Saturday, April 30, 2022

From My Nature Journal: The Proof is in the Pudding

It’s a strange phrase, isn’t it? What does pudding prove, after all? If you know your metaphors, however, you know its simple meaning: if one wonders the nature of a thing, that thing has simply to be experienced. 

Etymologically, it is first found roughly in English in the 1300’s without reference to an author, going this way: Jt is ywrite that euery thing Hymself sheweth in the tastyng. By 1605 a first named source is found, British historian William Camden, who has it: All the proofe of a pudding’s i’ the eating. And we’re not talking about Jello pudding or a tapioca here. The common meal among the English was something called a pudding, which was most often a savory, even meaty dish, constituting the main or sometimes the only course. Of course, there were also some sweet ones, and many of us have even ordered it from time to time without knowing it or even knowing what it is. ‘Oh, bring us some figgy pudding,’ indeed.  In the case of our phrase, it could be paraphrased like this: Don’t judge the dish by its looks or even by what the cook says. Take a bite.

But here’s another way the phrase is used: if something is distrusted or unknown, just look at its evidences. I had cause yet again to think about this recently in relation to such an enormous subject as the existence of God, of all things, and this in a text in The Apocrypha. Okay, okay, as an evangelical Protestant, I must say I’m not greatly familiar with these intertestamental Christian writings found in Roman Catholic and a few other traditions’ translations. Most of the main Protestant translations don’t include these few ‘books’ written in between the historic times of what Christians call the Old Testament (the history and faith of Israel pre-Jesus) and the New Testament (the life of Jesus and inspiration of the early church). I’m not sure why this is so, likely just the traditions of the various reform movements of the 16th and 17th Centuries. 

And frankly, I cannot even remember where I ran into this passage. Was it on the Jesuit Pray as You Go app I listen to daily on my smartphone? They occasionally use an apocryphal text as the passage of the day. Or was it in some other ecological reading I did somewhere? Anyway, there it was, this surprisingly firm yet still lovely text about the proof of God in God’s creation. Here it is, from The Apocrypha’s ‘book’ called Wisdom, chapter 13 in its entirety (the bolding is mine):

1 For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the One who exists, nor did they recognize the Artisan while paying heed to his works;

2 but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven were the gods that rule the world.

3 If through delight in the beauty of these things people assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Lord, for the Author of Beauty created them.

4 And if people were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is the One who formed them.

5 For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.

6 Yet these people are little to be blamed, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and desiring to find him.

7 For while they live among his works, they keep searching, and they trust in what they see, because the things that are seen are beautiful.

8 Yet again, not even they are to be excused;

9 for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things?

Wow, that’s a pretty strong text. It reminds me of two others in the Bible versions I am much more familiar with. First from Job 12:7-10 (bold again mine):

Ask the animals, and they will teach you;

    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;

    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

Who among all these does not know

    that the hand of the LORD has done this?

In his hand is the life of every living thing

    and the breath of every human being.

And then from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, 1:19-20, which has it this way in the
Christian New Testament (I am using Eugene Peterson’s creative translation, The Message, and, again, the bold mine):

But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. 

Back to our pudding, sometimes it just needs to be said: If the reality of God is still at best a stretch for you, look at God’s creative and loving evidences. Go ahead. Take a bite. The Master Chef is eager that you do that. Or, as the Bible says elsewhere, “Taste and see…” Have patience with the possibility that God is not only real, but that God desires to be known and even makes that a possibility for all willing to consider it.

~~ RGM, April 30 2022

Thursday, March 31, 2022

From My Nature Journal: Crows... And the Power of Hope

One of the things I greatly enjoy is volunteering at our local historic lighthouse, Admiralty Head Light on the Admiralty Inlet into Puget Sound. Whenever there and the going is slow (which isn’t very often, even on bad weather days, as the lighthouse tends also to be at times a warming house for cold or wet state park visitors!), I always pull a good book from the giftshop shelves and while away any spare time there may happen to be. There’s a lot there on natural history, so I’m never disappointed.

Am reading lately a delightful book titled Crow Planet by Lyanda Haupt, subtitled Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness. Originally published in 2011, it was revised just last year. As the two titles imply, there is much here specifically on crows, what Haupt considers the wild creature most available to urban nature observers, and deeply interesting to boot. Indeed, many of us have our unique crow stories! But the book also contains a great deal of fine philosophizing on the study of nature in general and the importance of earth stewardship (what many of us prefer to call creation care) for us urban and non-urban stewards alike.

I particularly appreciate her positive approach, and wanted to highlight with this blogpost an excerpt from one of her early chapters. 

