I love April in the Ozarks. Spring seems to come all at once. I’ll wake up one morning and say to myself, “I wasn’t waked up by a salt truck rumbling down my street. I can actually feel my fingers and toes – they don’t feel like cold salt potatoes this morning. I am alive again.” I’ve seen wild crocus blooming in the fields and the redbuds and dogwoods are just aching to come into bud. Sure, the weather can turn on a dime and I’ll be caught off guard, knee-deep in snow, but I choose to think we’re on an upswing. The surest sign of Spring is that your cousin, Daryl Bob Broadfoot, emerges from his trailer at the beginning of April. We have some great truths of life that we count on in the Ozarks: You can’t trust your dog to watch your food. You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk. You never hold a dustbuster and a cat at the same time. Always drink upstream from the herd. Finally, don’t plant ‘maters ‘till you’ve seen Daryl Bob Broadfoot. People come from all over and set up lawn chairs in front of #52 at the Misty Mountain Acres Trailer Park. Folks talk in hushed murmurs for the yearly event. As regular as custard, Daryl Bob sticks his head outta of his 390 C Travelair luxury park model trailer and greets the Spring. If he comes outta the door with his bloodhound, Mr. Pickles, that means he’s going to the local dawg park to burn off some winter lard. That also means no more snow this April. If Daryl Bob greets Spring by glaring us with angry red eyes as he chews his last piece of pinto bean fudge, that means one more snowstorm’s a-comin’.
What’s he doin’ in that Travelair trailer all Winter? How does he survive? We never knew until this year. The crowds congregated on April 1 to see Daryl Bob Braodfoot appear. When he opened the screen door, he had a crazy look in his eyes. He held fistfuls of computer printouts that had strange headlines on the top, punctuated by exclamation points, food smudges, and coffee mug rings. His printouts said things like: SCIENCE ITEM! France unveils secret images of aliens and their spaceships! SCIENCE ITEM! Dog gives birth to mutant creature that looks like a human being! SCIENCE ITEM! Horrible hairy sea monster cast ashore! SCIENCE ITEM! Fir tree grows inside man’s lungs! SCIENCE ITEM! Global climate change, disproved yet again! He found all of this on Pravda online. What’s Pravda? Turns out, Pravda is Russia’s best source for news and analysis. All Winter long, Daryl Bob was cooped up like a battery hen, reading wingnut science articles from the Russain Internet, eating chicken-fried squirrel and getting hisself all worked up for the end of the world. (Do I kid you? No. I kid you not.) One headline especially agitated the crowds. Pravda says that we’re soon in for an Ice Age. Not global warming. An Ice Age! Gracious! Best grab a scarf! Don’t take the plow off the truck yet. We might be in for that Spring blizzard after all.
Everything I’ve been hearing leads me to some other conviction. It sounds like old Mother Earth is heatin’ up instead of cooling down. Of course, I’m no scientist. I only know what I hear on the evening news and what I read in the newspapers other than Pravda. Us farmers care a lot about the weather. Our lives depend on regular seasons. I recently read that if the temperature keeps rising, it won’t be a safe subject to talk about the weather anymore. The rhythm of the seasons with snow in the winter and rain in the spring might become the distant memory that we only hear about in old country ballads. The new weather will be unpredictable, switching from one shape to another, with storms, and droughts, and floods, and altering the globe more or less at the same time. The climate will change in jerks, jumping from one season to another.
I don’t know how we got to this place. Some blame the Chinese. Some blame city folks. Some think it is our materialistic culture. Some scientists blame my cows, saying they produce more climate-changing methane than any other animal. It’s probably a little of everything. I’m not quite sure how to fix it, even if we can. This isn’t something that can be fixed with bailing wire bubble gum and duct tape. Your Uncle Slim could do anything with bailing wire, by the way. He’d make a wrench holder, a chum tie, a marshmallow rotisserie. He even made a few sculptures before he died. His favorite was a sculpture of Garfield the Cat that he perched on our mailbox. He even painted his favorite Garfield quote underneath it: “If you want to appear smarter, hang around someone stupider.” It’s still there. True story.
Anyways, I’m not the only one worried about the earth. Bea Jimson’s husband Woodchuck often admits that he’s scared as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs whenever he thinks of global warming. He’s afraid he’s gonna die before his time. Just the other day I heard him say, “It scares the Christmas out of me. The thought of dyin’ from a creepin’ sea or a red hot sun and things like that has me plumb terrified to death.” Woodchuck paused for a moment to down him a swig of sugar-free YooHoo, light a fresh filterless Camel cigarette and open a whole box of Devil Dogs. Then he continued, “I can’t believe that human beans would even consider doing something like this to their fellow man and woman. I mean, what kind of monster would do that? Cause our coast lands to sink and our crops to fail?” His wife, Bea Jimson, after listening to his rant for maybe the 200th time, took in sharp breath, cussed and declared through gritted teeth, “You know Woodchuck, I never met an overweight, chain-smoking, pill-popping, YooHoo-drinking, Devil-dog munching person who ever died yet from global warming.” This was a revelation to Woodchuck. It truly was. He decided, right then and there, that this was a sign to clean up his act so he could properly worry about how he was gonna die.
