Christ the King

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Poet Malcolm Guite’s poetry holds the essential paradox of the Christian faith and life. Open the re-blogged piece to read and listen to his poem for the last Sunday of the Christian liturgical year, Christ the King Sunday.

Malcolm Guite

20111119-111210We come now to a feast of Ends and Beginnings! This Sunday is the last Sunday in the cycle of the Christian year, which ends with the feast of Christ the King, and next Sunday we begin our journey through time to eternity once more, with the first Sunday of Advent. We might expect the Feast of Christ the King to end the year with climactic images of Christ enthroned in Glory, seated high above all rule and authority, one before whom every knee shall bow, and of course those are powerful and important images, images of our humanity brought by him to the throne of the Heavens. But alongside such images we must also set the passage in Matthew (25:31-46) in which Christ reveals that even as He is enthroned in Glory, the King who comes to judge at the end of the ages, he is also the hidden King…

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Harvey, Houston, and the Holy

The urgency of a rescue operation is not the time for anything but compassion.

Timing and perception are everything in this startling time of Hurricane Harvey, 500-year floods, and the chemical plant explosions now taking place in Houston. Watching a helicopter rescue the elderly and disabled from the rising waters of a flood that has put people at risk is not the time to say I told you so.

But sooner or later it is time to speak about the unnatural crisis hidden behind the crisis of nature. In times like this, everyone becomes a socialist, and, if we’re seeing straight, no one stays a climate change-denier in the city big oil built.

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Chemical plant explosions are the latest horrific news that graphically illustrate a national crisis that is more than ‘natural’. The crisis is anthropological and theological.

“Man over nature” was always an illusion. A hoax. A faux understanding of the human species’ relationship with the rest of nature — “man (sic.) over nature,” as though the first were separate from the latter — that leads to destruction and self-destruction.

The chemicals are exploding because the plants that make them cannot keep them cool. Keeping them cool requires an operative electrical grid, or, when the grid goes down, an emergency generator that isn’t vulnerable to flooding. When the grid and backup generators fail, the chemicals heat and explode.

Timing and perception are everything.

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Not much more than a year ago Standing Rock was being touted as the emerging symbol of the revised understanding, the shift in consciousness, and the new behavior required of humankind in the age of climate departure. The oil pipeline from Canada to Texas refineries was stopped in the name of nature itself.

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That was before the 2016 election, and the 2017 appointment of a climate change-denier to gut the EPA, presidential executive orders stripping away regulations on the fossil fuel industry, and America’s spiritual retreat from the Paris Accord on Climate Change. Texas, not Standing Rock, was in charge again. Or so it seemed until Harvey came ashore to wash away the illusion of “man over nature.”

It’s time now for a clearer perception. Time to hold next to each other a picture of flooded Texas chemical plant explosions and the peaceful protest of Standing Rock,  and ask ourselves which picture is truer than the other. Or perhaps the truth is better seen when both are held together side-by-side: two anthropologies and two theologies. According to the one, humankind and the human city are the measure of reality itself. According to the other, God (i.e. the Eternal, Being-Itself) is the “natural” context — the mysterium tremendum et fascinans* — in which we live, and move, and have our being.

Today is, and tomorrow will still be, time for compassion and help for the people of Houston. It is also time to perceive something much deeper and wider. The rescued people of Houston, southeast Texas, and Louisiana are but the latest victims of the tragedy of the human mind and spirit: the fanciful illusion and creation of an alt-world of species superiority to nature.

Could the trembling of this horrific moment lead us to a holier fascination with reality itself?

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Rudolf Otto (1869-1937)

The people of Standing Rock and Rudolf Otto are watching.

*Rudolf Otto‘s Latin term for the human experience with the Mystery beyond all taming that both fascinates and causes us mortals to tremble. (Rudolf Otto (1869–1937), The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational.)

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 31, 2017

 

 

 

 

The Scapegoat

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Sometimes a line leaps from the page to arrest me.

