Friday, August 20, 2010

The gods exist, and I can prove it!

For most Americans the idea that a bunch of gods are living in the sky who control things and have wills which they try to impose on humans is preposterous. The idea is that these gods in the sky want you to do something and if you don't do it you will receive some sort of punishment. And if you are obedient you will be rewarded. But to many folks this notion is more ridiculous than the belief in extra-terrestrials. But I'm here to show you that the gods are very real.

Today a few societies still hold onto this belief. And if you think they don't exist just see how the people in these societies alter their actions in accordance with the will of the gods. Almost every single decision they make is related to their belief in the gods. To tell you the truth, I don't think there are god's in the sky, but that does not change the fact that to these people they are very real and there are actual real world consequences to their belief. In other words, the gods "exist" within their minds, and whether the gods actually exist or not matters little because the peoples belief in the existence of the gods in the sky is enough for their whole society to conform their behavior to the will of the so called gods.

Thankfully most of the world has thrown off the idea of the gods in the sky, yet we cling to some other ideas that are equally delusional. I am speaking about the idea that hierarchies are systems which actually exist, like a living being which we can do nothing about. They always have been, and always will be. Hierarchies are spoken of as if they were not created and sustained by human beings. As if hierarchies and systems are facts of life that all of us must deal with whether we like it or not. In reality, systems and hierarchies are as much a man made idea as the idea that gods are living in the sky controlling everything. Like the gods, hierarchies only exist in our minds.

As demonstrated above, something does not have to exist in order to be a powerful tool with real world repercussions. Here's another example. My kids believe strongly that monsters are in the basement. As such, they adapt their behavior to match this belief. They don't go into the basement and they exhibit signs of emotional fear when near the basement door, despite my insistence that the monster do not exist.

Another example which is categorically similar to the notion of hierarchies and systems can be found in sports. I can remember playing soccer during recess in 5th grade. Before starting the game we would agree that the established boundaries on the soccer field would be our boundaries. If you are the last one to touch the ball before it goes outside the lines, the other team gets the ball. But this rule only worked if everyone went along with it. And in this case, they did not. At some point the borders became obsolete. The lines were still there, but they meant nothing because nobody stopped when they crossed over them. If an alien from Neptune had been observing our strange game from afar, she would conclude that there was no rule in existence which dictated that the lines around the field were borders which if crossed meant a turnover of ball possession. The reality of soccer is that every bit of the game is a mental contrivance. It exists in our minds. And if any part of it is collectively discarded in the players minds, it no longer "exists."

This can be applied to borders of cities, counties, states and even nations. If everyone ceased to believe in the border between the U.S. and Mexico everyone would freely walk between the U.S. and Mexico as if no border exists. And in actuality, there is no border. There is a fence. There are armed guards telling us there is a border. But the border only exists in our minds (and only in some peoples minds at that). Enough examples already, on to hierarchies.

Hierarchies come as natural to people as eating, breathing or using the restroom. My one year old has already begun to try and establish a hierarchy in which he is the head and my other three kids are beneath. All the other kids attempt this as well on a daily basis. A hierarchy does "exist" when one of the kids establishes and maintains a position of dominance over another. In that moment everything is very tense because as it turns out, carrying out a coup d'etat comes just as naturally as establishing the hierarchy to begin with.

But not everything that comes naturally is good or healthy. For instance, Jov, (my power hungry one year old) has already begun to hit his brothers when angry at them. This is a natural reaction. At some point, however, we realize that if we do not learn to resist this natural inclination it will one day result in murder. And it does, all the time.

Moments of peace come when my children all decide they don't care for their little hierarchy and find it much more fun to relate to each other as equals. During that time there is no hitting, kicking, name calling, toy throwing, or screaming at each other. There is co-operation. Admittedly, much to my kids chagrin, their hierarchy often stops when they realize that I, their dad, have established a hierarchy of which I am the head, and they are all on the bottom rung. They are smart enough to know that at this point my intelligence, strength and resources far outweigh theirs, and thus I am unconquerable. That's not to say they have not tried to establish themselves over me. They test me non-stop, and not a moment late, one day they will know they are a match for me.

But my question is this... Is hierarchy the best we can do?

