Presence and Waiting

This morning I played cards with my nine-year old daughter. After, we played Concentration, or Memory, or whatever it is called today. She won, so I had to do push ups. Before that, we had reviewed her math and practiced fractions.

I have thought, often, that the two traits I want to bring as a parent are patience and presence. The former is for when my two daughters bicker, or don’t listen, or generally do anything that inconveniences me. The latter is for mornings like today. I need such time with my daughter, while the younger is at gymnastics with her mother. In many ways it was a routine Saturday. But it was also an hour to play. To be present.

The other resonant idea is one of waiting. I read Psalm 130 this morning, that ancient poem where the writer declares that he will wait (assuming the writer was a man in that patriarchal society) more than watchmen wait for the morning.

This waiting: there seems to be few stronger metaphors for life. We live in a waiting place. I think of how I’ve waited this week at my work: on interviews, on timelines outside of my control, on others’ priorities. I flew to Indiana and waited at airports. And I’m the sort of man who is oriented to the future: I am excited by what is next, by what will happen. What is happening is less exciting than the opening of possibility.

For the religious, as I am, this waiting is for the divine to act. But even without religion, we find much of our lives waiting. And in the meantime, we fill our lives with purchases or rich food and drink to forget that there is something to wait for at all.

Good waiting has, according to the ancient poet, an aspect of watching. An aspect of seeing the gradients of light each night, from astronomical dawn to sunrise itself. We watch for the subtle gradations of light and movement. There is, in other words, a presence to it.

Of course, patience is also necessary.

I wait today for a thousand pricks of light to burn into red and reveal the sun itself. I wait for the girls to go to bed so I can watch a movie with my wife. I wait for a new hire on my team to come through, for a trip to Florida we have scheduled, and this morning I waited for my workout to be over. (I lifted weights this morning, or as I prefer to call it: uncomfortable counting.)

The waiting is formed of patience and presence. I think of how these two traits I want to show as a parent may be traits of living a good life. Patience in the divine and slow movement, the unhurried change in the night sky. Presence to remain there, to find places not where I can escape to the internet, a magazine. But to practice math with my daughter and play cards, before she gleefully climbs onto my back and commands me to do push ups as my punishment for losing.

On Hiding and Anger (Part II)

A few years ago, I realized that I was generally angry on Saturday mornings. I stomped around the house, hiding away in my office, fuming at whatever perceived slight had set me off. Brooke would take the girls outside, trying to be quiet and give me space, and it wouldn’t be until that evening, once the girls were in bed, when she would wonder aloud what was wrong. By that time, I’d made enough peace with the anger to shrug and say I didn’t know, and that we should watch a movie.

Kick the anger down the road.

Over time, I began to do two things. If I felt angry on Saturday morning (I don’t know why it always came then: perhaps, after performing all week, I could finally let down and let people know how fed up I felt—it was just that Brooke and the girls were the wrong people), I would tell Brooke how I felt, and that she did nothing to cause it. And, just as I had, I would hole up in my office. Instead of surfing the internet or distracting myself, however, I sat with my anger. I wrote in my journal.

It was fun, as you can imagine.

I don’t know that I necessarily solved anything. I had the same job, the same life. I didn’t make a career change, though I felt what most middle-class Americans feel: the possibility of career change on the horizon. We have the possibility, this perceived freedom, in the 21st century. We don’t choose a career as much as we continually choose one, debating the merits of a job after a long vacation or turn of the calendar.

But I had to make peace with this reality. There are other options, and I have chosen this one. It’s important, for our anger, to realize that this is the life we have chosen, and if it gets too uncomfortable, we have the ability to choose another. Until we’ve done the latter, however, complaining about the former is a rather fruitless endeavor.

That’s not to say we can’t complain. In writing about my anger, I had to name it. Acknowledge it. I’m mad because I feel disregarded at work. Because I feel frustrated with our finances. Because, too often, I don’t get to do exactly what I want to do.

