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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

An unnatural mother means one who doesn’t behave the way mothers are supposed to behave, and a natural affection is the kind of affection that’s right on the mark, unlike the other kinds that make respectable flesh crawl just to think about them. When somebody does or is asked to do something abominable, you can say that it is against nature because nature is not abominable. Natural foods, natural colors, natural flavors, the natural look, and so on are currently the advertising industry’s highest endorsement. The idea of Mother Nature represents the same view of things-nature as nurturing, pure, beneficent, on the side of the good.

Unfortunately, Adam and Eve took nature with them when they fell. You’ve only to look at the sea in a November gale. You’ve only to consider the staggering indifference of disease, or the field at Antietam, or a cook boiling a lobster, or the statistics on child abuse. You’ve only to remember your own darkest dreams.

But the dream of Eden is planted deep in all of us too. A parade of goldenrod by the road’s edge. The arc of a baseball through the summer sky. The way a potter’s hand cradles the clay. They all cry aloud of the might-have-been of things, and the may-be-still.

— Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words

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The bliss of the animals lies in this, that, on their lower level, they shadow the bliss of those—few at any moment on the earth—who do not “look before and after, and pine for what is not” but live in the holy carelessness of the eternal now.

— George MacDonald (as quoted by C.S. Lewis in George MacDonald)

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It’s pretty intuitive that truly understanding something requires attention to its context. What I want to emphasize here is that the way this process happened for me with birds was spatial and temporal; the relationships and processes I observed were things adjacent in space and time. For me, a sensing being, things like habitat and season helped me make sense of the species I saw, why I was seeing them, what they were doing and why. Surprisingly, it was this experience, and not a study on how Facebook makes us depressed, that helped me put my finger on what bothers me so much about my experience of social media. The information I encounter there lacks context, both spatially and temporally.

For example, let’s take a look at my Twitter feed right now, as I’m sitting inside my studio in Oakland in the summer of 2018. Pressed up against each other in neat rectangles, I see the following:

  • An article on Aljazeera by a woman whose cousin was killed at school by ISIL
  • An article about the Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar last year
  • An announcement that @dasharezone (a joke account) is selling new T-shirts
  • Someone arguing for congestion pricing in Santa Monica, California
  • Someone wishing happy birthday to former NASA Worker Katherine Johnson
  • A Video of NBC announcing the death of Senator McCain and shortly afterward cutting to people dressed as dolphins appearing to masturbate onstage
  • Photos of Yogi Bear mascot statues dumped in a forest
  • A job alert for director of the landscape architecture program at Morgan State University
  • An article on protests as the Pope visits Dublin
  • A photo of a yet another fire erupting, this time in the Santa Ana ‘Mountains
  • Someone’s data visualization of his daughter’s sleeping habits during her first year
  • A plug for someone’s upcoming book about the anarchist scene in Chicago
  • An Apple ad for Music Lab, starring Florence Welch

Spatial and temporal context both have to do with the neigh- boring entities around something that help define it. Context also helps establish the order of events. Obviously, the bits of information were assailed with on Twitter and Facebook feeds are missing both of these kinds of context. Scrolling through the feed, I can’t help but wonder: What am I supposed to think of all this? How am I supposed to think of all this? I imagine different parts of my brain lighting up in a pattern that doesn’t make sense, that forecloses any possible understanding. Many things in there seem important, but the sum total is nonsense, and it produces not understanding but a dull and stupefying dread.

— Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing

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The effort to live aesthetically disrupts our secular vision of the world as it is processed and packaged in the marketplace (which promotes endless stuff but not endless good) by unsettling our notions of a containable universe and the self-defined individual. There is a gratuitous quality to living aesthetically; it defies pragmatism and utilitarianism, but also greed and envy. Aesthetic living is unnecessary for survival, but it’s an appropriate goal because it reflects the gratuitous creation of the world by God. The universe itself is contingent on God for both its creation and continued being. So aesthetic living reminds us that there is always more out there, and that “always more” points definitely toward a particular God, not an absence. Done well, aesthetic living is not a burden or an obligation for those privileged with time and money. Because God created a beautiful and vast world, we don’t need wealth or an inordinate amount of time to order our lives to reflect that majesty. We need only the will to acknowledge and live openly in this world.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

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Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

— G.K. Chesterton

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The immanent frame comes in different forms. It is possible to feel that we live in a closed immanent frame, which means that there is no higher, transcendent reality. The material universe we live in is all there is and ever will be. But it is also possible to experience life within an open immanent frame. By this Taylor means that although our daily experience isn’t imbued with the supernatural, we believe that some transcendent being exists and that he can break into our world at certain times and places. What is notable here is that even when the immanent frame is open, it is still the immanent frame.

To get a sense of what this look likes, consider for a minute what it is like to attend church on Sunday. You are awakened by an alarm on your cell phone, an amazing piece of technology and testament to the power of human mastery over the natural world. You eat eggs for breakfast. They come, almost miraculously, clean, large, and white in a carton that has been inspected by some government agency to ensure it is safe. The carton lists the nutritional composition of the eggs along with a few words about their health benefits. Everything has been considered. You get dressed in clothes that you bought ready-made. You drive to church in a glistening, energy-efficient sedan with advanced safety features, and glance occasionally at the cars next to you, in which people are completely preoccupied and content with the technology around them. As you drive through the city, everything you see appears as a work of human achievement: stoplights, fire trucks, businesses, freeway overpasses, and skyscrapers. By chance you see a bluebird, and you immediately reflect back on a recent episode of an animal show you watched that featured the bluebird. “Bluebirds are part of the thrush family,” you say to no one in particular. At church, you sing songs praising God’s provision, his mercies, his creation, and his grace. But everything you experienced on the way to church, from the food you ate to the beauty you witnessed, testified to humanity’s ingenuity and mastery of the world. Your experience of the world was a testament to humanity, not God, because everything in your experience conditioned you to look to this world and its physical laws. It all makes sense as a self-sufficient immanent world, even though you know that Jesus is our Creator and Sustainer. And so, we experience life in the immanent frame even as we confess that it is open to an outside, transcendent force.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

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In his book Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It, de Zengotita argues that we experience our world with a hyperawareness of representation. So, for example, when we go for a walk in the woods alone, we are never merely going for a walk in the woods alone; our experience of nature is filtered through the Instagram pictures we take and our awareness of how our friends will experience those pictures, and how they will think about us in light of those pictures. Or we might mediate the walk through an outdoors hipster aesthetic that we’ve pieced together from indie folk band album covers. Or we might mediate the walk through an awareness of global warming and its effects on the environment. However we conceive of the walk, it is never simply a walk in the woods. Of course, to some extent, this has always been our human experience; we’ve always experienced life as an interconnected web. But with the tremendous growth of technology and the media, of life as public performance, our ability to resist mediation has declined. In our world, we have to fight harder to experience the present shorn of stultifying mediation.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

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