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Humanity’s original vocation in Scripture (never rescinded) is to steward God’s property, the planet.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

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There are no unholy things, only unholy actions

I don’t believe anything in the cosmos is unholy. It’s all sacred, by virtue of being created by God. (Which might lead us to why hell can’t be what modern evangelicals imagine it is, but that’s a talk for another time). {And Ken Ham’s assertion that any extraterrestrial beings from other planets would have been contaminated by Adam’s fall, yet outside the chance for redemption since Jesus was a man, is so utterly ignorant and idiotic I don’t even want to talk about it.} So: there are no unholy things, only unholy actions.

I believe the entire separation of ‘holy’ and ‘unholy’ or profane things in the Temple/Tabernacle/Levitical codes are one big object lesson. One bowl is not more holy than another. We cannot treat that as literal, intrinsic composition. Set apart or not, it’s not the point. In fact, “set apart” theology ultimately leads to screwed up, hideaway behavior by the community of faith when we pull back from the world in order to imagine we are holy and they are not. Contamination. Yes, it’s often been the story of 20th century Christianity, and we can see where that’s gotten us.

I don’t know too many evangelicals who think mixing meat and milk or wool and flax are inherently evil. Or that one shouldn’t trim the edges of their beard. These are object lessons. The rule had a telos, not a rule for the sake of a rule. It was a lesson, not an ontology.

Matter is not evil.  Irenaeus settled that well. By definition, anything made by God must be holy. God cannot make evil. There are unholy actions. Things we can do that are evil. There are not evil objects. When we apply ‘unholy’ to objects, we end up calling people evil or unholy: children conceived out of wedlock, people who haven’t heard certain things about Jesus, neighbors we know who are loving and kind but don’t know the Messiah consciously. To call them evil or unholy is a category mistake, an insult on the doctrines of creation and imago dei, a variety of Gnosticism, and very poor, unworthy theology.  People have used that kind of theology to justify killing others, including non-combatants,  for a long, long time.

A Different Understanding of ‘Gospel’

Maybe we are witnessing a shift in what we understand ‘the Gospel’ to be about. I’m coming across more and more examples of orienting Christian theology around the Creation narratives and the question ‘What was God’s original intent for Creation?’ Instead of starting with 16th century questions regarding how to get to heaven, the questions center around what the Creation narratives, and subsequent Scriptures,  tell us about God’s desire for how the Creation/Earth should look now. What His will is NOW on Earth (aka the Lord’s prayer).

This gives us a different starting point than what we traditionally think of in Western Christianity. We usually characterize the starting point of the Gospel as “How do I get to heaven?” This shift starts us by asking “What is God’s will for Earth?”

Instead of the controlling question being about life after death, it’s about life before death.

Instead of the controlling question/metaphor being “there’s a hell to shun and a heaven to gain,” this is “heaven is vacation between death and resurrection BACK ON EARTH – which is the centerpoint of God’s interest and redemption.”

This also casts the point of Jesus’ coming differently:  In the first case ‘Why did Jesus come?’ is answered with: “to get me to heaven.” In the second: “to enact God’s will on Earth – to restore shalom and Original Intent of the Creator for his humans and world.”

This might be why some of my Reformed/Calvinist friends are so upset by some of today’s shifts. It changes the narrative entirely. And if you are holding onto the Reformation’s narrative with both hands as if it is the sine qua non of the Gospel, then this shift in perspective is not one you like. It may explain the Reformed antagonism vs NT Wright regarding his work on the meaning of justification – because Wright reaches for a much larger biblical narrative than the Reformation question of ‘how am I justified?’

I wonder if this is a shift in Christian theology in general?  If it is, it’s big.   It changes what the whole gospel is about! Instead of the whole point being ‘getting to heaven,’ this conceptualizes the Gospel to be about  restoring God’s will for life on Earth – bringing our lives, and every aspect of life on our planet (ecology, politics, human rights, relationships, etc etc etc), under the Lordship of Jesus and God’s original intent for life on our world.

Some people have called this a bigger Gospel than the one most of us have grown up with. It looks more and more to me that you can legitimately demonstrate this understanding of ‘Gospel’ in the New Testament when you take off the glasses of theological assumptions you’ve grown accustomed to reading with. I am very confident that this is how the Old Testament characterizes humanity’s problem.

 

Hebrew good vs. Greek perfect

More thoughts about Platonic assumptions and the World to Come. (I started these musings with https://toddrisser.com/2013/12/30/can-lack-exist-in-the-world-to-come-un-doing-platonic-assumptions/

I wonder if, when we think of things the way they ought to be, we tend to think in terms of Greek, Platonic ideas of ‘perfect’, rather than Hebrew concepts of ‘good’. After my last post my friend Butch texted me and said that when God created the world He said it was “good” not “perfect.” He said he always thought of the Genesis garden narratives taking place in a good area, not a perfect one.

