Google Earth (and Sky)

Like most people, I’ve looked at the rooftop of every place I’ve ever lived, flown from Texas to Paris a dozen times, and tried to see what my kids were doing in NYC and Boston. Google Earth never ceases to fascinate.

And apparently, it never will. Recently added to the program is the ability to explore the skies. (And you can get it here: google earth (and sky!)) You can choose specific coordinates, a particular planet, star, or region. Or, you can see the sky directly above wherever you happen to be at the moment, as I’ve done in the pictures below:

Here’s where I live. Right in the middle of the picture is a fairly empty block, with a D-shaped driveway. That’s me.

GoogleEarth_Image

Directly above me, is this:

GoogleEarth_Image(2)

And deep, deep above me is this. To get there involved flying through what looked to be a snowstorm of other galaxies. But, I made it:

GoogleEarth_Image(3)

I don’t know much about the sky, but I’m learning. And Google is helping- a lot, from my layman’s point of view. Google is continuing, from my point of view, to “not be evil.”

Thou

Thou

I’m adding another blog to which I will occasionally be adding pieces. Whatever else I may be writing about, I believe the stuff there will reflect my greatest passion: the need for me, you, all of us- all of humanity- to begin or continue changing the ways we see and understand the Earth and the universe, and our own places within them.

All I can do, all any of us can do, is let loose memes into the imaginations of each other, and pray that some of them take root, and grow. Our old answers have cumulatively led to a world on the brink of nuclear and/or biological catastrophe. It is time to either re-think our viewpoints, or remember the attitudes buried deep within our DNA that enabled humankind to flourish cooperatively with the Earth for over a million years.

The underlying reasons for my doing this blog- Thou– and for the mindset which gave rise to it, are what follows. However you can help me understand and participate in this Great Story, as Thomas Berry has called it, please let me know.

Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou, published in 1923, examined the language of interpersonal relationship and dialogue, and how that attitudinal language can affect the nature of our personal realities. He said that humans have the opportunity of adopting one of two attitudes about themselves in relation to their world: I- Thou, or I- It.

The I- Thou relationship involves the individual engaging the world in its entirety. That relationship does not isolate the individual within a special set of circumstances and characteristics; rather, the individual is in a dialogue, a mutually enhancing, learning and growing relationship with everything, with all people and all things.

The I- It attitude isolates the individual into a special, usually higher category of circumstances, which makes an equally and mutually beneficial relationship between that individual and their world, more difficult. That attitude is the gateway to all types of exploitation, abuse, and injustice, as the individual is prone to regard all of that which is outside of himself, as lesser than himself.

I am not a philosopher. I can barely hang onto most philosophical treatises and esoteric philosophical discussions. But Buber’s ideas resounded in me the moment I first read of them, many years ago. I began to feel a sense of liberation, which continues and expands to this day, from attitudinal chains around my mind and heart that would bind me to a particular role or place; from color-leeching filters over my eyes that kept the world’s true vibrancies from being seen by me; and from particular lies of self-perception that were hindering the world’s love for me, and my own love for the world.

To be in dialogue with the world is not easy for anyone who lives within the predominate cosmology of the day, even as we are aware and learning about that cosmology. It has shaped us, as worldviews have always shaped the consciousness of humans, even as human consciousness is shaping, or reinforcing, the predominate worldview. Humans have a long, long history of regarding themselves as set apart and special, the apex of a Creator’s intentions and artistry. But they have a much longer history, before that present and predominate worldview, of regarding themselves as arising from, in communion with, and vital to the world, as the world was to them.

 I believe that that ancient interaction with our environment- with other humans, animals, the seas, the trees, and all things, in community- is our true nature. And it is in re-establishing that dialogue, that regard, with all that is, that we as a species will be able to survive. Our course, right now, is one hell-bent in opposition to, and exploitation of, all that is It.

 We must begin, and many have, to speak to the world and the universe as we would speak to those most intimate to us- as Thou.

 As you..

Credo- part of it, anyway..

This is a comment I made to another blog, Whitticisms. I include it here, because it describes some of my underlying motivations for doing this blog..

When I was a child, I believed food came from my parents, I didn’t care or need to know how. As long as they were alive and able, there might have been no need for me know otherwise.

