The Body and the Tree: Excerpts From a Sermon

Blogged by special request from a member at Warren United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh.

Title: The Weakest Link?

Scripture: I Corinthians 12:22 (NIV): On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.

Fellowship Day, Warren United Methodist Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Sunday, May 16, 2010

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Do you remember the game show “The Weakest Link”? Let’s go down memory lane. “The Weakest Link” has been on British television for the longest with variations of the show all around the word. The game crossed the pond and was on prime time television for less than a year back in 2001 initially to high ratings in the United States.

Visualize the stage brightly lit with multi-colored strobes lights flashing as the contestants stand in the half round behind podiums blinking as they face the cameras. In the center stands the stern frightening game show host with a British accent. She says, “Let’s play the weakest link.” She peers at the contestants over her reading glasses asking questions and making quips. Each contestant strives to answer as many questions consecutively for ever-increasing dollar amounts. At the end of each round, the contestants vote on the weakest link based on how poorly each contestant answered the questions. Or how threatening a competitor might be in blocking other players from winning the game. When someone is voted out by the majority, the host says, “You are the weakest link, goodbye! The weakest link steps away from the podium taking “The Walk of Shame.” The goal to end the show as the last contestant standing winning the pot of money collected by the winner.

Why has the show been so popular, particularly in Britain? I think in part the show reflects the tendency of our modern global society to deal ruthlessly marginalizing the weakest people or groups often made invisible in our midst.

On Fellowship Day, here at Warren, let us consider how the Apostle Paul admonished the ancient Corinthians function as a community and treat one another as equals in fellowship. I Corinthians 6:15 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” In being parts of the body or church—a finger, liver, skin, brain, heart that’s all of us, me, you, and you—through Paul, God has given us a holy mandate of equality. Jouette M. Bassler describes the connection between Christ and the body: “This spiritual union makes the deeds (I emphasize DEEDs) of the body more—not less—important, for what is done with the physical body is mapped onto the body of Christ.” Such deeds include advocating for equality; when we treat people unjustly as inferior or conversely as our equals, our deeds are mapped onto the holy body of Christ our Lord, that’s the Church, the body of Christ is the church. As African Americans who have experienced or learned about the Civil Rights Movement, we are well aware of the disparity caused by racism, segregation and violence. With such experience and knowledge, can we live with ourselves if someone in the body of Christ is being treated as the weakest link? We are equals.

Let’s go back to I Corinthians 12:22, our core scripture, which is part of a longer passage from verse 12 to 25 (NIV). Please follow along in your bulletin or bible as I read. In the passage, the apostle Paul is letting the church of Corinth have it concerning inequity.  Is there inequality in the modern church? You decide.

In Paul’s letters, he admonished the church of Corinth for some bad behavior including elevating themselves. But first a backdrop to Paul’s reprimand. He founded this congregation in 51 CE in the ancient capital city of the Roman province of Achaia  in what is now Western Greece. Much like cities here in the Northeastern US, Achaia was an urban center that was ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse. Paul responded to the people in the church of Corinth in the city who struggled with personal relationships. Some congregants at Corinth thought they were better than other members!n Hard to believe. Can you imagine? People in United Methodist Church like those in so many other modern denominations and churches are guilty of doing the same thing. Just goes to show you that bias and inequity remains timeless across the centuries.

So Paul built on the metaphor of the body of Christ to make his point. The body is made of parts. They all are meant to function together. There is no defecting. Sounds draconian no? Thefoot cannot and does not detach itself, leave and pitch a tent on its own. In verse  15, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.” Taking the metaphor even further, one part is not better than the other. And we cannot do without a part, no matter how insignificant it might SEEM. Verse 22 says, “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

And so it is with those of us in the church. We are members of the church. We are called to work and serve with one another. This is a life-long commitment so no cutting and running from the church when things get rough. We cannot do without one another; we need that fellowship for spiritual health like we need water, air and food for our bodies to survive. And I cannot emphasize this enough: we are all equals; you are not better that anyone in the church; no one is the weakest link;  we all play equal and important role. That means that Pastor Emma Smith is no more or no less than you; the same is true for though I stand here physically elevated before you. The church mother who willingly and happily makes sure the bathroom stays tidy before, during, and after service is equal to the member who meticulously and ably chairs the church finance committee.

