Chopping down Louisiana’s forests to meet Europe’s energy goals

Humanity’s original vocation in Scripture (never rescinded) is to steward God’s property, the planet. As a can’t-get-enough hunter and fisher, backpacker, gardener and all around nature lover, I’ve always been interested in our world’s biomes and their health. It’s one of the reasons I did an MA in International Development.

Western Europe wants green energy. Good so far. They’ve decided wood pellets are green. They call it “biomass energy.” Problem: Western Europe doesn’t have jack for forests. So they’re getting their wood pellets from the southeast USA. 2.5 million tons in 2008, which jumped to 9 million tons in 2012. They want 20 million tons annually by 2020. That 20 million tons annually is planned to come primarily from the US and Canada.

That’s a lot of clearcutting.

And as far as following established limits, in 2008 activist Dean Wilson traced bags of cypress mulch at Walmart and Home Depot labeled “sustainably harvested” back to the Atchafalaya Basin. The Basin’s cypress swamps serve as a hurricane-absorber for the coast, and are a refuge for all manner of wildlife. Due to the past, when Big Business says cypress aren’t being cut down, environmentalists are leery to believe it again. Plus, clear –cut areas can rejuvenate, but the biome for wildlife is catastrophically altered overnight, and the hurricane-mitigating abilities are wiped out until it grows back.

One questions is, how “carbon neutral” are wood pellets when used on this kind of scale?

Well, eventually, when the trees grow back, but it’s the next 50 to 100 years environmentalists are VERY worried about in terms of carbon in the atmosphere. It’s the tipping-point effects of the carbon affecting the planet’s temperature that we are concerned about now, not when the trees are sucking carbon at the rate they are now, 60 to 80 years from now.  For example, get the Ross Ice Shelf sliding faster off the Antarctic land mass than it already is… well, if that baby hits the water in one big slide, expect sea levels to go up at least 3 meters immediately. Result? Among other things, several billion people as refugees around the world, and US Senators will lose their beachfront homes.

To a large number of  American evangelicals, many of whom expect the Second Coming any minute since President Obama won a second term and their kids listen to rock music, the whole global warming/climate change discussion is a conspiracy for communists, the UN, or the Anti-Christ (or all 3) to take over the world. As a result, they’ve opted out of any serious engagement in the climate change issue, citing that they still love nature “I like going to the lake as much as the next guy…”

But for those of us Christians concerned about environmental issues, as for the wood pellets in Europe:  Is this an example of what we want to call ‘green’?

You can read the story here:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/16/green-energy-demandineuropemaybethreateningamericanforests.html

Structuration Theory and Theology PART TWO: the water and the stones

In the last post I described the sociology theory “Structuration” and how I compare its view (of the development of human societies) to water in a streambed flowing among stones – both the water and the stones mutually affecting each other. I was talking about this because I suspect the history of change in Christian theology is also a story of Structuration.

Christians I know tend to have a variety of ideas about changes in theology. Some see change as a watering down of the clear, Divinely-inspired teaching of the Bible; as in, people change theology to suit their whims instead of obeying what God has said. I don’t think that accurately describes the development of Christian doctrine down through the centuries, and certainly doesn’t reflect how a doctrine like, say, the Atonement, has undergone change. People who take this approach are well-meaning I am sure, but I don’t think their understanding of the history of Christian thought is very robust.

Others see it more in terms of progressive revelation; as in, God is helping us slowly develop better and better theology as the centuries unfold. This sounds encouraging, though we have to admit it’s pretty us-focused, self-serving, and naïve concerning the negative effects much theology has.

Some see it as simply a matter of applying the correct scientific methods of interpreting the Scriptures, and whoever does the best work is the one who is correct. Thus the exegetical wars between Wesleyans and Calvinists, etc. etc., ad nauseum.  I think history has shown these wars of textual minutia to be unwinnable, with a large swath of bombed-out territory in between the trenches, littered with lots and lots of human casualties that too many of the weapons-designers don’t get out to see.