This last is the reason for most of my anger. Life does not unfold as I will and imagine it. If I am honest, I feel hurt by life, or by God if he is in charge, or whatever deity you would like for me to blame. But the problem with a God who is seemingly in control is that he also seems absent at the wheel. At least when it comes to all of my wants and wishes.

I’m not, however, incredibly interested in solving the unsolvable riddle of the good God who lets bad things happen. I’m less concerned with how to explain God’s absence with some proofs that I don’t fully believe, or with the step of denying God altogether, and more interested in the existential reality. How do I move forward?

For the present, it naming what I see. Removing myself not to escape, but to engage. And, of course, playing hide and go seek with a four year old and seven year old. Ellis has really come into her own. The other day, I was at a meeting, but Brooke told me how she perched herself on a window ledge behind the curtains and remained absolutely still.

The innocence of her hiding.

Selective Attention

Periodically, my wife will change things in our house while I’m at work. She rearrange pictures on a wall. She’ll hang some plants. She’ll get a new rug for the living room.

And, the running joke is that these changes go unnoticed by her adoring husband. I don’t notice when the pictures get rearranged. She has to kindly point out to me the plants, the rug, and ask what I think. Naturally, at that point, my opinion holds no weight.

The problem is that I see what I’m looking for. If I’m not looking for change, I don’t see it.

This, to varying degrees, is a well-documented phenomenon. When we’re looking for something, we see it. When we’re not looking for it, our brains are adept at weeding out the unnecessary information. Daniel Simons calls it selective attention. Auditorily, it’s called the cocktail party effect (and explains how you can pay attention to one conversation at your next party while the rest become background noise).

It’s documented that “lucky” or “unlucky” people aren’t innately that way–a large amount of the “luck” is simply expecting good fortune and seeing opportunities. And, maybe people are innately that way.

But beyond luck or rearranged photos, I’m interested in how this selective attention affects our presence–with each other, with the Divine.

We comes to conversations and time together with visions of what it should look like, expecting such moments to give us what we’re looking for. For example, my four year old daughter loves to play princesses. As a father, I specialize more in wrestling, chasing, and forming swords out of household objects. Princesses is not my strong point. So, I urge her to chase instead of sitting down to an imaginary tea.

I wonder how I have missed her presence because I see play differently than she does? I wonder how she has missed mine. And, I think of the times we have sat in the basement, my daughter breaking into song, myself sitting in front of a dusty plastic teacup filled with water, the light slant and bright–and I wonder why I bring my own agenda to play, to presence with another.

Isn’t that what selective attention is? It’s an emphasis on our agenda–sometimes for good reason (parties would be hell without it), but sometimes to our detriment.

And I think of how I can see moments where I’ve missed the Divine. This is what the gospel stories tell about the Pharisees–they we’re expecting and looking for a different sort of god, a god who fit their agenda. Instead, they met one who surprised and scared them, who threatened them. Rather than adjust their agenda, they dug in.

I do this.

My agenda with career or writing or free time continually gets interrupted. In fact, the one constant is that my best efforts are thwarted. Yet, instead of asking where the Divine is in this, I dig in. I insist where I’m looking, what I’m seeking after, is the right thing.

A year and a half ago, I was in the basement with our second daughter and our cat. I was trying to read. Our cat, however, had a different agenda. He kept crawling on my lap, distracting me. Finally, I put my book down. I let go of my agenda, of where I was looking.

And in the moments after, our daughter crawled over to me, stood up next to my knees, and then took a few tottering steps away before falling over.

Her first steps.

May we look, not for our own agendas, but for wherever the God is moving.


On Liam Neeson and Simone Weil: A Review

Toward the end of the movie, The Grey, Liam Neeson’s character—on the run from wolves in Alaska following a plane crash—cries out to the heavens. He asks God to show himself. The response? Silence. Gray sky. Black treetops. “Fine,” says Neeson’s character, “I’ll do it myself.”

