Easter Hope

credit:  Brooke McAllister

              For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    Colossians 1:18-20

This is a passage that roots us in Easter hope—a hope that someday, somehow, someway, redemption is possible for all things. Redemption, as understood by Paul and other biblical writers, has more to do with re-creation than a whisking away of souls to heaven. Through Christ all things were created; he sustains (or holds together) all things and then through his resurrection he reconciles all things. Where might all things stop, do you think? Does it stop with people? That is how I used to read it. But the radical point this passage seems to be making is that creation itself participates in redemption. It is our anthropocentric view of the world that causes us to read all things as all people.

This widening of the scope of redemption has serious implications for our motivation to “save the planet." We do not try to save the world: rather, we join in the saving work God has already begun. We cooperate with the Spirit in making all things new. We work from a place a hope—a hope centred on God’s ultimate care for what God has made that allows us to “be joyful though we have considered all the facts,” as Wendell Berry says. Because hope, if it is true, runs deep with taproots nourished by a subterranean grace that flows strong and swift despite outer circumstances.

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Pride Cometh Before the Fall

credit:  Brooke McAllister
What I’m striving for in my own daily life is true simplicity, characterized not by deprivation, but by honest, joyful living. Out of this place of joy and material simplicity one is able to question both consumer trends and one’s own desires. One is freed to look more honestly at the roots of one's dissatisfaction and cravings.

If we live in this sort of freedom, we are also released from making simplicity a goal in of itself. Let’s face it, living lightly as an all consuming goal is so tempting because the mileposts can be so clear. Reduce garbage from three bags per week to one. Check. Buy birthday gifts at Fairtrade market instead of mall. Check.  The danger, of course, is that with each category checked off, the sense of moral righteousness inflates with it, until we’ve lost the wonder of gratitude and the joy of simple living and are instead focused on our own accomplishments. But pride always cometh before the fall! Allow me to illustrate.

Being leaders of a national Christian conservation organization, Markku and I occasionally get to play host to leaders of other national Christian conservation organizations. It’s a pretty small fraternity and while there are no secret handshakes to signify one’s membership in this elite club, there are plenty of other signifiers. Like, for instance, turning one’s living room into a laundromat.

“Ah, I see you’re using a laundry line,” Mr. Environmental CEO observes as I show him and his wife into our home.

“Why, yes,” I say, practically pawing the ground with my toe.

“In your living room no less!” remarks the wife, with obvious approval.

“The environment’s more important than aesthetics,” I chirp.

“Indeed,” everyone harmonizes in sympathetic agreement.

We weave through our 800 square-foot dwelling to the kitchen, and I can tell they are taking mental stock of our possessions and lack thereof. Feeling very chuffed about our obviously moderate ecological footprint, I brew up some Fairtrade, organic loose-leaf tea, and we start in on the favorite topic of all Environmental CEOs everywhere—the evils of a consumer society. We bash all the hedonists we can think of for their private jets, mega mansions and fleets of Hummers.

Conversely, what enlightened souls this guy and his wife are! So perceptive when it comes to society’s ills. So bang on. They are truly so very likeable. I start to wonder if we can set up some sort of arranged marriage between our children so that we can spend all our future Christmases together.

In the middle of my reverie, Mr. Environmental CEO shifts the conversation. To dishwashers. Not the billionaires’ uber-delux dishwashers, but the average citizen’s plain old dishwashers. Such energy hogs, he says. And, whatever happened to the good ole days of hand washing dishes? And, how about redirecting the money people spend on electricity to feeding the poor? The litany goes on and on, and I begin to feel more and more like a kid caught with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar; for, all the while this guy is musing, I am trying to magically inflate myself like a puffer fish so as to conceal what I am standing right in front of—our brand new Bosch ultra-quiet dishwasher, which I love to pieces.

P.s.  I know, I know, the image above is of an antique stove and not an ultra quiet Bosch dishwasher.  Please allow a bit of artistic licence in the name of aesthetics. It is, after all, still a kitchen appliance!
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Embracing the Journey of Simplicity

credit:  Brooke McAllister

Embarking on a journey toward simple living is to travel into uncertain terrain, especially when one is navigating only by the lay of one’s own land. It’s easy to feel you’ve taken the high moral road when comparing the ecological footprint of your family car (ours is a fifteen-foot long, fifty-three horse power Honda Civic) to David Geffen’s 453-foot, 50,000 horse power mega-yacht, but all self-righteousness is shattered to smithereens when comparing the self-same Civic to the family rickshaw in India. And, yes, my home might be modest in square footage by North American standards, but compared to an African mud hut, it is palatial.

