Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Science of Water and the Poetics of God

Humans have always been more comfortable with terra firma, which we can feel beneath our feet, than aqua, that substance, definitely not firma covering almost 71% of the surface of the earth. So pervasive is this aqua outside and inside of us - up to 60% of our bodies, 70% of our brains, and 90% of our lungs – from the beginnings of time it has been an object of awe and fear. 

“Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water…,” our response to that chilling line from the movie Jaws, has less to do, I suspect, with great white sharks than with lingering primeval fears about what lies beneath the surface of aqua. Little wonder that it has been at the center of so many religious rites. At the same time, its ordinariness in the same human eyes has resulted in abuse on a scale that gives new meaning to concept “endangered”.

“Imagine!” That’s the human function that the author most wants the reader of The Holiness of Water to exercise. Imagine the words “water,” “holiness,” and “baptism” as bubbles floating in the air of traditional theological, historical, and scientific discourse. And then imagine the bubbles bursting, with the new meanings exploding unfettered into human understanding.

That’s what Jim Campbell, my colleague in Alaska for many years, gives us in his new book. Never again will I use any of the three words without being reminded that they are vessels for cargoes far more precious than my mind ever conceived. This book is not a scientific treatise on water, but it could be. It is not an historical and theological exposition of a Christian sacrament, but it offers insights into Christian history that I suspect will leave readers asking, “Why didn’t I see that before?”

No, The Holiness of Water is the work of an artist, plumbing the depths of nature and human rite as only an artist, who is also a pastor, can. Through Jim’s eyes and his life with water, he gently peels away the layers of meaning convinced that the more we come to know about water the more we will be led into the mysteries of God. I think he succeeds.

Unlike any treatments of water or baptism I encountered as a theological educator or pastor, The Holiness of Water reminds me of my favorite movie, Babette’s Feast. This Danish film about the preparation of a French meal in an austere religious community can be appreciated by persons with vastly different interests and backgrounds because of its artistic excellence at multiple levels: music, preparation of food, the human condition, and cinematography. I imagine that the artistic excellence at multiple non-competing levels in Jim’s narrative will enable persons of religious and non-religious orientations to relish what they find.

Henri Nouwen once told two seminary students who had signed up for his course that they should schedule nothing following because they would need time immediately after to process what they heard in his class. Maybe the students were slow; maybe the teacher had an inflated ego; or maybe the teacher was right. While The Holiness of Water may be quickly read, I suggest that you don’t. After each chapter, take time to see yourself in the story. As if in a gallery or natural history museum standing before a work that compels your gaze, pause and allow your imagination free reign.

The book was released by Sunbury Press last week. It is available from Sunbury Press and from Amazon in paper. Expect it to be available from Barnes and Noble soon. Electronic versions (Kindle and Nook) should also be available.

I hope you'll get the book and see where your imagination takes you.

- Milo


dan said...

loved this post. all i know about water is we need it and Indian film direcetor Shaekar Kapor is making a major movie now about water titled PAANI, google it....will be in movie theaters soon......


and i also liked that bit about after reading a book the need to stop doing anything for a while and THINK About what we just read. YES YES YES......we live too fast, we need to slow down and ponder more

dan said...

one small minor proofreading copy desk note from my wireless cave in taiwan, er, Taiwan.


''Humans have always been more comfortable with terra firma, which we can feel beneath our feet, than aqua, that substance, definitely not firma covering almost 71% of the surface of the earth. ''

EARTH should be capitalized, don't you think. Earth is our home planet, it is a proper noun, and to show respect for our Earth, should not it be CAPPED in all references, except for when speaking of picking up some earth and making an earthen wall....? Please note: Earth, not earth, when writing about our Earth! It makes people pay attention to our need to protect the Earth from pollution and climate changes!

dan said...

108 billion people at the whim of the Lord?

This month's National Geographic poses a question I have often asked myself: how many humans have lived at some time or another on the planet Earth?

The answer, it turns out, going back to the dawn of human history, is somewhere in the vicinity of 108 billion. Of those 108 billion, something like 6 or 7 percent are living today. That means that billions of people are part of past generations, and those past generations go way back--centuries and millennia before Jesus Christ, including Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Alexander the Great, etc. etc. So the question becomes, if the acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior is an indispensable pre-condition for the afterlife, whatever became of the ancients, who, quite bluntly, didn't know Jesus from a hole in the wall?

This may seem like an obvious question, but in my view, a rather important one. All of those billions of people who lived "Before the Common Era" were real human beings with thoughts and feelings and relationships and behaviors--but because they lived before the arrival of Jesus, what was their fate? Were they destined to go to hell? Given special dispensation and a free pass to heaven? Or did they simply "die" with nothing to show for it?

It seems to me that this question poses some very sticky problems for those who see God as infinitely wise and just--especially for those (possibly) poor souls who passed on just a day or two or a year or two before our Lord and Savior made his arrival. It is yet another reason why I struggle to make sense out of Christian dogma. There simply has to be a better way to explain and understand all this than to trot out the Bible and claim that it has all the answers. It flat-out just doesn't.

