Saturday, October 6, 2012

Nature Is Sacred: Many Christians Misunderstand Genesis 1:28

So first, a little theology, because I want to be clear right up front, and also to get to some miracles I have experienced by interacting in nature, beginning in childhood.

In Genesis 1:28, some Biblical versions read: "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the earth.'" The politician, Rick Santorum, recently said radical liberals placed "critters" above humans, and that we were to take dominion of the earth, and be stewards of it. 

He is only partially correct. The Random House Dictionary defines "Steward" as: 1. a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others (italics mine.)

The words "subdue", and "rule" seem very forceful; as if humankind is to grapple with nature and win a war! However, a closer look at these words in a contextual perspective helps us grasp the true meaning of the text. Nowhere in this text is there any suggestion that we are at war with the art, the creation of nature, God has gifted to us. Rather, we are to use what God has given us to our benefit, mindful we are cultivators, fishermen (women), farmers, miners, herders of animals, etc. (as would have been the Israelites at that time.)

You may disagree with me about this. I believe you would be wrong. If you read the whole of the Old Testament and New Testament, you will discover nature is celebrated! Notice! I did not say "worshiped." The Israelites worshiped God, and the Christians worshiped God (The Trinity). 

The Psalms are replete with cries of joy at the comfort and peace found in the provision in nature. One of the most famous, known by many different cultures, is Psalm 23
"The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul..."

And just one chapter in the New Testament, found in Luke 12, which talks about our intrinsic value, speaks about creation being of great value to God! Verse 6: Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? And yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Vs. 24: Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; and they have no storeroom nor barn; and yet God feeds them. how much more valuable you are than the birds! Vs. 27 (my favorite): Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.

And, although I will not give the references, Jesus himself escaped into nature, realizing that solitude there was essential, and that He needed refreshment with His father in such an environment...alone! (I challenge you to read the Bible yourself to find incredible experiences, such as ravens feeding starving prophets, donkeys speaking out loud, and fish spitting out taxes.)

Solitude. Sacred Day. Two activities I describe that are important to me, and why I spend them in nature. When I say these two things, people are bewildered. Some say, "I absolutely cannot "do" solitude." They are uncomfortable being with themselves. They need artificial background noise. They need to be needed by people, or need to be with people! 

I offer to take a few with me. Most decline. But one accepted (which really made it not a "solitude" day, but a teachable experience-so valuable.) We drove to my favorite end of a park. I showed her the peacocks. She had never seen them before. In fact, she had lived in this city her whole life, and had never even been to this park. I was talking about a skunk I had seen. She did not know what that was. Or a possum. Or a ground squirrel. Or...she didn't know anything about nature.

I took her straight down to the river. I told her I carried a cell phone, turned on "vibrate", and only answered it if my husband texted me about 6 times in a row. Usually the text response sent to him was "SACRED DAY!!" And he respects that. I took her to the water, and explained all about the water flow, the reasons for the rapids, the island in the middle, and how one could tell the depth by the flow, and color of the water. I told her to be silent. Asked her to just listen, and see if she could hear the differences in the river itself. She tried. I give kudos for that. She tried! I had her lean over the river bank, look in the sunny pools, and see the gold flecks. She wouldn't touch the mossy rocks. She was done.

I was not done. But I walked her back up. I showed her how to use my very expensive camera. I asked her to keep her cell phone off, and I put my long lens on. I said, "Listen carefully. There are some amazing birds here. You will be able to get pictures if you follow their calls." When I came back, and checked her photography, it was amazing. She captured a Woodpecker, Red-Tailed Hawk, and a few others I can't remember now. It was good for her. She was very quiet while we were there. But I doubt she has been back.

When I was about 7, I was out the door at 5:00 a.m. We lived by woods in Upstate N.Y. No matter what time of year, I was interacting with nature. Back then it was my safe haven, an escape from evil into absolute purity. I took pure delight as flocks of Red-Wing Blackbirds harassed Great Horned Owls. I climbed trees, and watched as the world awakened. 

Sometimes I would be in a thick fog. I was never afraid. I felt blessed. Once as I was very stealthily walking (as I always did), the fog lifted. I was on a rise. Down in the valley, a HUGE stag was watching me. At least ten does were with him. I stood there and felt a grace. I was being blessed by God. I was absolutely delighted when the stag shook his powerful rack just once, and then went back to grazing. I could be trusted. 

The newt...I know. Such a very simple, maybe boring? creature. My mother was distant. She gardened. We 6 kids at home, stair step babies, were left to our own devices. However, perhaps she knew I was different. When she found those lovely newts, buried under leaves to protect their delicate black skin, she would call me. I would immediate come, and gently hold one in my hands. Spotted on the side, with velvet skin gently going in and out, it was the loveliest of creatures to me. I would bring it right to my face. Newts have very happy smiles, and gentle eyes. And they simply look back at you. My heart was always filled to bursting.

Now we will fast-forward because I could go on and on. I was an intense athlete from my 20's to my 40's. Insane, actually. In Orange County, CA., there is an amazing, hard-core wilderness trail. I ran it for miles every day. One day, up in the canyon, a large bobcat was in the middle of trail. I slowed down to a walk. I was able to walk within three feet. It sat there. I did not breathe. Truly. Before my eyes, it disappeared into brush. I felt like it was a miracle just for me.

