Meeting Margaret

I readily admit to the temptation of idol worship. Not idol worship of men so much, unless their wit and intelligence is cushioned by a massive dose of humility. But women – funny, smart, influential women – they set me genuflecting.

But genuflecting is not becoming, especially in public, hinting as it does to the fact that you, the genuflector, are not yourself funny, smart and/or influential. Besides that it breaks the Second Commandment. I know this and yet when I got word that I was scheduled to be on Lorna Dueck’s Context TV show during an episode on Faith and the Environment** and that Markku and I would share the stage with Margaret Atwood – THE Margaret Atwood, author of over 40 books, winner of the Booker prize, sole subject of an entire literary society – I felt my knees start to give.

Fast forward to CBC Studios, Toronto. It is the pre-show book signing. Margaret is sitting at a table before me while I stand, lock-kneed and smiling in what I hope is a sweet, confident, friendly way – the way one might smile at a very beautiful and very intimidating Great Dane.

Margaret is signing her newest book which I’ve just purchased en route – MaddAddam. “For Thea,” she writes, because in my nervousness I’ve mumbled my name. But oh well, I won’t trouble her to correct it. Thea is a nice name. Maybe I can find someone by that name and give her this book as a present.

And then, quickly and sort of on the sly because of the long line of people stretching behind me, I give her my thin little book, Planted. And, clever woman that she is, she notices from the cover that my name is in fact not Thea, but Leah, which rhymes with Thea, but is definitely a different name. And so she turns the Th into a fanciful L and adds an h on the end and I’m grateful.

Then off to make-up where a spry middle-aged woman with something of a wood-nymph about her makes us up (which is a wonder and sets me wondering why I’ve never gone in for this make-up stuff before since she’s erased five years at least from my face….but I digress).

In make-up Margaret is warm and chatty and very funny and even sings a little song to Lorna and the rest of us, and I worry that my knees might give way.

Then it’s into the studio for the show – the same studio, by the way, where Hockey Night in Canada is filmed, a jewel of trivia which, when he hears it, makes Markku gape and look around in awe and expectancy should Don Cherry come marching in through a side door.

Margaret is on first and for most of the show. And she is very funny and very smart and therefore very articulate. And I’m glad I’m sitting down. She talks about her book Year of the Flood and about religion and the environment and the wacky fictional sect she’s created called "God’s Gardeners" – tenders of gardens, keepers of bees and wearers of flowy linen clothes. Hmmmm…

And then Markku and I are on stage – real life God’s Gardeners. Jesus followers and bird lovers. Of the potential eight questions I’ve been told will be asked of me, I get to lob back only two answers. I spent the whole plane ride out to Toronto reading and committing to memory the best of Wendell Berry (yes, I see the irony) so that I might sound half as articulate as Ms. Atwood. But no matter, because when I steal a glance at Margaret – at this accomplished and gracious author – she is positively beaming at us, her smile beatific with rapport and camaraderie. Yes, the author of The Handmaiden’s Tale – whose dystopian visions have set the most callused hearts quivering – smiles on us. We are in this together. We are all God’s Gardeners, held, with the rest of creation, in the hand of Great Love. And from that place of security and hope we are called to act with courage and strong knees.

**The show will air sometime in the new year. Watch this space for channels and times.
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No Books, Please!

credit: Darkwood67
“I prefer not to read things printed on a dead tree.”

So said a young environmentalist when I offered her a copy of my environmentally themed book, Planted. Because I looked at her so blankly and still held my book out like a limp hand waiting to be grasped, she eventually accepted it, I assume to save me embarrassment. It took a few minutes for her comment to sift through the grey matter of my brain before I realised that this woman didn’t read books. No books! At least not books that involve paper -- she later told me she reads everything on her Kindle.

It would be easy to dismiss her as a fringe fanatic. I mean, who doesn’t love books!? (Truth be told, I have rubbed the covers of new books on my face like one would with a swath of silk or toddler’s hand.) Aesthetics aside, I appreciate her conviction, even if the cynic in me wants to ask if she lives in a house made out of dead trees, or if she is sure the heavy metals in her Kindle were ethically sourced, or if her car serves primarily as a means of transportation or is really just a really big pink planter (a la the photo).

But I digress… as I said, I appreciate her conviction. She has made a choice based on her values and is living them out – no dead trees as a means of communication, period, the end.

I applaud her choice because living with an ecological consciousness means making decisions. Some of these decisions will be inconsistent with others, some will look radical, some will look silly. But without them we are left with only an empty ideology.

