Wednesday, May 20, 2020
I wondered, “Are there poems about flow?” Look at what I found - this poem “Flow” written on a napkin at a bar. Poet Bob Makela collected “Barstool Poems” after a lonely night at a San Francisco bar. He and his roommate were having trouble working up the courage to speak to women.
“We were a couple of wimpy guys who had no guts to get up and talk to the women around us,” Makela says. “So I took a pen and a cocktail napkin, jotted down the title to a poem, slid my friend the napkin and said, ‘Write a poem to fit that title.’”
Soon their creative juices were flowing. The pair was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. “We met all the women in the bar that we had wanted to meet, but didn’t have the guts to get up and talk to,” Makela says. He has published several volumes of Barstool Poetry and created a more creative, fluid way to make connections, via poetry.
Posted by Deborah Streeter at 7:09 AM
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
What Happens When Humans Are Gone?
“Can the fish in that tank see us people?” is a common question at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Answer – no. Birds and mammals – yes. But even they seem to ignore the visitors. They do care about the staff, at lunchtime, otherwise, pretty self-sufficient.
It’s a good humbling reminder - animals in the wild get along fine without us, probably better. Alan Weisman’s fascinating book, The World Without Us, tells how quickly so-called nature would take over if all humans disappeared.
We call sea otters a “keystone species” – if they disappear, their whole habitat crashes. The kelp forests would be gone, because otters eat the animals that eat the kelp. 100 years ago when we hunted otters to the brink of extinction there wasn’t much of a kelp forest. The otters’ slow return also revived the kelp.
Are we humans a keystone species – if we were gone, would the habitat crash? No, it might very well thrive.
Related question: Now that the Aquarium is empty of the usual thousands of daily human visitors, do the animals notice, are they acting any differently? The staff is still there, feeding and keeping them healthy. Otherwise, I doubt the animals notice much else different. Maybe that it’s quieter.
And in outdoor waters, lakes and river and ocean, do those wild wet critters notice that something has changed in the past two months?
We know the air is cleaner, the world is quieter. Animals must notice this.
Normally the birds in the Aviary very obediently stay on the dune side of their exhibit during the day, no glass. But I sometimes imagine they hop or fly into the public space at night. Maybe they even have a party to celebrate we are not in the way. Fabulous marine scientist and artist Ray Troll painted this mural “Jelly’s Night Out” for a MBA jellyfish exhibit some years ago – now those are some party animals! (www.trollart.com)
And the Aquarium shared this unusual pic on their Tumblr acct of all five exhibit otters in the tank at once – usually only three or four. “The girls say hello from the otter side. All five of our resident rescues are on exhibit right now, which means the rascality levels are at maximum! Thanks to awesome aquarist Jessica for this pic of everyone’s favorite feisty five.” (https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/about-us/follow-us-on-social-media for fab pics, talks, behind the scenes stuff.)
I post these Blue Theology ocean devotionals every Wednesday, here and on Facebook.
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Happy Ocean Mother Day
“Look, I brought my mother to church today,” I said a year ago on Mother’s Day at Skyland Community Church UCC as I held up this beautiful blue bowl that Anne Swallow Gillis gave me long ago, filled with saltwater and seashells.
Being a Blue Ocean preacher I could not resist linking Mother’s Day with the ocean. The rich dark sea is mother of us all – she birthed all life billions of years ago and continues to ferment and foment new life. And every human mammal spent nine months in the salty fertile ocean inside our mother’s womb.
This fabulous banner over the altar looks like that first wet morning breaking in the Genesis story, the Spirit “hovering over the deep and sweeping over the face of the waters.” I think God just said, “Let there be Light, Morning has Broken! “ (I know, it looks like an angel, I haven’t spoken with the banner’s creator, but to me it’s the Holy Spirit straight from her hovering and sweeping over all that blue and now she’s bursting with the light.)
I decorated the altar with the bowl and with my four Blue Theology stoles, (click the pic to see the whole altar) and told the stories of the three dear wise talented mothers who created them– Sandy Johnson (orcas on the right and ocean diversity, second from left) whose “Woman of the Cloth” makes fabulous stoles, Patricia Wood, who gave me the sweet light silky one on the left, and Sue Lawson who made the sea star stole for me last year when I led a Blue Theology Retreat at our church in La Selva Beach.
We shared in the sermon time how our own mothers have been like the ocean, not only creative, nurturing, uplifting, but also sometimes restive, deep, even destructive. There is power in mothering.
One theory about the origin of stoles that pastors wear (besides being like a yoke or like the towel an athlete wears around their neck) is that it is like the soft cloth that a mother (or father) wears all the time on their shoulder when holding a little baby, to comfort and to absorb some “fluids.” Yes, stoles too can get wet. I call my stoles my mother clothes, and my blue ocean stoles are my most precious.
I post these ocean devotionals every Wednesday here and on Facebook. Obviously this post is a repeat from last May, when we could still worship together inside. Mercifully we are still able to walk and worship outside beside Mother Ocean, and thank her for air, climate, bounty and beauty.
Posted by Deborah Streeter at 6:44 AM
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Resilience and Resistance
Can these cute ochre sea stars teach us something about how to resist disaster? Can their recent return after near extinction give us hope in the face of our own disasters? When all around us seems to be falling apart (name your daily despair – political, environmental, medical, personal) can the gospel of sea stars help us be resilient? God, I hope so.
(I first posted this piece in June of 2018, with no inkling of our current disaster. Rereading it this week I found some comfort and hope in the resistance and resilience of sea stars.
Back then a deadly virus was sweeping the ocean, and the seastars were already weak and stressed from climate change. 80% died. But moms and dads to the rescue! With a “reproductive frenzy,” in one generation, their babies have a new resilience, the ability to resist. Read on for a story of hope…..)