“Living among us, Jesus loved us. He broke bread with outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, and proclaimed good news to the poor.”

Sitting in the pew the week following the horrors of Charlottesville, this line from the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving of the sacrament of holy communion begged for deeper reflection.

Who were the outcasts, sinners, and sick people on the streets of Charlottesville? Who were the outcasts, sinners, and sick watching the news, tweeting, texting, yelling, screaming, retreating, turning off, tuning out? Who were the poor waiting good news?

Surely, I’m not poor. Am I? I love the outcasts, the sinners, the sick, don’t I, Jesus? I am among the counter-demonstrators, the despisers of white supremacy, the champions of racial equality, the scorners of the KKK and their white supremacist and white nationalist cousins. My anger boils over watching these sick people turning back the clock.

Preparing for the bread and cup, I am aware of my poverty, my thirst for good news. Failing, or refusing, to see the faces and listen more carefully to the shouting of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, I have cast them out as hopeless sinners: the outrageously sick representatives of white supremacy, America’s original sin.

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“Christ of St. John of the Cross” – 1951, Salvador Dali 

I consider not receiving communion today.

Then I recall René Girard‘s work on the crucified Jesus as the scapegoat whose life, death, and resurrection dismantles the scapegoat mechanism of religion and society.

“Everywhere and always, when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not they find them.”
René Girard, The One by Whom Scandal Comes

I ponder the ways capitalism turns us against each other: privileged and poor, insiders and outcasts, scapegoaters and scapegoats, sheep and goats — the company of sinners in need of the better news that there is, in reality, no division among us.

I remember Salvador Dali’s painting of the cosmic Christ and read again the lines of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving:

“Living among us, Jesus loved us. He broke bread with outcasts and sinners, healed the sick, and proclaimed good news to the poor.

“He [the Scapegoat] yearned to draw all the world to himself, yet were heedless  of his call to walk in love.”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 23, 2017

My lifelong Quest

Some things take a lifetime. More or less.

It took until a few days before my 75th birthday to become clear about my lifelong quest. Some would call it my “vocation” in life, my “calling” as we say. Others might call it an obsession. In either case, it’s taken this long to say a word about it.
In a nutshell, my life’s occupation has been, and still is — are you ready? — theological anthropology.
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“Whoah! What’s that?” my 11-week-old grandson Elijah is asking.
Theological anthropology, like all anthropology, is the search for understanding of the human species. The term  ‘anthropology’ is the combination of the Greek words  anthropos (human) and logos (word). Anthropo-logy is ‘the word’ about ‘humankind’.
Theological anthropology is the study of humankind in the context of ‘theos’, i.e. ‘G-d’ — which Paul Tillich translated as Being-Itself, the Ground of Being, that which is ultimately Real.
Anthropos is contingent; Being-Itself is not. Like all species, ours has a very short lifespan in the aeons of eternity. We are a small part of the All or the Whole (Friedrich Schleiermacher), creatures of time with the rest of moral nature who can be understood, if at all, only in light of this larger timeless Whole.
The Psalmist question –“What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:4 KJV) — is my life-long question.
Who are we as a species? Who am I as a member of it? Who are the Andrews, the Tituses, the Campbells, the Stewarts among the vast assortment of homo sapiens? Who am I in relation to Barclay, my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel friend, the forests, the flowers, the birds, and the rest of the species of dust and ashes holding our breath before the majesty of life itself?
Why theological anthropology?
You can take the human species out of the universe and the universe will go on as it did aeons before anthropos came along. We can’t say the opposite. Essential to the human experience is the terror of contingency and the wonder of of it all, what Rudolf Otto called “mysterium tremendous et fascinans”.
The idea of “man (the human species) over nature” is a deadly illusion, a flight from reality itself, an escape from the trembling that comes with our vulnerability, our transience, our mortality, the final limit of all human creativity (the “image of God”).
After only one cup of coffee on my 75th birthday, that’s the best I can do.
Mom

Muriel Titus Stewart

This afternoon I’ll be in the Philosophy Lounge at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN at the invitation of a philosophy professor, a long way away from the delivery room and the loving, laboring mother who pushed me into the world (the philosopher’s lounge) back in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Thanks, Mom!
– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 10, 2017.

