Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Lesson from the Prairie

It is not a big secret that I love the prairie. I love the plants, the animals, the people, and the overall landscape of this incredible ecosystem. I often seek out what little remains of the prairie and do a little "walk about". This morning I did just that on a small, roughly 80 acre parcel owned by The Nature Conservancy. Now is the perfect time to observe the diversity of life that makes up a prairie ecosystem, the forbs are in bloom and the grasses are starting to set their seeds for the year. As I walked across the prairie this morning the air was heavy with corn pollen, very sweet. This particular parcel of prairies is surrouned on all four sides by industrial agriculture, corn and soybeans. From atop the small hill at the center of the parcel all one can see in the distance are fields of beans and corn. In fact it is rather amazing that this 80 piece of land still exists at all.

This morning I was struck by the thought of the prairie as a metaphor for society and quite possibly the church. The prairie is diverse (in this picture alone, there are at least 2 dozen species of grass and forbs). It is that diversity of plants and animals that allows this ecosystem function under some of the most extreme conditions on the planet, 100 degree days in the summer and -40 degree days in the winter have no affect on the prairie. Drought rarely punishes the prairie like it does our lawns or our corn fields. If we are to function as a society, as a church, we need that kind of diversity. However, it seems to me that we are going in quite the opposite direction, we want to look more like a corn field that is all neat and where every plant is identical to the one next to it. We want to be individuals, like corn stalks, but when it gets down to it, we're much more comfortable when we just blend in. Perhaps what is worse is that we expect others to do the same. We don't celebrate diversity in fact we disdain it. In western Minnesota just a gravel road separates a diverse, life-filled prairie from a monoculture. I think the same can be said for society and even the church. If we could suddenly transform the diversity of prairie into a church setting how uncomfortable would we be? My guess our comfort level is much greater when the church is more like the cornfield, when everyone acts, thinks, and looks like we do.
Creation is one of God's greatest gifts to us. Indigenous peoples the world over realize this and they learn from it. Perhaps we too can look to the prairie see the diversity it has to offer and model ourselves, our society, and even our churches after it. When I walk on the prairie and see the diversity that is part of God's creation I can't help but think that it is the way things should be, a diverse community functioning together to over come the harsh realities of life. When we make room for diversity we make room for God and God's Kingdom.

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