Paul had his metaphors and so do I. Consider an old oak tree. Its bark and branches brown, its leaves green, and the roots sunk deep in the earth. Without the leaves photosynthesis—the process of using the energy of the sun to transform carbon dioxide or CO2 into oxygen or O2 to fuel the tree—would never happen. Without the branches the energy drawn from CO2 pulled by the leaves would not travel to sustain the trunk and roots. Without the water and nutrients drawn by the roots the energy created by the sun and CO2 would be useless. So you see ALL the parts of tree work in tandem. One part cannot do without the other. The leaf is not better than roots. Not one part is the weakest link.

All sermons must come to an end as was true of all of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. We are called to love one another as members of the church,at  this congregation called Warren United Methodist Church.We must break bread at same table, drink the same fruit punch in this low Original Hot Dog Shop, otherwise known as Dirty O’s or O’s of life.  I ask each of you to treat one another as equals in fellowship, rejecting how the world measures people as the weakest link often setting people like the handicapped and elderly adrift. We are called by God to be better than that. Let us accept the call, always remembering the “parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

This mandate extends from one another in this church to those in the Methodist church around the world to the rest of the world. Prayerfully through our efforts we can transform the world. We join together with each other to be the church. Go even further by joining with those across the street, across town, across the state, across the country, and around the world!

PHOTOS BY DIANNE GLAVE

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African American Woman Speaks Out on the BP Gulf Disaster

I was at Art of Diva’s Hair Design, my hair salon, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. The salon is filled with stylists and clientele who are African American. As is always true, many conversations were swirling. I caught a word here and a word there.  I heard a few bits of conversation about the Gulf Oil Crisis.  

So I asked my hair stylist to share her thoughts about this frightening and monumental disaster. 

Stephanie, Photo Courtesy of Stephanie

Dianne: How do you think BP is handling this crisis? 

Stephanie: I think they are doing the best they can because they are losing money. They are losing money as the oil pours out the pipe in the Gulf. They are losing money on the stock market. They will have to pay out money to all the people in the Gulf who are suffering emotionally and financially.

Is there another method? Does anyone else have the expertise to do something different and better? I don’t know of any company who wouldn’t make a fix if there were simple solution to save the company. 

D: What about the government? Are they doing enough? 

S: I don’t think they are. They are not supervising to make sure the job gets done. They need to step up! 

D: Should locals in the Gulf get involved? 

S: What the heck can they do? BP does not need to be thinking about the safety of fisherman in boats with no experience going out into the Gulf trying to skim the oil. If something happens—illness from the oil fumes, a damaged boat, or physical injury–to a local without experience then BP will be made responsible. If the local people make things worse, then what? BP and the government need to monitor all this, cap the hole in the pipe, and lead clean-up. 

At the Beach, Photo Courtesy of Stephanie

D: Is President Barack Obama being visible enough during the crisis? 

S: Yes, he has spoken up. I have seen and heard him on television in few instances. 

D: How are you feeling about the environmental impact? 

S: I am so scared for the wildlife. I’ve seen images on television of seagulls covered in oil. People were cleaning the oil off the birds. I remember seeing the seals dead in the water back with the Exxon Valdez spill. I am so sad and worried for the wildlife and the people affected down in Gulf. 

A few minutes after we finished talking, Stephanie said, “Look. there’s Obama.” 

Photo by Dianne Glave

To all the creatures who have died in the Gulf in the last month or so — Rest in Peace.

Inaugural Blog Carnival: Challenges of Doing Diversity and Environment

Welcome to the Inaugural Rooted in the Earth Blog Carnival. The carnival theme is “Challenges of Doing Diversity and Environment.” The blogs were contributed by a writer and activist–Audrey Peterman, a professor–Elizabeth Blum, an entrepeneur–Rue Mapp, a blogger–Justfortheplanet, and two ministers–Alisha Tatem and Dianne Glave. Some shared about the hard work of trying to sustain the movement of diversity and the environment. A few put the movement in the context of race and racism. And then others shared the perspectives and stories of others.  Please comment on the blogs to encourage each contributor to continue in their hard work. And stay tuned for my second blog carnival titled Shades of Nature: The Process and the Writing

Now you may have noticed the photos in the blog. There is a connection to the carnival theme. I took both photos in Louisiana, and they remind me of two sets of experiences. The first, is some of the work I did in New Orleans. I taught a class on African American environmental history, perhaps the first time anyone taught the class. Getting to the point where I could teach it took many years and creativity: there was little published on the subject. The photo of the garden was at a living museum, a reconstituted plantation. That garden was most assuredly planted and cared for by African Americans who were enslaved.  My enslaved ancestors lived the history of which I teach and write.

