Can you describe the soil around your home? Could you identify five resident and migratory birds in your area? Which way is north from where you are sitting?
These are just three of twenty questions our Food for the Hungry staff were challenged with last week on our professional development day at A Rocha, an environmental stewardship organization. The point of the exercise was to reflect more deeply on where we are situated on the planet and to be more attentive to creation.
I can point north with confidence.
Many of the other categories left me pondering. I don’t think I can trace our water supply from rainfall to my tap nor can I say exactly where my garbage goes. To be honest, my world isn’t shaken by lack of this knowledge. I’m not sure that’s good news.
I found the overall experience eye-opening as I recognize now how disconnected we suburbanites generally are to the created world. We heard that as high as 80 percent of children today do not regularly spend time in nature, or even outside in a city park.
So what does it take to become a better citizen of planet earth? What can I do in my own little yard that will make any difference, let alone have global impact? These were some of the topics we discussed with the A Rocha staff.
The answers surprised me.
Yes, we talked about reducing our consumption of material goods and resources like fuel. Yes, we covered reusing items rather than being part of the “throw-away” crowd. Yes, we even touched on recycling. But those weren’t the central points.
When asked, “What can I do to make a difference for the health of our planet?” Rick Faw, Acting President of A Rocha replied, “Cultivate wonder.”
Seriously? Cultivating wonder will rid us of pollution, see fish return to local streams, and reduce landfills? I needed to hear more. He expanded, beginning with this quote by Steven Bouma-Prediger.
“We care for only what we love. We love only what we know. We truly know only what we experience.”
Pointing out the number of bugs hiding under a rock can create a desire in children to explore. Tracing veins in a leaf gives opportunity to talk with youngsters about a tree’s life-giving properties. Silently breathing in the majesty of mountain views together instills awe in little people. Experiencing nature, in all of its glory, lays the foundation for creation care and stewardship in future generations.
And these practices aren’t just for kids. I find myself being challenged, too.
Will I take time today to look at trees popping with gold, orange, and burnt sienna and give thanks for the wonder of seasons? Could I consider ways to consume less and share more, possibly opening doors to new relationships with neighbors? Am I willing to evaluate my choices through the lens of stewardship?
I am going to find the names of those birds living in my backyard. And apologize for not getting to know them sooner.
With love and gratitude,
This week I spoke to youth about poverty.
Even though I have spoken to thousands of people in varying group sizes, I felt nervous going in. I tried to sort out the contributors to my angst.
I know that I'm not a youth speaker so I questioned if I'd be dynamic enough. Am I in touch with what matters to a 15 year-old? Or, was it no more complicated than crowd control? Could I keep the attention of this generation and engage them in meaningful discussion.
To be honest, they kind of scare me.
And then I went and entered in. We did an exercise on perspective and I had them wear some funky glasses with red, green or blue lenses to illustrate how our worldviews color our understanding. They were willing participants and we had enough discussion.
In the end, the youth pastor said she thought it had gone well. I don't have a lot of similar experiences to compare with so I accepted her assessment. I will leave the outcomes of the kids' learning up to God.
My takeaway from the evening is a reminder that so often discomfort and fear about a group of people stems from lack of relationship. Seeing familiar faces in the crowd personalized my audience. Genuine questions asked and answered gave opportunity to exchange ideas, opinions and thoughts.
Face-to-face interaction can break down stereotypes and build bridges of commonality.
It's unlikely that I will quit my day job and take up youth work. However, I am thankful for the challenge this event provided me to have conversations, step out of my comfort zone, and make an effort to know the story of one who seems so different from me. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren't.
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst