Of Computers, Cream Cheese, Creation, and the Pope
The other day, two parallel events happened in my life.
My computer crashed, and I put my cream cheese back in…well, in the silverware strainer in the dishwasher, if you must know.
It didn’t take too long for me to see the humor here.
For weeks my Mac laptop had warned me that my disk was full, or almost full. It wasn’t always consistent about how dire the situation was, flipping back and forth between text boxes announcing “Crazy Full” and “I Wouldn’t Save That If I Were You.” In either case, some form of “Danger, Will Robinson” was flashing across my screen.
I just clicked “Cancel.”
It wasn’t that I ignored the warnings entirely. I tried deleting some photos, and some movies, and was forced to ask myself whether my article on such-and-such was really such a keeper anyway.
I treated the symptoms, and not the problem though, and to the end my trusty MacPro did its best to be loyal to my ridiculous expectations.
Finally, alas, it snapped. Safari opened unbidden…and then closed unbidden too. Same thing with Messenger. And Bento. And iTunes. And Mail.
About this time was when I stored my cream cheese in the dishwasher.
I like to think it was because I was rushing and had both the cream cheese and be-cream-cheesed knife in hand, and just whirled them both in the silverware compartment because, well…my own disk was full, and I was as glitchy as my Mac.
I have a hard time acknowledging limits. I might see the signs, but I don’t always heed them until it is too, too late.
I’m not alone: Douglas John Hall would say he could have predicted that I don’t. I’m North American. He woke me up in this regard a few years ago, as I was reading his book Lighten Our Darkness: Toward an Indigenous Theology of the Cross.
Dr. Hall has words for us–especially those of us in North America, words that should catch our attention in the same way that my MacBook Pro was valiantly trying to get mine for the last several months.
The discovery of limits can only be for us the most traumatic experience. Our entire continental experiment has been based on the mirage of limitless horizons. Limitless land, limitless resources, limitless opportunities, limitless human know-how, limitless freedom. So thoroughly has the spirit of uncircumscribed potential been absorbed into our North American consciousness that to begin to question it is almost an outrage. Of all the aspects of the optimism that has informed our way of life, perhaps the most unshakeable is the belief in limitlessness. (214)
“Limitless land, limitless resources, limitless opportunities, limitless human know-how, limitless freedom.”
I first read this passage in Germany, a country that is geographically 1.79 times the size of South Dakota.
Here’s something to make you chew your bratwurst a lot slower though: as of July 1, 2014 Germany numbered 82,652,256 children of God.
In comparison? South Dakota has all of 853,175 of the same.
That means (and yes, I had someone else do the math) that not only is the cabbage stuffed in Deutschland, so is the land: It holds 54 times as many people per square kilometer than in my beloved South Dakota. That’s a whopping 96.9 times as populous as South Dakota!
There’s just more here, here, and Hall says that all this limitlessness has shaped everything about us as a people.
Today (or leaked yesterday, or in May, depending on how you look at it) the Pope offered an encyclical about Climate Change.
It’s a barn-burner.
I was curious, and searched the document for the word “Limit.” It showed up 44 times in his new statement. Do the search yourself: you can find it here.
I culled just four of those references for this short(-ish) blog.
It should be no surprise that quickly out of the gate, Pope Francis points us to his namesake, St. Francis. The Pope writes:
If we approach nature and the environment without [his] openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.
Under the heading of “Weak Responses,” the Pope says:
In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment…Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is. As a result, “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule”.
And in a section dedicated to “The Mystery,” he urges:
Under The Mystery If we acknowledge the value and the fragility of nature and, at the same time, our God-given abilities, we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power.
Humanity as a general rule of thumb has proven that we don’t like limits. We don’t like confinements, boundaries, or borders (unless they keep others out, of course).
In fact, just like Douglas John Hall said above, we get down right irritable about the topic, not least of all when religion gets involved in the conversation.
Hall was right: limits prompt “outrage.” Pope Francis’ agrees with him, and has positively no time for it: “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain.”
Pope Francis has no time for irony or disdain, no time for objections to the science of climate change, no time for the dismissal of the effect of climate change on the Least of These, no time for assertions that politics are parallel to one’s faith, separate from one’s faith, instead of welling up out of one’s faith.
He has no time for them because we have no more time.
We are now, and have been for a long while now, limited in time.
To that end, he writes this:
The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.
I was in denial that my computer really actually meant its warnings to me. It blew up.
I was in denial all the signs that my brain is full, and just about cleansed my cream cheese instead of cooling it.
The funny thing is, denial is itself a limit–in this case, a limit of comprehension about the dire state of God’s creation and all creatures in it, and a limit to the realities of the effects of our very denial.
What an irony! Our addiction to (the illusion of) limitlessness might be the very thing that sharply, painfully, irreversibly limits the well-being and sustainability of all creation–including humanity’s very own.
Douglas John Hall, however, has some words that contour his caution above, words that, consistent with his book’s name, do lighten our darkness. He writes this too:
…[T]he theology of the cross announces the possibility of good news. It is possible to repent, even when patterns have become deeply entrenched, even at the eleventh hour! Even a society in decay can find grace on the brink of its disintegration. More than anything else, honest exposure to our limits could, with some courageous guidance, give us as a people new wisdom and new hope.
“More than anything else, honest exposure to our limits could, with some courageous guidance, give us as a people new wisdom and new hope.”
I do believe that in Pope Francis’ Encyclical, we have that courageous guidance, and new wisdom, and new hope, were we to heed it.
I hope and pray that we do.
(And I also hope and pray that I quit multi-tasking so much to Get It All Done, otherwise who knows what I’ll stick in that dishwasher next. Probably my new computer, given my glitches.)
Thank you, Anna, well thought out and well written, as usual. John Douglas Hall’s book explains a lot! I’m so thankful for the Pope , since he is the only one the media pays attention to as far as what the church has to say, it’s wonderful that he seems to be connected to the real world and grounded in Theology of the Cross. I wish he could have been chosen several years ago – but, perhaps, this is the right time for some, maybe enough, people to listen.