I Want to Be Left Behind by Brenda Peterson

Did you know that 41% of Americans believe Jesus is going to return to Earth by 2050?  This kind of scares me.  Not because I’m afraid of being left behind.  I really doubt Jesus is going to return in any literal sense and if he does, I agree with Brenda Peterson –  I want to be left behind, thank you.  What scares me is that we are not particularly good stewards of the earth and a large number of us don’t really seem to care what horrible stewards we are.

If you seriously believe Jesus is going to return and whisk you away from Earth by 2050, what reason do you have to take care of the earth for your children and grandchildren?  Why not just leave the Earth in horrible shape for the sinners who get left behind?  It’s their fault for not believing, right?

This view concerns Brenda Peterson who wrote a memoir entitled I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth.  She quotes Bishop Wright who asks in “Farewell to the Rapture”:  “Is not the ‘Left Behind’ mentality in thrall to a dualistic view of reality that allows people to pollute God’s world on the grounds that it’s all going to be destroyed soon?”

But she also recognizes that there are those who believe in Rapture who continue to care for the earth.  Her memoir begins in Seattle.  She and her neighbor are sharing seal pup sitting duty.  He catches her off guard by informing her, “With 9/11, the blessed countdown for the Rapture has begun.”

Despite having grown up in a family that is absolutely giddy about the “end of times”, Peterson explains that she is far more drawn to the wonders and rapture of the earth than the otherworldly place her family is so excited about going.  Her family has long since quit trying to get her to share in their excitement about the rapture which is why her neighbor catches her off guard.  And while it may be true that 41% of Americans agree with Peterson’s neighbor that the countdown to the rapture is on, not all who believe this are necessarily poor stewards of the earth.  Take the seal pup sitting neighbor for instance.  Or the fact that despite their gleeful anticipation of the rapture, Peterson’s large Southern Baptist family are all involved in caring for the world in some way.

Peterson claims that Fundamentalists and Environmentalists share far more similar philosophies than either side realizes.  She offers this quick comparison between the two:

  • both are enraptured by doom
  • Fundamentalists – Apocalypse Now/Environmentalists – Apocalypse Near
  • both share a fear of future consequences
  • both express righteous anger
  • both are into “Thou shalt not”
  • both think themselves “Holier than Thou”
  • both are humorless
  • both are into blame, shame and judgment
  • both are Evangelical

Peterson points to something Biologist Olivia Judson wrote about a study by D.R. Oxley.  (Oxley, D. R. et al. 2008. “Political attitudes vary with physiological traits.” Science 321: 1667-1670.)

People who support warrantless searches, wiretapping, military spending and so on were also likely to startle at sudden noises and threatening images.  Those who support foreign aid, immigration, gun control, and the like tended to have much milder responses to the stimuli.

Peterson wonders if maybe the reason she is not as concerned about leaving this earth is because she was simply hardwired to respond more mildly than the rest of her family?  Maybe the stronger startle response in her family is what makes them believe in such things as Satan and the Rapture.  It follows that religion, for those with a strong startle response, becomes a safety net to assuage fears.  Peterson feels this is very important for liberals to understand – many people seriously believe that danger and persecution are ever-present, even when they are in power. We aren’t going to create any bridges by making those with a strong startle response even more fearful than they already are.  

Peterson has also noticed that more recent generations of Southern Baptists are not as enraptured by End Time Theology as their parents or grandparents.  Like Peterson, my parents survived two world wars and I grew up under the shadow of nuclear Armageddon. Perhaps Peterson is correct in thinking this may be why so many people in both our generation and our parent’s generation have spent so much time plotting an escape from this world. The current generation, on the other hand, has been through 9-11 but they don’t seem as intent on escaping, and that gives Peterson hope.

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

I was so diggin’ Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man, The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process, until the epilogue.

I discovered Colin Beaven’s blog, No Impact Man, some time ago through Vanessa Farquharson’s blog, Green as a Thistle. I’ve kept up peripherally with both of their blogs. I’m primarily a suburban lurker, but I have left comments on occasion.

