Review: Abundance: Nature in Recovery

Abundance: Nature in Recovery, Karen Lloyd. New York: Bloomsbury Wildlife, 2021.

Summary: A collection of essays describing both the loss of and recovery of abundance in the natural world, where people have caused harm and brought renewal.

Karen Lloyd is a border stalker. In this collection of essays, she describes her journeys throughout the UK and Europe at the border of where human activity is intersecting in the natural world–both for ill and for good. She describes her project using the ornithologist’s term of “getting your eye in”:

“When I turn on the news or read a newspaper, I am assailed by all the losses in the natural world. The natural world is being flushed out. In the natural world, there are no rites of passage to cope with this. Sometimes, frequently in fact–I am overwhelmed by all the losses and the reporting of all the losses, and what I want to do is get my eye in, in a different way. I want to use my binocular vision to look at and think about abundance and what that might mean. I want to take my binoculars into the field and see if it is still possible to see abundance–or something like it” (p. 14).

She begins her journey with the “murmurations” of starlings over East Cumbria and their response to the attempt of a peregrine falcon to penetrate the flock Her travels take her to the Netherlands, and attempts to site some of the wolves and jackals that are gradually returning and the debate over protecting these animals in what was once a natural habitat. A trip to Extremadura in southern Spain leads to sightings of vultures, harriers, and an abundance of bird species in a national park also devoted to wool production and lumber production serving the human population while preserving the natural environment allowing vultures to soar thermals and others to thrive.

We follow her and friends attempting to save a bird with a broken leg in eastern Hungary while chronicling the loss of the slender billed curlew, last sighted there. She describes efforts in Scotland to preserve beavers, that had slowly been eradicated by farmers and hunter. She witnesses the architecture of beaver lodges and dams, and the balance struck of running “beaver deceivers” through dams to pipe excess water through to regulate pond levels without disrupting the beavers efforts.

One of the more creative chapters was “Eighty Fragments on the Pelican” a “weird and perfectly adapted species. The most riveting chapter describes her time in the Carpathian forests of Romania, forests under threat of logging and an endangered habitat for bears. She takes us on a hike following bear tracks with a guide as well as her son, learning along the way not to get between a mother bear and her cubs, a hopeless situation.

As she observes the efforts of those seeking to balance human and natural interests and preserve abundance, she identifies their work as “cathedral thinking”–an attitude of planning and working that thinks in terms of future generations, even for centuries. She tells a wonderful story of Hatidze, a sixty year old woman in a rural village in Macedonia, who keeps bees, is never stung though not wearing protective gear, taking half a comb for her family, leaving half for the bees, exemplifying an ethic of respect and reciprocity.

This is a moving collection of essays. I felt I was present with the author on her travels. I was watching out for those bears, and reveling with her as she watched the vultures ride the thermals. She captures the joy of those working on the front lines to preserve and restore abundance and the love of these creatures. LLoyd articulates something often lacking in our environmental debates–the recognition that we must love what we seek to preserve and that there is a joy to be found in natural abundance.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Slow Church

slow churchSlow Church by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: This book argues that the church has been “McDonald-ized” and that just as the Slow Food movement has returned to embracing food that is good, clean, and fair, so the church needs to embrace an ethic of quality, an ecology of reconciliation, and an economy of abundance.

Slow church. That’s not what I wanted when I was growing up. I wanted to get my weekly dose of church and get on to more interesting things. If the authors are to believed, the church growth specialists gave my generation what we wanted–fast church. Messages that cut to the chase, efficient, homogeneous organization that led to big box churches that provided a great show. For a time, I was part of such a church in another city, typically driving 10 miles to attend. But it seemed totally unconnected to the place where we lived and so when we moved to our current home town, we found a church in the neighborhood, which in recent years has come to embody many of the things the authors of this book describe as part of the “slow church” movement.

The authors describe an approach to thinking of the church that gives words to much of what we were looking for. They believe that God’s redemptive work is slow and values the unique qualities of people and place and gifting that our particular places of worship reflect. They organize their approach around three categories.

First they think in terms of ethics. What is the good to be pursued in the life of a local congregation? It begins with a sense of place that takes time to become a community that shares life together and learns how to serve the mix of people in a real neighborhood rather than efficiently reaching a “market segment.” It encourages stability that takes time to understand a place rather than our restless mobility. It values patience that is willing to suffer alongside others and walk alongside the people of one’s community through the seasons and changes of life as Christ is formed in us.

A second emphasis is on ecology. It focuses on the connectedness of all things and all of life as opposed to fragmenting life, and groups of people into segments, often with the result of dividing them against each other–young and old, liberal and conservative, poor and affluent, and even humans versus the rest of creation. It cares about the dehumanization of work and fosters good work based in our neighborhoods. It celebrates sabbath where God provides enough in six days for us to live seven.

A third focus is on economy. Will we join the culture’s economics of scarcity or the kingdom economy of abundance? This means noticing all the abundance God has placed in the people and physical resources of a church and a community and responding with gratitude and hospitality. And in a wonderful connection with the slow food movement, it means reveling in the fellowship of the table, having rich conversation over good food.

This book is particularly important for churches that take seriously the work of “re-neighboring” and community development in transitional or struggling communities. It is also important for churches in more suburban “communities” that often don’t have a real sense of community and place, and are at great peril over the long haul.

The authors challenged me to consider how, even though I am in a church that is seeking to become these things, I am embedded in a “fast church” life and way of thinking that is formed more by my culture than the church community with which I identify. I work in a ministry that is not located in the community where I live, where I travel extensively, and work with colleagues in a tri-state area, and more widely with individuals throughout the country as well as an extensive virtual community. As I write today, I don’t have good answers to resolve this tension. But this book serves as impetus for a conversation, maybe a slow conversation, but one that I recognize needs to begin in my life.

How about you?