I suspect that the truth about changes in theology is a lot like Structuration theory’s explanation of change in human societies. The traditions, beliefs and worldviews a person grows up with shapes their view of theology, (and their understanding of what the Scriptures mean, and which Scriptures are more important than others). But then again, that person’s unique thought processes interpret what they see in the world around them in ways that are possible to break beyond the bounds of the prevailing thought around them – thus pushing the stream of water flow in a different direction, in a minor – or sometimes major – shift. These changes in perspective in theology are often in response to discoveries or new thought in other realms – biology, physics, archeology, humanities, etc. But it’s not one-way, because the prevailing theology/worldview shapes the assumptions those scientists come to their work with as well. Thus I think history shows that the human society and its prevailing thought systems (and new discoveries) affects theology’s development, and theology affects the society as well, in an on-going interplay.  Easy example: when we discover the earth goes ‘round the sun, instead of the sun going ‘round the earth, it’s hard to stick with a theology – and an exegetical method – that says the sun goes ‘round the earth.  There’s a lot more to be said about this. Our theologies have changed in all kinds of ways down through the centuries because of things we’ve learned in science, or because of our consciences. More on structuration theory and theology in the next post.

Today is the fifth day of Christmas Season in the Christian calendar. So it’s not too late for me to sincerely wish you: Merry Christmas.

Wendell Berry

In our increasingly ecologically-aware age, more and more people are asking themselves How can we live well, and sustainably, on this planet in the long haul? How can we feed billions of people and maintain the health of our planet’s ecosystem, our own well-being societally and physiologically, and the fertility and usability of our farmlands? These kinds of questions are dovetailed into many things, including our increasing awareness that the health of our bodies is directly impacted by the healthiness of our foods, which are in turn directly impacted by the health of the soil in which they are grown – and our mental and emotional well-being is likewise impacted by the health of our bodies, the health of our society and world all around us.

Growing numbers of Christians are coming to believe these questions are an express interest of Christian theology as well. Since the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, and mankind’s first and explicit vocation in the story of Scripture is to tend the natural world and be its steward, more and more of us are talking about the state and health of our world – and what we do to impact and shape that – as a high importance Christian concern.

For people like that, Wendell Berry is a rich, vibrant resource. Berry is a Christian, a poet (Kentucky’s laureate), a prolific author, an agrarian philosopher, and a farmer. He has farmed the same 200 acres in Kentucky for the last 50 years. As a social commentator reflecting on the natural world he reminds me at times of John Burroughs, Annie Dillard, Henry Beston, Muir, Thoreau, and others of America’s great nature writers. For people thinking about health, food, how we produce food, and the world’s future, Berry’s agrarian essays are a must read. They are profound, full of wit and humor and an artist’s sense of pacing, tone and detail.

And we need to think about them. Berry contends that approaching the natural/biological world of farming and food with the industrial, mechanical mindset of the Industrial Revolution has created industrial-scale agri-business that is increasingly and alarmingly less and less healthy for the soil itself, the land, the nutritional value of our food, the ecosystems of our planet, and the wholeness and health of our own bodies and communities. Yes, we have produced more quantities of food. But the long-term effects on our soil, communities, farmers, ecosystems and bodies are, he contends, not worth it. He is calling for a re-think and re-set in the way we farm and live. And he believes we can farm in ways that are healthy, diverse, enriching the land, soil, people – and even good for the farmers themselves – and the multitude of businesses which we have lost in uber-scale food production. I highly recommend his book Bringing It To The Table: On Farming and Food. It is only one of many, but he pulls a lot of things together there.

 

 

Book Excerpt: N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Scripture. Do We Need a Historical Adam?

Today I downloaded, via Kindle, N.T. Wright’s new book, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues. In it he gives his take on a wide variety of issues today swirling in religion, science, politics, and the coming of Jesus. Below is the beginning of the chapter in which he wrings out whether or not a Biblically faithful Christian needs to believe Adam was a historical person.

