That was the seemingly innocuous question that I asked my new acquaintance as we sat around the chips and salsa at our local Chili’s.
Like most parents, he answered with a number. Then he said the part that I had not expected:
“We had two miscarriages. And we always count those.”
While I responded with empathy, I recall thinking that most of us (myself included) do not publically number our children to include the little lives that never made it to delivery.
And on many levels, that is understandable.
We all deal with grief differently. And it would be wrong to force one way of processing a failed pregnancy on others.
About a year and a half ago Brianna and I walked through our own experience of miscarriage. And while it was sad for me, at the time, I was primarily concerned for her well-being.
After hearing a noise in our house, I came into our bedroom to find Brianna unconsciousness from blood loss. I panicked. Then I phoned my mom to watch our kids; I carried Brianna’s (now) semi-conscious body to the car, did my best to place her inside, and then drove us to the hospital.
Thankfully, she was soon okay.
But the baby had been deceased for several days.
Later, as some readers can relate, there was the awkward reality of having already told some folks that we were pregnant, and now having to explain. Partly because of this, Brianna chose to share publically that she had lost a pregnancy. And soon after, she was overwhelmed by the many friends and family who then confided their own stories–some far more traumatic than our own.
It happens often. But that doesn’t make it nothing.
In Christian circles, one hears much about the need to be “Pro-Life,” and rightly so.
While the issue of abortion is polarizing, my own view leans on both Scripture and science to conclude that an unborn child is indeed a sacred human life, however small.
Even so, the consistent application of my “Pro-Life” stance involves much more than just abortion. It is a virtue that spans from womb to tomb, and sweeps up everything from welfare to warfare within its complicated wake.
I aim to be consistently Pro-Life.
Yet this too raises questions as to how I “count” our miscarriage.
WORDSWORTH OVER CHIPS AND SALSA
In a slightly different vein, something like my Chili’s conversation also happens in a classic poem by William Wordsworth (“We Are Seven”; pub. 1798).
Its verses recount an exchange between a traveler and a simple peasant girl.
The traveler asks:
“Sisters and brothers, little Maid, / How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said, / And wondering looked at me.
“And where are they? I pray you tell.” / She answered, “Seven are we; / And two of us at Conway dwell, / And two are gone to sea.
“Two of us in the church-yard lie, / My sister and my brother; / And, in the church-yard cottage, I / Dwell near them with my mother.”
Yet this statement brings confusion to the traveler: “I thought that you said seven.”
“You say that two at Conway dwell, / And two are gone to sea, / Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell, / Sweet Maid, how this may be.”
The misunderstanding, of course, involves the girl’s counting of her two dead siblings (“who in the church-yard lie”) as present members of her family.
Unfortunately, the mathematical modern adult doesn’t get it:
“You run about, my little Maid, / Your limbs they are alive; / If two are in the church-yard laid, / Then ye are only five.”
WE ARE SEVEN
As I read the poem recently (outside, on a nice morning, as is legally required of Wordsworth), it struck me that perhaps the number “seven” reflects our family too.
For if I were to begin consciously “counting” the child that we lost to miscarriage, then we would indeed be Seven. –(1) Brianna, (2) Josh, (3) Lucy, (4) Penny, (5) Ewan, (6) Baby unnamed, (7) Teddy.
And while I have no plans to begin saying this whenever someone asks about my children, perhaps it is a more consistent conclusion for those of us who consider ourselves “Pro-Life.”
After all, the weight of Wordsworth’s poem lies in the child’s stubborn insistence that death does not erase a child from the family roll.
To live at all is to be woven forever into the fabric of “present personhood.” We are eternal.
For to use Donne’s metaphor, “all mankind is of one author, and is one volume.” And while death is powerful and grievous, it cannot tear out words and pages from this book. It can only translate them–if they be written in Christ’s blood–“into a better language.”
The trouble, however—as my two-year-old reminds me daily—is that children learn new “languages” far easier than grown-ups.
Thus even our ostensibly “Christian” thinking about miscarriage can often leave us thinking as only slightly more cordial versions of Wordsworth’s adult traveler, in need of child-like wisdom:
“How many are you, then,” said I, / “If they two are in heaven?” / Quick was the little Maid’s reply, / “O Master! we are seven.”
