Creation: The Real Loser in the Nye vs Ham Debate

I don’t usually write about cultural events – at least nothing too specific or too current. (I feel like I should then say, “but when I do, I drink Dos Equis.”) But last night’s debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye has resounded in my mind all day today. Not so much the actual content of the debate, but the method and trajectory of the debate. And, in the name of full transparency, I didn’t watch the actual showing. I did pay attention through the vicarious tweets and Facebook statuses, making this truly not a critique of the specifics of what was argued, but the arguing itself.

The debate itself seemed reminiscent of the Scopes Monkey Trial and the ensuing Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy of the early 1920’s. Pitting the legal and educational systems of the day against the religious institution was an exercise including rationality and hermeneutics, theology and public policy. Prior to, throughout its proceedings, and even after the court’s dust had settled, the focus fell upon the origins of humankind. The magnitude of this event was far too large to kept within the courtroom. Regardless of the details, influences, and outcomes, culture at large was now engrossed in the search to understand Genesis 1.

To this day, we haven’t been able to escape the grip of this search. The creation/evolution debate has long stood the test of time – at least modern time – in holding our attention to the minutiae of detailed case studies and fossil records on the one hand and the Ancient Near East context and Hebraic cosmology on the other. We have been unable to loose ourselves from this cultural battlefield ever since, despite its absence from everyday conversations. However, it has loomed heavily in the minds and imagination of people on both sides of the fence. Bring up creation by using the term itself and see what happens. In my experience, once anything relating to creation (or evolution) is brought up, definitions are often sought in order to rout out the potential heretic among us. Just try it.

This search has been primarily intellectual and last night once again affirmed this. Historically speaking, the Scopes Trial took place at what was perhaps the height of American rationality. World War 2 had not yet occurred, progress was the impetus behind the American milieu, and science and religion were in the throes of competing for dominance. Intellectual rigor and strength were highly valued in that day; values still sought after today regardless of its arena. Power comes along with this rigor making it an even sweeter fruit to obtain.

Last night seemed to be another futile exercise in obtaining this dominance. If only we can prove so and so. If only axiom A will be shown to be true(r) than axiom B, then our side will win. Yet in the end, I wonder if it only fanned the flame of a bygone era, namely one where intellectualism reigns. I wonder if it was a bringing the remnants of yesteryear out of the dark for a moment of shining. Even the postmodern world we inhabit, modernity can still rear its enlightened head. As my friend said yesterday, “There are incredibly strong modernist currents that still prevail upon these postmodern seas.”

Furthermore, debates in our day and age have taken on a different embodiment than their predecessors. Rather than being events of persuasion that affect life change, they have become vaudeville circus acts engendering sentiment bereft of action. The social imagination of yesteryear understood and valued the import of such events due to this. Now, debates fill the parts of our imagination where political figures feign allegiance to their constituents. Coupled with the amusement factor inherent to television – and screens in general – modern debates only reinforce the notion of consuming the material being presented. There is no intention of actually acting upon the received information. Television and its steroid-induced cousin, the internet, produce consumers, not participants. Combine this with a predominantly intellectual exercise and this is even more so. (This is what I was alluding to by the method and trajectory mentioned above.)

This is where we have allowed ourselves to get stuck. Our insistence on “getting the origins question correct” at an intellectual level has kept us from turning our attention elsewhere. The memory of basing our existence off of this rational understanding has paralyzed us from moving forward. Coalescing forces of winning the culture battle and being theologically correct as God would want have left us bereft of actual practices pertaining to creation. Ironically, this same tradition of reading Scripture and the spirituality it rendered have sought to prove the method of creation yet with the end goal being individual souls reaching heaven’s shores. With one side of its mouth it wants a creation made in six days while simultaneously praying for its destruction by fire some future day.

All of this has allowed us to keep creation itself at bay.

So I wonder:

What if instead of arguing over the creation texts, we moved our preoccupation a few verses further along in the story? What if instead of arguing over the meaning of “In the beginning” and “day” we pondered anew what it meant (and means) to “cultivate” and “keep” creation? What if we moved beyond compartmentalizing ideas from practices and figured out how they are two sides of the same coin? What if the Church shifted away from its often myopic dependency on things of faith being taught and towards lives of interdependency where they can be caught? What if instead of debating over creation we questioned how to live with creation?