Woodchuck decided he was gonna go green. And he was gonna start be recycling. Woodchuck’s become quite the scientist. His recycling isn’t about putting cans at the curbside. Instead, he digs through the garbage, trying to find uses for Bea’s throw away household goods. Then he writes them all down and sends his ideas to the newspaper. Did you know you might use a Mr. Coffee filter to cover bowls and dishes in the microwave? You can also use ‘em for cooking. After frying a catfish, strain the oil through a sieve lined with a Mr. Coffee fFilter. A Mr. Coffee filter also makes a good taco holder. He made a back massager by putting some Wilson tennis balls in an old sock. He even painted his barn with Carnation Nonfat Dry Milk and a pair of queen sized pantyhose. I haven’t tried it yet, but Woodchuck swears it works: Mix one and a half-cups Carnation Nonfat Dry Milk and one-half cup water until it is the consistency of paint. Thin the paint by adding more water, thicken the paint by adding more nonfat dry milk. With the pantyhose, brush on the milk as you would any other paint. Woodchuck also uses those pantyhose as produce bags. You can see him down at the Piggly Wiggly, stuffing boxes of fat-free Devil Dogs into Bea’s old pantyhose, shuffling to the checkout line just as happy as a rat with a gold tooth. To me, that’s just a bit too unsanitary and even a little bit creepy.
For my part, I’ve been composting more than I used to. Another way to say that sentence is “I’ve got fruit flies in my house.” I’m fine with a few fruit flies. If that’s the cost of me personally saving the earth that’s a fair trade, but these fruit flies have attitude. I’ll find them in rooms that have nothing to do with fruit. Why are fruit flies in the shower with me? Rarely, and I mean rarely, will I just carve up a pineapple in there. And yet, as I reached for the shampoo the other day, a fruit fly flittered across my field of vision with a look on its face like, “Hey lady. Give me some directions back to the kitchen. Pronto.” (I have really good eyesight.)
Hopefully my church, the Jerico Springs Progressive Church of the Ozarks, will be smarter than I am when it comes to embracing the color “Green.” Going green is a pretty popular thing to do right now, which is great. But I’m not sure we’re doing enough. Sure we’re recycling more and printing less church materials and finding little ways to help the planet, but maybe there are some untapped methods we’ve forgotten to look at. Here are some of my ideas.
Idea #1 — Harness the energy of the Haters. I think that we’re missing a tremendous source of untapped energy—complainers. If we could find a way to harness the grumbling of a sprinkling of people Sunday after Sunday, we could probably power the Mississippi river valley for a few years. Instead of trying to convert haters into nice people, convert them into energy. When they come into church, ask them to wear some sort of backpack battery device. As the service starts and they start grumbling, “I hate the pastor’s sermons. This music is too loud. This music is too soft,” the backpack will capture all that wasted energy.
Idea #2—Make people earn their energy at church.
I’m not sure that every room in the church building deserves to have the lights on and a box fan in the window. We should kick the Sunday School Room decorating wars up a notch by rewarding the people with the best ornamentations. If you paint a real nice Noah’s ark mural, you get yourself a box fan. Oh, looks like this class just taped up a sad little poster that came in a box of Lucky Charms. I’d wear a tank top tomorrow if I were you, because it’s about to get lot hotter in your room.
Idea #3—Stiff-arm the bulletin hander outer.
I usually give my bulletin back at the end of service because I take all my notes in that notebook your kids sent me at Christmas that says “Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite.” Maybe I shouldn’t even take a bulletin. Maybe I should stiff-arm the bulletin hander outer when she tries to give me one. I’ll giver her a look that says, “Why do you hate the planet so much?” And then I can get my own hater backpack and power the youth group room for three weeks with the energy from my grump. Circle of life, Matt. Circle of life.
It’s doubtful any of these will take off and sweep the nation. I hope that you have better ideas. At the end of the day, this is all I know: The dignity of human bein’s and the honor of Mother Earth rests upon seeing everyone and everything as valuable. We need to start seeing everything as good, just like God does. I think folks have lost their focus. We need to put on a new set of spectacles and retrain our eyes to see God everywhere. We know what the Bible says: We are created in the image of God. And Lord, knows, it’s hard enough to look at annoying people and see God when all you want to do is slap ‘em. But what if we open our eyes more and see the face of God everywhere. What if all of creation is part of God’s body, and our job is to realize that we rely on the other parts of the body for our life. Whatever happens to us and to our world happens to God. If we misuse one part, even a tiny part, we harm ourselves. Even worse, we harm God. We could not live a moment without the gifts of God’s body — air, food, water, land, and other varmints. We don’t have to go somewhere special or wait for heaven to meet God. We meet God in the nitty-gritty of our regular lives. As we think of ways to care for the earth, we remember that God is with us.
Some will face the future like Daryl Bob Broadfoot, ignoring problems, choosing to focus on mutant dogs and alien abductions instead of changing their verve. Some folks will panic like Woodchuck, and drown their hope in a can of YooHoo. When despair creeps over me like an unwelcome stranger, I try to remember that God is with us. We are not alone. We never face problems on our own. Since we live and die in God’s world, we live and die in God’s love.
There I go preaching again. I ought to leave it to you professionals, and go back to my simple life. I don’t know where you are with whatever God is asking you to lean into, but I hope you’ll do it even if it feels really small and invisible to the rest of the world. I hope you’ll forever retire the phrase, “This isn’t important,” because we can’t possibly know what God has planned for the tiny things we do. I hope you’ll believe in the beauty of a God who weaves a story through simple decisions, and chatty widows, and devil-dog eating farmers, and sometimes even smug aunts that try to think they’re as clever as a cartload of monkeys. It’s God’s story. It’s God’s body. And even the small things are big when they are in the hands of the Creator.
Hugs to all the little ones,