Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taking Life

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot
a time to kill and a time to heal.
               (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3a)

This week, the first of David's dairy goats birthed three kids: two bucklings and one doeling. They are as adorable as such things can be: cuddly, curious, pick-upable tender young things. Soft, curly-haired, small-faced and big-eyed. Tentative-moving, wide-stanced, toddling and learning fast.

David will keep the doeling, but the young males he will turn into goat-veal, so to milk their share of their mother's milk out for the humans here.

One of the things I've noticed about rural life is the euphemisms for killing animals.

We rarely say "kill," or "die." Most commonly, folks use that most euphemisable of verbs: "do."

"We're going to do our chickens Saturday."

"When are you going to do your hogs?"

"I like rabbits because if I have less than an hour, I can still do two or three."

Other, more honest terms are "butcher" and "slaughter." Then there is "process" - more specific than "do," and nice and clean and sterile.

But we don't like to say "kill."

Why not? Is it our shyness of Death? The same motivation that makes us say, "the dearly departed," "the deceased," "those who have passed on," but never "the dead?"

Or is it the human tendency to veil our violence? Is it like the double-speak of war? "Friendly fire," "casualty," "collateral damage" -  never acknowledging the victim with a name, a face and a voice.

I suspect both these tendencies have something to do with it, but there is something else in that halt, that pause we make when we verbalize our carnivorous ways.

In that delicate transition from animal to meat, we are touching a mystery. We care for these creatures we kill. Good farmers have genuine affection, real empathy for their animals. We must care for our animals in order to do the work of husbandry justice. 

And at some point, we kill them, to make way for the young they sire, and, more essentially, so that we can eat. To farm well, we care, and we kill.

This caring-killing stretches our language, even though the ritual is ancient.

I think I am going to start saying: "taking life." For that is exactly what I do. I take the life of living things into myself, where their life becomes my life. I take the life of rabbits, of trees, of potatoes and of pigs, of carrots and of cows, and their energy becomes my energy. It is life, and I do take it. They do not choose. I choose. I take.

I take lives; thus I live.


The Grace of Trees

O, let us own the grace of trees:
Postures of praise and quiet peace.
No two alike, they all are one
In their adoration of the sun
In our adoration of the Son
Make us one.

When wintry and bare, still let us raise
These empty arms which yet will praise,
Lift deadened limbs our Lord will green,
Stand unashamed of our poverty
In anticipation of the Son
And new songs sung

And when Life's Joy returns once more
And our beings flower as they adore,
Stretching and spreading out to be-
come houses of hospitality
In our transformation by the Son
Our arms wide flung

O, let us own the grace of trees:
Postures of praise and quiet peace.
No two alike, they all are one
In their adoration of the sun
In our adoration of the Son,
We are one.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love your Neighbour? Love your Wife.

Today, on Radio Q, the CBC arts and culture show I love/hate, the Q Panel was to debate the question: "Is Monogamy an outdated institution?" Following this, an exploration of the topic: "Sex with Robots: what are the downsides?"

Happy Valentine's Day, Canada.

When host Jian Ghomeshi asks such questions with his smooth and charming voice, they sound almost reasonable. I must confess that I turned the radio off. How unsophisticated of me. But the dishes were done, the house was tidied, and what's more, Jenn and I had it to ourselves (thanks, Dad). So we forwent our education on the new choices available to us in the post-monogamous, robot-sex world, and celebrated Valentine's Day in the most traditional way humans have. That's right, girls: Mom and Dad exchanged pink and red construction paper cards and after that, we ate heart-shaped chocolates.

Consequently, I missed the rest of Q, so I cannot comment on the content of the debates. What struck me in the intro, however, was that the questioning of monogamy, and the exploration of the sexual potential and pitfalls of (literally!) robotic partners, both exist on the same continuum: that of the industrialization of our lives, to the point of absurdity.

Sex has the power both to bind and to loose. It can be the reason to stay home, or the reason one has to leave it; it can be the cause of home's unmaking. The predominant industrial economy, in which we now all live, move, and try to retain our being has been "incentivizing" the abandonment of home for a good while now. The Boom and Bust engine that drives the "global" economy requires highly mobile labour units, ready to be dispatched and displaced quickly, to wherever the market says. Who are families and communities to quibble with the free market's wisdom?

And so, we have obediently learned to define our freedom in precisely the way most convenient to the global economy: Our freedom equals our atomization, the breaking of bonds to place, to inherited identities and traditions, and to deeply rooted relationships.

