It’s impossible to say how many cultures there are on Earth. Lines of division blur, the sheer number of people groups make accuracy impossible and the dynamic nature of societies presents a moving target. What can be said, however, is that distinct social systems are disappearing as trends in globalization indicate shifts toward homogenization.
Which is progress, right? A simpler world is easier to handle. It’s especially helpful if cultures have much to offer—political and religious freedom, career opportunities for economic security, civil infrastructure to protect the safety and rights of humans, so on and so forth. These are conceptions often thought to be inherent in Western societies.
The prolific and enigmatic 20th century environmentalist, David Brower, compressed four and a half billion years of Earth’s history and that of its inhabitants into Genesis’ six-day creation. When that time frame is considered, it isn’t until 4:00 p.m. on the last day that dinosaurs walk the Earth. By 9:00 p.m., these dinosaurs are extinct. At 11:57 p.m., humans appear on the scene. Jesus is born forty-five seconds later. The Industrial Revolution occurs 1/40th of a second before midnight. Since this moment of innovation, more resources have been extracted and consumed than by the rest of the people who’ve ever lived combined.
Brower states, “There are people who think what we’ve been doing for the last fraction of a second can continue indefinitely. They are considered reasonable people, but they are stark raving mad!”
Humans have existed for an awful long time, yet it wasn’t until recently they began to alter the planet and its ecological balances as significantly and seriously as they do now. It’s no coincidence that 95 percent of the areas identified by the World Wildlife Fund Global 200 as harboring exceptional biodiversity are home to indigenous peoples. This isn’t to paint pre-industrial societies as utopian. Survival entails struggle, and bouts of starvation and disease aren’t to be considered lightly. Today, we think we have answers for these. We think we have answers for everything. We’ve essentially circumvented natural selection. But despite—or perhaps due to—this feat, creation groans.
Lack of clean water, food, medicine and decent sanitation threaten many today. This is well understood. The solution cannot, however, be to bring all into the same conditions that we as Westerners live in today. This “flourishing” is literally impossible, as it would require four Earths to support the world’s population living as Americans, as according to the Global Footprint Network. Developing technology is often brought up as an answer, but gambling on things that do not, and may not exist, may not be the wisest or most responsible choice,especially as it is in our collective power now to make changes with positive repercussions among humanity and creation.
We must lower our conception of ourselves to the point where we can consider that necessary changes, developments and the shaping of lives very well might ask the transformation of ourselves as much as it does others. How do we use technology responsibly? How do we love, interact with and learn from those who live differently than us? And, most importantly, and possibly all encompassing, how do we humble ourselves before God, and find ourselves back in the correct order of creation? We have been given much. We are responsible for much. And for the many cultures, perspectives and ideologies, we are thankful. We have a lot to learn.
Indigenous and Traditional Peoples of the World and Ecoregion Conservation (p. 28,Publication). (2000). Gland, Switzerland: WWF International- Terralingua.
Note: I wrote this quick little article for Spring Arbor’s student paper. Between the day that I submitted it, and the day that it was posted, this took place:
The Prominent Environmental Activist Berta Cáceres Has Been Assassinated in Honduras
Bill McKibben’s 2005 article “The Cuba Diet” creates a brief, yet accurate, portrayal of various aspects of Cuban life. A primer: contemporary Cuba has a number of features which create an unprecedented case-study in various divisive subjects including politics, poverty and sustainability. It’s been painted as the world’s foremost self-sufficient, ecologically-responsible, food-growing nation, as well as a daunting example of the stark conditions and oppression that non-democratic states can foster. Accordingly, one’s first inclination is probably to place Cuba, regardless of whether a conscious or sub-conscious decision, on one end of a spectrum- utopia or hell- depending upon one’s previous understanding of the world.
We do this with nearly everything. We simplify in order to make our world more manageable, whether it be spiritual understanding, classification of individuals, thoughts on nutrition, so on and so forth. This is understandable, and not necessarily harmful in and of itself. To ask that one withhold from making decisions or passing judgment until one not only has access to all facts, but understands them, is to require the impossible. The variables involved in the affairs of reality are infinitely complex and ever-developing. Facing this impossibility, is paralysis the answer? No. To be rendered powerless by the complexities of the world is unnecessary. In this case, with complexity comes hope.