In fact, if our movies and literature have been asking any question about God in the past 100 years, it’s this question: Where are you? Ours has long been an age marked by doubt, and from Hemingway to Ingmar Bergman to The Grey any possible conception of God is accompanied by the opposite: the possibility that there is no God, that nothing will change, that faith is a farce.

While we’re familiar with the Western concept of doubt, the Eastern is another matter. For all the popularity of yoga and gurus in America, we’re naïve about much of the Eastern mindset. Sure, your doctor hails from India and you’ve watched some Chinese films (great martial arts), but Eastern values are largely swallowed by pragmatism and capitalism on their way across the Pacific.

Shusaku Endo’s novel, Silence (first published in 1966 in Japan), offers a first point of remedy. Endo, a Japanese Catholic, represents the intersection of east and west. And his novel traces the story of the beginning of the intersection, in 17th century Japan. There, Christianity has been sown by Francis Xavier, and Portuguese priests have seen hundreds of thousands of Japanese convert. Yet, encouraged in part by fears of a Portuguese invasion, authorities in Japan began to persecute Christians—first in the 16th century, and then systematically in the 17th. Following a 1638 rebellion, Christianity went completely underground.

But there were reports. Missives. Stories told in Macao. All Japanese were tested by their willingness to trample on a fumie—a crude representation of Christ. And one priest, Father Ferreira, famously apostatized after being tortured.

Into this historically-accurate world sail the fictional Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe. From the opening sentence of the book, “News reached the church in Rome” (a strange way, one might note, to begin a book entitled Silence), we see the gradual shift from West to East, from a land of concrete, black and white answers to a land of grayness and silence.

The astute reader can see, from the opening paragraphs that tell of Father Ferreira’s apostasy, and from the title of the novel, that we’re hurtling toward a story of ambiguity, a story of that values questions over answers—a story of silence.

And the idea of silence permeates the entire book. The word itself appears on almost every page, whether a character falls silent or the priest is surrounded by quietness. Even in Macao, before embarking to Japan, Rodrigues writes in his letter: “On the wall is a great cockroach. Its rasping noise breaks the solemn silence of the night.” It won’t be the last time Rodrigues faces silence at night, or the last time the rasp of an insect is the only noise.

But before we turn to insects, let us turn to Kichijiro. The drunken Japanese peasant leads the missionaries into the forbidden land. They hide in a hut outside a village, ministering to the locals. But somehow the Japanese officials get wind of what’s going on: the missionaries split from each other and go on the run. The narrative follows Rodrigues, who meets up with Kichijiro. The peasant feeds him heavily-salted fish; when Kichijiro goes to get water for the priest, he comes back with the authorities.

It’s here the novel changes narrators. No longer told by Rodrigues’ personal letters, Endo choose a third-person narrator, showing us Rodrigues taken to prison to be judged and persecuted for his faith. Yet, the priest begins a sort of conversion in prison. He reflects on the sound of the guards laughing outside:

“Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind. And then for the first time a real prayer rose up in his heart.”

According to this definition, Rodrigues sins, however, not long after. His interpreter comes in and they spar in a battle of theologies. At the end, Rodrigues wins with wordplay. The interpreter “was lost for words and reduced to silence.” In the distance, a cock crew.

Yet, we’re also left with this troubling phrase: for the first time a real prayer rose up in his heart. For Endo to write this about a priest in prison for his faith is a subversive move: he alludes to the idea that Rodrigues does not have real faith before this; it’s only through suffering and trial that his faith becomes real.

And, if Endo is saying this, we must ask: is this true of everyone? Or is it only a fictional truth, convenient for the narrative?

The trials for Rodrigues will only grow more intense. A man who often imagines the face of Christ—the serene, peaceful, beautiful face that gives him strength—is eventually presented with the fumie. He’s give a crude representation of a peasant Christ, a person looking dumb and foolish, and told to trample it. At the novel’s climax, tempted by Ferreira, Rodrigues stands before this face. “Trample!” he imagines it saying to him.

God, for Rodrigues, finally is not silent.