Hiroshima: toward a Greater Light

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Thanks to executive producer Peter Wallace of Day1.org for featuring the podcast of “Only One Sin: Exceptionalism” in advance of the August 8 Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Click HERE to sign up and listen on Day1.org.

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Kosuke Koyama  (1929-2009)

This meditation, an excerpt from Be Still!, reflects on Hiroshima  in the greater light of the Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, the Japanese peacemaking theologian to whom the collection of essays is dedicated.

Kosuke (pronounced ‘KO-soo-kay’) Koyama was 15 years old when it happened, and was baptized during the firebombing of Tokyo.

The horror of the bombings led him to see something else about us: the sin of exceptionalism that knows no limits.

nuclear-bombHis last published book — Theology and Violence: Towards A Theology of Nonviolent Love awaits translation into English from the original Japanese.  We wait on bended knee.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 5, 2017.

 

 

A Good Kick from a stagnant place

This idea that sometimes we need a good kick in order to advance from a stagnant place is not new and does not always find biblical inspiration. Nietzsche said in 1888 “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens – was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker”– “From the war school of life – what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” – Peter Luijendijk, Dec. 21, 2016.

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Friedrich Nietzsche

How I got to Peter Luijendijk, the rabbinical student at Leo Baeck College, and the controversial philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), he quotes would take too long to explain. Suffice to say it was a serendipitous event inspired by a 3:30 A.M. awakening. I didn’t know of Peter Luijendijk, until this morning when I rushed off a “friend” request on FaceBook.

Although a good kick is always good for advancing me from my stagnant place on the couch with my best friend, the MacBook Air, it was a search for the source of the Nietzsche quote that introduced me, so to speak, to Peter.  “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens – was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker” had caught my attention moments before as one of three quotations featured on a college religion professor’s faculty page.

Not many religion professors quote Nietzsche to introduce themselves on a college website. Nietzsche is one of those philosophers pious religious types love to hate, in no small part because of his parable of the prophetic madman — the eccentric town crier who announces to the town that God is dead and “we have killed him!”– in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Go back now to where this reflection started — the quotation by Peter Luijendijk is part of a Chanukah reflection on the Leo Baeck College (London) online publication. It appeared there as part of a commentary on the Genesis story of Joseph’s survival (Parashat Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1 – 40:23).

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Overbeck, Johann Friedrich, 1789-1869. Joseph sold into slavery, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=47452 [retrieved August 2, 2017]. Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.

It turns out that Peter, like Joseph’s painter, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, and Willem Zuurdeeg, the pioneering philosopher of  religion whose work so heavily influences me, is Dutch. Nietzsche’s parable of the madman was pivotal for Zuurdeeg as well. Is there something about being Dutch that leads a Jewish or Christian scholar back to Nietzsche for a good kick in order out of a stagnant place?

This morning the world is making us all Dutch, sending us back to Nietzsche and the town crier who announces that the god of our illusions is dead, leading us to post the quote on a faculty page intro in hopes of a being stronger, more courageous, and perhaps . . . therefore even more biblical.

Peter Luijendijk’s online reflections on the Joseph story concludes with a word of hope in a time of deep darkness like our own:

I guess what I am trying to say is “Kol zeh ya’avor” this all will pass – it will become better. When Rabbi Lionel Blue z’’l talked about the festival of Chanukah in 2013 at the Chanukah reception in Parliament he “commented on a modern miracle – the social change that is leading to widespread acceptance for LGBT people in our society – by saying “Chanukah is a festival of wonder, and tonight is truly a wonder”.*  Chanukah celebrates survival, hope and the promise that the world’s natural AND spiritual light WILL come back. That, my friends, is the hope imbedded in Chanukah and that is the hope imbedded in the story of Joseph and his family.

