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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (X)

Economics, Politics, and Ecology

Now that Bri has fried our puny brains with his complicated graphic, I want to warn you that he is going to add some more arrows and words that will, no doubt, tax the very limits of your abilities to follow complex diagrams. But before we examine this “brain buster,” let’s listen to how Bri opens the 8th chapter of his book Everything Must Change.[1] He states, “A lot of us are very happy to go through life knowing as little as possible about economics, politics, and ecology.”[2] If he had added the words “and God” he could have been talking about Al Gore—who, by the way, failed God in seminary—or any of the presidential candidates. As it stands, however, he’s talking about those of us who struggle with his diagrams.

Bri has a low view of most of us, but remember that he’s used to hanging out with brilliant and contagiously thoughtful scholars and authors and not dullards like you and me.[3] He actually believes that all we’re really concerned about is paying our credit card bills, avoiding going to jail (I’ve been lucky so far), and a cold drink (scotch on the rocks or single malt by itself is fine), we’d rather not deal with the complexities of the societal machinery around us. Since he insists on bringing the presidential candidates into this discussion, I think we should move on to meatier less controversial segments of his book. A less controversial topic for Bri is “how the world works.”[4]

That’s a rather broad topic, but Bri promises, “That’s what this chapter is about.”[5] Wow! This must be a long chapter! Well, actually, it isn’t. It’s only five-and-a-half pages long. Bri, a former English teacher, knows how to write succinctly and compactly. His next book should be How the World Works in Less than Six Pages. Normally, this would be an impossible undertaking by any stretch of the imagination, but don’t forget that Bri has already given us his diagram of “The Societal Machine.”

Clearly, the graph at the beginning of this article is equivalent to thousands and thousands of pages about “how the world works.” It staggers the mind to contemplate the intricacies of this graph. So how do you account for the remaining complexities of life not covered in this diagram? Well, you have to have a little “filler” material if you’re only dedicating five-and-a-half pages to such an expansive topic. Therefore, it will require a brilliant and contagiously thoughtful mind to come up with a supplement to how the world works. Moreover, Bri comments that “The societal machine we introduced in the preceding chapter doesn’t float in a vacuum, suspended in space, hanging in an abstract dimension of ethereal concepts.”[6] Whew! That’s a relief! It’s nice to know that just when you’re on the precipice of how the world works, you’re going to be introduced to something specific, concrete like, say, sewage. Sewage! Hey, they are Bri’s words, not mine. Apparently, when you’re describing the way the world works, sewage is inevitable. After assuaging our consciences that we’re not going to be dealing with a lot of philosophical abstract junk in the next five pages, Bri says, “No, it (the societal machine) exists within the physical, visible ecosystem of planet earth. You can’t think of the societal machine apart from the earth’s soil and rain, photosynthesis and carbon cycle, glaciers and wind, sewage and sunshine.”[7] I’ll bet you thought I was kidding and just being mean to Bri about the sewage. Nothing abstract or vacuous about sewage.

I almost fell out of my chair laughing with Bri’s next comment. After the “sewage and sunshine” line, he continues, “With this new insight in mind, we can expand our diagram in several stages.”[8] Hold on tight, because this is where it really starts getting complicated. Explaining how the world works in five-and-a-half pages is complicated even with diagrams. This new piece of kindergarten work is going to situate the machine in its environment and then clarify how the societal machine “interacts dynamically with the ecosystem, constantly giving, constantly receiving (sewage—my addition).”[9] Now that Bri has prepared us for the new, improved graphic, I ask you to go back to the beginning and contemplate it again. I'll give you a few millennia to digest it.

Now I imagine that you’re experiencing what I did the first time I viewed this diagram: uncontrollable laughter. But I want us to get serious for a moment and try to find a way to understand this highly complex figure. I know you’re starting to understand substantially more than you ever have about how the world works, but there are still some areas that require explanation, elucidation. Bri explains, “Nearly all the energy available to the machine is ultimately solar energy (represented by the two line arrows in our diagram [just in case you hadn’t figured that out yet—RG]), which is the only significant resource entering the ecosystem.” The explanation of how the world works is progressing apace.

