Monday, January 14, 2013

A Covenant with Kol Basar

A View Looking Out from the Front of "Bill's Cabin" Near Hordville, NE
"Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” -Acts 14:17 

This last weekend I went deer hunting with my friend Dirk Grenemeier for a second year in a row. Last year Dirk and I were out for 2.5 days, despite not seeing any deer until leaving the property: It was good to be out again on the property that was previously owned by Dirk's late father-in-law and best friend Bill Morse and mother-in-law Ann. Dirk and his wife Debbie now own the cabin. It was good to be in God's creation, to hear stories about Bill and to think about him as well. Well, on Friday, I got my first doe; she came up over the hill, along with five others, and I whispered "Dirk! Dirk! Look Deer!" Dirk said, "Shoot, Mike." I aimed, got one of the does in my sight and whispered again to Dirk, "I'm going to shoot Dirk!" He said, "Shoot, Mike." I said, "I'm going to shoot!" Dirk said, "Shoot, Mike!" I squeezed the trigger and the doe fell immediately. Dirk lined up to shoot again in case one shot had proved inadequate, so I plugged my ears with my fingers (we were in a tent and our rifles were loud), but upon seeing the doe wasn't moving, Dirk pulled up his gun. We went to "dress" the doe and Dirk asked me if I wanted to do any of it, and I said "no, you go ahead." I took a few moments to gather myself and to take everything in and then helped some with holding the doe's hind legs as Dirk "dressed" her. On Saturday, along with Dirk's son Grahm and nephew Will, we drove up to Clarks, NE and had the doe processed.

What have been my reflections on the event? Well the moment of shooting a deer was this for me: sacred. It's amazing to me how many people (including close family members) are a bit turned off that I would shoot a deer, but at the same time have no qualms with eating meat. Regarding objections to hunting, I'm most willing to engage my vegetarian friends who have the benefit of consistency going for them; I myself am eating more veggies these days: But I continue to see animals as provided for the human race, in part, to eat. But the sacred moment was in this: I have eaten hamburgers my entire life. Most of my life unfortunately, I have barely given a second thought to how food makes its way to my plate. When you take the life of an animal, you realize that a significant and substantial sacrifice has been made on the part of the animal. The creature who had life coursing through her veins one moment is now felled the next, because I pulled the trigger. I thought about the sacred moment of taking the creature's life for food so that I might have a source of nourishment and sustenance, that in essence that doe gave up her life that I might continue on being strengthened and sustained in mine. It made me all the more committed to eating as little industrial meat as possible, for a doe out in the Nebraska wilderness is given a kind of life of decency that a cow on the feedlot is not.

I just completed a 60-page fall project for my doctoral work. The title of the project was "Loyalty and Affection for a People and Place." I wrote about the thought of Wendell Berry and his love for God's created order, and also I interviewed eight pastor friends of mine who had served a combined total of 158 years in pastoral ministry between them. In one of the closing sections in the project called "Final Implications," I began by quoting from Duke Divinity School professor Ellen F. Davis:

"From a Biblical perspective, the covenant is not purely a two-way relationship between human beings and God. The covenant is a three-way relationship, . . . thinking about the aftermath of the flood story in Genesis when God makes a covenant with kol basar, 'all flesh,' . . . all of the nonhuman creatures. . . ."

And I commented in my paper:

"How do Christians need to think more intentionally about the larger context out of which their lives and ministries transpire? Will we continue to deplore 'worldly goods' all the while enjoying their fruits that sustain us and uphold us in order to thrive and flourish? Our 'spiritual' work is ever-so-dependent upon the material sustenance that the world and its nonhuman creatures provide, whether thinking of the goodness of sunlight, soil and water coming together to produce crops for food or nonhuman creatures providing love in the form of pets, food in the sacrifice of their lives or replenishment for the soil in the form of microbes. Such nonhuman creatures may inhabit the soil or the linings of our intestines in the form of probiotics promoting human health; either way, our lives are ever-so-dependent on the nonhuman part of creation. On this point, Christians need to have a deeper connection to 'the soil.'”

