A Sucker for Easter

credit: Brooke McAllister
In these days drawing near to Easter I am mindful of Christ’s work of redemption – of His design to reconcile “all things” to Himself, as Paul says in Colossians. His work of redemption not only transforms human lives, but all of creation as we participate with him in his reconciling work. Allow me to illustrate.

I was strolling across the lawn at A Rocha’s Brooksdale Environmental Centre when one of our summer interns came scurrying by carrying a bucket. When I asked what it held she showed me a grey, wide-lipped fish swimming in a few inches of water. Her voice betrayed her excitement as she related that she was off to the program office to identify it.

Turns out it was a Salish Sucker -- an endangered species. Not seen in our watershed sine the 1970’s, this species had been considered “extripritated” in the Little Campbell River system. Needless to say, her find was a very big deal!

When I asked later about the experience of discovering an endangered species, she told me the story of the day. Upon waking she had felt like God was saying to her, “I have a surprise for you today.” She went about her day, doing interny things, wondering all the while when the “surprise” was going to show up. Near the end of the afternoon, she toured some visitors around the A Rocha property and down to the pond where she could check a fish trap which was being used as part of an invasive species monitoring project. In fact, this was to be her last “check” of the season. As she bent to pull the trap out of the water she felt God saying, “Here’s your surprise.”

Her eyes brightened as she told me how she lifted the wire cage and found, not a Pumpkinseed fish or one of the other invasive species she’d been catching all summer, but a strange fish that looked too big to even fit through the opening of the trap. She knew immediately that it was something special.

I grinned widely. “Wow! Amazing!” I said. “How fantastic!” And, in the inner sanctum of my mind, I thought, What a whacko!

I thought this even though the week before someone had prayed for me and I had crumpled to the ground like a deflating accordion, awash in the presence of God. I thought this even though I’d been practicing contemplative prayer for the previous two years and often sensed God’s voice speaking to me uniquely. I thought this even though I believe wholeheartedly in God’s care for all of his creation.

In hindsight I think I viewed this fish-finding intern as a whacko for two reasons:

a) To “hear” God speaking so directly is weird. How presumptuous! But my own knee-buckling episode and my experiences in contemplative prayer had demonstrated that God is quite capable of interacting on a very personal level. Funny how God’s interactions seem so bizarre in other people’s lives but not in one’s own.

b) To assume that God cares about a sucker fish is weird. Sure, I believe, as that old song goes, that “His eye is on the sparrow.” And when it comes to endangered species I am easily convinced that His eye is on the Panda, and the Sumatran Tiger, and even the Vancouver Island Marmot. But on the Salish Sucker? A bottom-feeding, wide-mouthed fish with big lips? His eye is on such an ignoble, unattractive creature? That’s weird.

And so I’m left with the question, who’s the whacko? Maybe God’s the whacko – a God who risks his reputation to earnest interns and middle-aged contemplatives. A God who fixes his eye on the humble, the overlooked, the ugly. A God who’s eye is on the Sucker.

A portion of this post was adapted from Planted, a Story of Creation, Calling, and Community, published by Cascade Books.

This Just in from the Pope

Actually, the following pontifical sound bites are not “just in," but I did just discovered these morsels of environmental wisdom from Pope Francis this morning. Having a bit of a crush said pontiff (yes, I’m that ecumenical and that much of a religious nerd!), I was trolling around on the internet looking for the Pope's latest wise and pithy musings, as one does, and I came upon his address in celebration of the UN’s World Environment Day, which rolls around each June 5th – so old news, but new to me. True to his track record, what Pope Francis had to say was wise, compassionate and convicting:

Addressing a crowd of visitors and pilgrims in St. Peter’s square, the pontiff said, "When we talk about the environment, about creation, my thoughts turn to the first pages of the Bible, the Book of Genesis, which states that God placed man and woman on earth to cultivate and care for it. And the question comes to my mind: What does cultivating and caring for the earth mean? Are we truly cultivating and caring for creation? Or are we exploiting and neglecting it?”

Moving from the theological to practical, the Pope framed the environmental issue of waste in the context of justice and the needs of the poor:

"We should all remember, however, that throwing food away is like stealing from the tables of the the poor, the hungry! I encourage everyone to reflect on the problem of thrown away and wasted food to identify ways and means that, by seriously addressing this issue, are a vehicle of solidarity and sharing with the needy.”