The second photo relates to Hurricane Katrina. I was living in New Orleans when the hurricane was about to hit. I was fortunate to evacuate early but watched as thousands of African Americans suffered–many died and others survived the storm. In the aftermath, I visited New Orleans East and Treme, predominantly African American communities in the city, that had become environmental ghost towns.  Whenever I look at the broken steeple in the photo of what was probably an African American church, I remember New Orleans and Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina.

Damaged Church, Algiers, LA, Post-Katrina, November 2004

 Each contributor also shared their own stories or interpretations of diversity and the environment. Read what they said: 

Audrey Peterman: The Hardest Working PERSON in Diversity and Environment Just4theplanet’s Can Obama Rage War on Cancer Causing Chemicals? 

Outdoor Afro’s Do White People Care About Diversity in Outdoor Spaces?  

Elizabeth D. Blum on African Americans and the Environment   Alisha Tatem’s African American Babies: Endangered Species? 

Dianne Glave’s How I Got into African American Environmental History! 

Dianne Valentin who is at Georgia Wand shared her thoughts about creating community concerning diversity and environment:

Laura Plantation, Louisiana, 2004

 This is great. It can seem like we are lonesome travelers down this road sometimes, but using forums like this will help us find like minded souls who have been working in this area, solving problems for decades. 

Some of my recent successes; working with my colleagues at Georgia WAND to get environmental monitoring for radionuclides restored in Georgia, we got CNN to do a story on the small Waynesboro community of Shell Bluff to bring light to their health issues that may be related to environmental contamination, we facilitated Swedish television news doing a story on that same community. 

Even though we have what seems to be the slowest turnaround even though we input maximum effort and time on these issues, positive outcomes do occur. 

I know it can sometimes seem lonely but you are definitely not alone! As they say in Horton Heres a Who! ‘Nous somme la, nous somme la! 

———-   

I have enjoyed reading each of these blogs and hope you do too!

— Dianne Glave   

Photos by Dianne Glave Except for the Book Cover  

  

How I Got Into African American Environmental History!

That's Me on the Right

I have been doing diversity and environment since the  early 1990’s. It started for me in the M.A. program in the History Department at Stony Brook University. When I transitioned to the Ph.D. at Stony Brook, I said to my dissertation advisor that I wanted to write my dissertation on African Americans and the environment. She gave me a blank look and said there was no one in the department, probably the whole country, who could advise me concerning my topic. Well, I forged ahead, struggled really. I finally finished my dissertation with some help from Mart Stewart, an outside advisor on my dissertation committee.   

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 What is African American environmental history? 

Carl Anthony gives us a definition: “African American environmental history is concerned with questions of environmental justice in the past; patterns of exploitation within society that have limited African American access to nature and the fruit of the community engagement with the environment; African American resistance to that exploitation and mobilization to confront environmental injustice; ways that African Americans have acted on the environment and have been affected by it in everyday life; the historical environmental health exposures and risks to African American communities; the role African Americans have played in helping to build sustainable societies. (ASEH News, American Society for Environmental History, Spring 2006, 9)    

————-       

When I began doing the work on African American environment there were no definitions. Even today, if you google African American environmental history, a definition does not pop up. That’s so unlike google.  One of my early efforts in working towards defining African American environmental history was an article on African American women and gardening

In  my personal and professional struggle, I have been an academic for many years. There were few people of color I could count on, and that I knew of who working in various areas concerning diversity and the environment . So my cohorts and primary audience were mainstream academics. I was frustrated and alone, often asked, “Where are the white people?” in my narratives and analyses. 

From Black Enterprise

I still teach. I still think like a historian. In many ways, I still write like a historian. What’s different though is I have more people to connect with now that I’m writing for a broader audience with the upcoming book and my ongoing blog. 

I have Rue Mapp, Jarid Manos, Rona Fernandez, EcoSoul, James Edward Mills, Evonne Blythers, Phoenix Smith,Danielle N. Lee,  Audrey Peterman, Dudley Edmondson, and so many more. And thankfully, I have all of you!

