Letter from America, part two
I envy you seeing our West, and especially Yellowstone (and the Bison) for the first time. I have lived here for the majority of my life - and truly, seeing a bison is a spiritual encounter for me. Welcome to our club.
I had to drive from the Nebraska Panhandle to Denver Airport last Sunday afternoon, along the highway I refer to the ballistic missile silo route (the area is peppered with them) and saw a herd of animals on the east side of the highway just before leaving Nebraska and was delighted to discover they were buffalo. It is a blessing I feel a greater connection to them than I do all my devices.
I am grateful to you for assisting me in learning how to describe what I am feeling. Mostly, welcome to America.
Already signed up for news from the Wagon Box. Would love to get out that way next summer. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and travels. Bison and mountains look like a good answer to the spiritual crisis.
This essay was brilliant in my opinion, all about living in the machine being surrounded by the machine being driven by the machine.
Yet one line that you said sent chills up and down my spine because it basically says it all to me.
"All of them - us- in search of the key to remaining human"
Yes Yes Yes.
I am convinced that's where we are heading and I'm convinced that's where we will end up, hopefully.
“ I can’t see any other picture now.”
Yes, I couldn’t agree more. Hard for me to engage publicly because basically every argument on every topic ends with a polite rephrasing of “y’all need Jesus.” It’s become my carthago delenda est… but once you see it (the spiritual aspect of the crisis) you can’t unsee it, so here I am
(See for instance here:
I hope you do get to spend some time in the SLC area - to be specific, in the sublime mountains less than an hour from downtown. Perfect place to go unmachining, even if you need a machine to get you there…
Enjoyed the Leonard Cohen reference. One of my other favorite Cohen lines, of late:
"As He died to make me holy, let us die to make things cheap."
Good time of year to visit Yellowstone, you hit it right. I'm two hours or so from there; things are starting to look beautiful, with all the snow. I cut up a buffalo a number of years ago; what an animal. I'm not generally prone to outrage, but as I cut off the hump and the rest of the 500+ pounds of boneless we ended up with, it was pretty hard not to be, thinking about the era of the buffalo slaughter.
I appreciated and empathized with your feeling of absurdity, writing what you are writing but also being cognizant of how and where you are writing it.
For me, the feeling is quite potent. Having come to see the world largely as you have, I now struggle with what to actually do. This change in perception was rapid, and radical. In three years, I went from being an unabashed tech enthusiast, all in on scientific and technological progress, to where I am now. It's disorienting, to say the least, and leaves me with a feeling of whiplash.
It's also like being reborn. I don't mean that in some grand poetic or mystical sense. My meaning is much more down to earth: everything is new, vibrant, wondrous, terrifying, overwhelming, and much too big. Oh, I don't mean that I'm despairing; the hope we have in Christ is a good check on that tendency. Rather, it's more of a realization that not only do I not know how to live outside the Machine, I struggle even to moderate its influence slightly. Outside of the Machine, right now, I may as well be an infant in all their weakness and helplessness. It's daunting to realize that well into your adult life, you don't actually know how to care for yourself or others because of how dependent you are on Machine systems.
After the winter, I plan on starting a small raised-bed garden in my small suburban backyard to try and grow at least a few vegetables for myself. I've never done this before, and I'll have to figure out what to do with them if I manage to successfully harvest any. Though I'm hoping this will be a small first step to doing more and finding better ways of living, I recognize it's not enough, and even if I were to manage to live as your friend Mark detailed in his latest book (which will likely never happen) it still won't feel like enough. I guess there's nothing for it but, as you said, to simply do the best we can and I guess I will trust God with what's lacking.
I'm so glad you were able to spend time in a part of the U.S. where you could experience those wide open spaces and patches of wildness. I used to think I would be content to move to the eastern seaboard, or pretty much anywhere, but the older I get, the more I pray that I can at least stay in the western part of the country (but east of Seattle and Portland!) until I die. I grew up here, and the drama of our landscape combined with the quantity of land, that in some places stretches out like the sea, is soothing to me.
Thanks for your second letter from America. God bless you.
"...what it would mean to begin rebuilding a sacred culture in the ruins of the world the Machine has made..."
Perhaps the most profound question that we can tackle. Indeed, it didn't take long for us to tire of Eden--in my estimation, likely a day or so--and it is likely that, even if we could re-recreate that state of bliss, we would tire of it as quickly.
Eggs. Over easy!
Reading this from the West African nation of Liberia tonight and it all feels so different from when I read posts such as these from my home in Colorado. Really, really different.
If the machine is here it is fully glitched, or, I’m witnessing life at its a$$ end. Almost half the population is food insecure, pollution, poverty, and the echoes of eradicated Ebola are still very much present and talk of a war that ended 20 years ago is still heard as candidates hold parties and close roads in advance of a runoff presidential election that will take place in 6 days.
