Summer has about four hours of life, then the fall. Colors have appeared in minute fashion here in Chicago and the nights and mornings already call for a jacket. These opening days of autumn are always a favorite. The appearance of the city changes day by day and yet the temperatures have not become so unbearable as not to enjoy it. Stories are made in the hot summer and dead cold of winter, but nostalgia and memory are created in those seasons when the earth first warms or cools. If any months are the theater of grace, they are May and September.
The theater of grace is how Joseph Sittler, who died twenty five years ago from this year, would refer to the created order. He was one of the early pioneers of a creation theology speaking of a Christian ecology two decades before other thinkers in this field. And though he will never attain the fame of the likes of Matthew Fox and his ilk, he did know that a theology of creation was more about how God as wholly other related to His created order than the new age and panentheistic pandering of later creation thinkers.
Sittler’s life could never put really him in the same camp as later creation theologians. He was too “Lutheran” for such a thing by which I mean he honored what Rollo May would call a “Lutheran appreciation for the robustness of the body” (Sittler loved sausage and beer) not to mention his thought never took away from creation its’ fallen nature. Like Luther, he believed in a continuous redemption of creation, that our lives and the world we live in are not in a state of absolute being, but becoming and though we are not gleaming in glory, we are being purified.
And outside, it is not gleaming. Cloud cover envelopes the neighborhood and we are receiving a little more rain in what has been a dry hot year. But very soon the clouds will pass and the day will give way to the sun beaming down on the water that coats the green and slightly yellowing leaves. Then with Molly Bloom, we can say, “God of heaven, there is nothing like nature!”
And in all the world, it is indeed not gleaming. And there is no place that I would rather be than in the seclusion of the mountains or standing on the coast, but the world is fallen and my life has taken me to a place filled with mortar and glass towers. And though these things gleam, they do not do so like the leaves and streams. And yet I love these things and know they are a necessity in a world that is not yet whole.
The world does not gleam and nature has been assaulted, but we are a fallen people and too often it is only in progress that our lives can know any betterment, though I ask myself always is it a betterment without redemption. Today at more than a hundred places around the world, there will be protests in what is being called the global frackdown. On this, I am conflicted. I do not believe hydraulic fracturing is without environmental costs, but I also know that I live in a nation beholden to high unemployment and geopolitical forces. It is true that the best solutions rest with the long term, but the lives of far too many people also demand an immediacy of action that is often more attainable in rapid progress than long term solutions. Policy must be about both the people of Youngstown Ohio who needed jobs yesterday and Aspen Colorado, where they rightfully know poison water should never flow down from the Rockies.
Where are we to go? I would rather be in no place than atop the mountains, but I am from a family who has tunneled into these and even sacrificed to them, turning coal into power, that the nation may have an affluence that allows some the luxury of protest and gives to still others their small provision that keeps them from destitute. It is a dilemma which I am not alone in seeing no answer.
But now in just a few brief moments, the clouds have broken and the city has started to gleam. Molly Bloom is right….there is nothing like nature. And nothing should take this from us as surely as nothing should keep people from providing for those they care for, who with all people, are really creation’s most beautiful examples of grace.
What can we do? Trust that the people of means, those who provide the capital for progress and who have the luxury of protest, will care for the environment and people without employment. The truth is at some point we must and they must be up to the call. The bigger truth, however, is that the answer is not political or cultural, but spiritual. In Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, it is proclaimed that the mediation between our brains and our hands are our hearts. At some point the policies of our intellect and the necessity for provision must take this into account freeing us from the necessity to plunder our home and one another. It does no good to preserve our creation, if we make creation’s most beautiful creature a nonentity just as it does no good to provide for the person if we ruin our beautiful home.
The theater of grace is nature. It is the nature of the stars and the trees and it is the fallen, but being made whole nature of the person. Grace is written upon every leaf in the forests just as it is written on the hands that touch keyboards and tools during the bright light of day even as they clasp the hands of helpmates and children at the close of the day.
How much we would honor that seal upon our hearts if we can find that way to see such grace in both our home and in one another.