squirrelsI effing hate squirrels.

Rewind: When I was a young boy, I had a love-hate relationship with Saturday mornings. I loved them because my mom didn’t care that I woke up at 6:30am with my sis to watch the masochistic pursuits of one Wile E. Coyote. Really? A roadrunner? How much meat can possibly be on that thing?

I hated Saturdays because that meant Dad was on the prowl. As a pastor, his only day off was Saturday. As a father, he knew that he needed cheap labor to turn our rather large Bakersfield backyard into a botanical garden. Three scrawny Oesch boys mowing lawns, weeding flower beds, and repairing sprinkler heads all for the cost of some open-faced sardine sandwiches.

Fast forward: Apparently, nobody told me that I’d turn out to be my father. I honestly look forward to building flower beds each spring. I love pulling out the weeds and smirking, “Not this time, weed!” I have even recruited my son to be the Patriot Missile Defense System for our two meager garden plots. Weed comes up, weed gets annihilated.

But squirrels. They weren’t in our Bakersfield neighborhood. Now, they haunt my dreams. Squirrels are a relentless army of undead ninjas. They are the Immortals. They are the Rasputins of the animal kingdom.

They are the invasion of the wild, the chaotic, the untamed force that wrecks my beautifully manicured tulip pots and citrus trees. Herbs? Eaten. Bulbs? Gone. Hydroponic garden of cilantro, beets and lettuce? Grazed to the root.

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Since I’m a theologian by trade, I search for connections between the big and the small. My battle with the demon-varmints is but a microcosm of the grander tension between that which is chaotic and that which is ordered. Gardens attempt to do both, capture untamed beauty and fertility within the confines of an orderly system of rows, pots, and flower borders.

I don’t know what the proper balance between the “natural” life and the “technological” life is. I actually find it somewhat amusing how the differing fields within science come to drastically different conclusions about the man vs. wild relationship:

You have the ecologists-naturalists-conservationalist types who teach:
-That the natural way of things is good. Nature is to be left alone.
-Humanity is the problem, nature is the solution.

But the techie, science-in-a-lab-coat types, preach a different gospel:
-Progress is an implicit good, and technology is the fruit of all progress.
-Technology will allow us to save this planet and its afflictions.
-The limiting forces of nature are the problem, humanity shall find the solution.

Something’s not right here. The philosophy of the natural, at least in a basic sense, is diametrically opposed to a philosophy of technology. I know I’m using broad terms but follow me. The natural life is one that allows nature to follow its own orders; to defer to nature’s needs above humanity’s. The technological life, by contrast, is an outright attempt to bring nature into submission. Technologies exist to make form out of chaos, to exert an authority over-and-against the natural way. The squirrel’s assault on my property is natural. My hula-hoe and Beretta shotgun are technological.

“Technologies exist to make form out of chaos, to exert an authority over-and-against the natural way.”

In the beginning, God wrestled form out of chaos…and God chose Adam to work and maintain the Garden, to tend to its needs. Nowhere is the implication that the Garden would have remained in check had Adam just sat on the hillside all day in a Krispy Kreme koma. Forgive the tautology, but wild is wild. No rules will be gardenimposed upon it except the rule of nature: That which survives, wins. This reality is all the more pronounced in a post-Fall world where God curses the ground itself, saying, “[the ground] will produce thorns and thistles for you” [1]. That which is wild will always resist external manipulation. But both wildness and technology, if left to their own devices, can be used to destroy. Consider that uncontrolled growth is not considered natural or beneficial–it’s called cancer.

Wildness is valuable. Until it’s amplified to the point of pure chaos.
Technology is valuable. Until it’s amplified to the point of pure tyranny.

The distinction is that the technological device is designed to amplify. Marshall McLuhan made this point famous—technological devices are extensions of ourselves. For example, a phone extends/amplifies our ears and voices across great distances. But this comes at great cost:

“To behold, use or perceive any extension of ourselves in technological form is necessarily to embrace it … By continuously embracing technologies, we relate ourselves to them as servomechanisms. That is why we must, to use them at all, serve these objects, these extensions of ourselves, as gods or minor religions. An Indian is the servo-mechanism of his canoe, as the cowboy of his horse or the executive of his clock.” [2]

With a statement like that, it comes as no surprise that both nature and technology are gods of the new world, complete with accompanying rituals, languages, and committed worshipers.

Perhaps the best technologies are those that do, in fact, control some aspect of the natural without killing its originally designed beauty and mystique. Gardens are managed by hoe and blade; all for the purpose of showing off the beauty of the flora itself. In these cases, the technologies recede into the background—they help produce the art but are not the art itself.

Perhaps not. A Ferrari is still a Ferrari. Art and technology in one glorious Italian symphony.

Godly discernment may simply lead us to the following questions:
How do we produce a system of checks and balances on both of these ‘goods?’
How will you live your life that serves God in the midst of the wild … and the ordered?

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[1] Gn 3:18.
[2] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (Cambridge, MA: First MIT Press, 1964), 46.

© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.