Of course, this sort of statement is liable to remind us all of those childhood meals when we refused to finish our peas and our mothers harrangued us with guilt laden words like, "Don't you know there are children starving in Africa who would love to eat those peas?!" Which, of course, leaves us completely off the hook because, really, we can't package those peas and FedX them to Somalia.

But we can start to buy only what we need. We can use up what's in our veggetable cripser drawers. We can eat less meat and avoid industrially farmed meat, which requires far more grain and energy calories than it delivers to the eater. We can grow a bit more of our own food and share it with others. With the money we save on meat and wasted veggies we can give to organizations like FH Canada and World Vision who support farmers in developing countries.

We can see our eating as an act of solidarity.

The Show is On!

If you are on Olympics overload and are hankering for a little talk show blather to break up all the skating, sliding and sledding, check out Context with Lorna Dueck's God's Gardeners episode.

Margaret Atwood claims the spotlight for most of the show, but then yours truly and my handsome husband Markku join Margaret and Lorna for the last third of the show.

It’s been online for a couple days now and I finally worked up the courage to watch it last night (in bed with my girls and Markku all piled in). 
My verdict: I like it! 

Lorna is warm and “present.” Margaret is articulate, funny and uber intelligent. Markku is very smiley. And I blink a lot and very slowly (odd, that).

Favourite sound bites:

“Loving your neighbour means loving their biosphere.” Margaret Atwood

“Know where your food comes from and where your garbage goes.” Markku Kostamo

“God is not an absentee landlord.” I think I said that (quoting Wendell Berry, though in the heat of the moment I forgot to give him credit. Oops – thanks, Wendell!)

Here’s the link again (in case you missed it the first two times :)): Context with Lorna Dueck's God's Gardeners episode

Douglas Coupland, the Good Samaritan and Bizarreness at Missions Fest

The Good Samaritan by Paula Modersohn-Becker

                                                   Cast of Characters:

                               Me, tired, very sore shoulder, grumpy (suspect I was channelling Doc Martin, having binged on the tv show the previous week).

                                  The Two Arabs            The Cheery Couple

                                  The Intense Man           The Sick Woman

                       Missions Fest – largest Christian missions conference in Canada

                                               Reason for being there:
                  1. Stand at A Rocha booth and pepper passerbys with creation care propoganda.
                  2. Participate in Book Signing later in the evening.

I arrived at Missions Fest at 6 pm on Saturday night and felt like I was stepping into an alternate universe – a very cheery Christian universe. It felt alternate because I was not feeling particularly cheery or even Christian. The alternate universe theme played out, like a Douglas Coupland novel, through the entire evening and though I am still not sure how the sequence of events quite relate to one another, I share them now in the order and veracity in which they happened, that together we might make some sense of them.

I began the evening in surveillance, walking at top speed, without making eye contact, through the maze of booths, on the lookout for any long lost friends. Mid-stride I was stopped by two men with thick Arabic accents. They asked for directions to someplace far away, which tipped me off to the fact that they had no idea where they were, and I wondered if they knew they’d landed in the lions’ den. I asked where they were from. Iraq, they said. I apologized for the US bombing of their country. They said not to worry, it wasn’t my fault. And then the thicker and balder of the two took my hand and told me I was very beautiful. Which was unexpected. I said I was also very married, smiled and scooted back to the booth. And hid behind the A Rocha banner for a few minutes.

Soon it was time to take my seat at the book signing. I was joined by Mark Buchannan, best-selling author of lots and lots of books. A steady stream of people qued up to buy Mark’s books and get them signed. No one lined up to purchase mine.

I was tempted to start humming and swinging my legs in an “Oh, isn’t this fun,” sort of way. I was also tempted to hide behind my iphone, but somehow I thought that might look tacky so instead smiled bravely at people as they passed quickly by, avoiding eye contact. Finally a couple took pity on me and approached.

“We recognize you,” they said. “We were at your book launch at Regent College.”

Oh hurray, I thought. Comrades!