We all know dour environmentalists (or perhaps we are one), wringing their hands while myopically bemoaning the disasters to befall the earth in the near future. Why, when we know that they are right, do we want to spill organic cranberry juice all over their hemp sandals? Because they are no fun, for one thing. And, more important, because they will suck us dry if we let them. But we don’t have to let them. There is a way to face the current ecological crisis with our eyes open, with stringent scientific knowledge, with honest sorrow over the state of life on earth, with spiritual insight, and with practical commitment. Finding such a way is more essential now than it has ever been in the history of the human species. But such work does not have to be dour (no matter how difficult) or accomplished only out of moral imperative (however real the obligation) or fear (though the reasons to fear are well founded). Our actions can rise instead from a sense of rootedness, connectedness, creativity, and delight…

Haupt then goes on to emphasize in the book that urban dwellers, who think they may have less access to nature than those who are blessed to live more immersed in it, and thus may feel less motivated to activism, actually often have more access to it than may first appear if they are simply diligent and creative in their observation. (Take crows, for example, who somehow have made their sassy yet cautious peace with humans in nearly all settings.) But I also deeply appreciate at least her head nod to the spiritual sensitivities and creativities that can motivate all people, especially people of faith, to be active in creation care. 

Secular naturalists often lay earth degradation and exploitation at the feet of the church, very unfairly IMHO (which is too frequently not so humble). But it has become clearer to many Christians (especially in the younger generations) that we can no longer stand on the sidelines of these efforts but rather take a leading role. Thus, it gives older people like me great joy to see organizations springing up like Young Evangelicals for Climate Action and Circlewood

But key to effective Christian involvement in this cause will be our spiritual sensitivities first to the classic faith practices of lament and repentance. Lament, of course, is Godly sorrow, a sorrow that matches God’s sorrow. But repentance, as you who have studied it know, is not only about Godly sorrow, but about a Godly turnaround, in short, a change of action, a new and better approach, a leaving behind of the old bad habit or behavior and a taking up of a new or renewed practice of a redeemed comportment in a moral and holy manner. 

However, something additional to these is also needed. Hope. Though Haupt does not use that word in the excerpt I shared above, her book is a tribute also to the hope that will be necessary as we work to redeem centuries of creation misuse. Hope will be indispensable to ongoing earth care. Despondency will not help. Indeed, the Bible assures us that hope has the power to keep us from despondency, “…Hope does not disappoint us… (Romans 5:3-5)” 

So check out the book. I think you’ll enjoy it, may even come up with some amazing crow stories to add to your own. 

But on the subject of creation care? Work hard. And never stop hoping. 

~~ RGM, March 31, 2022

Saturday, February 26, 2022

From My Nature Journal: "Hellooooo, Plant!"

A just for fun post… 

With a headnod and a smile at the thought of Ed Norton in the old Honeymooners series ‘addressing his golf ball’ (check it out here), I title my post today. Seems like scientists are finding further veracity in talking to houseplants, both for the talkee and the talker. 

It’s not a new concept. For me, it goes back to an experience with my next-door college dorm friend and future biologist Bruce urging me nearly fifty years ago to talk to my plants, something I’ve taken somewhat seriously over the years. Why not? In fact, the idea goes back in science at least to the mid 1800’s when a German botanist by the name of Fechner published to this end. And now, what do you know? A British publisher has produced a book of bedtime stories to be read to plants, scientifically based. I guess it was bound to happen, though I don’t anticipate going that far. Still, all the bedtime stories or talking in the world won’t help if watering and feeding is neglected.

Jesus talked to a plant at least once. Course, it wasn’t good news for that plant (Mark 11:12-25), but he was trying to get a point across to his followers about faithfulness and fruitfulness. 

And this subject of talking to plants catches me because I have been thinking a lot about plants lately. Several years ago, Gail and I gave away all our houseplants, some that we had even had our whole forty-year marriage. Our ministry work and personal interests were taking us away from home more often for weeks and months at a time, and we were finding it increasingly difficult to care for them. So after putting aside several to bring to a daughter we were going to drive to see soon, one day we put all those remaining out on tables in our driveway and emailed our Shadow Ridge Road neighbors to come help themselves. There was joy on faces as they were carted away, and I daresay a little grief on ours. These plants had become friends over the years.

And such our home has been ever since – plant free – nary a plant to address, and we’ve been missing something as a result. But a brainstorm occurred to me several days ago. We’ve got some invasive English Ivy growing in our woods that I need to get pulled one of these days. Some of that would easily keep and grow here in the house in a jar of water, and wouldn’t require any care over the time we may be gone in the months ahead. So I’m going to get out and collect some cuttings to bring indoors. It’ll at least give me something to talk to when Gail is not around!