Beaven is a great story teller.  I could barely put his book down once I got started! He provides plenty of interest and intersperses lots of pertinent data behind the unfolding of his project. For a year, Beaven and his wife and baby daughter attempted to live in New York City without making any impact on the environment whatsoever.  That meant no plastic diapers, no wrapped food, not even in wax paper (Beaven wouldn’t even eat a slice of pizza because it was served on a paper plate), no paper napkins or paper cups (they took their own cloth napkins and reusable cups with them everywhere they went), no plastic bags, no carbon fuel emissions (meaning no private or public transportation – not even elevators!), only local foods that had been transported less than 250 miles, and eventually, no electricity (beeswax candles and solar powered cells, instead).

I found the book to be incredibly inspiring. Not that I could ever imagine myself going to the extremes that Beavan’s family did, but the entire time I was reading his book, I was putting together my own “eco rules”, knowing I could carry them out thanks to Beavan’s example!  But then came the epilogue which totally pissed me off!  He didn’t need that god damned patronizing, preachy epilogue because his experience was inspiration enough!  Of course, I’m in PMS mode so my irritation is likely exaggerated, but I don’t think Beavan has the right to tell me what to do simply because he went a year without toilet paper and other luxuries we take for granted!

So time for some introspection on my part:  Why does Beavan’s preaching piss me off?  Perhaps it has to do with my background.  With the exception of a 4 1/2 year stint in California, I have lived in Texas since I was four years old. My kids are Native Texans and I know I have that good ol’ Texas propensity toward not taking kindly to people telling me what to do! I live in the land of big trucks, huge SUVs and Hummers. I don’t live within any city limits, but the previous mayor of the suburb we border owns most of the dealerships providing these huge vehicles. The current mayor is slightly more environmentally conscious, but it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing any public transportation or bike lanes in these parts anytime soon. People love their cars!   Our lovely governor was one of a handful of Republican leaders who refused Obama’s stimulus package because he thought there were too many strings attached. (And then he asked for a loan!!) Being stubborn isn’t always a good thing. I get that. And I know I’m stubborn! But I’m also not exactly a typical suburbanite or Texan.

What bothers me most about where I live is that people are extremely susceptible to doom and gloom preaching.   These days it’s cloaked in “feel good” sermons, but the premise remains that the end of the world is coming soon and we must be prepared. Although much of the attitude is definitely based in denial, I think there is an underlying notion that there is really no point in trying to save it. In fact, a lot of people drive Hummers and huge SUVs to help bring it on! 

Bill Moyers has an excellent essay called Welcome to Doomsday concerned with this current trend of fundamentalists who aren’t just actively denying global warming, they are subconsciously and actively bringing it about because they believe they will be saved! The otherworld is much better than this one so rather than worry about the end of the world, be grateful for its coming. Those who deserve it will go down with the mother ship while the true believers will be beamed up to paradise.

Of course, Beavan isn’t preaching about doing what needs to be done to be saved in an other world. He’s talking about what needs to be done to be saved in this one. But after reading his preachy epilogue, I can’t help but question his motivation. Did he pull this “stunt” for a year so that he would feel qualified to tell people what to do??

It’s one thing to use your life as inspiration. It’s another to use it as means to convince people that your life is the truth, the way, and the light. To me, it’s that attitude that has gotten Americans into all of the trouble we’re in! It has created a destructive sort of hubris. Surely we don’t need environmentalists taking the place of fanatical Christian preachers. I can’t see how that will be anything but completely disastrous!  What we need is compassion and understanding. If environmentalists simply take the preachy stance, I see horrible wars on the horizon that will likely bring about the end even more rapidly than if we don’t change our habits!! A huge percentage of people believe that they have been shoved up against a wall and have no way out except through salvation in another world.

Sharing your experience and hoping to inspire others by showing that joy is inherent within the discipline is one thing.   But expecting everyone to follow suit just because you did it and think it is the right thing to do sounds an awful lot like the fundamentalist Christianity I am surrounded by here in the Bible Belt! At least superficially, that’s why I resist Beavan’s epilogue. It’s potentially, uninsightful, and wreckless.

But don’t get me wrong. Beavan’s book is excellent!  Please read it because his year of being “The No Impact Man” along with his wife and child is incredibly inspiring. I still plan to create my own eco rules for my little family. It’s only the epilogue that doesn’t fit with the spirit of the rest of the book.

