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My Bright Abyss

DSCN4959As Earth Day recedes in our rear-view mirrors for another year, I remain impressed and troubled by the following statement by American poet Christian Wiman, in his new book My Bright Abyss (2013). And thanks to daughter Sarah, by the way, for bringing this remarkable volume to my attention:

“What is poetry’s role when the world is burning? Encroaching environmental disaster and the relentless wars around the world have had, it seems, a paralyzing, sterilizing effect on much American poetry. It is less the magnitude of the crises than our apparent immunity to them, this death on which we all thrive, that is spinning our best energies into esoteric language games, or complacent retreats into nostalgias of form or subject matter, or shrill denunciations of a culture whose privileges we are not ready to renounce—or, more accurately, do not even know how to renounce. There is some fury of clarity, some galvanizing combination of hope and lament, that is much needed now, but it sometimes seems that we—and I use the plural seriously, I don’t exempt myself—are anxiously waiting for the devastation to reach our very streets, as it one day will, it most certainly will” (p. 52).

The anxious paralysis of which he speaks is surely not confined to poets.

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Go Green, $ave Green

I’ve got a great new book to recommend to you, but first I have to set it up. Patience, please! Here we go. We know our planet is in peril. The growing human population of the earth, combined with the consumerist habits of this ever-increasing population, means that our current way of life is unsustainable. Either we change direction or we are all going over the cliff. This assessment, while not pretty, is beyond dispute among rational people.

Against this backdrop, Christians are finally beginning to pay attention.  More of us are thinking about the environment, and wondering whether we have an obligation to do something about its ominous degradation. This is indeed worth considering carefully. After all, Christianity is the world’s largest religion. The inferences we twenty-first century Christians draw from the wellsprings of our faith will have an enormous effect, constructive or destructive, on how the global environmental crisis will play out.
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Sad for Alberta




Tar Sands


Alberta is just one of Canada’s ten provinces, but it has always held a special place in the national mythology. I am grateful that I was among the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who escaped from drab Toronto, and eventually found my way to this great province. That’s why I’m so sad about what’s happening there today. I am speaking, of course, of the moral and environmental disaster of the Alberta tar sands.

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Why the Keystone Pipeline Is a Bad Idea


The Keystone XL Pipeline is part of an ambitious plan to bring down from Alberta, Canada massive amounts of liquified tar to be refined into fuel to supply America’s appetite for energy. Like many Americans and Canadians, I am opposed to the Keystone Pipeline project. Like brushing your teeth with bleach, it is a bad idea.

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Can Institutional Cultures Change?


There’s a provocative article in the latest Atlantic (March 2012) on “Why Companies Fail.” The reason why corporate turnarounds are so difficult and rare, according to author Megan McArdle, is the stubborn persistence of dysfunctional corporate cultures. These cultures are the hardest things of all to change. She cites Detroit automaker GM as a case in point. It was bailed out by the government less than two years ago, and freed from most of its excessive overhead and liabilities. But its stock value has fallen by a third since then. The reason? GM still thinks and acts like GM. It is still the same old culture on the inside.

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Chinese Missions Conference Workshops


Movies today powerfully reflect and shape beliefs, attitudes and values on a global scale. By cultivating the art of watching and listening perceptively, Christians can better understand what people today are thinking and feeling. Contemporary movies also provide important evangelistic “points of contact”–non-threatening opportunities for stimulating conversations on matters of faith.

Movie Theology Workshop Handout


Environmental destruction is perhaps the greatest contemporary threat to human civilization. Historically Christians have been among the worst polluters. This presentation highlights the internal resources that Christianity can draw on to become a global force for the preservation and healing of nature, rather than an ideological foundation for its continued abuse. Christian commitment to creation care need not siphon energy away from evangelism. It can actually increase the credibility of the Gospel and also provide opportunities for building partnerships and personal relationships with environmentally concerned unbelievers.

Evangelism and Creation Care Workshop Handout

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Inside Scoop on New Dictionary of Christian Spirituality


      Members of the Bethel San Diego Spring 2011 Class on Spirituality & Prayer


Zondervan Q&A with Glen Scorgie, general editor, Dictionary of Christian Spirituality


Congratulations on the publication of the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. In terms of the writing and editing, what kind of work hours do you think the project represents?

The Dictionary project took four years of focused effort. The workload ebbed and flowed across these years, but I’d estimate it involved 10-20 hours a week on average. The other editors and I managed to keep organized with an Excel spreadsheet; each entry involved 17-19 discreet steps.


Writing for this book was certainly not a sensible strategy for getting rich. Sometimes I cajoled reluctant contributors to join the company of the cheerfully exploited. Usually that phrase won them over. But I must say the whole project, from start to finish, was an absolute delight. For one thing, the DCS team got to interact with some of the finest people on the planet. I’ve often said that without the excuse of this project, how else would I get up the nerve to bother Eugene Peterson in his cabin up in Montana, or Dallas Willard or J. I. Packer?

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Resisting the Poison Green Dragon?


Some Christians in San Diego recently hosted a conference to protest what they see as pernicious environmentalist trends (conspiracies, even) to undermine the Christian faith and the general welfare of American society. The language and images employed throughout were strident, confrontational, and designed to alarm. The conference featured a keynote public lecture entitled “Resisting the Green Dragon: One-ist Environmentalism and its Noxious Influence on the Church.” We are dismayed that any Christians would take such a message seriously, and we’ll tell you why.

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The Future of Smoke Stacks


Beijing Smoke Stack


Beijing is a polluted city. Not even the spin-doctors deny that the air here is bad. On a windy day you can taste it. But upon my arrival it still came as a surprise to see a huge ten-storey industrial smoke stack right across the street from my apartment on the campus of Renmin (the People’s) University. Encased in scaffolding, workers have been banging and jack hammering on it every day. The project’s location struck me as particularly offensive—way too close to this residential university, an inappropriate site in an already-dense urban environment. And then eight weeks on I made a surprising discovery. The smoke stack is not going up; it’s actually coming down! It’s another sign that China is making a serious effort to go “green.”

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The Canary in the Gulf of Mexico

China Recycling


At the moment the world is fixated on the video-cam of oil spewing up out of the earth to defile the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone is hoping and praying that a technical solution will be found to stabilize this environmental holocaust. Should this occur in the near future, we will breathe a collective sigh of relief. Inevitably there will be resolutions to tighten up oil drilling safety standards and improve emergency response strategies, but perhaps the greater tragedy will be if in a few weeks or months we resume our same dangerous and unsustainable way of life. If this disaster proves to be of sufficient magnitude that it will not be possible thereafter to revert to business as usual, the tragedy itself may end up a “severe mercy.” We may look back on it as the moment when “the canary died in the coal mine.” It may be our chance to break out of something that is otherwise going to kill us all.

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