Crystal Waters Flowing from the Throne
Alda Balthrop-Lewis, former intern
Rogation Days were first instituted in the 5th century by Saint Mamertus, bishop of Vienne in France. He lived through a period of humanitarian crises: of sickness, natural disaster, and war. One night, when the village was overwhelmed by a raging fire, and the whole place was aflame, Mamertus is reported to have prayed this prayer:
"that God will turn away the plagues from us, and preserve us from all ill, from hail and drought, fire and pestilence, and from the fury of our enemies; to give us favorable seasons, that our land may be fertile, that we may have good weather and good health, and peace and tranquility, and obtain pardon for our sins."
This prayer of Mamertus has been close to my heart these past weeks, as more and more details of the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico have come rushing into my consciousness.
There is, as you know, oil rushing constantly into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate no one’s really able to say. Estimates have ranged between 5 and 60 thousand barrels per day, and efforts to stop the leak have been, for over a month now, unsuccessful. There are massive plumes of oil in the mile-deep water over the leak. That oil, and the oil at the surface is spreading every day, into the habitats of plants and animals who call that ocean their home and provide the livelihood for an entire culture of fishing people. It’s spawning season in the Gulf, and that ecosystem will not be the same for a long, long time, if ever.
When I was a child, at home on a bay in the Gulf of Mexico, my mom and I would go fishing with my cousins for specimens to keep in our salt water aquarium. We have a short seine net — a rectangular net with brown square mesh — with floats on the top and weights on the bottom. Each end has a pole attached. In shallow sea grass, wearing our bathing suits in the warm water of the bay, she would hold one pole and I the other. I would stand in the shallows, at the edge of the grass, while she ventured out into the deeper water.
As she walked, the water inched up her waist until she stood nearly neck deep. She turned and looked at me, and we would start to walk parallel to the shore, she a little ahead of me, so that fish scared by our steps and swimming out to the deep would be caught nonetheless in our net. The grass got caught in our toes.
When the net was full, I would plant my pole and she would swing in toward the shore so we were both facing the beach, the net between us bulging with the baby animals that call this estuary bay home. We would pull the net up to the shore, lift it, and, surrounded by a little crowd of cousins, set it on the sand to see what we had caught.
The children, my cousins, who call the beach home where my mom and I would go fishing, would gather around after we had pulled in the net to see baby grouper, fat and black; little puffer fish, prickling like pineapples; needlefish, wriggling snake-ily; mounds and mounds of shiners, the bait-fish that are silvery with yellowish stripes; and every now and then, for the luckiest searchers, a tiny seahorse, clinging to the grass that got pulled in. That was the most precious of all finds. For a brief moment when I saw a seahorse, hidden among the seaweed in the net, I swear it felt like the kingdom had indeed come.
We would collect what we wanted for the aquarium in a bucket, and throw the rest back, to swim free in their ocean home. It was an exhilarating introduction to the variety of life that exists in God’s great wide world. But after the oil disaster in the Gulf, hope of seeing the seahorse this summer will be, I imagine, hard to muster. The fecundity of that bay is unlikely to persist as the oil comes to shore.
So these fishing memories have been surging up as I wonder and worry what the future holds for that bay, and as I studied some texts that articulate God’s incredible promises to us. In one revelation to John, John sees the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. In this holy city flows the river of the water of life, water that is bright and clear as crystal, water that flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. What a strange city this is, where water, bright as crystal, flows through the streets, its source a throne. On the banks of this lovely river grows the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
In this city, the river is clear and bright as crystal. In this city, the nations and all their wounds are healed. In this city nothing accursed will be found anymore. In this city there is no darkness, nor need for sun or moon because the glory of the Lord God is its light.
The promise of this city, of its water bright as crystal, and its trees that grow leaves that will heal the nations, has been difficult for me to believe lately. The bay where my parents live is under threat, and though I believe that God’s promises are good beyond what we can imagine, sometimes the best I can imagine is fishing in the bay with my mother. A person has to wonder if it will ever be the same.
But the Gospel of John also describes God’s incredible promises to us. Jesus tells the disciples, gathered at the Last Supper, that after Jesus returns to the Father, that he and God will come to the disciples and make their home among them. He tells the disciples that God will send them another advocate, the Holy Spirit, to teach them everything, to remind them of all Jesus had said to them. He tells the disciples “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
We are disciples of this man full of promises. And Jesus promises us that He and God will come to make their home with us. Jesus promises us that He will send us an advocate, that the Holy Spirit will teach us everything, and Jesus promises us that He will leave us with the gift of his peace.
These promises have not yet been fulfilled. We live in a world that remains unperfected, marked by sin and disaster, and full of unexplained suffering.
But we have been sent the advocate, the Holy Spirit, the giver of life. The spirit is breath and wind and fire. The spirit is with us and in us and around us. The spirit creates beyond the limits of life, the spirit breathes new realities. The spirit speaks.
