Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Charismatic Animals

Charismatic Animals

Do you have an animal you love more than all others, your so-called “charismatic animal?”  When you see them you smile, you laugh, you love?

Panda, otter, penguin, albatross, white shark?  Aquariums and zoos know that charismatic animals get folks in the door.  Not just that they are cute, although that helps.  Charismatic animals inspire a heart connection, caring and fascination, even devotion.  If we want to inspire care for all of creation, it is the charismatic ones who open doors and hearts.   Come for the otter, stay for the worms and lumpsucker fish.  Creation needs them all. 

When I was a kid, penguins were “my” animal.  I adored them, still do.  My shelves still hold my extensive library of penguin books.  Over the years folks have given me penguin coffee cups and stuffed animals and salt and pepper shakers and sweatshirts. My lifelong penguin flock includes this fab life-sized FAO Schwarz King Penguin, Arthur.  My beloved mother made me penguin skirts and Halloween costumes, took me to the Bronx Zoo, bought me Arthur.   When the Monterey Aquarium opened a penguin exhibit I volunteered for an extra two hour shift every Monday morning, arriving before opening hours, in rubber waders, to scrub penguin poop off the rocks with various brushes – my reward was at 10:30 I could help feed these dear charismatic ones.

“Charismatic” comes from “charism,” meaning “gifted.”  Everyone has gifts - we are all gifted, says the Apostle Paul.  “Many gifts, one spirit.”  IE these charismatic animals are no better than the worms or lumpsuckers, every animal has gifts. What the charismatic ones do is pull our heart strings.  God and I so love the penguins that I will give my beloved Monday morning and scrape their poop off the rocks, that all might know and believe that God wants health and life for all creation. (John 3:16)

Paul says our gifts are not precious personal possessions, but are given by God to benefit and bless the whole community.  Otters bless their whole kelp forest habitat – without otters, no kelp forest – they eat the abalone and urchins that would devour the forest. It’s called being a keystone species.   Sharks, like wolves, are top predators – without them there would be too many sick and weak animals and an unhealthy ocean.  They are not just cute, they are life preservers, keystones, flagships.  What are the keystones, flagships in your life?

The Aquarium’s sweet albatross, named Makana, blesses and baptizes us every day simply with her presence.  But she also teaches us about the problem of plastics and challenges of being an ocean bird.  Her name Makana literally means “gift,” “charism.”

What is your gift, your charism?  How does it build up the community, the body of Christ?    How can you support and empower the gifts of all creatures, charismatic and not so much? 

Our Blue Theology service trips and pilgrimages include personal visits with charismatic animals  like Makana, the penguins and otters and of course us, the charismatic members of the Christian Church of Pacific Grove.  Be in touch –  I post these Wednesday ocean devotions here and on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Schedules and Stations

Schedules and Stations

Every Thursday for the past 22 years I’ve spent all morning at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a volunteer guide, interpreting for guests the wonders and challenges of the ocean.  Even when I was working full time in ministry, this was my sacred morning of retreat and continuing education and outreach.

We 25 or so members of the intrepid Thursday First shift (one of 19 different weekly shifts) arrive an hour and a half before opening (8:30) for education, inspiration, food and sharing.  I call it small group ministry – as much as we are committed to the mission of the Aquarium, which is “to inspire conservation of the ocean,”  I am weekly inspired “to conserve the deep ocean of these special friendships.”

Our fabulous shift captains prepare our schedule, pictured.  It’s different every week.  There are over 20 possible guide stations.  Our shift is bigger than many, so we can staff a lot of places.

We start at 10 and move every half hour to a different station.  Our extensive training and continuing ed teaches us about every part of the Aquarium.  You can see this past week I began at the Touch Pool (TP), then to Baja (great exhibit), Tiny Drifters (TD) - cool microscope with camera to interpret plankton and climate change.  Next, Open Sea (OS) -  million gallon tank as if you were 50 miles offshore.  Finally the ACT cart - Animals, Climate, Tales -  interesting quick videos of how Mother Nature is the best engineer and how she is inspiring more fuel efficient designs of trains, boats, cars. 

You can also see that I take notes on my schedule as staff updates us.  I wrote “Monty, Poppy, Bixby – other facilities, genetic diversity.”  Those are three of our baby penguins who were born here as part of the international “Species Survival Plan,” in case their native South African population is wiped out by an oil spill.  Having a bad memory, I write   notes like this on my schedule so I can tell guests about the SSP and where the babies have gone. 

(An interesting educational point that MBA has taught us -  people learn more from other people than from text on a sign.  Staff researchers look at guests and notice they don’t look much at signs.  So to have volunteers who know stuff – we teach, they learn, we are all inspired.)

Some stations are “hard” – you must stay til you are replaced by the next person, eg Touch Pool. Others are “soft” – wander and seek out visitors.  Over the years we have been encouraged and trained more and more to interpret climate change issues with guests – a fun, important challenge. 

Since I am a long-time volunteer/old lady and a teacher I have been for some years a “mentor” to new guides, as I was mentored by the fabulous George, now retired and moved away.  These days apprentices Sheila and Mark sometimes shadow me.  The Aquarium takes education very seriously, not just of visitors and kids (80,000 students admitted free every year, curriculum all on line,) but also training us 1000+ volunteers.

For you church types, I realized after a year or so as a volunteer here that when I was a local church pastor I was essentially a volunteer coordinator, and from the Aquarium I have learned a lot about how I could have done that job better. I’ll write about that in coming  weeks.

Come see me on Thursdays!  I can get a few friends in free and I am an unabashed Aquarium evangelist! 

Each station has a story and an inspiration, and the schedule is my pilgrimage guide for the day.  What if we people of faith lived our lives with an easy suggested schedule, daily stations, and a commitment to share meaningful stories with others on the road?
Our Blue Theology pilgrimages along the Monterey Bay include a spiritual visit to the Aquarium.  I post these Wednesday ocean devotionals here and on Facebook.