“But they are dead; those two are dead! / Their spirits are in heaven!” / ’Twas throwing words away; for still / The little Maid would have her will, / And said, “Nay, we are seven!”
In the Latino communities of the American southwest, there is a saying:
The only thing smarter than a coyote is God.
And while we car-driving, blog-writing humans may take issue with this claim, just ask yourself this question:
How many coyotes have you seen holding fidget spinners?
I sat rapt recently as I listened to the nature historian Dan Flores talk about his recent book: Coyote America.
It is essentially a biography of America’s most adaptive underdog.
And it is also a strange topic for a blog on faith and culture.
So we should probably address that weirdness.
A DEFICIT OF AWE
You may not know it, but coyotes are not exactly “click-generators” in the world of social media. They do not wear bikinis; they have no thoughts on Donald Trump; and (unlike cats) they do not appear on Youtube playing the piano. (I checked.)
So why write about them?
Two words: unexpected awe.
While there are many problems in the modern world, among the least acknowledged may be our loss of wonder. Despite all our technological marvels, most of us are far too rarely dazzled.
So while we are awash with entertainment, we have a deficit of awe.
And from this evil Amazon.com cannot deliver us.
This state of disenchantment presents a problem for the church, because a capacity for wonder may be a prerequisite for what Calvin called the sensus divinitatis—our sense of the divine.
INTO THE WILD
In the Bible, such awe comes often out-of-doors–though not exclusively.
It presents itself in burning bushes; in stars that mark descendants; and in a grappling angel by a brook.
In such wild places, our sense of wonder is refreshed.
And this brings us back to the coyote.
While Flores’ book starts in prehistoric times, its most interesting parts reveal how the coyote flourished while other species were decimated by the settling of the American West–a period that brought perhaps the swiftest destruction of wildlife in world history.
Yet despite an all-out war on coyotes starting around 1915, the only noticeable result has been that they continue to spread like wildfire.
While first inhabiting only a portion of North America, the animals now stretch from beyond the arctic circle down into South America. And what’s more, they now inhabit every major city in the United States.
The reason for their flourishing has something to do with what the apostle Paul identified as “power perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12.9).
Because coyotes adapted as the smaller, frailer cousin of the wolf, they could not rely on brute force to stay alive. Instead, they had to lean into their wits and learn to leverage weakness.
Case in point: their use of howls and hormones.
According to Flores, when the female coyote howls (or yips) each night, one purpose is to take the roll of the respective mates within her group.
If a male does not respond—say, because he was trapped or shot or mauled—it triggers a chemical reaction within the alpha female that does two things, both of which are awe-inducing:
First, it sends her prematurely into heat; and second, it causes the ensuing litter to be larger than normal.
You might want to read that again. The mere absence of an answering “yip” both triggers heat and makes the litter larger than they would be otherwise.
Most likely, this adaptation emerged from a history of weakness and inferiority in the face of larger predators. Yet somehow, this tendency to get killed-off by bigger animals coincided with a freakish adaptation that gave coyotes an advantage.
Example number two:
While wolves tend to stay almost perpetually in tight-knit groups, coyotes are what Flores calls a “fragile pack” animal. This means that when they face pressure from their enemies, they tend to splinter into smaller groups and then cast about in search of new territory.
Because grey wolves group more rigidly, the killing of a single wolf often leads to the killing of the entire pack—sometimes aided by the use of the original hide as a way to lure others to an ambush. For such reasons, wolves were almost eliminated from the American West, while coyotes spread rapidly in all directions.
“They tried to scatter us,” you can almost hear them howling, “They didn’t realize we were seeds” (cf. D. Christianopoulos).
Okay, okay… so coyotes have some crazy adaptations that have led to flourishing – but what do we do with this?
The tendency, for preachers like myself, would be a move to application: something like, The Coyote Principle (Now available for $12.99!).
After all, the book of Proverbs tells us to “Consider the ant” in order to be wise. And if Solomon were relocated to the Sierra Madres, perhaps the text would read “Consider the coyote.”