Elizabeth D. Blum on African Americans and the Environment

I have known Ellizabeth D. Blum for several years now. Like many who know her personally, I call her Scout; I’ll have to ask her the origins of her nickname. Elizabeth and I put our heads together on many an occassion as the sub-discipline of African American environmental history began to evolve back in the 1990s. She is an associate professor in the History Department at Troy University. Read her book titled Love Canal Revisited: Race, Class, and Gender in Environmental Activism. Read what she has to say . . .

As an academic, I often have to deal with misconceptions about African Americans and the environment.  One of the most persistent, and most harmful, is a common belief that the environmental justice movement that emerged in the 1980s was “new” and radically different from the “mainstream” environmental movement.  According to these themes, “mainstream” environmentalism focused too exclusively on the concerns of white preservationists – they pressed for parks and protected the spotted owl.  Environmental justice brought the plight of minorities, urban areas, and the health effects of pollution to a lily-white movement, and connected it to the civil rights movement.  Robert Bullard and Dorceta Taylor, two of the foundational authors of the environmental justice movement, propounded these theories beginning in the mid to late 1980s.  Environmental justice activists, including Bullard and Taylor, had vested political interests in these views.  The more “new” the movement looked, the more likely it was to receive much-deserved attention from politicians.  Unfortunately, although additional scholarship has added much to the picture, this simplistic image of environmentalism is one that has stuck.

My point is not that environmental justice advocates are bad or even wrong about the connections of race and class to environmental harm – to the contrary, I have long been a proponent of environmental justice.  My point is that by ignoring history, we ignore the deep roots of a movement and marginalize some of the key players, namely African American women.  African American women have been pivotally involved in urban, civil-rights-connected environmentalism since the late 1800s.  They formed clubs and organizations and worked to clean up cities for health and aesthetic reasons.  They saw their work not as “environmentalism,” but as a part of their ongoing struggle for civil rights.  African American men, especially elites like W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, and other literary giants of the Harlem Renaissance made explicit connections between the poor treatment of human beings under slavery and the poor treatment of the land in the south.  To heal the land, they believed, African Americans needed to be free and equal.  In other words, the ideas of the environmental justice movement aren’t “new” – they’ve been around for around 100 years.  Certainly, that fact makes their ideas no less important or valid.

Another part of the problem here is that academics simply aren’t very good at getting their messages out to a larger public.  That’s our fault, and a longstanding one.  We tend to speak to each other and not to the general public.  However, even within the academic community, some of the excellent historical works out there are not seeping into other fields speaking to environmental justice.   Academics need to start talking to each other, and communicating with the general public in a more constructive way to break down these myths, and give historical actors some of the credit they deserve.

 Elizabeth D. Blum

Dean Ziegler’s Nature Photos: Rorschach for the Environment

When I first met Dean Ziegler, he told me he was a photographer. So I asked him, “Do you have any images of insects I could use for a blog?” Don’t ask me what my recent fascination is with bugs. Well, he said, “No, but I have plenty of flowers.” And so we began exchanging emails. 

The photos became a catalyst for considering my own experiences and the environment. What follows is a mixture, a Rorschach test of sorts based on the photos: 

Patmos Carved Shells by DZ

These shells speak to me. My parents are from Jamaica, a place surrounded by salt water, fish, sand, and shells. When I was a child, I remember going to beaches with stretches of white white sand and clear blue water where I saw multi-hued fish and seashells. 

I also remember my trip to Mykonos, an island off Greece. I went on vacation with my brother. Everyday, we went to a different beach with names like Paradise, Super Paradise, and Super Super Paradise on small boats. On one beach, I was looking at the sand one moment and in the next there was a dark-haired man riding a black stallion along the stretch of beach. Hey, it’s Mykonos; it felt like I was in the middle of a movie production.  

Shells also make me think of oil. Today, life along the Gulf and beyond is endangered. Clams and more fill shells that often end up on plates in restaurants on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The BP oil slick endangers the fishing industry and by extension the restaurant and tourist businesses. But even worse are the images of birds slimed by oil and fragile wetlands in southern Louisiana coated by oil. Sigh.

Fresh cut Sunflowers

This one is easy. Two thoughts. First, when I met Dean he told me I looked like a sunflower. Such a nice thing to say. Second, the flowers remind me of my Uncle Basil’s funeral in Jamaica. Some beautiful purplish red waxy flowers appeared the morning of the funeral. It was a sad time missing my uncle. It was also a good time because these funerals brought the extended family together from points all over the United States to Jamaica.

