Review: The Disfiguration of Nature: Why Caring for the Environment is Inherently Conservative

In his provocative, controversial-at-times book, James Krueger makes his case why environmentalism is inherently a conservative cause. He prefers the term “conservation” to make clear the word’s ties to conserving and conservatism. This book is of supreme relevance in a time when political divisions are becoming starker, nuance feels like a relic, and we seem to have forgotten how to submit to one another for the good of the whole. At times his rhetoric is abrasive and grating, especially when he adds in inflammatory topics of LGBTQ and abortion rights. But don’t give up and throw the book aside. We already do too much of that in our inabilities to truly dialogue anymore. Krueger has much of value to say and it is important to at least be open to his challenges, lest we only wall ourselves into echo chambers of those who think and believe just like we do.

Krueger’s main premise is that our political identities have strayed far from their origins, and both sides now believe in the goodness of progress (however that is defined) regardless of cost (e.g., neoliberalism), and very often to the detriment of the very earth we live on. He re-defines (or rather hearkens back to) definitions of conservative and liberal. “Conservatives” were once defined as those who use tradition as a guide for the future, who strongly value family life and other social organizing systems that keep us beholden to one another, and who prioritize morality and personal integrity (p. 6). “Liberalism,” as he defines it, prioritizes progress for the sake of progress, supports technological advances, and a market- and profit-driven system that is given free reign by a limited government (p. 7). Clearly, our conservative and liberal political parties have moved a tad from such origins. Today’s Republican party has much more of a libertarian instead of a conservative ideology, and both parties swim somewhere in the soup of classical liberalism. Because of this, classical conservatism has been lost.

A conservative by his new / old definition, Krueger is not against a government with authority to set limits on businesses and provide social safety nets for the vulnerable in society. He acknowledges that big business is very poor at self-regulation and believes it is the role of government to set the needed limits that then benefit all instead of the few. What is important to him is respecting the laws and limits of nature and being humble about our own place in the world.

Krueger brings in LGBTQ and abortion issues because these are often, for Republican voters, issues that keep them away from a pro-environment vote (which is now solely the realm of Democrats). He does not support governmental promotion of LGBTQ or abortion rights, because he believes that both of these issues go against laws of nature and traditional moral principles. In some ways, especially with LGBTQ rights, I feel he is setting up a straw man argument (though it may appeal to today’s conservatives) about what the LGBTQ population wants: the destruction of the marriage institution, sex and sexuality becoming un-sacred and used solely for one’s personal pleasure, without concern to how we are responsible to one another in relationship. Perhaps it is my own personal experience of knowing so many married or monogamously committed, and very often Christian, LGBTQ couples that this argument barely makes sense to me. He also assumes there is no biological basis to homosexuality, whereas I do not think you can make such an argument based on what we witness even in the rest of the animal kingdom. On the issue of abortion, I give him credit that he supports much more social, governmental support for single mothers who keep the babies they are not ready for. I too wish for this and wish the Republicans could take this up as a pro-life issue.

Krueger’s book is a thin volume but very densely and academically written. It is not for the faint of heart if you fear being challenged, inspired, and even angered all in the same chapter. I do not agree with all of what he has written, yet I still want to shout the underlying message from the rooftops: Conservation is not an inherently liberal issue! Conservatives need to take up the issue of conservation! We have no time (or land, or water, or air) to waste!

Those of us who live in small towns, who naturally have more connection to the land and may either farm or know farmers nearby, easily understand this. My own town of Bellefontaine, Ohio has a free recycling program, has reduced their trash waste by 24% just this last year, and many people compost in their own backyards. They also tend to vote Republican. Conserving and being a conservative are not mutually exclusive.

So what is it we must do? In my opinion, people on both sides of the aisle must stop monolithic thinking and bring some humility to the table. Democrats, especially big-city Democrats, must gain respect for the giant red swath of America in the heartland, the people who are often much more intimately connected with the land and submission to the cycles of earth. Republicans need to recall their roots and end the unhealthy marriage to big-business interests and false individual autonomy (e.g. through lowering taxes no matter the cost) that has somehow come to define them.

