Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Considering the World

September 10, 2014

Here we are, on our way home from Hannibal, Missouri, the childhood home of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and the office of a lovely oral surgeon who was good enough to remove my eldest child’s wisdom teeth from her small, crowded mouth so that her braces might be more effective in correcting her teeth. Little of that is relevant to this blogpost, but since when have I limited myself to the relevant?

Long drives are good for conversations. Denny and I have been talking while Farra snoozes in the backseat, gauze hanging out of her mouth. 

I’m fascinated by landscapes. I’m fascinated by humankind's impact upon the earth. (More pleasantly by the former, less so by the latter.) This particular trip took us further north in our state than I’ve ever been. As we got up past St. Louis the land began to stretch out in bigger, flatter fields of corn, a little less rolling with less rugged forest than we have down in the St. Francois Mountain foothills. I consider the scenery and imagine it in other parts of the world. I marvel at the vastness of our small planet. So much happening on this little earthship floating around space.

And look at all these buildings, these roads, these motor vehicles transporting people hither, thither and home. Yes, I think about ants and how we are similar in many ways.

Once upon a time, humankind didn’t exist. Now we rule the world and have unveiled the Apple Watch.

Look at what we are capable of!

I’m growing fond of Apple. Actually, the only time I have ever seen a gadget advertised that I felt drawn to was when the first iPad was released. I remember thinking, “Now THAT is cool.”  They have a remarkable way of bringing amazing technological advances to the layperson. Few people have heard of the Large Hadron Collider, one of the world’s largest machines and a fascinating example of what humankind can do when it puts its collective mind to something (watch Particle Fever if you get a chance), but I don’t know anyone personally who doesn’t own an i-something or at least know what it is.

So what?

Well, so we privileged 1st-worlders are without excuse. When you look at the technological advances in the last 100 years, in the last 50 years, and project forward at the same rate of progress, you see we are capable of doing what we need to do to save ourselves.

And we need this. We have royally f**ked things up. If the rate of destruction continues without intervention, our species simply won’t last and, to boot, we’ll take a large number of other species with us on our way out of existence.

No, it’s not all us. Even if we get our shite together this planet has an end-date. If not by asteroid sooner, we will eventually be fried and absorbed by the growing star we call Sun. This planet has an expiration date. In as little as a few hundred million years (yes, very little in the grand scheme of things) Earth will likely be inhospitable. 

Wouldn’t it be nice to be comfortably established in a new solar system by then?

And why not, I say? We are fully capable of preventing our self-destruction and coming up with a way to get off of this rock when we need to, before it becomes an unbearable sauna.

But is humankind thinking of these things? Mostly no. We haven’t made it over our excitement of the Apple Watch and how it will improve our daily jog.

I’ve thought a great deal lately about the evolution of humankind. In a way our collective species focuses on our primitive needs; food, water, shelter, reproduction; not so different from other animals. Because of our consciousness we tend to take these things to excess, always striving for more. Tastier food (not necessarily more nutritious), larger homes filled with more stuff, sexual partners to satisfy all of our desires. Yes, we are so focused on these things. We create industries out of need and desire. We run, run, run, trying to have it all plus a bag of Jelly Babies. We want to feel good. Turn on the TV. It’s all about feeling good.

But there ARE people who are thinking of other things. I like to think it’s part of our evolution. Maybe someday, if we haven’t killed ourselves first, the collective humankind will focus more on what is good for us (and other species) than what feels good. (Insert Star Trek references here.)

It wasn’t that long ago that my focus was very limited. My world revolved around my home, my husband, my children, living righteously, and looking to the return of Christ, just as the Bible says a woman’s world should.

Titus 2 tells older women to “admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”

Later in the same chapter, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

I took those words to heart.Also these:  1 Thessalonians 4: “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.”

As a believer I needn’t worry, God had things under control. I did, still, I admit. Occasionally. And about things that hit close to home.  But the future of humankind was laid out in scripture. We were to do our best here on earth in the time that we had, acting our part in God’s grand play, for he had a wonderful future in store for us: admittance to his kingdom. That was all we needed to focus on.

I see this all around me here in the bible belt. People who take God’s word somewhat seriously, people who believe he is returning soon. They act accordingly. What do you suppose that looks like? How do you suppose that effects the collective mind?

Denny and I have an acquaintance, a local religious man with whom we’re friends on Facebook. Time and again he tells us, “I don’t care if you believe or not, so why do you care if I do?” 

For starters, that doesn’t make him a very good christian.  That aside, I care because what we believe about the world determines the way we act. The way we act determines the outcome of our species, many other species, and the earth itself. I care very much about this because we’re all in this together.

Inevitably these thoughts and conversations come down to, “Well, what can I do about it?”

Denny has lived most of his life as an activist. He has observed, studied, contemplated, and acted; all in the name of the betterment of humankind. 

I was going to go somewhere else with that. I was going to contrast it with the way I had been living my life inside my bubble. But it strikes me that I was doing the same thing with my life, as are many sincere bible believers today. We just had/have a different set of facts before us on which to act.


Believers will ask, “Wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?”  They suppose that we would all be better off assuming there is a god, so that when we die we can live in eternal bliss. (They also assume we have some ability to believe in things that we don’t believe in, as though it were a switch we could flip.)

Why not turn it around? Why not ask the believers to consider living as though Jesus isn’t coming back, as though this life is all we have, that this world is all we will be able to pass on to our children when we die. How, then, would we live?

Denny did spend his time in a considerably different sort of active, thoughtful way. He poured every ounce of energy he had into making a difference in the world. In a way, after many years, he burned out. He didn’t stop caring—well, not entirely—but he changed focus. Me, I am only just now beginning to see the world the way it really is, to see humankind's possible demise contrasted with our potential. I’m excited, amazed, saddened, outraged, thrilled, afraid, hopeful…

Our conversations have been interesting, to say the least.

A teacher at heart, I always want to know how to apply things practically. How do we take all of these thoughts and put them to good use in our lives? What do we teach our children?

There must be some balance. Ahhh, you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?

If this life is all we have, both our personal lives and the life of humankind on earth, then why not make the most of it? Why not just enjoy it? There’s no end to the things I find beautiful and just plain enjoyable. I’d need eight lives to cover it all.

But can we balance it with living considerately, with a mind to the future. It’s so cliche, but it really does come down to individuals. If everyone made decisions and lived each day with tomorrow in their sights…  No, it doesn’t seem like much when it’s just you, but it matters. “Just you,” not only makes a difference, you make an impression on others and the effect snowballs.

You don’t need me to tell you all the things you can do to make a difference. If you really can’t think of something, that’s what Google is for. But please, don’t just leave it to someone else. What if all the someone elses decided to leave it to someone else?

Work with me, people. Work and play and enjoy a meaningful meaningless life with me.

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