Long-time readers of my blog probably understand that this was an exciting weekend for me. Between the increasing seismic activity beneath the glacier in Iceland the the possible volcanic eruption yesterday and then the northern California earthquake today there was a lot of active geologic activity. Yes, that is my actual profession – playing with Presbyterianism as I do on this blog is a side line.
Now, both of these are significant geologic events and the earthquake this morning in the Napa area is directly related to my research on California seismic hazard. But when these events occur I have to scratch my head a little bit about the perspective from here in the States (I can’t speak for readers in other parts of the world). As a specialist I see a bigger picture that is not present in the media accounts around me.
For example, where was the largest earthquake in the world this weekend? It was not Napa, but rather a 6.4 yesterday near Hacienda La Calera, Chile. Interestingly the reports so far indicate there were more injuries and more severe ones from the Napa quake than the Chile quake. Why so? If I had to make an educated judgement it would be that the population in Chile has been through enough large earthquakes over the years that building strength and population preparedness is better than for California. [Ed. Note – as I was editing this an M7.0 (preliminary) earthquake happened in Peru. See how much coverage that gets.]
But what about volcanoes, what’s up with them? Well, the most recent weekly bulletin from the Smithsonian/USGS Volcanic Activity Report lists 20 volcanoes in various stages of eruption. Some are ongoing like Kilauea which just keeps on erupting, doesn’t really explode and after a couple decades has pretty much cleared out all the structures that were in the area. But did you hear about Fuego in Guatemala? While it has rumbled for a while it had a particularly active phase earlier this month and the description in the Latin American Herald Tribune included these paragraphs:
GUATEMALA – Guatemala’s Fire volcano was spewing huge columns of ash and smoke in hourly eruptions as it came back to life after a period of moderate activity, officials reported.
The Insivumeh said the volcano was “belching out huge columns of grey ash” up to a height of 4,300 meters above sea level and at a distance of 12 kilometers (7½ miles).
The nearby villages of Morelia, Santa Sofia and Yepocapa were covered with ash from the eruptions.
Yes, there are people around the world that live in the shadow of perpetually active volcanoes.
And my point is…?
When I got into geology I had a professor who spoke of the “magic eyes of a geologist” and how we would never look at the scenery the same way again. He was absolutely correct – when I look at the landscape as a trained geologist I see things others don’t see and we may see the same things but I my training has me see them differently. And my family members in other disciplines are the same way as they see things through their lenses and filters.
Similarly with the news. I don’t watch a single news feed but actively seek out a variety sources of information about active geologic activity around the world. And right next to it I have my multiple sources of information regarding Presbyterians around the world for my hobby of writing this blog.
But the narrow focus of the mainstream media coverage around me this weekend reminded me of a number of things about perspective.
First, we must sometimes be deliberate in seeking out a broad range of sources to get the big picture.
Second, even with multiple sources our background, experiences and training impose on us lenses or filters that may help us see some or all of the situation more clearly or in a bigger context. In addition, at the same time we may see one part more clearly our increased focus in that area may distract us from other areas. [As a side note, this is the major strength of Presbyterianism as we bring the community together to listen to each other as we bring our own strengths to the table and then discern and decide as a group using all our collective talents and stories.]
Finally, even with deliberate effort we must recognize that we can not know everything, that we have limitations and blind spots, and graciously confess that and then look for opportunities to try to fill in those gaps.
When I originally outlined this reflection I was going to put in a case study here at the end but I will leave that as an exercise for the reader. As you have probably figured out this reflection is not really about earthquakes and volcanoes. It is about how we as the Body of Christ respond to the situations around us. There is so much going on in the world right now, so many situations where there are multiple points of view, some of which our filters and lenses let us understand and some where they get in the way. This is a challenge, maybe even a charge, to the reader to try to find a way to set filters and lenses aside, or redirect them, see another perspective in a situation, no matter how much you may not agree with it. The point is not agreement but rather understanding.
Update: Shortly after publishing this I came across a quote from Aristotle that may sum it up better – “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
May God bless your efforts at seeing things with a different perspective.