Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Failure of Good Stewardship

When future generations look upon ours - if future generations there are - they will marvel at our stupidity. Not short-sighted zeal or misplaced optimism, but downright old-fashioned asinine stupidity.

For only in the past hundred or so years has mankind produced waste that could not be thrown out. [Away, yes. Into our own backyards, or into the backyards of others.] Only in the past few generations have we had, and used, the capability to leave an ecological footprint. And what a footprint we have left, one where time to clean up the mess is measured not in months or years, but in millenia and thousands of millenia.

Consider the following two examples:

1. Nuclear waste. We cannot clean this stuff up. Billed as a "clean" energy source, in that it does not use hydrocarbons like gas, coal or oil, nuclear power plants produce electricity and radioactive waste, waste that will remain radioactive, and dangerous, long after our grandchildren's grandchildren have grown old. And our best solution? Bury it in a mountain.

Completely aside from the dangers inherent in nuclear waste management, the fact is that this waste will persist for generations. Depleted uranium, one of the less radioactive byproducts, has a half-life of about 4.5 billion years. Cesium-137, one of the more radioactive byproducts, has a half-life of approximately 30 years. This sounds good, but it still takes 150 years to stabilize 97% of the stuff.

We have created a technological marvel, but have completely failed to create the technology to clean it up. And yet we use it regardless. This, by any definition, is stupidity.

2. Plastics. Long-term readers of this blog know already of my deep antipathy for plastic bags. And so I was quite pleased to read a recent article which called for an end to them. But the problem is not just bags. They are just the most obvious and most unsightly leaving of the plastic industry: bag-festooned trees are, as an urban phenomena, an unfortunate commonplace.

The problem is plastic in general. Again, we have created a technology without creating the means to clean up afterwards. The net result is a global experiment to see how nature copes with something it cannot biodegrade. Incidentally, it is this biodegradability that ensured the economic "success" of plastics, and their ubiquity in modern life - we wanted, and now rely on, something that will not rust, corrode, or rot. In short, we wanted something completely alien to nature.

And we got it. Here is what this alien monstrosity has brought us: the plastic ocean, a soup of ever-crumbling plastic floating in the heart of the Pacific, a soup twice the size of the continental U.S. The cleanup? As possible as sifting the Sahara.

For those interested in more information on the garbage patches where ocean once stood, there is a video you can watch, a blog from a research vessel currently exploring this plastic ocean that you can read, or you can check out Wikipedia.

The problem doesn't end with the near indestructibility of plastic. Unfortunately, our global experiment includes the use of toxins. Recently, bisphenol A and phthalates have both made the news as toxins that exist in our plastics and which are not bound by them [they leach out]. Other known toxins are DEHA and styrene.

I think of the snobbery of the historian or scientist looking at the Roman's use of lead in their water pipes (as an interesting side-note, "plumbing" comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum). Are we any better? Many modern homes use piping made from PVC, an incredibly persistent plastic that releases dioxin both during manufacture and incineration, a plastic that contains the aforementioned phthalates.

What can we do, if we desire to effect some change? As far as I can see it, we must follow the three R's, whether we are making a personal move away from plastics, or the government wakes to the fact that we are bankrupting our future for present convenience and makes the decision for us. And the three R's are:
Reduce - First and foremost, we must reduce our plastic consumption. We must make it clear to the corporations that if they package something in plastic, we will not buy it. We must opt for products made of wood, metal, glass, etc. Only in the arena of medicine do I see a legitimate need for plastic ... in all other parts of our lives, I see enormous potential for improvement.
Reuse - Where plastic exists already, let us reuse it so as to maximize its lifespan. Eventually, plastic grows brittle and breaks into smaller [non-biodegradable] pieces, but until that happens, let us keep what we have out of the landfills and away from our seas for as long as we humanly can.
Recycle - In creating recycling programs we have bred a feeling of smug complacency about our plastic consumption. The truth is that out of the seven main groups of plastics, generally only two are recycled. And their recycling is just another form of reuse - the plastic doesn't go away, it doesn't biodegrade. It is a sop to our collective conscience and little more. However, where we can, and until that day when we have eliminated this unnatural abomination from our diets, recycling is a good way to reuse certain of our plastics.
The Travesty of the Religious Right

Sadly, there is not much concern for our environment in most conservative Christian circles today. In a baffling move, social conservatives (traditional Christianity is, by definition, socially conservative) have allied themselves with big business, big pharma, big oil, and big agribusiness, not to mention the military-industrial complex. And so they have distanced themselves from the environment, from the need to protect this planet from the worst of man's ravages, for it is axiomatic that the "needs" of large corporations are inimical to the needs of nature.