Additionally, I appreciate Krueger’s bold yet hard-to-swallow stance that we cannot continue our technological race forward that serves to consume more and more resources, even when we try and commit to using renewable resources in our gluttonous consumption. A lesson that seems most difficult for Americans to learn is that we cannot have it all, we should not have it all, and we must stop thinking we can have it all instantly. I’m only a fish swimming in this same water yet I know this greedy desire is one of our great moral downfalls. Are we willing to give up our pride, our greed, and be willing to submit to each other and to the earth in time to rescue our planet from destruction?

Woodpecker

Winter, long and melancholy,
has kicked up its feet;
Stretched out, it’s here to stay,
an unwelcomed guest in the home of my soul

Poetry reminds me of life beyond this gray
I crave the greens, blues, whites, and yes even grays
of the places I used to live and love
recalling the girl it feels I only used to be

Then one day –
barely perceptible, a milder breeze on my face
a little sunshine through the clouds
a woodpecker drums furiously on a tree

Buds push through the dirt, too early
yet stubbornly seeking light anyway
The earth turns, we stretch towards the sun
I stretch toward tomorrow

And the woodpecker reminds me,

Tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat
He insists on now,
insists on cracking open the moment of today.

A relational and reflective new year resolution

It’s now 2019, and many people have written sweet, thoughtful posts on Facebook or other social media and blog accounts reflecting on the old year and sharing hopes for the upcoming one. I like reading the reflections, but admittedly, I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. Besides, the only times I managed to temporarily conquer my sugar problem were for a couple of Lents in years past. Apparently religiosity is sometimes more motivating to me than the time of year when you keep writing the wrong date on things…

Reluctance to resolve aside, I was inspired by (naturally) a podcast from Homebrewed Christianity, interviewing Gareth Higgins, that talked about a way to gather in community and reflect on the directions our lives are going. I love reflecting, but being in a routine about it is tough, and even tougher is being in regular relationship with people I would be this vulnerable with. I want to share about the practice with you here, in hopes that I will also find a way to birth this practice into my life.

First: gather a small group of people. At least three, up to 8 or 10, to form a community (as two is just a friendship). This will be something like an accountability group (call it something else if that feels to evangelical-y for you). Gather regularly and ask each other the following four questions:

  1. What’s coming alive to you? What is life-giving to you right now?
  2. What is challenging you, draining you or taking your life away?
  3. How is your purpose for the common good showing up? (What am I here for, what is my vocation, what gift do I have and how can I use it to help heal the community? Your gift is often where your wound was. How am I leaning into this and how am I running away from it?)
  4. Having heard what we’ve heard, how can we help each other? (whether practical or existential; economical or spiritual)

Even just writing out these questions, I feel compelled to start mulling them over. Here are where my answers are leading me this week. What about for you?

  1. What is life-giving to me is my vacation home to Colorado for the holidays, full of abundant sunshine, friends and family, and my beloved mountains (see below!). I am continuing my never-ending Enneagram exploration (currently listening to The Road Back to You), which is fun for me. I am excited for friend and family gatherings coming up in the near/near-ish future, like my brother’s wedding!
  2. What is/was challenging me recently was the feeling I have when I am not my whole self, either because I am not seen for who I am or because I refuse to bring my whole self to the table (for various reasons). I also realized how much I can daydream and tune people out when I am in the presence of others, which was rather startling when my family started pointing this out to me.
  3. My purpose for the common good is showing up when I still make time for my counseling clients this week after getting back home early Friday morning, and then when 100% of them show up, which feels validating! But using my job as a therapist also feels like a cop-out, so I’m going to add that when I do things like write or make some kind of connection with others (which for me, takes intentional effort), I am also showing up for the common good. There are so many doubts and reluctances in play that keep me from writing or believing my words or my presence really matters much at all. Sometimes it takes a lot to show up.
  4. How can you help me? By reaching out and letting me know something I said or wrote mattered. By sharing your own experiences and stories – I try and let you know when I “hear” or “see” you (online) or I try to give you my full presence when we are in person (see my struggles in #2; it is easier with friends than with family). If you feel curious and maybe a little compelled to give a group like this a shot… well, it would mean a lot if you let me know!