MORE!

I LOVE Mark Osborne’s short film, More, which came with El Bola, the very first FilmMovement selection (Year 1, Film 1).   I watch it over and over and over again!  It presents an interesting contrast between children who are simply being happy with adults intent on producing and consuming happiness.

The Story of Stuff

This 20 minute video, The Story of Stuff, is fantastic! It looks at the underside of production and consumption in the United States.

Did you know that a model for consumption was created in 1952 and we’ve been increasingly producing and consuming ever since?  You’d think all of that stuff would make us happy, but our happiness levels have been on the decline since that time, too.  Plus, we are destroying the planet by being so heavily identified with consuming and producing.

Definitely worth watching. Check out the website.

Human Dominance/Dominion?

I watched a beautiful film tonight called A Life Among Whales.  It’s about Dr. Roger Payne’s work to save the whales.  He helped create a moratorium on whale hunting several years ago, but today whale hunting is alive and well again, although now it’s done under the guise of “science”.

It reminded me of an issue my daughter encountered when she was very young. A bunch of kids were out in the front yard stamping on ants and other insects they found.  My daughter was appalled and made the statement that these animals could be their great grandparents for all they knew. I’m not sure where she got that idea because it isn’t a view we subscribed to, but it’s a good question – why be disrespectful toward the ants and other insects? We really don’t know that much about them.

It instigated a discussion about heaven and the absolute fact, according to these kids, that bugs and animals don’t go to heaven. Therefore, you can do what you want with them. A further insinuation was made that my daughter was “evil” for for suggesting bugs might have been human beings in another life.

It was Christmas-time, and she received a “gift” from a little girl, about 5 years old who had been involved in the discussion.   It was a picture of Santa Claus giving coal to my daughter. My daughter thought it was hilarious, but I was horrified! My daughter’s compassion was being condemned by this child’s Christian brainwashing!

It makes me wonder, sometimes, if our disrespect toward animals wasn’t born out of a misinterpretation of Genesis?  Or maybe it’s just a bizarre interpretation of the ancient Hebrew that eschewed stewardship and misinterpreted dominion as some sort of absolute dominance? The Hebrew Bible says we are supposed to be the stewards of the land and has all kinds of laws for the ethical killing of animals, if they must be killed. You don’t just kill animals because you are human and they aren’t!  Perhaps we do have dominion, but does that give us the authority to do as we please?  Does that even make sense? Would God be so pleased with his creations if he created one to mindlessly destroy all others? It just doesn’t make sense.

Flip Flotsam

I’ve watched the first two films on Volume 1, 2008 from the Earth Cinema Circle, and both were excellent! The first was Garbage Warrior which I’ll write about later, once I collect my many thoughts on the film. The second was Flip-Flotsam which I’m fairly certain I’d seen in the Spiritual Cinema Circle, too.  It also left me smiling ear to ear!

Rather than dying a meaningless death, the 20 million pairs of flip flops that are made each year in Mombasa on the coast of Kenya in Africa, are  given new life! The film is set to a whimsical poem by Elspeth Murray and was filmed over a 2 year time period. It follows the beginnings of a flip flop in the factories of Mombasa to their ends as curled, crumbling debris on the Kiwaiyu Island where they die and are born again. This resurrection is thanks to the resourceful and creative women of Kiwaiyu Island (which has no electricity) who collect the discarded debris and carve it into colorful marine life which gets sold to people in Mombosa where the flip flops first began their journey. It’s a wondrous circle of life!!!

Ride of the Mergansers

I have had a subscription to the Earth Cinema Circle for years and rarely got around to actually watching the films until just recently. You will have to forgive me if I offer a bunch of posts on films from the circle. I’m learning so much!!!

I loved Ride of the Mergansers.  It made me smile from ear to ear! It’s a wonderful short film!!! (It was on the Premier Collector’s Edition of Earth Cinema Circle.) It’s not a heavy political film, just a beautiful film about some wonderful ducks that may soon become endangered because of human practices.

The Hooded Merganser is a rare, reclusive fish eating duck found only in North America (primarily in the Great Lakes region). The 11 minute film documents the newly hatched ducklings from birth to their great “leap of faith”.