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
Is I. Is complicity shedding
First felt as anxiousness. Recoil.
But now welcome absence.
Absence welcome. Beheld in common with few.
Compañero? Drink of this cup? De café.
Cultivated in difficult/ path/ building.
In rest broken (awake?) as unknown
Sniffs, examines and scrapes
Intruder/ or venturer/ who takes nights away.
Though unnecessary by some measure
Still nights/ unstill nights, a/way are chosen.
All too aware, I found myself anxious. I didn’t want to do much of anything, but felt the need to do something, something to redeem myself.
“But why? Hadn’t I done enough? What am I even supposed to do now?” My mind was tired of the grappling.
I lay down. Time continued to flow, but I was imperceptibly removed. The passing of cars through puddles outside lulled me away. That’s all there was.
Cars coming and going and faint music from another room.
I woke to a clear mind and a healthy sense of being. I hadn’t done much, but I certainly had received.
What’s more refreshing than accepting that which is freely given? What’s more refreshing than grace?
“To be human is to learn to live with faith. We must die, but also learn to be okay.” (“Attachment”, Jeff Pianki)
Yesterday I visited an old spot in a wooded area. I had been there one year before.
Frustrated with different events, I barreled from the Spring Arbor dining commons with reckless abandon, not caring that I was flying on a road bike on wet grass or that there were pedestrians milling about ahead of me. I knew I was done. I didn’t know where I was going, but I sure was going to get there fast.
I ended up in some woods. I sat, I listened, I wrote and I made up my mind. I wasn’t going to force anything anymore. And I was at peace with that.
I took a twig to remind myself of the promise, which to this day sits on the dashboard of my car.
While the twig lasted, my resolve on the decision did not.
Regardless, it was good to get back to that spot. It was good to be reminded of why I keep that stick on the dash and think about what it means now.
“All circles presuppose they’ll end where they begin. But only in their leaving can they ever come back around.”
(mewithoutYou. Or Hegel)
“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)
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.
“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…
If you’re avoiding something, oftentimes, everything else to do seems to be a bit more appealing.
I’m not really avoiding finishing the thoughts that I started a few days ago. I guess I’m simply not ready for it. My mind isn’t there yet.
Much like this morning’s post, this one comes out of something I’m reading as well.
I’m really enjoying Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. As I was going through it this evening, an excerpt stuck out as it reminded me of some thoughts on a similar topic that a friend had written some months ago.
“The terrible thing about public schools is they take young children who are natural poets and story writers and have them read literature and then step away from it and talk “about” it.
The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
“What did the poet mean by the ‘red wheelbarrow’? Did he mean a sunset? A chariot? And why was it ‘glazed with rain’?” So many questions. He meant nothing so much as a wheelbarrow, and it was red because it was red and it had just rained. So much depends on it because poems are small moments of enlightenment – at that moment the wheelbarrow just as it was woke Williams up and was everything” (p.30-31, emphasis added).
I really like that last part. The simplicity and profundity of what is experienced and what it brings about. And not Prov. 1:22 “simple”. The good “simple”.
The drizzle has stopped, but I can still hear cars sloshing past. I’m breathing in fresh rain air. This ginger tea is hot.
It’s simple. But I’m awake and so grateful for it. There’s more than enough meaning in this to appreciate.