Posted by David Lapakko at 6:14 PM

Milo Thornberry said...

Excellent point, as usual, Dan! I stand corrected.

dan said...

Milo, no need to STAND corrected. Sitting is okay too. Me too, always sitting in my cubicle in Taiwan, except when I am standing up to go somwhere. Like the WC.

but you are in good Company, Milo..the big NEW YORK TIMES still refuses to capitalize Earth, it writes lowercase earth,,,even in environmental stories abiout climate sad that even the most important paper on Earth still lowercases Earth adn they will not listen to me....i been harping at them for ten years and nada......they just don't listen....they claim GRAMMAR rules...well, there aint gonna be no GRAMMAR if we don't stop the global warming mess on Earth, right?

Milo Thornberry said...

Keep on playing the harp!

dan said...

Zionist plans in ArgentinaLeon Pinsker, in his book Autoemancipation (1882) and Theodore Herzl, in his book The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat), evaluated Argentina as a potential destination for the oppressed Jews of Eastern Europe.

Some sources maintain that Herzl proposed that the Argentina project be given priority over settlement in Palestine.[4]

The Zionist records attest to the fact that Herzl did consider Argentina, as well as present-day Kenya, as alternatives to Palestine. Also, Israel Zangwill and his Jewish Territorialist Organization (ITO) split off from the main Zionist movement; the territorialists' aim was to establish a Jewish homeland wherever possible. The ITO never gained wide support and was dissolved in 1925, leaving Palestine as the sole focus of Zionist aspirations.

dan said...

The Slattery Report, officially titled "The Problem of Alaskan Development,” was produced by the United States Department of the Interior under Secretary Harold L. Ickes in 1939–40. It was named after Undersecretary of the Interior Harry A. Slattery. The report, which dealt with Alaskan development through immigration, included a proposal to move European refugees, especially Jews from Nazi Germany and Austria, to four locations in Alaska, including Baranof Island and the Mat-Su Valley. Skagway, Petersburg and Seward were the only towns to endorse the proposal.

5 References

[edit] The reportIn November 1938, two weeks after Kristallnacht, Ickes proposed the use of Alaska as a "haven for Jewish refugees from Germany and other areas in Europe where the Jews are subjected to oppressive restrictions." Resettlement in Alaska would allow the refugees to bypass normal immigration quotas, because Alaska was a territory and not a state. That summer Ickes had toured Alaska and met with local officials to discuss improving the local economy and bolstering security in a territory viewed as vulnerable to Japanese attack. Ickes thought European Jews might be the solution.[1][2]

In his proposal, Ickes pointed out that 200 families from the dustbowl had settled in Alaska's Matanuska Valley. The plan was introduced as a bill by Senator William King (Utah) and Democratic Representative Franck Havenner (California), both Democrats. The Alaska proposal won the support of theologian Paul Tillich, the Federal Council of Churches, and the American Friends Service Committee.

[edit] ResponseThe plan won little support from leaders of American Jewish people, with the exception of the Labor Zionists of America. Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the American Jewish Congress, stated that adoption of the Alaska proposal would deliver "a wrong and hurtful impression ... that Jews are taking over some part of the country for settlement."[1]

Non-Jewish Americans also moved against the proposal, relying on anti-Jewish rhetoric and fear of the socialism that was commonly believed to be associated with European Jewish populations.[1][3]

The plan was dealt a severe blow when Franklin Roosevelt told Ickes that he insisted on limiting the number of refugees to 10,000 a year for five years, and with a further restriction that Jews not make up more than 10% of the refugees. Roosevelt never mentioned the Alaska proposal in public, and without his support the plan died.[1]

Milo Thornberry said...

Thanks for the information, Dan! My limited understanding of FDR was that like most European leaders their position was NIMBY. I didn't know FDR seriously entertained an Alaskan proposal. The thought of it makes me wonder, "What if he had? And what if Alaska had been peopled by a large (in terms of Alaskan population)a large contingent of European Jews? Hmmm...

dan said...

yes, a Jewish homeland in Alaska back then, quite an interesting idea....FDR was not such a bad man.... but yes NIMBY was true then, even now....hehe

there is a novel now about Jews in Alaska, situated in Sitka, a comedy some new modern writer

''The Yiddish Policemen's Union''

Author(s) Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a 2007 novel by American author Michael Chabon. The novel is a detective story set in an alternative history version of the present day, based on the premise that during World War II, a temporary settlement for Jewish refugees was established in Sitka, Alaska, in 1941, and that the fledgling State of Israel was destroyed in 1948. The novel is set in Sitka, which it depicts as a large, Yiddish-speaking metropolis.

Milo Thornberry said...

I'm ordering the book tomorrow. Thanks!

dan said...

I have not read it yet here in my cavern in taiwan, er, cave, er, cubicle in the gangster den, but when you read it, book report please....... blooming idiot in jaiyi

imagine: a jewish policemen's union in sitka alaska! funny premise for a novel....and rumors say a movie is in the works from Hollywood too on same book...