[caption id="attachment_4032" align="alignright" width="300" caption="My wife, Lindsey, and I out for a walk."]
[/caption] For some reason the new year makes us want to change our lives. Call it a quirk of the circular calendar. We join the gym, swear off sweets, promise to call our fathers more. One wonders, if the year were a line and we never came back to the same month, how we would ever work up the motivation to ever change at all? As it is we save up all our changing for 12 months until we arrive at January again and then try to get it all out at once. Jim Jewell, Flourish Co-Founder and CEO, has already shared his New Year's resolutions
for caring for creation, but, in the spirit of the season, I thought I would throw my own into the mix. Here they are: 1. Get a neighborhood and be a good neighbor.
It is hard to care for creation when you don't have a place. It is easy to care about
creation, but caring for
it requires a fidelity to a certain patch of it which plays out slowly over time. For the past one and a half years my wife and I have been living somewhat of a nomadic existence. We spent most of 2009/10 in Korea and spent the last half of the year bouncing like pinballs around the U.S. Now we are set to spend the first half of the year traveling in Europe and Africa. The other day I asked her what thing she was most looking forward to in the next year and she said simply, "A place." Don't get me wrong, travel is a wonderful adventure and full of a certain kind of glamour, but we both feel the longing for the slower, subtler kind of glamour of rootedness building in us like water behind a dam. I don't think humans were meant to live on the fruits of transience, and some things that we need to flourish are years in the growing. They take time to arrive in our lives. This year I want to be in a place long enough get to know its idiosyncrasies. I want to know the people I live around - their personalities and their problems. I want to borrow things from them and watch their kids for them and cook dinner with them. I want to join my neighbors in a common labor to restore a corner of the world we inhabit. I want to be in a real community with all its trace, gentle blessings. 2. Walk (metaphorically and literally).
We tend to operate on the paradigm that the faster you move the more you can do. On the contrary, however, most of the time the opposite is true. There are things in life that can't be had at high speed. Rest, for one. Conversation. Reflection. Good work is usually another. (It is certainly possible to accomplish many tasks when you move at a frenetic pace, but good work means more than the quantity of tasks accomplished.) It is hard to schedule Sabbath. You can block out a day for it, but, as Wendell Berry reminds us, a "sabbath mood" should rest on every day of the week, not just one. That means slowing down. One practical way to build slowness into our lives, is simply to walk. This may sound dramatic, but I think walking is one of the single best things a person can do to improve their lives. Walking is good for the body. It is good for the community in that when you walk with someone it fosters conversation. When you walk through a place you come to know it step by step, not simply red light to red light. You pollute less because you are not driving and have a greater interest in keeping the place you live clean because you know it and pass through it on your own feet. You can think and reflect and digest the day. Walking builds margins into our lives, which are often the first things to go and which we desperately need. Part of what it means to be human is to be limited, and so in some small way walking is restorative to our humanity. It is an affirmation that our powers to accomplish can not and should not be infinitely extended. It affirms the fact the the good life consists in having margins for the marginalized things: rest, thought, conversation, community, and worship. 3. Do ideas well.
Tim Keller said, "Read one thing and you are brainwashed. Read two things and you are confused. Read ten things and you will begin to be able to have an original thought. Read a hundred things and you will be wise." We live in an information-saturated culture where trying to learn anything can be like trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant. But the answer to the super-abundance of things to give our attention to is not to swear off water next to the idea fountain, but to learn to do ideas well. The fact is that you can (and probably should) turn off the TV, but you must not turn off your mind. In recent years I've come to really feel the weight of the responsibility I have to be a good citizen of the various communities that I inhabit, and part of that means being informed, holding opinions that are for the blessing of those communities, and having well thought-out reasons for those opinions. This year I want to read a hundred books and be wise. I want to think through all the ways the Bible intersects and interacts with genetic engineering, or wikileaks, or mountaintop removal mining, or Freud. I want communities of people around me to kick around ideas with in conversation. I want them to tell me things I don't already think. The Lord is committed to the particulars of this world and so I want to be so also. If I am called to steward the world then I need to know the things that are shaping the world and to use that knowledge to cause the world to flourish. 4. Stare.
Cal Dewitt was asked once if he could give only one piece of advice for pastors who want to learn more about creation care, what would it be? His answer: buy a bird feeder. (note: Denis Haack, who also was moved by Dewitt's comment, calls bird feeders an "interruption of delight." Read his short essay about them.) God will teach us about his creation if we can just learn to stare at it. "Day after day [the heavens] pour forth speech" (Psalm 19) but when is the last time you stared at the stars or watched the clouds fly gently across the sky? When was the last time you watched the intricate veins of a green leaf? "Where morning dawns and evening fades [God] calls forth songs of joy" (Psalm 65) but when was the last time you watched a sunset from start to finish, let alone a dawn? When have you waited long enough and silently enough in the forest to see all the living things there that you can only see when you are moving slower than they are? The created world is not a tawdry, mundane thing. It is a great, dramatic mystery. And as with all the truly great mysteries it does not diminish as we come to know it; it expands. The truth is this: We can't serve what we don't love. We can't love what we don't know. We can't know what we don't stare at and behold in wonder and slowness. So this year, I am buying a bird feeder.