At 3:30 A.M. this morning, I feel stronger and very, very Dutch.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 2, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Cheerful Note from Baylor

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W. Hulitt Gloer, Professor, Truett Theological Seminary Baylor University

It takes awhile to discover where, if anywhere, a book like Be Still! will land. When published in January there seemed to be three potential homes: readers like the audience of NPR’s “All Things Considered”; college, university, and divinity school classes in philosophy, theology, homiletics, creative writing, and freshman studies programs; and church adult education programs. But you never know until the book has seen some air time.

Slowly but surely, the critical reviews and publicity are coming in, thanks to Bob Todd Publicity.

Day1.org with Peter Wallace has published four essays from Be Still! or from Views from the Edge and will feature a sermon for the First Sunday of Lent in 2018.

Anglican Journal (Anglican/Episcopalian), CURRENTS in Theology and Mission (Lutheran), and The Presbyterian Outlook (Presbyterian [USA}) will publish reviews this summer or fall. Day1.org has re-published four essays from Be Still or from Views from the Edge and will feature a sermon for the First Sunday of Lent in 2018.

And then there is the word from today all the way from Texas — this lovely, encouraging email from W. Hulitt Gloer, Professor of Preaching and Scripture at Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University:

I have found your essays to be provocative, challenging, refreshing and inspiring. I am planning to use it in one of my courses this fall, assigning an essay a day for reflection and discussion. I think it may become standard.
Many thanks for this wonderful volume. I hope it will be but the first of many!

Thank you, Professor Gloer. You made my day! Next book up with the working title “Don’t Be Weary, Traveler” is ready to look for a publisher.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 28, 2017.

 

 

Who am I?

“Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.”

Who am I,

this whirling

dervish of a self,

toying with nature,

twirling to and fro

the past that lives

in this whirling

blood and bones?

[GCS]

When “this whirling dervish of a self” came to mind at 3:45 A.M., the image came without forethought as expressing an endless search, the self spinning in search for what John Calvin called the knowledge of the self and of God. It had nothing to do with the phrase’s origins in the Sufi “whirling dervishes” who whirled in ecstatic union with the Divine.

A dervish performs the Sema Ceremony

Turkish whirling dervish with right hand up (heaven-ward) and left hand down (earth-ward) in love.

Who we are – where we come from, who we’ve been, who we’re becoming, and where we’re going – “consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”  [First sentence of the first paragraph of the much maligned John Calvin, the 16th century whirling dervish of the much misunderstood The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536].

The more I learn, the less I know. I remain a mystery to myself, a whirling dervish.

  • Gordon C. Stewart [GCS], Chaska, MN, July 24, 2017.

 

 

 

Announcing “Be Still!” Program

Be Still“BE STILL! To See More Clearly

This six-session program for churches invites you to re-examine the faith perspective (“lens”) through which you have come to “see” yourself and the world with brief selected readings from Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness.

“To see clearly, to see clearly, to see clearly–such is the great impulse and drive you meet on every page.” – Introduction to Be Still!  by Wayne. G. Boulton, Ph.D., former president of the Presbyterian School of Christian Education.

“Such essays are an eloquent rebuke to the prejudice that theological writing is abstraction from the concretions of life. I think of Stewart as an incarnational theologian like Bonhoeffer, who insisted that we pay attention to God’s presence in the concretions of our history.” – Donald Shriver, Ph.D., President Emeritus, Union Theological Seminary (NYC).

SIX One-1.5 hour SESSIONS using Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness

ONE—What is “public theology? Read and discuss the “Foreword” (ix-x), “Introduction” (xv-xviii), and Psalm 46.