“THE ROOT PROBLEM we face as Christians is that in articulating a Christian vision of the cosmos the way we want to do, we find ourselves hamstrung because it is assumed that to be Christian is to be anti-intellectual, antiscience, obscurantist, and so forth. This constitutes a wake-up call to us in this form: though the Western tradition and particularly the Protestant and evangelical traditions have claimed to be based on the Bible and rooted in scripture, they have by and large developed long-lasting and subtle strategies for not listening to what the Bible is in fact saying. We must stop giving nineteenth-century answers to sixteenth-century questions and try to give twenty-first-century answers to first-century questions. Our concern is for the truth and beyond that for our love of the God of truth and our strong, biblically rooted sense that this God calls us to celebrate the wonder of his creation and to work for his glory within it. There are two theological drivers for people to believe in a young-earth creationism and a historical Adam. The first supposes that if people let go of this position, they are letting go of the authority of scripture . I suspect , myself, that sociocultural factors are among the main influences. In dispensationalism in particular, a flat, literal reading of Genesis is part of a package that includes the rapture, Armageddon, saving souls for a timeless eternity, and so on, together with the usual package of ultraconservative (as it seems to a Brit) policies in society, government, and foreign policy. So I suspect we need to think through the question of how the authority of scripture actually works and what it might mean in this case. But there is a second theological driver of the problem. This has to do with the deep-rooted Western soteriology that has characterized Catholic as well as Protestant, liberal as well as conservative: a sense that we know, ahead of time, that the Bible, particularly its central New Testament texts like the Gospels and Romans , must really be about the question of how we get saved. For some, particularly in the Reformed tradition, the question of Adam as the federal head of his descendants is one part of the soteriology that sees Jesus the Messiah as the federal head of all those who are “in him.” So let me say something brief about scriptural authority, and then something slightly fuller about Adam and related issues.”

Wright, N. T. (2014-06-03). Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues (Kindle Locations 437-445). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

George MacDonald on the Bible, the world of nature, and discovering more than the Bible expressly says

Here’s the famous English poet/author/Christian mystic George MacDonald on the world of nature, questions, and God inviting humanity to learn things beyond which the Bible has expressly said. This is the first part of his sermon “The Higher Faith.” There are some real jewels in here.

“The aspiring child is often checked by the dull disciple who has learned his lessons so imperfectly that he has never got beyond his school-books. Full of fragmentary rules, he has perceived the principle of none of them. The child draws near to him with some outburst of unusual feeling, some scintillation of a lively hope, some wide-reaching imagination that draws into the circle of religious theory the world of nature, and the yet wider world of humanity, for to the child the doings of the Father fill the spaces; he has not yet learned to divide between God and nature, between Providence and grace, between love and benevolence;—the child comes, I say, with his heart full, and the answer he receives from the dull disciple is—“God has said nothing about that in his word, therefore we have no right to believe anything about it. It is better not to speculate on such matters. However desirable it may seem to us, we have nothing to do with it. It is not revealed.” For such a man is incapable of suspecting, that what has remained hidden from him may have been revealed to the babe. With the authority, therefore, of years and ignorance, he forbids the child, for he believes in no revelation but the Bible, and in the word of that alone. For him all revelation has ceased with and been buried in the Bible, to be with difficulty exhumed, and, with much questioning of the decayed form, re-united into a rigid skeleton of metaphysical and legal contrivance for letting the love of God have its way unchecked by the other perfections of his being.

