Humans and Earth: My Thoughts on ‘Earth Then and Now’

In Earth: Then and Now, we see “before and after” photos of sites around the world that have experienced massive change, both for better and for worse. Ready? Then let’s get started…

Okay. So. Here’s the world…

earth then and now fred pearceSo honestly, there wasn’t really that much TO this book. After a short foreword and introduction, the only significant text was a brief section intro page before each collection of photo pairs — so I’ll share a quick thought and then some photos and we’ll call it a day.

I somewhat expected this book to make a pretty strong case for — well, anything. But I was surprised to find it actually coming off pretty neutral. The author stated his thesis right out the gates:

Is there a final lesson here? I think so. Nature is not as fragile as we think. She is resilient. With time, she may recover from the worst we can throw at her. It is we, ultimately, who are the fragile ones. Look at these pictures and fear not so much for nature: fear for us. (p.18)

I actually totally agree with this statement. While I do think that ecosystems and species (including us…) are fragile, I think that Nature / Earth as a larger entity is way bigger and more resilient than any craziness we can cook up. I mean, all this life is still here even after giant meteors and whatever else made alllllll the dinosaurs go extinct. So I think that life on earth will survive… it’s just whether human life on earth will survive, or for which humans, or for how long.

That said, once the author made that point it was pretty much a fairly even spread of good news / bad news photos. Here’s one of the “good news” pairs:

ozone then and now

Good news: Seems the Earth is able to heal its ozone layer from the hole we burned in it. Hooray!

Of course, then there’s some bad news as well, like the massive drainage of the Aral Sea that turned most of it into a desert…

Aral Sea then and now

Where folks used to fish for food, now they raise cattle. Think about THAT for a minute.

And, a “bad news” a little closer to home — the much-disputed Tar Sands mining operation in Canada, from a beautiful sunlit forest to a dystopian slurry-field…

Tar Sands then and now

A pretty sweet world, you might say…

After all these photos, really I just return to the author’s (and my ) original point: yes, humans are capable of causing massive transformation, for better AND for worse. But even if we try our hardest to ruin everything, the Earth will live on. That sentiment is, I think, quite aptly captured by this photo pair:

Chernobyl then and now.jpg

Yep, that’s Chernobyl, still too radioactive to be safe for humans but being slowly reclaimed by the forest. (Nausicaa, anyone??)

Bottom line: We are simply one in an array of God’s wondrous creations. Whether we’re living, breathing participants or returned to dust, God’s good plan will continue.

And with that, I’m now off to start reading my next and final book in this reading project — Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too. I’m excited for some really practical stuff to conclude this journey!

[P.S. Thanks to “The End of the World” video for my header titles. What weird, bizarre little throwback to high school! (“But I am le tired…” “Well, go take a nap. THEN FIRE ZE MISSILES!”)]

Why I’m Getting a Tattoo (My Testimony)

I’m getting a tattoo.

You might find that kind of surprising. So here’s the story of why.

I’m kind of a goody-two-shoes. I’ve been that way for a long time. I’ve always liked pleasing people, as far as I can remember. I always got good grades. I always toed the line (outwardly, anyway). I always avoided conflict. I always achieved. I always followed the rules. I liked following the rules. They told me what I had to do to look shiny, and my shininess was my trophy and my shield.

But on the inside, I didn’t follow the spirit of the rules. Often I pleased people or avoided conflict out of fear. I got good grades because I liked getting everything right and feared the shame of making mistakes. I had perfect church attendance, but it wasn’t motivated by devotion, and it became fuel for me to look down on those whose attendance was less spotless. I played with my younger sister the exact number of minutes I was required to, and then I tricked and bullied her until she went away (or got left behind). I didn’t often directly lie to authorities — too confrontational, too risky, too black-and-white — but I deceived. I twisted and finagled my words and my thoughts and my world to protect my secret selfishness. I sneakily read books with flashlights after bedtime, late into the night sometimes. I learned my memory work then, too, having watched TV before my homework was done (despite a house policy to the contrary), because — I told myself — the real deadline was making sure I had it done in time for school in the morning. I hated when my little sister copied me, and especially when we wore matching outfits, so I would come out wearing one outfit, make sure I was seen, and then go quick-change into something else, only to emerge when it was time to go and there wasn’t time for my sister to change. I did what I wanted, which was a combination of what I wanted to do and just enough of what I didn’t want to do to keep everyone else happy and off my back.

I didn’t technically disobey often, but I wasn’t really obedient either. I was an expert at non-disobedience.