TWO—The Author’s Lens. Read and discuss “The Preface (xi-xii), and the last paragraph of the “Acknowledgements” (xiv) about the Brothers of Opal Street.

THREE—Exceptionalism as Sin. Read and discuss “Only One Sin: Exceptionalism” (110-113) and “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet “ (10-12).

FOUR—Toward an Incarnational Theology. Read and discuss “Stillness at Blue Spring” (3-5) and “A Joyful Resting Place in Time” (5-7).

FIVE—No Gospel without the Blues. Read and discuss “The Forlorn Children of the Mayflower” (66-70) and “My Soul Waits in Silence” (98-100).

SIX—The Economy of God. Read “The Economy: Only One House” (114-115), “The World in an Oyster” (94-97), and “The Bristlecone Pines” (143-145).

ENDORSERS of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness

Lucy A. Forster-Smith, Sedgwick Chaplain, Senior Minister in the Memorial Church, Harvard University:

”As a person who navigates the pleasures and perils of the twenty-first-century campus, having Be Still! at my fingertips will be like having a counselor, a guide, a very present help in these times. This volume touches the pulse of our times with the rare combination of unwavering candor and tender mercy.”

Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary:

”This wondrous collection of rich snippets would be of interest and value if only for the rich source material that Gordon Stewart quotes from, as it must be an inexhaustible memory and/or file. But the many words he quotes are no more than launching pads for Stewart’s expansive imagination and agile mind that take us, over and over, into fresh discernment, new territory, unanticipated demands, and open-ended opportunity. All of that adds up to grace, and Stewart is a daring witness to grace that occupies all of our territory.’’

Barrie Shepherd, author of Between Mirage and Miracle:

“Gordon Stewart has a way with words, a clean, clear, concise, and yet still creative way with words, a way that can set the reader almost simultaneously at the blood-stained center of the timely–the urgent issues of our day–and also at the deep heart of the timeless, those eternal questions that have forever challenged the human mind. Stewart looks at terror, Isis, and all their kin, from the perspective of Paul Tillich and, yes, John Lennon. He moves from Paris, Maine, by way of the town drunk, toward the City of God. This is strong medicine, to be taken in small, but serious doses. Wear a crash helmet!”

 Michael McNally, Professor of Religion, Carleton College; Author of Honoring Elders:

”Be Still! is needed at this American moment of collective madness even more than the moments that occasioned many of the essays originally airing on public radio and other venues. With a keen eye and a knack for telling the right story at the right time, Rev. Stewart speaks to the pressing issues in our politics, economy, and culture, and consistently, often poignantly, puts them in ethical and theological perspective that clarifies what too often mystifies. Great bedside reading for those of us who stay up at night concerned about where our world is heading!”

Frank M. Yamada, President, American Theological Society, former President, McCormick Theological Seminary:

”In Be Still! Stewart masterfully spins a counter-narrative to the collective madness that is gripping our world. Like the psalmist, Stewart prays thoughtfully through metaphors and religious tradition, meshing theologians with news headlines to lead the reader to a deeper, more sustained truth. Be Still! reads like part op-ed and part parable. In these troubling and anxious times, may we, who have ears to hear, listen!”

Joyce Sutphen, Minnesota Poet Laureate; Professor in English, Gustavus Adolphus College:

“Be Still!: Departure from Collective Madness, is exactly what its title proclaims: a departure from the frenzy and folly of our times. Each essay offers the reader an opportunity to breathe deep, to fall into the story or idea and consider what it means to be a citizen, a friend, a human being. The topics covered are both particular and universal (usually both at the same time), and the writing is wonderfully concise and open—much like poetry! This is a book you will want to open again and again; it’s what the world needs now, more than ever.”

ORDERING THE BOOK, INQUIRIES & SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS

Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness is available from Amazon (paperback @$21 [shipping included w/Amazon Prime] or kindle @ $9.99), and from Wipf and Stock Publishers (paperback @$16.80 + shipping, or E-Book @$16.80). Churches and groups within 50 miles of Chaska, MN may order the book from the author @ a reduced rate.  A Study Guide is available at no cost.

