scorched earth. literally and not so.

Australia is on fire as I write this, with little hope of a drenching rain for another month or so. The wildfire season on that continent has been brutal, worse than ever. All told, more than 12 million acres of land are burning — an area nearly the size of Lake Michigan—and about a billion animals are dead, some species now extinct. At least 2000 human homes have been destroyed, and an entire population is having trouble breathing through the thick smoke. Experts lay the cause at the feet of climate change.

In the midst of this unprecedented conflagration, just before New Year’s, people around the country begged the leadership in Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, to call off the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks show, the largest in the world. Leaders said no. Too late, too many tourism dollars riding on the event.

The world is on fire; by all means, let’s add more fire.

Then there is Iran. “All is well,” tweeted the president in the wee hours. “So far, so good.” This, in response to escalating conflict between and among America, Iran and Iraq. Conflict that Trump initiated months ago. One Iran expert wrote in the New York Times:

“It is important to remember who began this spiral. In May 2018, President Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement negotiated by his predecessor at a time when Iran was in full compliance with it. When he did so, the Quds Force and its associated militias in Iraq were fighting the Islamic State in indirect coordination with the American military. The Persian Gulf was quiet.”

But the president promised to prevail, even pledged to commit war crimes, should his ego be sufficiently threatened. (Or perhaps more accurately “additional” war crimes, since assassination of a foreign leader seems to qualify as such.) Pence and Pompeo, hawks that they are, are happy to fuel Trump’s fiery foolishness.

The world is on fire; by all means, let’s add more fire.

Probably not unrelated, on January 20, gun rights defenders and militia members from across the country will gather in Virginia to protest that state’s intent to curb, if not our appetite for, at least our access to, personal firepower. “Virginia has now become ground zero for the tyranny of government and the liberal agenda to take our guns and to destroy our constitution,” posted one website that I hope doesn’t start targeting me with ads now that I’ve scrolled through it.

We are on fire. No doubt American bravado will be on full display in the coming days and weeks, as we fall back into the default position that violence against us calls for violence by us. They offend us, so we should blow them off the map. Or something like that. Americans all around us will call for violence.

(The Iranian response to Suleimani’s murder—missile attacks on US installations in Iraq which killed no one—was more face-saving than warlike, according to analysts quoted in The Washington Post. We’ll see if presidential pride can call it even and live to bluster another day.)

Either way, it falls to people of a certain faith to hold the line, to proclaim again and again, ever more loudly, that violence is not the cure for violence. It cannot be. Adding more fire doesn’t put out the fire. Escalating doesn’t de-escalate. Peace does not come by threats or force. This has to be the very nature of our resistance.

And please understand, by “people of a certain faith,” I’m not talking about Christians. People who claim to follow Jesus will perhaps be among the loudest voices for violence and retribution. No, the peacemaking people I’m referencing may be Christian, but may also be Muslim or Jewish or Baha’i (a 19th-century world religion with its foundations in Iran, I’ve learned) or other. We are people who refuse to fight fire with fire, who lean to the prophets ancient and modern for our belief that violence solves nothing, that posturing and threatening are not the way to live in community—not local community, not global community.

We Americans are accustomed to wondering about the mental stability of despotic leaders of hostile or oppressive nations. But it can no longer be something we point to “over there;” these days, we are living with the mental instability of our own despotic leader. It is times like this that test our faith, that call us to be our best selves—to fight fire with something other than fire.

When a billion are dead, the air is too thick to breathe and tens of millions of acres are no longer habitable, will we still claim to value tourism dollars most? Will oil or ego continue to be our casus belli, our reason for war (even while both are also among the chief causes of our environmental undoing)? What will cause us to reconsider our highest allegiances?

Trump has addressed the nation this morning, content laced with lies, and tone intended to demean and taunt. But this morning’s tweet— “all is well, so far so good”—tells us what we need to know: he is not committed to peace, but to self-aggrandizement. The eyes of the world are on him, just the way he likes it.

In Christian churches around the world, folks have heard this week the Epiphany story of the magi traveling to see the child Jesus, (one tradition tells of them traveling from Persia, now called Iran) and being met by Herod’s ego. The story is a throwback to the story of Moses and Pharaoh, another story of magicians advising the king of a potential rival, and that king likewise responding by murderous rampage. In our worship, we have celebrated light, the light of God; perhaps, the light of something else.

In every age, some Herod or other tries to extinguish the light. In this age, in this place, Trump is our Herod. Our work as people of faith is to keep the light shining, to be light. It will take all our intestinal fortitude, all that we can muster.

The world is on fire and it is hard to breathe. More fire won’t help. Are we willing to try something else?

About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

2 Responses to scorched earth. literally and not so.

  1. jinsport19 says:

    This helps with mustering intestinal fortitude, thanks!

  2. Jan says:

    Thank you for this, Deb. Bad days, bad days…your call to muster our intestinal fortitude and keep the light shining is helpful, essential, needed. Sending love.

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