Timothy McMahan King is the author of the forthcoming book Addiction Nation: What the Opioid Crisis Reveals About Us, available June 11 from Herald Press.
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Death and Resurrection. Addiction and Recovery
Good Friday and Easter Sunday are not just moments of remembering events of 2,000 years ago but a celebration of an ongoing reality. Examples of resurrection come in unlikely places. Recently, I found one in a 2013 study of brain scans or people recovering from severe addictions.
Saving Seeds, Soil, and Souls
THE PLOW. Today it is a nostalgic symbol of a nearly forgotten agrarian past. This farm tool evokes scenes of wholesome farmers who, by the sweat of their brow, churn under dark, rich soil with help from a friendly beast of burden. After scattering seeds of wheat and the blessing of good rain, those fields will become amber waves of grain. The family will celebrate another good harvest. The bread will sustain them through another winter until fields can be planted again.
Scraaatch. Wait a minute! Wes Jackson, geneticist, farmer, and author, wants to interrupt this pastoral vision. In fact, he would interpret it quite differently. He might describe a scene of environmental carnage in which an unwitting population slowly sows the seeds of our own destruction by slipping the plow blade under the living skin of a quickly failing planet. “The plow has destroyed more options for future generations than the sword,” Jackson states bluntly.
Nearly half of the world’s soil suitable for growing crops has disappeared since humans started tilling and planting. Today, up to 70 percent of our caloric intake comes from staple cereal crops planted in large-scale annual monocultures. A study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that we are losing soil 10 times faster than we can replace it. While Jackson acknowledges that over-reliance on fossil fuels is a crucial issue, he argues that “soil is more important than oil and just as nonrenewable.”
In addition to the danger of soil loss, agricultural production “provides the lion’s share of greenhouse-gas emissions from the food system, releasing up to 86 percent of all food-related anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions.” The global food production system—from planting to packaging—contributes about one-third of all greenhouse-gas emissions, though this topic was not part of the recent climate negotiations in Paris.
While practices of low-till and no-till annual crops help reduce erosion and increase the availability of arable land as a carbon sink, these half-measures aren’t effective enough, according to Jackson. What he proposes is nothing less than a wholescale rethinking of the fundamental tenets of agriculture.
Every Temple Falls
The fate of the Temple of Artemis, the fate of any temple, is one that need not be feared. Death, and collapse, have lost their sting. This process of decay is not an inherently ugly one. There was beauty in those remaining stones and still value in the ones that had already returned to the ground from whence they had been pulled.
Whether human or stone, from dust we have come and to dust we shall return.
4 Ways to Help Your Community Talk About Environmental Ethics
In a world of highly charged political rhetoric, the essay provides language and a framework for a community discussion on environmental ethics that takes a step back from immediate policy debate. This work doesn’t diminish the importance of these other discussions; rather it provides a context in which that work might be more readily possible.
Our ability to make meaningful collective moral decision requires us to be able to first have enough common moral language to have a conversation. This might be a good place to start.
'Cheap Grace' and Climate Change
Novelist Jonathan Franzen was getting hammered earlier this month. He recently wrote a piece delving into his ornithological passion in The New Yorker entitled “Carbon Capture: Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?”
The Audubon Society has accused him of “extreme intellectual dishonesty,”Grist has labeled him “confused,” and Think Progress held nothing back and called his recent article “bird brained.” (My favorite so far might be the Washington Post saying that the Audubon has “flipped Franzen the bird.”)
Some of this criticism, in my opinion, is justified. Franzen set up an option between treating the planet with “disfiguring aggression” to try and mitigate climate change related emissions or “with palliation and sympathy” since the battle has already been lost. This choice, as the pieces above point out, is a false one.
Unfortunately, those controversial statements have covered over what I found to be the core argument of the article, and his most compelling case.
The Wisdom of Those Who Plant Seeds
The day after Easter, it snowed. I was carrying in my last buckets of sap before leaving for Portland and was not surprised by the flurries, but they still stymied my expectations of warmer weather. The equinox had passed several weeks before, and while the start of spring had been marked on the calendar, it was (is) dragging its feet in coming.
Who has known the mind of God or even a good 7-day weather forecast?
We see and know in part. Certainty has never been the steady state of the human condition. Our lives are stretched with the awareness that clarity, at its best, comes with a smudge.
The experience of knowing we do not know can be felt in different ways. One is confusion, another, mystery. Both are confrontations of the hidden or unknown, but one brings us to awe and the other despair. One can leave us feeling isolated and the other in wonder at our relationship to that which is so much greater than ourselves.