So, going back to my Kindle-loving Enviro friend -- here’s the main thing I admire about this woman. She still took the book. She told me her opinion, but she saved me embarrassment. She recognised that we’re all on a journey. She didn’t lecture me. She put our newly established relationship first. And because of her graciousness I haven’t been able to dismiss her conviction. It has stuck with me and made me think harder about what decisions I can make that will help me live lighter on the planet today.
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Holy Ground

credit: Betsy Jean
When Moses stood at the burning bush God told him to take off his shoes because the place where he was standing was holy ground.

Holy Ground.

What made it holy, of course, was the presence of God, manifested in flaming shrubbery. But what if God, being everywhere (as Christian doctrine teaches us), makes every place holy? What if every bush dances with the flames of God’s presence, but our eyes are just not calibrated to see it?

And...

What if that mud Jesus caked a blind man’s eyes with somehow aided his prayer for healing?

And...

What if the name “Adam” which comes from the Hebrew word meaning “red clay” isn't just an interesting literary device?

Adam – Mud Man. Earth Child. Earthling.

Biologist Hayman Hartman claims that the reason there is life on earth, and not, say, on the moon or mars, is the existence of clay. His claims are complicated, having to do with iron and organic compounds and crystal structures, but in essence, he claims it’s clay that holds the blueprint for life. Isn’t that interesting?

Look down.

You are standing on holy ground.
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All Things New


According to the World Health Organization, 300,000 will die annually due to the effects of climate change by the year 2030. The UN Refugee Agency warns that by mid-century 200 million refugees will be on the move because of environmental degredation. The IUCN estimates current extinction rates to be up to 1,000 times the normal background rate.

If statistics had the power to change behaviour then such sound bites would likely have us running hell bent through the streets toward some constructive environmental action -- like trading in our SUVs for Schwinns and our Happy Meals for hemp seed smoothies. But statistics, because they play on flash-in-the-pan emotions of fear and guilt, are short lived in their power to change long-term behaviour. In my experience as a Christian, it is theological truth, grounded in scripture and inculcated into life, which sustains new ways of living.

Paul’s words in Colossians have the power to change the way live in relation to creation.

 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [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. 

It’s a theological meaty passage that links creation and humanity’s redemption in the person of Jesus. 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 end? Does it stop with people? This is how I used to read it in my tract-toting days. But the radical point this passage seems to be making is that creation itself participates in redemption. Biblical scholar N.T. Wright suggests that “redemption is not simply making creation a bit better, as the optimistic evolutionist would suggest. Nor is it rescuing souls from an evil material world, as the Gnostic would say. It is the remaking of creation.”

This text then has serious implications for our motivation for caring for creation. We do not try to save the world: rather, we join in the saving work God has already begun. We become God’s co-labourers, co-operating with the Spirit in making all things new.


Author's note:  Adapted from an article I contributed to the Citizen's for Public Justice book, Living Ecological Justice: A Biblical Response to the Environmental Crisis, edited by Dr. Mishka Lysack and Karri Munn-Venn -- a great resource for churches and small groups.  Go to www.cpj.ca for more information.
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A Post wherein I Ponder the Fire in My Shoulder


My shoulder hurts.

They say you should write about what you know. This is what I know: my shoulder hurts. It feels like someone lit a little fire somewhere under my left shoulder blade and the flames are licking up my neck and down my arm. I don’t know why it hurts or why it feels like a fire and not, say, a vice or a meat grinder. I’m hoping the doctor will shed light on this corporeal mystery when I see her in a few days time.

In the meantime I am icing my upper left side till its numb, taking Tylenol with codeine, mooching shoulder rubs from my husband, and wondering how in the name of all that’s good people live with chronic pain.

I’m also wondering what it means to be a spiritual, yet bodily being. (I know, big stuff. Pain does that, makes a philosopher out even the most simple minded. It also makes you a whiner, but that’s beside the present point.)

Here’s what I’ve come up with ... hold onto your hats, this is going to be good, born, as it is, out of suffering ...

We are creatures.

Dum, dum, dum!

But wait, there’s more...

We are, in fact, earthlings -- formed from the dust, as our creation narrative goes. We are simple stuff – earthen vessels -- frail, easily damaged, dependant. A little dose of pain is all it takes to realign us to this reality. A little dose of pain is all it takes to realign us to a posture of dependence on God and to a posture of solidarity with our fellow suffering earthlings.

Perhaps this explains why, in the midst of this pain, I’ve also had this deep, inexplicable sense of joy. Perhaps I’m being realigned.


Author’s note: Some of you, dear blog friends, might be worried that I have caused myself further pain by typing this wee post for your enjoyment and edification. Not at all. Happily, if I sit just so, with my computer on my lap, ice on my shoulder, and feet on the coffee table, I experience no extra pain (meaning no extra pain above the fiery pain I’m already feeling). But thanks for your concern.
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