If hierarchy only exists in our minds, then can't it be thrown off as easily as the 5th graders disregarded the lines around the soccer field? The answer is yes, it can be. That does not by default mean that it should be, only that if we decide that we don't want it, we don't have to have it. In a world ridden with constant strife, premature death, and injustice from competition, war and the establishment of power and dominance, shouldn't we at least explore some other options? I mean what have we got to lose? Seriously, if we are going to be honest here, there are few souls in the world who would say that the world is great, and nothing should change about it. Even those at the top of the hierarchies would breath a sigh of relief if they found out they no longer had to maintain a constant position of dominance, or hold so much responsibility on their shoulders. That's exhausting. But what would the world look like without hierarchy? Would there be chaos? Or perhaps co-operation?

Before we can even get to the point where we are willing to look at new possibilities, I imagine a few things must happen. First we must throw off our apathy toward the way thing presently are. One thing that tends to hinder this is although there is only one person or group at the top of hierarchies, almost everyone in hierarchies has someone to be over.

Second we must understand that hierarchies are social constructs which work for the greatest good of those at the top. For example, say you have a hierarchical system which contains 100 people. one man at the top, twenty five on the bottom and the rest in between. Consider the injustice of this situation, one man has ninety nine people working to bring about the best possible scenario for this mans life and that one man has only himself to care for. His primary goal is to uphold the hierarchy which sustains him. Thus any care that is taken for those underneath is for the purpose of making sure they stay alive so the system does not fail. Twenty five people have no one working for their greater good. In addition to not having anyone working for their good, they have to work for the greater good of all those who are over them. This may sound like a harsh accusation, and admittedly it is an over simplification for illustrative purposes, but you show me a hierarchy where the ones at the top earn less money than those on the bottom. Or the ones on the bottom have health insurance but the ones at the top don't. Or the ones on the bottom have more say or more power than those at the top. Let's face it, no matter what the intentions are of those at the top, things work out the best the higher you find yourself in the hierarchy, period.

Understand that I make this critique while being at the bottom, middle and top of various hierarchies. This is a critique of me as much as anyone else. I am a WHITE AMERICAN MALE. I sit in perhaps the highest seat of privilege of any group of people in history. As a father I sit at the top of the family hierarchy. As a white person I sit at the top of a racial hierarchy. As a male I sit at the top of a gender hierarchy. As a homosapien I sit at the top of the animal hierarchy. Economically I find my self in the upper lower part of an American economic hierarchy, but at the top of a global economic hierarchy. As a skilled worker where I am employed I find myself right in the middle of an occupational and organizational hierarchy. As a legal citizen of the United States with the power of one vote I am at the bottom of a political hierarchy. Most of these positions I didn't work for, or ask for, some I did. Either way, my critique is one that has a profound impact on my own positions and privileges in life. None the less, the potential good that can arise from a more Just way of living far outweigh the sacrificing of privilege we all enjoy to various degrees.

Returning to what needs to happen before folks would consider other options for organizing ourselves, we need to not only see that hierarchies lend themselves to unhealthy situations, but we also need to see the potential for a healthier way of relating to each other. A part of that is just trying out new ways. But we are fortunate enough to already have some excellent models of non-hierarchical living and organizing. I have personally been a part of and observed some non-hierarchical organizations and businesses.

Don't worry, I'm not not naive enough to be talking about creating utopia here. I am not saying we can establish a world or even a small community which is perfect where everyone is high on life and gets along with each other. No matter what we do, greed and hatred will persist. But I think we can all agree that there are ways of organizing ourselves that bring about more freedom and justice than the other options. And most of us have not considered much less attempted possibilities outside of hierarchical living.

In the next blog I intend on looking at some existing models of non-hierarchical organizing and living. My hope is to focus in on and imagine a new way of living where the needs and desires of each individual is held just as high as the need and desires of everyone. Where we organize and relate to each other as equals, as brothers and sisters who are all a part of the same mad world. Feel free to ask questions, and make comments, so we can respectfully dialogue and explore together.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

On Reality Shows

We've all seen the old videos of a group of scientists wearing white lab coats, holding clip boards and taking notes while huddled around a small maze with a rat trying to find his way out of a maze that has no exits. That's reality television. a group of scientists (producers) find rats (unintelligent unaware selfish human beings) put them in an exit-less maze (some oxymoronic game which accomplishes anything but what its supposed to accomplish) and see what happens. This is highlighted well by the reality television show, The Bachelor.