Simplicity can be a bit of a tightrope walk with pitfalls of self-righteousness on one side and crippling guilt on the other. We can so easily end up like the friend of author Alan Durning, who aptly quipped, “I used to go on shopping trips, now I just go on guilt trips.” But despite the hazards, the journey of simplicity is worth taking if we are serious about making the connection between our everyday lives and the everyday lives of everyone and everything else in the world. In many ways, living more simply is the easiest and most practical thing the average North American can do to care for creation and their less fortunate planet-mates. Not many of us can trek to the Outer Hebrides to ring Storm Petrels or set up an orphanage in famine-ravaged Ethiopia, but all of us can shop a little less!
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Life and Death on the Farm

credit:  Brooke McAllister

     We killed a bully rooster at A Rocha one spring. He had attacked my daughter and an array of interns and thus became destined for the soup pot. We killed a few of his brothers as well – to make a full meal. I, city wimp and vegetarian that I am, didn’t participate in the actual killing, but joined everyone in the kitchen for the gutting and dressing.

     One of my teammates plunked a big-breasted, puckered-skinned bird on the counter in front of me. I swallowed hard and decided the best way to attack my meat queasiness was to really go on the attack. I stabbed at the bird’s abdomen and with a swift slice upward opened its innards to plain view.

     “This one’s a meaty one,” I quipped to the cook over my shoulder, feigning a butcher’s ease with the entrails that presented themselves so readily.

     “Yeah, thought we should get at least one good roaster from the day,” he said.

     “Roaster?” I queried. “You mean rooster, right?”

     “Nope,” he said, nonchalantly. “That one’s a hen. That one is Susie.”

     I froze. Susie, this bird was Susie?

     My daughters and I had bought Susie as a two-day-old chick the previous Easter and had raised her, first in our living room, then in the playhouse, until she was four months old and finally graduated to the chicken coop. Glossy black, with a speckled brown head, she was a beautiful bird. Evidently, she had been a last-minute addition to the slaughter roster.

     I fought back feelings of betrayal and the wave of nausea that suddenly washed over me as I mentally composed an A Rocha Centre memo concerning the protocol for future meat harvesting so that would-be pets might escape beloved Susie’s fate.

     Gritting my teeth and refusing to be undone by the harsh realities of farm life, I began to pull out Susie’s intestines and toss them in the garbage. Then my fingers clamped onto something hard. I pulled it out and discovered it was an egg -- a beautiful brown egg. I reached in again and pulled out another egg. This one smaller and paler. Again my hand went in and again out came an egg, still smaller and a bit paler.

     A crowd of four A Rocha butchers gathered around me. No one spoke, everyone stared. I felt like a magician pulling miracles out of a hat. In all I pulled out seven eggs that varied in size from a tiny soft white ball to a fully formed, hard, elliptical egg.

     We were, each one of us, hushed. There before us, spread across the kitchen counter, we beheld the miracle of life itself—and, by extension, the somberness of death. We had killed the goose that laid the golden egg without realizing she was full of golden eggs.

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Eating Shaggy


     They say you should never name an animal you plan on eating. Perhaps, but I’ll say one thing: when you know it’s Shaggy on your plate, it sure adds authenticity to your pre-meal prayer. Firsthand knowledge of your dinner’s name brings you face to face with the fact that everything that feeds us—from a beef steak to a beefsteak tomato—has to die to give us life. As Gary Synder so ably puts it, “if we do eat meat, it is the life, the bounce, the swish, of a great alert being with keen ears and lovely eyes, with four square feet and a huge beating heart that we eat, let us not deceive ourselves.”

    Rick Faw taught us a lot in this regard. Rick, who serves as A Rocha’s Education Director, came with his family to live at the Field Study Centre the spring after we arrived. One of the first tasks we bequeathed to him was the care of the cows, a task he gladly accepted, being a closet cow whisperer and all-around animal lover. The image that stays with me from those early days is of Rick, baby Jared on his back and a farm cat at his heels, pushing a wheelbarrow towering with hay through the sodden grass to the pasture. He’d deftly launch the bales over the fence and into the cows’ troughs, pet their foreheads while they munched, and then go on with his other farm chores. This was his morning routine.

     In the late afternoons, while Jared napped, Rick returned to the fields to brush the cows. I think he really wanted a dog, or any more sentient sort of pet, but since he had cows, he poured all his pent-up pet affection into them. He’d stand out there, in the cold, in his 1980s bright blue ski jacket, and brush those cows down as if they were Arabian mares and tomorrow was the Kentucky Derby. Markku and I watched all this from our kitchen window and, I must admit, wondered if Rick was making the best use of his time. Surely he could be writing a fundraising letter or planning a talk or following up with potential interns. There was just so much to be done.

     Our attitude just goes to show our lack of groundedness. Brushing the cows, by Rick’s own admission, served no practical function. Highland cattle on the moors of Scotland never get their coats brushed and they survive just fine. A few burrs and tangles in no way mitigates their enjoyment of sun, grass and stars. But then Rick wasn’t really concerned with burrs and tangles; the brushing was a way of de-stressing for Rick (and probably for the cows as well). In this way it was both an act of contemplation and even, dare I say, of fellowship. Given his bonding with these beasts you’d think Rick would have been the first of us to go vegetarian (I alone of all the A Rocha staff hold that distinction). But no, he ate the stews and roasts just like everyone else. He did admit, however, that he felt a measure of sadness when eating our cows, but for him this was a good thing, for in his sadness lay the seeds of gratitude.
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