For Christmas this year I received a book I’d been eagerly awaiting: The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the
by Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke. I’ve heard Doug Tallamy speak twice, once at
Jenkins Arboretum, and again at a West Chester Bird Club meeting, and his first
book, Bringing Nature Home, sits on the table beside my bed, its pages worn and
earmarked. Home Garden
Tallamy is an entomologist and Darke a landscaper, and both have spent years exploring the connections between plants, bugs, birds, and people. They write with passion and eloquence about biodiversity and its essential role:
The ecosystems that support us - - that determine the carrying capacity of the earth and our local spaces - - are run by biodiversity. It is biodiversity that generates oxygen and clean water; that creates topsoil out of rock and buffers extreme weather events ike droughts and floods; and that recycles the mountains of garbage we create every day. . . Humans cannot live as the only species on this planet because it is other species that create the ecosystem services essential to us. Every time we force a species to extinction we are encouraging our own demise.
I have been gardening for years now with Tallamy’s plant lists as a reference: adding layers of native shrubs, studying groundcovers that offer pollen to pollinators, leaving layers of leaves and piles of sticks in corners of my yard. Each year I have more species of birds and insects taking refuge in our suburban half acre. So far this spring, I’ve seen chipping sparrows, chickadees, house wrens and crows carrying nesting materials, and for the past week two busy flickers have been excavating a new nesting hole in a half-dead black locust tree.
As I garden, I think and pray about the news of the day: thousands dead in the slums of
Protest and prayer in the streets of Baltimore.
My life is tied to the tiny bees buzzing around my foamflowers. It is also tied to the dead so painfully extracted from the rubble of
the angry, fearful young men gathering to grieve the death of yet another angry, fearful young man.
One of the bloggers I follow, Sri Lankan Vinoth Ramachandra, friend of a friend and part of the senior leadership team for International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, wrote this week of the earthquake that has claimed over 7000 lives:
When the Indian Ocean nations were devastated by the tsunami of 26 December 2004, I raised the question: why is it that when hurricanes and earthquakes hit places like
Floridaor Japan, the loss of life is minimal; but that when the same disasters occur in Central America or South Asia, the devastation is mind-boggling? The answer is simple and straightforward: poverty. Or poverty combined with corruption and incompetence on the part of government officials. In South Asia, annual warnings about floods and cyclones are routinely ignored when the technology needed to save lives and property is readily available. Coral reefs and mangrove swamps (that absorb much of the impact of tropical storms and ocean surges) have virtually disappeared from our coastal belts. Building contractors frequently violate safety standards, even when building in earthquake-prone areas.
. . . It is sinful human actions (including wrong priorities) that result in the heavy loss of life, much of which is preventable. Poverty and economic inequalities on the scale seen in our world cannot be blamed on God. They represent a violation of God’s will for humanity. . . Natural events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis are a painful reminder of our fragility, our interconnectedness with and dependence upon nature. . . .
There will always follow the clamouring existential questions and our feeble, stuttering human answers. But more importantly, what we experience is a sense of indignation that “the same thing” always happens and “the same people” always suffer; and a yearning for things to be different some day.
I live daily in the yearning for things to be different, the longing for a world where care of creation is valued above profit margins, where adequate housing, good jobs, safe streets are a reality for even the poorest of the poor Yet I know that reality is not mine to accomplish. I spent time earlier this year working my way through The World Is Not Ours to Save by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, who wrote at length of the prophetic vision of Micah 4.
Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree,and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.
As individuals, organizations, churches, communities, even nations, we are not capable of creating peace, restoring justice, or designing a world where there is plenty for all and no one is afraid. There is a sense in Micah’s vision of people, nations, coming on their own volition, “streaming” to an irresistible new way of life, choosing on their own to beat spears into pruning hooks, drawn by a compelling vision of something beyond human agency.
We can’t force people toward that vision, can’t compel compliance to the ways of God.
As Wigg-Stevenson reminds us, “the world is not ours to save.”
Yet we are instructed to pray for peace, live in the expectation and promise of peace, to practice peace-making in every context and conflict.
That means praying for peace with those who disagree with us. Living as peacemakers in places of division.
Reading and praying about the events in Baltimore in the past ten days, it occurred to me that much of Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (written in April, 1963) reads as if written now, fifty-two years later:
I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in
Atlantaand not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United Statescan never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in
Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
I was seven when that letter was written, just a child dimly aware of the rumbling of racial discord, barely aware of the work an uncle was doing in registering African American voters in poor neighborhoods of
I was a few years older when the
erupted into riots, just miles from my home. I could see the smoke from fires
from my bedroom window.
I was powerless then to intervene, to have a say, to act for change.
Am I powerless still, a half- century later?
In that same letter, King wrote:
Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.
In our current economic and political systems, we are valued as consumers: passive receievers of goods and services, silent participants in a market tailored to our individual needs and wants. We are disconnected from those who grow our food, sew our clothes, patrol our streets, decide our futures, implicitly endorsing supply chains and partisan elections that create great wealth for a powerful few and push the poor and powerless into more and more dangerous margins.
As I quoted Doug Tallamy earlier: “Every time we force a species to extinction we are encouraging our own demise.”
Even more: every time we force a class of people to the margins, we undermine our own well-being, push our world, both national and global, one step closer toward violence and collapse.
In God’s economy, we are called to be active participants, creators of sanctuary, agents of reconciliation.
As Wigg-Stevenson notes, while the world is not ours to save, “the corollary to the truth that we are not everywhere and everything is that we are somewhere and something. We inhabit the portion God gives us.”
I grieve the social stagnation of the past century, and my own decades-long appalling silence.
And challenge myself, and other "good people of good will" to devote time to listening to other voices, then to pray, think, and speak against the appalling silence that undermines our mutual health and joy.
From my friend and godfather to my granddaughter:
The Duhmanizing Gaze and Thug Life
What My 10 Year Old Daughter Taught Me about the Death of Freddie Gray
From a woman of color in Washington DC:
Dear White Facebook Friends: I Need You to Respect What Black America Is Feeling Right Now
From the Baltimore Sun:
Sun Investigates: Undue Force
From Vinoth Ramachandra in Sri Lanka:God and Natural Disasters
From Martin Luther King Jr:
Letter from a Birmingham Jail
This is the third in a series on God’s Economy. Ealier posts: