Postcard from Portugal (so why the cranes?!)



Every spring and fall, the North American prairies host a remarkable event. It’s called kettling. Migrating Sandhill CranesGrus canadensis pause en route to come together and ride the thermals. Their numbers reach hundreds of thousands, all aloft, all rising and soaring in a mysterious symmetry. I’ve stood below such a spectacle of swirling flight and marveled. What calls them to come together? Why not just set off in their individual flocks, as efficiency would dictate? I am not an ornithologist. I’m a storyteller and so my anthropomorphized version would go something like this: the Sandhill Cranes come for a family reunion of sorts – swap stories of the past season, make plans for the next, and encourage one another for the next leg of the journey.

I’ve just come back from a similar sort of family reunion. It was seriously lacking in the plumage and spindly legs of the cranes’ gathering, but we did come from varied flocks to fly together for a while in Portugal. A Rocha leaders and other participants from over 20 countries, on every continent but Antarctica (we’re still waiting for the penguins to send a delegate) came together for a five-day gathering that occurs just once every three years. We sang with gusto in at least three languages and were challenged by the wise words of biblical theologian Ruth Padilla DeBorst. But most of all we were encouraged by the incredible stories shared − stories of saving forests in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, stories of opening the eyes of children to the wonders of creation in New Zealand, the UK and Uganda, stories of significant conservation research on elephants, storm-petrels, and plovers.

They were good stories. They were bolstering stories.

Would you like to hear one?

This one comes from Mwamba, A Rocha’s field study centre in Kenya, on the Indian Ocean coast and was told to me by Jaap Gijsbertsen who, along with his family, spent a year and a half helping lead the work.

He was asked to provide a retreat and teaching for Erisata, a community development organization in the Masai Mara reserve. Jaap happily agreed and put together a one-week course that included the theology of creation care as well as practical application, with plenty of time spent getting up close and personal with habitats and creatures surrounding the A Rocha centre.

At the end of the week, the A Rocha team took the Masai participants out in a glass-bottom boat over a coral reef reserve where they conduct their conservation research. None of the participants had ever been in a boat, let alone swum in water. As herdsmen, living 700 km from the ocean, learning to swim is completely irrelevant and even going into water is seen as dangerous and irresponsible behaviour.

Therefore, when Jaap offered these dignified Masai land-lovers snorkels, fins and masks, they balked. But with a bit more coaxing the village headman and pastor showed his leadership by accepting Jaap’s offer.

After strapping a flotation device around his waist, he took the plunge, and proceeded to float face down over the coral reef. He floated so long, without coming up for air, that his fellow tribesmen began to grow restless. Just as they were arguing about who should go to the headman’s rescue, he shot his head from the water. His face broke into a wide smile as he shouted, ‘Halleluiah! God is truly amazing! You will not believe what is under there!’

His amazement at the beauty of what he had beheld was infectious and almost all the other participants went in as well, each emerging with his own wonder-struck expression.

The week came to a close and the participants left transformed. They left not only with a fuller biblical understanding of God’s love for all of creation and their responsibility to actively care for the Masai Mara, but with an awe-inspiring first-hand understanding of a world they never knew existed.

And because, as leaders of A Rocha National Organizations, we came together and heard this story we left transformed as well – transformed in the knowledge that creation care begins with wonder.

Creation care begins with wonder and is sustained by gathering in friendship, song, wisdom and the sharing of stories.
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Learning to Ripstick

photo credit: Steven Depolo
Hey ho, Blog Chums!

I'm pleased to announce that I've started blogging over at Sheloves.com as a regular monthly contributor. If you don't know about Sheloves, please check it out. This global community of women are writing wonderful things as they work to empower women and girls all over the world. Here's my post, Learning to Ripstick, from about a month ago:

It looks like a cross between a skateboard and a medieval instrument of torture. As a child I never went for skateboarding (nor medieval forms of torture, for that matter), so why at the ripe middle-age of 46 did I decide that Ripstiking would be my sport du jour?
The simple answer: because the kids on our community farm are mad for it. For the past three months our big circular driveway has been chalked with a complicated obstacle course, which the eight or so kids who’ve mastered the device weave through like Olympic slalom skiers...Read more at Sheloves.com

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My Fall Reading List





THE SACRED YEAR: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice – How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Faith, by Michael Yankoski (Thomas Nelson): This book isn’t shown in my stack because it’s just coming out this week and I’m still awaiting my copy, but I did take a gander at the pre-publication manuscript and am excited to dig in again. Yankoski first hit the book scene ten years ago with the publication of UNDER THE OVERPASS, which tells the story of the four months he spent in intentional homelessness. He is a wonderful storyteller with an eye for the truth and whimsy in any situation. In his newest book he recounts his experiences of living out the Christian faith through disciplines as eclectic as contemplating an apple before eating it to mending socks on a bus. One of my favorite passages deals with his one-week solitary sojourn in a cave on Galiano Island. This is a fabulous book for those wishing to go beyond a simplistic beliefs-driven approach to Christian faith to a robust and embodied experience of the gospel. Check out www.TheSacredYear.com for more information.