I didn’t really start to come to terms with all of this until I heard a sermon preached about the book The Prodigal God, which reframes the parable of the prodigal son (the author renames it the “Parable of Two Lost Sons”) as a tale about two types of lost-ness: the obvious, rebellious lost-ness of the prodigal son, and the subtle, sneaky, self-righteous lost-ness of the elder brother. I recognized myself immediately. I knew I had to read that book.

…But I didn’t. Life happened, my list of books to read was long, and it slipped through the cracks.

Then, as part of a reading group, I read the book Tired of Trying to Measure Up. I didn’t really identify with the title much — after all, I always could measure up to people’s expectations, for the most part — but I heard it was a powerful read, so I dug in.

I was totally blown away. I FINALLY UNDERSTOOD why I felt so anxious about making a misstep, and why I was so deadline-driven, and why I never really felt like I needed God, and why finding myself self-employed (with no one to please or perform for) was so darn difficult. I was stuck in a cycle of trying to justify myself, and it was motivated by trying to avoid shame — trying to prove my worth with my own two hands.

Looking back, I think the truth of this idea softened my shell just a hair. The armor cracked just enough.

I don’t even remember all what I read that struck me — looking through the book again, I can’t really find anything terribly quotable. But I do remember the part where I read the list of God’s names:

During biblical times, a person’s name was really important. People gave their babies names that described the characteristics they wanted them to have when they grew up. A name wasn’t just a label; it was a description of the nature or character of the one to whom it belonged. Look at some of God’s names:

Elohim, the Strong One;
El-roi, the Strong One who sees;
Jehovah-jireh, He is our Provider;
Jehovah-raffa, He is our Healer;
Jehovah-nissi, He is our Banner;
Jehovah-ra’ah, He is our Shepherd;
Jehovah-shalom, He is our Peace;
Jehovah-tsidkenu, He is our Righteousness;
Jehovah-shammah, He is Present.

All of a sudden I got it. I GOT IT. All those years of knowing about the Bible, of being smart, of giving the right answers to avoid pain, of hiding and sneaking and pleasing and deceiving — and only now, at the age of 26, did I get it. All the work I do to be shiny doesn’t matter. My own name doesn’t matter. The name on me is God’s. It doesn’t matter if I’m shiny. In fact, working to be shiny is counter-productive, because the facade of shine distracts me from reality. My “righteous” deeds were really filthy rags. Rather than fixing the hole in the wall, I had spent my whole life trying to cover it up. I was a whitewashed tomb.

I finally just read The Prodigal God last week. It’s a short book, so it didn’t take long. But the whole way through, I just kept thinking, “Yep, that’s me. This is me. This is what I’m fighting.” The transition from that place to my tattoo action step is well-illustrated by this passage:

Why doesn’t the elder brother go in [to the Father’s feast]? He himself gives the reason: ‘Because I’ve never disobeyed you.’ The elder brother is not losing the father’s love in spite of his goodness, but because of it. It is not his sins that create the barrier between him and his father, it’s the pride he has in his moral record; it’s not his wrongdoing but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of the father.

So I’m getting this tattoo to remind me that I’m not shiny. I can’t be perfect. I can’t earn my way into the big feast in the sky by following all the rules. And not only that — but I need to stop whitewashing my tomb.

This tattoo is risky. It’s (somewhat) counter-cultural. It’s visible. To make sure I can please everyone and keep my “future life options” open, I should remain clean and unblemished. Or at least put it somewhere more discreet, where no one will see it. I shouldn’t get this tattoo.

So I am.

My tattoo will read “YHWH shammah” (in my handwriting), which is Hebrew for “The Lord is There” or “The Lord is Present”. (Found in Ezekiel 45. You’ll also notice it’s at the end of the list quoted above.) And when I look at it, it will remind me that it is physically impossible for me to be without blemish. But the Lord is there. Or, to summarize with a secular quote, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen)

This is my reminder that I’m cracked. It reminds me to stop plastering over the hole and just let the Light in.

——————-

UPDATE: It is finished. Here’s a picture of my tattoo!

tattoo YHWH shammah

The Light shines in the darkness…

Ugh. I feel so gross.

This morning there was yet another school shooting.

At an elementary school.

Mostly in a kindergarten classroom.

Apparently perpetrated by a 24-year old dude who had a thing against his mom, since he shot her and many of her 6-year-old students.

UGH.

This is SICKENING. How could anyone ever ever EVER get to a point where they think it’s a good idea to massacre kindergarteners???

Gross. Gross. Gross.

