power to make sense of the disaster while others of us turn away from God in doubt. Most of us go back and forth between the two positions.
The Bible is full of people who wrestle with God. Even Jesus cries out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
There’s nothing wrong in crying out to God when disaster hits. And it’s understandable that our faith gets shaken in disasters. When we choose to wrestle with God we join a long list of average, ordinary people in the Bible who did the very same thing. In fact, I would have questions about people of faith who don’t have their faith shaken by such suffering. If Jesus cries out to his Father, how can we not do the same?
To have faith doesn’t mean we quit asking questions or we cease to having doubts. Rather, to have faith means we have hope, hope that God is right beside us even when we can’t see him, even in the midst of disaster.
(To be con’t)