By Tom Rowley, A Rocha USA Executive Director
If we are to motivate people to care for the creation, it will take something more than, something different from the standard pleas of the past. “Because God said so” and “because people and planet both need it”—true as those statements are—haven’t had the desired effect. No amount of scripture nor statistics will do the trick.
A few years ago, I read a great little book called Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style. The main point: people will not change their behavior if all we do is talk at their heads—throwing facts and figures at them. We have to speak to their hearts, their stomachs and, even, their southerly organs. (Sex sells, after all.) Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard makes a similar case. In it, the authors liken the human brain to a person riding an elephant. The driver, aka the rational part of the brain, needs to know which way to go. But the elephant, or the emotional part of the brain, exerts far more influence. For a change in direction, you must appeal to the elephant and provide an easy path to follow.
How do we do that with respect to creation care? Not with gloom and doom. Not with exegesis. At least, not solely. We must, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “raise the blinds”.
“We would sit there in [Sister Lychen’s] knickknack-crowded living room with the shades pulled. I would eat my cookie and drink my milk in the darkened, sunless room. But this day, in my fantasized scenario, while she is in the kitchen getting the milk, I let up the blinds from all the windows. As she returns with the milk, I exclaim, “Sister Lychen, look! The world!” Startled, she drops the milk and shatters the glass. In her confusion I take her hand and lead her across the street and down a trail to a swampy place, Lawrence Slough, where I and my friends loved to go. I show her the turtles and the frogs – she had never seen either. I show her a nesting osprey waiting for the next fish, the downy heads of its chicks just visible on the nest. She is amazed. Just then a white-tailed deer leaps from a tangle of cattails. She asks what it is and I tell her it is one of Solomon’s gazelles.
…Each succeeding Thursday I go to her house, take her by the hand, lead her down the path into Lawrence Slough, and show her more wonders. One day we stay late in the evening and watch the setting sun throw a kaleidoscope of color over the surface of the water. She is in awe. One afternoon we watch the kingfisher catch minnows and fly off singing his triumphant scratchy imitation of a rusty gate. She is enthralled. Another day I bring sandwiches and half a loaf of stale Wonder Bread; we sit on a log at the edge of the water, eat our lunch, and feed two swans and seven or eight mergansers who are showing off their dashing swept-back hairdos. She loves it. As we walk home, holding hands, she says, “And to think all this has been going on practically in my backyard!” Each Thursday she notices and comments on connections or echoes between the Sunday hymns, psalms, and Scriptures and what she is feeling, seeing, and remembering from her childhood as we meander in Lawrence Slough. Sunday is no longer a rehearsal of escape, an anticipation of the final escape; it is an exposition of the week, or at least the Thursday segment of it. She never gives me credit as the angel, but each Sunday she does give an accounting of that week’s Thursday angel revelation. And each week the congregation remarks on the lessening enthusiasm in Sister Lychen for being raptured from behind her drawn shades. The concluding sentence of her weekly report in the testimony time takes on a Genesis rhythm: “I’m not sure I want to leave quite yet.”
…This is all fantasy, of course, casting my ten-year-old self in the role of ministering angel. But my fantasy has a factual base in those childhood years of listening to Sister Lychen’s rhythm-obliterating end time liturgy each Sunday. And for me now, the fantasy has turned into a way of life: the lived quality of Genesis 1 fuels my efforts in trying to raise the blinds in the living quarters of so many people I know and have known; to raise the blinds and get them out of the house between Sundays to enter into this vast, rhythmic extravaganza, seeing and hearing, tasting and touching and smelling what God has created and is creating by his word: sky and earth, plants and trees, stars and planets, fish and birds, Jersey cows and basset hounds, and the crowning touch, man and woman – look at them! – wonder of wonders, male and female!
…Everything we see, touch, feel, and taste carries within it the rhythms of “And God said … and it was so … and it was good….” We are more deeply in and at home in the creation than ever.”
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology
Stanley Baya says
Reading this essay brings sweet memories of how my wife and I met. Brought up as a city girl, Carol never took notice of the rich divers world outside Nairobi. Breaking the city norm of coffees at Java Coffee House and Chicken and Fries at Nandos Restaurants, was not easy. My offer instead was drinking rain water in the village, eating dry bread and soda for lunch during wader counts. I did not know what impact this was having on her until she wrote this article; http://assets.wildlifedirect.org/2008/06/23/volunteering-a-lifestyle-that-blew-my-mind/
As you put it, I helped raise the blinds!
Tom Rowley says
Thank you, Stanley, for sharing your and Carol’s wonderful story. It is amazing what we see once we “raise the blinds”