My beloved Colorado mountains: definitely life-giving.

Making art: Also life-giving! Especially when combined with the beloved mountains.

Do you guys have any inspiring (or just regular) New Year’s resolutions? Do groups like this sound intriguing, boring, or terrifying to you? What is giving you life and how is your purpose showing up in your life today?

love letters from fall

I have a collection of prose / poetry that I call “Love Letters to Somebody” (to help explain the post’s title today). These are a couple of pieces inspired by our recent, magnificent change of seasons. The pictures for the first two poems aren’t the trees of inspiration, but just imagine the brightest yellow tree standing out amidst the greens and browns, boldly being so bright and yellow.

View out my window from my favorite sitting place in the house.

Leaves
10/28/18

Because sometimes, when it seemed the leaves would skip their
glorious colors this year,
then you wake up
and everything is now yellows and oranges and reds,
and then the wind
blows through

raining
yellow
leaves
all
around

and you feel again
God is still speaking

 

Burning Bush
11/3/18

The tree
so
goldenrod yellow
if it were in the Garden of Eden,
I too would eat of it, to know
such beauty and knowledge

if it were Moses’ burning bush,
take my shoes off
leap into ecstasy into it
to burn too
Such magnificence
proclaims
the love of God

 

Royalty
11/11/18

Naked and unashamed, she stands
with royal carpet surrounding her majestic throne
unworried that it will all be swept away tomorrow

love letter for a friend

(for 2-27-16)
We sit around this corner table in your favorite Memphis brewery, the four of us, you and your love and me and mine. A few hours ago we were down by the riverside, balancing on a log, balancing each other on a log. Down by the riverside, arm in arm in arm in arm, watching the sun set on the mighty Mississippi. I just want you to know how full my heart was in that moment. Full to bursting. Even when we are a 7.5 hour drive apart, I know I am as much a part of your life as you are mine, even when we don’t talk but every month or two or three. But I love you and you love me, and we are each reflected, in some strange way, in the love we’ve found with these other people, and we all share each other’s stories.

We sit around this corner table with a rickety Jenga tower in front of us, we beat Jenga! we declare, but I know that you and I will keep on going higher and longer, higher than Jenga towers, longer than weekend visits that last 24 hours. We play silly games and laugh so hard we cry and drink rich dark beer that’s the best I ever tasted, almost at least, and I maybe wish I could stay safe in this presence forever. But part of the beauty of what we have is that it can be picked up whenever we need it, and maybe it is best this way, to have highlight moments but share souls from afar, I don’t know…

We sit around this corner table and share the hours and laugh so hard we cry and talk about nothing in particular but I am with you and that is what matters, and this is just my way of saying I love you –

simplicity and farmer’s markets

(from Tuesday, 2-9-16) The canal path is white today and the bare tree branches dusted with snow; the flakes come down and greet my eyeballs with a handshake. The simplicity and the beauty of the snow make me think: what do I really want from life? Where will I find my joy? Because I recognize that I have such joy in this simplicity; this morning run on my canal that I’ve done hundreds of times, the gentle flakes falling from the sky, the houses on the canal path that I always imagine myself living in, fantasizing of a life of simplicity and peace as you look out over this waterway every morning with your coffee. What I long for is the complex simplicity of making your home, your life, a place for people to find their peace in or find a community that they belong. What I long for is someone with whom to share all of this. And I realize, as I propel these tired legs forward on a random, beautiful Tuesday, that right now I have all that I need. In this moment, it is complete. And some deep part of me trusts that the next moment will also, somehow, be complete.

