Monday, August 2, 2010

Renewable Fuel and Individual Power

Thousands of windmills were spread across the hillside of the Altamont Pass. The impression of enormity was stunning. Each windmill in the wind farm towered over me by several stories. The experience of being next to a single windmill was vastly different than seeing the panorama from my home in Tracy, California. I remember many mornings looking through clouds to see the Altamont range in the west. Most of the time I could not see the windmills that covered those hills. Occasionally, the sky was clear enough to see the full array in the distance. For some reason, I recall more of those moments on Sunday mornings as I was leaving for church. Although not related, that relationship made an interesting association for me.

Contrasting this image with the effects of ever-present coal-burning in the Nineteenth Century suggests not only a different picture, but a different way of life. Poet, Thomas Hardy penned the following in his poem, The Darkling Thrush:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted night
Had sought their household fires.

In American cities where coal was available for fuel, skies were often blighted with coal dust and smoke. Snow and clothing on a clothesline, alike, would be grayed from the use of this black fuel. Walls and ceilings inside of homes would be layered in soot. Coal dust would collect inside walls and attics, and would settle on the surface of drapes and furniture. The presence of coal was everywhere and dusting was a part of daily life. Many of the negative effects of this fuel were widely overlooked because it was such a powerful fuel.

Power and electricity are an integral part of modern life. We depend on power to heat and cool our buildings, to prepare and preserve our food, to light our homes, to run our appliances, and to power our computers. Technology scarcely exists without electricity. Without power, long lines of cars can be seen waiting to take turns passing through a busy intersection when a traffic signal goes out. Without power, businesses and industry come to a halt. We rely on power to fuel our lives, and yet fuel is required to generate power.

In past generations, it may have been difficult to separate the need for fuel with the type of fuel that was available, only because options were limited. However, after decades of ignoring the fact that some fuels create problems that don’t go away without intervention, the idea of stewardship for our environment is increasing. Why? Because there are better options.

The windmills of the Altamont Pass Wind Farm generate enough power to run 120,000 homes a year. This represents nearly a third of California’s emission-free energy. Harnessing the winds, such as those that approach 30 miles per hour as they pass from the coast into the Central Valley of California, is referred to as a passive energy solution. It is passive because it takes advantage of energy that is readily available without requiring additional fuel to generate it.

Similar to our outward energy needs, every individual person has a specific set of internal needs that fuels our motivations. This need for energy warms our hearts, preserves our hope, and lights our way. We are driven by desires. Our desire for comfort stretches our comfort levels to do hard things so that we can have more of what we want. Our need to eat and sleep compels us to put other interests aside. Our passions and appetites move us to act, which is a primary reason why we are here on earth – to learn how to act. As we learn to control these powerful motivators we learn to become more like God.

I believe that we often fail at separating our energy needs from the fuel that is required to acquire it. We may look at our desires and judge them as wrong because we associate them with pollutive processes. Or, we may justify the means of fueling our hope because our desires are so great. In either case, recognizing that there are better options will help us in our personal stewardships to control our desires, appetites, and passions.

Spencer W. Kimball taught that “Jesus saw sin as wrong but also was able to see sin as springing from deep and unmet needs on the part of the sinner.” I love this example because it demonstrates that Jesus’ ability to separate the sin from the sinner, and the need from the act. As I follow Jesus, I become better at making the same distinction. Most often, when I desire to do something wrong, or something that may not be good for me, it is usually not because I have evil desires, but because I have needs that aren’t being met. As I separate the need from the act, I can then determine the best way to make sure my divinely given needs are met.

Our passions can be great motivations when properly controlled. But all too often, when these needs go unmet, we become impatient. When promised blessings do not arrive when hoped for, we often accept alternatives. This willingness to settle for something less than what God intended makes us both vulnerable and susceptible to temptation. When a trial is delivered instead of a needed blessing, we are tempted to doubt God’s integrity. Instead of trusting that the pain is a sign that something greater is on its way or is about to be delivered, we question why God has forgotten us.

