Sometimes my patience with this community of all creatures is sorely tested.
No, I’m not thinking today about enemies such as ISIS or the seeming self-centeredness of humanity. My patience is wearing thin because some little creature has discovered my Zestar! apple tree on the espalier row. (Editor’s note: Espalier is a system of training branches to grow flat against a wall, lattice, or a framework of posts.) This pest is gnawing at, and dropping, big beautiful unripe apples under the tree where I discover them in the morning spread out in a mess. The rascal! This is my tree.
The Zestar! apple is one of my favorite, so I take special care of that tree. Espalier reduces the amount of fruit one gets from a tree, but I gladly sacrifice the amount for the wonderfully large and tasty apples I get. I resent the two five-gallon buckets of prematurely "picked" apples that this critter has dumped on the ground.
Norman Wirzba, a Duke Divinity theology professor, wrote about my selfishness in the latest Christian Century (July 22, p. 26 – 29, “All Creatures”) noting that an anthropocentric Christianity is to blame for much of the world’s environmental problems. It means thinking that Christian faith is all about humans flourishing at the expense of everything else God created and loves. He calls it a “diseased theological imagination” that ignores the bigger realities of faith:
From the beginning until its end, scripture is clear that God’s covenant is with all creatures (even the ones of no direct use to us), provides for their every need, and welcomes their worship. God calls human beings to live with these creatures in nurturing, healing and celebratory ways.
Really? Does Wirzba know anything at all about gardening? All theologians should be gardeners because that is where all spiritual issues come into focus: how to live in this garden in wholesome relationship with its Creator and creatures. Yet he represents the Scriptures well:
None of us knows exactly what it means to speak of the whole world being reconciled to God. What we do know is that we must repudiate the false teaching that says Christian faith exists to transport individual souls to an ethereal heaven. Scripture does not end with disembodied souls escaping creation and ascending to some faraway place. It ends with God descending to creation to take up residence with mortals. We need to ask: Are Christians attending to the life-beautifying, life-perfecting Spirit so as to make this earth a home suitable for God?
I wonder if God would appreciate sitting down with a beautiful and tasty Zestar! apple upon arrival. What does it mean when one of God’s beloved creatures destroys the apples I’ve been so carefully tending? It’s not like we can sit down and have a rational conversation about this: “Hey, come over and have a raspberry smoothie while we talk.” Am I wrong to feel wronged, disgusted at the waste, and want to wring the creature’s pretty little neck? How do I live with this animal in a “nurturing, healing and celebratory way?”
I think that kind of question is at the heart of what it means to understand the Scriptures and the gospel message in its fullness. Or as Wirzba writes, “To have eyes of faith is to see each thing as a creature.”
In my spiritual journey, I am trying to see things from the Creator’s perspective. But it isn’t easy going. My response to the apple crisis has been to sprinkle some protecting dust around the tree that discourages animals from coming close. It seems to be working. This morning I only discovered three apples on the ground and they didn’t have many teeth marks on them. But amid my satisfaction in slowing the destruction of apples, I felt just a little bit guilty about my selfishness. I do hope the critter found something else to eat … “Hey! Get away from those tomatoes!”
Jeryl Hollinger served in Voluntary Service in Honduras from 1973 – 1976 and served on EMM staff from 1979 – 1984. He is pastor of Mountain View Mennonite Church in Kalispell, Montana. Jeryl and his wife Mary have two children and enjoy the challenge of growing berries, fruits, and vegetables in the foothills of the Swan Mountain range where they frequently have to deal with bear, deer, and mountain lions raiding their small animal farm and garden. This article first appeared on the Mountain View Mennonite Church blog.