Archive for April, 2013


Wild and Dangerous

Reprinted with permission from Darkwood Brew.

About 100 miles southwest of where I live sits the town of West, Texas. Until the evening of April 17, West was known for its vibrant Czech heritage, which includes an annual folk festival with plenty of mouth-watering stuffed rolls called kolaches.

Now as I write on April 19, West is known as the town where a fertilizer plant exploded with such force – equivalent to that of a 2.1 magnitude earthquake – that the blast concussion was felt some 50 miles away. A fire at the plant set off containers of the main ingredient in its fertilizer, anhydrous ammonia.

For me, what happened in West has grown beyond its human tragedy, because the substance that exploded symbolizes the wild and dangerous nature of God and the Creation called “good.”

Farmers everywhere know the benefits of anhydrous ammonia. According to a helpful factbox at MSN.com’s Science and Technology page, farmers use it as a fertilizer to boost soil’s nitrogen levels. It’s readily available and easy to apply when compressed into a clear liquid. Once applied, it converts to a gas in the soil and helps to “fix” or increase nitrogen, which adds to soil’s ability to grow food plants, especially corn.

The chemical’s description, “anhydrous,” means that it readily combines with any moisture. In fact, this benefit is also its bane, for anhydrous ammonia sucks up water so efficiently that it will dehydrate human skin, freezing the skin and causing severe chemical burns. It will dehydrate mucous membranes and dehydrate the respiratory system as well. Those exposed to it must be treated with large amounts of water to counteract its injurious effects.

For all its benefits, anhydrous ammonia is hideously dangerous to contain. The chemical boils at -28 Fahrenheit, says MSN.com’s factbox. Above this temperature, to be kept liquid and safe it must be stored under pressure in high-strength steel tanks because of its corrosive ability. It’s no wonder that a fire at the West fertilizer plant would set off an explosion.

Anhydrous ammonia has one other claim to notoriety: It is the fertilizer used by domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Paul Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. McVeigh’s reckless, unrepentant hated abused something that, when rightfully applied, causes the Earth to produce food more abundantly, a sign of Creation’s goodness. If there exists a better definition of sin, I’ve yet to find it.

Make no mistake; I don’t mean that God is the ultimate cause of the tragedy in West. I believe that God is suffering with the people of West even now. Yet we must not ignore the deeper reality evident in this disaster, that God’s Creation remains as wild and dangerous as the Divine Self, because it contains within it a spark of the Divine that is beyond our control.

This fallacy that we control the world of which we are a part is the sin of hubris, of the self-delusion that we are the Masters of the Universe. There is only one Master/Mistress of Creation, and we are not S/He. When we forget that, we run smack into the wildness against which the Divine tries to protect us, endangering ourselves and the world that God loves.

Creature Features

Reprinted with permission from Darkwood Brew

Sheena the Wonder Dog, my darling companion.

Sheena the Wonder Dog, my darling companion.

Each morning, barring inclement weather, Sheena the Wonder Dog takes me on our morning “walkies.” Our street abuts Prairie Creek, so we start out walking along the grassy strip of park that our family calls the Greenway, like in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. A feisty Border Collie mix rescued from the city shelter, Miss Sheena loves the Greenway because it’s filled with delicious, traceable smells from feral cats, squirrels, rabbits, birds and the excretions of other dogs.

I love the Greenway, too, because it reminds me of childhood ramblings in Florida, gamboling over a lush green carpet beneath a blue-sky canopy. My parents undoubtedly had no idea what freedom they granted me with my “big girl” bicycle, a blue-and-white Schwinn given for my tenth birthday. In fact, I’m sure that my mother would have been terrified to know some of the wild places my bicycle took me. Sometimes today I marvel that I wasn’t eaten by an alligator down by the lake, or bitten by a rattlesnake in the woods. As it is, I have only cherished memories of a magnificent paradise of palmettos, tall pines, flowing waters, bright red and pink hibiscus, and lush greenery.

Today that paradise is lost, buried under too much concrete and too many humans. Wide-open fields have been covered with houses; dense pine groves have been invaded by roads or cut down altogether. Barrier-island beaches where we once gingerly tiptoed over pine bristles to swim in the Gulf of Mexico now groan beneath the weight of sky-high condominiums, the contemporary epitome of Jesus’ s parable about foolishness building houses upon sand. As the great Southern novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote in “Look Homeward, Angel,” one really can’t go home again, because “home” is as much an experience as it is a place.

The more I study the Holy Bible, the more I come to understand that this longing for home lies behind much of scripture. It’s here that Celtic Christianity, in my view, has an edge over the Roman version of Christian faith that has shaped the Western church. The difference between the two perspectives on faith has come down to a dichotomy: “descriptive” versus “prescriptive.”

The Celtic Christian view is descriptive: It sees the wonders of creation and embraces humanity’s “creatureliness” – that is, the reality that humans, for all our evolutionary skills, are still creatures of the Creator. The Roman Christian view is prescriptive: It seeks to impose order on a chaotic creation, granting humans both stewardship of God’s handiwork (the true meaning of what is commonly translated as “dominion”) and dominance (control or the power to determine other creatures’ fate).

These same lenses can be applied to the scriptural passages often quoted as justification for humans’ desecration of the Earth. Genesis 1, where this series begins, offers us a glorious hymn of life that too often is misused as a wedge against what science tells us: that somehow, in ways beyond our understanding, our universe, our planet, our species were created with the ability to adapt to changing environments, thereby assuring the continuation of life in its infinite diversity. Genesis 1 describes the universe as it appeared to humans so long ago, and still appears today even as our means of comprehending it become more far-reaching and sophisticated.

On the other hand, the Roman Christian viewpoint sees Genesis 1 as “prescriptive,” that is contending that God created the universe “ex nihilo” – out of nothing, like magic. This theological perspective prescribes that humans are charged with imposing order upon unruly nature. This prescriptive interpretation of scripture lies behind the propensity of Western civilization to lie in opposition to, rather than in collaboration with, the world around us.

Roman Christianity sees Celtic Christianity as heretical, for it dethrones humans from their mastery of creation and makes them nothing more than creatures. Yet the more we delve into biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy and other sciences, we find that we are creatures, made of the same star-stuff that comprises the rest of creation. It is only our own hubris that sets us apart from the creation into which we are born. It is that same hubris that causes us to desecrate our natural world – to despoil its inherent sacredness – for our own greed, as in the recent tar sands oil spill in Mayflower, Ark., from Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus Pipeline (“Raw Aerial Footage Shows Extent Of Exxon’s Pegasus Pipeline Spill”).

Descriptive and prescriptive interpretations of Christianity intersect when humans are called upon to defend nature against our own predations. In other words, a more complete understanding of description of creation should engage us with the prescription to truly care for it. We will explore this more as our series proceeds, but for now I find that much that I hold sacred about our beautiful world can be summed up in Wendy Francisco’s evocative ballad “GoD and DoG”:

I look up and I see God.
I look down and see my dog.
…God thought up and made the dog
Dog reflects a part of God.
I’ve seen love from both sides now.
It’s everywhere. Amen. Bow-wow.

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For your further edification, I highly recommend Darkwood Brew, which describes itself as “a groundbreaking interactive web television program and spiritual gathering that explores progressive/emerging Christian faith and values.” I’ve been a guest blogger there for about three months, and have learned much and been greatly blessed by its programs. It’s Christianity for those of us wrestling with life in the 21st century. Worth a look at 5 PM CDT Sundays.