It’s as if, and the novel attests to it, God had been there all along. In the quiet and silence of the prison, only the sound of cicadas and cockroaches and flies: God is even there. In the nameless faces of the people as Rodrigues is paraded past them before his final persecution: they are like flies, and even God is there.

We must find God, says Endo, in the silence, in the suffering, in the trial; or we will never find God. The dogmatic, positive theology of the West must find common ground with the apophatic and paradoxical theology of the East.

His novel is true for our age, an age which has pushed God to the periphery in art, cinema, music. Yet, songs and movies and books are still haunted by the idea of God, by the possibility of God. Except, we have all found God to be the same, whether Hemingway or Liam Neeson: eerily silent.

The French mystic Simone Weil tells a parable I’ll embellish: A prisoner is alone in a cell. In solitary. After months of imprisonment, he finally cries out and slams his hands against the wall. He cannot take the suffering any longer. In the moments that follow, his hands bloody from the rough stone, slouched against the wall and breathing heavily, he hears a tap. Then another tap. He knocks on the wall himself. A third tap.

Someone is on the other side of the wall.

Over months and years they develop a language told through taps; they converse; the prisoner has something to live for. He has another prisoner on the other side of the wall. They are connected by the wall, even though they are separated by it.

Weil tells us it’s the same with us and God: every separation is a link. Endo, I’ve no doubt, would agree.

Scott Cairns on the Power of the Text

So long as we understand our literary texts to be merely tokens referring to our prior ideas, we are denying the efficacious power and presence occasioned by our words…When we come to appreciate that our words have power, presence, and agency to shape our persons, we get a glimpse of the inexhaustible One in whom we live and move and have our being.  –Scott Cairns

Migraines, Faulkner, and Love

Saturday night and Brooke is in bed: she successfully fought off a migraine tonight, icing her head and taking magnesium and resting in the dark. Migraines are rare for her, but she has had symptoms that often accompany one a couple times this week. I do not like this, and she does not like this. Still, we go on.

Sometimes, when life is going well, Brooke and I talk about how things will turn soon. I do not know if we are realistic or fatalistic or simply pessimistic, but we all know what it is to fear. There is something about growing older — maybe it is becoming a parent — when you realize how tenuous this life is, how delicate or even flimsy. We slough off our idealisms of adolescence and understand something of the tragedy in life. It comes in the form of a daughter born two months early, a miscarriage, and migraines during the subsequent pregnancy. Brooke and I generally mention our fears in passing, with ludicrous affect: “Can you believe I think about this?”

Except, when the sun shines on the other side of the world and there is that time of stillness between day and sleep, we all think about this.

There is little we can do. Write. Pray. Drink. And while only one is guaranteed to make you forget your worries — at least for a time — it isn’t the forgetting that we need. It does not help us to shut out the world and pretend it isn’t.

We become like Miss Emily Grierson — a woman who shut out the world and the change that it entailed, who could not quite acquiesce to death. To loss — the loss that change inevitably brings, that life inevitably brings. So, she poisoned her lover and spent the rest of her years locked away from the town, sleeping next to his corpse. Faulkner writes to wrestle with the change and loss that attended the early 20th century, and chronicles the horrifying fate of those who cut themselves off, who try to negotiate and manage loss.

We see the same idea throughout the Psalms: these poems where people cry out to God, facing loss and dislocation, alienation, abandonment, disillusionment. These poems are not so much about grand questions of suffering as they are desperate attempts to hold onto God, to find not so much relief as transcendence. We see, even as the Psalms chronicle events from David’s life, a “passion” of David: a willingness to suffer, to be vulnerable, to let suffering change and grow that man who would then, because of such suffering, be more able to change others. It is the opposite of Miss Emily Grierson, and an embrace of suffering in all the forms the world can hand out — not necessarily in a masochistic sense — but in a sense that moves beyond a human-centered or anthropocentric view of this world.