*****

(from Saturday, 2-20-16) Farmer’s Market, Saturday morning. A February morning that makes you believe wholeheartedly in spring before winter strikes again, not ready to fully release us to sunshine and melted streets and birds singing. People file into this old windowless warehouse building, funniest farmer’s market atmosphere I ever saw, for their market goodies before starting the rest of their day. My roommate sells coffee along with free huge hugs and smiles to brighten your day. I go to see her. I love this collection of people who are willing to slow down, savor tastes, and pay a little extra for the real thing. I wish I could be more like them.
Too soon it is time to go, back out to the sunshine, off to my Saturday shift in the library before I am free to run and play in this abundant sunshine. The surprise summer-in-the-end-of-winter puts me in a giddy mood and I cook up plans for how to squeeze every last drop I can from this day. I act as if I won’t have this again forever, and in a way I won’t, if forever means a couple of weeks. I remind myself to let the abundant sunshine rain its abundance on me. There will be days like this again. And right now, live fully into the moment that today is giving me.

how we worship

This small congregation of 12, the ones K. tears up for when preaching about them in sermons, the ones who have to close their doors in too few days, too few to allow K. to be ordained in the church building he was raised up in. Where is the line between thriving and surviving? What happens to a church that once split because it was growing so much and now, can seat everyone comfortably around a long foldout table?
Sitting with them, I film a movie in my head, a beautiful tragedy of a once-bustling church. A scene of this very conversation, zooming in on the confirming question: we still want to keep meeting, right? – yes. Camera pans out to a wide shot of the whole table discussing how much money to sell the building for, face shots of people giving out numbers in earnest, putting numeric values on a place that has housed the growing up of children, the building of community, the maturation of their own souls. I watch the fierce commitment of people who have spent years and years together, without a question in their minds of whether or not they will continue to be church with each other, only wondering where.
I imagine a future scene in my head, the keys being handed over to the new owners, the wooden doors closing one last time, the last truck loaded with folding chairs and a chalice, driving out of the parking lot. A tear streaking slowly down the cheek of the churchgoer, maybe the movie watcher. A beautiful tragic drama, or as K. reminds me, There is joy; it’s an opportunity for a new beginning.

 

*****

Early morning pre-dawn, best time for running. We’re getting so much in before most people are even thinking about rolling out of bed. The moon is just showing off with an incredible set like this, playing hide-and-seek between the clouds, sinking large and low on the horizon. K. and I tread cautiously on frozen snow, paths lit by the shine of the moon and the occasional car beam, until we reach the stillness of the canal path. I breathe deeper there and relax – my home. There is something about the joy of the cold air, the bare tree branches, the night sky, and running beside my love that alchemies into a mixture of joyous exuberance. Words burst from my mouth, story after story after random detail, but I am safe and know I am loved, and K. finds it all charming. At this easy pace, I could run forever, and almost wish to. Just keep going til you run out of path, out of time, out of darkness. Run until dawn, until the secret of night ends. That is what I love about night runs, I tell K. — it is as though the canal and I hold a secret that nobody else knows about, that there is beauty so strange and glorious and wonderful and I revel to share in it. Oh you beautiful world, you. Light feet, light body, light heart.

Moonset CTS night sky

last of Gethsemani

I may already be back at home, but here are two last shorts about Gethsemani, my friends.

Kentucky countryside

I have noticed when I do the things I think I “should” do but do not really want to do, I feel stifled; I want to climb out of my skin.
I sit, squirmy, through Christmas Eve mass, having forgotten everyone else here is Catholic and these things mean more to them than to me. I count down to when they will go forward for the Eucharist and I will leave to go have a snack, to go outside in my blanket and look at the moon. Finally. When will I learn to listen to myself and stop obeying all the things that I think “should” be done and rather listen to the One deep inside me who knows what I need? When will I stop allowing guilt to run my life?
I already am on this path.
I go on a Christmas hike instead of a church service, and it is the best Christmas morning I could give myself.

 

I finally sat down and meditated today. I did not fall asleep once. I sat with the sense of Self inside me that I’m trying to learn to listen to. Maybe it was because I was actually alert. Maybe because I had read enough Thomas Merton to get in the contemplative mood. Maybe because I ran out of running away.

 Stone houseThis little house is named Enoch’s Stone House. It’s a little meditation shack. Inside are cobwebs, a pitcher of water, a cross and rosary, a beautiful psalm book, and notebooks where people write down their prayers.
I rarely write in such books, but today I decided that my words, too, were worth being heard.