Rialto Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA

Since I’m already talking about death, I’m ok with continuing with this theme. This photo reminds me of the dead cypresses I spotted driving on I-10 south from New Orleans on the way to Grand Isle, Louisiana. I said to my seat-mate–I was with a group–“I think the dead cypressesare beautiful.” He was aghast and said, “What about the living things?” I responded saying, “There is no life without death.” This attitude has deepened for me during my recent internship as a chaplain. I am comfortable with death, while still embracing and enjoying life.

Dean D. Ziegler, originally from Franklin, PA, resides in Harmony, PA, and is the Superintendent of the Butler District of the United Methodist Church, Western Pennsylvania Conference.

He is married to Linda, has two grown children and two grandchildren.

All Photos by Dean D. Ziegler, Copyright 2010 

Rorschach Responses by Dianne Glave

Pittsburgh: Where the City Meets Nature

Pittsburgh is a walking city. I love that kind of city. Washington, D. C., Philadelphia, and Chicago are much the same. Even Los Angeles has pockets of great walking including beach cities like Venice and Santa Monica. Downtown Los Angeles has some wonderful spots for strolling–Chinatown the garment and business districts, Little Tokyo, Pueblo, and the Staples Center to name a few places–though some might disagree because of crime and safety issues.

Back to Pittsburgh. I traveled there for the weekend and realized I had left my trusty digital camera behind at home. I made due learning how to use my Samsung Eclipse camera phone:

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City→(Earth to water to sky to vegetation to food to animals to people)←City.

Photos by Dianne Glave

Mother and Me: Alzheimer’s, Play, and Nature

My mother, she has Alzheimer’s, you know. Well, maybe you don’t know. As the disease has progressed, I have learned to live in the present with her, glad that we are still able to communicate with one another.

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Mother's Day Rose

This time has been bittersweet. The disease continues to alter her memory, which slips away with time. Yet we find so many ways to connect. One of those ways is now play, including painting together. 

Happy Mother’s Day and many more mother, wife, farmer’s daughter, lumberjack, and sod-layer. 

Many thanks to all of my friends who treated my mother with so much love this weekend. 

Photos courtesy of and by Dianne Glave

Audrey Peterman: The Hardest Working PERSON in Diversity and Environment

Audrey Peterman and her husband Frank Peterman have been working, often by themselves, for years encouraging people of color to take in the outdoors through trips to national parks. Their book Legacy of the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care is a much welcomed and anticipated product of their efforts.    

    

In her own words in this guest blog . . .    

I’ve noticed the word “heaven” a lot in my communication lately. My dear friend Iantha Gantt-Wright, lavishly referenced in our story, Legacy on the Land first introduced the concept of living in heaven while we are here on Earth. I’d mentioned in one of our meditation sessions something about a future in heaven and she shocked me when she said, “Why not live in heaven right now?” Pursuing that thought and consciously living in the present moment, enjoying the glorious activities of life all around me, I do feel that I am living in heaven.
   

But the feeling was intense when I visited Dry Tortugas National Park on Friday, April 23, with a group of friends from across the country, and accompanied by our dearest, longtime friend and committed Community Partner, Park Ranger Alan Scott. I didn’t know how fateful it was, but his friend, Debra Hess, naturalist on the Yankee Freedom, joined us at the dock at Key West on Friday morning, and told us she had devoted her (precious!) day off to accompany us on the trip.    

Is this a gorgeous sea fan or what? But we take nothing off the islands but pictures.

You’ve got to read the chapter in www.legacyontheland.com to learn the fascinating  story of Dry Tortugas, and suffice it to say, the raucous call of a million shore birds as we coasted past Bush Key, and the sight of the magnificent frigate birds floating over the fort, their nine-tip raven black wings distinguished by white head on the females. I held my breath looking for a male, distinguished by his huge, bright red pouch, and didn’t see one. I was confident I’d see one by the end of the day. Meanwhile, some of the females actually came and hovered over the boat, seeming just as curious about us as we were about them.   

