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Sabbath Day: The Eaarth

June 5, 2015

First, how did I spend this sabbath day? Last evening I was called away from choir practice with a pastoral call. That being finished, I headed over to Garcia’s at the Capitol Theater to listen to the Stella Blues Band and dance away a few hours. I then slept in today for the first time in months. Upon waking, I read for a few hours, had a great salad for lunch, walked to the library to do some historical research and return/check out some books, and had my weekly sabbath coffee at Hastings Tea Room. After August’s Latin tutor I had a picnic with my family in Turnure Park. And then more reading.

I took a break from strictly reading multinational literature to focus this week on the eaarth itself. No, this is not a typo: Bill McKibben has crafted the neologism EAARTH to describe the planet on which we now live, which is a fundamentally different planet than the one on which life first emerged and thrived for so long. We have threatened our ecological life support systems and challenged the viability of contemporary human societies. And there is no going back. The environment no longer behaves the way it has over the eons during which life and civilization evolved.

“Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen. We’ve created, in very short order, a new planet, still recognizable but fundamentally different. We may as well call it EAARTH.”

This is a planet where ” the wind blows harder and the lightning strikes more often and more rain falls and the sea rises.”

heres-a-jaw-dropping-satellite-image-of-typhoon-haiyan-as-it-approached-the-philippines

I took this break from “multi-national” literature in part because I was preaching this week on climate change. I began by reading Michael Northcott’s A Political Theology of Climate Change (Eerdmans, 2013). Northcott is professor of ethics at the University of Edinburgh. The book is a wide-ranging critique of modernity, tracing our contemporary alienation from both God and the earth to the late middle ages via nominalism, Copernicus, Descartes and Bacon. While familiar with this general narrative genealogy from the works of John Milbank, Bruno Latour and Oliver O’Donovan, I was nevertheless compellingly involved by Northcott’s relentless application of it to our environmental crisis. I will undoubtedly return to this book.

I also gave a thorough skim to my friend Fletcher Harper’s GreenFaith: Mobilizing God’s People to Save the Earth (Abingdon, 2015). As a Greenfaith Fellow, I was familiar with this narrative, too. I am one who has been mobilized by it!

Since “literature” is the point of my reading discipline, I found time to read The Year of the Flood (2009) by Margaret Atwood, the second installation of her dystopian climate apocalyptic trilogy which began with Oryx and Crake (2003) and concluded with MaddAddam (2013). Despite her other works, Atwood refused the ascription “science fiction” for these novels because there is little in them that is not currently possible or envisioned – which makes them all the more disturbing. In these novels the earth is (relatively) spared climate crisis only because a human specific plague is introduced which eliminates most of the population. It is a little bit of Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us (2008) and Robert Kirkman’s  The Walking Dead. I find myself in regular sympathy with the cultish “God’s Gardeners” as the non-violent, survivalist “green front.” Atwood has won numerous awards for her fiction, including the Booker Prize for her novel The Blind Assassin.

margaret-atwood

With nature and earth/eaarth in mind, I also re-read Mary Oliver’s collection of poetry American Primitive, which won then 1984 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Mary never fails to inspire my desire to put down my books and go outdoors. Earlier this year I read Thomas Mann’s God of Dirt: Mary Oliver and the Other Book of God, a fabulous and entirely quotable theological appreciation of this poet of creation.

[20080106 (LA/R10) -- SHARED: Poet Mary Oliver, near her home on Cape Cod, has put together a book of photographs by her late partner, Molly Malone Cook. -- PHOTOGRAPHER: Josh Reynolds  For The Times] *** [129974.BK.1029.oliver -- Poet, Mary Oliver, near her home in Provincetown, MA. Oliver, Pulitzer prize-winner and Guggenheim fellow, has put together a book of photographs of her life with photographer Molly Cook. (Josh Reynolds for the LA Times)calendar.photo@@@@latimes.com]

[20080106 (LA/R10) — SHARED: Poet Mary Oliver, near her home on Cape Cod, has put together a book of photographs by her late partner, Molly Malone Cook. — PHOTOGRAPHER: Josh Reynolds  For The Times] *** [129974.BK.1029.oliver — Poet, Mary Oliver, near her home in Provincetown, MA. Oliver, Pulitzer prize-winner and Guggenheim fellow, has put together a book of photographs of her life with photographer Molly Cook. (Josh Reynolds for the LA Times)calendar.photo@@@@latimes.com]

Finally, as I returned books to the library this week, and planned out my next few weeks of multinational reading, I picked up a copy of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand Count Almanac (1948), a classic in conservationist and deep ecology literature. Readers of my blog may be surprised that I have never read this before, but it will now be on my summer oral reading list with my son.

There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot. Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher “standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a basque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech…

That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten.

aldo-leopold-ca.-1940-Sauk-County-WI

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