Rather than despair or inaction, an awareness of this process, and consequent humility, in dialogue especially, should be produced. We do what we can with what we have in front of us. And we do this with the hope that others will do the same. The whole of reality doesn’t easily fit into a box of our own creation- precisely because reality is much bigger than ourselves.
“To marry in order to enjoy oneself more will never work. To put marriage — union with the person you love — as your main aim, replacing everything else, is a big mistake. And it’s obvious if you think about it. The aim is marriage. Well, you get married, and then what? If you have no other aim in life before marriage, then later on it will be terribly difficult, almost impossible for the two of you to find one. It’s almost certain that if you have no common aim before marriage, nothing will bring you together afterwards, and you will always be falling out. Marriage only brings happiness when there is a single aim — people meet on the road and say, ‘Let’s walk on together’; ‘yes, let’s!’ and offer one another their hands — and not when people are attracted to one another and then both turn off the road in different directions
Life is neither a vale of tears nor a circus of entertainment. Life is a place of service, where one sometimes has occasion to put up with a lot that is hard, but more often to experience a great many joys. Only there can only be real joys when people themselves understand their life as service: have a definite aim in life outside themselves and their own personal happiness. Usually married people forget this completely.
Marriage and the birth of children offer so many joyful things to look forward to that it seems that these things actually constitute life itself, but this is a dangerous delusion. If parents live and produce children without also having a life purpose, there will be nothing to point their children to or guide them along the way. And then they will lose their human qualities as children and the happiness linked with them, and become pedigree cattle.
Those intending to marry, even if their life seems full, need more than ever to think and make clear to themselves what each of them is living for. And in order to do this, it’s necessary to think, and to think hard about the conditions one lives in and about one’s past, to evaluate what one considers to be important and unimportant in life and to find out what one really believes in — i.e. what one considers the invariable, indisputable truth, and what one will be guided by in life. Otherwise one does not truly know what he believes in, or whether one believes it or not.
If life is service, then the “good” consists of love. In order to love I must first train myself to require as little as possible from others. Unless I do this, I will be inclined not to love but to reproach. This demands a lot of work. Second, in order to love I must do something useful for others. This involves even more work. Lastly, it is necessary to learn gentleness, humility and the art of enduring unpleasant people and unpleasant things, and whenever possible not to offend. This requires the most work of all, and work that is non-stop, from waking up to going to sleep. But this is the most joyful sort of work.
When considering marriage, therefore, a couple needs to think and live as lovingly as possible so that they can find out whether they are really going along the same road and whether or not it’s good for them to give each other the hand. If they are sincere, the thought of marriage will lead them to what is higher, to find ways to bring more love and truth into the world. They will marry because it will enable them to attain this aim. But once having chosen what is higher, it will be necessary for them to put their whole heart and soul into it, not just a little bit of oneself; a little bit is no use!”
-Tolstoy (Personal Correspondence)
I continue to go. I move on after periods of time much too short. My heart and mind know that this can’t be kept up forever. Since my freshman year of college, I don’t think I’ve remained in any one place for more than six months.
This last leave was half voluntary. California’s Rim Fire, the fourth largest in state history pushed us from our jobs and living arrangements to safer ground- the Yosemite Valley. Our season was clearly over. We were given a choice: to take new positions with Delaware North, or get out of dodge. I chose the latter. This choice brought me to Los Angeles weeks before my scheduled arrival.
It’s been wonderful seeing my brother. He’s been super hospitable, generous with his time, space and resources. As an RA at the University of Southern California, full-time student and part-time IT guy, he has plenty asked of him. Despite that, he’s been willing to put up with me.
The city and campus are very impressive. I can feel that I don’t belong here though. In a couple weeks, it will again be time to move on.
I wonder how this transitiveness affects myself and my view of others. I think I have a tendency to plunge to certain depths with persons whom I see a certain trait in much faster than is usually desired or is expected. I think there are times when I don’t want to put any effort at all into meeting or getting to know people. I think that there is a strange subtle reinforcing loneliness that I tend to embrace at times, rather than trying to put myself out there and surmount it.
Further, how do I serve others in the context of this semi-nomadism? What am I trying to achieve through this constant reshuffling of persons and surroundings? As a start, Tolstoy’s recommendations as far as service to others, and how to love and view them are spot-on: to require less, offer something useful and do such things with the right position of heart. There are major strains of Christianity that view service as being a matter of simply being polite with others, avoiding profanity and supporting worthy causes. A commitment to justice and loving others is held to, yet not tightly enough to raise eyebrows or cause discomfort. Although this does require work, and is a step in the right direction, it simply isn’t enough.