Indulge me in some metaphor or projection or identification with my beloved sea stars. From human-related near extinction these ochre stars have rebounded in one generation. Might their astral light shine on our darkness and lend us their aid?
The ochre star’s coastal ocean home, from Alaska to Baja, grows daily warmer and more acidic (thanks to all our fossil fuel use), to the extent that 5 years ago scientists starting noticing what they later named “sea star wasting disease,” overnight disintegration and massive die-offs of this abundant keystone species. Researchers identified the cause, a virus, which the sea stars could normally resist, but they were so stressed from the changes in ocean temperature and chemistry they could not fight back.
With sea stars virtually gone from the intertidal, urchins and mussels and snails, the animals that sea stars eat, quickly took over, hogging previously diverse habitats, and clearcutting their own favorite food, the kelp, setting off a chain of massive habitat disruption. Was this the end?
No! Ochre star moms and dads did an amazing thing. In a “reproductive frenzy” they spawned a whole new generation of sea stars, much more abundant than any seen in years, stronger and able to resist this deadly disease. Profs at UC Merced marveled at this dramatic example of microevolution. The 20% of parents who had survived had a dormant but strong disease-resistant gene, which they passed on. In one generation, the ochre star’s genetic code changed, and is now resistant to the disease. We see natural selection before our very eyes, a hope story in the midst of so much doom and gloom.
Marine scientist Elin Kelsey kept hearing her colleagues say “we’re tired of writing obituaries,” charting the inevitable death of the ocean. So she started a twitter account, #oceanoptimism, to gather stories of ocean resilience and recovery. She hoped for a few responses; they got two million stories in the first month. Kelsey reminds us that fear shuts us down, recklessly speeds us up and hampers our creativity. Telling hope stories doesn’t mean we don’t keep working for change, nor imply that we are overly idealistic. Hope stories make us even more active, more creative, more resilient.
So maybe our one small sea star hope story can teach us something. God says to Job, “Listen to the animals and they will teach you.” Find the resistant spirit (gene) within you, it’s there, maybe dormant, but it’s there. I find myself identifying with the old sea stars, those on the brink, what can they do in face of disaster? We are few, and death seems all around us, but we can find the resistance within us, and then go into reproductive mode. (Not literally in my case!) The few resistant parents must spawn a huge resilient and resistant next generation. Generate new ideas, pass them on the others, enlist youth, get that resistant spirit into the future. Don’t let it die.
One of the UC Merced scientist said, “The ochre sea star is perhaps a species with greater resilience than many. With projected climate swings expected to be more extreme, the ochre sea star’s resilience is perhaps a small, distant bright light on a pretty stormy sea.”
Like the sea star, we can hold fast (to that which is good), shine a light in the dark, and respond to crises all around us with a massive mobilization. Of new life. And of hope. Resist.
I write these “Blue Theology Tide-ings” devotionals on ocean stewardship and spirituality every Wednesday here and on Facebook. NOAA photo by Steve Lonhart.
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Plant an Ocean Tree!
Happy Earth Day, April 22! Plant an ocean tree! Like a mangrove. www.mangroveactionproject.org.
For this 50th anniversary of Earth Day many faith groups, including my beloved United Church of Christ, proclaim “Plant a Tree This Month!” Check out www.ucc.org/plantatree for fabulous options – plant your own, send $1 to the Arbor Day Foundation for each tree you want them to plant in a national park, $12 to the Organization for African Churches to plant trees in Kenya or Zambia, $20 for olive trees in Palestine. Of course I sent off money to plant trees in all these places.
But I’m a Blue Theologian, lover of the ocean’s power and promise, prophet of its peril. On this Earth Day I also want to support the wet parts of Planet Earth. What is the equivalent “plant a tree” action I can take in the ocean?
(Always a key question – I understand the need, but what can I DO? Planting trees seems easy, direct, with obvious impact – more O2 for us to breathe, erosion control, food, and of course beauty. )
Trees live in the ocean too! Well, in coastal waters, at the rich transition meeting of land and sea.
A great example is the mangrove tree, a tropical tree which I first learned about at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (sadly closed now, but fish and other living things are being well cared for and fed.) The “Viva Baja!” exhibit about Mexico features a split view, wet and dry, of a mangrove tree, with information about its promise and peril.
Mangroves grow right in the water, and are called the “roots of the sea,” providing shelter and nurseries for varied ocean life (fish, shrimp, birds.) Their strong roots are anchors for the coastline, slowing down destructive waves and storms, saving lives and property.
But over 20% of mangrove trees have been cut down worldwide, often cleared for coastal tourist resorts. Recovery efforts after the deadly Asian tsunami included massive replanting of mangrove and other coastal trees that had been cut down before the disaster, or torn up by the waves, for the sake of future protection. Rising sea levels also threaten to drown these wet and dry trees. Mangroves also absorb our excessive carbon, sequestering more carbon proportionally than any other forest, five times more than rainforests.
Mangroves – shelter for babies, shelter from storms, shelter from climate change. Nurseries and anchors. But threatened by greedy developers and weather disasters fueled by climate change. These coastal “liminal” places are beautiful and tender and need protection. www.mangroveactionproject.org is one group that restores mangroves.
If you want to stay in the US for tree planting, there are similar efforts to restore the coastal forests of Louisiana, likewise cut down for tourism or agriculture. The absence of these anchors and seawalls is deadly in storms like Katrina. Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. https://www.crcl.org/habitat-restoration
Plant a coastal tree, an ocean tree, through these and many other good organizations. And the trees of the field (and of the ocean,) will clap their hands, as we go out with joy! (Isaiah 55)
I post these ocean devotionals, Blue Theology “Tideings” every Wednesday here and on Facebook..
Posted by Deborah Streeter at 6:52 AM