I am trying to live in a place. Or, should I say, in a place that is trying to become a place. Ploughshares Community Farm, as elusive as it remains to pin down with a narrative or a meaning, is becoming a place. A place where three families are sharing land, growing food, building homes cooperatively - or at least, more cooperatively than is typical in the placeless, atomizing culture we are resisting at least a little bit, by choosing to be here, together.

This is the context in which Jenn and I practice monogamy. And I can say this much about its importance here, in community: If the bonds of marriage were not sacrosanct is this place, it would poison the waters.

I am a man. I am not immune to covetous and unfaithful thoughts. But such thoughts are easily doused when I begin to imagine the hellish jealousies, bitterness and enmity we would call upon ourselves if we were to start "fooling around" here.

Perhaps at the level of mass society, monogamy is "an outdated institution." But here, at the level of neighbourhood, fidelity to married life safeguards not only the peace and well-being of family, but of the whole community. Here no relationship is uni-functional, as they are in the industrial economy. Our connections are complex and interwoven. Business partner is friend is workmate is wife's friend is friend's wife. There is no one here with whom I could possibly have "casual" sex. Here, in this place, infidelity would blow us apart like an atom bomb. Here, I know without a doubt, that to (agape) love  my neighbour means to (eros) love my wife, and her alone.

Maybe in a world where no one belongs anyplace anymore, where careers are consuming and brief and hypermobile; where advancement begets separation and separation begets advancement; where you can have a thousand online "friends" whom you do not actually know; where you can see a girl take off her clothes for you, and you can stare at her all you like without making eye contact; where the heralds of freedom disciple us into attachment disorder; maybe in that world monogamy is irrelevant.

But I don't want to live in that world. I am trying, albeit inconsistently and hamfistedly, to free myself and my family from the most dis-integrating influences of that world. That's why I live here. That's why I stay home and teach my children at home. That's why I stay in the home I've made with Jenn.

I know there are a great many people who are not as free as I have been to pull away from a world that makes stable, life-long unions terribly difficult to sustain. Can I blame any of my friends who have split up? Can I judge divorce as the moral failure of couples, in an economy fueled by discontentment and mobilized by displacement? Can I judge the craving for touch, for warmth, addressed in brief and transitory encounters between increasingly homeless humans, or the relieving of those urges through sexual facsimiles?

I dare not judge. I know my own frailties well enough. There but for the grace of God go I.

I cannot judge, but on this day I do want to celebrate: St. Valentine.

According to one tradition, Valentine was martyred for an odd crime against Empire: performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers. The Roman military knew all about the encumbrances of monogamous unions. Marriage was forbidden for soldiers, unattached men being more efficient and single-minded in their conquest and pillaging of foreign lands. Sex robots were not yet invented, but practitioners of the world's oldest profession could be found at the frontiers to relieve men's urges without the inefficiencies brought on by home leave.

In this context, binding soldiers in the Christian sacrament of holy matrimony was not only countercultural; it was treasonous.

It turns out that what is good for mass society and mass culture is rarely good for localized relationships.

And the reverse is also true: the more rooted one becomes with a particular life-mate, in a particular neighbourhood, in a particular tradition, the more one becomes a troublesome, non-mobile, non-interchangable consumer/labour unit for the global economy. Jenn and I move less dollars through the Canadian economy now than we ever have. Sorry Stevie. Homegrown food and a stay-at-home parent works good for us, not so good for you. Maybe I should buy some shiny new machines so I'll have more incentive to get an off-farm job and be "productive."

Sex robots are but the latest, and an astonishingly bald advance in the age of the machine, in its campaign to subvert the blessed ties that would bind us uniquely to each other and support lifelong pairings, which beget families, which beget communities, which resist displacement.

The logic of sex with robots is the final and fascist logic of total mechanization: Be a unit. Engage and disengage with other units as opportunity and economy suggest. Network; plug in; swipe and withdraw your card, thank you.

No, thank you, very much.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Suffused with Light

Today is finally a classic prairie winter day: fiercely cold and blindingly bright with sun and snow. It reminded me of a day I journaled last winter. I'll post it now and go outside to cut wood, by hand - a discipline I practiced better last year, and have let slide a bit....

Dec. 1, 2010

Sometimes this time of year is characterized as a time of darkness. It is true, the sun is up so briefly now, for those who must leave their homes to work at jobs that keep them inside, people drive out in darkness and return in darkness.

