Wednesday, October 29, 2008


The Burden of the Gospels (Wendell Berry)

Some of you have been indignant that I would compare, following Matthew Fox, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ with our treatment of the Earth at the beginning of the third millennium of the Christina era. I will not defend what I wrote, and have subsequently spoken in Quaker Meeting, but share the following, the last two paragraphs from Wendell Berry’s piece “The Burden of the Gospels” They are absolutely key. He doesn’t write it as a secular “environmental” essay, but from within the tradition which still has claims upon us in this post-modern, “post-Christian” world. It is on the burden of being mindful of human vocation in the industrial era.

Wendell Berry’s conclusion to “The Burden of the Gospels”

“To be convinced of the sanctity of the world and to be mindful of a human vocation to responsible membership in such a world, must always have been a burden. But it is a burden that falls with greatest weight on us humans of the industrial age who have been and are, by any measure, the humans most guilty of desecrating the world and of destroying creation… It seems as though industrial humanity had brought about phase two of original sin. We all are now complicit in the murder of creation. We certainly do know how to apply better measures to our conduct and our world. We know how to do far better than we are doing. But we don’t know how to extricate ourselves from our complicity very surely or very soon. How could we live without degrading our soils, slaughtering our forests, polluting our streams, poisoning the air and the rain? How could we live without the ozone hole and hypotoxic zones? How could we live without endangering species, including our own? How could we live without the war economy and the holocaust of fossil fuels? To the offer of more abundant life, we have responded with choosing the economics of extinction.

If we take the Gospels seriously, we are left, in our dire predicament, facing an utterly humbling question: How must we live and work so as not to be estranged from God’s presence in his work and in all his creatures? The answer we may say, is given in Jesus’ teaching about love But that answer raises another question that plunges us into the abyss of our ignorance, which is both human and peculiarly modern. How are we to make of that love an economic practice?

That question calls for many answers and we don’t know most of them. It is a question that those humans who want to answer it will be living and working with for a long time – if they are allowed a long time. Meanwhile, may heaven guard us from those who think they already have the answers.”

-Wendell Berry: yeoman-farmer, poet, essayist, novelist, American prophet


Remnants (first of four)

The prophet Isaiah, addressing a tribe once again exiled, this time among the Assyrians, spoke of the remnant of the just who would inherit a restored kingdom. As the most powerful empire ever assembled starts to crumble, and our geological era, the Cenozoic, heads into its terminal period due to the planet's fifth wave of extinction, we are once again in endtimes of biblical proportions. We must pray for a remnant who will sow the seeds of righteousness among men, as well as a remnant gene pool embedded in an ecosystem sufficient to repopulate the earth's web. For a just remnant at the end of a geological era needs address not only justice to our fellow man, but to the earth itself.

Let's be clear. In the Hebrew Bible, justice was never only a matter of how we treated one another, it operated within a land ethic to which the prophets constantly referred. Theirs was a world of farmers and herders, Cains and Abels, and unless one cared for the land, there could be no justice among men. But all "Axial" religions have worked within the axis of the holocene, the mild, stable climate we have enjoyed for the breadth of the neolithic revolution, or ten thousand years. What kind of ecosystem does the just remnant inherit when the holocene ends, and with it, neolithic stability? What crops does the farmer plant when the capriciousness of the weather becomes fundamental climate shift, and conditions in which crops grow are guaranteed to change during their lifetime? Justice at the end of the Cenozoic is more than human, more than a condition for right governance of lands we have colonized. It is fundamentally ecojustice.

The first remnant in this tradition was Noah, who preserved genetically viable pairs of all the visible species he could fit on the proverbial Ark. At the end of the holocene, we again face a flood, much more threatening than that which occurred in the Black Sea ca. 5600 BCE, yet again called to be Noahs. As with Noah, the just remnant in our time must address conditions not only for our species survival, not just the "land", beloved because of what it gives us, but the very conditions of life on the planet. Radical climate change invokes the possibility of a planetscape like Venus, or the infant Earth, where CO2 is so concentrated that the planet is too hot for life.

Who is this remmant, and how can we assure their success? Isaiah's colleague Elijah fled to the wilderness, fearful for his own preservation, for he considered himself the last just man among the Israelites. Yahweh came to him and said, "What are you doing out here? I tell you there are 7000 just men and women back amongst the tribal settlements. You just don't know who they are..." Elijah packed up and went back to town, reassured that others were quietly reinforcing his work.

Are we the change we have been looking for? The just remnant are not necessarily the prophetic, the charismatic, the self-anointed eco-warriors. One of their characteristics is facelessness and humility. Perhaps we will not recognize them until we become like them.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]