Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Limiting God

Setting boundaries… “God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness… And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’” The forming of the earth was a process of setting boundaries. Of giving the light and the dark, the land and the waters, a place of their own.

Setting boundaries seems to be a theme that characterizes God’s sovereignty in this world. Isaiah write:
“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of their hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?” (40:12)

Psalm 148: 3-6 states, “Praise the Lord, sun and moon; praise the Lord, you highest heavens and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for the Lord commanded and they were created. The Lord established them forever and ever; the Lord fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.”

We pushed against those boundaries over and over in our Wilderness and Faith Class. So many of the issues in our world seem to be caused by our own lack of understanding of boundaries. Our desire to live beyond our means, beyond our limits. God seemed to know this would be our weakness. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve transgressed the only limits God set for them. We often speak of this as trying to be like God…

In our evangelical world, we speak regularly of being created in the image of God, the imago dei. It is a vital concept. One that reminds us of who we are. Yet so often, we forget to apply this concept to all of humanity. As we study the wilderness, we are reminded of the people who were driven from the land because we did not consider them equal in the eyes of God. We live in a country that continues to consume more and more, refusing to live within the limits of our world’s natural resources. In doing so, we refuse to see that others created in the image of God are suffering because of our greed. We have difficulty imaging a world in which all people are seen in the image of God.

Boundaries… key to raising children, living a holy life, living in community… We are to live into the boundaries God has set for us, including the limits of our resources, and to create communities that help us to live into those boundaries.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Constructing Wilderness

One of the first articles we read for the Wilderness and Faith class was “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” by William Cronon. The article explores how the idea of “wilderness” has been constructed by our culture. Cronon argues that while as late as the late eighteenth century wilderness as seen as “deserted, savage, desolate, barren, -- in short, a waste” by the late 1800’s wilderness was romanticized as a part of the foundation of the United States. With the frontier disappearing, with the development of urbanization, the wilderness became a place where white men (primarily) “rediscovered their primitive racial energies, reinvented direct democratic institutions, and thereby reinfused themselves with a vigor, an independence, and a creativity that were the source of American democracy and national character.”

Many people think Cronon was challenging or weakening the environmental movement. They believed that he was arguing against conservation. I disagree. I think Cronon was simply exploring how our culture has shaped our idea of wilderness and how that can, at times, distort our relationship to it. He writes of how the ideal wilderness was a place without people, pristine, untouched. To romanticize the wilderness and frontier allowed us to pretend that we didn’t drive the Native American people from the land. To assume that wilderness is most ideal when not in relationship to humanity allows gives us no place to explore ways of healthy interaction with nature and reclaiming our tie to the land. Wilderness in isolation allows us to continue to take land from the poor and those we devalue for a “higher good.”

I am not arguing against the need to preserve pristine landscapes. I think it is valuable for us to recognize our limits in this world and our place sharing this planet with all of creation. Cronon points out, though, that our concept of wilderness was tied to an idealized beauty, a sense of the sublime. Early on, this meant that we preserved spectacular landscapes before attending to the less striking. Yosemite becomes a national treasure, but the desert Central Valley of California only a few miles away is turned into one big irrigated, farmland.

I think this idea has changed in the last few decades. I grew up with an appreciation of a variety of types of wilderness. California is full of striking national parts, but surrounding our house were rolling brown (years of drought) hills covered in oak trees and poison ivy, full of deer and chipmunks. They had been set aside by the utility company and full of fire trails. Behind our elementary school was the marsh, a salt-water wetlands that was part of our educational experience. I remember how ugly I though it was. Yet I learned to look for the red wing blackbirds that would try to lure us away from their nests by feigning injury. I remember the smell of the fennel and the fuzz of the cattails. I remember how out of place it looked when the built a tennis court right in the middle of it all. I was taught early on to appreciate a variety of wildernesses.
This seems quite biblical. Recognizing the value of all of creation. Not valuing those who seems more valuable or beautiful on the surface. But recognizing that we are all connected, the body of Christ. In the same way, all of creation is related to one another. One great organism. At times we have overlooked the parts that have seemed less valuable, but as God reminds us, often those parts that look the least valuable are to be valued the most.

Below are a few of my attempts to find beauty in the "less spetacular" parts of nature:

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lake Superior's North Shore...

This past week I traveled to northern Minnesota with the Wilderness and Faith class offered by North Park Theological Seminary. I will need to write more about the experience this weekend, reflecting on the biblical significance of natures praise of God, our dualistic assumptions about soul and body, the ecological concerns raised by our discussions, and the social construction of wilderness. For now, though, I leave you with a few pictures to wet your appetite...
These first two were taken from Palisade Point, about 20 minutes north of Duluth. It was one of my favorite overlooks when I lived there. It used to be just a small, hidden turn off from the highway, but in recent years they have put in a little paved parking lot at the entrance to mark the way. There is still little to indicate what you will find if you venture up the one way road that winds up the hill and out to the point... I kind of like it that way.
At the top is another small parking lot, one small stone wall, and then a few trails that wander around the bluff. There are no guard rails, no warning signs. Climbers venture out here often in good weather to scale the face of the cliff. I love being able to walk up to the edge and look down or look out. Our stay here was too short, but a great surprise!

These two were taken on the rocks out behind Phil Anderson's cabin in Hovland, Minnesota. I'll post more pictures of this area later. For now, I'll just say how much fun it is to jump from rock to rock along the shoreline! Exploring, watching, listening...
There were several storms while we were at his cabin producing some great waves and white caps along the shore. The sound of the waves crashing on the rocks was a constant through out much of our time... It is one of the most relaxing sounds in the world to me, in spite of the fact that it is a result of a great force at work pounding and crashing against the rock.

I had a little trouble sleeping... not getting to sleep, but staying asleep once the sun came up in the morning. Many of you know that I am not a morning person, but in this setting I am! At the beginning of the week I was one of the earliest up most mornings, providing some quiet moments on the shore and some beautiful views of the mist rolling in off the lake as the rising sun hit the cold surface of the water.
The fog always reminds me of San Francisco... when people say that the fog is like a blanket, they are often talking about how it looks rolling in over the hills, covering and engulfing. To me, it also has the comforting effects of an old, familiar blanket that covers you and reminds you of home. I grew up with days that began in the midst of fog, freezing cold and damp... as the day rolled on, the fog rolled up the hill, the sun would burn it off throughout the day. While the morning belonged to the mist and the dampness, the sun would win the battle in the afternoons, claiming its territory once again and sending the temperatures soaring. We used to wear layers to class at UC Berkeley... sweats and jackets in the morning, gradually removing them throughout the day until we were laying on the grass in shorts and t-shirts in the afternoons (to study, of course!).
As I said, more later... but I hope these bring a bit of enjoyment for now!