Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hymn: Ode to Joy

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is one of the crowning achievements of western classical music. Part of the last movement was adapted as a hymn that is still quite popular in churches even today. On Sunday's service at my church, we sang this hymn, and I was inspired to adapt the lyrics to more closely reflect my religious sensibilities (and to get rid of anachronistic language, such as "thee"). Here is the result.
Joyful, joyful, we proclaim you Lord of Life and fount of love,
hearts unfold like flowers before you, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of shame and sadness, drive our fear and doubt away;
giver of our vital gladness, fill us with the light of day.

You are giving and creating, ever blessing, ever blest,
well-spring of the joy of living, mother of all healing rest!
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
chanting bird and flowing fountain, call us to your jubilee.

Humans join the happy chorus; stars of morning take your part;
grace divine is reigning o'er us, telling us of wisdom's art.
Ever singing, move we onward, making peace in place of strife
joyful music leads us sunward in the glorious song of life.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Review: Let Us Be Human by Sam Charles Norton

This is a repost of a book review that I wrote several years ago.

A few years ago, I led a study with an adult Sunday School class at my church of Sharon Astyk's Depletion and Abundance. My intention was to explore the issues of peak oil, resource depletion, and the limits to growth, and to discuss what an appropriate Christian response to these issues might look like. Even though it is an excellent book, spiritual concerns are, at best, tangential to the main topic of Depletion and Abundance, and as a result the book was not a good fit to the purpose of the study. In Let Us Be Human: Christianity for a Collapsing Culture by Sam Charles Norton, I have finally found a book that really speaks to the subjects that I had wanted to explore with that Sunday School class.

A nice, concise summary of the topics the book covers can be found in the introduction, which, conveniently, was published in full by the author on Energy Bulletin (see Let us be Human: Christianity for a collapsing culture). As that is already conveniently available, I won't attempt to summarize the contents again. Instead, I offer some of my own observations of aspects of this book that I found particularly striking.

Although Norton is in some respects quite traditional - for instance, his use of He, His, and Him (capitalized, no less!) when referring to God might be somewhat irksome to more progressive Christians who sometimes go to great pains to not assign a gender to God - he is not even remotely fundamentalist or literalist in his understanding of scripture or theology. He understands that much of scripture is metaphorical or poetic, and quotes Tom Wright to emphasize this point when discussing apocalyptic literature (a popular genre of Jewish literature of which the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation are the best-known examples): "there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space time universe. There is abundant evidence that they knew a good metaphor when they saw one, and used cosmic imagery to bring out the full theological significance of cataclysmic socio-political events."

Norton directly confronts some of the more pernicious ideas to emerge from religious discourse in recent years. In a discussion of poverty, he states "There are still debates about what is the best thing to do about poverty, but it is impossible to be a Christian and not work for social justice." (Contrast this to calls in recent years from some right-wing leaders that Christians should leave churches that promote social justice.) He also condemns the "prosperity gospel" that has become popular in some evangelical circles, and condemns the doctrine of dispensationalism, which forms the foundational premise for the Left Behind series of novels. Progressive ideas are not immune from his criticism, either: private judgement (the idea that, quoting Norton, "this is what I choose to believe and no-one has the right to criticise me, because my choices are inviolate") and liberalism (again in Norton's words, "the idea that Jesus is a very nice man, a good human teacher, let's try and follow his teaching") both suffer under the assault of Norton's pen.

The author is an excellent writer, and he manages to explain fairly sophisticated theological concepts in a manner that is accessible to the average reader yet not oversimplified. One of my favorite examples of this is when Norton discusses the concept of realized eschatology. I have encountered this idea in several other books, but Norton's explanation is the first one I have found that is actually clear and understandable.

Let Us Be Human might not be of much interest to the non-religious, but I would highly recommend this book to anybody seeking to explore the spiritual ramifications of the crises our industrial civilization faces. It is concise and well-written, and possesses the unique strength of being written by one of the few people I am aware of who has an equally solid grounding in Christianity and theology on the one hand and in the issues of resource depletion and the limits to growth on the other.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Scavenger (Part 3)

Read Part 2.
Start reading at the beginning.

"So you want to see my junkyard?" asked Feikung after they were out of earshot of Ferald.

"Is that what you call it?" asked Renald cautiously.

"Well, that is what it is." Feikung led the way back into the complex of ruined concrete structures, in an area mostly overgrown by blackberries and Scotch broom. Following a twisting trail through the scrub, they arrived at a metal door set in the side of one of the more intact buildings. Feikung produced a key and unlocked the door, and smiled at Renald. "After you, sir."

Renald entered the building, and after his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, saw that he was in single large room, lit only by windows on the opposite wall. The windows looked out onto a large courtyard with a wall surrounding. Most astonishing, everywhere he looked, both in the room and out in the courtyard, were piles of computer equipment of every sort of description. "What is this place?" he asked in astonishment.

"This whole area used to be the campus of North Seattle College, back in the old days. As far as I can determine, when the Renunciation was proclaimed by the priestesses, some of the last scholars gathered everything electronic from the campus and stored it in here. I found it some years back, poking around in the ruins. There were radiation warning signs around this entire area, but I didn't find any evidence of radiation. I figure maybe the signs were used to scare away the priestesses, who would have destroyed all this stuff if they found it."

"All of this is just from one college?" The equipment was stacked nearly to the ceiling. "That's hard to imagine."

"Well, you have to remember the scale that people did things on in the old days. Also, the ubiquity of electronics. Everybody had them everywhere. So, do you think there is anything worth trading for here?"

"Is there ever . . ." Renald looked around, not entirely sure where to start. "You know, old man, this could be very profitable for both of us."

To be continued.