Thoughts on Rewilding in BLC (or: A Version of Eco-Theology) – Benjamin Ong

BLC Tree Planting - 31 Jul 2016

Last week, we planted two trees in church: a neem tree, dubbed the Luther Tree, and a wild cinnamon, dubbed the BLC Tree.

Left: Sivin blesses the neem tree, a tree of Indian origin with many medicinal and cultural uses. 
Right: Leigh and Clarice plant the neem, near the path where its fragrance can be felt.

Now tree planting is, to say the least, not the most common of church activities. But in this time and age, nothing could be more appropriate. Let me begin by recalling an anecdote Sivin used in his sermon: he compared the fascination of children, seeing taugeh germinating from the seed, to the jaded eyes of those of us who are older—‘OK taugeh, so how to fry ah?’ It reminded me of how an anthropocentric worldview—one that places man at the centre of the universe—ultimately results in a distorted perspective of nature that has all living things defined according to their usefulness, direct or indirect, to humans. But if we as Christians are serious about the salvation of the world, then we must recognise that—as Soo-Inn once pointed out—the entire narrative of the Bible is sandwiched between Genesis 1 and Revelation 22. We preach the salvation of creation, not just of humanity.

The imagery of Leviathan from the book of Job is appropriate. It is good to create a space where it is not about our dominion and manipulation of nature. While horticulture and agriculture have given us the means to sustain human civilisation—I, for one, love eating and exploring Earth’s bounty and all the diverse cuisines that humankind, over the ages, has wrought from it—we would be missing something if we perceived nature primarily through the eyes of edibility or even usefulness. Who are we deceiving? In our efforts to culture the world and all that is in it—to make it subservient to our needs, to make it conform to our systems—have we perhaps missed out on appreciating raw, wild beauty?

Some may counter this by saying, let us accord to the city that which is the city’s (man’s dominion), and to the wilderness that which is the wild’s (nature’s dominion). But I think such dualistic thinking has no place in a theology that recognises one God as the maker of all things, man and otherwise. It seems humans have dominated everything: we have collected and sorted our specimens; we have organised knowledge of nature into convenient categories. Botanists, zoologists and farmers are to nature perhaps what theologians, scholars and pastors are to religion. And maybe that is why wilderness (in this case, the “urban wild”) is needed: to remind us of our place in creation. Maybe here lies the intersection between God, man and nature.

Sivin credited the donation of the wild cinnamon to me, something I later clarified. It is useful to repeat the lesson here: I started the ecology project that got us looking at trees in urban neighbourhoods; Van harvested the wild cinnamon from a drainside slope; Fitrah runs the nursery that nurtured it. But ultimately it is God who makes a plant grow. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”

Left: Planting the wild cinnamon; I didn’t notice the crowd of curious onlookers!
Right: The children then watered both trees.

“Consider the lilies of the field,” Jesus said, “how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” The lilies of the field are the wildflowers, not the ‘cultured’ flowers created by genetic manipulation or artificial selection to look good in Valentine bouquets or funeral wreaths. The latter speaks to the genius of man; the former, to the genius of God. Again Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” That is only half true: having eaten the fruits of trees, a bird sows the seed (though it knows it not) that becomes the tree of life that, in time, comes to bless the hundreds and thousands of birds and myriad creatures that take shelter and sustenance from it. Consider the banyan at BLC’s corner—a fine example of this phenomenon.

Left: The banyan at the corner of our church, December 2015.
Right: The treeshrew skull discovered in our backyard, June 2015.

I remember when we discovered the treeshrew skull last year. It was as if to say, here is life. Whether that life has any bearing on man or not, it doesn’t matter. Here is life we may not be able harvest for our curries, or arrange for altar decoration; but here is life nonetheless, wild and free, imbued by the spirit of its Creator.

So, back to our two trees. On the one hand, represented by the neem you have sustainable greening, urban farming and permaculture, where we cultivate that which is useful to us in a way that is environmentally friendly and harmonious with nature. On the other, represented by the wild cinnamon you have rewilding, where we more or less let nature chart its course and reap indirect benefits. We need both for a sustainable future—the yin and the yang, the dark side and the light. BLC has long had a reputation as a “safe space”—may we even now be a safe space to that which is chaotic and chthonic: nature in its wild, resplendent beauty.

Planting Trees As An Act Of Worship; Bringing Healing To The Nations

BLC Tree Planting - 31 Jul 2016

At BLC, we are learning how to worship God by appreciating His handiwork in nature as well as to grow in discipleship through our role as stewards of creation. This led to the creation of our BLC Community Garden last year. Yesterday, we continued to grow in this space as we planted two trees, as an act of worship.

The first tree we planted was dubbed the “Luther Tree”. This tree was planted as part of the global Lutheran World Federation (“LWF”) celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. This act is inspired by a quote ascribed to Martin Luther

“Even if I knew that the world were to collapse tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.”

Via LWF:

As a means of giving expression to the 500 yeas of the Reformation, the Luthergarten (Luthergarden) has been established in Wittenberg on the grounds of the former town fortifications. In connection with this project, 500 trees will be planted at different places in the city region, giving a concrete sign of the optimism so clearly expressed in Luther’s apple tree quote.

Churches from all over the world and from all confessions are being invited to sponsor one of the 500 trees to be planted in Wittenberg, and at the same time to plant a corresponding tree in a place that is significant for their own church.

Our Luther Tree is actually a Neem Tree that was found, abandoned and ignored, on our grounds. The Neem Tree is treasured, especially by the Indian community, for its medicinal properties. We are particularly glad to have redeemed this tree and given it a place of honor – beside the footpath our parishioners walk on as they come to church.
The other is the BLC Tree, a wild cinnamon tree, a gift from Ben & Vanessa, who wanted to encourage us to appreciate plants that are native to Malaysia.

 

Besides helping at the Tree Planting ceremony, the children also were given seedlings to sprout before being transplanted into our community garden today!

 

As we were planting the trees, Pastor Sivin read from Revelations 22:2

“On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.”

Interestingly, Anand discovered that both the Neem Tree and cinnamon have healing properties and said, “We have planted a pharmacy today at BLC.”

All of this is a humble picture and reminder of God’s continued to work in our lives: even if we were initially abandoned and ignored, or whether we are just “here” – native, to our environment, as it were – His grace restores us to a place of honor so that we can channel God’s healing to the world around us.

Check out our full photo album from that day here:

Don’t Go To Church (Be The Church)!

Saw this via Facebook and thought it was worth a share. 🙂