Dystopian Inspiration

Joyfully, I have recovered my writing laptop from the place where it was charging. Who would have guessed it was plugged in on my desk? The next thing you know, I’ll find my keys hanging on the key-holder by the door.

For today’s blog, I wanted to bring in an outside source from the kind of stuff I usually quote. I am a sincere believer that everyone needs to put their hair down occasionally. In fact, even the Desert Abbas and Ammas occasionally understood this idea. I adore the story of the hunter who comes across Abba Anthony and questions the good Abba about what he sees. The Abba and several other monks were enjoying themselves in the desert. The Abba challenges the hunters perception by asking him to repeatedly draw his bow and fire an arrow. In time the hunter protests. Overusing the bow will break it. Abba Anthony replies that the same is true of people. If you stretch them too much, they will break.

“A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, ‘Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.’ So he did. The old man then said, ‘Shoot another,’ and he did so. Then the old man said, ‘Shoot yet again,’ and the hunter replied ‘If I bend my bow so much I will break it.’ Then the old man said to him, ‘It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.’ When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened.”

From “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection” translated by Benedicta Ward on pages 3-4.

I put down my hair by reading science fiction. I enjoy space operas, dystopian tales, and short stories. I was recently reading through “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection” as edited by Gardner Dozois. In particular, I was reading “The Hunger After You’re Fed” written by the authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franch operating together under the pseudonym of James S. A. Corey.

In the story, there’s a society where everyone can have what they need. People are offered an allotment and should have enough to live off if they are careful with how they spend their resources. Unfortunately, even in science fiction people are often people. A few particular lines of the story stuck out:

“Money only ever fixes the troubles that money can fix. All the others stay on. Yes, yes, yes, we suffer less. We suffer differently. But we still suffer over smaller things, and it distracts us. We begin to forget how precious butter and bread are. How desperate we once were to have them. Spices that meant something deep to my mother or to me? In a generation they’ll only be tastes. They won’t mean anything more than their moment against the tongue. We should nourish our children not just with food, but with what food means. What it used to mean. We should cherish the moments of our poverty. Ghosts and bones are made to remind us to take joy in not being dead yet.”

James S A Corey, “The Hunger After You’re Fed” in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection” as edited by Gardner Dozois.

Now, I underline my religious books on my Kindle regularly. I am 30% through this collection of short stories and this is the first highlight in the book. Let’s be clear that I enjoyed many of the stories. This quote from James Corey just leapt off the page at me in a special way.

I believe one reason it connected with me is my hobby of cooking. At this moment, I have am working on making a compound beef stock to enjoy throughout the cold months of winter. It has taken a lot of effort to make the beef stock. It would be far easier to just purchase a container of beef boullion from the grocery store, but there’s something deeper at stake for me.

I want my kids to have something true, something real, and something they can identify. I want my kids to recognize the taste of leeks and carrots in a stock. I want my kids to see how long it takes to cool and remove the fat from the top of the stock. I want them to understand why the food they eat at home tastes different from the stuff out of a can in the school cafeteria.

Truthfully, there are no bones left behind for the kids to see at the school. My kids see the bones the broth comes from in our house. When making chicken stock, they see the chicken paws come out from the freezer and into the pot. There was once something living and breathing that went into that soup. The vegetables they see cooked to oblivion to get nutrients and flavors into the stock? Those vegetables came from farms where farmers worked hard. In the summer, the kids often meet those farmers at the farmer’s market or at the coop where my kids see the chickens that produce their eggs.

I have a colleague named Grace Hackney who is big into the ministry of food through the ministry “Life Around the Table.” At the Academy for Spiritual Formation we have had several deep conversations on food and spirituality. We have various differences of opinions on small matters, but I agree with her assertion that the ways we feed our bodies affect how we feed our soul. Living out of a place of gratitude means not only giving thanks for what we have on the table but also being aware of how it came to the table. Proverbs 13:25-14:1 states:

“The righteous have enough to satisfy their appetite, but the belly of the wicked is empty. The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands.”

Proverbs 13:25-14:1, NRSV

Proverbs is a book which is very black and white. There are righteous people who suffer want and there are wicked folks who have never gone hungry. As Jesus states in Matthew 5:45, the sun rises and the rain falls on people of all varieties. Still, there is wisdom to the saying “Don’t throw away the baby with the bath water.”

For me, stewardship means being able to trace back the foods I eat to the earth. If you hand me a chicken and vegetables, I can make broth. I don’t enjoy butchering chickens, but when pressed I can clean and cook a chicken. Grocery store vegetables are pretty, but if you hand me a bunch of malformed carrots, I can use them fine.