Somehow, we have left it to the democrats, the liberals, and the otherwise loony left to take up the torch that is ours by right and by religion. How many times have we heard it said that man is a steward of God's Creation? (I have heard it used as a defense for doing what we like with it - which makes as much sense as justifying defecating in the front parlour of our neighbours' home because they asked us to house-sit for them.) This stewardship is ours as heirs of Adam, a sacred charge not to be lightly dismissed. And as recipients of the faith, of true doctrine given us by our forefathers, the Fathers and Apostles, we should be leading the charge, eager to baptize all Creation, eager to restore the Cosmos to the conditions of paradise.

It grieves me that the Church isn't illumining the way for the world ... that it must be the largely non-Christian left that shows us how to care for His Creation (as they show us how to care for the poor, etc.). This was our task, our duty.

I am minded of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In a grim parallel, it wasn't the Pharisee or the scribe, keepers of the Law or of true doctrine, who rescued the injured man, but it was the Samaritan, the man whose religion was faulty, even heretical, who acted as a true servant of God.

Some may think that properly stewarding the environment is not the most important work asked us of our Lord. True, in comparison to saving a brother from the fires of hell, it doesn't seem terribly important. However, the truth is that most of us aren't busy saving our brothers from the fires of hell, so we really don't have a good excuse for our moral laziness and our callous disregard. Do I think that everyone should become an instant enviro-fanatic? I don't think it likely, even if I was arguing for it. A far more practical and beneficial thing would be if we opened our apathetic hearts to the need to do something, to heal our planet in even a small way. We need to be open to acting on behalf of God's Creation, and then perhaps we will see how.

- V.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Elsewhere in the blogosphere, we learn that Daniel Matsui has just gotten engaged.

Congratulations, Daniel & Michelle, and may God grant you both many years together. Your joy is our joy.

Also, Maxim from Earl Donald the Bewildered recently commented on a post over at the Ochlophobist's. I can't help but feel that his thoughts on the difference between Republican and Democrat complement mine quite nicely. (Naturally, he is welcome to disagree with me.) Here is a quote:
Can anyone tell me the difference between a Republican moderate and a Democratic moderate? There isn't much, is there? Any differences which still exist between the Parties are now relegated to the fringe; Labor and the much-maligned "Religious Right" are what remains of the soul of the Democratic and Republican Parties, respectively. Both of these groups give themselves, body and soul, to their respective Parties each election, and get nothing in return. In the middle, the real face of the single-party government which rules us emerges; I call it the "Secular Industrialist" Party. The so-called Democratic and Republican Parties are just the left and right legs of this Behemoth; the Democrats are charged with advancing the social interests of the Party, the Republicans, the economic interests. When the Democrats win, the Monster takes a step forward with its Left leg; when the Republicans win, it takes a step with the Right. Note that, no matter what happens, there is never any retrograde motion; no matter how fervent the rhetoric of each Party, when they actually come to power they never actually reverse the actions of their predecessors.
The image of the Behemoth, monstrous and all-powerful, echoes my intuition about the birth of despotism. I like it.

- V.

Hard Words from St. Luke

Vox clamanti continues to explore the serious side of life...


First, Vic has expressed some concerns about possible gnostic leanings in my last post (under "Two Thoughts on Evolution"). We take heresy very seriously over here, so after I have consulted with Orthodox authorities, I will be sure to clarify what I have written, and any error will be be corrected. Stay tuned.

Hard Words from St. Luke

I grew up Protestant, where Scripture reading and memorization are a way of life. And I have read through the Gospels multiple times, both before and after my conversion to Orthodoxy. Imagine, then, my astonishment and considerable consternation when I read a passage last Saturday that I have never read before. Not only that, but I encountered it again today on the Internet, exceedingly hard words from the mouth of Christ, as recorded by St. Luke:
"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we aught to have done!' " (Lk.17:7-10, NRSV)
It seems to me that we - or at least I - have this attitude that in doing what is right we somehow merit praise. God should be praising us for not cheating, not stealing, not fornicating, not lying, not looking at a woman with lust, etc. In fact, the marriage supper of the Lamb becomes a celebration about us, with Christ beaming at us with pleasure, saying, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." (cf. Mt.25:21, KJV) And divine revelry ensues.

I don't think that we have a very good conception as to how difficult it is to be a "good and faithful" servant (or slave), not if doing all that the Scriptures command (and they command a lot, to a degree the Mosaic Law never reached) is simply what we must do, and not meritorious in the least.

Think of it ... the Saints were they that fulfilled the commands of the Lord. The ones that lived the New Testament life to the full, who trod on asps, spoke with the angels, gave abundantly to the poor, lived free from the passions ... and yet, they only did what they were told to do. They only did what we have been told to do.

Hard words indeed.

- V.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Witnesses, Trees, Brides, and Evolution

I have been working on a commission that has kept me out of the blogosphere. It isn't done, but my son has decided to alter my schedule.

Let us leave the ridiculous and the inconsequential (my more recent posts) and move back the the meaningful.