What if local churches began sharing their land? What if they started to hold trainings to understand the geography and ecology of their shared regions? What if instead of paving parking lots, they planted gardens? What if they held neighborhood-wide meals from the food they grew? What if instead of using stale bread and cheap grape juice they used organically made breads and vibrant wines?

In short what if the Church became known for its new creation-centered methods in the midst of an intellectually origins-obsessed world? What sort of trajectory would that put us on?

Until then, creation will continue to be the loser.

Some Questions for Your Farmer at the Farmers’ Market

Every Saturday my family and I load up and go out to our local farmers’ market (pictured above). We’ve been going for awhile now as it has become part of our Saturday routine liturgy. From there we depart for the local library and then head home.

When we first started these practices, we really had no idea what to expect or what to do. We weren’t aware of any differences between this farmer and that one. Why is this bundle of carrots more expensive than that one? Is there a specific certification I should be looking for? Basically, we walked in wanting to better our diet through local organic foods, but didn’t know where to begin.

The odd fact that there were bananas for sale in the middle of the winter in Syracuse didn’t really phase us. The plastic wrapping some vendors had around their produce seemed normal. After all, we were comfortable with plastic wrap because of its ubiquity at the grocery store. It took reading, research, and getting to know our local CSA farmer – now friend – to chisel away at our grocery store-formed imagination when it came to food.

When our imaginations begin to crumble or shift, we begin to have a new world open up before us. This new world we enter into hands us questions we must ask in order to make sense of things. Not only do coherent questions give us new markers by which we can live by, they also lead to deeper investigations and stories we (possibly) never knew existed. I know for my wife and I that this was the case in regards to our food. We were ignorantly accepting things as normal, good, and healthy simply because we didn’t know what questions to ask.

For many of us this is true due to this simple truth: we are the most divorced from ecology and agriculture civilization in history resulting in a cultural ignorance when it comes to food. As was recently said by Joel Salatin, “we know more about the Kardashians than we do about what we eat.” And because of this multigenerational predicament, many of us do not have anyone in our lives from whom we can imitate their healthy ecological and agricultural ways of life. Rather, the situation as it is, isn’t that we¬†aren’t imitating others’ ecological and agricultural practices altogether; the problem is we are imitators by nature, thus leaving us to imitate those who are formed predominantly by the industrial/commercial/political forms of ecology and agriculture and we are unconsciously perpetuating this phenomenon.

This is fresh in my mind as we returned from the Farmers’ Market this morning. Next week a friend of mine is joining us as he and his family prepare to embark on a similar journey to ours. As I stood there today in the presence of farmers, pseudo-farmers, and food shysters I began to ponder what initial questions we asked while perusing produce and what might be helpful to others. Here is what I came up with:

1. Are you organic? Eating organic is certainly a hot topic today. Many people are wondering anew what it means to eat organically. I find it ironic that we must label what is inherently organic as such. Doesn’t seem to indicate a looming problem? Now, not everyone who grows organically is certified as organic. This is due to amount of profits, inspections, and some other factors. Regardless, they should be able to tell you how they practice organic farming. If you aren’t aware, check out the USDA Certified Organic website for more info. For local folks, check out Northeast Organic Farming Association for an abundance of helpful info.

Any easy way to tell – and a true story, no less – is to compare prices of produce from different organic farmers. If a quart of tomatoes from one seller is a steep $3 difference from another, you can bet the cheap one isn’t actual organic.

2. Where is your farm? Or in other words, are you local? Many people at the Regional Market – some even say 60% of the vendors – do not actually farm. They attend an auction where they buy surplus produce and then sell it at a major mark up for the betterment of their bottom lines. In some, if not many cases, they do not know what it is they are selling because they don’t know what it is they are buying at auction. Sure, it looks like a potato, but the conditions it grew in, the treatment of the workers who harvested it, and the amount of miles it has traveled to get to them is unknown. Unknown produce is a commidified product that will empty your wallet as it fills your stomach with potentially harmful material.

3. Can I visit your farm? If they are local and grow their own food, stay with them. Shop there for a few weeks and then ask this follow up question to, “Where is your farm?”. Many farmers are on their property for the majority of their work week. The ones I have spoken with have been more than hospitable in inviting me to visit. The ones I have visited have allowed me to see their fields, barns, animals, etc. which has easily ensured me of the quality of their harvests. Be wary of a farmer who won’t let you visit their farm.