Frank Peterman

I could rhapsodize for hours about our time in the courtyard, where we watched a rare Merlin grooming in a tree, with a yellow crowned night heron nearby. One friend and I sat under a tree and talked in front of a bird bath, where a profusion of warblers enjoyed themselves four feet away from us. Several brilliant orange-and-black American Restarts flew by our shoulders, and an intense-yellow prairie warbler flitted by. Later, while I went back to the boat to eat, the others went out and saw the prize of all prizes, a life-list and the Holy Grail for most birders, the Painted Bunting. They said they watched it for many minutes as it fed on orange peel. Frank told one friend who’s new to birding that she’s literally starting at the top.    

Being that close to wild animals, being in the presence of the rhythm of life as it has evolved for millennia, my soul took flight. I cannot even express how being surrounded by nothing but  the sound of  birds’ wings and bird calls remain with me even now, two weeks later.  

So it felt quite tragic when I called Deb on Monday to thank her, and heard her voice literally shaking. It turns out that the very area which we experienced in this most pristine setting may now be in jeopardy from the wayward tide of oil seeping down from the spill.  God forbid, my mind screamed.    

Deb said the park is likely to release official information by today, Wednesday, May 5.    

The suddenness with which our priceless natural treasures can be endangered as a consequence of our own actions is a cautionary lesson. The fact that it happened when the experience was fresh in my feelings makes it poignantly clear to me: How evolved exactly are we when, so many decades after we have known we need to transition to clean energy, we’re digging even deeper into the firmament, with disastrous consequences? The magnificent frigate birds, noddy terns and sooty terns that have nested and bred on these islands for millennia, get their food from the sea. If the water is laden with oil, there’s nothing to warn them. And the first time they dive in, it’s over.   

Frank and Audrey

Since I’m living in heaven while here on Earth, I’m putting all my energy into visualizing the islands remaining just as I experienced them, and praying that the current of oil is miraculously or scientifically (it’s all the same to me) shut off.  Please, let this be a wake-up call. We all have a lot to gain by becoming involved with our natural resources and doing what is necessary to be good stewards. The natural world is relying on us.    

Guest Blog and Photos by Audrey Peterman  

Final Photo from Issues Wire

As an African American, Am I Afraid of Nature?: Guest Blog by La La

Dianne with La La

La La and I were at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit for a weekend retreat.  We came to spend contemplative moments with the monks, our fellow retreatants, and most importantly God. Walking through the paths of the monastery grounds we were also treated to nature.   

Read more about the retreat and La La’s feelings about nature from an African American woman’s perspective. She grew up in an urban predominantly black urban neighborhood and I think her background is reflected in some of her words and thoughts:   

All around me at the monastery was nature with the geese near the pond, the trees in the garden, and the bugs just about everywhere (I thinks something bit me!).  I was on a journey, a short one for the weekend taking the time to embrace, feel, and hear God, and take in creation.  I sought a connection between being spiritual and living in nature. Being there made me think of all the ways I have been trying to connect with nature in the past. It has not been easy.   

  

I arrived and realized that the place was going to be GREEN when I drove down a long strip with magnolias on both sides. I saw ducks and geese; snails and spiders; just beautiful green life. It was lovely to look at and experience.   

La La at the Gazebo Near the Entrance

Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t all perfection. I love the flowers and trees but I’m not all the way there with the creatures. Some are pretty and cute. Yet I prefer the swans, ducks, and geese kept their distance. When they got close, I panicked because of the fear of them biting me.

I didn’t get bitten but somebody else did.  A couple, a woman and a man, came down the hill to feed the ducks and geese. She had a bag of food and she fed the birds by hand while her partner took pictures.  When she ran out of food a swan flapped its great wings, arched its neck, and attacked her. I was shocked as it grasped her ankle in its yellow beak gnawing away.  She backed away and started shaking her leg. It had such a hold, a grip on her ankle. Well, the moral of story is the monks and the rest of the staff told us NOT to feed the birds. I would not have fed them anyway because just the thought of them coming close to me terrifies me. I know this much: geese and ducks are still wild animals at the end of the day and should not be messed with at all.   

So where did it all begin, this tension between an appreciation and fear of nature? When I was a young girl at age 13, I went to visit my aunt in Atlanta. I was not afraid of bugs prior to that visit. I was sitting on the side of the house on the porch and a big wasp stung me. The pain hurt so bad I jumped off the side of the house. It wasn’t a small leap because you had to take several steps to get up to the porch. I don’t remember if it hurt when I landed because the pain of the sting was so intense, more intense than the fall. After that, I stayed in the house because I was so afraid of getting stung again. So much for nature.   