But I am blessed to walk out my door in the middle of the day into a world suffused with light. O God, I'm thankful for that light. The light these days is brief, but it is total. Every surface is white with snow now, and the light reflects and reflects and reflects. It is like I have stepped into that world that fascinated me so endlessly in the bathroom mirror of my childhood home, the world where the mirrors faced each other; the world that drew me out into infinity, becoming a smaller and smaller and smaller version of myself, lost in space and light.

Except this world is too crisp and cold, its impact on my body too immediate to become lost in abstraction. I went out to cut wood. We are eating through our woodpile very quickly all of a sudden.

I have been cutting with a handsaw lengths of wood that I removed with a chainsaw from the woods in sections just short enough that I could carry. The chain saw is sitting in the wood shed now. I could use it, and in an afternoon cut up all the stove length pieces I might need for the rest of this winter. The logic of industrial efficiency would find my handsawing insane. But going outside and cutting wood in the afternoon sunshine is seems to help keep me sane these days. My body wants something to do outside. My muscles want the exercise, my brain wants the oxygen and my soul craves the light that is in this silly, industrially superfluous activity.

A while back, the girls and I were cutting wood together and we heard the "keeee, tweee, keeee, kek kek kek" of an eagle coming from the river. We put down our saws and hatchets to go investigate, and got a sight of a big immature eagle flying round the bend, calling to an adult sitting in a tree a little further down. It was one of those moments of gratitude and wonder that confirmed in us what we came here for. What if I had been using the chainsaw? The girls would have never been with me, because of the danger, and none of us would have heard any eagles, because of the noise.

I think its fair to say that we are at the tail end of the industrial age. The age of the machine brought enormous opportunity for leisure, culture and knowledge. High technology and cheap energy offered a bevy of choices and "lifestyles" unimaginable to previous generations. It also taxed the world beyond its carrying capacity. We still have a lot of choices, although who knows for how long.

I am finding meaning, and joy, and contentment in certain specific renunciations, like cutting stovewood without a chainsaw. I'd like to think that it could remain possible in future to still use a gas-powered chainsaw to fell trees. I'd like to continue to be able to use labour-saving technologies enough to still have time for writing, for visiting and enjoying friends, or for having energy and resources to give beyond myself. But I want to become discriminating about using any machine that removes from my life activities that make me work my muscles, be on the land, or cooperate with friends.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Superbowl XLVI: Rene Girard vs. the Sacrificial Cult

This week my friend and neighbour Victor forwarded James Howard Kunstler's cunning Superbowl commentary "All Screaming Id, No Brains, No Honor" ( Kunstler's brilliant lampooning of this cultic national moment first thrilled me, then left me reaching for my copy of "Violence Unveiled" - Gil Bailie's "reader's digest" of the revolutionary insights of Rene Girard, on violence, culture and the scapegoating mechanism. I suggest you check out the link to Kunstler before reading on. If you find any of my commentary useful, I suggest you buy a copy of Bailie's book.

Oh, Victor.

I laughed, I groaned, I cried.

As the saying goes, you can't make this stuff up.

And then after I was done my cathartic chuckles, the voice of Girard was in my head again.

What Girard would want to point out, I think, is that there is nothing remarkable about a culturally unitive sacrament wherein "all the problems of life are depicted as coming from outside our society (or world)," or wherein peace is construed as a reality to be enjoyed "by a few human remnants...after a cosmic showdown."

This is the ancient sacrificial cult, as old as human culture itself. It is the way we have achieved cohesion and coherence all along. It is what makes "Super Sunday" the biggest religious holiday of America's other, older faith.

What is remarkable is that someone inside US culture is able to see and unveil and lampoon this cult so effectively.

Where did he get the cultural tools to "pick out the log in your own [society's] eye" instead of being preoccupied with the "dustmote in your brother's [society's] eye?"

Girard's take is that we Westerners have been living with (and distorting) the Bible for so long that we take its cultural critique of sacrificial violence to be an instinct natural to ourselves, and not as something we inherited from it.

Girard's interpretation of the Bible both puts essays like this in context, and pushes cultural critique even further.

What liberals like us, who enjoy these types of rants, don't take seriously is how dangerously destabilizing such messages are to society. Imagine for a moment that Kunstler had somehow pirated airtime during the Superbowl and broadcast this message, and that the millions of viewers had somehow let their psychological defenses down long enough for the truth of this essay to sink in? The American social contract would be finished. There would be blood in the streets.