To be sure, there are lessons to be gained from such creaturely longevity.
Weakness does not have to be a weakness. And:
Scattering can be a form of conquest.
Yet the too-quick drive to application can be a fault of teachers like myself. And in some cases it borders on a sacrilege–what Kierkegaard called “pillaging the holy.”
Because while we may benefit from life-lessons, sometimes we have a deeper need to marvel merely at the wonders made by the Creator.
I sometimes look into the endless heavens, the cosmos of which we can’t find the edge, and ask God what it means. Did You really do all this to dazzle us?
In sum: application is no substitute for awe.
THAT SUCH THINGS SHOULD BE
A related point is made beautifully in John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath.
In one scene, two ragged “okie” boys slide into a roadside gas station as their family migrates west in search of food and better fortunes. In patched overalls and dirt-streaked faces, the children halt suddenly before the candy case. There they stared
not with craving or with hope or even with desire but just with a kind of wonder that such things should be.
Perhaps this tells us something of how Christians ought to look at nature, at coyotes, at oceans, at eclipses, and even at our fellow man—not with craving or with quests for application, but with naked wonder that such things should be.
The central image is of an upturned bullhorn that been strangely “botanized.” The bell is now a base for flowers; and beauty grows in place of screaching words.
The idea reminds me of Isaiah 2.
In this famous passage, we are promised that, one day, warring nations will beat their “swords” into eternal “plowshares,” and their “spears into pruning hooks” (2.4).
And while that seems a long way off with regard to weaponry, it seems even longer with regard to words.
The book tackles the thorny question of how Christians should speak into a world that is marked increasingly by incivility. (Do I really need to argue this!?)
On social media especially, Deborah Tannen claims that we now inhabit an “Argument culture” that goads us to approach others in a combative frame of mind.
What’s more, Christians (like others) have often stoked these fires through the unfortunate reality of “online dis-inhibition”—the phenomenon that leaves us unrestrained by face-to-face conventions.
(I know, it happened to me once. Okay, twice.)
So what do we do?
While I can’t speak (yet) for the whole of the book, the most helpful facet thus far involves the authors’ three-fold breakdown Christian communication:
The prophetic voice is often used as justification when we decide to “Tee off” on a particular issue. The justification is found in Jesus and the Hebrew prophets, who sometimes use strong language to call forth repentance from God’s people (“You brood of vipers!”). Such language has its place.
But according to Winsome Persuasion, the “prophetic voice” is almost entirely ineffective when used on those who do not share our foundational presuppositions. It can rally the base, but to outsiders we merely sound like “bullies with bullhorns.”
In such cases: “Inflammatory rhetoric [breeds] inflammatory responses”—and the cycle continues.
This does not mean, of course, that prophetic speech is useless; but it does call for discernment regarding when it helps, and when it actually makes things worse.
If the danger of “cowardly silence” sits on one side, then the danger of “clanging gongs” sits on the other.
Second, the pastoral voice “appeals to the shared needs and suffering” of others, and it “offers healing … to those in need.” In such ways, it is crucial in showing others that they are loved.
Yet while pastoral communication lays a relational foundation for transformation, it does not have the power to change minds on specific issues.
It comforts but it rarely converts.
This brings us to the title.
According to the authors, the persuasive voice “appeals to the common good and general revelation” while also seeking to “change viewpoints or practices within the culture.”
It is the practice of a “counterpublic”–a minority culture that nonetheless desires to influence dominant perspectives in order to bring about positive change.
And to do this, civility is key.
In this way, persuasive speech refuses to live in denial about the fact that the culture no longer shares “my” Christian presuppositions. We’re not in Mayberry. Thus what is needed is not simply more volume but rather an appeal to conscience and more broadly shared values.
In this way, winsome persuasion does not cede the public square; but it moves to “botanize the bullhorn” so that it produces more than thorns and thistles.
The trouble (at least for me) is that such persuasion is difficult; it sometimes results in the communicator fielding fire from both sides; and it’s not as fun as ranting.
Likewise, for some of us (including me), winsome persuasion may require a fundamental change in posture.