In this show a single man is given a choice of 25 single women to hopefully one day be his wife. To start they find a bachelor who has primarily spent his adult life building a career and his biceps. The contestants want love, but its apparent that they aren't sure what it is. Their concept of love can be boiled down to how they feel around this person. Their emotions and self-centered sense of awareness inform their highly ambiguous and arbitrary idea of who is 'right' for them. Typically it is just this idea that has kept them from any real long-term serious relationship. The problem lies in the fact that they do not give up this idea or trade it in for something else that might actually work. (and the producers count on this). But it gets worse.

The 25 women are in the same boat. But what is strange about them volunteering for this position is, they don't even have a choice who they will be with. They have one option. Whats peculiar is that in their minds this one is the one for them no matter what. For no other reason than this person has been carefully selected as The Person to be sought after. Now its a game to see who can get this one person to be theirs.

To illustrate, it's like 25 single men who line up at a starting line. One girl lines up two miles away from them at the finish line. The gun shot goes off and they mindlessly run with one goal, get the girl. They never stop to question whether they will even like the girl. They don't know a thing about her, but that's not the point. The point is to get her. No one stops to think that while running these two miles they run right past thousands of other single girls. But hey, they weren't selected by the producers.

The criteria for these single people to be selected is extensive. They all fit into a very specific category. Typically, white, upper middle class, 20 something, with successful high paying careers, unaware, highly self-centered and the worst of all....they have to have demonstrated the inability to hold down a good healthy functional relationship.

Put them all together in the most unnatural, polyamorous, way of forming healthy relationships with the goal of not only finding a partner but creating the highest idealized form of love even though they've never been able to do either....that's entertainment. And we all huddle around the TV waiting to see how long it will take for the subjects to realize they are as far away from the ability to establish a lifelong loving marriage as the rats are from finding an exit.

Whats even greater is at the conclusion of every show the bachelor chooses 'the one'. And as their first act of love they sit down and watch the whole season unfold on their TV sets right before their eyes. The lucky girl watches as their new found love kisses numerous other women, and normally has sex with a few of them and announces repeatedly that they are torn and can see themselves being with any one of them and is in fact falling in love with more than one person. !^@%@#@^#!!!!!!!!!!!! And what is the success rate? Almost none of them have ended marrying the person they chose. Of the 13 or 14 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette (its companion show with roles reversed), I believe 1, maybe 2 are still together.

Lets move onto another insane reality show, The Real Housewives of New York. It is interesting because unlike in the Bachelor and most other reality shows, the subjects are not put into an intense manufactured game. Normally in order to make reality shows you must do this because it brings about conflict and drama, and to the exact degree that you can bring about drama, you can boost the ratings. But that is not necessary in this case because the subjects here manufacture their own game. Theirs is the game of seeing who can beat their way to the top of the social ladder. Its nothing short of an unending terrifyingly vindictive game.

In this game friends, spouses, children, strangers and celebrities, possessions and careers, are nothing more than tools by which one can leverage themselves to a new higher strata of social position. They put their children in $30,000/ year preschools not because they think its whats best for the kids, but because it puts them closer to 'high society'. They can brag to their so called friends that their kid is in preschool learning how to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, in French, German and Latin. They Marry 'up'. They choose 'friends' who are on the next rung so they too can stand on that rung until they can hopefully drop them off and make friends on the next rung still. And it's always favorable to associate yourself with as many of the 'gods' called celebrities as possible. Their house, cars, clothes, and everything else they own, is not even for pleasure, but tools and symbols to hopefully propel themselves higher. It is madness!

Of course like the rats in the maze that seek an exit but never find one because its not there, these people fight for a higher position on a ladder that does not exist. They fight to get to the top of something that has no top, no bottom and no middle. The playing out of this fantasy is no different than a child setting a place at the kitchen table for his friend that no one else can see. The only difference between the kid who has make believe friends and these people, is they are 40 and 50 year olds and they really believe this social hierarchy exists (with the assumption that they should be as close to the top as possible). The kid is pretending, these people are delusional. And I am pretty sure that puts them in the realm of clinically insane.