Social conservatives have good reasons for wanting to shut up or drown out prophets like Kunstler: What sacrificial violence keeps at bay is apocalyptic violence.

As much as I agree with the essay's very sharp analysis of the real threats to America today, I would add the demythologizing of our dominant cultural narratives and sacraments, such as performed in this essay, pretty high on that list. Probably at the top.

What I have learned from Girard is not to underestimate the dangers of undermining our cultural institutions and myths, without an alternate way of reconstructing our togetherness. Kunstler fascinates, because, like a high priest of old, he has the ability to cut the beating heart out of the culture and lift it up into the sun for all to see. But that is only step one in the cultural heart transplant our times demand of us. Step two is no less urgent.

We have to find an entirely new way of achieving social solidarity - nonviolently, nonjudgementally.

In a sense, you could say we need a new kind of comedy. What you might call a comedy of grace, rather than a comedy of judgement:  a comedy that invites us to laugh at our human folly all together. And this, I think, requires a deep connection to a goodness not our own. Otherwise, I fear we will not be able to resist the illusions of wellbeing or the thin camaraderies that come from telling ourselves we are better than the caricatured "other," whether the other be the Aliens of the Mayan Apocalypse, or the Stupid Diabetic Football-Watching, Propaganda and Cheezy-Eating Fat Man glued to the Superbowl game.

The only way out of the scapegoating game is by grace. We will find that way, or we will destroy ourselves. That, Girard would say, is the meaning of the Bible's Apocalypse.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When Pigs Can Fly

My Opa used to tell a story about “Das Dicke Fette Schwein,” the big fat pig. It was a tale about a crafty farmer and his wife overcoming their natural enemies – the wolf, the fox and the rabbit – and securing their prize pig from these three through quick wit and careful planning.

My story is called, “When Pigs Can Fly.” It is a cautionary tale about an idiot who couldn't drive a pig from point A to point B, but who was granted a miracle of grace entirely beyond his deserving.

Winter having come on, and our two pigs having fattened up, the plan was to butcher “Bubbles,” the castrated male, for meat, and to transport “Dandelion,” the reproductively intact female, to our friends the Vanderkamps, who had agreed to winter her with their pigs, breed her to their boar and send her back ready to raise a litter of pigs here come next May.

My preoccupation in planning the transport was in getting Dandelion into the truck. The first time was pretty easy, as it turned out. With me carrying a bucket of slops ahead of her to coax her, and David and Jenn holding boards beside her to allay her fear of heights, she clambered up the ramp I had built for her without much fuss. I tacked a board across the back of the truck bed already boxed in on the other three sides, and left Dandelion thus ensconced, feeling quite clever and pleased with how well the loading had gone. I thought, now I can get a few things done, and leave with Dandelion right after lunch to be at the Vanderkamps by early afternoon, as they had suggested.

After lunch, when I went out to the truck, Dandelion was happily back with her buddy Bubbles. I had not secured the board nearly well enough, and if there is one thing pigs can do, it's push. I was a bit surprised that she had jumped the tailgate, but with her buddy Bubbles in clear sight, crying for her to come home, I could understand it.
Loading Dandelion the second time was a big headache. She was much 

warier now of the truck. After a dozen failed attempts, our patience and confidence were wearing thin. Our inexperience was glaring us in the face.

It was Johanna who came through for us big time. With me and Jenn blocking and pushing from behind, Jo let Dandelion get her whole head into the slop bucket at a crucial moment, and then pulled that bucket along with all her strength. Up to her eyeballs in slops, Dandelion forgot her inhibitions just long enough for us to get her all the way up the ramp and slam the tailgate closed.

This time Jenn guarded Dandelion while I secured all the corners of the box with extra cross braces and screws. We had her. We were a bit delayed, but could probably be at the Vanderkamps by quarter past two.

Sophia rode shotgun and kept an eye on Dandelion through a slot in the board behind the cab. I was hoping that once we got going, Dandelion would settle in and lay down. As we pulled out on the road, Sophia checked a couple of times and could see Dandelion standing around. Then, a couple of miles out, she couldn't see her anymore.

“All I see is a big pile of straw.”

“Are all the boards still in place?”


“Nothing looks broken?”

“She must be laying in the straw right behind us where we can't see. There's no wind right behind the cab, so she must have settled in back there.”

I never fathomed that a 240 lb pig could jump or scale a five foot wall.

We drove all the way to the Vanderkamps, feeling like real farmers, driving Dave's Dad's old red beater Chevy down highway 44, full of confidence and empty of sow.