Rogare, like rogation, means to ask or propose, and we ask God to fulfill God’s good promises — to give birth to the heavenly city, to give us water clear and brilliant as crystal. And the spirit is our advocate as we ask, because the spirit nurtures our relationships: with each other and with God. The spirit enables us to live together beyond possibility.
For me, it is impossible to reconcile the love I have for the Gulf Coast with the devastation that is coming. But when I asked my mother if it made her sad, if the possibility of havoc in a place she and my dad have loved so well and worked so hard to care for was heavy on her heart, she said it was; but she also said that they have experienced much in that place, much beauty, much care, much joy, much grace, much goodness, and much love. She said that those experiences and that love are what will enable the work they do now and in the years to come for the bay and its life. We may not hope for seahorses this summer, I think she must have meant, but we might hope that our lives will be faithful to the gifts we have already received.
Life among us, your life, and my life, and our life together is both a gift from the Spirit and a promise that the Spirit will be our advocate. Let us remember God’s gifts and ask God for the blessing that God has promised.
Alda Balthrop-Lewis is a former intern at Speaking of Faith and is a graduate student at the Divinity School at The University of Chicago. She will be returning to the Gulf Coast for the summer and pursuing her studies. Look for more posts from Alda in which she reflects on her home and its evolving state.
In Praise of Open Windows
Shari Motro, guest contributor
Krista’s interview with Bill McKibben inspired me to write this, so I thought it would be fitting to post it on this blog.
Last spring, the Obamas planted a White House vegetable garden. This year, why not follow up by cutting the air conditioning and opening the windows? They might also set a temperature range for the White House within which neither artificial heating nor cooling is used — recognizing that for much of the spring and fall what nature provides simply cannot be improved.
I’m no fan of indoor refrigeration even in summer. I realize I’m in the minority. Nevertheless, year-round climate control is surely not what most people want. During these glorious weeks, I cannot believe the office and retail workers who crowd every outdoor café and park bench at lunchtime appreciate returning to their airtight posts. I cannot believe the guests of most major hotels prefer stale recycled air over an April breeze. I cannot believe the bedridden sick and elderly prefer the drone of forced air to the calls of nesting birds. Novelist Henry Miller called the United States the “air-conditioned nightmare.” He had a point.
The ubiquity of windows that do not open may cause some not to notice what they are missing. Sealed spaces divide, they alienate, they blind us to what is happening beyond our threshold. They rob us of the goose bumps you feel as the sun sets at the end of a balmy day, of the sounds of crickets and children, of the smell of freshly mown grass, honeysuckle, earth. A different kind of comfort emerges when we tune in rather than anesthetizing ourselves to our given reality, and with this comfort comes a different kind of compassion for ourselves and our surroundings.
In the end, of course, this isn’t only about us. Americans make up 4% of the world’s population and we produce a quarter of its carbon dioxide pollution. I don’t know where you draw the line between personal comfort and responsibility, but treating our air 12 months a year, 24/7 is on the wrong side of it. This isn’t comfort, it’s gratuitous waste.
Who stands to lose from an open-window revolution? The multibillion dollar HVAC industry. I’m okay with that.
It’s been a long winter — let the sun shine in.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on SOF Observed. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
The more tedious the work we have, the better. Because part of Crop Mob is about community and camaraderie, you find there’s nothing like picking rocks out of fields to bring people together.
—Rob Jones, an organizer of a “new movement” linking young people together who want to do some hardcore farm labour for a day.
Shubha Bala, associate producer
Office Chair Exploration
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
One part that stood out to me from Krista’s conversation with Bill McKibben was his statement that “we’re going to have to learn to do a lot more travel via Google than American Airlines.” I was a bit skeptical of the idea that virtual globe-trotting could ever replace experiencing a different landscape and culture first-hand.
Then I found myself living that reality last week as I culled through the thousands of photos in 350.org’s Flickr account. Not only did I learn about a melted glacier in Bolivia and a school in Zulfiqarabad, Pakistan, I also read the story of a six-year-old girl from Samoa reading her poem about climate change. I’m still not quite sold on the prospect of travelling “via Google,” but I can’t help but feel a bit more worldly after putting this slideshow together.
If you’d like to dig deeper, I’ve collected these photos — as well as a few that didn’t quite make it into the slideshow — into two galleries (1, 2) on Flickr. Do a little digital exploration of your own.
Climate Change Explained in Four Minutes
» download (mp3, 3:55)
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Today, we will be releasing our latest show called “The Moral Math of Climate Change” with Bill McKibben. He’s an environmentalist who has been studying and writing about issues of global warming and sustainability for more than 20 years. Most recently he founded 350.org, aimed at raising awareness about climate change and ground-up solutions around the world.
During Krista’s interview with McKibben, she asked if he could give her a better understanding of the history of climate change and how climate scientists have arrived at their conclusions. I wasn’t able to listen to the conversation while it was happening, but the first thing Krista mentioned when she emerged from the studio was how helpful his “four-minute” explanation was.
Although McKibben’s explanation isn’t a complete, comprehensive history, he provides a good overview and a basis for discussion. And, he leaves a lot of space for asking more questions.
