Biophilia: Rule #2


Rule #2: Always include local nature – the land, the water, the air, the native creatures – within the membership of the community.

Watership DownI think it was 10th grade when we read Watership Down.  You might remember it too.  It can be understood as an allegory about politics and the struggle between freedom and authority, the individual and the corporate (although the book’s author says it was never meant to be more than a story about rabbits he told to his daughters).  The most striking part of the book for me was the way the rabbits were constantly dealing with the tyranny of humans made manifest by the human need to expand.  Thinking nothing of the destruction of life, the humans flooded, blew-up, hunted, tamed, drove over, and otherwise, drove the rabbits into an unnatural existence in order to cope with the human encroachment.

When we consider what it means to be community, it can go against our tendencies to include that which is not like us.  We need look no further than racism, sexism, homophobia, and other negative forms of tribalism to find evidence of this tendency.  And while we celebrate the memory of one of the most important civil rights leaders of our time today – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – perhaps some of his words will help to define the tone of today’s post:
“I have a dream today!  I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”  (MLK Jr, “I Have A Dream,” 1963)

Dr King was pulling from Isaiah, of course.  Isaiah speaking of equality – an equality so profound, so utterly complete that in it, the glory of God will be revealed.  We also know that Dr King was speaking about the rights of human beings, not the rights of animals (and even plants).  But let’s consider, for a moment at least, that the two are connected.

web-of-lifeIf we recognize that all human flesh is connected, we must also concede that we are formed of the same elements – earth, water, air, fire.  We are all a part of the interconnected web of life and messing with one part of the web has an impact on every other part of the web.  A relatively well-published debate these days is over the use of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.  We are, rightfully, concerned about the effect of these GMOs on our own bodies.  How do the things we eat alter the functioning of our bodies?  Indeed.

But perhaps more than this is the question: How does the alteration of a plant’s DNA affect the ecosystem it inhabits?  And it’s not just altering the DNA, it’s the general lack of biodiveristy in our farming methods as well.  How does our mass production of food have an impact on the sustainability of the larger web of life?  The August 19, 2013 cover of Time Magazine provocatively posed the concern of the dying honeybee population (“A World without Bees: The Price We’ll Pay If We Don’t Figure Out What’s Killing the Honeybee”).  Of course it’s not just farming.  The way in which we do everything has an impact on the web: fracking, oil pipelines, fishing, manufacturing, housing sprawl, transportation, clothing…

And, eventually, that lack of consideration for the interconnected web within which we reside, comes back to bite us in our posterior end.  In August 2014, the runoff from a variety of industries in and around the western end of Lake Erie caused a sharp increase in the phosphorus levels of the lake.  The environment responded, as it does, by attempting to balance the imbalance and algae populations Kingexploded because there was more to eat.  Suddenly, people living among one of the greatest sources of fresh water in the entire world (the Great Lakes), had no drinking water.  Residents in and around Toledo were tweeting alerts via #emptyglasscity.

We liberally-minded-NPR-listening folks bemoan the loss of larger species like elephants and tigers and wolves (and I’m not downplaying that keen and inexcusable loss) but we forget about the integral part that the less majestic species have in our common life.  This, of course, extends to plants… don’t get me started on the Amazon Rain Forest.

I’ve only listed a few concerns, but the list is literally endless.

SuzukiAnd this is where I come to the title of my post today: Biophilia.  It’s not just an album/film/tour by Bjork.  The term was coined by Edward Wilson (I came across it while reading David Suzuki’s Sacred Balance) and it articulates (via the Greek) a love of life – specifically “the innate tendency to focus on life and life-like processes” and leads to an “emotional affiliation of human beings to other living things.”

Life depends on life.  While we would prefer to believe that we humans can sanitize our experience, the truth is that we cannot.  And more importantly, we should not.  So, if we prefer to be selfish about it, all we need do is remember that our life depends upon the life of the rest of the web.  If, however, we have the capacity to open to a wider understanding of community, it changes our perspective on a fundamental level and, hopefully, calls us to be more mindful of our actions.

As evidence, I offer this for your viewing pleasure.  It’s a short film about how when we stop thinking only about ourselves and how wolves inconvenience the human race and, instead, decide to honor the right of wolves to exist in our presence we restore balance in a way that we could not have anticipated.  And, whaddaya know, we find that we are well-served by the change.

I’m not suggesting that we all become fruitarians or even vegetarians (although we might look at Jewish practices of kosher slaughtering).  What I am suggesting is that we humans are merely a part of God’s creation and so we might consider humility as an important virtue to possess – not the false humility that makes us think less of ourselves in the face of an almighty God, but the true humility that enables us to become stewards of and participants in creation because we recognize the potential of our own destructive power.

