An apology for that time (in 2009) I got the “Christian” approach to the environment wrong

One of the things about blogging is you can go back and find what a past version of you thought and wrote, and be a bit horrified. I think it’s a thing I like, but often I’m prepared to let past me slide, or to excuse past me as a bit silly and immature. But sometimes I read past me, and I’m just really sorry that I was a total jerk. Future me will probably also think this about present me.

Next term our church is working through a series called “What the Church Gets Wrong about X, But Jesus Makes Right,” one of the Xs is the Environment. I know Christians get the environment wrong, because I know I did.

In fact, this is one thing that stops me arguing with straw men. I’m often, if not always, arguing with a past, or alternative, version of myself. A version of me that has been, or definitely could be, but for God’s grace, the smart people who teach me things, and a dose of experience. Writing stuff down and thinking about it is certainly helpful.

Anyway. I got the environment totally wrong back in 2009. Not once, not twice, but three times. My friend Amy called me out on the first one, she mustered up some thoughts from her pastor, I was arrogant and dismissive in my approach to his wisdom. And I was arrogant and pretty stupid in a later response. It might not have taken me six years to realise this, but it has taken until now, as I went back to find what past-me thought, for me to realise just how wrong and abrassive I was, and to think that the record probably needs to be set straight.

The problem with the post I’ve linked to where I was arrogant and stupid is that some of what I said is true, but it’s incredibly simplistic and I buy into a heap of false dichotomies — like the idea that you can preach the Gospel to your neighbours without loving them (and that you can claim to be loving without caring for the world that people live in). I said:

“If Jesus death is the focal point of God’s love – and indeed the focal point of God’s word – then should it not be our focal point? Rather than distractions like the environment. There are plenty of people worried about the environment and not enough worried about evangelism as far as I’m concerned. And while some claim care for the environment does not mutually exclude care for people – but nor is it the purpose of existence – and in fact it is a distraction.”

It was thinking like this that led another dear friend to say that I have an “anemic doctrine of creation,” I got a little defensive then. My problem, I think, isn’t so much that I want to argue for the supremacy of the Gospel in the Christian life, but in the idea that how we interact with the environment isn’t part of our proclamation of the Gospel. I argued for a pretty disembodied approach to evangelism. And this was wrong.

I also try to split God’s love for the people he redeems from his love for the world he redeems — while it’s true that God definitely loves his people, and his aim is to gather them, it’s to gather them to live in the world that he loves, and that he will dwell in. God shows his commitment to dwelling with his people in his world-as-temple in a way that doesn’t really set up people and creation in a weird hierarchy, but sees his creation — humanity and world — living in harmony with him.

So, if you were reading back then, or you see this now, sorry I was a jerk, sorry I was wrong, and to those who loved me enough to try to correct me — I’m sorry I didn’t listen because I was so certain I was right. I wasn’t.

The prodigal turtle…

I was all set to end my blogging hiatus on Friday night, and then our world changed. Briefly. Let me tell you the story…

We have pet turtles (you can read a little about keeping pet turtles here). There names are Franklin (Frankie) and Roosevelt (Rosie). You can’t tell what gender turtles are until they’re a few years old – and, like Swedish parents, we didn’t want to impose gender identities on them – so although they’re female, I sometimes accidentally call them “he,” and that’s pretty interchangeable.

We feed our turtles in a bucket – because their food stinks, and it dramatically cuts down on the amount of time one needs to spend cleaning their tank.

On Friday night, at 2000 (these stories are best recounted in 24 hour time), I put Frankie in the bucket for a feed. I forgot about her. A bit. And at 23:00 I went downstairs. I noticed that our garage door was open… there was a breeze blowing. It was a still night. The moon was full. The scene is now set.

I walked into the man cave – the home of the turtle tank – and the bucket – and reached in to the murky brown bucket to grab Frankie – she’s the bitiest of our turtles – so I was cautious. And the water was stinky. So I didn’t want to keep my hand in the water for too long. But I couldn’t find her.

She had escaped.

Vanished. Like a ninja.

I spent 20 minutes frantically checking every nook, cranny, and sock (a favourite hiding place when they were younger, and free range… It became pretty clear she wasn’t in the house.

These turtles are Robyn’s – they were a birthday present four years ago. She likes them. She was asleep. I had to break the bad news… Frankie was gone. She was outside.

I’d read that if you don’t recover a kidnap victim, or find a missing person, in the first few hours – the prospects aren’t good. I think that was in a Jack Reacher novel. Frankie’s prospects weren’t good.

I grabbed a torch. I spent 2 hours walking around outside checking garden beds, drains, under cars – looking like a creepy prowler. I gave up. I went to bed at 0200.

We had friends coming round for breakfast. I was a little dejected. Frantic. I woke up at 0600. And spent another hour combing the yard looking for our little amphibious friend. A water main had busted up the street – I wondered if we’d find Frankie causing a blockage in the pipe.