My soul feels all dirty and I just long so much for heaven, where children will run and never tire, laugh and never cry, and definitely not get shot just for showing up to school on the wrong day.

When tragedies like this happen, I always start to see the world as one big  juxtaposition. And at the time the horrific events occur, it always seems in my mind that the bad outweighs the good, and I say “quickly come, Lord Jesus!” with more longing than usual.

However, having gone through this several times now recently, I know that eventually the emotional overload will pass and this day will become just another horrible part of our nation’s history, and I will remember how people can be good again. And today, I was reminded of the goodness of people in advance.

This morning I met with my group of eight 9th graders. We meet every Friday as a part of their Christian high school’s discipleship program to spend time together, chat, laugh, pray and figure life out together. Today was the last meeting we have before Christmas Break, so some of the girls brought in treats and I had planned for us to have a little “Christmas story time” by watching Charlie Brown Christmas. So we sat down, grabbed some munchies, opened in prayer, and began our usual round-robin of updates.

This week, instead of our usual highs and lows, the girls wanted to share what they were doing for Christmas and in what I’m sure was a moment of Spirit-inspiration I added the question “What’s something that’s been on your heart lately?” I began by sharing my Christmas plans and then explaining how lately my heart has been worrying about future plans — what is my purpose in life? what am I put here to do? — but that God has been helping me learn to have peace even in the not-knowing. The girls nodded, and as we continued around the circle I found that there was quite a lot on our hearts recently. A best friend’s mother with an unknown illness. A grandmother with severe Alzheimer’s. A girl who had made some changes in her life and regained trust with her parents.

As we arrived at the last girl, she began with a deep breath and it became clear that something was weighing on her heavily indeed. “Well… things have been really tight financially in my family this year… my dad lost his job and we’re running out of money and my parents are really worried… they say we might only have one or two presents this year… and it’s hard because I don’t know if I should quit my sport… I just want to help, and I know it costs a lot…”

And then something amazing happened.

As Jessica (not her real name) poured out her worries, the others began to share their stories too. Stories of times when their parents were struggling financially, and when they didn’t know what to do.

Sensing a bit of the overwhelm, I said, “After all that I feel like I want to pray. Anybody else feel like they want to pray?” Silence. “Well let’s pray for a little bit and I’ll just leave some time and then I’ll close when we’re done.” I opened briefly and then just sat and listened.

“Lord, please be with Jessica and her family and help them to find more money so they don’t have to worry as much…”

“God, please help Jessica and her family through this hard time because we know that you don’t do this on purpose to be hard on them, but to teach them…”

“Father, give Jessica strength and comfort that you are there with her, and that you love her and her parents love her and that this isn’t her fault…”

By the end, Jessica was sniffling and my heart was bursting with love and appreciation for these wonderful, caring, supportive, strong, thoughtful humans. We didn’t even get to watch all of Charlie Brown — the bell rang literally 30 seconds before the Christmas story recitation scene (and the whole point of the movie)… but as I listened to Linus proclaim the story from Luke 2, I realized that we had seen the light of the Christ child anyway.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 

In Which God Gets Sarcastic, and I Know Nothing

Yesterday I finished the book of Job, and because it has been a while since I read it, the ending was quite a whirlwind experience for me! We’ve spent 37 chapters building up and building up, hearing ABOUT God, but not FROM God in regards to Job’s suffering — and then finally, in chapter 38, BOOM! God arrives — in a thunderstorm!

“Where were you [Job] when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set or who laid its cornerstone — while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? … Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!” (Job 38:4-7, 21 – emphasis added)

WOW. God is sarcastic!! He is clearly on a mission to put Job in his place and remind him Who’s really in charge here! And Job gets it pretty quick, because after God’s first speech all Job can say is “………….Oh. Right.”

God goes on to deliver yet another speech where he specifically addresses Job’s questions about justice — namely that Job has no right to question God’s justness. But what I love the most about God’s response here is that after he totally chews Job out, he then gently and graciously affirms Job’s perseverance and righteousness throughout this whole ordeal. (And he totally puts Job’s “friends” in their place at the same time!)

“I am angry with you [Eliphaz] and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. … My servant Job will pray for you and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly.” (Job 42:7-8, parts – emphasis added)

Let’s break this down here. Job, while he did complain and question a lot, never went beyond questioning God’s motives. He speculated that perhaps God was unjust, he cried out at his own suffering, he protested his innocence and demanded that God allow him a chance to vindicate himself — but he never definitively said that he knew what God was doing. In other words, Job never allowed his sense of theological rightness to eclipse his devotion to God. Eliphaz & Co., however, did nothing BUT that. They were focused only on telling Job what they “knew to be true” about God. They acted like they had all the answers and refused to either empathize with Job or admit their lack of knowledge (and thus God’s supremacy).