While both of these shows are to some extent 'engineered,' they do in fact showcase some extremely pervasive philosophies and beliefs in our American culture. The Bachelor for example displays many dangerous, misguided and frankly sad ideas about the nature of relationships. First of all, the philosophy that 'testing' out different people in order to find the right one is quite dangerous. Let's face it, though it is hailed as a thing of wisdom, no one really wants to be with someone who has been with numerous others. Furthermore, when you have been with many others, you lose that sense of specialness and intimacy when you do end up with someone you want to be with for life. If you think I am overstating it, think of your own partner and ask yourself whether you would be OK with them talking about their past sexual experiences with other people. You would not, and for good reason.

It's not a habit of mine to quote fictional movie-based lunatics, but I'll do it anyway. In Vanilla Sky, Cameron Diaz' character and Tom cruises' character get in an argument while she is driving a car and he is the passenger. She is upset that he slept with another girl not long after they had also been sexually involved. I'll spare you all the details, but at one point shes says that when two people have a sexual relationship, their bodies make a commitment to each other, whether they do or not. Presumably then, when they go off and sleep with someone else, they are breaking a commitment, and that causes problems. Repeat this cycle over and over, and you have a big problem relationally.

In Real Housewives of New York, there are numerous crazy philosophies. As I said before, this whole idea of climbing up the social ladder is about as absurd as sailing around the world in search of the edge of the Earth. In this quest all relationships are used and, if need be, destroyed for the goal.

I am not sure why, but it has always been a subconscious assumption of mine that wealthy highly-educated people are smart, wise and not concerned with trivial matters. But clearly, I am mistaken in making this assumption. These people are merely children in bigger older bodies and have a lot of money and education to know how to carry out their childish ways on a large scale. Their quarrels and concerns are not unlike those that children on the playground experience in second grade. I pity every child born to such parents. They will grow up with a whole host of inexplicable emotional and relational problems. Although, it isn't uncommon on these shows to hear one of the children express far more wisdom than their parents. Maybe their exists some hope.

In any case, it would be advantageous for us, the observers of chaos, to evaluate some of these philosophies and qualities that we all hold to some extent. They have been automatically instilled in us simply by living in our culture. It is our job to find and uproot such harmful ideas that have the potential to hurt us and others around us.

in love,


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Whale Wars

Recently I came across an intriguing documentary series called Whale Wars. At the time I was trying to find a good show for my kids to watch, and since Zeke likes whales (excuse me, humpback whales) I thought this looked like a good one. I was surprised then to see preview scenes from the show which looked much more like modern day pirate ships in battle, than a documentary about whales. Indeed I quickly figured out the premise of the show. The show follows a non-profit environmental direct-action group called Sea Shepherd. On the show they are engaging in direct action activism against Japanese whalers in the Antarctic. The Sea Shepherds intentions are to stop what they call illegal whaling activities. To do this they use whatever non-violent tactic they can to physically stop the whalers from killing whales, hoping to cut into their profits enough to cause them to abandon whaling.

First of all, I highly recommend everyone to watch this series, its amazing. Even if you don't agree with what Sea Shepherd is doing, its an enthralling saga. It has forced me to reflect upon my stance on two issues: Environmentalism and Direct-Action activism. First, environmentalism.

There are probably lots of different definitions of the word, but what I mean by enviromentalism, is the general idea that we ought to protect the environment from harm. That includes plants, animals, soil, rivers, humans, etc. It is looking out for the health of the planet, human, non-human, living, non-living. Everything.

The reason to protect all of these things from harm is from my perspective, simple; God created the eco-system to be a perfectly balanced system which sustain all life on earth. For example, to destroy an entire species of animals is to destroy the balance in the eco-system that God created. Which is to destroy that which God called, "Good." Indeed what we have found in studying the environment is that the Eco-system is heavily vested in the preservation of plant and animal species diversity. And to sustain that, we must have quality air, water, and earth.

The problem lies in humanities insatiable desire to plunder the earth for whatever reason. This problem has been around for thousands of years, but it has been taken to a whole new catastrophic level with the introduction of the industrial revolution. With the use of fuel burning machines and technology, we can now plunder the earth at an unprecedented rate. This is a major problem for us humans. We are completely, 100% reliant on a healthy Eco-system. If the environment is destroyed, so is humanity. If the environment is unhealthy, so is humanity. Thus environmentalism is finally concerned with human life, and healthy human life at that.