I still do not know what to do with suffering. I write. I pray. I read great books and listen to music; I talk with friends, listening to heartbreaking stories, finding a few sad stories of my own. Sometimes, I read poetry. Sometimes, I try to forget it all and watch television. But tonight, as Brooke said she saw flashes, we turned off the lights and I took Ellis upstairs. I read her a story. She kept reminding me “Mommy is sick.” We prayed, together, for Brooke. Then I came downstairs and gave Brooke the gentlest backrub I could, so I would not ever shake her head, but simply touch her shoulders while I prayed to our unseen God, to love my wife well and let my fears melt like the ice that was on her neck.

Revision is Development

In continuing the recent trend of this blog actually living up to its moniker, I offer an insight into the everyday world of a living, breathing, unsuccessful writer.  Below is a first draft from my latest novel, and the revision that I worked on this weekend — a revision that will be followed by two or three more before I have the novel where I want it.

The road was black and green spilled onto its edges before everything disappeared into darkness.  You could not stop the grass from growing here in Kentucky, and the weeds.  It had been a wet summer; the rains didn’t let up until a couple of weeks ago.  I liked driving through the hills because I had to downshift and it kept me awake.  I tried the radio but knew that unless I was passing by a tower at the time, I could never get any signal.  Static, with faint mists of voices like they were dead and trying to communicate with me across the great divide.  It didn’t bother me too much, but I worried about tomorrow afternoon.  That’s exactly what I worried about.  After a night and a morning in the car, when the sun hung in the sky at four o’clock, that would be terrible to have no other voices.  Late afternoon was always the worst time of the day.  The day was dying and you knew you didn’t have too much light left, but it wasn’t yet night or even sunset.  It was just day stretched out like a desert, with nothing to do but wait for night to come and its peaceful or terrifying darkness.  The darkness doesn’t matter, only that it is a change.  I imagine the same thing happens in the morning, during the dullness of night an hour or two before the sun rises, but I’m never awake at that time.  Maybe tonight.  Maybe tonight.

And, the edits from Sunday:

The road was black, but green spilled onto its edges before everything disappeared into darkness.  It had been a wet summer; the rains didn’t let up until a couple of weeks ago, and everything grew without limit: the Bermuda grass and foxtail grass and thistle, all mixed together and going to seed and awaiting the judgment of winter.  Trees, though, clutched the rolling hills, their roots deep and intertwined in the limestone, and grass only grew at the edges of these forests.  I liked driving the hills with the trees, because there was a majesty to them and they would survive the winter, because I had to downshift and it kept me awake.  I turned the radio on, briefly, but only heard fragments of voices against the white static; voices like ghosts.  Or, voices like God trying to say something, but there was too much static and I was driving away.

I needed to reach Memphis tomorrow afternoon.  My radio could find some voice then, among the voices of the city, because late afternoon was the cruelest time: the sun beats and day stops like evening will never come, and we sit with our memory of the morning and desire for the evening, like we are neither living nor dead.  So for that time, I wanted a radio.

You can see some of the development that has come from my revision.  First, the sentences (I believe) are clearer, and I found the detail of the Bermuda grass by going back and working harder to envision the roadside.

Moreover, the first excerpt became too rambling for me — it felt like I was trying to channel Holden Caulfield, with a little more poetry.  By revising and focusing a bit longer on the grass, the radio, even though the thoughts of the narrator move similarly, the second version rambles less.

In focusing on the time of day, I tied the revised version to his overall journey, and then threw in some T.S. Eliot to help portray his thoughts/feelings.  Of course, just at that moment of gravitas, he isn’t someone overly deep, so he backs off and asserts his need for the radio.

I’m also playing with some themes — death (which ties in with Eliot’s “Wasteland”), and a strained conception of God, which made its way into the second (actually, third or fourth) draft.

So, a small window into the inner workings of a subsequent draft.  One of the most important messages I remember from grad school is that: revision IS development.  We cannot help but add a fuller conception of characters and landscape and theme as we revise.