And while I’m thinking of it, perhaps something easy that could be said to plants by any of us is, “Thank you.” They are God’s living creation after all, and I have written often before of the power of gratitude when it comes to spiritual and emotional health, here for example. Of course we give thanks to God the Creator for natural beauty, but I do not think it incongruous at all to express gratitude also to the created thing itself. A bit animistic? Some might think so, but I don’t agree. And it looks like we’re seeing a growing body of science to attest to it. Now even bedtime stories. 

So my new ivy cuttings? May they all live (and grow) happily ever after. 

~~ RGM, February 26, 2022

Saturday, January 29, 2022

From Someone Else’s Nature Journal(!) -- "The Last Sparrow in the Last Forest: Communities of Faith Must Lead the Rescue"

It has been quite some time since I have shared a guest on my blog, but my great friend, entomologist Bill Matson, is writing for his Lutheran church in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and I asked if I could share this. 

Bill is the activist I wish I was! He’s also brilliant when it comes to God’s creation. He and Sheri are fast friends and it seems the times we spend together always go by way too quickly. 

I share here a recent column he posted in his church newsletter. With fine writing like this, and its crucial message, I hope their church at least has the ability to share his work with their larger diocese. I agree with him wholeheartedly that faith communities must take the lead on earth’s stewardship. God calls us to it. And if we leave earth care only to those without faith, its Gospel foundation can be lost – the truth that it is part of God’s redeeming work to transform all of God’s creation. So here we go…

The Last Sparrow in the Last Forest:

Communities of Faith Must Lead the Rescue

Our blue planet has always been in continuous change, even before humans arose from harmless obscurity.  However, as our populations and technologies exploded over the last forty millennia, so did our impact. Today, the consensus is that we have driven the world to a precipice of disaster. Decades of science have warned that we humans are triggering a snowballing catastrophe of mayhem and death.  It’s now especially acute in nature where there have been alarming losses of life-supporting organisms like bees, birds, trees, and ocean fish. Already, millions of displaced humans are desperately seeking refuge because of the unprecedented flooding from melting glaciers, ocean thermal expansion, and storms, as well as from record-breaking droughts and forest fires.

Lutherans strive to live by the mantra of God’s Work, Our Hands, dedicating our church body to care for others.  But, humanity’s recklessness reveals that too many hands are desecrating creation, not caring for it.  Will it come down to the last sparrow in the last forest before we can discern our grave mistakes?  A many decade’s old popular song summarized our predicament in its lyrics, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Rector Ragan Sutterfield in the Christian Century magazine (Sept 2021) asserts that fixing the planetary crisis requires that we must first reconcile human life with all of creation. This demands radical transformations in life styles and governance from top to bottom. Big money and technology alone will not rescue us.  Rector Sutterfield urges that the Church step forward to become a leader of the rescue.  Planetary healing, he argues, can arise from a united effort by all communities of faith, where green, healing ripples will emanate from hundreds of thousands of green parishes. Ripples can become healing waves spreading into communities, and beyond. 

At least five, step-wise changes are recommended at each and every parish (abbreviated here):  Withdrawal to stillness, contemplation, discussion, and then to prayerful action.  Cast aside business as usual. Think deep transformation. Ecological Neighborhood Awareness is the establishment of a parish’s ecological footprints, its place in the local ecosystem matrix that sustains it.  Congregants will learn about its flora and fauna, becoming real partners with all of our brethren.  Sanctuary is the idea of every parish, every parish member creating sanctuary, sacred refuges for God’s creation in private and public spaces.  Skill and Tool Sharing means that congregants share their essential knowledge, skills, and tools so that all consume less and create life’s essentials locally. Think of growing/canning food; repairing, not discarding.  Mercy and Grace are generously offered balms badly needed in the midst of coming social and ecological upheavals.  

The aforementioned are merely the early seeds of transformation.  All of us must engage and offer our gifts.  Let us pray that all communities of faith will unite, renew and transform themselves and claim their crucial roles in the rescue and healing. God help us. There is work to be done.

~~ With thanks to Bill, 

RGM, January 28, 2022

P.S. An idea: where I live in Washington state, I am occasionally able to take part in a group called Greening Congregations Collaborative, a group of folks from several area faith communities who are meeting together monthly to resource and inspire each other to shared earth stewardship projects in their churches. Shouldn’t every church have a ministry team of some sort, official or ad hoc, that keeps earth care before its congregants as a discipleship practice? Mightn’t it be a great help to share these ideas between churches? Think about it. “The earth is the Lord’s… (Psalm 24:1),” and we are the Lord’s stewards.