But to the man who would live throughout the whole divine form of his being, not confining himself to one broken corner of his kingdom, and leaving the rest to the demons that haunt such deserts, a thousand questions will arise to which the Bible does not even allude. Has he indeed nothing to do with such? Do they lie beyond the sphere of his responsibility? “Leave them,” says the dull disciple. “I cannot,” returns the man. “Not only does that degree of peace of mind without which action is impossible, depend upon the answers to these questions, but my conduct itself must correspond to these answers.” “Leave them at least till God chooses to explain, if he ever will.” “No. Questions imply answers. He has put the questions in my heart; he holds the answers in his. I will seek them from him. I will wait, but not till I have knocked. I will be patient, but not till I have asked. I will seek until I find. He has something for me. My prayer shall go up unto the God of my life.”

Sad, indeed, would the whole matter be, if the Bible had told us everything God meant us to believe. But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him. And why are we told that these treasures are hid in him who is the Revelation of God? Is it that we should despair of finding them and cease to seek them? Are they not hid in him that they may be revealed to us in due time—that is, when we are in need of them? Is not their hiding in him the mediatorial step towards their unfolding in us? Is he not the Truth?—the Truth to men? Is he not the High Priest of his brethren, to answer all the troubled questionings that arise in their dim humanity? For it is his heart which Contains of good, wise, just, the perfect shape.”   (George MacDonald, “The Higher Faith”, Unspoken Sermons, Vol. 1; 1867).

Earthlike Planets

I was sitting in one of our church’s groups some weeks ago when someone asked what was the purpose of the cosmos and trillions of suns, and Earthlike planets? The closest example, is there a purpose in Mars being an Earthlike planet, within the range of supporting life with only a little tinkering. (Mars has plenty of water frozen as its North Pole and in its soil (regolith) etc.)  What if there were no other life anywhere in the universe – what would be the point of all that space?

Most of the answers coming back were saying God did it only to demonstrate “his glory.” The way the Bible was being quoted, I got the distinct impression that the way these verses were being interpreted  made it out as if God was a ball hog, a glory hound, someone wanting all the attention. Someone who had an inner need to show off so that people would boost his self-esteem and re-assure him that he was ok after all.

I don’t think that’s why God made everything, I said. First, He is obviously creative and loves to create – He is burgeoning with life and love. But secondly, as to Earthlike planets and all of that – I get my kids gifts all the time that they can’t use yet at this stage of their life. But as they get older and mature, they will be able to enjoy the gift. I get the gift ahead of time, looking down the road to when they will grow into it. People didn’t know how to fish for deepwater toothfish, light cities with whale oil or make electricity for most of human history, but we grew into it. Humanity has been too young (technologically) to make use of Mars (and farther places) up until now, but perhaps God made all those good places/gifts for us to enjoy once we’ve matured enough to know how. Of course, this requires a long, not short, view of human history both theologically and chronologically.

Some very fun reads on this subject include (from a large and growing amount of writing on the subject)

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction by Annalee Newitz

The Case for Mars  and Entering Space by Robert Zubrin

Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan

And the spectacular novels Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Evangelicals resisting environmental concern

In Genesis, man’s first vocation and directive is to be a steward of the Earth. It’s his job description – tend the garden and take care of it. Manage God’s creatures. It seems ironic that evangelicals, a group with a large number of people clamoring to take the whole Bible literally, (and especially Genesis 1 & 2), have a vocal and popular set of leaders who distance themselves from, and denigrate the idea, of deep concern for climate change or the environment. This is likely in part due to the fact that American evangelicals (and especially their leaders) wedded themselves to the Republican Party machine, and that platform is concerned that overly restrictive environmental regulations would crush American businesses and the economy, jobs, etc.

Genesis tells us humankind was made from the dirt of the ground. Science agrees. My Huron friend has said to me, ‘Calling the Earth our Mother, as my people do, is biblically sound.’ But modern American Christianity seems to have lost our sense of connectedness to the Earth, and acts as if, aside from utilitarian value, Earth is a place that doesn’t matter overmuch because our goal is to leave. (When actually the story that the Bible tells ends here on earth – with God living here with us – not us leaving to live somewhere else with God. Pay attention.)

