‘Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,
and spreads its wings towards the south?
Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
and makes its nest on high?
It lives on the rock and makes its home
in the fastness of the rocky crag.
From there it spies the prey;
its eyes see it from far away.
Its young ones suck up blood;
and where the slain are, there it is.’
The Fourth Book of the Odes of Solomon Ode 34:1-6
There is no difficult path where the heart is simple
Nor a burden in honest thoughts
Nor a storm in the depth of enlightened thought.
Where one is fortified by beauty
There is nothing at odds in them.
The image of that which is below
Is that which is above.
Indeed everything is from above,
And from below there is nothing.
However, it is supposed by those in whom there is no understanding.
Comfort has been revealed for your salvation,
Trust and live and be saved.
Fire on the Hills Robinson Jeffers
The deer were bounding like blown leaves
Under the smoke in front the roaring wave of the brush-fire;
I thought of the smaller lives that were caught.
Beauty is not always lovely; the fire was beautiful, the terror
Of the deer was beautiful; and when I returned
Down the back slopes after the fire had gone by, an eagle
Was perched on the jag of a burnt pine,
Insolent and gorged, cloaked in the folded storms of his shoulders
He had come from far off for the good hunting
With fire for his beater to drive the game; the sky was merciless
Blue, and the hills merciless black,
The sombre-feathered great bird sleepily merciless between them.
I thought, painfully, but the whole mind,
The destruction that brings an eagle from heaven is better than mercy.
April 24, 2016
According the Christian Church’s liturgical calendar, we are in the season of Easter. The Sundays following Easter until Pentecost reflect the metaphor of resurrection. Friday was also Earth Day. If Easter is a season not just a day, perhaps Earth Day may also be considered a season, not just a day. What if we weave the Easter Season and the Earth Season? Why not?
The central symbol for Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus. Christians have a variety of views on this story. Some regard it as a literal event. Others regard it as a parable or a symbol or metaphor. For some the important action is to believe in it, to believe that it is true or that it happened, Jesus rising from the dead.
For other Christians, belief is not so important. For those Christians who regard it as a symbol or a metaphor, the resurrection of Jesus is about something else altogether. It is not something in which one believes. It is something in which one participates.
Peter Rollins is a Christian theologian. He speaks provocatively to make a point. This is what he said about resurrection.
Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…
I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.
However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.
Here the importance is not placed on what a person believes or doesn’t believe about what might have happened to the person Jesus. The importance is on how one participates in the possibility that this parable, resurrection, invites.
Resurrection invites us into the possibility of a new life. It is not only an invitation, but a call, a summons, to die to an old way of living and to be re-born or resurrected, into a new way of living. This is not merely a one-time event, but an on-going spiritual struggle. We are all being called, lured, summoned, invited to live into the resurrection, a way of living that is truthful, that is honest, that is beautiful, that is just, that is compassionate, that is life-giving for ourselves and for all people and for all creatures of Earth.
I am using Christian language, but the practice, the spiritual struggle, is similar among our different faith traditions. I was asked to speak this weekend at Bilal Masjid. The theme was Tikkun Olam, the Hebrew phrase that means “repair the world.” What does that phrase mean from our different faith perspectives? I joined other speakers, one speaking from the perspective of Islam, another from the perspective of Judaism, and myself from the perspective of Christianity.
There was another set of speakers, a family of four, speaking from a faith-neutral position. They were inspiring. They said, “What if we sold and gave away our stuff and travelled around the world, not knowing where we would stay from one day to the next?” Why not? And they did it. They invited us to ask two questions: What if and Why not? Rather than you should or we ought, what if? Then, why not? What if I decided to start my own business? Why not? What if we decided to house the homeless? Why not?
As I was preparing my presentation for the Bilal Mosque as well as for our gathering here on Friday night with the Islamic Center from across the street, I thought Tikkun Olam, repair the world, was certainly fitting for Earth Day and for Christianity’s symbol, Resurrection. I also thought it fit with the concept of Jihad in Islam. Extremists within Islam and those outside of Islam who do not understand the word, Jihad, think that Jihad is about violence.
It is primarily a spiritual struggle. It is about striving, persevering, applying oneself to that which is good, in fact, to the highest good. Repairing the world, dying to an old way of being and being resurrected to a new way of being, and participating in the struggle for the good echo one another.
