Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Herds Upon the Hills -- and Carhenge

The weekend before last, my husband and I had a beautiful drive on Highway 2 through the Sandhills to Alliance. The Sandhills are green now, and there were wildflowers blooming as well. It was wonderful (in the full sense of filling-us-with-wonder) to find ourselves in places where there was nothing in sight but green hills, patches of wildflowers, a few birds, and cattle. Psalm 50 came to mind, where God asks for a sacrifice not of animals but of thanksgiving, for grateful hearts: “For all the beasts of the forest are mine, the herds in their thousands upon the hills. I know every bird in the sky, and the creatures of the fields are in my sight.” Surrounded by green hills and a constantly changing sky, it was easy to have a grateful heart!

It was exciting to visit St. Matthew’s in Alliance and learn more about their environmental stewardship activities. The parish has an active recycling program, both at church and in parishioners’ homes; they kept environmental issues in mind when they selected a new HVAC system for the church; and, under Father Don Huber’s leadership, there seems to be a growing awareness of the importance of Christians being intentional about the way we care for creation.

Recycling is really nothing new for St. Matthew’s. Their chapel incorporates windows, panels, pews, altar, and organ from their former building. The parish also support the Mission Store, a thrift shop in downtown Alliance that is a source for affordable clothing, housewares, and furniture. Deacon Cheryl Harris and her husband, Todd, are among the people who keep the Mission Store going. They gave us a tour Saturday evening, and what we saw was a very well thought-out way for people to recycle all sorts of things. It’s a great ministry to the people who need the items they sell, and also to the people who have a way to recycle items they are no longer using.

Several people at St. Matthew’s told us we really needed to see Carhenge before we left Alliance, so as we left town late Sunday morning, we swung by there.
Carhenge is a replica of Stonehenge made out of used cars that are welded together and spray painted. It struck me as a surprisingly interesting combination of art, American roadside kitsch, and a statement of some sort about the automobile. It is, in its own way, recycling on a grand scale. And no matter whether it’s taken as art or something else, there is no question that it is creative!

Early this morning I was sitting on my porch having a cup of tea and thinking about Carhenge, when I noticed a spider web in the early morning sunlight. Because a spider produced the web, we consider that part of “nature”. Humans are part of nature also, so it seems odd that we don’t usually consider our products, things like Carhenge, to be part of nature in the same way we do a spider’s web or a bird’s nest. The difference is in our capacity to reason, to critique our own instincts, to consider and choose among alternatives, and then to create something that isn’t necessarily instinctive. The same gifts of reason and free will that allow us to create in a human way are also what give us the capacity to sin. Similarly, the gift of being able to critique our instincts sometimes results in our losing touch with our basic instincts and basic needs. Thus, human beings sometimes end up creating things that are ultimately destructive, and we can end up producing things in a way that harms the air and water we need to live.

In medieval times, Hildegard of Bingen talked about human beings as “co-creators” with God. As the Psalmist points out, God, who owns all the cattle on all the hills, doesn’t need our help, but invites us into a relationship as co-creators, as partners in sustaining God’s creation. God invites us into the joy of creative work, using our gifts toward the sustenance of God’s good creation: the animals, birds, flowers, grass, and ourselves.