Today I find it very common among evangelicals to downplay concern over the planet as a waste of time, since our main job should be converting people to Christianity. Considering this is the same group of people who often clamor for us to take Genesis 1 and 2 literally, I find it ironic that they don’t have much to say about  –literally – the only job description for humanity found in those two chapters: caring for the Earth, tending the garden. How in the world did we get to this point?

More, modern evangelicalism has actually spoken quite directly against environmental activism, calling it nature worship. I recently read a comment on a website where someone said ‘I will never send my kid to that Nazarene college because they have embraced environmentalism.’ Fascinating.  Being evangelical has been correlating to thinking human-caused Global Warming is a hoax – which I suspect means a healthy dose of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.  Evangelicals, of course, are people who often appreciate and enjoy the natural world in various ways, but have lost the sense that there is something theological and central regarding humanity and earth. They need to read the Christian farmer-poet-philosopher Wendell Berry and Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to help them regain the Biblical sense of living in Creation. Thankfully, the tide seems to be turning.  I don’t doubt that a few generations from now, Christians will look back on evangelicalism’s distancing itself from concern for the planet and view us as something strange and immoral like Holocaust deniers or Southern slave owners.

In 1928 Henry Beston spent a year living in solitude in a small one room cottage on the Great Beach of Cape Cod. Reflecting on his experience, he said this:

“It is the meditative perception of the relation of ‘Nature’ (and I include the whole cosmic picture in this term) to the human spirit. Nature is a part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery man ceases to be man. When the Pleiades and the wind in the grass are no longer a part of the human spirit, a part of very flesh and bone, man becomes, as it were, a kind of cosmic outlaw, having neither the completeness and integrity of the animal nor the birthright of a true humanity. As I once said elsewhere, Man can either be less than man or more than man, and both are monsters, the last the more dread” (The Outermost House, 1928; pg. x).

‘Noah’ and Evolution

Every time I hear Christians get upset about the theory of evolution, I am reminded of 1616 when the Church said you could not be Christian if you believed the Earth revolved around the sun. And then I think of the Christians during the American Civil War who accurately argued that the Bible explicitly portrays slavery as a normative part of human life and tells slaves to obey their masters. And then I think about C.S. Lewis’ comment that if we told someone in the Middle Ages that we did not believe the universe was made up of The Spheres nor did we believe in the Divine Right of Kings to rule, they would have said we couldn’t possibly be Christian.

I’m not sure why, outside a literalist reading of the poem/hymn/origin stories of Genesis 1 and 2, so many Christians are so upset by the idea that God could use evolution as one of his tools. Several Nazarenes have been working on this, and here’s a paragraph from the Church of the Nazarene’s page  on Wikipedia:

Consistent with the position of classical Nazarene theologian H. Orton Wiley, several contemporary Nazarene theologians, including Thomas Jay Oord, Michael Lodahl, and Samuel M. Powell, have endeavored to reconcile the general theory of evolution with theology. There are an increasing number of Nazarene scientists who support theistic evolution, among them Karl Giberson, Darrel R. Falk, and Richard G. Colling, whose 2004 book, Random Designer, has been controversial within the denomination since 2007. At the most recent General Assembly, held in Orlando, Florida in July 2009, there was extended debate on a resolution to adopt a more fundamentalist view of the doctrine of Creation based on a more literal view of the Bible, however this resolution was defeated.

One of my absolute favorite moments in the movie Noah is when Noah says to his family hunkered in the ark during the storm, “I am going to tell you the first story my father told me.” And then he extinguishes the candle he is holding, plunging the room into darkness, and begins reciting a close approximation to Genesis 1. Suddenly on screen, as you listen to Genesis 1 recited, you see the universe come to be, plant and animal life evolving in fast motion, in step with Noah’s recital of the creation of fish, birds, small creatures, etc – it’s an impressive display of the glory of God. For me, portraying animal life developing through evolution didn’t reduce the majesty of God’s Creation one bit. Intriguingly, the film does not portray humans evolving.