Tikkun Olam, Jihad, Rising with Christ, all are religion specific terms for something that is universal. That is to participate with our whole being in a life of healing and compassion and renewal of self, of society, of Earth itself.
Whether we are Muslim, Christian, Jew, Secular, the call, the summons, the invitation, is the same: to repair the world, to live with kindness, self-sacrifice, compassion, and truthfulness.
This involves a conscious, on-going change from an old way of living to a new way of living. This is the life of faith. That is the theology. The theology then can never remain abstract. It must risk. It must dare to be specific. It must enter the fray and inconsistency and confusion of life and address it, with on one hand, humility, but on the other courage.
What if we take the risk and apply our theology, our faith, to real life situations? Why not?
With the thread of resurrection, we weave another strand, Earth Day.
For this I needed to go to the poets, such as Robinson Jeffers. In his poem, “Fire on the Hills” Jeffers captures the painful reality of loss and destruction. A wild fire burns and destroys a forest, driving out animals. But it is the fire itself that brings the eagle out of heaven to gorge itself on the good hunting the fire leaves. Good or bad? How do you decide? Is nature merciful? No. Jeffers concludes the poem with the haunting line: “The destruction that brings an eagle from heaven is better than mercy.” But he thinks it “painfully.”
In the Book of Job, we hear the character God, speak from the whirlwind, chiding Job: are you so smart, Job? “Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars?” “Is it by your command that the eagle mounts up…makes its nest…spies the prey?”
No, of course not. We are thrust into nature. We are nature. We seek vainly for meaning and direction like a blind newly hatched eaglet seeks the slain prey its mother brings to it.
The Odes of Solomon are recently discovered texts, recently being one hundred years or so. They were for some early Christians, a liturgical hymnal. Beautiful poetry here. How do we live under this merciless sky, where we know far less than what we think we know? “There is no difficult path where the heart is simple,” writes the poet. “Trust and live and be saved.” Trust and live.
I wanted to include this poetry that reflects on the powerlessness of the human, because it is true, on one hand. We must trust and live, accept that we do not have the answers, painfully, admit that in the words of Jeffers: “the destruction that brings the eagle from heaven is better than mercy.” In that reality, trust and live.
The human survived in part because of its hubris. We have manipulated our environment to the extent that we sometimes think we can answer affirmatively to God’s rhetorical questions: “Yes, it is by our wisdom and command, that the eagle and the hawk fly. We even have a small sanctuary for them.”
We humans have done some incredible things. Amazing things. Merciful things. Billy Joel wrote that “we didn’t start the fire” and yet, we did find creative ways to keep it burning. Now, we have some choices to make.
Rachel Carson in her 1962 book, Silent Spring, opened our awareness to the poison we were unleashing into the world at that time. Using DDT and many other chemicals to kill insects and pests had far-reaching consequences. We were playing with fire, threatening all of life. She offered her own summons for a new path.
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by — offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.”
In 2016 we are perilously closer to the disaster than we were in 1962. In addition to pesticides and chemicals, we have a more ominous danger. The scientific consensus, there is no argument among 99% of scientists, is that the planet is warming and it is warming because of increasing levels of CO2 that have been belched into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. What scientists do not know is exactly how devastating the effects of global warming will be for us and for our grandchildren and when.
Yet it seems that every report that we hear, the effects are larger and faster than the previous report.
We are seeing now, climate disruptions of extreme heat, extreme drought, extreme cold, extreme flooding, that are caused by the warming of Earth due to human activity. My first year in Portland was 2015. We moved here at the beginning of year, January 1, 2015. In my first year, I was told by natives and had it confirmed by weather reports, that is was the driest, and the hottest, and then in December the wettest, than what anyone could remember.
Global warming doesn’t mean the climate is always warm, of course. The temperature of Earth is increasing, the planet as a whole is warming. The effects of this warming are climate disruptions that we have been experiencing and likely will continue to experience at more intense levels.
You might say, well how is this a religious problem? I think it is a spiritual problem. In fact, I think it is perhaps one of the most important, if not the most important spiritual problem. It is a human problem, because the warming is caused by humans and will effect humans, but it is a spiritual problem, because humans are not facing it.