Since then I can be around animals more than bugs. The insects that fly and crawl really bother me. Of course, I won’t run if I see an ant. It can’t catch me. The worst are spiders and bees, any stinging insect or creature.  If I hear zzzzzz, the buzzing, I’m running. Keep in mind that the wasp makes a buzzing sound so it all goes back to when I was 13 and stung. I know a fly won’t do me any harm but I can’t stand the noise.   

Ok so long after the wasp sting incident, I met my husband who LOVES the outdoors including the beach and mountains. So we are outside regularly. Since I met him, I have been going outside a little more. Again, baby steps. I have come a long way because of my husband. When I first met him, he was always outside working as a mechanic. He would not see me until he came inside. Now I can go outside to be with him. He makes me feel safe. My husband says, “I got you. I got you. Nothing will happen to you.” He teaches me about different insects. They are not all in one category. Each has its purpose. Though it is contradictory, I would prefer bugs to keep their distance but these days I’m not so quick to kill them as I did in the past. Thanks baby—that would be my husband.   

On the Grounds of the Monastery

I think the next important experience was when I went camping overnight with black Boy Scouts from my church. The deacons who came on the trip were like wow our wives wouldn’t come because there was no electricity to curl their hair. At the time, I was paralyzed from the waist down in a wheelchair from a terrible car accident so the trip was even more complicated (I’m healed and walking now!). My husband was a Boy Scout leader. On the trip, I slept outside in nature. There was a spider in the tent. My husband freed it. He was with me and I felt safe. I was THERE in nature. That’s one of many pluses marrying a good ole country boy from the South.   

The Pond

I also went to Pine Mountain in Georgia to the Wild Animal Safari. I do love animals but I don’t want to be that close. We were in a Chevy Tahoe, a BIG truck. The animals were bigger than the truck. A zebra and buffalo came up to the truck. I thought the buffalo was a bull it was so humongous. My husband said different. Mind you, I had never seen wild animals like these—only in the zoo closed in. I saw a big black pig and learned later it was a wild boar. They had tusks and were dirty. I like baby pigs that are pink not dirty boars. I also saw a camel, a llama, foxes, and ostriches. I wondered why the smaller animals were in separate sections. I learned later that foxes would prey on other small animals if let loose. And of course you can’t leave the smaller animals with the lions and tigers. The giraffe was beautiful. They were all beautiful except the buffalo and the boar. There were so many different animals I’d never seen before. It was like the Lion King come to life, except they weren’t talking. Maybe because of my height—4’11”—everything was bigger than me. Even the ostrich was taller than me.   

We also do stuff as a family. I remember a trip to Callaway Gardens. We went to the Butterfly Haven. I love butterflies. They are so pretty. All these big butterflies landed on us. The butterflies were from all around the world which was nice but they still freaked me out. My son said, “Don’t panic. They are just butterflies.” I said, “I know.” It reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds except I was surrounded by butterflies. Can you imagine pecking butterflies? Thanks Alfred! Beyond the fear and sarcasm, I stayed and did not run. I felt uncomfortable. I did not want to hurt them. I didn’t want them close either.   

Burial Site of the Monks: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Now at home I have a garden. Well ok, I went to Home Depot to buy the seeds and seedlings; my husband planted everything and tends the garden. Hey I paid and he tends: we both had a part.  I anticipate the beauty of the garden.  I planted the flower seeds, while my husband has planted the fruits and vegetables, bell and hot peppers, tomatoes, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and grapes, cabbage, romaine lettuce, green beans, corn, watermelon, watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumbers. We planted a peach tree three years ago. We just planted an apple tree. I am proud of myself because I went to Home Depot to buy the plants and seedling, however I must say that my husband has but a lot of hard work into the digging, planting and creating a beautiful garden. I’m taking baby steps to get closer to nature.   

I love animals and nature. I would prefer some distance. I know I said this already but it’s important enough to be repeated.  The closer I draw to God the more I am able to see the beauty of all of God’s creation.  This was just the beginning of many beautiful and learning encounters with God and nature, my experience as an African American woman outdoors.   

La La Typing the Blog

   

   

    

Guest Blog By La La  

Photos by Dianne Glave