On a Thursday in November, 2017, we drove east. In Santa Ana, to drive east is to drive toward the desert. And so to the desert we went. We were headed to Zion.
For a few months in 2003-2004, the Hubble Space Telescope zoomed in on a seemingly blank, small spot in the sky. To the naked eye it looked like a speck of black emptiness. But once developed, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image showed that inside that small, randomly selected patch of sky, over 10,000 galaxies could be seen.
"The coast is beautiful" is something existentially true and intuitively felt among all humans. We are drawn to the places where land meets sea, where water meets rock; two very different things, coming together, producing an aesthetic pleasure and a life-giving good. We are attracted to this because it is a familiar cosmic reality.
"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). The heavens declare. The stars speak. They bear witness to the glory of God. But what do they say? Our gaze is naturally drawn upward. We are curious about what's up there. Beyond us. Both discoverable and undiscoverable. Our frontier longing beckons us to the telescope. To search the vast heavens. To know what we can know, but maybe moreso to know what we cannot know.
I’m a theologically conservative evangelical Christian who is ardently pro-life, pro-family, pro-traditional marriage. I’m also ardently pro-environment. All of these positions are connected and stem from my faith more than my politics, particularly a glad acceptance of and respect for God’s created order. Here are my arguments for why care for the environment should be a concern for conservative Christians.
Growing up in the Midwestern plains, I loved a good thunderstorm. I loved the way a hot, humid day would give way to billowing thunderclouds: towering Cumulonimbus puffs that morphed into ominous UFOs in the darkening sky. I loved the way a cold front brought in a line of foreboding gray, intruding upon sunny days with sheets of rain, hail, lightening and thunder that shook the whole house and flickered the lights.
What does it mean that when Jesus entered Jerusalem the week he was crucified, the crowd "took branches of palm trees" (John 12:13) to welcome him? What do we make of the moment when Jesus curses the fig tree? What does it mean that the Bible begins with a “Tree of Life" in Eden (Gen. 2:9) and ends with a "Tree of Life" at the end, a tree whose leaves "were for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:2, 14, 19)?
The other night was a Santa Ana Winds night. Southern Californians know what this means. The hot, dry winds come raging down from the high desert, through the San Bernardino mountain passes. They carry dust and debris and the sage-scented shrapnel of the chaparral. They fuel fires and defrock the palms. They howl with glee as they rattle windows and send trash cans tumbling. They tip over semis and send Jacaranda purple blossoms everywhere.
Autumn isn't really autumn in L.A. Sure, temperatures may drift downward into the 70s and (if we're lucky) 60s rather than the 80s and 90s. And sure, the evenings cool off quicker and some types of deciduous trees (if you can find them) shed their leaves. Sure, Starbucks has their pumpkin spice lattes and caramel apple ciders. One can even find a local pumpkin patch after enough Googling.But for a Midwestern boy like me, it will never feel quite right.
Throughout World, Malick's fourth film, trees are an essential image and metaphor. Early in the film, trees anchor the boats as the European colonists arrive. At the end, tree comprise the final shot. We look upward at a towering cathedral of trees, and then the film ends with the delicate drop of a leaf.
I've always loved this time of year. Late summer. For whatever reason, it is just incredibly poetic. The end of "vacation" season, an acute sense of both loss and hope, the onset of such wonderful things as Football season and apple picking. It's a great moment of transition, and some far more perceptive writers than I have captured it beautifully in verse.
I recently interviewed Jonathan about his book, the issues at play in the idea of "Creation care," and why this is such an important thing for Christians to think about. Here is part of the interview:
The start of every summer is always so full of excitement—the promise of endless free time, lazy mornings, late nights, swimming in pools and oceans, climbing trees and mountains, reading books. Every year around late May, the summer looms so large. It seems so immense. Those endless days! Those boozy low-pressure thunderstorm nights! And so little that must be done!
Trees are about life and death. They’re mostly about life, but there’s some death in there too. The thing I love about trees is that even when they look lost and hopeless and perhaps down for the count, there is so often a vitality brimming beneath the bark, or a bud about ready to pop. In the dead of winter, an ugly, dead-looking tree is still very much alive, ready to spring forth with greenery and oxygen when the weather turns. It’s a comfort, and I feel it keenly this Palm Sunday weekend: there’s always a hidden life behind dead-looking things. There's always the promise of newness and rebirth.