That is why there is religion in the first place. Its role, its assignment, its summons, is to hear the call and respond. We are endangering ourselves and the very possibility of life for our children and our grandchildren. What if we used all the language, all the metaphors, all the spiritual resources at our disposal to be the prophets and say it is time to die to an old way of living and be born to a new way of living, to engage in a jihad, a struggle for the good, to engage in Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world, to participate in the resurrection? What if? Why not?
Earth is not merciful in the way we might delude ourselves into thinking it might be. It doesn’t really care about us. It won’t just take what we hurl at it and sit silently. Actions have consequences. Ultimately, humans adapt to Earth, not Earth to humans. We adapt, that is, if we are lucky.
It is difficult to get a handle on what the effects of our fossil fuel consumption will be. We hear that the glaciers are melting and that the sea level will rise so many inches by 2100, for instance. That is fairly abstract and far off in the distance. We don’t know what that means. What if we became storytellers to describe in explicit terms what this means, what our choices are, and what the results of these choices might be?
We know what it is like when it is 100 degrees. What is it like when it is 120 degrees? Those are the extreme temperatures that many places in the United States are now hitting. We are talking about places not just hot, not just inconvenient, but uninhabitable. If our spiritual prophets were anything, they were storytellers, not just telling fables, but creating word pictures to highlight our situation.
It is a spiritual problem, because it will take a spiritual repentance, renewal, and conversion, to change the path and to take the “road less traveled by” in the words of Rachel Carson.
There are forces that do not want the truth to be told. They will say that global warming is a hoax, that climate change is an invention, that it isn’t true that Earth are warming due to fossil fuel extraction and fossil fuel burning. That is why this is a spiritual problem. It is a spiritual problem because not only are we facing the problem of global warming itself that is caused by human activities, but we are facing a denial, an active campaign to silence the science. What if as spiritual people, we called out falsehood and deception? That is a spiritual task. That is the task of Tikkun Olam, that is the task of repairing the world.
David Ray Griffin has written an important book called Unprecedented. In it, he lays out the problem. He says there are three plans available to us. Plan A. Plan B. Plan C. We might call them paths. Path A, B, and C to continue with Rachel Carson’s metaphor and with the spiritual metaphor of the way, the path, the walk.
Dr. James Hansen, one of the most respected climatologists in the world said:
“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from [current levels] to at most 350 ppm.” http://350.org/about/science/
We are now at over 400 ppm and rising.
We begin with Plan B. Plan B is a radical mobilization on global scale to stop carbon emissions so that we reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. This has to be done immediately, and severely. The result? Heat waves will continue and increase but it will be at least not intolerable. That is the best course of action if we take it now.
Plan A is business as usual. Continuing on without a significant change in policy. This could lead to warming of an average 10-11 degrees F in the United States by 2090. Those are average temperatures. The extremes would be way beyond that. We have now experienced 100 degrees in Portland. What would 120 be like, or 130? These future temperatures would exceed livable temperatures. Half the world’s population would be in an inhabitable environment, meaning that five billion people would either die or move to places that are still habitable. That is Plan A.
Plan C is wait and see. This plan says wait for another 20 years and see how bad it gets, if temperature rises 3 or 4 degrees Centigrade then mobilize. The problem, of course, is that we are paying now, for levels of CO2 that have already been in the atmosphere beyond safe levels for decades. Extreme weather conditions, including heat waves will continue to become unbearable for more and more people and the carbon will continue to rise. In other words, it won’t practically be any different than Plan A, business as usual.
David Ray Griffin writes with the words of a prophet:
“…the wait and see approach…will likely condemn our children and grandchildren, beginning as early as the 2060s, to a hellish existence. They might begin to wonder, in fact, how their summers differ from the weather in the popular image of hell.”
Griffin writes and I am paraphrasing,
“what if we responded to global warming like we responded to Hitler?”
• What if we engaged in a World War 2 like mobilization on a global scale to reduce CO2 levels to 350 ppm?
• What if we as individuals didn’t wait for the government or someone else to take the lead?
• What if we educated ourselves about the problem?
• What if we took the most powerful symbol of our faith tradition, resurrection, and applied it to Earth?
• What if we decided to die to an old way of living and be born, resurrected, into a new way of being?
• What if we acted?
• What if?