But I was curious. Grocery stores were the next answer. More curiosity led to farms and ranches, and elaborate transportation systems. Further curiosity took me into plant and animal sciences, and now- at 57, and not a scientist- I see the sources of that food, and all things, in the exploding stars and formations of new galaxies. I am also sure there is more and more to be discovered.

I have heard so many people, and have even collected some recordings from the Creation Institute in Glen Rose, saying they believe in Creationism because “it is easier to believe than evolution.” Indeed it is; in exactly the same way it was easier intellectually to believe that food came from my parents. The frontal lobes of human brains, however, will not allow humans to stop wondering and asking questions. So I kept looking for the origins of food, just as specialists look for other things and, thank God, in the case of the polio virus and other maladies, find them.

Intellectual pursuits can be stopped by religionists who make the imagination and the asking of too many and too deep questions, into sins, in an attempt to “protect” their territories. The Dark Ages of the Church are historical proof of that! They told others that it was vital to believe only what they could see- a flat earth, an earthcentric universe- because that is all the ancients who spoke Creation stories could see. Well, again thank God, not all of their ’subjects’ bought into that nonsense.

I cannot make God fit into my limited abilities to speak of God. Neither could Moses. If I think I can define God by what I know today, let alone what the Hebrews of 1500 BCE knew, then I will either be terribly surprised by new information coming in tomorrow, or I will have to disregard- play dumb- about that information, and take the “easier” route through it.

Bottom line, we are discovering our God to be bigger than it is possible for humans to imagine or write about God. That should not threaten us at all. It should be making us feel the awe that most people are now able to discover and feel only through the work of scientists. Science and spirituality are not separate pursuits; they are both part of the same human consciousness that wonders, “Why?” and “How?”

God Damn Dog Fighting

(That’s a prayer, by the way..)

It looks like Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick will feel the revulsion of the NFL for his off-the-field pastime of dog fighting, as Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to announce Vick’s suspension this week for the 07-08 season.

Hopefully, Nike and other members of Vick’s endorsement gravy train will follow suit.

Any doubts about what the NFL is doing to Vick? This should eliminate any thoughts of “unfairness” someone might still be harboring:

dogfighting

That’s what a human fingerprint looks like, gouged into a pit bull’s face. If it’s nauseating, that’s my point. It is meant to be.

It is almost unfathomable at times what humans are capable of doing to animals. Dog fighting, cock fighting, exotic animal hunting, and even rattlesnake round ups are systemic manifestations of the religiously chauvinistic attitude that humans are at top of the food chain and, therefore, “have dominion..over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1: 28) That single biblical phrase, twisted in the minds of men who measure their virility by the blood they can cause to flow from other living beings, or by the neglect they have institutionalized under the agenda of economic development, puts us- this generation- directly in the path of what has been called the Sixth Great Extinction.

440 million years ago, 85% of marine animals were wiped out in the First Great Extinction. 367 million years ago, many fish and 70% of marine invertebrates met their doom. 245 million years ago, 95% of all animal species died. 208 million years ago, another extinction of sea animals primarily, but also some land animals took place. And 65 million years ago, 3/4 of all species, including the dinosaurs, were eliminated.

All of these five great extinctions occurred because of volcanic eruptions, meteorite strikes, and changing climates. This sixth great extinction is one we are able to witness and one which we are largely the cause of. (Statistics from Earth Policy Institute)

It is estimated that 10 million species inhabit the earth with humans. And each year, 1000s of these species, including microrganisms, are lost forever. Deforestation, mining, urbanization, and ocean pollution and over harvesting are the primary reasons.

How do the attitudes and actions of Michael Vick fit into this dismal picture?

Perfectly.

As long as our human and predominate worldview is one which regards everything outside of ourselves as, well, outside of ourselves, then the abuse and death of pit bulls behind barns in the Virginia countryside, as well as the poaching deaths of Mountain Gorillas in the Congo, will continue. As long we crush our natural empathetic response to other living beings, with the mechanistic attitude that we’re in control of the toolbox, then it will continue to be easy to regard other species as things– in our way, expendable, toys for our amusement, even trash.

