When we say yes to God, when we open ourselves to Jesus's living, giving act on the cross, we enter in to a way of life. He is the source, the strength, the example, and the assurance that this pattern of death and rebirth is the way into the only kind of life that actually sustains and inspires.
~Rob Bell


The Least of Bees
by Susie Marshall

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!

1 Comment »

A Surprising Place to Find God
– by Carolyn Bell

This is a guest post by my friend Carolyn Bell.  She is a member of First United Methodist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas where she taught preschool at the School for Little People for 25 years – and still teaches yoga to four year olds!  Currently, she teaches the High School Girls Sunday School Class and participates in several study groups.  A certified yoga teacher, Carolyn teaches at Anytime Fitness, also in Wichita Falls.  You can learn more about a transformation in her life and her personal yoga journey on her blog:  yogafriends.wordpress.com.  She is married to Dewayne, and they have two adult sons.

Growing up, I had a traditional Christian upbringing within several Methodist churches, but I was surprised to discover a deepening of my faith on my yoga mat. I started a yoga practice about 14 years ago at a time when my personal anxiety was at an all-time high level. For many reasons, I have had a struggle with an anxiety disorder over the years. No amount of prayer or positive thinking or medications had helped me to overcome my overstimulated nervous system. My body was in that “flight or fight” syndrome most of the time, and I felt very fragile.  While I struggled to remain present in my body at my first yoga experience, I soon discovered the reward at the end of class… meditation.  It was in this contemplative state that I opened myself to new possibilities and to new life. I prayed for God’s presence and for His guidance. After six years of practice I knew that God was opening a path for me to teach yoga, and I responded. Yoga has given me techniques to calm and integrate my body, mind, and breath.  The continued practice of meditation has given me the ability to open myself as a vessel for the creative flow of God. I know more than ever that, “In God I live and move and have my being.” (Acts 17: 28) God is the creative spirit of life. I see his work all around me. Meditation has allowed me to open myself in ways that I never imagined.  I discovered for myself that yoga integrates the movement of the body and mind with the breath which allows your spirit the freedom to soar.

A few years after beginning my yoga practice, I was faced with more challenges to my personal belief system. As my heart softened, I altered my view of what I thought I believed. I discovered a new vision for the Kingdom of God, one that I was already participating in here on earth. As I let go of the rigidity of my mind, I understood anew ways of understanding the stories in the Bible and the message that Jesus brought forward. By softening the hard edges of my mind, body, spirit connection I leaned more into progressive Christianity with authors like Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, Walter Wink, Brian D. McLaren, and Rob Bell. These authors make me think and re-evaluate my life purpose as a follower of Jesus. At times, I struggled with thoughts like, “Is it okay for me to think like this?” “What will others think about me if I don’t believe the standard message anymore?” and finally, “This is more exciting and amazing information than I ever thought possible!”  In years past I probably would have panicked and run away from anything that went against my traditional theology.  But because I had the tools that I needed to stand firm and open my heart to listen, and to use my mind to comprehend what I was presented, I gained new insight, new knowledge, new understanding.  I believe that my yoga practice has had an influence on how I accepted this new vision of Christ in my life.  There is something about yoga that requires you to step outside of your comfort zone… to be unafraid… to face your fears and let them flow out of your body with your breath.  Thomas Merton said, “When the heart is right, ‘for’ and ‘against’ are forgotten.”  Many yoga postures open your heart, freeing you from fear and encouraging you to stand firm, to find that balance between surrender and strength.  This balance of the body and mind with the breath allows you to flow in synchronicity within yourself, and it has an impact on how open your heart is toward others.  For me, the breath is the God given “pneuma” of life itself in God’s Holy Spirit.  You feel a connection with those near to you and to all of life.  In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus himself tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.” Yoga has introduced me to another culture, to another philosophy, to tools for living, and even to new music. This gained knowledge has helped me to gain new insight for my own culture and religious belief system.  I have fellowshipped with and grown closer to people that I never would have known otherwise.  I have dropped the rigid dividing walls of my mind.  Yoga has given me the tools that I needed to face my fears, to cleanse them with the breath of God’s spirit, to be still before my God, and to serve others in love.

I have heard the Christian naysayers who speak up against yoga saying that the two practices are incompatible. For me, yoga has enhanced my spiritual life especially through the meditation practice.  I have learned how to be still before my God and listen for His voice and direction in my life.  Yoga did originate in India 6000 years ago, and it does have a philosophy that is described in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali.  It is a scientific system that enables one to build strength along with flexibility which encourages inner growth and discipline.  Yoga has taught me how to breathe correctly, how to balance effort with relaxation, how to be present in difficult circumstances, how to feel grounded with good posture, how to quiet my mind in order to think or not think, how to move my body with the breath, and how important it is to rest in order to be at ease in the world.  Yoga balances the energy in my body. If I did not feel this balance then I would not be able to interact fully with those around me; I would be on the couch with a blanket over my head!  Through my studies, I have discovered that there is a yoga ‘mudra’ or hand position which symbolizes Christ’s presence in your life, and your hands are repeatedly placed in a prayer position throughout the practice.  Yoga has helped me to free my tense body, heart, and mind to God, to others, and to my own inner wisdom.  From my perspective God has blessed me with this physical practice of yoga.

I have continued as a yoga teacher for the past 8 years and even share my passion with children by teaching yoga through story and movement.  There are wonderful yoga stories available for children that teach ways for them to deal with their emotions, to playfully imitate animals, and to learn to quiet their mind and bodies. My yoga practice has been an amazing and opening experience for me. Each class is a time of present moment awareness and of opening myself to God’s presence and to His creative flow. I believe that God is working within me to share this practice with others. Relationships have grown with those who practice with me as we have become more connected through our shared experience. I know that I can’t help but include my Christian faith as part of my yoga practice. It is a part of who I am; however, I have discovered that yoga encourages the same qualities of love, compassion, peace, patience, and humility that Jesus shared with us as the fruits of the Spirit. I encourage you to add a time of meditation to your daily life and experience the ever present Spirit of God for yourself.  Every breath we take connects us to God if we acknowledge Him. That breath flows through every organ and vessel of our bodies, cleansing our systems and filling us with new life.  Experience the connection for yourself, and open your heart to new possibilities.  Find your strength in stillness before God.

Namaste – Carolyn