I don’t presume to be an authority on any of these matters. I bring up these questions and concerns as one who is curious, worried, and longing for health. For me, there is no fragmenting between spiritual, physical, and ecological/agricultural health. The further I have investigated and participated in healthy ecological/agricultural practices, the further I have wanted others to join with us. I hope what I have learned thus far is helpful.

What questions do you ask? What has been helpful in your context? I’d love to hear.

 

Wendell Berry: Poet and Prophet [An Interview with Bill Moyers]

Not too many people have the wit and wisdom of Wendell Berry. Coupled with his erudite insight and, as Bill Moyers says, clairvoyance, Berry has been a voice of critique and hope for multitudes of people over the past several decades. Longevity in an age of immediacy and instant amnesia is a testament to the level of perennial relevance found in Berry’s words.

Yet beyond his words, his actions have spoken volumes. He does not merely write from a place of privilege and comfort; no, he writes as a farmer living on a family farm overlooking the Kentucky River and participates in sit-ins in that same state’s halls of assumed power. All that to say, the particular and the local he writes of flow directly from a life lived in the particular and local.

I have read many of Berry’s works and have – quite honestly – been changed and challenged for the better. Please watch the above interview regardless if you’ve been a follower for years or have never heard of him. Then pick up one of the following books. I pray you will allow the candor, angst, humor, and, above all, intermingling of hope and love to transform you.

The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

What Are People For?

Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community

Jayber Crow

The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays

Hermeneutics of Delight: Mutual, Interconnected, Curious

Hermeneutics. It’s an intimidating word. Many of us have never heard of it, let alone understand what it means. Which is interesting, considering we all have a hermeneutic we employ on a daily basis. Or, perhaps another way of saying it: a hermeneutic has us all and is manifested through us on a daily basis.

Basically, hermeneutics is the method or manner by which we interpret the world we inhabit. Texts, verbal communication, body language and all other forms of communicative interchanges are in need of interpretation as they flow between people, both the individual and community. The collection of explanations we come to – again, both on the individual and communal levels – expose our hermeneutical framework.

Moreover, hermeneutics is not a mere theory or an art, but encompasses the essence of our existence. The manner by which we interpret followed by the conclusions we espouse give us a trajectory by which we actually live out our day-to-day lives. The stories we tell, the symbols we make, the institutions we form, the communities we partake within all have to do with hermeneutics. Again, we might not always be – indeed, we are more often than not – making conscious decisions due to our hermeneutical orientation, but, nevertheless, we are making conclusions evidenced in our actions. There is not a moment that goes by where we are not interpreting. In many ways, it is the metaphorical water we swim in.

(This is a very diluted, non-specific view of hermeneutics. Please don’t think this is a blanket statement defining it at all. I am very aware of the immense complexity underlying this conversation.)

I have tried to take notice to how many people interpret the world around them. I come from a placed position, which informs, guides, and directs my hermeneutics. And so do you. The question is whether or not we are aware of it.

In today’s world, we have a host of hermeneutical methods vying for our devotion. Many of them are at odds with each other, of which violence – whether physical or not – is often used to help us make a decision as to where to place our allegiance. This has been called the plurality of our age and while certainly being true, is not necessarily an evil in itself as it is often described. Liberal/conservative, theist/atheist, postmodern/modern/post-postmodern, the list goes on describing polarities of interpretation.

However, it seems to me, that regardless of one’s (either individual or communal) interpretation, underneath much of this is a pervasive hermeneutics of suspicion. This isn’t a new thing or an unexamined thing, but again, many of us have fallen into lives bereft of self-reflection and are unaware of how much we have been interpretively persuaded. Lives that aren’t reflected upon tend to be spastic, disconnected, and atomized all the while being highly individualized. Much of this can be given to our tendencies toward suspicion.

Part of the problem is that excessive doubt prevents us from fully entering into the world, as Susan Felch states. Far too often doubt and suspicion go on unchecked flattening the world around us into an experience that is lacking diversity. Constant questioning and interrogating produce “modes of distance and distrust” leaving our vision muddy rather than clear.

I have seen this time and time again at both the individual level and the communal. Our current cultural mode of existence is nothing if it isn’t highly suspicious. We question everything. And I think this is a good thing. A healthy dose of suspicion is very needed. Questions are a staple of life; if you aren’t asking questions, you might need to ask why that is. Yet, when our suspicion transforms into cynicism we have a problem.