The Two Witnesses
And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (Rv.11:3-8)
The Church Fathers wrote that the witnesses at the Eschaton would be Enoch and Elijah, the only two prophets who did not suffer death. At the end of all things, Enoch would prophesy to the Gentiles, and Elijah to the Jews.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." And the disciples asked him, "Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He replied, "Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist. (Mt.17:9-13)
Some readers of this text anticipate a return of Elijah in the sense that John the Baptist was a return of the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk.1:16-17) - I think of Michael O'Brien's Father Elijah as an example of this line of thought. However, it seems clear to me that we are looking at a literal return. "Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things."


The Tree of Life

The garden of Eden had two trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of [eternal] life. The second tree has been revealed to us as the Cross. A couple thoughts.
  1. I suspect that, had there been no Fall, the fruit of this tree would have been Eucharist and Communion for Adam and Eve and their children. (Although the mind boggles at Eucharist and Communion without Crucifixion. Speculative theologians welcome.)
  2. The presence of a tree of [eternal] life argues that immortality is something bestowed on us by the fruits of the tree; it is not natural to Man. Therefore death was present in the Garden, in the animals, in the vegetation. Death was observable to Adam & Eve, and would one day have been experienced by them had they not then eaten of the tree of life. As we know, in the wake of their eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were barred from eating of the tree of life. [Eternal] death, or hell, is a consequence of the Fall.
  3. The only effective Orthodox argument against evolution that I have heard was one that stated the impossibility of Darwinian evolution in a world without death. If there was death (just not spiritual, or eternal, death), evolution remains something that is not alien to Orthodox theology.
Thanks to E. and Vic from Other Side of the Sun for helping me flesh out these ideas.


Church as Bride of Christ

Just as Eve was formed out of the side of Adam to be the bride of Adam, so the Church has been formed out of the side of Christ, that is, out of blood and water, Eucharist and Baptism, to be the bride of the New Adam.


Two Thoughts on Evolution

As has been evidenced above, I don't have a problem with evolution. To my mind, it is a perfectly reasonable way to explain the fossil record. Furthermore, I don't have any issues with the idea that Man is descended from apes, with a caveat explored below. I would like to suggest one thing, though, and take issue with another.

First, the suggestion. I don't know that we have had much evolution going on since the time of Adam and Eve. Perhaps a consequence to the Fall is the end of evolution and the beginning of devolution. [Others might here argue that evolution doesn't work too well with the Law of Increasing Entropy. Entropy could be a fancy way of describing the destructive impact of the Fall upon the cosmos. Or, more simply, entropy is a recognition that without God acting to create and maintain, the universe unwinds itself.]

Second, I wish to take issue with the Latin name for man, Homo sapiens. I don't really care what we call the ancestors of Adam & Eve ... they were animals, brutes, like the rest of Creation. However, I see a moment when God takes one (or two) more intelligent brutes from out of all Creation and breathes life and spirit into them. And in that moment God creates a new thing, utterly unique in all the cosmos, something that is both matter and spirit, some one who has both a mortal body and an immortal soul, some one who needs a tree of life in order that the two are never separated. But this new thing, this Man, is not different from the brutes by merit of being wise, or sapient, but through being God-breathed. If there was evolution, then God spoke into the process and created a miracle. I want to replace Homo sapiens with Homo spiritens (or its equivalent - I'm not sure of the Latin).

- V.

Pancake Tuesday

It is Ash Wednesday, and my Catholic friends begin their Lent today - may it be a fruitful one.

It has come to my attention that the day before Ash Wednesday is not just known as Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) or Shrove Tuesday, but Pancake Tuesday as well. In honour of information new-found, this post is dedicated to pancakes.


Call them flapjacks, batter cakes, griddlecakes, hot cakes, johnnycakes, or wheat cakes, pancakes are a delight to the senses - the warmth when they come steaming from the pan, the slightly oily rubberiness when they have been refrigerated, the rich aroma of freshly cooked batter, the rush of (syrup) sugar over the tongue, the slightly chewy texture, the taste that says 'this is comfort food'.

Indeed, I suspect that while there is a just prohibition against living by bread alone, I cannot see the fault in living solely on pancakes.

Here is my favourite recipe, courtesy of a friend. The resulting pancakes are a little more crêpe-like than your more typically Western fluffy pancake, less like bread, a trifle chewier, simply heaven. I recommend them either with icing sugar and lemon juice or with maple syrup.
Prisca's Pancakes

1 1/2 cups flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
3 Tbs. sugar
3 Tbs. oil
1 - 1 1/4 cups water or milk

1. Beat eggs together. Add other wet ingredients.
2. Mix dry ingredients together.
3. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Mix.
4. Pour small amount of batter into a pan, and fry with a little oil.

And here is an ode to pancakes.

- V.