I share a farm with five other families, a few singles, two cows and lots of chickens. Our farm balances on the crest of suburbia. As in, across the street from our muddy fields lie 600 cookie-cutter homes, almost all built within the past five years.
Back in December, as an expression of neighbourly cheer and communal togetherness, we decided to go Christmas carolling in this brand-spanking-new neighbourhood. We put up flyers on neighbourhood mailboxes and invited them for hot apple cider before and after the wassailing.
The first two homes we approached proved very promising. We belted out Frosty the Snowman with gusto and the children laughed and the moms’ eyes sparkled.
This was such a good idea! We would be like pied pipers spreading neighbourly affection! This was sure to become a cherished neighbourhood tradition and all our neighbours would sing our praises because we had started it!
The next string of houses proved not so promising. People opened their doors a crack and then slammed them shut. Some peeked out their front door windows and then walked away without a smile. The saddest moment came when we met a woman on the sidewalk. She emerged from her car, donning party clothes and had a gift in hand. As our paths crossed, someone in our group started singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas and we all joined in. In response, this woman tucked her chin into her chest, stared straight down at the ground and sped past us, ducking into the house without a glance or smile. Our voices died out like a record player that had been unplugged.
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Mon, Feb 23 2015 10:27 | Gratitude
In elementary school I was the second smallest kid in my class. The only person smaller was a pinched-face boy with the nickname “Mouse.”
Even my identical twin had a 1-½ inch advantage on me from the day we were born. Our height discrepancy was the only way some knew how to tell us apart. My shortness was the clue to who I was.
As a child I learned to stay small, not only in size, but presence. Small people are better at ducking and weaving–avoiding responsibility and attention. I am now middle-aged and middle-sized, but the psychological symptoms of smallness are not shed with added inches.
Not all short people strive for a smallness of influence, of course. One’s influential presence is much more a symptom of personality and resolve than size. A roll call of the vertically challenged easily shatters the myth of a size-equals-influence corollary: the Calcutta missionary Mother Teresa, the abolitionist Harriot Tubman, founder of the American Red Cross Clara Barton, anthropologist Margaret Mead–all women who never made it past 5 feet tall. All women who changed their worlds.
Rosa Parks was 5’2 when she refused to relinquish her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery city bus, thereby breaking segregation laws and helping start a movement.
What did these small women have in common, besides their size?
And the courage to take the next small step toward that vision.
I don’t like controversy and I don’t like limelight, so starting the first Christian Environmental Centre in Canada (with the ministry of A Rocha) at times has felt like a job for someone stronger and bigger. A Rocha started out so small and so humbly–in basements, with meetings attended by only handfuls of people–that sometimes I forgot to be scared. But those humble beginnings have led to some expansive places. And I’ve learned to take small steps toward a bigger vision.
This spring the donation of a three million dollar property–a property we’ve been stewarding and operating out of for the past five years–will be complete. A Rocha will own theBrooksdale Environmental Centre. It’s been a 13-year journey from an office in our basement to this place that looks like a cross between an English Tudor village and Shangri la.
While I rejoice in this gift and want to fall to my knees in gratitude, I also want to acknowledge that being big and successful hasn’t been our goal. The value of A Rocha’s newest Environmental Centre lies not in its stunning aesthetics, but in the change it creates. If I’ve learned anything from being small it’s that big does not necessarily equal better.
The thing that matters is change.
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|photo credit: Brooke McAllister|
“I don’t know,” I replied.
She looked at the garlic bed and remarked on how many green shoots there seemed to be. “How many varieties are you growing?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
She pointed at a moth fluttering over the cauliflower. “Is that a good moth or a bad moth?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
And then I crumpled to the ground.
“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know,” I wailed, clutching my head with both hands and swaying dramatically on my knees. There might have been screechy violin music in the background. The sky might have turned black and the clouds rained blood.
And then I woke up...
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|photo credit: Steven Depolo|
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:
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.