Beware you are not a fiery, persecuting enthusiast. Do not imagine that God has called you (just contrary to the spirit of Him you style your Master) to destroy people's lives, and not to save them. Never dream of forcing people into the ways of God.
Think yourself, and let think. Use no constraint in matters of religion. Even those who are farthest out of the way never compel to come in by any other means than reason, truth, and love.
~John Wesley

The Least of Bees
by Susie Marshall

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Here is a guest post from my colleague, Susie Marshall, in the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church.  She is founder and Executive Director of The Gleaning Network of Texas, which is a Dallas-based not-for-profit organization that finds surplus produce and utilizes volunteers to distribute it to food assistance programs across North Texas. Before starting The Gleaning Network, Susie worked as the Texas Program Director for the Society of St. Andrew. Through her work with farmers and social service agencies, she developed a passion for high quality and organic food, equitable access and local and urban agriculture. She is currently serving as the President of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. A native Dallasite, Susie has a Bachelor’s degree from Texas Wesleyan University, a Master’s degree in Health and Physical Education from Texas A&M – Commerce, and a Master’s of Theological Studies from the Perkins School of Theology at SMU.

In the last week I have spent a lot of time and emotional energy dealing with aerial spraying (read crop dusting) for mosquitoes in my city and those surrounding. I work in the local food community, and my friends are organic farmers, gardeners, beekeepers, and people who care about what happens in their environment.

The situation and the conversations have been like this: Apparently we have the largest outbreak of mosquito-borne West Nile Virus in the country this year. People have died. We have very pretty lawns that require lots of maintenance and watering in parts of the city, which I’m sure creates at least small pools of water that allow mosquitoes just enough room to breed and gestate, not to mention reports of swimming pools that have poor maintenance.

No one on any side of the argument, for spraying or for not spraying, wants anyone to suffer from West Nile Virus. But neither do a lot of us want anyone to potentially experience affects from pesticides that blanket the area. Nor do I want my friends to lose more beehives. These hives are my friends’ livelihood, and the bees are pollinators for farms and gardeners all over the Dallas area. We’re killing our local eco-system trying to ‘effectively’ rid the area of a pest. But the spraying is not that effective; there are many natural alternatives that are more effective on preventing new mosquitoes from developing. Lots of conflicting information flying around… Lots of angst…

These are the things that we have talked about for a week now – maybe more. I’ve lost track. The city and the county declared a state of emergency so they could go with the spraying. City council members didn’t get a vote. The citizens don’t seem to have a voice, even as much as we have spoken. Sometimes we feel helpless. The discussions can be rational and technical, but the emotion, the sadness, the helplessness felt by a lot of us has been at times quite thick.

It occurred to me one day last week that there has been very little noise from my clergy colleagues on the issue. It also occurs to me that this is very much a theological issue.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a thought related to the environment and faith. I know that nature works very well all by itself to create life. I’ve pondered this before and been amazed at the way in which a seed becomes a plant, which then produces flowers, which sometimes require another being to come and transfer pollen from one flower to another in order to produce fruit, but it also provides nourishment for that pollinator. Everything in our world is designed to work a specific way. So often we seem to simply try to do it better and really mess things up!

But I had a theological epiphany last fall during a documentary about bees. A comment was made in the film about how the butterflies are affected by pesticides and such just like the bees. My church loves to use the butterfly as a metaphor for rebirth, and we value their beauty and amazingness. So…the connection came. If we value the butterfly, why are we not creating an organic environment for them to thrive in on our church property.

That thought has extended to all of creation. If we value Creation as something good, as the Scripture says it is, then why as a people of faith do we not value ALL of creation in ALL parts of our lives? I’m not saying that no Christian values all of creation in all parts of their lives. There are tons who do, but what are we teaching and preaching and modeling in our lives, especially at our churches? Is this just one more way that Christians are hypocritical?

Last week it hit me in a big thud-in-the-chest kind of way that the bees and the dragonflies and the toads are also ‘the least of these.’ They have no voice other than ours. Aren’t they important as our neighbors? Those who have been speaking for the environment, for the bigger picture, for the tiny insects are speaking for the least of these as well as for the greater good with reason and logical, natural alternatives.

Our group will keep speaking up for the bees. We have to – 1 in 3 bites of food you and I eat are thanks to bees. On a realistic note, we cannot have the food we have without the pollinators! But yet, we don’t protect them!  Do we really value all the things we say we do?

I’ve been struggling with how to end this without just being blunt….it’s not working…

So, what does your theology say about Creation? Do your actions reflect what you really believe? Do you strive to do the least harm to the world around you, not just to the people?

If we really believe as people of faith that creation is good, do we just admire it’s beauty and wonder, or do we work to protect it, too? Isn’t caring for Creation part of loving God, neighbor, and self?

I’m daily striving to do better and better in caring for Creation. Join me!

One Response to “The Least of Bees
by Susie Marshall”

  1. By Dawn on Aug 25, 2012 | Reply

    I’m mixed on this one. I have a good friend that is an entomologist and big into bees (they are a passion — you should hear him talk about them). So I visited with him on this issue and well… this article is a little knee jerk. The pesticides have a very short life — spraying is heavily coordinated (to include routes) and beekeepers (responsible ones) go out at night ant put a screen on the hive so the bees don’t fly the next morning during spraying so minimum impact should occur. The pesticide does not hang around long and the bees can fly again not long after spraying. Certainly if these basics aren’t being done — something needs to be addressed.

    As for the “least of all” arguement I think that would be well, the viruses and bacteria in the world. These are creatures we also share this world and are part of God’s creation–who gives them voice? Yet would we suggest not providing an anti-bacterial in a sick person? Did we not deliberately eradicate the small pox virus (an entire creature)? Would the author have us undo this? Should we not strive for an “organic” environment in our body for these to thrive and skip modern medicine?
    An outbreak of WNV is equally serious and you have to kill the adult mosquitoes (who have bitten a WNV bird and therefore can spread by biting other birds or humans). To let it go means (with the birds flying) fairly rapid spread.

    While I largely disagree with some of the premises and reactionism of this article, I do agree with the underlying thought — how can we live work better together and do minimum damage? In this case I hope the “organic” community and the public health are working and taking responsible action to protect the bees (announced routes, beekeepers meeting their responsibilities of securing the bees,…).

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