maturity

Time for Confession—and Action

THE NEWS IN mid-May was grim: Scientists announced that melt across the West Antarctic was proceeding much faster than before. In fact, they said that at this point the melt of the six great glaciers fronting Amundsen Bay was “unstoppable,” and that over a number of decades it would raise sea levels by 10 feet or more.

This is another way of saying: Given dominion over the earth, we’ve failed. We’ve taken one after another of the planet’s great physical features and wrecked them. The Arctic? Summer sea ice is reduced by 80 percent, and it’s an every-year affair now to boat through the Northwest Passage, impassably choked by ice until this millennium began. The seven seas? Thirty percent more acidic than they were in the past—and the acidity could double or triple by the end of the century. The Antarctic? It’s not just warming rapidly, but its wind patterns have been changed by the ozone hole in ways that amplify the heating. Storms are stormier, droughts are deeper, fires last longer, rain falls harder.

And all because it was a little easier and a little cheaper not to change off fossil fuels. When scientists sounded the alarm about all this in the late 1980s, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was about 350 parts per million—or what we now consider the upper bound of safety. If we’d heeded their fervent warnings, we’d have moved with great speed to convert to solar and wind power. We’d have parked our SUVs. We’d have insulated every home in the world. It would have cost money and it would have been inconvenient; on the other hand, it could have bred solidarity in much the same way that preparing for World War II transformed the U.S.

But we couldn’t be bothered. We ignored the first commandant that we’d been given: to exercise sensible, sane stewardship over this planet that God had found so good. We stood by as our addiction to fossil fuel ran Genesis in reverse.

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Small Screen, Great Drama

IT’S A TRUISM to say that television is outpacing cinema for entertainment quality and depth of exploration. Since The Wire appeared a decade ago, studios have been realizing that there is an audience for long-form storytelling that is willing to think.

Recently I’ve been struck by the set-in-the-’80s espionage thriller The Americans, the deeply haunting police procedural True Detective, the hilarious pathos of Louie and Veep, and the sly, shocking Hannibal, a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs: All hugely entertaining, dramatically credible, and challenging both as works that require sustained attention and in terms of what they say about life. The Americans is really an exploration of marriage and cultural identity wrapped up in Cold War cloaks-and-daggers; True Detective is a lament for the broken parts of America, and an affirmation that friendship endures above almost everything else; and Hannibal is a postmodern delving into Dante’s Inferno, looking at the underbelly of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s assertion that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

What’s most exciting is that it’s now considered viable to make drama that actually asks real questions about life and is prepared not to answer them pat. Along with the vast amount of social media conversation about these works, what we have is more akin to ancient forms of public entertainment that required a kind of audience participation—theatrical catharsis meeting gathered conversation to produce a community hermeneutic. When we talk about TV and cinema, we’re talking about ourselves.

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From the Archives: June-July 1974

COMING TO know Christ can be likened to culture shock, when all the old ego-props are knocked down and the rug pulled out from under one’s feet. A maturing relationship with God involves the pain of continual self-confrontation as well as the joy of self-fulfillment, continual dying and rising again, continual rebirth, the dialectic of judgment and grace. For the first time in my life, I have begun to have the strength to face myself as I am without excuse—but equally important, without guilt. I know that I am sinful, but I could not bear this knowledge if I did not also know that I am accepted.

I now understand the profundity of 1 Corinthians 13, when Paul says that all that ultimately matters is love. Human endeavor without it is a “noisy gong or clanging cymbal.” One may have “prophetic power” (i.e., be a perceptive theologian), “understand all mysteries and all knowledge” (i.e., be an insightful intellectual), “give away” all one has or “deliver” one’s “body to be burned” (i.e., be a dedicated revolutionary), “have all faith, enough to move mountains” (i.e., be an inspiring preacher). But without love these are nothing, absolutely nothing. ...

“[The one] who does not know love does not know God; for God is love.” That sums it all up for me. Loving care for each other, sensitivity to each other’s needs, is the mark of true Christians.

Edith Black lived in Berkeley and worked with the Christian World Liberation Front when this article appeared in The Post-American, the precursor to Sojourners.

Image: Cymbal, matabum / Shutterstock.com

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Seeking Clarity

Close-up of a man's face, Tudor Catalin Gheorghe / Shutterstock.com
Close-up of a man's face, Tudor Catalin Gheorghe / Shutterstock.com

NEW YORK — The "October trifecta" that touched my life — my father's death, surgery the next day, and the unprecedented destruction of Hurricane Sandy around New York — did what traumatic events often do.

They left me emotionally fatigued and ready for some fresh clarity, fresh perspective, and fresh prioritizing.

When life seems fragile, it's clear some things matter more than others. It reminds us that attention must be paid to family, friends, and the differences we make in our work and our faith. Lesser concerns — like the tablet computer I have been angling to acquire — quickly fall away.

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