Flashback: From a young age, it was quite clear that I would never be good at fighting with my fists. My junior high football roster listed me—quite accurately—at a whopping 87 lbs. Even so, it was clear that I had a knack for removing the “blade” from verbal plowshares to serve more sword-like purposes. I was quick with comebacks, snark, and sarcasm. And while that has its uses, it can also cause some problems.
Along such lines, a central claim of Muehlhoff and Langer is that today’s Christians have often chosen “prophetic” language in contexts that would be better served by “persuasive” speech.
“Clearly we have spoken up; the problem seems to be that we have spoken poorly.”
As Vaclav Havel wrote:
There is only one way to strive for decency, reason, responsibility, sincerity, civility, and tolerance, and that is decently, reasonably, responsibly, sincerely, civilly, and tolerantly.
And one might even mount a biblical case for this conclusion.
THE BIBLICAL CASE
In Scripture, the juxtaposition of prophetic and persuasive rhetoric is modeled in a variety of contexts.
Note, for instance, the difference in how Christ speaks to the (ostensibly) Jewish Herod Antipas (“that fox!”) and the way he speaks to Pontius Pilate.
Or note the difference between the way Paul speaks to the pagans of Mars Hill (Acts 17) and the way he speaks to the Judaizers of Galatians (“Hey guys, why stop with circumcision…!? [5.12; my translation]).
There are exceptions, of course, but not as many as one might guess. (Let’s be honest, do we really want to make Elijah’s interaction with the Baal-boys our normative exemplar? It ends with mass execution.)
In the new covenant, Peter calls for the church to make its case to the pagan world “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3.15).
Because while prophetic speech has its place in certain circumstances, I appreciate the call to consider more winsome ways—and to beat some bullhorns into plowshares.
Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer, Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017).
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University; Richard Langer is professor of biblical of biblical and theological studies at Talbot School of Theology
“In a way, I’m glad they carried tiki torches and wore well-pressed polo shirts.”
That was one of my (admittedly strange) thoughts while grieving the vile scene from Charlottesville this weekend.
The citronella made the barbarity feel suburban–and that matters.
The stereotype for white supremacy (as set forth by Jerry Springer) usually involves a two-toothed yokel in bib overalls, catfish bait beneath the fingernails, and married to a cousin.
Not to white supremacy, but to the many decent folks who wear bib overalls.
That picture of racism is dangerous because it’s easy to dismiss as distant and defunct.
“I don’t know anyone like that.”
But the young millennials marching in Charlottesville looked (well…) a lot like me:
unacquainted with cousinly matrimony.
That’s important too.
Because as long as I view white nationalism as just a backwoods problem, I will never note the subtle ways it grows untended in my own backyard.
Now a word on that.
A DANGEROUS QUESTION
Shortly after Saturday’s bloodshed, a pastor-friend of mine posed this question to me.
How long could a polo-shirt wearing, tiki-torch bearing white nationalist attend your evangelical church before hearing something from the pulpit that would contradict his worldview?
What would be your response?
I’m thankful to be part of a tribe that has tried to change the answer to such questions (see here). Yet we have some work to do.
SOME HONEST HISTORY
For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading the latest history of American evangelicalism (The Evangelicals) penned by Pulitzer Prize winner, Francis Fitzgerald.
It has been a painful but important read.
A stark reminder has been the extent to which many evangelical leaders found themselves on the wrong side of civil rights.
And by that, I do not just mean “the wrong side of history” (see here), but more importantly: “the wrong side of God.”
White nationalism. And a desire not to run afoul of their “constituency.”
To take a famous example: Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority (and Liberty University) preached and published passionately for segregation; he called racial integration “the work of the devil”; and he denounced civil rights legislation with the claim that “it should be considered ‘civil wrongs’.”
He eventually disavowed these viewpoints. Yet his mature ministry was still marked by staunch support for the white supremacist government of South Africa, which he visited, while denouncing Bishop Desmond Tutu as “a phony.”
Billy Graham was (normally) light-years ahead of Falwell on this subject.