We got there, backed up to their hog barn, and I climbed into the back. No pig. I kicked around in the straw to make sure. She was gone.

“Well, you better go look for her,” said Gerd, the real farmer. “Here, take this knife. You'll probably have to bleed her out if you find her. She'll be injured. You better take a gun, too.” He brought out his .22 rifle. “You know how to shoot?”

“It's been a while.”

After a quick gun handling and loading tutorial, and a phone call to Jenn, we were back on the road. Martina's parting gesture to us was with folded hands: “We're praying you find your pig.”

On highway 44, I ran out of gas.

That would have been OK. I had brought a gas canister along from the farm. But the red truck, which I don't use much, has two tanks. And if you pour your gas can in the left side, and the little button you haven't noticed on the dash is switched to “right side,” you're still out of gas. So the truck won't start, no matter how much you pump it.

And when a friendly cottager pulls over and tries to help by pouring a spoonful gas straight in the carburator, the truck will make a nice starting sound, and then not do anything more until you put in another spoonful. But if you keep doing that over and over and over, you burn out the starter. In the silence of the dead engine, you hear your inner critic:

“You don't know what you are doing out here. You are not a farmer. You are an incompetent.”

By this time, Jenn and Johanna had met up with us, not having spotted our pig anywhere along the way.

We abandoned the truck and headed back to St. Ouens, which was about where Sophia had stopped seeing the pig in the back. There was nothing more I could think to do with the truck, and dusk would be falling soon. If we had any chance of finding our pig, we would have to do so in the next hour.

By the time we reached St. Ouen's it was just starting to get darker. We drove slowly, two sets of eyes out each side of the car. Nothing. We stopped at the neighbours:

“Hi, you don't know me, but I'm your neighbour and an idiot who can't be trusted with livestock. Have you seen my pig?”

“Nope. Good luck.”

Back at the farm, we held council with Matthew, just home from work for dinner with his parents. Matt's Dad, Ernie, offered to go out with his truck to tow ours home. We kept our eyes peeled on the way out. It was nearly dark. Again, no pig. At that point, I gave up hope of finding our pig alive. Maybe we'd find her in the morning, dead of injuries and exposure. The meat would be spoiled, and an animal in my care would have suffered a slow and miserable death due to my ignorance.

I had a lot of time to think about this as I sat holding the steering wheel in the freezing cab of the dead red truck slowly being towed home on the 44 service road. I don't really know how to pray in situations like this, other than: “Thy will be done.” “Into thy hands I commit my...pig?”
Jenn has no such theological compunctions. She was praying for her pig to be found, and getting friends to add her lost pig to their prayers, too.

Of all the requests that went up to heaven that night, I don't pretend to know why ours would be granted so directly.

But here is how it happened. Our friend Kate dropped by at the farm to deliver milk. She usually does this on Tuesdays. (This was a Wednesday.) She had had a meeting on Tuesday, so she came today. Of course, Jenn told her about the pig.

Driving home in the dark, thinking about other things, it suddenly occurred to Kate, “Oh, I should keep an eye out for that pig.” And at that exact moment she came up to the place where Dandelion lay way at the bottom of a very deep ditch. And at that exact moment, Dandelion raised her head. Kate's eye caught the movement, and she took her foot off the gas.

Even afterwards, when Kate had gone back to get Jenn, Dandelion was hard to spot, despite Kate knowing where to look. They passed her once and had to double back.

Danders was in pretty rough shape. She could get up on her front legs, but her back end wouldn't move. She was grunting low, restless sounds. Her breathing was hard and raspy. Jenn covered her with a blanket and rubbed her back and spoke soothing words. Her breathing settled.

When Matthew and Ernie and I arrived in our little caravan, Jenn was clear on what needed to be done.

I took out the gun and knife we had packed along in Ernie's truck, just in case.

It's a strange thing to kill an animal you care for. To me, it's a reminder that, for them and for us, there are worse things than dying. What matters is living well until you do. Dandelion had lived about as good a life as a pig can until her last hours of stress and pain.

I put the bullet where it had to go and found her jugular in a hurry with the knife. Life surged out of her in a great spasm, and then she was still.

She was a big pig. The four of us could just barely hoist her up into Ernie's truck.

After a late supper, Matthew, Jenn and I skinned her together, and then I gutted her, without spilling any shit or piss or bile. After so many screw-ups that day, it felt great to get something right. We split the carcass in two and stowed it in the root cellar. We aren't poor enough that the winter would have been difficult to get through without that meat, but we live close enough to the line that recovering the time and resources we put into that pig left me staggered with gratitude.