So what does this mean for us? I think the entire book of Job can be boiled down thusly: God is God, and we are not. That’s SUPER simple, and I wouldn’t suggest telling that to someone who’s just lost a loved one and is struggling with grief as Job was, but I really think that’s the point God’s trying to make in this story. Just because God usually punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous doesn’t mean it’s okay for Eliphaz & Co. to put God in the box that he always does that. God is bigger than their box. And just because Job is a righteous man and healthily questions God doesn’t mean he couldn’t stand a reminder that he doesn’t run the world.

The point here is that none of us really knows what God is like, or what God might do, or why. We may know a part of God. We can learn some about God from reading the Bible, and from living our lives with God and experiencing what that means to us. But we cannot fathom God, and anyone who says they can is kidding themselves.

The true basis of faith, then, is uncertainty.

Real faith doesn’t mean knowing God will save you in the nick of time — real faith means not knowing if God will save you and trusting God anyway. And that’s really, really hard. Because uncertainty is a pretty shifty thing to build your whole life on. But for me, the only thing I know is that I just don’t know. And that will have to do.

Why, God? I just don’t get it!

Communion Thoughts for 7/22/12

As I was preparing for these communion thoughts, I couldn’t help but reflect back over the events of this week and wonder how we humans got to be so broken.

First, on Wednesday night we discovered that Pastor’s office had been broken into. Several pieces of computer equipment were taken, but it appears the focus of the thief was on stealing his personal things, including a Christian flag that was handmade by his first wife and lay over her casket at her funeral. This was a personal crime – and I simply don’t understand why anyone would ever do such a thing.

Second, an event that’s been making headlines this week occurred in Aurora, CO after midnight Thursday night. Shortly after the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises began, a gunman dressed in black announced that he was “the Joker”, threw a canister of teargas into the theater audience, and then opened fire at the crowd, seeming to select his victims at random. 12 were killed and 58 were injured, including several toddlers and children. This horrific, random crime makes no sense. Clearly he was not in his right mind – but I still just don’t understand how anyone could do such a thing.

Of course, these are not the only incomprehensible things going on in the world. Suicide bombers in Syria and Palestine, bomb plots against the Pentagon, school shootings, never-ending wars, and even some places where governments can no longer protect their citizens from the horrors of organized crime. Turn on your TV or read the news – it’s everywhere. But that doesn’t make me understand it any better.

Why do people do these awful things to each other? I just don’t understand!

There are no easy answers. The simple answer to why people do awful things is “sin”, but that only makes my logical brain happy, leaving my heart uneasy. Even the psalmist, even JESUS, asked “why”. WHY, God? Why do people do these things? Why is there such evil in the world?

And that is a question to which we may never know the answer. Certainly we can say “sin”, or “the Devil”… but these answers do not necessarily quench our thirst for understanding, nor do they ease our uneasy hearts. We just want to understand.

In fact, we humans LOVE understanding and “figuring things out” – perhaps explaining the success of mysteries and thrillers – we just LOVE uncovering all the details and the clues that lead to the perpetrator’s arrest and JUSTICE! Open And Shut Case – the bad guy gets what he deserves – end of story.

But real life isn’t like Law & Order. Often times there is no law or order – only chaos and confusion. Real life is messy. Sometimes we are confused, and sometimes we find no answers. We just don’t know.

But God does.

God knows. Our God, who created the heavens and the earth, who knew us before we were born, who’s so big he holds the world in his hand and so small he can live in my heart – my God knows. And we can trust that he’s on our side. The bible tells us, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31) Apparently a lot of people… but the point is that God wins. I still might not understand how – looking at all the mess here on this earth – but it doesn’t matter, because if God indeed has the victory, then there’s no way my finite understanding could ever affect that.

So when something incomprehensible happens, whether it be in your life or in the news, remember that it’s okay to not understand. It’s okay to be confused, because our job is not to have all the answers. That’s God’s job. Our job is to love God and love our neighbor as best we can – even when nothing else makes sense, and even when we don’t understand our world or God’s actions.

As you come to God today, and this week, and always, don’t be afraid – God is here, for you. Ask him your questions. Bring him your confusion and your pain. Struggle. He can take it. And he will always meet you where you are, because he is on your side.