Paradise or Parking Lot?

Posted: July 4, 2010 in beautiful
Tags: , , , ,

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.

Big pop rock hit; cool lyrics; “Counting Crows,” Joni Mitchell — ongoing issue. How do we live on our earth? Do we pave it with asphalt or plant it with flowers? Do we save it or use it up?  But it’s not as simple as  that, a parking lot or a paradise. And rhetoric dominated by one-sided presentations doesn’t help. Our choice isn’t simply to eat organic, “go green”  and hog tie offending businesses, or “go business,” skip the regulations, cut the forest and protect the jobs.

Take the ants — we share paradise with them. How is that going for you? I personally kill the heck out of them. When they come to my house for dinner, I spray them with Raid or if I’m out of Raid, I nuke them with 409. A while back ants got in my kitchen sink. I washed them down the drain and turn on the garbage disposal. It didn’t bother me.  I grew up in a mid-western gun and fishing-rod culture. If it moved, we shot it.

I’ve moved beyond that now, I don’t go find things to kill. I only kill things if they come to my house uninvited, in a web or in a nest —  spiders and wasps. I hate spiders. I’m death to spiders. And while I’m confessing, I’m a serial flea-killer. I repeatedly put Advantage on my cats. .

And when it comes to pavement, I love asphalt, because I love cars, fast cars, rear-wheel driven, asphalt-ripping cars. Let’s see, a paradise or a parking lot? Most of us think it’s paradise when we find parking. I do.

But there is another side to me, and you. Most of us will be happy to drive cars that run on natural gas, electricity or solar power. And we all hate what is happening in the gulf; the BP oil disaster makes us sick. All that gooey brown oil flowing into our beautiful blue-green ocean, the flopping, dying creatures at the shore, the fisherman’s lost jobs. We love our earth. And we love our shrimp, with cocktail sauce on it. And we don’t like petroleum on our shrimp. We hate seeing the ocean ruined. Paradise for most of us includes asphalt, and sea food, but it isn’t an ocean full of oil.

And I’ll man up. I contributed to the BP disaster. I helped create BP. If you drive, you did too. Our love affair with the American auto, our toleration of the internal combustion engine is ruining the earth.

We didn’t rush the BP job; we didn’t violate the safety regulations; we didn’t fail to have a backup plan, but nonetheless, we don’t have a clear conscience. Steven Wright once said,  “A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.”  I have helped pollute the earth by wasteful living. I want to be different.

I like the Hebrew Psalm,  number 148. It’s a hymn of creation, the writer exulting in the galaxies, angels, sun, moon, rain – everything up there praising, the writer exulting in everything down here, including little creatures, praising. “Praise the LORD …  “small creatures,” the Psalmist writes. I guess that includes ants and fleas. The Psalm presents a world-view that reveals a vast, universal hymn going up from the earth, from flea to galaxy, creation — all  praising. It makes me think. We should be very careful when destroying what is praising. When we fill the ocean with oil we drowned some of the plankton praise.

But, Psalm 148 doesn’t cancel the food chain. The day the writer wrote Psalm 148, he probably had a quail egg for breakfast and a steak for lunch. The cattle and flying birds, while praising, flew into his mouth, no longer praising.

“Praise you!–  oooh no!”  Silence.

This is our world: some who praise kill others who praise and then package and sell the silenced praise.

But the truth is that the praising creation cannot live without consuming. Wendell Berry, the great environmentalist, wrote, “We cannot live without another dying.” “We depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation.”

The oats die so we can keep blowing in the wind. The chicken gives its life so we can keep squawking. We wash with the water, so we can be clean but then the water is dirty. We cut down a tree to build a house or a church, and we make a safe place from the tree in which to worship. 

We will consume, but how, that’s the issue. Wendell Berry: “When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration.”

It is not okay to pillage and rape anything. The Deep Horizon, BP oil disaster, the rushing of this job, the carelessness, the lack of a backup plan —  these are reminders of the damaging possibilities in such living. The destruction of the ozone layer, the loss of glaciers throughout the world, the cutting of the rain forests, the pollution of rivers, lakes oceans, the loss of evergreens throughout the western United States and Canada – the evidence is overwhelming, we are killing the planet that God gave us to nurture.

We must use to survive, but we must also steward, shepherd, nurture, pamper and sustain to  survive.

What to do?

Take care of yourself.. One of the best ways we can love and steward creation is taking care of our own bodies. We are the crown of creation, the greatest sacrament, and we must steward our bodies  and our minds

I bought a happy meal recently from Mc Donalds as an experiment. It didn’t make me happy. I took it apart  and was left with a small pile of food and a huge pile of wrappings. There were 14 surfaces of paper and plastic to present two, small greasy pieces of food, an egg in a bun and a fried potato paddy. It took me about eleven minutes to drive to McDonald’s, wait in line, and receive my meal.

The morning before I cooked my own breakfast at home.  I cooked up two eggs and added in fresh green onions, chives, fresh organic tomatoes and cheese. I toasted a slice of multi-grain bread and I made a smoothie from strawberries, blue berries and soy milk.  The eggs took 7 minutes to prepare and cook, the smoothie took 4 minutes. The whole process took me eleven minutes.

So what’s fast food? Home was as fast as McDonald’s. Most of us will confess that we are addicted to convenience, or is it just what we think is convenience?

We are aghast at what BP has done to the ocean, but many of us will dump oil in the form of saturated fats into our own little ocean, our bodies, without a qualm. It isn’t right, it doesn’t steward creation well, it’s hypocritical.  

What else?  We may not solve the BP disaster today, but we can nurture our own tattered cusp of Eden, the bay or river or stream near us, the town or city we live in by not driving too much, the community we live in by sharing our resources with neighbors, by giving a tithe of what we have to charities that renew and help the environment and people in need.  

Recently a sparrow flew in a classroom when I was teaching.  I got down on the floor and took it in my hands. The little creature was afraid,  warm, beautiful. I could feel its heart beating in my hands.  I thought about avian flu, but children were watching. So I took it out to the balcony and tossed it into the air. It flew, banging its wings against the air with praise.

I felt like Saint Francis of Assisi. But I washed my hands, just in case. 

I like myself when I act like this — nurturing the surrounding praise.

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