I stepped out the front door of the theatre last Saturday night just as the first drops of rain fell. The drops felt as big as marbles.
I ran for my car.
Then the rain came pounding down. Too much, too fast, for windshield wipers to keep up.
Driving home, I counted the gaps between flashes of lightning. Three to five seconds. Once, I got to ten seconds before the next flash.
Water coursed down the gutters. Tree branches, bent under the weight of water running off their leaves, thrashed in gusts of wind.
And I was not in the Bahamas. Where Hurricane Dorian had wreaked utter havoc earlier that week.
Tourist destinations like the Okanagan Velley usually think of water as benign. Lakes and oceans are for recreation. Rivers are for running. Waterfalls are for viewing. But water isn’t always benign. That night, while thunderstorms pelted my home, Dorian rumbled up the U.S. coast and on into Nova Scotia.
Between the extremes
But let’s not think of water itself as the villain. Certainly, water’s extremes are life-threatening. Whether the waters rise -- as storm surges raise sea levels, or bring massive waves -- or fall from the skies as rain or snow, too much water can kill.
But so can too little water. I’ve been in the searing heat of deserts, where dehydration can also bring death.
It’s the extremes that are dangerous.
Between those extremes, water is so essential for life that I sometimes wonder why we don’t worship it rather than some distant deity in the sky.
Water makes up three-quarters of the planet’s surface. Without it, earth would not be the “small blue marble floating in space” seen in astronauts’ photos.
Water also makes up about three-quarters of the average human body. That small urn of ashes is all that’s left after cremation removes the water.
Because of its exceptional ability to store heat, water stabilizes the earth’s climate.
Water is the only chemical compound that can exist in three physical states at the same time. It can be a solid, as ice. It can be a liquid. And it can be a gas, as water vapour.
Through the process of photosynthesis -- too complicated to describe in detail -- plants convert water into the oxygen that we need to breathe.
The sacred solvent
As a liquid, water is the world’s universal solvent. That’s why we use it for washing. Water will dissolve almost anything, given enough time. Even metals.
And so it can leach trace elements from deep within rock formations. The late Dr. Harry Warren, a geologist and a mentor of mine, developed ways of locating valuable minerals underground by analyzing plant cells. Far more efficient than whacking rocks with a hammer, he claimed.
Dr. Warren also told me about a study where he could predict (within statistical limits) the incidence of cancers in a British city that had three distinct sources of drinking water -- a river, wells, and streams running off the moors.
Religions fumble around the edges of acknowledging the crucial role of water. Hinduism has its sacred river Ganges. The Torah -- foundational for three world religions -- opens with the spirit of God moving over primordial waters. The Christian Bible ends with the river of life. Jesus called himself “living water.”
Dilute the damage
Despite all this evidence, we -- including me -- tend to take water for granted. It keeps my grass green and my tomatoes plump. I turn on a tap, and it’s there.
Our industries both use and abuse water. We use it to cool the fires of fossil fuels in internal combustion engines. We heat it into high-pressure steam for turbines and generators. We flush away the wastes of our industrial processes. We dump human sewage into it.
And we hope that enough water will dilute our pollutants to render them harmless.
Which is why Japan plans to dump a million tonnes of radioactive water from its tsunami-struck Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.
Political boundaries ignore water. The headwaters of Pakistan’s Indus river all rise in territory controlled by India.
And here in the Okanagan, municipal boundaries subdivide local lakes. If one city pumps out extra water for drinking or agriculture, it has to steal from its neighbours’ share.
Water does not belong to anyone. Rather, we belong to water. It is our mother.
Churches recognize that truth, metaphorically, when they baptize -- whether the water represents the waters of the womb or the ocean from which all terrestrial life came.
But it’s not good enough. Water needs to be treated as sacred -- a gift, and a holy responsibility.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I got very little negative feedback about last week’s column denouncing fundamentalism.
Steve Roney picked the column apart, sentence by sentence. But his criticisms were longer than my column.
Art Hildebrand questioned the historical accuracy of saying that a force from Canada had sacked and burned the White House in the War of 1812: “How could they have come from Canada if there was no Canada until 1867?”
But all other letters were (mostly) positive. Which leads me to suspect that few who identify with the more conservative side of the church read my columns.
Tom Watson mused, “Given all that you say, is it any wonder that people are leaving Christianity in droves and that churches are emptying? Even though we would disavow what Tony Perkins and others espouse, we all get tarred with the same brush.”
John McTavish “would respond more frequently but normally I have nothing to say but 'Right on, brother.'