I’d love to hear thoughts (anyone like the first one better?), questions, musings…

The Language of Redemption

I remember, in college, my Spanish professor talking about his wife, who was from Latin America.  He said that if he knocked a glass off the table and it broke, then he would slap himself on the forehead and declare, in English: I broke the glass.  Yet, his wife would both express and think differently.  In Spanish, the verb is reflexive, so in essence, the broken glass on the floor “broke itself.”  In English, we have a culpability for the broken glass (whether good or bad); in Spanish, one might say fate plays a role.

Such a story fascinates me, as a writer.  It fascinates me because of not only how the action is expressed, but how it affects thought.  I’ve read some articles lately disregarding the effect that language has on thought process: the thinking is that human thought is, essentially, the same: language merely expresses the same thing in different ways.  I’ve been uncomfortable with this.  I believe language actually affects the way we think, from my own observation, from the story about my Spanish professor’s wife.

Lera Boroditsky, a professor at Stanford, agrees.

Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human.  Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity…

Language is so fundamental to our experience, so deeply a part of being human, that it’s hard to imagine life without it.  But are languages merely tools for expressing our thoughts, or do they actually shape our thoughts?

Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia.  I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space.  Instead of words like “right,” “left,” “forward,” and “back,” which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space.  This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like, “There’s an ant on your southeast leg” or “Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit.”  One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly…

Simply put, speakers of languages like Kuuk Thaayorre are much better than English speakers at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes or inside unfamiliar buildings.  What enables them — in fact, forces them — to do this is their language.  Having their attention trained in this way equips them to perform navigational feats once thought beyond human capabilities.

When asked to arrange cards in chronological order (say, of a man growing older), the Kuuk Thaayorre always arranged them from east to west, whether it meant arranging them left to right, right to left, or away from their person.  Yet, language affects us even more.  Regarding masculine and feminine nouns in other languages:

In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages.  The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender.  For example, when asked to describe a “key” — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like “hard,” “heavy,” “jagged,” “metal,” “serrated,” and “useful,” whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say “golden,” “intricate,” “little,” “lovely,” “shiny,” and “tiny.”  To describe a “bridge,” which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said, “beautiful,” “elegant,” “fragile,” “peaceful,” “pretty,” and “slender,” and the Spanish speakers said, “big,” “dangerous,” “long,” “strong,” “sturdy,” and “towering.”  This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender…Apparently even small flukes of grammar, like the seemingly arbitrary assignment of gender to a noun, can have an effect on people’s ideas of concrete objects in the world.

Language affects thought.  I rarely think of language as a tool, but it is: a tool with benefits and drawbacks, just like any other tool that humans use.  Our very language affects our perceptions of the world around us.  The act of writing — of good writing — is really an act of seeing: it is breaking through the cliche, even through the language barrier, to see the bridge or key with new eyes.  I think in many ways this is a spiritual act, as it asserts our independence and volition and creativity, our humanity.

Seeing in this way both asserts our humanity and the goodness of the created world, as it refuses to ingest the world based on another’s opinion, but always seeks its own.  It foresees the day when we no longer will be constrained by language, when we will experience truly and purely, when we will know fully, even as we are fully known.  One day, language will no longer get in our way, but will be transformed and redeemed.  The writer, the poet, seeks to begin that transformation today.

Spiritual Environmentalism

From Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, on the spiritual dimension of environmentalism:

I have come to believe that the physical destruction of the earth extends to us, too. If we live in an environment that’s wounded…it hurts us, chipping away at our health and creating injuries at a physical, psychological, and spiritual level. In degrading the environment, therefore, we degrade ourselves.

The reverse is also true. In the process of helping the earth to heal, we help ourselves. If we see the earth bleeding from the loss of topsoil, biodiversity, or drought and desertification, and if we help reclaim or save what is lost…the planet will help us in our self-healing and indeed survival…The same values we employ in the service of the earth’s replenishment work on us, too. We can love ourselves as we love the earth; feel grateful for who we are, even as we are grateful for the earth’s bounty; better ourselves, even as we use that self-empowerment to improve the earth; offer service to ourselves, even as we practice volunteerism for the earth.

