Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mountain Pine Beetles, and Salvation

We drive along the TransCanada Highway last summer, leaving BC’s Rogers Pass behind, the mountains slowly separating themselves into wider valleys as we head east toward the Alberta border. The mountains throw themselves upwards, stark and majestic, dressed in dark pines, but scarred here and there with localized clear-cutting. The road twists, and as we come around a bend, a mountain rises before us clothed thinly in the reddish hues of dead pines.

“Mountain Pine Beetle,” Brian says, “millions of hectares of pines are already history.”

“How is it being dealt with?” I ask.

“Clear-cutting. Worst thing, because not just the pines, but everything else is lost too. And it hasn’t stopped the problem from getting worse.”

I am brought back to earth. After an incredible week of hiking in some of the most beautiful places possible, I had been basking in an idealized sense of the interconnectedness of all creation. And sure, that interconnectedness is still there, but I’ve just been reminded of all its dangers.

I wonder if the mountain ecosystems can be saved, and immediately begin to reflect on what is meant by ‘saved’. Christians will tell you that Christ’s death on the cross ‘saved’ them, offering them an otherwise unobtainable redemption and salvation. Sadly though, for many Christians, this idea has been diminished to a perception of atonement (Christ’s sacrifice on the cross) that trivializes that great act and equates it to some kind of magic trick which, ‘abracadabra’, saved all Christians and nobody else (after all, Christ is our ‘personal’ savior). There’s a naïve selfishness to traditional atonement theories of redemption that are decidedly un-Christlike. Reminds me of, well, pine beetles: So what if the world is destroyed if I am full (read ‘saved’)?
What then is the atonement really all about?

Christ’s death is a call to humanity to be prepared to sacrifice for each other and for the world, to live in peace, and to act out of love no matter the price. God’s presence lives on in the world after all. The redemption offered by the cross is like love, a gift meant to be given continuously, not a one-time event. Christ calls us to share that redemption in all that we do through loving each other. We offer it to the world each time we repair broken relationships with others or creation, and each time we have the courage to hold to our commitment to life no matter the cost. Redemption is something that spreads outward, not something that’s taken in. Christ’s redemption is for all time, but like his whole life, it’s also a ‘way’.

Instances abound of this as people exercise their conscience and live by their courage. I think of Franz Jagerstatter giving his life rather than becoming a Nazi and killing Jews. I think of Dorothy Stang refusing to back down from her stance in solidarity with the people and ecosystems of South America. I think of the growing number of teenage Israelis imprisoned for refusing to do their mandatory military service, because they cannot condone the unrelenting violence against Palestinians and their land. God is present beyond any religious tradition.

I am suggesting then that, just maybe, God became incarnate in Christ specifically as a human to teach us through solidarity about our potential to love each other and the world. I am suggesting that this redemptive and transformative message can be found throughout all of scripture, peeking out from behind harsher more exclusionary texts that reflect the human (and often patriarchal) context at the time of their writing. I am suggesting that salvation is a ‘group thing’, something for all of us beyond the personal and beyond the self. I am suggesting that the pine beetles cannot stop themselves, but that maybe, with God’s help, we humans can.

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