Yet even he struggled to stand up to his constituency. While MLK languished in a Birmingham jail in 1963, Graham chided his “good personal friend” with the claim that he needed to “put the brakes on a bit” in the quest for justice. Likewise, Graham often insinuated at the time that whites and blacks were equally culpable, even in instances when violence against nonviolent black marchers was at its height. (If you have ears to hear, then hear.)
The reason for bringing up this history is not to look down our collective nose at those who were, like all of us, people of their time.
The motive actually is just the opposite.
Evangelicals must be honest about our past so as not to repeat it.
Because the real danger of white nationalism (or hatred of any kind) is not the Jerry Springer stereotype.
It is the subtle form that will kill us, without ever climbing behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger.
A few years ago I met Jim as he audited my university New Testament class.
For the unfamiliar, auditing means attending my lectures simply for the fun of it, rather than for college credit. (Needless to say, some of my traditional students find this very odd.)
Nevertheless, Jim and I became friends. And I then learned that he is a PhD scientist, specializing in Climate Change, and having taught for years in the Geosciences at Texas A&M.
Jim is a scholar.
Yet he is also an evangelical Christian, living in the Bible-belt — which brings us to the opening line about his almost “mythical” status. As he admits, evangelical climate scientists (with actual PhDs in the field) are somewhat rare.
EVANGELICALS AND CLIMATE SCIENCE
Manmade global warming, while accepted as an empirical fact in many places, is often controversial in the Bible-belt (though not for theological reasons).
And like everything else, it is highly politicized.
Even so, the command to be good stewards of our earth is a mandate for all Christians. And the need to listen to actual experts on such subjects (rather than unqualified bloggers like myself!) seems wise.
So whether you “believe” in manmade climate change or not, I hope you’ll enjoy the interview I did with Jim.
In it, he attempts to explain:
How warming happens;
Why he can be quite certain it is both real and human-caused; and
How his treatment of the topic differs from some others as it comes from a Christian concern for the “least of these,” and an acknowledgement of the imago Dei.
You can access the conversation, in two formats.
First, there is an audio conversation shown below, and secondly (further down) there is an email response from Jim in which he responds to some questions on Christians and climate change.
EMAIL Q&A WITH JIM NORWINE
Q: How do we know that man made global warming is real?
Oh boy. How to answer that in a few sentences….?
First, we know nothing with absolute certainty other than our selves, and even that could be a projection by some external whatever. (The latter is the ancient philosophy of solipsism, “I am the only reality,” which is impossible to refute…but which most of us choose to ignore in order to get on with “our”—we hope–lives.)
Seems obvious when you think about it but in fact even very educated folks often seem to think we are eating into the corpus of ignorance and soon will have digested the whole enchilada. Nothing could be further from the truth. Knowledge is by its nature finite. Ignorance is infinite.
Think of the former as standing on a new and still-rising volcanic mountain on an island in the middle of the sea. Every day you are higher and higher, see (know) more and more. So easy to think, what a smart boy am I! And true up to a point. But: every day the horizon recedes further and further. This is the point of the folk, and scholar’s, wisdom, “the more I know the greater my ignorance.”
So I suppose one could say there is one kind of “certain” knowledge, that of apprehending the limits inherent in being embodied createds.
Second, as to knowing in a scientific sense, there are levels. One may know in the sense of a law, like that of gravity. Near-“certain” because of so many repeated demonstrations and observations. (Still never really certain because a law, like that of gravity, is not the reality, just the best description one has at the moment. And in fact the law of gravity has been overturned: Aristotle to Galileo to Newton to Einstein and so on.)
The next level of knowledge in science is that of theory. You might think of a successful theory as a sort of baby or not-quite-yet law. High confidence again due to verification by testing and testing and still more testing. The theory of evolution is a good example. When folks hear the phrase they often confuse theory with hypothesis. The latter is the educated guess with which one begins the practice of the scientific method. Hypothesis is merely square one on the Monopoly board of science; theory is at the very opposite end of the practice, one half-step short of law.
Anthropogenic warming is in, or at least close to, the latter category, in terms of the broad relation between CO2 levels (and those of other greenhouse gases) and planetary temperature. Our studies of Earth’s climate history provide robust evidence of CO2 level as one of the 4 principal causes of climate change over many thousands, even millions, of years, along with the astronomical cycle (3 cycles in Earth’s orbital geometry), volcanic activity, and solar output.