And as Christians, we surrender ourselves to the true power of Eucharist to be that reconciling, healing sacrament given to us so that we might be reminded of our place and our responsibility in God’s creation.  So that we might return to God once more.

PerkinsonHow does what we do “over here” for our own tribe, have an effect on what happens “over there” for that tribe?  What does “tribe” even mean?
How do we sustain our own needs while still being attentive to the needs of the others in our community?  Who is a member of our community?
How can we actively be more inclusive so as to include the whole of God’s creation in our consideration of ministry?

About Michelle Meech

I want to unfold. I do not want to remain folded up anywhere, because wherever I am still folded, I am untrue. -Rainer Maria Rilke
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7 Responses to Biophilia: Rule #2


    Wise words of Chief Seattle are always sobering!

  2. Phina Borgeson says:

    Hmmm. Lots here! Thank you.

    I’d like to make a distinction between Wendell Berry’s perspective – which I want to call neo-agrarian – and that of Wilson – which while rooted in the biosciences all too easily laps over into sentimentality. There’s a realistic perspective which those who work the managed landscape have, which those who enjoy nature and seek wildness don’t always understand.
    The one theme which runs through both is the need to respect and foster diversity among living things.
    I see a lot of the GMOphobes here in Sonoma County. Heck! Some of them are my friends. I understand many of the problems (scientifically and from a justice perspective), but I would so much rather that we be pro-diversity in our seed stock , our livestock, and our wilder places rather than simply anti-GMO.
    Finally – here’s a place to begin – the USDA has marked 2015 as the year of soil. Now there’s a community right at our feet which we often treat like dirt. Watch Deborah Koons Garcia’s Symphony of the Soil. Or see a whole host of resources on the Natural Resources Conversation Service web site.

    • Phina! So glad you’re joining the conversation! I’ve been wondering if monocultures are not more problematic than GMOs for the ecosystem, or at least just as bad. It’s sounds as though you may think that way. I’d feel a lot better about GMOs if it wasn’t for the ways they mess with the functioning of the ecosystems. Of course, the discussion about monocultures brings us to the preference for local farming practices over big business farming. And thanks for the bit about soils! I was reading in Suzuki’s book about the diversity of soil – bacteria, nematodes, nutrients, etc. and I suspect I’ll be talking about that some more before this series is over. Cheers!

  3. Lawrence says:

    I’ve been aware of our fellow beings and their uniqueness since I was a child and read about Albert Schweitzer and his position of “reverence for life”. Well, truly, what we learn as a kid informs our whole lives. We hear a lot about the diversity of the life community or communities. And that is a wonder. But, for me, in the end, diversity is just too abstract a word. And I wonder if it would have been too abstract for Dr. Schweitzer. Therefore, I would prefer noticing the individuality of living things. Today, we were walking at Point Lobos which is near Carmel, California, and on the road that goes to Big Sur. I noticed that the blackberries were just starting to flower. If you look at those flowers, you see how graceful and pleasing each one is, and how unique. There is not just a community of blackberry flowers; there is an accumulation of individual flowers. Maybe, if we looked at Creation as made up of individuals – individual caribou in the Arctic, individual bugs – we might have a better sense, a better feeling, of how we humans affect the environment. It is one thing to talk about an abstraction like the balance or imbalance of nature; it’s another thing to talk about extinguishing or starving individuals. Perhaps thinking small is what’s built into us.

    • Larry, this is a beautiful reflection on the web of life. I think you’re right – when we remember the individual, we are more likely to respond with compassion. And when we think local, when we think “small,” as you say, we can see life and our response to it more clearly, more profoundly, more specifically. If we focus in on the web, we see that it’s made up of nodes and each node, although it reflects all the other nodes, is unique. Without it, the web wouldn’t be complete. It’s like the Collect for Ash Wednesday says: “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made…” Every single thing, every single node is important and boundlessly loved. Thank you so much for your post, my friend.

      • Lawrence says:

        Beauty was the hook that God used to land me. I don’t mean paintings and other art, though these have beauty. I mean the creation that we don’t actually create. Like the sky or the way shadows turn colors or the hush and lacework of falling snow. I could never find an “evolutionary” reason for beauty. I think it exists because Somebody wants it to exist, and He wants it to exist because He wants “you”. What is amazing is that I think God manifests in it everywhere – the skin of an avocado, the long shadows cast by bugs in raking sunlight, the way a rug’s fringe lies about. And also, of course, in big beautiful expanses of landscape. My Mom, looking at a hillside, once said: “How can God keep all of this in mind?!” She was responding, as I think now, to the combined and multiple unique beauties of things.

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