It’s the faith community’s equivalent of “green consumerism”. There are a plethora of companies making a killing based solely on the fact that there are many, many people who want to make beneficial changes in this world and their lives, yet lack understanding of a handful of primary natures: that of change, that of sustainability, that of labor, that of necessity, that of exploitation, that of subsidies and trade agreements, so on and so forth. What you end up with are unnecessary products with “green” labels being embraced by the public and furthering corporate profits and control, as well as abuses of the environment and human rights.
Tolstoy’s first admonition, to ask less of others or to need less, can be a clarion call for Emerson-style self-sufficiency or a heavier dependence upon God. One of these ends unhealthily. Those well-versed in self-reliance understand that the term is a misnomer. To depend on oneself for everything is dangerous-emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc. The other form of dependence however leads to a genuine back-and-forth, or “relationship”, something spoken and written of much in Christian circles, but not always present. I digress. Tolstoy’s admonition that we should ask less of our fellow humans and planet has gained in relevance exponentially since his passing.
Beyond getting rid of unnecessary burdens upon that and those which are outside of ourselves, the ability to offer something is imperative. To tear something down without offering a replacement or alternative is senseless. Negation and removal only get one so far. Being proactively beneficial requires understanding what is worth doing, creating, sustaining. As Tolstoy mentioned, it does require reflection and work. But it is a vocation worth pursuing.
The last step Tolstoy offers is one of the heart and discipline. This is the one Andrew Murray speaks so eloquently about (humility). It’s the one that ties Paul together with the sound of clanging cymbals (love). It’s the one that we are to known by (love). This is the one that we must find ourselves before we can offer it to others, and gives worth to all of our words and actions. It’s one that we in the Christian community tend to lack, myself especially.
These three concepts can, and should, fill a lifetime.
After Los Angeles, I’ll be heading for Lansing, MI. God willing, I’ll be:
1.) …living at an intentional community where members focus their time and lives towards knowing God and serving Him and His creation.
2.) …living an extremely spartan existence (first-world standards). In short, my “room” will be smaller than most bathrooms and sitting on four wheels.
3.) …interning at Lansing’s Refugee Development Center, hopefully working out aim #1.
And after that, I hope to attend a five month long farmer training program just outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.
In between the lines of the moves and rapid changes that I’m embarking on, I see what I am heading for. It’s slow going, but I think that it will be achieved. Something having to do with knowing what I believe, what should be done and what I have to offer. Although I’m tired of leaving people whom I don’t want to leave and meeting others knowing that that’s likely what lies ahead, I continue. To tie in Tolstoy’s primary subject matter, maybe someday I’ll meet someone on that same path- extend hands- and press on. Maybe not. I’m not sure it matters much.
“Understand: the task of an activist is not to negotiate systems of power with as much personal integrity as possible–it’s to dismantle those systems.” -L.K.
(liberalism vs. radicalism)
“Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt [of poverty and hunger] is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition of humanness. Therefore, hospitality in a society structured around profit margins and individualism constitutes not only resistance, but also offers an alternative.”
-Chris Crass, Towards a Non-Violent Society: A Position Paper on Anarchism, Social Change and Food Not Bombs
We Aren’t Going to Pull Ourselves from this Mess
There is much struggle and weariness amongst those who desire and endeavor to do right in this world. Feelings of exhaustion, hopelessness and cynicism are not at all uncommon. Many, conscious of their potential, and subsequent responsibility, find themselves heavy laden with questions, doubts and pressures. The absence of easy answers looms. If those concerned with the plights of others don’t have simple solutions, what hope is there to be had?
“Once again I repeat what I have said before. I feel deeply that we have very little conception of what the Church suffers from the lack of this divine humility, the nothingness that makes room for God to prove His power.” Andrew Murray: Humility
In our pursuit to fix things, we can effectively render ourselves impotent. How many persons with good intentions have perpetuated problems simply due to being in positions where they are too busy or stretched thin to identify root issues rather than mere palliative measures that will within time become problematic themselves.
