Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Real Reason

…so reads the sticker on the back of my car. Not on the bumper mind you, just the back. I know for a fact that this sticker causes grief for some people. I had a man I did not even know yell at me about it. We never really got around to introductions because it wasn’t exactly a dialogue. He was just using me to vent his anger at the color green and then he apparently had somewhere to be. Now, in all seriousness, I know the sticker is easily read as a political statement, maybe even intentionally so, but I assure you all it has nothing to do with politics. God doesn’t vote. (Ooo, that sounds kinda edgy too, but really, don’t try to deny that one) So why the back-of-car sticker and why bring it up here and now? I am going to tell you, you might have guessed.

What is the meaning of life? It’s one of those ridiculous questions that nobody takes seriously because it so serious and impossible to answer. I liken a philosopher asking that question to a beauty queen saying she wants world peace. You nod in sympathetic affirmation but deep down you are rolling your eyes and thinking “You are so unoriginal and aiming just a little too high, don’t you think?” But I think there is a real answer to this question. (Aren’t you glad you read this blog today?) The answer is the same reason I say that God is Green. What makes human life so different from all other life? Why do we love? Why do we ask philosophical questions? Why do we plant fields of grain and eat bread instead of reaping our wheat from the wild and eating it raw? Because we were put here on earth to do these things and to be this way. If you are familiar with the biblical book of Genesis you may be familiar with this concept. Mankind was put in creation to be the caretakers of creation. Caring for both ourselves as well as all things non-human. A special feature of caring for creation is the responsibility to maximize its potential. Wheat is just better when it is ground into flour and baked into seasoned bread. A tree makes a better home when cut into boards and nailed together. Creation is not only something worth maintaining; it has the potential to be even more, with our help.

“Great, so God put us here to cut down all the trees and turn all the land into farms for bread-making. He doesn’t sound so green to me. Your back-of-car sticker sucks!” says you. This is indeed where many people get a little caught up on the role of humanity. And it is where sustainability and Shalom step in to settle the dispute. Whoa. I just lost a few of you there. Hold up, I am still explaining. Do we plow the field or let it grow wild? Do we make more bricks and roads or do we hike out and find a nice cave somewhere? Do we let the chickens run free or do we grow them on (dis)assembly lines? (You see the relevance to the blog slowly growing) What would a creation caretaker do? How do you harness the potential of creation without destroying it? Ask a gardener or a farmer. Do the plants grow that big on their own? No. Do the flowers arrange themselves so pleasantly on their own? No. But are all the bugs in the garden bad? No. Can your beans grow without bacteria in the roots? No. How many years will a farm survive without rain? How strong does a monoculture grow? Nature relies on a balance of systems that are beyond human control, but it can flourish and be modified within those systems. This is something we humans have slowly been learning for thousands of years. Now I say we need to look beyond the garden and farm. There is an entire planet out there after all.

The earth is like a giant garden, or nature preserve, kept by resident gardeners - the human race. But when our favorite vegetable is wiped out by a disease, we can’t call our neighboring planet for more seed. And when it is unbearably hot out, we won’t have enough shade or water for every plant. What we need to understand is the difference between merely harnessing nature’s potential and maximizing it. It requires perspective and patience to understand that just because you can do something impressive, doesn’t mean you should do it in the long run. Nature is a hearty machine capable of producing endless wonders when coupled with human ingenuity, but it is a machine that relies on the proper functioning of its innate parts. If we find it amusing or pleasurable to pull that machine apart here and there - just this once, it will make us so much money, we promise we will stop if it becomes a problem - we may find one day that it doesn’t work anymore. It is not beautiful any longer. Then what has happened to its potential? Has it been maximized? Are we good gardeners?

And what about Shalom? I threw out that foreign word back there a ways and never even gave a reason. You may have heard that Shalom is the Hebrew word for Peace. That is a rough translation, or very narrow translation rather. Shalom is more than just a description of how settled or unsettled, violent or non-violent something may be. It is the perfect arrangement of all things in creation as God intended. It is universal flourishing. It is all things in proper relationship with God, the creation around them and even with their own selves. Shalom is our ultimate goal as those charged with the care of creation. So let’s get busy! How do we make this happen? Sadly, we have proven that we can’t do it alone. If you haven’t noticed, we are nowhere near Shalom and we seem to be working in the opposite direction. Now, a courageous person would not give up in the face of such adversity. We still have a task. We have to enter into the discussions of our society that influence the direction it takes, toward Shalom or away from it. And how do we know which way is the right way? We often do not know. It is rarely an easy question. So we must prepare ourselves. To start, we can practice justice and compassion and seek wisdom. Where do you find wisdom? Whew, I don’t have all the answers here, cut me some slack now. But that is one thing I hope to find through this experiment. I don’t expect to see radical changes as a direct result of this temporary diet modification. I simply hope to raise my own awareness, and maybe a few other peoples’ along the way, to hone my own social senses and be ready to weigh my options when the real issues arise.

I may not raise beef cattle, but I know those cows have a place in the creation that I get involved with every time I eat one of them. A place that has been spread thin to cover the realm of human activity in a way that suits us. In fact, ALL the food I eat has been through the same process, and on top of it all, scarce natural resources have been commandeered to make this happen. The next thing I know I find myself complacently taking a first-class seat away from Shalom. How many other first-class tickets do I hold? In which direction will they take me? How can I find out? How can you?


Tim Babatz said...

Are you referencing your encounter with Matt Field last summer? I wouldn't go so far as to say that he 'yelled' at you. He confronted you, most certainly, but I think your account was a bit sensationalized. He definitely wasn't angry either. He's a free-market libertarian who has a slightly irrational impatience with liberal crazies, which translates into an over-reaction to such keywords as "green," "climate change," and "stewardship." Give the man some grace.

I like thinking about the uniqueness of Humans as well. It's a fun topic. It's always on my back burners these days.

TimothyTang said...

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Many people feel that the interpretation to The Meaning of Life question is too subjective to have any definite objective answer but I have managed to formulate a real and objective answer to the ultimate question of human existence.

I have made a blog that introduces the book. Do check it out.