My conclusion: Since God created the environment to sustain life on earth and commanded us to care for it, and because human life is 100% reliant on a health eco-system, I must protect it from harm. I guess I am an environmentalist of sorts.

Now as for Direct-action activism. This is a new idea to me. My understanding of direct-action activism is that it originates with the "monkey wrenchers." These were people who intentionally tried to sabotage their employers by disabling equipment used to make products, and thus cutting into their profit. The goal was to make the profit driven owner of the business to realize that his workers were not going to stand for unfair wages and treatment. This is different and distinct from protesting or other forms of activism which simply strongly request employers to do the right thing.

In the case of the Sea Shepherd campaigns against the Japanese whalers, this means trying to disable their boats by getting ropes caught in their propellers, throwing stink bombs onto their decks to make uncomfortable working conditions, and possibly tainting the whale meat so it can't be sold for food. All their tactics are non-violent and every effort is made to ensure that nobody is ever injured in these campaigns.

It should be stated that whaling has been outlawed. The only exception to this law is that whales can be killed for research. And as a part of that law, when whales are killed for research, the researchers are not allowed to waste any part of the whale. So they sell the meat on the open market in Japan. After studying it more in depth it becomes quite apparent that these Japanese whalers are not concerned about research, as they say, but are in it for the multi-million dollar pay off. After all, is it even possible that in order to research whales, the Japanese must kill 1,000 whales every year, which is their self-inflicted quota?

It should also be stated that Sea Shepherd sails under a U.N. charter which allows for non-government organizations to enforce law on the open sea when no government entity is enforcing the law. The problem is that no one can decide who is right. The whalers and Sea Shepherd are therefore left to fight it out in the Antarctic. Hence, 'Whale Wars.'

But aside from the question of who is right in the situation, I have to ask whether I agree with direct action activism or not. I am on the fence. It certainly seems like at the very least, Sea Shepherd have (A) saved whales and (B) raised awareness of whats going on in the Antarctic. They have certainly caused me to think about how I need to be treating the earth. So it seems successful. I will also say that I find myself in strong support of Sea Shepherd. That's not to say that all environmentalists are. For instance, Green Peace is an outspoken critic of Sea Shepherd. They are in favor of indirect forms of activism, like protesting and raising awareness through taking pictures. Perhaps all forms of activism should be encouraged except that which does harm to humans, plants or animals. They are complimentary.

So there you have it, check out Whale Wars and let me know what you think.

Peace on Earth,

More on Anarchy

After my last post on the subject of anarchy a good friend of mine who has never considered himself to be an anarchist has been asking me a lot of questions and has helped me to articulate my thoughts on anarchy. I would love to share more about what many call, "Christian Anarchy."

Let me make clear, that this is not some 'baptized' form of anarchy, like you might think of 'christian t-shirts' or 'christian wrestling.' No, this is more like a theology, ideology and most important, a way of life. Christian Anarchist are not attempting to take a purely secular idea and try to fit Jesus into it or vice versa. Anarchism is simply a good description of the teachings of Christ. Much like you would say 'love' is a good description of Jesus' teachings.

Teachings like, "love your enemies," "do good to those who harm you," "when someone asks you to go one mile, go two," "do not resist an evil doer," "give to those who ask of you," etc etc. In fact, i would challenge anyone to find a teaching of Jesus that is not in line with Anarchism. They don't exist. Anarchism, or the idea of not ruling over others, is a good description of Jesus' teaching.

A large part of Christian Anarchism is the idea that there is to be no authority, save the authority of God. He is the creator and origin of life, He is good and pure, He transcends time and space, and greatest of all, He is love and thus He is the only One worthy and capable of authority. He is The Authority. (I imagine the word authority comes from the same root word as author. this would mean something like, the author of a book has authority over the book, and thus the author of life, has authority over life. hmmm)

The interesting thing about God is that his use of authority is anything but what we have come to understand authority as. His 'rule' is far different than what we think of 'rule'. He is the King who intentionally places himself at our level. He works within our framework, he works within our systems. He relates personally to humanity. He has even demonstrated that he is willing to be swayed by human requests.

He is the God who came to earth and cared nothing for and even resisted the idea of ruling over humanity. Instead he chose to serve humanity as if he were a servant. Who is this God? I can hear myself asking the same questions the disciples were asking. "If this man is who he says he is, clearly he would be the best man for the job of King. Lets militarily place him in authority." But for whatever reason, he says 'no.' Whatever 'authority' and 'rule' mean to Him, its much different than our conceptions.