The space between the two is not in the level of knowledge but rather our relationship to the knowing and unknowing itself. In the midst of our unknowing, we are faced with a choice: passive uncertainty or the stumbling action of faith. The beginning of wisdom is not the expectation of certainty with knowledge but the understanding that the kind of life most worth living is always an act of faith.
The Mundane Resurrection
It was five years ago now. I had recently finished a few week stay in the ICU, more than two months in the hospital, and more than one conversation between my parents and doctors about whether I would pull through. Still, I had made it, and after several months of regular home nurse visits, fentanyl patches, dilaudid pills, and 12 hours a day on an IV for liquid and nutrition, I was stable but still far from recovered.
The Saturday before Easter was sunny and unseasonably but appropriately warm. My mother and I took a walk outside, over a mile, the furthest I had gone in nearly five months.
“Wouldn’t it be poetic,” I asked, “If suddenly this whole illness, everything that went wrong in the hospital, all made sense tomorrow on Easter?”
“Hunny,” my mom responded kindly, “I think that’s a lot of pressure to put on the pastor. Don’t you?”
The next day was seasonably and appropriately repetitious. I heard nothing new. The same Easter story that had been read for centuries on centuries was read again. I received no specialized message from the divine about my own pain and struggle. That morning, I realized that might be the point.
Jesus came to make resurrection mundane.
'I Was an Idiot' as a Sign of Grace
Few people in my life would likely make the mistake of characterizing me as a naturally disciplined or pious person. Zealous, maybe. Pious, no. I’ve tended to live life in a passionate pursuit of a particular direction only to stumble, fall, get back up, and run a different way (not necessarily opposite, just different).
Thus, it has been an interesting experience for me this Lent to spend time reading, writing, and reflecting on discipline and ascetic practices. This stumbling and turning has often felt like an aimless back and forth, but in these weeks of reflection, it has been encouraging to look back and see growth. While the back and forth has been real, what has seemed like “just meanderings” have turned out to have some forward direction.
Father Richard Rohr gives this encouragement, “The steps to maturity are, by their very nature, immature.”
As we look back, each step behind us is going to seem immature, maybe even like a mistake. Hitting our head and saying “God, I was such an idiot back then,” is evidence of grace at work in our lives. The ability to see the ways we failed that were invisible to us at the time, is a sign of our growth in wisdom and discernment. This is often hard for me to accept.
The Beginners' Guide to the Sound of Sap
If you listen, each bucket has its own special sound. First are the empty buckets and their muted ting of dripping sap falling straight to the galvanized steel bottom. Next is the dop that reverberates from the slightly sweet drop running off the spile to a thin layer of liquid below. But it is the soft, and all too rare and timeless plop that I wait for. That quiet plop (or sometimes plip) signals that over half of that the three-gallon bucket is full and the tap is giving in abundance.
There is a slight quickening of the heart when the bucket is heavy enough to need two hands to pull off the hook. Then an involuntary smile to hear the pitch of the shwoosh ascend as the smaller bucket presents it’s offering to the larger. But sometimes, before I touch the bucket at all, I stop and wait to hear what it has to say. Ting? Dop? Plip? Plop?
I look at the tree and then its neighbors. I strain to hear the rhythm of the buckets around me and wonder, what makes one tap run so well when others are nearly dry?
When the World Looks Back
Lent is a season of preparation. But the process of preparing for Easter does not need to be all negative commitments and focused on the things we don’t do.
One opportunity for developing new positive practices during Lent involves learning to see. The Gospels recount at least three different instances after the resurrection in which followers of Jesus were not able to recognize or “see” him: Mary at the tomb mistaking Jesus for the gardener, the road to Emmaus, and the delayed reaction when Jesus gave great fishing advice.
The truth of Easter is not always readily apparent. It requires the ability to see clearly. This means rubbing our eyes, clearing them of gunk, and focusing our vision.
Having recently shifted from spending most of my day in an office to spending almost all of it outside, I’ve been ruminating on what it might mean to practice seeing the non-human or natural world more clearly. Here are my initial reflections:
Have you ever been moved by a sunset? A star-filled canopy of the night sky? A canyon-filled horizon? A towering wooded cathedral?
What was the feeling? Gratitude for the beauty? Humility in the midst of grandeur? Inspired to greatness while experiencing greatness? Joy in celebration of it all?
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