Five Things Friday Roundup: “Can you look at a forest of burnt trunks and stumps without praying?”

Ashen stumps, blackened trunks, charcoal forest floor. We are driving to Huntington Lake and Camp Keola in the high Sierras and the detritus of a 2-year-old fire landscape confronts us with its warning of the impact of global warming.  

“Lord help us,” we whisper. How does one pray while negotiating hairpin turns on mountain roads a mile and a half up? 

  1. “The Earth is the Lord’s” (what have we done with it?) “and the fullness thereof” (bleak emptiness, hardly a living shoot for thousands of feet elevation). As we drive through a forest with little sign of life, we say to ourselves, “Where are the deniers, the politicians in the pocket of fossil fuel barons, the decision makers spending trillions to shoot for lifeless planets? Could we walk together in the burned-out, flamed-over lands that speak warnings as dire as fire and ash? The trees cry out to us, “Don’t be silent! Talk to each other about what we pray to the Other.”
  2. Elizabeth II, Her Majesty, is gone. This Monday, we join the millions offering respect and love by viewing the memorial for this splendid international figure. As we praise, we pause: We feel admiration for the monarch, but not for the monarchy itself. Crowned in 1952, she inherited imperial clout over the worldwide British Empire (over 70 nations suppressed and exploited). As she made her earnest pledge of service, her troops were fighting in Egypt and Kenya to maintain colonial rule. India had claimed independence five years before, and other nations would follow. But much remained unchanged under her rule. Now the descendants of the exploited and impoverished seek justice, apology, reparations for the brutality of British settlers and their supporting armies. The royal family represents history gone wrong, dominance gone rampant, humanity gone tragically astray. What if the death of their longest-serving monarch could be the moment for transforming wrong relationships into new mutuality and responsibility?
  3. Sarah Augustine gave the keynote at Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference last weekend. Every time we hear her, she is fresh, insightful, provocative. She is better and better. And, each time she teases out the tangled history of colonialism it appears worse and worse. She is a first-rank prophet, writer, lecturer, mediator, pastor to all who hear.  If you cannot get into one of her seminars, read her book: The Land Is Not Empty (Herald Press, 2021).
  4. Nadia, our grandchild of 15, stayed with us while her parents took sister Liza to college in Vermont. It was the week of a triple-digit heat wave, and we stayed inside to create our own film festival, introducing the grand-generation to classic movies. We viewed seven in four days, talked long about their meanings to each and compiled a list for the next grand-visit. The 1950s became contemporary, and the stories of human struggles for meaning and significance interwove with our stories. What would be the first seven you would watch with someone you love? Make a list. We are not sharing ours; we want your list to be truly your own.
  5. Originalism, Literalism, Fundamentalism, Authoritarianism, Absolutism: long words with far-reaching effects. We talk about them and find others are also carrying on the same conversation in surprising ways. Originalism: the insistence that the meaning of the US Constitution is fixed by the understanding of the authors and the 1787 convention when adopted. The philosophy is akin to the many types of Fundamentalism in various religions. Among Christians, five absolute doctrines are assumed core and many others ignored. Literal reading of texts ignores location and context and eliminates image and metaphor. Authoritarianism gives past voices and present power figures the power to define absolute truth. No need to be people who seek, search, debate and discern for the welfare of all. No need to “ask, seek, knock” as the Galilean instructed his inquiring disciples. We quote things to each other like Gandhi’s talisman rule: “Recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless whom you have seen, and then ask yourself: Is the step I contemplate, the decision I will make, of any use to him or her? Will he or she be gain anything by it?” There’s nothing literal or absolute about that. It calls for openness, soul-searching and new ideas.

David and Leann Augsburger

David and Leann Augsburger are two semiretired people (CA school psychologist, Fuller Seminary professor) who co-lead a home-based church (Peace Mennonite Church,Claremont, California) and volunteer to welcome, care and connect people in the San Gabriel valley. Read More

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