Imagine the outcome of a democratic vote by the world’s species on which species should be next in line for extinction?

Amen

 

 

 

On the Beach..with a BlackBerry

A banker, on vacation in St. Tropez, quoted in an article this morning at Financial Times:

“Everyone is on a high state of alert, so there are going to be many people like me making sure we keep in touch – and that means keeping your BlackBerry on. Normally in August banks run on half or two-thirds of normal staff, which can make it difficult, so every banker has to remain vigilant, even if you’re on the beach like me.”

There will come that one, last perfect day when such a comment is spoken to others, acknowledged affirmatively by others, and embraced by others, both enviously or in agreement. It will be heard that day uncritically, acceptably, without questioning. The importance of the statement will be unchallenged. The normalcy of the statement will further add to that last perfect day’s harmonious discourse.

Then, somewhere, perhaps on another beach- almost certainly on another beach, a mountainside somewhere, in a field full of wildflowers, or beside a trout stream- someone will ask, “Does it matter?” Does it matter that I have more than I need, less than I want? Does it matter that the markets a world away are defining, even here, my relationship with all that I can see around me? Does it matter that I cannot hear the symphonies of the sunshine and oceans for the the digital clatter that is filling my heart?

And, over days, decades, centuries perhaps, that one last perfect day will be remembered as the day humankind began to turn- away from themselves, and toward the Light. One by one, unnoticed for years, first here then there then there and there and there, the Light will be seen, acknowledged, and begin to shine through the darkness born of religious tradition, economic acquiescence, and national historical perspectives. Light will begin to shine across political borders, across chasms of cultural chauvinism, and through masks of ego-driven motivations.

There will be that one last perfect day, before someone, somewhere looks at their BlackBerry one last time, then drops it. And steps on it. And lifts their eyes to see the blue, crystalline waters of the Mediterranean for the first time ever..

Walking out of ourselves..

forest3

“When you walk into a forest, learn to tremble with the magnitude of what you are about, and you will never walk out. There will no longer be that self that approached the forest, for you will be new, you will bear the presence of the forest with you. Forests are alive with music on all sorts of hidden levels, and when you hear this music you will know that forest has permeated every cell of your body. Sip a cup of coffee the next morning, and all the fir trees will grow warm. The natural, human, and divine worlds flow together into our feelings. You need no teacher. The universe is your teacher, the forests are your teachers. You will know when you fail to learn, for failure is punished with boredom. If you develop the least flicker of sensitivity, the universe will come alive in you.”

(from The Universe is a Green Dragon by Brian Swimme)

A New Earth..A New Worldview

This newest and most detailed photograph of Earth, part of a series released by NASA and described in the post of August 1 directly below, or here, begs for additional commentary.

earthNASA2

And first among that commentary is this, another photograph of Earth taken in 1970 by Voyager I from an area within the rings of Saturn. Called “a pale, blue dot” by Carl Sagan, the photograph became well-known because of the late astronomer’s eloquent words about it. I do not attempt to equal, let alone surpass Sagan’s words; but the two photographs, placed together, offer us all a unique vision of place and perspective, and they demand deep, reflective,sometimes even uncomfortable thinking from each of us.

blue dot nasa jpl voyager

The Voyager photo must be highlighted, in order that we can even see the Earth from that distant perspective. But it is there, brilliant in its greens and blues, and accented always by the gray and white clouds of evaporated water hovering in its atmosphere, as can be seen so precisely in the newest NASA photos.

Before we could see pictures like these, beginning just fifty years ago, most humans could easily believe in the centered and seemingly supreme nature of our place in the universe. Ancient creation stories were explanations, shared through generations of families, bands, and tribes, of human origins, and all of them included references to that centrality and supremacy. Humans had the need, and still do, of making sense of themselves in the context of the environment in which they live. This skill of language, which preserves knowledge through time, makes us different from all others of the Earth’s species.

Most of us, whether we subscribe to them in faith or not, are aware of one, or maybe two creation stories. But at one time there were as many stories of human beginnings as there were the number of family tribes from which they arose. It was natural, even truthful, that the boundaries and contexts of those stories would be the natural boundaries and the environmental and cultural contexts of those who developed and transmitted them to others.