Of course we need to be stewards of the environment, and environmental causes are seen as something that go hand-in-hand with faith more and more often.  For myself, I often think about taking care of the environment on a level of “doing what’s right” or thinking about future generations, but I rarely think about it as a spiritual duty.

Yet, if we are indeed stewards of the environment (as Genesis 1 certainly implies), then it is a spiritual matter insofar as everything we do is a spiritual matter.  There is no spiritual life as different from a physical life, or even as a subset of it, rather: there is life.  If anything, our temporal physical lives, our eating and drinking and talking and singing and dancing lives are part — or a subset of — a larger spiritual life.

And if this is true, wouldn’t our call to be good stewards of the environment have an inherent impact on our connection with God?

I try to do my part for the environment: Brooke and I recycle, and we buy organic food, we pick up trash if we see it in a park, but really: we do enough to feel good about ourselves without truly sacrificing.  Or, as stewards, are we called to sacrifice for the environment, or merely make good decisions about it?

But even then, I fear my lack of knowledge about what I buy and what I throw away and the corporations I support: I am sure I have been a poor steward again and again.

I realize that this is an individual matter, but I find it fascinating on a spiritual level, as someone who has already thought some about my duty for the environment.  The duty, I believe, goes hand-in-hand with my duty and love for humanity, as so often environmental issues are social and justice issues.  Or again, just as there is no physical duty and spiritual duty, there are no purely environmental issues and purely social issues: they blend together.

I appreciate thinkers such as Wangari Maathai, who remind and reveal to me, to us, that each decision and action is spiritual in nature, and that throwing a piece of trash on the ground — or picking one up — is as important as a kind word to a friend or opening up the Bible, for it is God’s urging to us in a specific time and moment, and the reminder that God ultimately requires every inch and second of our lives.

On Recent Events…

So, I’m a little surprised (but not completely) at the outcry over Stephen Hawking’s comments this week.  For those of you who don’t live your life online, Hawking states in his new book that God is not necessary.  Basically, he said that because gravity exists, the universe CAN spontaneously create itself.  God is unnecessary.

I can see how church leaders might not like a person of Hawking’s intellect declaring no need for God, but I don’t see the need to react so vehemently.  Why would Mr. Hawking, who adheres to the religion of science and intellect, come to any other conclusion?  I’m actually rather surprised that he held out so long for the existence of a God.  I’ve read headlines this week that Hawking has disproved the existence of God, which may have some scientific backing, but practically it doesn’t mean much.  Many, many will still believe in the existence of God, and won’t rely on one man’s scientific theory as much as their own experience and evidence.

I think the headlines only underline that many continue to believe and not believe very rigorously: remember that Hawking is selling a book, and it’s sure to sell very, very well.  It’s a good reminder that a little religious controversy will always move the needle when it comes to book sales (I’m counting on that for my own book, should it ever get published). In fact, the church’s stringent retaliation only assures more books will get sold, rather ironically.

As for my own opinion, I appreciate what Tim Connor wrote in the American Thinker:

There is no per-se law that dictates how matter is to behave. Therefore if matter didn’t exist then neither would laws such as gravity exist. You cannot have laws such as gravity without matter…
So Hawking’s explanation is basically an exercise in circular logic. Matter exists because of gravity which exists because of matter which exists because of gravity . . . and so on and so forth.

Of course, you already knew my opinion since I generally post on the psalms, but whatever.  Just some Saturday morning thoughts on Hawking and, in my opinion, the ironic response of the church (of course I’m only propagating that irony with my writing here, but what can you do?).  Unfortunately, for atheists, God is here to stay and there will be many intelligent people who argue for a belief in God.  And, for the church: atheism is here to stay as well, and many intelligent people will argue against belief in a God.  For the church, while we want to create the possibility of God logically, I think belief ultimately comes from experience: we do far, far better by giving and loving than by posting cruel comments at the bottom of articles (not that anyone would ever do that).