Evolution and Our Kids

I was driving down the road the other day with a couple teenage boys. So I asked them “What do you think? Did God make humans in a day or use evolution?” They talked about Genesis 1 being a poem, not a modern scientific essay on biological origins; they talked about its meaning (God is the Creator of everything) rather than taking it literally; they talked about various fossil records and the presence of new species; they talked about DNA, but they didn’t pick a side. “So what do you think – we’re from apes (I know, I know, ramapithecines) or not?” “It doesn’t matter,” they said, “Either way, God did it.” “Really?” I pushed, “Don’t you lean either way? Our skeletons sure look like chimps. And we can tell bears and dogs both came from amphicylines…”

“And raccoons. But, nope,” they said. “I don’t lean either way – it doesn’t matter. Either way, God did it.”

How about that? Those boys are two of my sons. They are passionate, committed Christians who care about the things Jesus cares about. The older one is a ministry leader. The younger one is coming on strong. Neither of them feels a sense of angst facing scientific discovery or theory. “Either way, God did it.”

I’ve often thought that the “crisis of faith” so many American evangelical kids experience in college, when they run up against the theory of evolution, is a crisis created at home and church, and not by the university. By planting our feet and getting set for a fight, forcing an either/or decision regarding evolution or a literal reading of Genesis 1 & 2, I think we forced our kids to have to choose between which position seemed to have the most evidence to support it. To the sorrow of many families, their kids not only landed on the side of evolution, they landed somewhere outside of church. Permanently.

But I wonder if we had positioned them more like my sons, would they have fared better, and perhaps been able to hang on to their Christian faith? If we had taught them that however God did it, He did it and we don’t have to be afraid of scientific discovery – whatever we learn is part of God’s amazing creativity (the Nazarene Manual says that). If we had ever mentioned that forms of literature 3,000 years ago were not written as  scientific textbooks… (Nazarene theologian H. Orton Wiley called Genesis 1 a hymn), maybe we could have cast a vision for a Christian faith big enough for science.

In 1616 the Roman Catholic Church announced that you were not allowed to be a Christian if you thought the earth revolved around the sun. They felt that that idea struck at the root of Christian faith and undermined the whole thing. They had Scripture to back them up: “the sun rises and sets”. We now look back and think that’s silly: obviously we can be Christian and realize the earth revolves around the sun.

But today there are Christian voices telling us that if you believe in evolution you are not allowed to be a Christian. They say you can’t love Jesus, can’t ask him to forgive your sins, can’t live His ways, can’t go to heaven when you die, etc etc. I’m not sure where they ever go the idea that they had the authority to tell me if I am allowed to love Jesus or not.

I haven’t kept up enough with physical anthropology since grad school to make hard and fast conclusions as to what I think about the viability of the evolutionary hypothesis in regards to human origins. But I do believe we need to stop fighting useless battles with science. It just undermines Christian faith and makes us look like you have to check your brain at the door to be a Christian. And it forces our kids to decide between science and Christianity when they go to university – and that’s sadly destructive. Christian faith has always been, and still is, robust enough to include what we learn from science.

Incidentally, I pastor quite a few people who are exemplary Christians, love God deeply, are working in the world in the name of Jesus, loving people and inviting them into relationship with Christ – and they figure the theory of evolution is true.  When they were first being drawn into faith in Christ, the issue of evolution was a huge hurdle for them. They had only met Christians who said you couldn’t be Christian and believe in that scientific theory – and it made them feel like they had to pretend to live in the Middle Ages if they were going to be Christian – and they weren’t ready to be that intellectually dishonest  with themselves. When I told them it was fine – go ahead and love Jesus and put their hope and faith in him – it was within the scope of Christian faith to think God perhaps used evolution in the created order, the relief on their faces was visible.