To wit, warm epochs in the past were periods of high CO2 and vice versa. It is true that important details remain open to question, such as the rate of future warming. Our mathematical models are impressive but again they are only simulations of the vastly more complex real deal so always open to improvement.
Backing up a bit, I should have mentioned that speculation about the thermal effect of emissions from fossil fuels dates to the late 1900s. This “educated guess” was based on a by-then clear understanding that Earth is only inhabitable because of the greenhouse effect.
Quickie short course: the sun is so hot it emits extremely short-wave radiation, energy which zips through our atmosphere like the proverbial knife through butter. However, the Earth is much, much cooler, so that it re-radiates the energy outward in the form of long-wave length “heat” that CO2, methane, ozone and other gases are able to trap in the lower atmosphere with great efficiency. (This “extra” leaks out to space at night so over time Earth usually remains in heat balance.) Consider Mars and Venus by comparison. Both have mostly CO2 atmospheres, but Mars has such a thin atmosphere it lacks the “blanket” needed to trap the outgoing energy near the surface and hence is cold, while Venus has a thick atmosphere with a super9efficient greenhouse effect, hence mean temps of 800-900F.
Q: How do you, as a Christian (and, I think, as a fairly conservative guy) think about this issue differently than some of your colleagues in climate science.
Another toughie to answer briefly.
First, they are right to be skeptical. Just as there was some core of truth about Hilary’s famous “vast right wing conspiracy,” I am confident that there is a strong undercurrent among advocates and progressives in general to place, and enforce using state power, ever-greater limits on personal freedom. (And like the right-wing conspirators, not out of some dark impulse but because of a sort of true-belief faith, in the case of the progressives in “positive”—rules, regs and laws designed to maximize equality of condition–as opposed to the “negative”—“don’t tread on me”—freedom conservatives favor.)
But finally, it don’t make no nevermind, as we say in TX. Or: just because you are paranoid don’t mean there ain’t a bad’un behind you. See answer above: Earth is habitable only because of a wonderful (for us) process that we are overdoing. Liberal plotting and conspiracy notwithstanding, enough extra CO2 is like enough extra jelly donuts: warmer/fatter. Trads of all folks should be first to remember that we are not and never will be “as gods.”
Another reason for conservative dubiety is they intuit, correctly, that they have been lied to by advocates. I.e., “leaving fossil fuels behind won’t be that hard.” Complete and profoundly disingenuous nonsense. (Sort of like “you can keep your doctor, it won’t cost more, etc.” with health care.) Elites think that ordinary folks are so stupid and selfish that they can’t be told the truth about sacrifice.
Fossil fuels were the most transformation discovery in human history since fire itself. The challenge of moving away from their use even done gradually will be immense, something on the order of the Great Depression, WWII, and Europe’s Black Death plagues.
Another common theme from advocates: “we are all in this together.” Yeah, right. Folks see Al Gore and Bill Gates in their vast estates gobbling up energy, and elites with few if any kids living in huge homes, taking jetliner flights to climate conferences–each of which has a greater environmental footprint that a redneck family for a year—all smug in their confidence that by a. recycling and driving hybrids—behaviors that don’t inconvenience them one iota–, and b. preaching to nobodies about how awful they are to drive gas guzzlers, they are sorting with the angels.
And of course they also almost universally support policies like “cap and trade,” which will double or treble energy cost. Again, no big problem, merely some modest tweaking of lifestyle (fewer trips to Cabo, etc.)…but try to imagine the impact of a summertime monthly electricity bill of $800 or $1,000 for someone of modest means living in an older home or trailer.
All the above have unfortunately contributed to many traditional losing sight of our No. 2 marching order: the well-being of the least of these. Opting out of the conversation is consequential, because by participating they could hugely influence new policies and regs, which are surely coming one way or the other. For instance, to lobby for James Hansen’s “fee and dividend” plan, which would raise energy costs enough to cut back emissions but would all be rebated to individuals/families at year’s end. (Progs mostly hate fee and dividend because all the taxes in cap and trade go to the state. As in California now, and Australia earlier, neither of which effectively cut CO2.)