Contact Gordon C. Stewart @ gordoncstewart@comast.net for speaking engagements, questions, or requests for more information.

Geoengineering and Nature Itself

John Hopkins paintingThis morning John Lince-Hopkins of Lynx North Studio brought to our attention Technological Fixes for Climate Change.

We share below one theologian’s response to Technological Fixes for Climate Change.

Regarding “geoengineering”, maybe it’s just my depression, but I think not. The Tower of Babel has always been one of my go-to texts because it holds the paradox of the human condition. All attempts at “engineering” our way to security will fail.

There is an architecture that eludes our engineering when it comes to the planet. It’s called Nature. We are living in the time of what Bill McKibben calls “the end of Nature”. To what extend the end of Nature is the result of human disruption conceived in Western terms as “man over nature,” and to what extend climate change is attributable to non-human factors makes little difference IMHO to the call of the human species within Nature.

The Human Vocation

There are two very different creation stories in the Book of Genesis. Chapter one comes from the priestly (P) tradition.

It was the genius of the Priestly tradition’s creation story (Genesis 1) that they saw the balance of Nature as “Good”  (“and God saw…and it was good!”). The artchitecture of creation is a beautiful piece of art that inspires praise and awe. To imagine something else would be to fall from praise. You might say the P writers were more like scientists who beheld and marveled at the intricate web of natural life.

No sooner do we read Chapter One that we come to the second very different creation story from the perspective of what biblical scholars call “J”,  so called because of the use of the writer’s Name for God.

Genesis two and three read more like novels, expressing in very earthy terms the earth-bound character of human nature and human creature’s resistance to creaturely life — the inexplicable choice of the archetypal “earthlings” to eat the fruit of the ONLY tree among all the trees of the garden based in humankind’s tragic urge of to become “like God, knowing good and evil.”

Only when they fail to stand in awe and thanksgiving in the midst of the Good (a good which includes nature’s “limits” on their behavior) do they invoke the curse that renders them shamefully conscious of their nakedness (their naturalness) and sends them into a hiding from their Creator. Fratricide (Cain’s slaying of Abel) quickly follows their expulsion from Eden.

The continuing human calling is to see Earth itself as the theater of a glory not of our own making and to resist the illusion of the serpent: “if you eat of the one tree which is forbidden, you will become like God.” It’s the second part of that statement that is the temptation – refusing to live with the limits of Nature itself. One might even say “the Fall” is an attempt at geoengineering.

Genesis 1-11 is called the Primeval History — a history that never was but always is. The Primeval History concludes with the story of Tower of Babel — human engineering for the purpose of “making a name for ourselves”, i.e., establishing and securing our existence in time in the face of chaos.

Now it’s “GEO-engineering” – the illusion that we can fix this, that we can “engineer” our way out of the mess our geoengineering on behalf of a more perfect world has created. There’s a HUGE difference between geoengineering and being responsible. The former disturbs Nature. The latter works collaboratively with Nature…or whatever is left of her. Anything else is Babel. It is doomed to fail.

John captures in paint what his word say of his intention.

jr-3“Environmentally focused paintings and other art forms from the early 21st century build a foundational historic context for future generations.  They are documents of the time of ‘the first awareness’ by the human species about the course and implications of climate disruption. As this awareness settles in, climate disruption in the form of weather (as it affects biodiversity, human society and the physical planet) has become, for me, a main topic of my work.”

Perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to say that John Lince-Hopkins, the scientist and the painter, combines in the 21st Century the ancient wisdoms of the P writer and the J writer — the awe of Genesis 1 and the earthy calling and tragedy of Genesis 2, 3, and 11. Would that we might all do the same.

Click Art Wander for more on how John views his work as a climate change scientist and artist.

Thankful for the friendship,

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, June 29, 2017.