Margaret Atwood and the Matt Damon Syndrome

credit: Sandra Vander Schaaf
It became know as the “Matt Damon Syndrome.” About a year ago a friend attended a BBQ on Bowen Island. It was a small affair consisting of the host family, my friend Peter and the hosts’ guests who happened to be none other than the Oscar-winning actor Matt Damon and his family. In the weeks following the BBQ Peter regaled all within earshot on the wonders of Matt Damon. Pete’s eyes would fix somewhere over his listener’s left shoulder, his voice would take on an airy quality, and this big, normally reserved and quiet man suddenly spouted a fountain of superlatives befitting a besotted teenage girl. It got so bad that his business partner and fellow renovation expert perfected a wonderful impersonation of Peter, “Matt Damon, OOOH, Matt Damon, he’s soooo fabulous, he’s soooo down to earth, he’s sooo…blah, blah, blah…(exaggerated rolling of the eyes)…blah, blah, blah...”

At the risk of falling into the Matt Damon Syndrome, can I share with you, my blog chums, my latest encounter with Margaret Atwood (because, well, she’s sooo fabulous and soooo down to earth and …)?

Yes? Well, if you insist.

Here's the link: Margaret Atwood & Leah Kostamo at the Green Gala

You can watch it now.  I'll wait.  

Tra la la, tum tum, tiddily tum....

The video was filmed at A Rocha’s Green Gala fundraiser about three weeks ago where I had the privilege of participating in an onstage “conversation” with Ms. Atwood. It was truly so very, very fun (which came as a great relief since, no joke, I had been waking every morning for the previous two weeks in a cold sweat, dismayed that I had agreed to interview this literary icon and uber smart woman in front of 300 people – what had I been thinking!? )

Highlights by category, from my vantage point:

Historical: Margaret’s musings on her childhood in Northern Quebec – a childhood spent, during her father’s field work seasons, without indoor plumbing, electricity, roads or schools, and with lots of time outdoors – a childhood that laid the foundation for her lifetime love of the natural world.

Humorous: Margaret’s rendition of The Mole Day Hymn (If you watch nothing else, watch this 2 minute sequence; you’ll find it at 12 minutes). Her adorable singing is preceded by her “outing” of my tone-deafness for the entire world to see. I think Margaret Atwood actually laughed at me. Oh well, she’s sooo great and soooo down to earth… And, truth be told, I am so very Piglet-like in my singing. I console myself with Richard Rohr encouragement to pray for at least one daily humiliation as a means of character formation -- this was mine for May 22, 2014… But I digress.

Profound: Margaret’s reflections on the stories we are writing and living that are environmentally dangerous and those that are environmentally helpful and hopeful. I think she just might have mentioned my book in the latter category. Can’t be sure, maybe I should go watch it again…

Lowlight: Actually, I won’t poison the well. You can decide for yourself what bit I found minorly mortifying (hint: not my tone-deafness, but something voice – my voice – related, which served as my daily humiliation when I watched it for the first time last week. But, hey, whatever, I didn’t trip and fall on the way up to the stage, and I didn’t do the deer-in-the-headlights routine which I was verily afraid I might do, and Margaret was sooo brilliant and sooo funny and sooo very articulate and ….
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If a whale explodes on the beach and there's no one around to see it does it make a sound?

credit: Doris Sheppard

A blue whale lies fermenting on the shores of Newfoundland. With a world population numbering a mere 250, it represents one of the most endangered creatures on earth.

I’ve stood under a blue whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of the Beatty Biodiversity Museum in Vancouver and the thing was mind boggling big. The length of two city buses, one feels the vulnerability of Jonah in its skeletal presence. These are rare, grand creatures.

This one probably won’t explode. The gasses building in its gut will likely seep out through its decaying skin. But what if it did explode? Yes, the clean up job would be enormous and very gross, but it would certainly serve as a stunning metaphor for the extinction drama our planet is currently experiencing.

The place where the metaphor breaks down, of course, is in the sound department -- while species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate, they are doing so without explosions or cymbal crashes. They disappear quietly. No explosions, just fewer chirps, croaks and songs.

If a whale explodes on a beach and there is no one around to hear it does it make a sound?

Of course.

Perhaps the better question is “What sound of lament will we make as Creation’s choir loses so many voices?”
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Earth Day Offerings

Happy Earth Day fellow earthlings!

  

To celebrate this important day my kind and clever publisher has put the ebook version of Planted on sale for the low, low price of $3.99. If you haven't read it yet, here's your chance to save a tree and enjoy some green literary morsels.

And, the fun doesn't stop there! To celebrate this important day, my kind and clever friend Kelli Trujillo has just posted a couple of interviews with yours truly. The first is in Today's Christian Woman's online magazine. The second is part of a creation care series on Kelli's website. In both Kelli and I consider the implications of living like the earth truly belongs to God and not us.

What are you going to do to celebrate this day? I hope it involves time outside in this glorious green world!


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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.
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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.
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