This feedback cycle grows quickly and heavily. Is drawing away from society the solution? For an individual it may be, but the crux of the matter depends on whether such flight is escapism, or a way to be more intimately involved. Is it an end or a mean towards something better? Take Trappist monks for example. Although they are viewed as a prime example of a group of people disconnected from the world, it has been said that if the monks stopped praying, the world itself would stop spinning. They are actively involved in the matters of this world, whether it be through guidance and teaching, prayerful intercession, or even in simply displaying a more sustainable, virtuous model of living. In a previous post, I offered a brief text from an interview with some of these monks. Their answers show a simple, holistic understanding and comprehension of what is taking place in this world that we, being caught up in the disjointedness of contemporary affairs, all too often aren’t able to recognize. Television drivel, advertising and sensationalism are not healthy. There is nothing new under the sun. (https://tayreed.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/some-thoughts-from-trappist-monks/ )
“Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex,
the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” -Bill Mollison
Is it any wonder that the Christian life is so often feeble and fruitless, when the very root of the Christ life is neglected, is unknown? Is it any wonder that the joy of salvation is so little felt, when that in which Christ found it and brings it, is so little sought? Until a humility which will rest in nothing less that the end and death of self; which gives up all the honor of men as Jesus did, to seek the honor that comes from God alone: which absolutely makes and counts itself nothing, that God may be all, that the Lord alone may be exalted – until such a humility be what we seek in Christ above our chief joy, and welcome at any price, there is very little hope of a religion that will conquer the world.-Andrew Murray: Humility
What if these solutions require hard work? What if they necessitate a willingness to serve? To get dirty? To remain anonymous?
Is it worth it?
What if working hard brings about a greater gratitude and thankfulness for what we have. What if it promotes better discernment of what is necessary? What if service allows us to love others genuinely? What if our attempts to avoid these things has made us rather weak and selfish, and our lives fairly disconnected and aimless?
Before we offer can peace, we must first encounter it ourselves. And when we have found it, it’s what gives our actions meaning, otherwise we’re following the example of Paul’s early life: hard work and self-righteousness, although of no value or worth. Spinning and thrashing about without getting anywhere beneficial. Instead, let us take a better way-
And this is my prayer: that your love for one another may grow more and more with the knowledge and complete understanding that will help you to come to true discernment, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, entirely filled with the fruits of uprightness through Jesus Christ, for the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11
Discerning right action before taking action isn’t an attempt to absolve responsibility, but rather view ourselves and that responsibility properly. We are caretakers. Everything before us has been provided. With this understanding we can work to return things to their intended state and flow, rather than impose our fallible wills and self-serving desires. We need to get involved, we need to “do”. But we must do so from the proper perspective- with something worth offering, and in the correct manner, which is from a position of genuine humility, both of which are things more connected to “being” than “doing”.
I should: Identify a need. Work towards a solution. Allow God to work through me. Accept the fact that I am broken and fail time and time again. My deficiency, however, is opportunity for one more powerful to work despite me in ways beyond my understanding.
“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.” -Bill Mollison
I’ve come back to this video every few months or so since it came out. Every time that I watch it, it strikes something new in me. It’s an incredible witness of purpose and love being found through brokenness, confusion and pain and is full of parallels regarding our own redemption. I hope that you’re able to find something in it as well, even if you’ve seen it before.
Ed’s Story- My Garden
Things that I don’t see as perpetuation of inequality or shallowness are few and far between nowadays. Understanding and awareness compel us to act, lest our hearts harden, and that scares me. Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on our own strength and abilities, but that doesn’t absolve us of responsibility. I only pray I can find the right balance.
That’s a great question, yet one that I dislike answering in person. I find it difficult to come up with a brief answer on the spot that fully expresses “why” accurately and comprehensively. If I speak at length on the subject, I usually find myself quickly digressing and, again, end up dissatisfied with my own answer.
Truth is, as I’ve included in my response several times, my answer isn’t simple. I don’t have a quick “college is a racket” or “I don’t have the money to stay in school” answer. My decision to drop out has been the result of much introspection, evaluation of values, goals and purpose, input from persons whom I love and trust (some suggesting I stay, some suggesting it may be best not to do so), and reflection upon where I feel I’ve seen the hand of God very much at work.