CONSIDER THE BIRDS: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible, by Debbie Blue (Abingdon): I confess, I’ve already read this one as well, but have added it to this list because it was truly wonderful and I’m keeping it by my beside a little longer so I can regale my husband with interesting birdy tidbits when he’d rather be drifting off to sleep. Debbie Blue is a bird affectionado, a pastor and a preacher extraordinaire and this book is full of fascinating ornithological facts that become windows into biblical truths. Vultures, pigeons, hens, roosters, pelicans and eagles all make appearances and all show up in unexpected ways. The book jacket says it well: “Debbie Blue offers an edgy, scholarly, and shocking take on these winged messengers to reveal poignant life lessons on desire and gratitude, power and vulnerability, insignificance and importance. Taking a closer look at these unknown or unseen creatures in some of the best-known passages of the Bible, Blue provides us with profound truths about humanity, faith, and God’s mysterious grace.”

WANDERLUST: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin): I discovered Rebecca Solnit this summer and feasted on three of her books in just two short weeks. She is a remarkable writer and thinker and is the author of the now classic essay MEN TELL ME THINGS and numerous collections of essays including THE FARAWAY NEARBY which is full of jaw-droppingly gorgeous sentences that made me despair of ever writing anything ever again (why add verbal drivel to the world when Rebecca Solnit has spoken!?). WANDERLUST, says the book jacket, “draws together many histories – of anatomical evolution and city design, of treadmills and labyrinths, of walking clubs and sexual mores – to create a portrait of the range of possibilities for this most basic act…Solnit’s book finds a profound relationship between walking and thinking, walking and culture, and argues for the necessity of preserving the time and space in which to walk in a n evermore automobile-dependent and accelerated world.”

SLOW CHURCH: Cultivating Community in the Slow Way of Jesus (IVP): I’ve had a peek at this book and met one of the authors back in June and am excited by the vision Chris Smith and John Pattison propose and have lived. This vision includes, as the title implies, slowing down to make room for relationships and conversation and true care. The book is not just prescriptive vision, however, it is full of stories about how the Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis has lived out these principles of connection and availability, which transformed their neighborhood in the process.

THE ROAD IS HOW: A Prairie Pilgrimage through Nature, Desire, and Soul, by Trevor Herriot (Harper Collins): Herriot is an award-winning author and naturalist who hails from the Canadian prairies. The inside jacket says this about this acclaimed book, “Three months after a serious accident, Herriot sets out along an ordinary prairie road, to sort through the questions that rushed into the enforced stillness of healing. Unfolding over three September days, this enchanting narrative reconceives our modern map of desire, spirit, and nature. Meeting farm people who stop to talk, detouring along ralibeds and into field, sitting next to sloughs…we enter a territory where imagination and experience carry us beyond the psychological imprint of our transgressions, coming at last to the soul’s reconnection with a broken land.”

CITY OF GOD: Faith in the Streets, by Sara Miles (Jericho Books): If you read Miles’ earlier books TAKE AND EAT and JESUS FREAK then you know what a wonderful and iconoclastic storyteller she is. CITY OF GOD tells the story of one particular day – Ash Wednesday, 2012 -- when Miles and her fellow parishioners at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco hit the streets of the city’s Mission District to distribute ashes to any and all they meet. “CITY OF GOD narrates the events of that Ash Wednesday in vivid detail, exploring the profound implications of touching strangers with a reminder of common mortality. As the story unfolds, Sara also reflects on life in her city over the last two decades, where the people of God suffer and rejoice, building community amid the grit and beauty of the streets.”

BETTER OFF: Two People, One Year, Zero Watts, Flipping the Switch on Technology, by Eric Brende (Harper Perennial): Evidently, living without technology has become an extreme sport, at least that’s what is implied when extreme sportier Jon Krakauer reviews your book on said topic. He writes, “Deftly steering clear of dogma, never sounding like a sanctimonious scold, Eric Brende makes a persuasive case that most of us would enjoy life more by radically minimizing our reliance on modern technology. Better Off is a buoyant, thought-provoking, and very entertaining read.” Good enough for me.

THE THING WITH FEATHERS: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, by Noah Strycker (Riverhead Books). Sort of like Debbie Blue’s A Provocative look at Birds of the Bible without the Bible. Stycker is an ornithologist who weaves his personal encounters and vast knowledge of birds into highly readable prose (no small thing for a scientist). Through careful observation of the habits and personalities of birds like the albatross, the penguin, and the bower bird, Strycker ponders everything from the nature of memory and relationships to game theory and intelligence.

DOING GOOD WITHOUT GIVING UP, by Ben Lowe (IVP): Ben is the author of GREEN REVOLUTION and has been at the forefront of the Christian environmental movement for the past ten years. In this book he asks, “How do we [who want to make the world a better place] persevere when the novelty wears off and our enthusiasm runs out?” His answer: faithfulness born out of “key postures and practices for sustaining faithful social action.” Sounds like something anyone in the trenches of social change would do well to read. Check out https://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3679.
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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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The Milky Way



I saw
the Milky Way
last night.

It had been
eight months since
last I’d seen it,

living as I do
in the ambient glow
of a big city,

and living
as I do
inside.

But last night,
rocking on the smooth
lap of the sea,

I took three steps
from boat’s cabin
to cockpit

and stepped
into
the universe.

The Milky Way,
stretched like a spangled net,
snagged me by

my outstretched heart
and tossed me
into the square ladle

of the Big Dipper,
where I lay free floating
and gasping.

And then a silver thread,
cast down from above --
The North Star,

Leading me 
home and into the heart
of all things.



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