(For a good read on this idea of hierarchy in the trinity and with humanity, check out The Shack. It gives an amazing argument for anarchical relationships and describes well how we are caught in a hierarchical mindset, which finds it extremely difficult to imagine relationship without hierarchy. But the fact is, truly loving relationship by necessity must be without hierarchy.)

Anarchism for followers of Jesus means relating to one another in a non-coercive manner. In a loving manner. And our source of authority, is Yahweh, The Living God, the Creator of the universe who was revealed in Jesus the Messiah. Furthermore, since control of our behavior is not external, it must come from within. It is a fruit of the Spirit: self-control. Even God who is The Authority, will not force us to do anything, but calls us to live righteously, in love. He commands, but does not force, good behavior.

Likewise, let us call ourselves and others to a life of sacrificial love, but may we never force others into it. It wouldn't work even if we tried. May we remain Anarchists.

Baruck Attah Adonai Eloheinu melek Ha olam.
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe.

May The Lord have mercy on us all,


Sunday, November 22, 2009

On Anarchy

For about ten years now i have been studying anarchy off and on. I recall ten years ago being at a Christian music festival and finding a flyer advertising the time for a speaker, who was to speak on the relationship between Christianity and Anarchy. The speaker was Andrew Mandell. Besides speaking on anarchy, he is most well know for being the lead singer of the celtic punk band "Ballydowse," as well as singing for the old school punk band, "Crashdog."

I remember holding the flyer and thinking, "now these punk rockers have taken it too far." But i said that without knowing a single thing about it. Later i heard Andrew Mandell talking to a crowd of 5,000 people say, "Anarchy is about self-control, not chaos." I didn't know what he meant at the time, and immediately decided he was wrong. My opinion has changed since then.

Anarchy is the lack rule.
It is necessarily non-violent.
It is completely non-coercive.
It is a line of thought that steers people away from ruling or controlling others.
It trust others to make the right decisions.
It trusts that even when people don't make the right decisions, all will be well in the end.
It puts no stock in power, pride, control, domination.
It says that if anything is going to be done, its going to have to start with me.
If there is to be order, i must control myself.
If there is to be peace, i must choose to live at peace with others.
If i have a problem with someone, i go to them rather than their superior.
If i feel change is needed, i must live out that change.
If i dont want trash all over the city, i must go pick it up.
If i see a problem with people not having their needs fulfilled, i must go and fulfill their needs.
I must never take the opportunity to be above another.
I must respect everyone.
I must give all the dignity they deserve.
I must never use psychological tactics to persuade.
I must not use more than i need.

Anarchy is a personal choice that all of us can choose. It is the choice to everyday place ourselves underneath others. to humble ourselves. to forgive. to love. to be kind. Anarchy is not "to be against authority," it is, "to not be authority."

today i will strive to be an Anarchist.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Who is us?

Sounds like a strange question, but i'm wondering, who is 'us?' That word can be used in such a diverse manner. It can mean, me and my dog. Or all of 'us' living in Chicago. Or quite broadly, as in all of 'us' in the world.

Us; we; our; etc. Who are 'we' talking about here?

"Get to the point," you may already be saying. This question comes to mind when i think about the 3,000 people who died in the 9/11 attacks. And then when i think of the 300,000 people who died in the tsunami a couple years ago in southeast Asia. It was brought to my attention that we don't mourn the 300,000 as much as the 3,000 because they are not 'us.' Presumably under this definition of 'us', we are speaking of Americans. Though i suppose it could mean, "North Americans," or "Westerners," as well.

SO who are 'we'? Are we Americans? or perhaps are we humans? Earthlings? Children of God? Humanity? However we define, 'us,' I think we all have to recognize, we humans, are all in this together, whether we like it or not. We are all God's children, and as i tell my kids all the time while they hit and yell at each other, "You are brothers, act like it. Brother don't hurt brothers or make them feel sad."

They seem to get that, now if only We could.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Surviving the Woods

Its a tradition with most to give gifts for birthdays. It is, however, not the tradition in our family. Leastwise not with me. I always ask for an experience, and most frequently for a camping trip. This year was no exception. But i did not want a camping trip per se, but a Survival Trip!

