Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Living with God, without God

In my studies this last semester I ran across a quote from Bonhoeffer that confused me some.  I understood how the quote fit into the bigger movement of history at the time, but not how it would have fit into the life of an actual living worshipful soul.  Here's the quote:

So our coming of age forces us to a true recognition of our situation vis-à-vis God. God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who makes us live in this world without using him as a working hypothesis is the God before whom we are ever standing. Before God and with him we live without God. God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us. (Letter of July 16, 1944.)  Source Linked

I think I understand a little more of how Bonhoeffer might have understood the idea now.  Tonight I've been watching a movie while doing the dishes that contrasts a variety of people who do really idiotic things because they are certain that God told them to do it.  They are so desperate for answers that show up right away that they project their own understandings onto God.  When it comes to trying to get revelation that is I think always the easy way out.  To quote another author, Philip Gulley, that I've been reading recently:

When God is the extrapolation of our highest principles, we are seldom challenged to expand our consciousness, which is why the divine in any culture seldom rises above that society's collective morality.

In prayer, its easy to take the first impression that seems apparent and to run with it as a totally reliable source.  When life becomes complicated and we instead of just asking we wrestle with God in prayer- we are still prone to confusion and reverently echo chambering our own desires back at ourselves.  Reviewing the history of the religious ideas that people have felt sure of that their successors later abandoned as ungodly makes this all too obvious.  It can be easy to be frustrated, feeling that we need to take everything based on our own wisdom alone because when you expect God to give you all the answers they never seem satisfactory- or at least not in any complete and total sense that is impregnable to simply changing your perspective over time.

But what if what God wanted all along was for use to figure it out on our own?  What if instead of praying to be given answers we should pray for wisdom and guidance and recognize that our decisions are ultimately our own because God isn't interested in trying to push us into little boxes of perfection in a perfect plan but is instead interested in our growth?

So does God answer prayer?  Of course, but we should be hesitant to take the decisions and impulses we feel during times of reverence and put them in God's mouth because if we make those impulses God's we may fail to own up to our own shortcomings that may be reflected in those thoughts.  We should expect divine strength and guidance- but not an answer key to all of life's decisions.  As the Father expected Christ to endure the Cross in part alone, we should humbly expect to endure this life at least in part on our own wisdom.  We should be like Christ who on the same cross from which he cried "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" could-without divine hand holding- still say "Father forgive them for they know now what they do."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Two Sacred Cows, only one of which is a Cow...

So there's been some media coverage recently regarding a fight here in Utah regarding sacred cows vs horses that are treated like sacred cows.  Ranchers are accusing horses of eating all the forage for their cows and feral horse advocacy groups are claiming that this is mainly a problem because there are too many cows overgrazing the land in the first place.  With forage levels low from drought conditions the conflict is reaching the point where state and county governments are beginning to directly challenge the federal government to try to force a solution to the problem in favor of the cows.  While you might expect me as an environmentalist ecologist to side with the horses against the cows, I really feel ambivalent about the whole situation.

None of this will make any sense without knowing the background of the situation.  The short and sweet of it is that Federal Law provides really intense protections for feral horses- almost as if they were an endangered species.  Left to their own devices they breed like crazy and eat a lot of forage.  Meanwhile- cows also eat like crazy and are grazing on lands that are no where near economically viable because the federal policy is to graze the lands at far under market prices to sustain ranching as a traditional way of life.  So we as a nation feel nostalgic about feral horses and about ranchers and put in large amounts of support to both in order to keep them at very high levels.  To resolve the conflict between the two of them, the federal government is supposed to round up excess horses and feed them in taxpayer funded pens until they are adopted.  Meanwhile those left in the wild continue to breed like wild- sometimes slowed by contraception treatments but not really for long.  The thing is there isn't that much of a market for adopting feral horses out there- not compared to the supply.  And the federal government hasn't given unlimited funding to the program to keep the horses off the land.  Out of money- the BLM is in the awkward position of writing up land management plans that call for removing the majority of the horses from some areas and then doing nothing about them because they don't have any money to move ahead with the plans they draw up.  The horses in the pens are sometimes poorly cared for.  The law prohibits slaughtering the horses for profit which might get rid of the excess horses and provide funding to help take proper care of the ones that are left.  So the ranchers have a really good point- there are too many horses out there and the government knows it and is doing mostly nothing about it.

But the horse lovers aren't without there points as well.  The time honored tradition of ranching and grazing in the US before FDR decided to regulate everything was for grazing on public lands to be essentially unregulated and unlimited.  Even after FDR the rules more made things orderly rather than tried to stop anyone from doing anything in particular.  Its only been in recent times and with a great deal of protest that the federal government has acted more aggressively to regulate the use of its own land for the public good.  But traditionally over grazing on public land has long been perfectly acceptable. Some Republican appointees have even tried to declare that over grazing is a myth.  So horse lovers have a really good point as well- there are probably too many cows in many areas.

But from an ecological perspective of whether land is overgrazed- it doesn't matter as much what is trampling and over grazing the land as how much it is doing so.  You could destroy the health of land by overgrazing pigs, sheep, goats, horses, cows, elk, deer, or bison.  Different animals have different food preferences etc that make the nature of the damage unique for certain.  But when there are both too many horses and too many cows it is ridiculous to point the finger at either side individually.  Its like cooking dinner for two and then inviting the whole neighborhood over for dinner and then arguing that its the fault of the family next door that there isn't enough food to go around.  Cows aren't native species to North America and neither are horses.  The total stocking of the land of both species combined is ridiculously high and both as a result of nostalgic policies that benefit horse lovers and cattle farmers at the expense of the nation as a whole.  So a compromise needs to be worked out.  I'd prefer one that doesn't encourage local government lawlessness and takes the legitimate needs of all parties into consideration.  But unless Congress better funds the BLM or reduces the protections for feral horses or raises the lease prices of public land to be close to that of private land we are stuck with an absurd situation where the local economies that depend on cattle have every reason to want to take the matter of horses into their own hands.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What does it mean to blaspheme?

I don't like the word blaspheme.  In general I feel too committed to honoring how other people experience or don't experience sacredness to want to criticize people just because they are different than me.  Words that are that loaded with judgement tend to exclude any possibility that sharing or respect can occur.  No matter how bad something is that you are criticizing, when you start making it about whether its wrong to have the wrong take on God people who disagree with you only a bit are automatically unwelcome.  When I used the word in my previous post it kind of surprised me how angry I felt.  So I wanted to define the word.

I don't care about whether the symbols of sacredness evolve.  I don't care that much if they stay the same.  When you think about how much the ways people think about sacredness it would be almost impossible for symbols to stay the same.  Even if they are represented or performed in the same way they will be understood differently by different groups through time.  I appreciate the beauty of how people encounter what they find sacred.  I find people very frustrating in where they find sacredness.  Pick almost any group and there will be losts to disagree with or agree with, admire or dislike etc about how they encounter the most important things in their life.  Those kinds of disagreements don't tend to bother me at a general level.

But what does bother me is when representation of love are perverted into representations of hatred and fear.  Using torture as a baptism defiles the idea of baptism.  Its kind of the same kind of disgusting as turning a cross into a swastika or turning Easter into an excuse to indulge in antisemitism.  When you take away the parts of something that were tied to love and focus on the parts that are tied to evil then you have committed an evil against the sense of sacredness and the people who honor those ideas.  That is what blaspheme means to me.