Q: What would you say to those who think manmade climate change is basically a ploy driven by some other political or ideological agenda?
Guess I sort of answered this above: “First, they are right to be skeptical. Just as there was some core of truth about Hilary’s famous “vast right wing conspiracy,” I am confident that there is a strong undercurrent among advocates and progressives in general to place, and enforce using state power, ever-greater limits on personal freedom. (And like the right-wing conspirators, not out of some dark impulse but because of a sort of true-belief faith, in the case of the progressives in “positive”—rules, regs and laws designed to maximize equality of condition–as opposed to the “negative”—“don’t tread on me”—freedom conservatives favor.) But finally, it don’t make no nevermind, as we say in TX. Or: just because you are paranoid don’t mean there ain’t a bad’un behind you. See answer above: Earth is habitable only because of a wonderful (for us) process that we are overdoing. Liberal plotting and conspiracy notwithstanding, enough extra CO2 is like enough extra jelly donuts: warmer/fatter. Trads of all folks should be first to remember that we are not and never will be “as gods.”
But Let me know if you want further clarification.
To recognize that there is a problem with climate change is one thing… but what can the global community actually do about it at this point?
I should have already stressed this point: we can do nothing about the warming from the emissions already done. And frankly not much in terms of actually “fixing” the problem anytime soon. We are going to have to adapt to a warmer world. The key question is how much warmer. The toughest aspect of doing that is that those who sacrifice now will not live to experience any of the benefits.
James Hansen leads the so-called 350 movement, That is, to get CO2 back to 350 ppm from the current 410 or so. (~275 at the start of the Industrial Rev.) Very unlikely methinks, at least without massive economic disruption, with most disastrous impacts on the world’s nobodies. I believe that a doable objective (doable, anything but easy) is to get the level stabilized at or below 450 and then by ~2100 with luck, hard work and sacrificeback down to around where it is currently. That means something like a 5F rise by century’s end. A big challenge, but nothing like the 10F or more which could well present an existential threat if we if we don’t begin to flatten the rate of increase.
Returning to your question, if we could go back in time 20 years I would say that candor would have made a big difference. A forthright message of the need for shared sacrifice like ML King Jr.’s Christian-morality based movement. Recall his own personal example of sacrifice writing from the jailhouse, etc. Maybe too late for that now. In a self-referential age like the one we now inhabit, post-modernity, evidence along no longer persuades many unless it bolsters what they already believed. (And new studies make it clear that is as true of liberals as conservatives.)
Maybe if a Francis Collins led a movement of traditional evangelicals….? Perhaps somehow combined with Ron Dreher’s “Benedict Option”…in which we do retreat in some manner to spiritual “sanctuaries”—living as we do in an alien and ever more hostile post-theistic world—but reach out from them to that world, kind of ala Jeremiah’s concern for the pagans.
“You can never get enough of what you don’t really want.”
That was the line that zinged me from the documentary entitled Minimalism (available on Netflix).
For those not familiar:
Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.
(“The Minimalists,” Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus – see here)
The documentary introduces a wide variety of people, who, despite great “success” in the corporate world, grew dissatisfied with their lives of compulsive consumption.
“We’ve been told that more stuff will make us happy,” they all say, “but that wasn’t the case for me.”
The solution was to shrink their human footprint (often radically), in order to find more time, more money, more freedom, and more meaning.
It worked, allegedly, and each one proudly preached the gospel of minimalism with the zeal of a hemp-shoed televangelist.
JUST ANOTHER FORM OF EXCESS?
From my perspective, there’s much to love about the movement.
Yet I was also struck (occasionally) with the sense that, for some, “minimalism” seemed like just another species of excess and one-upsmanship.
Instead of merely downsizing the McMansion, “true believers” were shown luxuriating in their Derek Zoolander-inspired center-for-ants-sized “tiny homes” (which often retail for more than my last actual house), and gushing about how their lives are so much better now that they have one pair of pants.
“I woke up really SAD one day… And then I realized, it was that second pair of slacks.” ~Fake quote.