After I came in and washed up, I sat by the woodstove and sang my heart out:

“We ask only for what we need,
ask only for what we need this day
Saweniminan*, saweniminan, saweniminan
All we need is in the land,
every gift of the land is by your hand,
Saweniminan, saweniminan, saweniminan."

That's the story of when pigs can fly.

*Cree for “Bless us”

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Driving Home from America: Road Notes

Babylon, O Babylon
Your streets were wide, your wine was strong
You caught us in your dizzy throng
A thousand tongues, a thousand songs
Each one a dog chasing a tail
Our meanings and our memories fail
Still faint and from beyond the pale
Jerusalem sings:
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

America, America
You brought the show that we all saw
Your might was right, your might was raw
You brought the gun that brought the law
Your missionaries walked the moon
You're promising a comeback soon
Untouched, the stars sing their own tune,
Unbowed by all kings:

To drive across this much of the United States (Comer, Georgia to Pembina, North Dakota) in three days is for me to contemplate the full horror of the vision I cannot shake: a vision of collapse.

Today fuel is still cheap. We can still travel 800 km in the hours of a single working day, for $50, an amount Jenn can still earn in a single hour of her work. Today we are still kings and queens upon the land, our chariots still swift and at our ready.

But the weather is changing frightfully fast: 18C in Iowa yesterday, January the 30th, 2012. In Minnesota, the eighth month in a row of record-breaking warm weather so far this fall and winter.

And now, as we pass into North Dakota, the underground explosives of the boys "fracking oil" at Woolerston sound the rumbling scrape of America hitting the bottom of its barrel.

Fracking oil - a phrase poetically apt in its violent and expletive resonances. We are a sorry bunch of Mother-frackers, every last one of us. An entire continent of frack-whores and junkies.

This is what I think as we burn through mile after mile of interstate. Us and millions of others in the world, burning through 84 million barrels of oil every day. America eats and regurgitates its anxieties as advertising lingo: "Energy Security" one billboard promises in terms of corn. "Peace of Mind," another shrieks. I am car sick. I close my eyes to the blur of shrill and desparate capital lettering whizzing past me, try to be still and not vomit up the salty road snacks I have overeaten.

And I think of the people. I am not passing monsters here, but people. Families who love their children, who want to see them succeed in their endeavours, see them build solid futures on the edifice we are bequeathing them. And so, to speak of its crumbling is nearly criminal.

There were 8 TVs in the restaurant/lounge where we ate our breakfast this morning, each on a different channel. I was terribly distracted by all these, and yet uninformed entirely. Which must be the point. In an economy constructed of smoke and mirrors, to speak forthrightly would only be to hasten its end. "Consumer confidence" after all, is the name of the faith that still manages to safeguard our social contract, however strenously.

When we get home, after burning through about 400L of diesel, I will set fire to the carbon of trees to warm our little house, and will know this act of resistance to be entirely symbolic. It may heal my imagination (no small thing), but it will not heal the land. This thing that is happening is too big for me to stop or to withstand.

Not long ago, a black man became president of this nation, heralding vaguely, boldly, "Yes, we can!" It was a nobler lie than that of his currently front-running contender: "Corporations are people too." But still, it was a lie. Three and a half years later, the significance of putting a black man in the White House has turned out to be precisely skin-deep.

No, we can't. We can't stop ourselves from burning through a billion year inheritance in a century. We can't retreat from triggering catastrophic climate changes. We can't avoid the pain of collapse.

Our humbling will hurt. I no longer have hope of avoiding it. If anything, I pray for its hastening, even though its portents really are beginning to frighten me. I am choosing (foolishly, perhaps, but in an age of absurdity, what choices are there other than whose fool to be?) to identify my hope with the hopes of the prophets of old. Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah - those who foretold the necessity of, but also the healing latent in national disaster: that in our crisis we might repent, that we might finally reckon with the truth of our iniquity, and receive new hearts of flesh, in place of our hearts of stone.

Whence come new hearts?

Another apocalyptic seer, who called himself "the Human One," broke through to a fearless love in the face of terror. Instead of preparing his disciples to circle the wagons at the end of the world as they knew it, he prepared them to risk love, to give away rather than protect assets, to receive from him a peace "not as the world gives."

Therein lies my hope. As I write these words, I am happy to be home.