So at about 2 pm on Saturday afternoon my wife drove me to the top of a mountian in Appalachia, dropped me off and said, "I don't even know what to say. Ummm alright, bye. love you." And with that she drove off. Leaving me with my clothes and a backpack with the following items: 1 gallon of water; 1 lb. of Trail mix; a knife; a sleeping bag; a metal cup; and an edible wildplant guide and mushroom guide.

My inspiration was defintely Les Stroud from "Survivorman" and Bear Grylles from "Man Vs. Wild." In reality i could be more amptly compared to Christopher McCandless from "Into The Wild," and that couldn't have been comforting to my worried wife (Christopher didn't make it out alive, due to misidentifying and consuming a poisonous plant).

But unlike Christopher i had the safegaurd of companions. Nathan, Micheal, Landon and my younger brother Kyler. When they met me at the top of the mountain, we headed out on foot into the woods. first down into a valley following a dried out creek bed, and then up another mountian just about to the top where we found a nice dry spot to construct our survival shelters. This 3 hour hike nearly killed me due to an extreme lack of previous physical excersion. But the others seemed to do just fine. whatever.

So we started a quick fire and began to construct a large basic lean-to shelter. This constisted of one long thin trunk of a tree being propped up horizontally about 5 to 8 feet of the ground and leaning on one side a bunch of branches to form a bit of a hide out. To make it "waterproof," we added pine branches. By this time it was dark, we were tired and not soon after that everyone was fast asleep. Well everyone except for me. I wound up staying up most the night adding wood to the fire. But i probably got a good 2 hours of extremely uncomfortable sleep on the ground that night.

The next morning Nathan (wearing a tshirt, and boxers and a belt holding a knife which was longer than his boxers) and Micheal decided to make a second shelter, while Landon, Kyler, and myself were sent out on hunting duty. After making our way through a hellish patch of thorned briars and circling half way round the mountain we returned with little more than some mushrooms which i was unable to indentify, so they went to waste. Though Landon did eut a small salamandor and I feasted to my hearts content on an inch worm. Oh and we found water, which we collected to drink after boiling.

The rest of the day was spent make pine needle tea, attempting to make fire without the use of a lighter, attempting to capture a deer, cooking and eating a small turtle, improving the shelters and sharpening spears. It was a day of testing survival tactics. Some worked, others failed, and none of us were looking forward to the sun going down.

Another sleepless night.

By morning the clouds were rolling in and we were rollin out. The hike back proved to be about as bad as the hike there, with the only possible exception being the pounding rain that decided to grace our ascent to the top of the mountain where we started. Actually, i absolutely loved the rain. I don't know why. It just felt great to be at the mercy of mother nature. We have done such a wonderful job in life of protecting ourselves against her.

I, of course, was the last one to make it up the mountain, but i felt great in the end. I was hungry, thirsty, soaked, terribly tired, and my leg muscles were sooo soar, but i felt great. For a moment it all felt right. Like a wrong had been corrected. Upon further reflection i think im coming across some answers.

I couldn't help but think while in the woods about the Natives who may have lived here or at least passed through at some point. The People who lived here in America for God only knows how long, before the European invasion. I have long felt the weight of their lost lives on my shoulders. Like when God tells Cain that he hears Ables blood crying out from the soil, the blood of the Native Americans cries out.

We have so quickly forgotten about the mass genocide that our European ancestors carried out on the people of this land. And my how my mind boggles when i think of how effectively we have silenced Their ancestors by handing out hush money.

And not only the mass genocide on the people, but the raping and ravaging of the land. The Natives respected and took great care of the land, taking only what they needed and not over indulging. Not so with the westerners. We came in and treated the land and animals as if they were expendable. As if ours very lives didn't hinge upon the their health.

In only a couple hundred years we have managed to tear this place a part.

Furthermore, on this trip i realized that half the world lives in this hand-to-mouth fashion. It was hard for all of us pampered American boys to survive two days with reletively comfortable conditions, while many live like this their entire lives.

I suppose in that moment of being hungry, tired, thirsty, wet and soar, i felt justice. It felt like for that moment all was fair. And i could be at one in spirit with those who lived in this land before and us and with those today who continue to struggle through life with so little.

May God have mercy on us all.
His redemption is so sweet.