Among one tribe in India, the explanation was this: Lord Brahma the Creator, living in an emptiness filled with death and hunger, said one day, “Let me have a Self.” That Self began to grow, as large as two people embracing, and Brahma willed that a separation occur. Thus, male and female, husband and wife, was given explanation. She, ashamed of having sex with someone who had been part of her, hid her Self in the form of a cow. He, in turn, became a bull. And thus, the speciation of Earth began.

Among the descendents of those first tribes of Asian people who populated one of the Hawaiian islands, the origin story involved a rendezvous between the deep and dark caverns of the island (male) and moonless nights (female). Of that geological and meteorological union was born the coral reefs, from which all manner of sea life was subsequently born. As the ocean lapped onto the land, other animals were born- animals of the land. Finally, on the dawn of one extraordinary day, La’ila’i, a woman, and Ki’i, a man, and Kane, a god were born. It was through the three of them that all human life began.

I wonder how how stories of Creation would have emerged if those ancient peoples had had even an inkling of what we know today about the boundaries and contexts of our environment, within the context of a vast and ever expanding universe? Certainly they would not have been defined by the geographical features of the places in which the thinkers and storytellers found themselves. And certainly those stories would have all been much grander in size and scope.

Each of those Creation stories became a part of each tribes worldview. It was one element of their consciousness which helped explain to them how the world worked and how they were to function and regard themselves within that world and within their tribe. We can, only because of the new information we have gathered technologically, be amazed, even aghast, at the narrowness of those stories. It was a narrowness, which later gave rise, as human populations grew and coalesced in more urban settings and as tribes began having more frequent contact with other tribes, into nationalism, chauvinism, racism, and even patriotism.

Those ancient worldviews served their purpose in tribal contexts. But when they became institutionalized in the identity of nations, they became dangerous. And they still are. 20,000 years after Paleolithic Man first scratched pictures which would eventually evolve into language,on the walls of caves in southwestern France, we (humans) are on the brink of nuclear holocaust and human suicide.

It may be time for a more universal,less parochial, less nationalistic, more humane and shared worldview- one which encompasses not only our particular human tribe, but other tribes, other species, even the Earth itself, in the context of an always expanding, always creating universe.

How do we begin? We begin exactly as our ancient ancestors did as they sat around campfires at night and wondered, Why?, and How?, and Who? We can hold in our hands now the pictures of the Mother from whose womb we are born, and of her place. That is a place to begin anew.

And many of us acknowledge, too, the breath of the Father surrounding the Mother and all else that is. It will be incumbent upon those of who do recognize that Father, to allow that Father to be as large as he really is, and not limit his imagination and activity by the size of our own knowledge or, worse, by the worldviews of ancient peoples who were only beginning to know him.

The New Story, the New Worldview begins whenever we choose, as individuals, for it to begin. None of us alive today will hear its completion. We can only plant the seeds for its eventual fruition and hope, and pray, that there will be others in distant futures who will live and flourish within that story in ways that do not perpetuate the human suffering and fear that our worldviews have.

(Here is my former entry on Carl Sagan: A Pale Blue Dot)

A New Earth..

These new photographs of Earth, released yesterday by NASA, are the most detailed of our planet to date. Over several months, every kilometer of Earth was photographed by satellite and this, the composite collection of those individual photos, is the result.

earthNASA2

Nikos Kazantzakis, writing his prologue to The Odyssey- A Modern Sequel, said this about his home:

Good is this earth, it suits us! Like the global grape it hangs, dear God, in the blue air and sways in the gale, nibbled by all the birds and spirits of the four winds. Come, let’s start nibbling too and so refresh our minds!

Published in 1938, Kazantzakis was not privileged when he wrote this, to have seen the Earth as we have been able to see it, this way. But, he saw it clearly nonetheless. He saw the Life-giving, creating and nurturing Being of the planet in ways that only Early Man and Woman had known it, and that we are, only now, beginning to perceive again.