Every once in a while, when asked what my reason for leaving is, I hear instead someone accusing me of doing something foolish rather than someone looking to understand my motivations (the chances that I’m speaking of you are slim- rest easy). That’s fine. The fact that this might offend or upset me makes myself more aware that I may be a bit prideful. Maybe more than a bit. Anyway, in their eyes, I am doing something foolish. A column in this morning’s Jackson Citizen Patriot states, “All of the data says the same thing: getting a college degree is about raising your standard of living over a 40-year career.” The fact is, raising my standard of living over a 40-year career isn’t high on my list of priorities, let alone on it to begin with. I’ve lived in a trailer without heat, a canvas tent in the woods and a camper without electricity at different points in my life, and I didn’t feel like I was particularly suffering. Each were wonderful experiences that I look back upon with fondness. It’s funny thinking about times in my life when I felt “displeased” by my surroundings or “trapped” in a sense and the conditions I was living in. I’m a fairly flexible person and don’t require much. I understand that I’m young, but won’t always be and I understand that I don’t have a family to provide for, yet may someday. Matt. 6:31-34.
I also know that my main focus in finishing my degree at this point in time wouldn’t be in order to better prepare myself to live in the way that I think God wants me to live. My aim moreso would be attaining a degree in order to gain the security of being able to more easily find employment and esteem in the eyes of others. I don’t think that those are good enough reasons. I don’t want my story to be one of pursuit of security, comfort and man’s approval, although I absolutely get caught up in those from time to time.
Where Am I Going?
Life is something unfolding, something to be experienced. At the beginning of March, I’ll be flying to Puerto Rico and staying at Juana Diaz’s Campamento del Caribe for a period of time yet to be determined. My uncle is the executive director of the camp. I’m really looking forward to seeing him and his family there.
I don’t know how indicative of the camp as a whole these pictures are, but they were my favorites of those that I looked at:
After that, I’ll most likely be heading back to the U.S. Chances are good that I’ll first head back to Yosemite National Park or possibly to Mt. Rainier National Park. After some time there, I’m thinking of joining the Americorps (much like the U.S.’ domestic Peace Corps) for a year, and I also think living in a L’Arche community for some time would be beneficial as well. Of course, this is all tentative and absolutely subject to change. There are plenty of other things, groups, and endeavors that I’d like to get involved with or pursue, but there’s no sense in trying to live that far into the future.
What do I want to do or plan on doing? Live simply and holistically. Appreciate and be grateful. Use what I’ve been given responsibly. Gain understanding. Cultivate something beautiful. Be open to leading. Love. Things like that. When I think of persons whom I most admire and respect, I see gentle people living in uncommon ways. People who look others in their eyes and listen and take time to be thankful and breathe and care.
Erich Fromm says, “One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often.” I think he’s right. But this pain and sadness and sacrifice is something that God can work through so powerfully. A humble, broken, and contrite spirit is fertile ground for making a difference upon the world.
I hope that this answers some of the questions that some of you have posed. If there’s anything I should elaborate on or any more questions, don’t hesitate to let me know.
Listen/ W.S. Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
“Life is a succession of crises and moments when we have to rediscover who we are and what we really want.” -Jean Vanier
Sailing off again…
I’ve come to a place where I think that it’s better for me to not continue to attend Spring Arbor University. This, of course, isn’t without mixed feelings. I’ve learned much while I’ve been here. I’m so thankful for the experiences and people that have led to that happening. I’ll miss much and for that reason will be leaving with a heavy heart. You guys really have been a blessing… Students, professors, friends, people I’ve only recently met, don’t know too well or even just see around. Thank you..
God prepares us, teaches us and shapes us in varying ways and as unique individuals we have different roles that we are best suited to fill (1 Cor 12:12-27). When we find those thing that we’re passionate about, I think it’s our responsibility to chase after them and allow God to fully work through us. You find that wave and simply let it take you. If anyone is curious as far as where I see this wave possibly leading- just ask.
In regards to the post I wrote about staying not too long ago- I can honestly say that it wasn’t without reason that I stayed here until now rather than leaving a few weeks ago. I feel I’ve gotten the go ahead to “go well”. There are reasons why I want to go and reasons why I want to stay, but it simply seems I’m to leave at this point.
I’d like to ask a simple question to those I’ll be leaving behind (in presence). Actually, anyone reading this-
“Why are you here?”
“Why have you been placed on this planet? Why are you living? Why are you doing what you do every day? Why are you saying what you say? Where is meaning found?” These are questions that have profoundly changed my perspective and I find that I daily need to reexamine myself in light of them. Answer them every day and live accordingly. They cut to the core of our true beliefs and values (think Phaedrus, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).
Much like the past, I’m sure I’ll be updating this intermittently. If you’d like, feel free to subscribe at the bottom of the page.
I’ll be around for a few weeks and would love to take anyone out for coffee who’s interested. As usual, onward and upwards…