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Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Smoke from the Cougar Creek Fire drifts eastward, coloring a river of wind paralleling the Columbia Gorge. It meanders like the supernatural cloud that spread out fingers of death to claim the lives of Egypt's first born in that old movie about Moses. High atop the gently eroding  Washington edge of the gorge, single minded wind turbines work to steal the winds kinetic energy. They turn, turn, turn it into electricity, and send it to the air conditioners of those who choose to live in deserts, or to those who merely ride the surface of an ever warming globe.

Here the temperature is in triple digits. Windmills shimmer and wriggle behind layers of dancing atmosphere. A truck hurtles along the highway, charging through mirage after mirage but never getting wet.

Expansive vistas are typically marked with evidence of humans taking treasure from the Earth.

Standing on the shoulder of Mt. Hood, watching its shadow stretch out towards The Dalles and beyond, I could see the edge of the gorge bristling with windmills...and the Columbia River frustrated.

For someone who wasn't prepared to spend a cold night on the mountain, long shadows racing toward the East should have been an obvious cue to begin the long hike home, but I couldn't stop watching. I lingered.

The beauty in these moments, when nature makes tangible the mechanics of a precious world spinning through space ... makes me susceptible to the presence of the invisible creator. I imagine him taking a stroll through the garden, like it says he did in the old days, and I wonder what expression he wears on his face when he catches sight of the windmills and dams. I wonder if he feigns shock, like he did when he caught Adam and Eve running around with fig-leaf underpants, or does he, as an inventor of sorts, grin with fatherly pride at the antics of his little engineers - made in his own image. 

There's a story in Genesis about creation, and how god told the man and woman he created to, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it;..."

So what are the chances conservatives with a literalist bent might not get the nuances of this story exactly right?

Senator Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, illustrates the confusion between weather and climate

Elsewhere in this blog, I've alluded to a personal hope that careful, perhaps artistic observation of nature will reveal some subtle fingerprint of God. Implicit in that hope is that nature is God's creation, his testament. As it turns out, nature has much to tell us, and (because it doesn't rely so much on King James' English) its story tends to be more testable and trustworthy. As careful observers take their notes and run their experiments, it is becoming possible to suppose that our epoch, the Holocene epoch, may distinguish itself as our planet's 6th major extinction event. Some conservative Christians are aggressively skeptical of this science and renew their efforts at imposing abstinence-only-sex-education. Meanwhile, other Christians look slightly embarrassed and wonder whether or not 'subdue' was the translator's best choice.

I know some Quakers who wonder if there shouldn't be more emphasis on words like 'fruitful', and not just in a capitalistic kind of way. I think they mean something like stewardship - the careful, responsible, maybe even sustainable management of something entrusted to one's care. Stewardship is hard to reconcile with what I perceive to be the ambitions of the Christian right who seem to think they can cut down all the trees and burn all the oil they want because, 'rapture'. This just goes to show that Quakers, with their frugal lifestyles and their loser attitudes about making money, probably aren't really Christians.

Representative Shimkus, serving on the U.S. House subcommittee on Energy and Environment, shuts down environmentalists because God.

Given traditional Christian tendencies toward internecine bickering, and recent posturing as a persecuted minority in a country that supposedly identifies as 71% Christian, I'm not so sure that 'Christians'  trying to save the world is the best strategy.

Pastor Matt Hagee explains that it isn't really climate change, it's Jesus.

Missionaries conflating 'saving the world' with 'saving the world'.

When I was in the 6th grade, or close to it, I attended a youth crusade led by David Wilkerson. His ministry to switchblade wielding street gangs in New York gave him a certain amount of street credibility (in the opinion of white youth like myself who had never been in gangs or even really been in a fight). Somehow, that night, he managed to convince me of what a terrible sinner I was. Carried away in the emotional turmoil of the moment, I ventured down to the stage after he delivered his alter call. From that night I gained my primary evangelical credential, a date on which I dedicated my life to Jesus with all the accountability that an 11 year old can muster, a date on which, David Wilkerson assured me, I was saved.

What followed was routine exposure to even more youth crusades. At one such event, I can remember acquiring a youth crusade T-shirt, an outward sign of my commitment, that I would wear back to school and which my classmates would see. The message, emblazoned on a graphical orange and mango explosion was, 'Jesus is coming!'

This might sound familiar, but back then, everybody was still making a big deal about how Israel was a state, how Russia was acting up, how earthquakes, famines and floods were increasing, and additionally speculating about the identity of the antichrist. Hal Lindsey was pretty certain that Armageddon was going to begin sometime around 1980. Budding theologian that I was, I thought Armageddon would be pretty cool to see.

The point is, I thought the world was going to end in 1980.

So here it is, 2015 and we can finally almost be certain that President Reagan wasn't the anti-Christ.

But the damage is done. I have a deep seated predisposition to anticipate the end of the world. Consider these:

Silent Spring
Cold War
China Syndrome
Great Recession
Mutually assured destruction
Nuclear weapons
cold sores
Park 5
Trident submarines
Dr. Strangelove
oil spills
nuclear winter
bio weapons
people I know who own guns
Southern Baptists
deep impact
fluoride (just kidding)
Citizens United
Islamic terrorists
no fresh water
prolonged drought
wild fires/forest fires
melting icecaps
tasteless, odorless chemicals
rising sea levels
dead zones
mass shootings
mutated amphibians
bird flu
Tea Party

I didn't even realize I was anticipating the end of the world until 1996 when I read a poem titled In the Memory of Genesis, by Roger Fuchs. In the poem, which I don't have permission to publish, Roger focuses on the verse, "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." and jumps off from there. It's kind of like song stanzas that wax lyrical about the dance of sun and moon and rain over wide open landscapes, but then changes scale to more personal visions - to the hope that girls, perhaps his own girl, will be free to walk under stars alone at night, yet never know a moments fear. Almost every time one of these hopes is enumerated, it is accompanied by the refrain - A thousand years from now, or more. Amen.

"...behold, it is very good."

You don't have to believe in god to recognize the earth's beauty...or to want it to last a thousand years from now, or more.

I don't know whether to be encouraged or frightened that we are said to be made in God's image. Polling reveals that god's people are increasingly thought to be intolerant, anti-choice, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, anti-science and insular. If we are good, I think it is when we overcome our instincts through reason and science.

When we observe, take notes, and run our experiments...when we collect our data and build on it, and fix it and refine it...we come closest to revealing true things.

It wasn't that long ago that our ancestors crossed the oceans in wind driven ships and set to work subduing a continent.

Many of them were dicks.
Mistakes were made.
Perhaps we didn't know any better.

We thought the world was infinite, with horizons in every direction.

But now we are acutely aware that we're pooping in our own cradle.

And so we invent fish friendly turbines.
Ever more efficient wind mills.
Better batteries.
Smart power grids.
recyclable materials.

....civil discourse between Democrats and Republicans?

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