When we confuse good with perfect, I wonder if we are importing ideas into our concepts of how God intends the world to be. Do we start labeling things as wrong with Creation when they aren’t? A Lutheran friend of mine this summer said about the goodness of Creation “Ah, but that was before the Fall…” How much of nature’s Created characteristics, which we look at everyday, do we assume are tainted by sin and less-than-they-should-be, because we are thinking with Platonic ideas about perfection rather than Hebraic ideas of Good?  If we do this with Nature, what other areas are we confusing?

When God rolls out his resume in Job and the Psalms – what does he talk about? His creating and sustaining work in Creation. And he talks about providing food to nature’s animals, including the carnivores. Isaiah talks about lions and lambs, but should we really make that literal biology? No hunting in the Age to Come?  What a disappointment to Native Americans hoping for the Happy Hunting Grounds!  Is this an area where we have strayed too far into Greek philosophical ideas, and off the narrative of Scripture…?

Can “lack” exist in the World to Come? Un-doing Platonic assumptions…

Ever since I was a young buck in my earliest days of theological education, I figured any theology which winded up necessitating evil in order for good to exist (by comparison) was a flawed system. Likewise, any construct where the only way we could grow spiritually was for us to have to go through pain and suffering was also flawed, as it necessitated evil in order for good to develop. I haven’t changed my mind on that, but I have started to wonder about how we equate “lack” and “evil.” A Jewish friend of mine, who is a part of our church family and a follower of Jesus, got me thinking about this by some things he said this fall while we walked the Rails-to-Trails conversion between Ship and Newville. (Walking with Richard is a delight for numerous reasons, including that he looks just like pictures of Jesus, so you look really holy being seen with him).

Many, if not most, of us equate a lack of something in Creation with evil. It’s easy to see why we do this, as a lack of food in places of famine equals people starving to death, and we’ve seen many skeletal photographs of them suffering. We also tend to equate danger with evil present  in Creation,  like a Great White Shark biting you in half. We jump from this to assuming even the laws of physics – like gravity – are somehow affected, as if jumping off a five story building and breaking your leg as a result, is somehow  a manifestation of sin which wouldn’t occur in pre-sin Eden.  But my rabbinically-trained friend Richard said to me ‘there was lack in the Garden, before sin entered the world; Adam says in Hebrew “At last – this one!” when he sees Eve – the rabbis point out that this means even the ‘perfect’ world of Eden included lack. Struggle – such as to overcome lack or deficiency or scarcity – is not evil – none of those things are.’

Richard’s words set off a chain reaction in my mind which caused all sorts of things that had been swirling around to start to coalesce into some thoughts that dovetailed with his comment. If, in the Age to Come, “the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2) and “those who have been faithful with a few things will be entrusted with being in charge of many things” (Mt 25:21), it seems there is still work to do in the World to Come, and work typically entails effort, struggle, overcoming a lack or deficiency – all things we tend to associate with sin or ripple effects of evil. Do limits still exist in the Age to Come? Are there still consequences for ignoring danger implicit in the way the Universe is created?  Are our ideas about the future world so colored by Greek and Platonic ideas about perfection that we have confused categories like effort, deficiency, and lack, with evil? I wonder if process theology can help us think through some things in this area?

Earth is Not Detention Hall, Part Two

Part One can be read here  https://toddrisser.com/2013/11/12/earth-is-not-detention-hall-part-one/

The tikkun olam (repairment of the world) is a doctrine so lost in American evangelicalism, most modern Christians have never even heard of it. In fact, it is very common for life-long church-goers to say to me at funerals “I get the heaven thing, but what’s this about the resurrection of the body?” Resurrection and repairment of the world are two doctrines that go inseparably hand in hand in the Scriptures. Somehow we’ve lost track of some major parts of the Bible’s story.

I find it difficult to enumerate in a small space the vast, profound difference between believing earth is a short rehearsal before we leave forever, and believing that earth is the locus of God’s redemption, now and forever. This has profound effects on how we view the Creation, the scope of salvation, environmental and foreign policy, and a host of issues in our lives here and now, and tomorrow.

Seeing the world as God’s beloved creation, emerging/postmodern Christian faith has a stake in the state of this world. They realize atheist Sam Harris asks a good question when he asks “Can people who believe in the imminent end of the world really be expected to work toward building a durable civilization?” (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, xii).

Rapture theology and end of the world despair is a two hundred year old rabbit trail that gained lots of traction in American folk theology, but that earlier Christians never believed. Getting back to a biblical eschatology is in itself a good thing, and of course affects our soteriology and morality here and now. Postmodern Christians, not longing to jet away to some ethereal heaven, have theologically compelling reasons to engage this world’s problems and conundrums with the Way of Jesus, and thus bring about more of the justice,  reconciliation and shalom God desires for His creation, which longs for the Day (Romans 8: 19-22).

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