We are not merely upon this place; we are among the myriad, mysterious, and magnificent results of it. As the fiery gases of the fourteen billion year old Bursting Forth began to cool and coalesce, and as those gases formed in solidifying rotational response to the massive Star burning and pulling at them from ninety-three million miles away; and as that Star poured out on those cooling, swirling gases an inexhaustible river of luminous photons; and as the Earth (without water, or rocks, still without form but never void) absorbed those photons, the atoms of our being, began.

Birthing- the continuous, creating, converging, conflicting, chaotic, and conforming process of Birthing- of all that we are, began. The burning storms of hydrogen, extinguished finally as the rivers of photons were absorbed, were becoming. They were, even in their formlessness, already becoming the volcanoes, oceans, and the granite underpinnings of continents. Already, ten billion years ago, they were becoming the great bacterial, living response of the Earth’s surface to the several mile high blanket of atmosphere of cooled hydrogen which clung to it. Already, the cast off oxygen of the bacterial revolution was seeding the Earth with Labrador Retrievers, Japanese beetles, roses, watermelons, toadstools, and grapes.

The surface of the Earth began and continues to reflect, as it continues to be dependent upon, the Bursting Forth moments of all that was, and is, and all that is becoming. In the grape, the photosynthesized and stored photons of the Sun swell against the contained environment of its peel. It is ours now, and the birds, and the insects, to remove from that grape from its own self-contained and whole existence to become our sustenance, our strength. We, the great inclusive mosaic of all that lives, We burst forth now in wave after wave of Life. From microscopic and unseen organisms in the millions to the great thundering African elephants and the song-singing whales, the Earth responds, births, absorbs, and creates. Behold! Every moment of time is a time of all things becoming new!

We are the observers, the witnesses. We are the poets and scientists, the artists and file clerks that the Universe has birthed, too. Our responsibility, our gift, is to see, hear, and begin (always) to understand where We have been, and where We are. And all of our metaphors, all of our mathematics, all of our sensuality, and all of our technology, returns to this single, shared vision of the global grape, hanging and swaying in the blue air. More than our Home, it is our Being- our skin, our hearts, our minds and our consciousness. It is fragile and mighty, fearsome and flawless, alluring and confounding.

Good is this earth..

earthNASA

Witnessing..

In truth the forest hears each sound                                                 Each blade of grass as it lies down.
The world requires no   audience,                                                                                                    No witnesses, no witnesses..
                                                              
 

~Conor Oberst, from “I Must Belong Somewhere”

I walk across the top of an earthen dam. To my right is a lake, carved from the carboniferous remains of two hundred million year old forests. To my left, and below (I am higher than the treetops there), there is a green field of coastal grass, surrounded by woods of native pecan, oak, hemlock, and various evergreens. Half a mile ahead, there is a shale hill, a once lush swampland on the shoreline of an ancient ocean.

Grasshoppers and mayflies crisscross my path. Some land on me, others nearby, and all are only momentarily distracted by my presence past them. The occasional black swallowtail butterfly lands briefly on a sunflower or coneflower, then is gone, to another, and another, and away.

A fish jumps from the water. I hear it, but only see the rings of water where it was. The woods below are filled with the July chorus of cicadas, by the thousands. Doves, somewhere, call to each other. And the clicking of the grasshoppers is ever present.

I am irrelevant to the great, furious, and quiet bursting-forth of life all around me. I am irrelevant to all of it, but I am in love with all of it. I am irrelevant to all of it yet, at the same time, I am loved, too.

I am attracted to this place; just as the mayflies are, and exactly as the evergreens. The yellow sunflower sirens beckon me; the same sun-yellow that calls the butterflies to their pollen-filled centers calls me to their random, scattered beauty. I rise like the trees, without thought, without intentionality, to the noonday light which encompasses us (all of us) and nurtures us (all of us). My seventy/eighty years on this planet and the twenty-four hour life spans of the mayflies on this shore pale in their dissimilarities against the rock forms of sixty-five million year old ammonites and coral and clams beneath us all in the shale formations.

I am a witness here, and nothing more. I am able to overhear and see bits of the world in this place, for a little while, and nothing less.