They went on to tell me how much they loved the book launch party, especially the food, and all the books they bought at the Regent bookstore. It quickly became obvious that mine had not been amoung those books purchased. Nor was it going to be purchased this night. Oh well, at least they were talking to me, and they were friendly. I imagined us going on chatting like this for a long while, maybe even throughout the entire book signing. That would be pleasant.

But then, a cherub-faced little girl, led by the hand of her father, walked by. She giggled and winked and drew them to herself like flies to a web.

Don’t go play with that little girl, I wanted to yell. Stay with me! Tell me more about all those other books you bought!

But alas, they left. And I, shoulder aching, throat sore, ears becoming sore too now, went back to smiling, a little more feebly, at the stream of humanity that flowed around me.

Then a man strode straight up to me with a brusqueness that implied mental instability. “What time are you leaving?” he blurted.

“Uh, I need to sit here til 9:30,” I said, bewildered.

“Well, there’s a woman sick with food poisoning, can you take her home?”

Me?! I thought. Why me?! I’m sick too -- with shame and shoulder problems and a sore throat.

I suggested he ask that an announcement be made, which it was. But, go figure, there were no takers. So he returned, and pressed me for a commitment. What was a Christian girl to do? The morning conference session had probably been on the Good Samaritan. Of course, I’d take her home.

I found her in the lunch room hunched over a big black trash can. I approached. She looked up at me with wide, kind eyes.

“Are you the author?” she asked in a voice just above a whisper.

“Uh, yes,” I said, wondering when writing a book qualified one as a paramedic.

We made our way slowly to my car. She talked the whole way, pausing ever few minutes to take deep breaths. I told her she didn’t need to talk. I told her that when I was ill I didn’t like to talk. I liked in fact to retreat to a dark cave within myself and sit very still and very mute. But this woman was not a cave-dweller. She was a believer in God’s providence. And she was grateful, and positive and sincere. She was also still in the throes of food poisoning, but happily for both of us she’d brought a little white barf bag and a medical blanket to cover the seat. Both were needed on the drive home. Having just come through the stomach flu the week previous and having a sympathetic constitution I started to feel ill myself, complete with saliva glands watering. I wondered if she’d find it alarming or too chilly if I rolled down my window and drove with my head out of the car like a Golden Retriever.

We made it to her home, all windows rolled up and only one barf bag in use. She took my card and said she’d visit A Rocha with her niece. She was full of faith. Full of gratitude. I have never met such a thankful person. Even between throwing up, practically in the midst of throwing up, she was thanking me for the ride and thanking God for her normally good health.

I returned home, an hour later than I had intended, throat still sore, shoulder still throbbing, but a little less grumpy and I wondered who had actually been ministering to whom. I wondered who, actually, had played the lead role in this Good Samaritan parable?

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HomeBrewed Christianity Goes Green

Hello Blog Chums!

I want to make you all aware of a wonderful creation care podcast series that has just come online this week. It’s hosted by a wonderful website called HomeBrewed Christianity (think theology, beer and winsome dialogue).

Yours truly lead off the series on all things Planted and A Rocha. The podcasts are about 50 minutes each and are free for your listening enjoyment (just scroll down until you see the little play button).

Go to http://homebrewedchristianity.com/

Here’s an outline of the series. Enjoy!

Episode 1: Leah Kostamo author of Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community

Episode 2: Matthew Sleeth author of Serve God Save The Planet , The Gospel According to the Earth & 24/6

Episode 3: Jennifer Butler is part of the new Christian Earthkeeping emphasis at George Fox Seminary. She is co-author of the upcoming book On Earth As In Heaven due out in November.

Episode 4: Randy Woodley with Shalom and the Community of Creation: an Indigenous Vision

Episode 5: John Cobb rang the alarm bell back in 1972 and has recently returned to the theme with Spiritual Bankruptcy: a prophetic call to action.

Episode 6: is a special surprise from new Elder Micky Jones and friend.

Episode 7: is specifically food related. How do get food on the table? What issues are related to feeding a family?

Episode 8: at the the end of each episode, we ask our guest the same 5 questions. Tripp and I are dedicating a TNT to interacting with their answers to the those 5 questions. It will be in the same format that we did the Brueggemann-Fretheim Bible Bash.
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