12-25-15, Gethsemani

Full moon rising (3)

There are no words… I just turned around, and there it was. Hullo, moon. 

*****

Now for the things that strain towards words…

12-25-15 ~ Merry Christmas

Today is a good day for hiking. But a year and half ago I hiked this same trail and fled down this hill in tears and terror when the spider webs became too numerous to avoid any longer. I felt ashamed then, my stepbrother’s voice ringing in my head, instructing my ten-year-old self to touch a fish. “Don’t be afraid; it’s part of God’s creation!” I couldn’t do it and felt so bad I was letting God down. I’m so sorry, God. I love your creation, just not with the all the critters.
Today I am not afraid. It is winter and the spiders and snakes are all gone. I am happy and at peace, yet I worry that my inner peace is only present because my outer circumstances have changed. But, I am out here on a rainy morning that floods streams and turns paths to mud, and some people would be afraid of that. And I am not.
I have to believe that each little revolution we make, each turn around the sun, also moves us forward.

Come on now, wouldn’t you be afraid of spiders if you knew ones like that might be hanging around? (Spider from Aug 2014; Muddy hill from Dec 2015)

*****

I want to experience freedom, so I give myself three hours to get lost in the woods on Christmas morning. No one else is out here and I commune with wet leaves, dripping rain, fallen logs. I make it to a marked destination and turn off the path, wondering where I might go. I imagine I am making a very large counter-clockwise loop, and walk for a long time. Two deer bound across my path; Hello, friends! It smells like horse. Is that what deer smell like? I start to think I will never emerge from the woods – at least not in time for lunch – when I see an open field. It might be familiar. Not that way, this way, Spirit urges me. I comply and ascend a small hill. I laugh in surprise to find I am on the other side of a lake I was at two hours ago. It seems I wandered clockwise to get here. What do I know, anyway? Spirit led me home, and all I had to do was follow. It is like learning to listen to the true I, not the ego-self but the one who always is present and guiding if only we can drop our other pretenses. Spirit lead me home. Home is right here.

Gethsemani, 12-24-15

20151224_103949 (2)

Brother Tree died last night.
I am the first to find him on Christmas Eve morning, 4 a.m., his body massive and smelling like Christmas tree, strewn across the path. In the darkness he is even more imposing and lifelike, even unto death. The smell screams life, even though his scent is only released because he was broke open.
I stand among his branches, sorrowful at his untimely death. I knew the rainstorm was ferocious last night, I could hear it pelting my windows; but I didn’t know it was this fierce. An entire tree taken down by the wind. I gaze up the short hill at his remaining trunk, raw and ragged, with another branchless trunk piece collapsed beside the base. Brother Tree must have been carried by the wind, and I marvel at how that invisible force can move such a strong and stout character.
I breathe deep, welcoming him inside me, and walk the garden loop. When I circle back, I pay him homage once more and break a small branch off as a treasure, a remembrance.
Someone else will find him when it gets light. Someone else will remove his body from the garden to a final resting place.

20151224_103957

(Although as day draws to a close and he has yet to move, I start to wonder if the monks feel the same way I do about him).

*****

I like walking the grounds by the Abbey, my feet treading these Kentucky hills. I summit a mound and look back to see from where I have come, survey the land beneath this queenly post. I smile a benevolent smile on all that I see. And it was good. I feel connected, my feet on the ground, as if the earth lives through me and I live through it. The earth experiences me seeing itself. Yet I am small, a miniscule part of this wondrous creation.
The worms have come out to play, too. Fat bodies taking a breather on asphalt, their muddy homes flooded. Hello, worms. Take care to not be squished. But that is someone else’s responsibility; the worms don’t know any more than to do what they do. I walk carefully around them.

*****

20151223_122230

I write in my head as I walk. Some might call that thinking; it is not. At least when I write, my thoughts are focused and directed, even as they make me something of a second-hand observer of what is going on. When I am simply thinking, my mind wanders far away and I am not an observer of the present. Occasionally – for maybe five seconds at a time – I can be present to what is. Openness. Awe. Stillness. Until I start thinking or writing about it again.