Once, in Laguna Hills, I was watering my roses with a hose. Suddenly, a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird landed on the end of my hose, and began drinking. I stood still for as long as he drank. It seemed like an hour because I did not want my hand to move. I'm sure it was a minute. It felt like it was a miracle just for me.

I sit outside early in the morning, and sometimes listen. I have a luscious, full garden. A kit fox was sneaking out of my roses last fall. I gently called. He turned his head. He sat. He looked at me. I baby talked to him. We were going to be friends. I met him there every day for several mornings. Our interaction was exactly the same every day. And then the neighbor cat beat him up. He hasn't been back. But, while he was there, I felt like it was a miracle just for me.

I am a steward. I am an environmentalist. There are many Christians and Christian action groups who are avid environmentalists. And then there are those who believe environmentalism is a "left-wing", liberal agenda. They are dead wrong. It is a call for every Christian to care for this earth. I don't care if you believe in Global Warming or not. My question is, "Why do you need to drive a big truck if a small car will do?" If this prevents oil spills in an ocean which is the most unexplored space for humans yet, or protects beloved open spaces created by God for unique animals who may only live there, why would you choose NOT to do this? That is not being a  good steward. Why not follow God's "suggestion?" Why not be like Jesus, and escape, and experience something that you probably really, really need?

Solitude. Sacred Day. I want these things. I want interaction in an unpolluted, pure, alive place. The river I go to is mostly dead. If I want to take a picture, I must move trash. It disgusts me. My grandchildren (age 3 and 7) completely understand they are to take care of this earth. Surely, if they can grasp this, Christian adults can too!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Critical Thinking...Don't Argue With Non-Thinkers!

Have you run up against this?

You are trying to have a reasonable discussion with someone who has an opposing view. You are a logical, analytical, critical thinker. You use empirical data, realizing at the same time, you are unable to escape your worldview, no matter how enlarged it is. However, you have a defined worldview, and the other person does not.

This is problematic. Critical thinking involves knowledge of scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, historical thinking, anthropological thinking, economic thinking, moral thinking, and philosophical thinking. If you have not been trained in school (and many schools do not teach this unless you take specific classes) to learn critical thinking across this entire arena of learning, then you have giant holes missing in your knowledge base.

Will we know all there is to know? Of course not! Are there many truths and unknowns still to be discovered? Wonderfully, yes! And, a very, very important there room for many different points of view and opinions on serious matters? I certainly hope so. The most brilliant minds in the world clash on everything from the Big Bang theory, to math problems, to BIG philosophical questions that will never be answered, and even who is the best painter of the 18th century, for God's sake! (Never listen to art critics; that's my position!)

I appreciate this brief summary of critical thinking (taken from "The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools", by Richard Paul and Linda Elder.)

"A well cultivated critical thinker:

  1. raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  2. gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it, effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  3. thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  4. communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
Critical thinking is, in short, self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism."

Now, let's consider what happens if you have a well-defined worldview. First, your worldview is shaped from the moment you are born. Your experiences in your home, your school, your relationships with friends (or lack thereof), your interaction with your community, your religious experiences (or lack thereof) as you are growing into an adult all shape your worldview.

What SHOULD happen is as we mature, grow in knowledge, experience, interact with others, travel, read, leave our homes, and meet other people, we begin to develop our own worldview. And it becomes larger. Does this always happen? NO! Some adult children may leave their town or city for awhile, but their worldview does not change; they take it with them, and bring right back home. Or they take it with them, and it stays small. So do they. 

Negative experiences, lack of acceptance for being different, being taught hatred toward others in the home or church, or dishonesty, or that there is only one way that is right, and that there is no middle ground on anything leads to a very small worldview, a closed mind, a mind that refuses to learn, and is utterly incapable of critical thinking. 

It is important to note that our worldview should continue to grow as we mature, assuming we are life-long learners, and follow the steps of critical thinking forward with us. It is easy to see what year someone's brain stem died, and they have given up on learning. Why is it we somehow get to the place where we think we know enough?

Think of this inquisitive thought: the most unexplored place known to mankind and scientists is the ocean. We know infinitely less about it than space. More species are discovered in a single day in the ocean, and yet scientists have only dipped their toe in the water. They readily admit how little they know. This thrills me! The less we know, the more we have to learn. The more we have to learn, the greater the possibility our worldview will expand, change, twist, turn, and all that. It's truly an exciting venture. 

Sad, isn't it, some choose to let past experiences, ignorance, a refusal to learn, and a tiny worldview keep them from interacting with kindness, having real discourse with humanity in a way that effects change, brings hope, brings intelligent, gentle interaction to the table?

Don't waste your time trying to discuss important matters with such people. They don't get it. They do not have rational thoughts. They have preconceived notions, and prejudices they are unable to let go of. Their egocentrism may tell them they are absolutely right; your critical thinking will tell you not to argue. Find someone with whom you may have an intelligent conversation.