But of our turtle there was no sign. I pulled downstairs apart. Turned every stone – and piece of furniture. I spent the day peering out the window, looking for any sign of our turtle – or circling vultures (metaphorically speaking – they were more likely to be myna birds). But alas. There was no sign.

At 1600 I was ready to give up the search. We resolved ourselves to the idea that our little turtle friend was gone. And not coming back.

But still. I stared into the middle distance.

I considered making a lost poster. Maybe a neighbourhood kid had picked her up. It would have looked something like this…

Image (1)

I was doing anything to cling on to hope. We were picturing Frankie eating food, and frolicking in a local creek. Happy. Consoling ourselves with anything we could hang on to.

But we kept staring off into space. Unfocused eyes glancing at the road – in the hope that we’d see our turtle wandering the street. Adventure over. Coming home to comfort.

At about 1700 – the photographer’s golden hour – the sun hovering above the horizon, casting a radiant glow over our suburban street, I looked again.

I shouted. I jumped. A car swerved. Birds swooped – a flock of them. And there. Wandering casually towards a drain, head tucked under her shell to avoid the dive bombing sky-rats, was Frankie. Covered in bark chips after a day spent hiding in a neighbourhood garden. Making her move. For freedom.

Bravely – I ran through the swarm of aerial cane toads – risking neck and eyes (where I imagine myna birds targetting – they are evil) – to save our little turtle.

Frankie is home. The lost is found. She’s now happily hanging out with her turtle buddy. Home. Safe.

We are happy. Elated. Having traversed the kind of emotional roller coaster you might find in the world’s smallest and lamest emotional theme park. We develop all sorts of emotional attachments to pets – and that’s probably healthy. They bring joy, and they are delightful lives created by God. But this gave me a little bit of a taste of the emotions the father in the famous story of the Prodigal Son was feeling as he looked down the road to see his son returning. The lost found.

And that, dear friends, is why there hasn’t been much action here these last few days.

On blogging and “tone”

So. For those of you not following along with the discussion on yesterday’s post about worship… here’s an update.

I wrote that post with a healthy dose of irony. I thought. And I was aiming for humour, rather than offence, when adopting the persona of an “angry young man” essentially writing to a bunch of other “angry young people” and calling them old. I was trying to call out those people who were once advocators of change for being a bit stuck in the rut of that advocacy when things have changed. I also thought it was funny that the issue at hand dealt with music – which I thought was universally understood to be a marker of generational change…

And, in order to be noticed, I adopted hyperbole. I ironically wrote a reactive polemic against reactive polemics, calling for nuance. I thought that would be relatively clear.

But it turns out, once again, that the Internet isn’t very good for that sort of stuff. Even though I think that blogging is a medium different to other mediums (ie content is spur of the moment, geared towards the sensational, provocative, not completely thought out and referenced, opinionated, a contribution to discourse, etc), and think the reader has as much responsibility to consider the genre when responding as the writer does to consider the reader when writing… I think this post failed. People responded to the style, rather than the substance. And so, I edited it. You should read the post and join the discussion.

I am sorry that my post was not clear, and I’m sorry that it was possibly an offensive caricature of particular positions (again, ironically, because I would argue that almost all reactionary/polemic based stuff, especially on the internet, relies on caricatures and straw men).

Also, I am sorry if you’re 35 and I called you old, or if my post offended you in myriad other ways. But I guess my one response is – don’t let the offence get in the way of engaging with the issue, or be an excuse for dismissing the substance of the post or its criticism of your position.

The non-apology apology

Annabel Crabb has picked up on one of K-Rudd’s favourite current communication tools. The unapologetic apology.

These are traditionally expressed in the form of “I make no apology for x” – where x is something good.

She gives the following lesson for those looking to emulate the PM.

First, you take a principle or proposition of which the listener is odds-on to approve.

Caring for puppies, let’s say.

Then you profess to uphold that principle “unapologetically”.

“I am an unapologetic supporter of puppies.”

This first endears you to the listener, and affirms their own views. But the use of the term “unapologetically” does something else, too.

It implicitly suggests that the listener is part – along with you – of a small but courageous minority.

If you can successfully master this little trick the results are a foregone conclusion…

“By the time you are finished, you and your listener are brothers-in-arms, visionaries swimming bravely against the tide of a brutal orthodoxy.”

Apology (of sorts)

I apologise to the un-named pastor for my at times hyperbolic reaction to his reaction to my theological position on climate change.

We disagree. Fundamentally on the issue. But some of what I said was graceless and made the same mistakes I accuse said un-named pastor of making – namely casting aspersions on his character and ministry on the basis of his criticism.

I will leave the whole post as is because discussions is ongoing and I think with this disclaimer the spirit and tone of discussion can be rescued somewhat.

That is all.


To anyone subscribing to my blog who received 29 copies of my google reader links. They were good, but not that good. I’m having some plug-in glitches with my WordPress installation – but hopefully all are ironed out now.

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