I spent the day with children who walk 2 hours each way to school and frequently only have 1 meal a day, which is why they come to school at all. Before the food came they’d go to work. 5 years old, breadwinner. A school full of reformed malnourished baby workers. Parents that now come together to fundraise from the community to build cinder block storage with foraged roofs for rice and beans, for their kids without tools. Volunteer teachers, paid by parents, because the corrupt government assigns almost no budget for education. Food prices here match the west but wages are nowhere near the same, nor is employment.
And we complain.
I read this passage and felt strange. Ashamed. Privileged. Spoiled. Angry? Inauthentic? Empty? Seeing the sign of things that might come? I’m not sure, it all just feels like the transmission is glitching and I no longer know how to translate commentary from those who live in the global north / west, while billions starve, suffer genocide, and live out their lives in our waste and filth. Our arrogance comes to mind. Plastic is everywhere. No infrastructure. Trash and garbage and naked children all amongst it watched over by rotting buildings that once housed snipers.
Hope remains in small places here. I just have to wonder what right do I, do you, do any of us have to judge the machine anymore when we’re all pretty much fully cooked in the North? I really mean it. Baked to our gills. We are bathing daily in the privilege of our developed, functioning cultures, paved roads, education, clean water access and laws. We are also watching the control coming for us drop by drop and it scares us. But we have street lights, doctors, tools, and medicine. Oh, and literacy, books, seeds, and machines for spinning fabric from plants and wool.
Is this all due to the machine? I’m still trying to understand and I think I need help. I’ve read all of Paul’s commentary, btw. I’ve tried others. It’s all just really feeling superficial and petty all of a sudden.
My partner and I came from poverty, neglect, violence, and abuse and give grace together every day for the calm safety and stability of our lives. We’re not numb, we are so so grateful. We love our clean, safe home. We love that we have work and each other. We hold hands and give grace every single day, often I wonder, because we live with the ptsd of stolen childhoods and cruelty and maybe we give grace so evil will not come back and claim us. We know what it is to actually suffer, and viciously. We know in large part it’s due to the machine. We still give grace.
I'm so glad to hear you had a good visit to the U.S. Despite the frequent turmoil, there's much to be thankful for here. A quick question if you see this--I've been enjoying your FPR talks online, and I'm hoping you can give me the source for your quote from Fr. Sibley, the one about "What we will not preserve, we cannot share." I've looked all over but can't find books or blogs by the man. Would love to read more if he's publishing. Thank you!
Our daughter always says, "eggs easy over."
I cannot even begin to do anything without first acknowledging and laughing at my own absurdity.
I’ve realized that while I agree with you, “we are living through a spiritual crisis”, it is very difficult for me to be a spiritual person. I feel spiritual things sometimes, but that is not the same.
Still, I’ve made a point of regularly behaving in a way that puts me at least partly outside the machine. Not the majority of the time, not even close, but I think fairly consistently.
More random thoughts:
Flying is a strange experience. After a long break from flying, from 2018 to 2022, I flew again last year and found I had become a much more nervous flyer. (However I am very awesome at packing.) Still, there is something about taking off and landing specifically that i in always find very moving. I think being born and/or dying must feel something like taking off in an airplane. You are switching states, it is fast, overwhelming, absolutely not in your control, and kind of terrifying but in an exciting way.
This past summer my family and I spent 10 days at the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. We took a helicopter ride at the Grand Canyon; as the theme song from "2001: A Space Odyssey" coursed through our headphones, we crested the lip of the the canyon. And I've never been so awed by the majesty of nature, the power of it.
Similar reaction when we came through the long tunnel at Zion and emerged with the huge cliffs looming before us; I nearly drove off the road. I live in Florida - the Everglades are awe-inspiring in their own right but the scenery of the western U.S. demonstrates just how small we are as individuals.
And that's the trick of the Machine; to make us think that we are more than these wonders; that we are in fact the wonder. To be captured by the Machine is to believe human desire somehow trumps all. Politically, that's increasingly true. But the forces that made these canyons, that eroded the ravines; the huge herd of bison fording the stream could care less; they endure. We don't.
If we want to see the future, look back, into Scripture. God’s word is very clear about mankind’s past mistakes and the bleak future of this present time.
There is hope for the future but not until Christ returns to establish God’s kingdom here in the new earth.
The question every person needs to address is; do we accept or reject Christ.
Paul it was a pleasure to meet you and your lovely family! I can't help but point out that our little shindig might have infected you with some optimism. "We might as well do it with cheer," yes! I really hope to stay in touch. The Renaissance of living well amongst the doom is coming and we are going to usher it in! I just know it.