Considering the windmills of the Altamont, there are passive sources of individual power available for each of us to tap into. It does not mean that we can be passive in collecting the energy. It simply means that God has already provided a renewable energy source that will cover all of our needs. I don’t think I can overstate the full meaning of “all” in this sense. Father wishes to give us everything He has. He wants to provide for us. He wants us to turn our hearts toward Him and rely wholly upon Him as a source of our faith and hope.

If a windmill is not turned directly toward the wind, the propeller won’t turn as much as it could. If the parts are not maintained, the windmill won’t function properly and the initial expense will have been in vain. Similarly if our hearts are not turned to God, and if our necks are stiff so that we are not willing to adjust to changing circumstances, we cannot benefit from the blessings that He offers so freely. We will not be able to benefit from the price of the atoning sacrifice that was made up front by The Only Begotten. His effort will not have been in vain, but we may not fully benefit from it unless we choose to act in a manner that is consistent with His teachings.

One definite advantage of internal passive energy solutions is that I can access that power without having to pollute my own spiritual environment. I don’t have to worry about polluting my inheritance. I can find deeper peace and motivation to live fully with less expense and effort. The power of God is readily available to those who seek it. The cost, as always, is a broken heart and contrite spirit. The cost is choice. It’s not a cost to be undervalued, for sure. It is much better than the expense of a shattered life, heartache, or regret caused by a lifetime of ignored pollution and spiritual soot. With that kind of mess, if you haven’t been dusting on a daily basis, you will likely have some serious stains to clean. That is still doable, but much harder by comparison.

The beauty of this kind of individual power is that it is renewable. It doesn’t run out, and it isn’t a burden to maintain. Simply put, it is clean, and pure, and constant. When we turn to the Lord, his blessings flow over, even that there is not room enough to receive them. They are endless and eternal.

Recently I learned something alarming about the windmills of Altamont Pass. While there are many positive benefits to this passive and renewable power, thousands of windmills can also have a negative impact on the environment. It is estimated that these power collecting tools are responsible for the deaths of up to 4,700 birds each year. It is frustrating to find that something so good can still cause so much harm. In this case, the best methods we have found so far may be better than burning coal, but they still have some negative impacts. I guess we’ll keep trying and keep looking.

In my own life, there are times where I try to meet my own needs while making good choices, and then find that I have been successful at someone else’s expense. It is very disappointing to get a needed break only to find that one of my children was hoping to spend time with me. I would much rather spend time with my wife, knowing that it is just as rewarding for her as it is for me. For the most part, I think I am pretty successful. When I am not, well, I guess I have an opportunity to keep trying and keep looking.

There are other forces in the world that have greater energy potential. The ocean is deep and has a constant energy that doesn’t stop. The mass of the earth itself stores heat that we are only beginning to tap into. The sun radiates light constantly throughout the day. Our methods for tapping the resources that are already there without negative side effects are improving.

Perhaps there is yet a better way to find the personal energy I need. I don’t think I have to change my needs, I just have to adjust my methods. If I bridle my passions the way we bridle the wind, then I have a greater potential for my heart to be filled to overflowing. I may make some mistakes in the process, but at least I know that God’s way is always the best way. When I follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I don’t have to worry.

One significant key to finding this individual power that is renewable and constant was revealed by the Lord. It relates to the windmill being oriented directly toward the wind, or the source of power. He said, “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:67) I may not have all the answers now, but if I seek the light of Christ, I will be better prepared to comprehend better solutions, especially those that have fewer negative impacts.

The closer I get to the source of perfect power, the closer I get to perfection. I may have a long way to go, but at least I know my course. My desires, appetites, and passions provide motivations to live more fully. My needs aren’t wrong, they just need to be harnessed. As I practice, little by little I gain a greater understanding of how to put that fuel to work without pollution. I employ better methods. I take advantage of the power within and without. I look for ways to become more like God. As I succeed, I am not only sustained, I am renewed. I become better.

Individual power starts with the power to choose. As I control myself in a manner that is pleasing to God, I find more energy to do what I need to, as well as the things I desire. For me, that’s the best kind of fuel.

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