“In our desire to be critical we have simply become cynical.” (Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, 136.) Contempt, bitterness, and division are the hallmarks of the cynical life. When our hermeneutics of suspicion jump into a hermeneutics of cynicism, nothing is good enough for us. We stay isolated in our own worlds, disparaging of the rest. In the communal form, this takes on the embodiment of autonomous cliques, cults, and factions separated from the world. Finger pointing, verbal violence, and general destruction become the norm for relating to those around and outside of us.

What I am afraid of – if it’s not too late in some cases – is that our need for deconstruction hasn’t allowed us to move into reconstruction.

Perhaps an antidote to this predicament would be to follow Susan Felch’s hermeneutics of delight. As a method of interpreting the world, it encourages us to ‘look up and around’ and to loosen the ‘constricted pathways of precept and rule'”. Delight is thus something that only comes about through the releasing our wanting to dominate and control.

When we practice the hermeneutics of delight, we will put ourselves into a more honest position as learners, not because we have forsaken all critical doubt but because we have opened ourselves to the mystery and grace of God and made ourselves available to share in, be responsible for, and enjoy the embodied love that creation itself is. – Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, 137.

So, delight comes when we begin to see, experience, and live into the interconnectedness of life that only comes through mutuality. Yes, doubt can be there, but only in that is balanced by and rounded off by a seeking after mutual delight. It relishes in relationship and seeks the flourishing of all. Curiosity brings us into contact with others as we seek out the otherness of our world. Wirzba reminds us, “Delight follows from an affirmation of another’s God-given goodness” breaking us from our utilitarian quest to benefit ourselves above all through the powerful using of others and/or creation. As such, we are then inclined and allowed to be joyful in participating with the world around us. We enter into it not as skeptics seeking our own good, but as learners perpetuating further connection and relationship.

What I believe is needed is a turning to a hermeneutics of delight that affirms doubt and suspicion all the while being aware of its propensity for fragmentation. In an ecology of delight, we are pushed to recover the interdependence and interconnectedness of God’s creation. In a world plagued by division and rootlessness, a seeking after delight might be exactly what is needed.

Have you seen suspicion turn into hardened cynicism?

What does interconnectedness and interdependence look like in your context?

What is holding you back from delighting in the world?

I’d love to hear from you.

 

Lord, may we be like mycelium: A Missional Lesson from Creation

As I read, my mind traveled past the abbey church across the fields to a cluster of sheds, where millions of tiny threads of mycelium worked in the darkness. A stringlike network of fungal cells, mycelium is the organism that produces mushrooms. The brothers cultivate mycelium, whose ‘fruit’ supports their life of prayer…the relationship of fungi to life as we know it goes back nearly 450 million years. Indeed, without mycelium, there would be no life at all. Only recently have we come to understand the true magnitude of our dependence on these organisms. We now know, for instance, that at least 90 percent of all plants on earth form symbiotic relationships with a fungus called mycorrhizae. Greek for ‘fungus-root,’ mycorrhizae are ubiquitous, found in nearly every ecosystem in the world.

The relationship works like this: the fungus penetrates a plant’s roots and provides the plant with nutrients and water from the surrounding soil, which the fungus accesses through its mycelial network. The fungus in turn receives starches from the plant. When mycelium grows out into the surrounding soil it is said to ‘run,’ and in doing so it not only forms symbiotic relationships with single plants; it provides links between plant species. In 1964, two North Carolina scientists chopped down a red maple tree and poured radioactive liquid into the stump. Eight days later they found that, within a radius of twenty-two feet, the leaves of nearly half of all the trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs contained radioactivity; mycelium provided the pathway through which the radioactive material spread. The experiment confirmed fungi’s link to every living thing. And every dead thing. Fungi are our biological go-betweens to the world beyond animate life. And like monks at prayer, fungi do their best work in darkness. – Fred Bahnson in Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, p. 19-20.

Mycelium:

– Connect non-related living things in mutually beneficial ways

– Provide pathways for mutual nourishment, not the actual nourishment itself

– Skillfully, intentionally, and silently do their essential work

– Work communally

– Become involved in all areas of life for the sake of the ecosystem

Lord, may we be like mycelium.