“And of course I'm not going to say anything more this time than 'Right on' about an article knocking fundamentalism. Other than to say that fundamentalism is all about control. The fundamentalist doesn't simply read the Bible: he (and so often it's a 'he') controls the Bible. Everything in the Bible is exactly right and the fundamentalist is an expert on quoting all those perfect passages -- without mentioning any of the passages that don't play into his controlling hands.
“Liberals know how to play this game also! We just do it more subtly.”
Fran Ota wondered “how Perkins would explain people like my husband -- an atheist -- whose sense of morality and ethics puts people like Perkins to shame.
“In my belief system, religion and morality have little to do with each other. Religion and morality are both human creations, but having the one does not presume having the other.”
Cliff Boldt wrote, “In the last 30 years or so, I have witnessed the USA slowly extricating itself from the role of policeman to the world. In parallel, there is a growth of support for authoritarian beliefs for a more strict, secure social and economic system.
“This will create a less democratic society around the world. Democracy as a political system is very new in the history of humans and it could easily be replaced by an authoritarian government philosophy and practice. These facts, I am coming to consider as root causes of the mass shootings. Trump is the symptom, not the cause. People like Perkins only are comfortable when they have a simplistic solution. But we have to be aware of the Perkins of the world -- God made him too.”
In a similar vein, John Finley thought about a line from John Denver’s It’s About Time: “Who’s to say you have to lose for someone else to win?”
“It has increasingly struck me,” he commented, “that that line is at the core of everything which is haywire these days. The current President of the U.S. tears up agreements and treaties because, he thinks, America has been ‘losing’ for many years. He refers to new, replacement deals as ones which the country must be a winner. There is no concept in his mind of something being mutually beneficial.
“Your illustration of fundamentalist concepts reflect the same thing; in order for Christianity to be right (winning) all other thinking has to be wrong (losing).
“The ‘creeds’ and ‘manifestos’ attributed to some of the shooters is usually about them being right ( the winners’ side) in their actions.”
Isabel Gibson: “It's hard to see Perkins’ logic with respect to the teaching of evolution. On the other hand, I'm all for teaching that every person has inherent value. I just don't think it will prevent any shootings, mass or otherwise.”
Bob Rollwagen was multi-tasking: “While was reading this week’s thesis, I was watching a BBC World News investigation of George Soris, the wealthy international philanthropist who supports disadvantaged people of all races and ethnic origins. He has been accused by many of trying to destabilize the world and existing political stability. Fox News and others claim that riots and shooting and bomb attempts are being funded by him to make current right-wing leaders look bad. The BBC reporters compiled a convincing pile of evidence that exposes the many fundamentalist groups trying to discredit him.
“Jim, what you have sent supports George Soris. It supports any open fair-minded individual who believes we need to increase efforts to create a better balance for all in our society.”
David Gilchrist tried to put the issue into a longer context: “It has puzzled me for years that the most ‘fundamentalist’ voices were the loudest for retaining Capital Punishment. After working on it in my mind for decades, I think I figured it out.
“Shedding blood (sacrifice) was a core belief of all the religions of Abraham’s time and place. He had the insight (message from God) that human sacrifice was NOT God’s will.(Not everyone agreed: remember Jephthah’s daughter?), but still all accepted the concept of animal sacrifice.
“Later prophets understood that blood wasn’t what God wanted at all: but simply for us to mend our ways and (in Micah’s words) do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. That is a much more challenging assignment than just killing an animal to set your conscience free: it involves sacrificing some of our personal habits, both of behaviour and thought! THAT was too much, and many (most?) didn’t buy into it. By Jesus’s day, the Pharisees most adamantly defended the Mosaic tradition, ignoring the Prophets -- much as today some churches read far less from the Gospels than from the Letters of Paul.
“Paul was a Pharisee -- and proud of it! He wrote: ‘There is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood.’ But if shedding blood is the only way to ‘set the record straight’ with those you dislike, then the angry, resentful gunman feels justified: he is getting even with those he thinks have hurt him.
“Evolution? I believe that we are intended to evolve beyond that primitive Mosaic God to the God of the prophets and Jesus, and become a peaceful people.”
James West cheered: “You nailed it! I’ll see if I can post it on the ‘cathedral church door’ -- Jim’s 5 Theses. I also recommend Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s book ‘Not In God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence’ published in 2015.”
And finally, Keith Simmonds asked, “If our culture truly valued life would we be killing it off at such an alarming rate? Perhaps that’s our failure as people of faith? We’ve forgotten who we are and what we’re part of?”
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on YouTube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.