Scorched Earth

I had only been in Idaho a few days when I saw the lightning strike in the distance. The fire it ignited would burn tens of thousands of acres. I marveled as I drove by “the burn” and saw the earth itself scorched black. The dry desert grasses and sage brushes had been burned away, the soil itself bearing witness to the fire which had rushed through.

A couple weeks later another fire. And then another.

Southern Idaho wasn’t hit as hard as the upper Northwest, though, so we were all thanking our lucky stars. But the truth is, this summer has been devastating in West. Wildfires have decimated millions of acres of land. Fire-fighters have exhausted their resources trying to fight the fires, save homes and property and farms.

As the summer progressed, the number of burn zones I would pass on my way over to Twin Falls (Starbucks, you know…) seemed to increase and I would often think about the term “scorched earth”.

But day after day, week after week, the presence of the blackened desert became so commonplace that I just stopped noticing them.

That is, I stopped noticing them until one day last week when a hint of green in the midst of the black rocks and soil grabbed my attention.

I glanced to the right too late to actually see what had flashed by me. I assumed it must’ve been an unburned section of the desert I had notices.

But then I saw it–a tiny little tuft of green poking up through the charcoaled soil. And then another. And another.

Here was a whole patch of it and out there was a vast expanse of it.

Now that I knew I what I was looking for I could see that the whole desert around me was slowly sprouting back to life.

In Isaiah 24 we see an earth destroyed. The soil itself has been scorched, the inhabitants scattered. All that remains are ruins. But turn the page to Isaiah 25 and suddenly the tone shifts. Where that had been destruction, now is celebration and joy. There is feasting and happiness and plenty. A new life has grown in the place of all the oppression and tyranny and hatred that had stood before.

If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know that I am a proud and self-proclaimed “bleeding heart”. I embrace progressive Christian theology and progressive politics. These stances have come through a lifetime of wrestling with faith and spirituality. I have spent my fair share of time down by the Jabbok River.

In some cases, God has built on a foundation already in place. In other cases, God had to tear down the faulty foundation I was standing upon so that God could build a solid one. Those were the particularly painful lessons learned, the ones that left me walking with a bit of a limp, but made me a stronger person all around.

Watching progressive policies being dismantled by the new administration has been difficult for me because my support of those policies were often so intertwined with my deep-seated and devout faith. It was the product of lifetime of walking with God and wrestling with scripture. While my conservative friends and family were celebrating, I was weeping.

It felt like I was standing in the midst of a scorched earth.

It felt as if no matter which way I looked, all I could see was death and blackness.

But over the past few months I’ve also begun to notice something else. Once I finished grieving and began to take stock of what was left around me, I found signs of new life. Movements such as Repairers of the Breach and Moral Mondays gave voice to many Christians who were struggling to understand their positions in terms of faith. Christians and Muslims and Jews began coming together to combat a sudden surge in hate crimes. Conversations are begging to happen all across our country about how we break down the divide that has torn us apart and find way to live and love together without having to destroy each other.

These have all been little shoots of green pushing themselves up through the scorched earth, a new life taking root in a place where it could not have grown before.

The end of the story is never the scorched earth.

The end of the story is never total destruction.

There is always another chapter, a page to be turned–there is always room for renewal, rebirth, and new life in God’s Kingdom. We see it play out over and over again in scripture.

Whether it’s in the prophecies of Isaiah in which a vision of scorched earth morphed into a vision of a feast. Or whether it’s in the death of Christ and darkness falling over the earth before the sun breaks through and Christ arises from the grave into a new day. Or whether it’s in the prophecies of John, who thought he saw the end of the world only to see that it was the beginning of God’s KIngdom coming down to Earth… the scorched earth is never the end of the story.

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