This is, of course, an exaggeration—and Joshua and Ryan (“The Minimalists”) are quite keen on tempering such impressions. Minimalism will mean different things to different people. And as they say, it’s not about what you get rid of, it’s about “Everything that Remains” (see here).
Perhaps, then, the extremes are just more interesting to us.
After all, no one watches an A&E show called “Not really a Hoarder, but still kind-of lazy with regard to housework.” No. We want the hardcore stashers—boring mole-like mineshafts through discarded USA Todays.
And so too with the minimalist who makes toothpaste pull triple duty as hair product and underarm deodorant.
Minty fresh, from nave to chops.
We like extremes.
So whether it’s the meta comparison of “Who’s got the bigger boat?” or the micro one-upsmanship of “I live in a van down by the river (for the planet!)”—both poles can represent the same pathology.
But having said all this….
Much of the minimalist mojo fits quite well with Jesus, and especially with his Sermon on the Mount.
“Watch out!” Christ said: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Lk. 12.15). In fact:
23life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.
24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! …
27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Lk. 12).
So while I will be keeping that second pair of pants, and forgoing the $400 per-square-foot tiny house, I do recommend the documentary for those of us trying to whittle down our excess in service of the Kingdom, and in pursuit of peace.
I needed it.
After all, as Jesus taught the woman at the well (Jn. 4):
You can never get enough of what won’t really satisfy you.
Is it possible that the greatest failure of JFK’s presidency saved the world from nuclear apocalypse?
In recent months I’ve been binge-listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast (check it out here), and in his most recent offering, he delves (for six hours!) into the background of the Cuban missile crisis.
The episode is breezily entitled “Destroyer of Worlds,” and it gives a frightening look at how close we actually came to an atomic Armageddon.
One suggestion for why this didn’t happen, however, has to do with what was undoubtedly the biggest and most public embarrassment of JFK’s young presidency: the Bay of Pigs.
As Carlin points out, Kennedy largely inherited the proxy invasion of Cuba from his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Yet the previous administration had run out of time to carry out the attack. So while JFK reportedly had misgivings (hindsight is always 20/20 isn’t it…), he chose to go along with the Generals and CIA officials who assured him that the Bay of Pigs would be a huge success.
The invaders were slaughtered and the ensuing controversy mired the president in a flaming pile of “covfefe” from the early days of his administration.
Even so, Kennedy reportedly learned a lesson from his epic failure: Don’t simply go along with what the experts are telling you. Sometimes the “experts” are wrong.
THIRTEEN DAYS IN OCTOBER
According to some historians, this painful lesson proved invaluable in October 1962.
With word that the Soviets were installing nuclear warheads just 90 miles from the U.S. coast, the president and his advisers began a thirteen-day game of atomic poker.
What we now know from these marathon meetings (because of Kennedy’s secret taping system) is that several generals were urging the president to push the big red button, just as they had previously advised Truman to do the same (even after WW2 was over).
“If you wait, we’re dead” was the logic employed. Thus the “only option” was to launch hundreds of nuclear warheads toward dozens of Russian cities.
While I can’t imagine the pressure of that decision, some historians trace Kennedy’s pursuit of a more diplomatic solution to his early error at the Bay of Pigs.
His prior decision to “shoot first, and ask questions later” had blown up in his face. And that same advice was now coming again, but with greater consequences.
It’s possible then that the memory of Bay of Pigs kept the Cuban crisis from becoming Armageddon.
WHAT’S YOUR BAY OF PIGS?
Of course, not everyone reads the story quite like this (See Garry Wills’ scathing critique of Kennedy’s Cuban policy [here]).
Still, the principle holds true even if the history is complicated.
Early failures can be invaluable if we learn from them.
And in one way or another we all have our “Bay of Pigs.”
Each of us can look back at past decisions that were embarrassing and painful.
There was the choice to flunk out of college freshman year, because beer was more interesting than biology.
There was the decision to turn an ill-advised relationship into an ill-advised marriage.
Or the early and repeated conflation of “cash” with “credit.”
While none of this is quite on par with nuclear holocaust, even smaller embarrassments can serve as sacrifices on the altar of wisdom.