This isn’t going away. Humans are going to continue to try and understand God’s creation. Thank God, because polio and other dread things are gone because of this curiosity. As we continue to try to understand the world God placed us in, and utilize it in ways that bless and promote human thriving, scientific  theories are going to come and go. Perhaps a less antagonistic stance toward some scientific theories will help us promote a Christian faith that doesn’t needlessly repel people. Or, what I’m trying to say is that perhaps some of the fights we’ve picked with science have hurt the cause of the Kingdom rather than helped it. Some of those fights may have been very unnecessary and counter-productive. It’s something to consider.

Tom Oord has written a nice little article about why Christians should care about science. Here’s the link: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/whole-life/features/27064-10-reasons-christians-should-care-about-science

 

 

Tornados and Creational Relationality

People often ask things like “How can God be good and allow things like tornados to kill so many people?” While traditions like Wesleyanism and Roman Catholicism, with our robust doctrines of free will, are able to explain the theodicy question of human evil without implicating God as the source of it, evil occurring in the natural world is not explained well by free will.

So we need to think more about the nature of the created order, and the resounding aspect of relationality intrinsically woven through it by God, whose very nature is also relational. When Hurricane Katrina came ashore and caused such damage to local human civilization, including not least the loss of human lives, one of my colleagues (ShipNazarenes’s own Rev. Rich Rotz) said to me “Hurricanes are not evil forces. They are ecologically beneficial in a variety of ways. They are just felt to be evil when humans build in places where we shouldn’t.” Rich’s observations were spot on. Hurricanes clear out silted-in estuaries, open up new marshlands, jump start ecological succession inland in ways that are beneficial to all kinds of species. Species we enjoy seeing. Species we like to eat. Hurricanes are biologically beneficial to the ecosystem. However when we build homes and cities in hurricane-prone areas, and we build them in ways that will not withstand the ways hurricanes affect tides and windspeeds, we experience the damaging results. A weekend three inch Thanksgiving snowfall would be just as deadly in Pennsylvania if we were all living in Tahitian huts and wearing nothing more than sarongs. The only reason we don’t think of a three day stint of 20 degree weather as deadly is that we dress and build accordingly.

If you spin a ball with a magnetosphere and atmosphere in orbit around a sun, you end up with global wind patterns like Earth’s: a Coriolis effect of thermal distribution of the atmosphere absorbing solar heat. (Mars has tornadoes. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a hurricane that has been raging for three centuries and the storm itself is larger than the planet Earth). If we didn’t want winds to operate, if we didn’t want the plate tectonics that create the Sierras to also create earthquakes, if we didn’t want gravity to cause a jump from a 5th story window to result in a broken leg, we would be arguing for a world in which there is no relationality. No interaction between one entity and another. Every relationship you cherish would be impossible. To argue for a Creation where the possibility of damage did not exist would be to argue for a Creation without freedom, without interaction and relationship between any one thing (a rock, plant, sun, person, Siamese cat) and any other thing. Whatever we imagine that Created Order might look like, it would lack interaction and relationship in any meaningful sense. Having boundaries which involve danger (don’t jump from that 5th story window) is not intrinsically evil. The relationality of the universe is the source of its most joyous glories.

And so: tornados. A civilization which wishes to build in a tornado-prone area needs to build tornado-safe structures. These are issues of aerodynamics, and perhaps in many cases, building underground.  (Dr. Annalee Newitz’ article concerning ‘death-proofing’ our cities in June 2013 Discover Magazine, is drawn from her book Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, which looks like a very enjoyable read). If we want to live (and survive with fewer tragedies) in tornadic locales, we need to build for it, just as we build houses in Pennsylvania with the structural integrity and thermal dynamics to survive snowstorms and February temperatures.

Eskimos have lived for thousands of years in climates impossible to live in Tahitian style. A universe with the joys of relationality also requires human management of our living arrangements in ways appropriate to the climactic zone we live in. It’s not that the climate, the wind, the plate tectonics are natural evil. It’s part of the reality of the possibility for relationality: a cosmos where one object can meaningfully relate to or interact with another. It is not a strike against God’s goodness.