The allure, the calling to me of the grasses, trees, insects, and flowers is the same seductive attraction with which all things call to others of their kind and to that which enhances their life symbiotically. The same magenta which calls the swallowtail butterflies to the coneflower, calls me to kneel down beside it and imagine its photosynthetic singing. The same breeze which guides the grasshoppers to succulent bluegrass stems, guides me to watch their clicking flight. The same black rich earth which absorbed the hard shell of pecan seeds and fed the tiny green germ within, is the same earth which caused men and women crossing these prairies to stop here, build here, plant here, and raise their children here. The earth here called them, attracted them, loved them.

And now, I am here, too.

I am here, too, and in love with and loved by that which I cannot embrace with my arms. I cannot kiss it on the cheek, squeeze its hand, or whisper anything that could be understood as exclamations of my devotion. I can only feel the sweet but benign acceptance of my witness. I can only lose myself in the green glorious seas of grass and trees and in the tiny waves of other living things washing through them. I can only imagine telling them that my words are wholly inadequate to describe their sensuality and their beauty.

“I love you,” I say to them, anyway.

And I hear them in return and I smile.

wf coneflowers

Reflections on..Kafka (again)

From The Essence of Wisdom, page 7

Franz Kafka: “The fact that our task is exactly as large as our life makes it appear infinite.”

I read something recently that enabled me to think- at least a little- about the concept of time on a universal scale. If the 13.7 billion year age of the universe were compressed into a single 24 hour day, do you know how long one of our 80 year old lifetimes would be?

1/10,000th of a second.

That doesn’t give me much time to get the things done which I’ve been putting off today, let alone those things I’ve delayed doing for forty years. It also emphasizes to me the time that I’ve wasted being angry at others or myself, regretting and wishing regarding the past, and worrying and fretting about the future. Those were all dead issues to begin with but I have worked overtime many weeks keeping them alive and hot on the front burner of my mind.

“Someday, someday,” I would mindlessly mumble to myself in the past when I considered learning Spanish, writing a novel, learning French, or sending a thank-you card to Auntie Helen for a cake she mailed to me in 1971. (She died in 1985, never having gotten that card, either). But the “somedays” these days, are a whole lot fewer than when I was 14 and told a friend who wanted me to play bass in his band that I was too old to start taking guitar lessons. I have a sense of the finity of the somedays left to me at this point, even without knowing the specific number of them .

When we are five years old, next Christmas is 20% of our lives away- a long, long time; when we’re fifty, it is only the equivalent of 2% of our life away! It really does come around faster and faster each year, according to our body clocks. And that realization sends many of us the refrigerator for another beer, to the couch for another thirty minutes of a sit-com we’ll remember for ten minutes after it’s over, or into yet another mental bouillabaisse of leftover regrets, worries, and wishes, with a dash of salty tears.

Here’s what I’ve been doing, better and better, over the last several years, that has involved lots of time- not a second of which I consider wasted, misused, or lost:

  1. Looking around: There is not a single hour during the day when there is not something new, interesting, or weird to be discovered in a tree, in the yard, or under a rock. Today I watched Zero, one of our cats, try to catch a hummingbird. She didn’t have a chance and I decided that hummingbirds may be the most fearless birds on earth. And I saw (and am still watching) three toads on the back step eating June bugs (who don’t know it is July. And didn’t care, right up to and including those moments they were being swallowed.)
  2. Looking up: I can’t keep my eyes out of the sky, because my imagination follows right behind them. I am not an astronomer. I am physically starstuff and somewhere out there are my physical ancestors. And they are backlit by 13 billion year old light. And they are big, and faraway, and mysterious, and we’re getting to know each other just a little bit better.
  3. Reaching out: Every single living thing is programmed, gifted, destined, and trusted enough to do that all the time. But I, like many others, learned somehow- perversely and dangerously- that it’s better not to touch, embrace, speak, or be vulnerable to others in any perceivable way. Now, if I can put two people together into the beginnings of a community, or stimulate the growth of any real community in some way, it has been a glorious, God-perfect day.

Follow me around for awhile and you might think you’re following a four year old, and maybe you are. I’ve missed too much. The somedays will run out before I’ve seen it all, but that- I know now- is absolutely the last reason to stop.

God’s gotten much, much bigger during this whole process, too. God doesn’t follow me around quite as much as I thought; it feels more like I’m following God in all of this.

What a concept!