I’ve heard from many of you who are deeply invested in this topic, and many others who are struggling to understand and better talk about sustainability issues in moral and spiritual terms. Perhaps this is a place to continue this discussion, this exploration and what it means to move forward conscientiously and culturally. Or, share this mp3 with your friends, family, and neighbors. I’d love to hear where you take this dialogue.
As the Copenhagen conference takes place and then recedes — and with it the news coverage, to a degree — that’s when we here at SOF would like to pick up our coverage and extend this conversation by recording and retelling your stories for others to hear:
- What would it feel like to live in a world that — spiritually, psychologically, philosophically — meant something different?
- How has climate change affected your “moral imagination?” And, in turn, how has it also changed the way you live your life on a day-to-day basis?
- Do your family, cultural, and spiritual backgrounds factor into this understanding?
These are some of the questions were asking. Perhaps you have others that you’ve explored and thought about. Share your thoughts with us using our traditional form; and, we’re experimenting with our Google Voice number and widget to capture more audio, more voices of those who are actually thinking about the story. Click the widget below and talk to us using your phone.
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
These slides are from the results of a study released by the Yale Project on Climate Change in the autumn of 2008, which surveyed Americans on their ideas and attitudes about climate change (you can download a PDF of the report here).
This report made its way here last September when several SOF staff members attended an American Public Media conference on sustainability coverage — which also included producers from Marketplace, American Radio Works, and Minnesota Public Radio. Edward Maibach, one of the Yale study’s principal investigators, was also there to talk about the conclusions of the “Six Americas” — six different profiles of U.S. dispositions on climate change:
The Alarmed (18 percent of the U.S. adult population) are the segment most engaged in the issue of global warming. They are very convinced it is happening, human-caused, and a serious and urgent threat. The Alarmed are already making changes in their own lives and support an aggressive national response (see graphs below).
The Concerned (33 percent) are also convinced that global warming is a serious problem and support a vigorous national response. Members of this group have signaled their intention to at least engage in consumer action on global warming in the near term, but they are less personally involved in the issue and have taken fewer actions than the Alarmed.
The Cautious (19 percent) also believe that global warming is a problem, although they are less certain that it is happening than the Alarmed or the Concerned. They do not view it as a personal threat, and do not feel a sense of urgency to deal with it.
The Disengaged (12 percent) do not know and have not thought much about the issue at all and say that they could easily change their minds about global warming.
The Doubtful (11 percent) are evenly split among those who think global warming is happening, those who think it isn’t, and those who do not know. Many within this group believe that if global warming is happening, it is caused by natural changes in the environment. They believe that it won’t harm people for many decades, if at all, and they say that America is already doing enough to respond to the threat.
The Dismissive (7 percent), like the Alarmed, are actively engaged in the issue, but are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Most members of this group believe that global warming is not happening, is not a threat to either people or non-human nature, and strongly believe that it does not warrant a national response.
After looking through information on the subject, I’m pretty sure that I sit safely in the larger “concerned” category.
Which one are you?
One Man’s Trash, Another Man’s Treasure
by Colleen Scheck, producer
I was watching television news on the couch with my 10-year-old nephew last weekend and was captivated by a segment that profiled the work of Dan Phillips, a 64 year-old man from Huntsville, Texas who builds low-income houses out of trash. Yep, trash.
The segment has stuck with me in a few ways during this week’s production activities. Phillips’ work reminds me of the kindred efforts of Rural Studio (one of my all-time favorite programs), and it has resonance with our upcoming program with environmentalist Bill McKibben, specifically around the theme of human vitality and community in our changing natural world.
It also sparks thoughts about education and vocation raised during Krista’s interview with Mike Rose (to air in January). In that last way, I was struck by the difference in approach between Phoenix Commotion (Phillips’ initiative) and Rural Studio. Rural Studio trains highly educated architecture students to build homes from salvaged materials; Phillips employs unskilled laborers as apprentices and teaches “anyone with a work ethic” how to build. The result is the same: affordable homes made from recycled materials that are both functional and artistic, sustainable and unique.
I dug around for more info on Dan Phillips, and found a great slideshow of his work, as well as more photographs via Flickr. This is the kind of tangible activity that gives me hope, for our planet and for our humanity. My nephew, whose face was buried in his iPod Touch during the entire TV segment, looked up at the end and said “That’s cool.” I didn’t know he’d been listening.
Sometimes It Takes a Flood
Trent Gilliss, online editor
We’ve used Tumblr as our blogging platform for several years now. Along the way, we’ve followed some fantastic Tumblrs and gained some new followers who post news, data visualizations, photos, and other enlightening material we would probably never have known about.
The comic above was posted by one of our new followers, Nick Mueller from New South Wales, one of 23 Australian Youth Delegates to the Copenhagen Climate Negotiations. He serves as an astute reminder that even as we stare down these serious challenges, we can face these issues with humor and a lighter heart “to support young people to make the change needed for our planet in a personally sustainable way.”