The following is a guest blog by Tyler Sims.
Smoke choke. Two words I never heard before. Two words I now know intimately, like a dial on the stove top turning up the heat. “Smoke choke” seared in me a desire for theological action regarding creation care and climate change.
The mega-wildfires of the West had sent their foreboding herald. In the sleepiest moments of night an ominous smoke crept over the entire West Coast and into communities of the Olympic Peninsula. Our town is situated near the northwestern-most point of the contiguous United States. We were caught unaware.
Smoke Choke, September, 11, 2020:
Setting the fan on low I welcome the cool air from nearby Salish sea. My kids will sleep well tonight.
The morning light peeps through our window’s edge. A burning courses down the length of my throat. Stinging tears perch on the creases of my eye lids. There is a strange haze highlighted by a 7 A.M. burnt orange sun. Our home smells slightly of some odd aroma. It smells of sharp and sweet burnt plastic. My lungs constrict. Fumbling for my inhaler, I puff the stuff of pulmonary salvation.
Seattle’s news update explains our air quality is now hazardous. Mega fires with their own weather system send their message: Hazardous. What does it mean? It means the air my daughter and son breathe is poison. Each breath could deliver poisonous microscopic particles deep into their lungs.
September 12, 2020
Seattle’s Komo news demonstrates making homemade filters out of box fans. One HEPA filter and copious amounts of duct tape forms the makeshift adaptation. It is too little, too late for our drafty home. Words of complaint fall from my lips, “My throat is still on fire.” The asthma attack tightens its vice. “Do you think the hotel will have clean air?” Andrea asks.
Driving away, the car mirror reflects a hazy image of the neighborhood. The radio blares the height of a smoke plume on top of Western Washington–6,0000 feet. A meteorologist explains, “It’s called an inversion– meaning the clean air is trapped above 6,000 ft of smoke.”
At the hotel Sophia and Ty spill their toys over patterned carpet. There are no advertisements regarding Quality Inn’s air quality. A few breaths in and it’s clear; we escaped the poison air.
“Hazardous,” is the message of mega-fires from the chaparral mountains in California. “Poison” is the message from the evergreen mountains of Oregon. Beyond the flames, what does the message communicate?
It communicates the prophetic witness of fire. In ecology, or the study of Eden, fire is a renewing agent. It burns through the old and worn out stands of forest–a function often thwarted by mankind’s forest management. Pioneer species and other plants dominate recently burned areas. These pioneer plants–sometimes forming wildflower meadows–renew the soil.
As time passes, newly conditioned soil begins transitioning to larger, more nutritious plants. Perhaps Jesus had this in mind when commenting, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” Luke 12:49
Let’s lean into the interpretation of Jesus wanting fire for dramatic renewal. Consider the ecological function of forest fires coupled with the mind-boggling size of West Coast wildfires. What are the forests pleading? What is the earth asking? What is creation groaning?
The earth is asking for renewal. The forests are asking for a restart. Perhaps creation …
waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.-Romans 8:19-22
The initial devastating destruction of wildfires mirror society at large. Society is dependent upon a death-dealing transaction of negligent thinking translated into a fiery blaze of irresponsible human industry. For example, technology’s codependence on manufacturing promotes exploitive resource extraction which harms the earth and props up unsustainable carbon industry.
It is a global societal pattern akin to the early and chaotic stages of a spreading fire.
Wildfires also tell us that gluttonous earth consumption is hazardous and ignoring the earth is poisonous. Within the literal smoke the fate of creation and humanity become united. The smoke is burnt particles of industry: cars, gasoline, non-renewable materials and pollutants. The smoke is also burnt homes, animals, plants and human life. Prophetic fire warns us and smoke compels us to change.
Fire is a startling teacher and yet it heralds good news too. After the flames arrest our attention we can choose to start anew. We can choose a new relationship with creation by working with the ways of the earth (ecology), not against it. We can renew our relationship with God as cultivators instead of consumers. We can forge new relationships with each other as fellow cultivators, not destructive competitors. Yes, it’s hard work. But don’t worry; we have help.
“One who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”Luke 3:16
Do-ology Challenge: Get some dirt in the game! Replace smart phone time with planting real trees via a conservation app. https://www.forestapp.cc/