I am capable of these tasks, understand the effort they take, and thus do not throw useful things away without reason. In fact, I’m sure I drive my wife crazy with my obsession over leftover bones. I’m also certain she appreciates I can bring good food to the table for two or three days after roasting a chicken without driving up the grocery bill through the roof. I do so in part because there’s nothing more damaging to our budget than a grocery budget blown out of proportion or a trip out to dinner every night of the week. We have enough and some to spare in part because we do not let the foods we eat tear down the house in which we live.

We are trying to live out the wisdom of Proverbs 13:11 as a family: “Wealth hastily gotten will dwindle, but those who gather little by little with increase it.” There are days when the food on the table does not taste as good as the food at the restaurant, but there are moments when practice results in success. There are days when it is easier to just buy a kit from the store, but there are also moments when we turn the tide against the world insistent on telling our kids that any taste can come from a vending machine. Little by little we resist the drive to buy every shiny thing at the store. Bit by bit we regain what was once lost to us.

Let us Ramble: “The Natural World”

Okay, so today I wanted to put out a blog post that addressed something I hinted at in yesterday’s post. This is more educational than pastoral. Teaching is a part of the role of a pastor in the United Methodist Church, especially in times of crisis. Yesterday I wrote about fear. Today I write about applying faith to action.

Our world stands at a precipice. We have rushed up to the edge of a cliff and are looking off the edge. There is a need for wisdom and discernment in the world. A voice needs to cry out with wisdom! In a world with a thousand and one opinions for every person, there should be some place we can turn when things are out of sorts to find a consensus of wise minds. Yes, the Bible is one such place to find guidance, but nuclear weapons are not mentioned by name in the scripture.

Thankfully, the United Methodist Church meets for holy conferencing every four years. While I am not always a fan of everything that comes out of General Conference, there is one resource that I believe best expresses the heart of what good holy conferencing can create. Unfortunately, not many United Methodists read the words of our Book of Resolutions. The Book of Resolutions are non-binding on people within the church and as such are free to express our most passionate ideals while not forcing churches in wildly different circumstances to engage in the same behaviors.

Here’s what the 2016 Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church (¶160.1) says about “The Natural World:” (my underlines)

All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect. Economic, political, social, and technological developments have increased our human numbers, and lengthened and enriched our lives. However, these developments have led to regional defoliation, dramatic extinction of species, massive human suffering, overpopulation, and misuse and overconsumption of nature and nonrenewable resources, particularly by industrialized societies. This continued course of action jeopardizes the natural heritage that God has entrusted to all generations. Therefore, let us recognize the responsibility of the church and its members to place a high priority on changes in economic, political, social, and technological lifestyles to support a more ecologically equitable and sustainable world leading to a higher quality of life for all of God’s creation.

As United Methodists have gathered in Holy Conferencing, we have come to the conclusion as a global body that there are some things we believe about the world around us. We believe that this world is a world that is entrusted to us but does not exist entirely for us. Our planet has a natural heritage this planet possesses that abuses have caused us to damage and debilitate in some cases. Plants, creatures, and the earth itself all consist parts of God’s creation. We are called to care for this earth as caretakers and stewards.

While there are people who still argue about and around climate change, the vast majority of people understand that the deployment of nuclear weapons would be a damaging act that would do a massive amount of harm to the earth, the plants, the biosphere, and the creatures including humans. United Methodists believe that the way we treat the world can jeopardize the natural heritage entrusted to all people and all who live upon and in the world itself. As a people, we cannot abide the concept of nuclear war and the ramifications it has on human and natural life. We have the technology and we have the ability to develop non-technological responses (e.g. diplomacy, sanctions, isolation) to deal with tyranny without resorting to nuclear exchanges.

The suffering which would take place as the result of a nuclear exchange would be massive. As people of faith, there are many things we can do. We can pray for our leaders and for other world leaders. We can study peace-making and begin to create a culture of peace-making that can influence challenges like these in the future. We can also write or call our representatives in this earthly nation and ask them to express displeasure (and abject horror) to other leaders in the world about the possibility of a nuclear exchange.

Regardless of feelings of helplessness, questions of efficacy, or doubts about our own abilities, it is the obligation of stewards to care for creation. We are stewards of creation and we have an obligation to seek a way forward which will care for creation in the face of nuclear annihilation. To do anything less would be an abdication of our responsibility as caretakers of a planet that has given us all of the great elements that provide us life.

A Collect for these days: “Holy God, You are the One who stitched this world together. Knit together Your caretakers in action, deed, and love through your Holy Spirit so that we may work together to keep this world from being torn asunder through the most brutal and violent of forces. We pray these things through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”