Wednesday, October 29, 2008


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.

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