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Sandy County Almanac

"All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts." -Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold is well-known in the world of conservationism. Leopold was born in 1887 and died prematurely in 1948 while fighting a brushfire on his neighbor's farm; he was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and A Sandy County Almanac is his most enduring work. When today's critics of industrialized farming speak about the problem with ridding crops of their biodiversity and planting uniform crops, they speak of the dangers of "monocultures" and the need to return to raising animals and crops in "polycultures." The premise among such writers is that the biodiversity of the prairie has a lot to teach us about the health of ecosystems and their interdependence on humans and really all creatures, to respect some of the inherent limits and mechanisms of the world; Leopold calls this need "A Land Ethic," Christian people might simply call it responsible stewardship, Reformed people, a world that is covenantal in nature.

Here are some of Leopold's thoughts:

"For a biotic community to survive, its internal processes must balance else its member-species would disappear. That particular communities do survive for long periods is well known: Wisconsin, for example, in 1840 had substantially the same soil, fauna, and flora as at the end of the ice age, i.e. 12,000 years ago. We know this because the bones of its animals and the pollens of its plants are preserved in the peat bogs. The successive strata of peats with their differing abundance of pollens, even record the weather; thus around 3000 B.C. an abundance of ragweed pollen indicates either a series of drouths, or a great stamping of buffalo or severe fires on the prairie. These recurring exigencies did not prevent the survival of the 350 kinds of birds, 90 mammals 150 fishes 70 reptiles or the thousands of insects and plants. That all these should survive as an internally balanced community for so many centuries shows an astonishing stability in the original biota. . . .

What is the most valuable part of the prairie? The fat black soil the chernozem. Who built the chernozem? The black prairie was built by the prairies plants, a hundred distinctive species of grasses, herbs, and shrubs; by the prairie fungi, insects, and bacteria; by the prairie mammals and birds, all interlocked in one humming community of co-operations and competitions, one biota. This biota, through ten thousand years of living and dying, burning and growing, preying and fleeing, freezing and thawing, built that dark and bloody ground we call prairie.

Our grandfathers did not, could not, know the origin of their prairie empire. They killed off the prairie fauna and they drove the flora to a last refuge on railroad embankments and roadsides. To our engineers this flora is merely weeds and brush; they ply it with grader and mower. Through processes of plant succession predictable by any botanist the prairie garden becomes a refuge for quack grass. After the garden is gone, the highway department employs landscapers to dot the quack with elms and with artistic clumps of Scotch pine, Japanese barberry and Spiraea. Conservation Committees en route to some important convention whiz by and applaud this zeal for roadside beauty.

Some day we may need this prairie flora not only to look at but to rebuild the wasting soil of prairie farms. . . . A little repentance just before a species goes over the brink is enough to make us feel virtuous. When the species is gone we have a good cry and repeat the performance.

The recent extermination of the grizzly from most of the western stock-raising states is a case in point. Yes, we still have grizzlies in the Yellowstone. But the species is ridden by imported parasites; the rifles wait on every refuge boundary; new dude ranches and new roads constantly shrink the remaining range; every year sees fewer grizzlies on fewer ranges in fewer states. We console ourselves with the comfortable fallacy that a single museum-piece will do, ignoring the clear dictum of history that a species must be saved in many places if it is to be saved at all."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Amazing Interview with Shack Author

In this amazing interview, Paul Young, author of The Shack, talks about his own journey with Christ and hitting rock bottom. In one powerful moment, Young talks about he and his wife working through his betrayal that had taken place through an adulterous relationship; Young says:

"Part of what saved my life was the fury of my wife. And she would tell you there were a lot of mixed motives about all that. But let me tell you one of the things I know about the wrath of God is that it is motivated by love, because God hates everything that is keeping me from being free, and He's going to go after it."