Guest post by Lyndon Penner
Jesus told us to “consider the birds of the air.” I have been thinking about that a great deal lately. The reason I’ve been thinking about it is because there are less and less birds to consider. All across North America, songbirds are disappearing in record numbers. I grew up on the Canadian prairie; a land that was once primarily oceans and oceans of grass, where bison and fire were the natural regulators of how and what things grew. The great prairie fires and the bison (buffalo) are now gone (mostly), and we have replaced them with wheat fields and grocery stores and parking lots and new neighbourhoods. An ecosystem lies in tatters, and most us will never be aware of what this land once looked like.
I grieve for my land. I walk along railroad tracks sometimes and see a few clumps of big bluestem; a grass that once occupied thousands of acres under this glowing sun, now reduced to a few fragments that most people don’t even recognize. Sharp tailed grouse once danced their mating dances here, and whooping cranes once soared overhead. Grasshopper sparrows sang in the tall grass, and enormous gray owls hunted in the woods of the north. Our birds are dying, being displaced and disappearing, because we value other things above ecosystems and biodiversity.
How, as I walk along, do I “consider the birds of the air?” Jesus said that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without the father knowing. Satan comes to steal and kill and destroy, and he does this in the best of disguises with the best possible marketing strategies. He has made many of us believe that God “gave us” this land, for our benefit and well being. The reality is that our land was stolen from aboriginal peoples, who both knew its worth and knew every rock and flower and creature and tree. We displaced both these people and their way of living, and the meadowlarks no longer sing on every fence post and hawks no longer wheel in the sky where they were once plentiful. I am burdened by knowledge of the world as it once was, and our responsibility in irrevocably changing it.
How do I reconcile my faith with the enormous guilt I feel in inheriting a ravaged landscape? How do I stand before God knowing that we have destroyed an elaborate and complicated tapestry, and say “what a land of plenty you have given us!”
It is not easy to be both an environmentalist and a believer. If I am honest, the truth is that for the most part I am far more concerned with saving seeds than I am with saving souls. How do I go about my daily life and care for both the creation and the creator, and how do I find the balance between them? Or is there a balance? Does one supersede the other? How do I protect the few wild places that still exist and still have empathy and compassion and grace for my fellow man? These are hard questions that I have difficulty answering. I spend long hours in the grasslands (the little that remains) and the forests and the mountains. I walk in solitary places, and I walk in prayer as much as I can. I am often angry when I pray, and often frustrated.
What the Lord has spoken to me is this: “Let ME deal with it.” We are meant to have a relationship with the very land itself, but our relationship with the Father comes first. The prophet Isaiah asked “who will marry this land?” God speaks to me in quiet places and reminds me that the world is still beautiful. Satan did not succeed in driving the buffalo to extinction; it was saved, barely, but saved it was. I can still stand with wild herds of them if I am willing to go to the places they live. The cranes and the grouse are not gone yet; I can still find them. I can still hear the larks singing over head if I go to the places that have not yet been torn down and desecrated. This does not absolve me of my responsibility in protecting them; if anything, it makes me more responsible to protect what little is left. When I become discouraged about what we have done (and are doing) to the earth, I can get upset, or I can bring it to God. I am only responsible for what God has given me, and he has not given me more than I can handle. I can use my gifts to teach others about the wilderness and I can pray that we will elect leaders who will value what we have been entrusted with. I cannot save the world myself; there is only one perfect savior and I am not him.
I am trying hard to consider the birds; like really know them. I think about the great ravens I see on cold winter days, scavenging carcasses along the highway. I think about how they fed Elijah, and how God used this dark beauty for his own purposes. I think about how his eye is on the sparrow, and how if God is aware of one sparrow that falls in the grass, then surely he is aware of me. I think about the great diversity of birds in the world, and I consider the hand who made them. American poet Mary Oliver once said “look at the diversity of forms—the heron, the crow, the robin, the chicken, the bluebird, the jay… God must be so disappointed if we are not dazzled 10 times a day.”
I can be both an environmentalist and a believer. I can take climate change seriously and do what I can to make positive changes in the world, and I can also consider my eternal soul. I can stand on windy prairie grasslands and I can lament how our land has been broken, but I can also sing like a bird about the hand that covers and preserves me.
I can consider the birds of the air, and I can consider the person who put them in the sky.
Lyndon Penner is a Canadian environmentalist, author, wilderness guide, and gardener who struggles to balance spirituality and the call of Christ with the reality of living in a fallen world. You can find his blog at www.jadecypress.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @CBCGardener.
Questions for you to consider: How are you “considering the birds” today? Does your faith and belief system seem to contradict environmentalism and conservationism, or support it?