Church of Nature

Buffalo MountainI was reading an article yesterday in Ladies’ Home Journal (yeah, yeah, don’t ask) about the “Church of Nature.” In this article, a concerned mother saw her downcast son on a Sunday morning very upset about having to go to Church. She asked him why and he said, “I’d rather be watching our tadpoles.” Immediately she had a revelation and decided that every now and then they’d play hooky from Church and take the kids down to a nearby river to explore the “Church of Nature.”

I don’t really have much to say about the article. I’m not going to spend any time speculating on the underlying theological and philosophical commitments of the author. Instead, I want to think about the Church. Is your Church so boring for kids that they’d rather watch tadpoles? Do kids beg their parents not to come to Church?

More than anything, this reminded me of my childhood. I grew up in a little Southern Baptist Church in rural Oklahoma. As soon as I read this article, I was reminded of how we weren’t forced to make a decision between being outside and going to Church. Many times I can remember our Sunday School teachers, far wiser than many church education experts, deciding it was too beautiful to stay in our classroom. Instead, they would say it was time for a nature walk, and we’d take off down the little country road behind our church. The teacher would say something like, “When we get back we’ll talk about all the things we see that God made,” and during our trip we’d throw rocks off the bridge, catch crawdads, and play in the water.

After worship, during church dinners, we kids would barely stay inside before going out to play in the little branch running through our property. We’d catch crawdads again, try to splash each other with rocks, and build dams with rocks and pine needles. Of course, these miniature Corps of Engineer projects would often undergo forced dismantling at the request of our wiser elders after a brief lesson on erosion!

I can also remember leaving worship after a particularly vivid sermon on having the faith of a mustard seed, the kind that could move mountains. None of us had ever heard of Tom Wright, and so we didn’t “know” that this was referring to the temple mount. Instead, we’d all stand in the parking lot talking as we’d look across the road at Buffalo Mountain and marvel. Someone would inevitably say, “Wow, can you believe that if we had enough faith we could move that mountain?” We’d be astounded by God’s power, really astounded, and then go home. Who wouldn’t want to go to Church and experience that?

I’m not sure where the person who wrote that article went to church, but it sure wasn’t where I grew up. Maybe she went somewhere too sophisticated and busy talking about God’s care for the environment to really get out and love it like God does. Too bad.

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