I’ll bet you’ve been wondering what the four bold arrows represent entering and exiting The Machine. Bri tells us that they are “critical resources” that we must monitor with special care “because of our dependence on them. The availability of these critical resources is depicted by the complicated and highly complex bar graph in the diagram. Try to stay with him. I know it’s hard, but if you want to know the way the world works, you must persevere. These four bars can represent almost anything—like sewage—but Bri give us his choices: topsoil, oil, swordfish, and timber.[10] Truly a logical selection, especially swordfish. He explains, “Some of these stores or supplies are non-renewable; once we’ve used them, they’re gone forever.”[11] Yeah, that’s kind of the idea behind “non-renewable.”

Ecologically speaking, we can plant more trees (did you know—and I am not making this up—that there are more trees in the United States right now than there were prior to 1920? It’s true.) and farm more fish, but we cannot “create more oil or topsoil—at least not very quickly.”[12] True. In case you haven’t noticed yet, Bri is headed towards oil and alternative fuels, especially as oil relates to global warming. An out of control “Machine” could easily go suicidal,[13] and no one wants that. For this very reason (the Machine going suicidal on us) Bri is convinced that “forward-thinking people are concerned about global warming and our addiction to the carbon-based fuels that contribute to it.”[14]

Clearly, forward-thinking people are those like Bri and the people he hangs with—the brilliant and contagiously thoughtful. To put it another way, forward-thinking people are “a new kind of Christian.”[15] They certainly are not the mental midgets that comprise the angry and reactionary fundamentalist, stuffy traditionalist, crusading religious imperialists, and overly enthused Bible-waving fanatics.[16] No, Bri’s kind of people are more concerned about sewage and swordfish. But even forward-thinking people can have some gaps in their thinking. Allow me one global example. These days we’ve been hearing a lot about alternative fuels and flex fuels. Corn is a key ingredient in many alternative fuels. Did you notice that the price of corn and corn-based products is on the rise? If you are concerned about economics like contagiously thoughtful Bri and the emergent tribe is, you might have noticed that the cost of corn and corn products has increased to the point where Third World countries can no longer afford them.

While it is patently true that we cannot create more oil,[17] we can drill in ANWR and offshore sites. One oil expert told me that there is more oil in Colorado and Utah than in the Middle East. But Bri is concerned about “why the issue of nuclear waste is so alarming.”[18] I’m not certain how we got to this subject, but I’m still trying to figure out Bri’s diagram and am still worrying about sewage. It seems that Bri is leading up to the fact that nuclear energy should not be a viable alternative for man. This is the way the world works. This is enough to shock you right down to your toes. Knowing how the world works has its drawbacks. I read last week that drinking single malt scotch was not only not good for you, it is downright dangerous. I was shocked to the point that I knew I had to take action, so I decided to give up reading.

That was simple enough, but what I am to do in the face of The Machine possibly becoming suicidal? I was at a loss, but Bri came to the rescue with what “most readers—like you and me—would do well” to do in light of the turning engine of our civilization possibly turning into a suicide machine. So get a pen and paper and jot these pearls of wisdom down. Here is what thoughtful people should do: “(a) stop reading and take a walk so they can think about it for a while, (b) call a friend or two with whom to process this chapter over a cup of coffee, or (c) immediately reread the chapter until they feel the wonder of the ecosystem in which we live and the danger of it being destroyed by a suicide machine of our own making.”[19]

And all this time I thought I was living on a planet that God was restoring by grace; a planet on which grace does not destroy nature but restores it, when in fact I’m living on a potential time bomb waiting to self-destruct. I realize that when you set out to write a description of how the world works in five-and-a-half pages you have to leave a couple of things out, but since Bri is ostensibly a pastor, I would have thought he might have left out sewage and saved a few lines for God.

[1] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007).

[2] Ibid., 59.

[3] Ibid., 52.

[4] Ibid., 59.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 61.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 63.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 2.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 61.

[18] Ibid., 63.

[19] Ibid., 64.



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