Guest Post: Caring for Creation on the Coast

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© Lee Abbey

It’s been a scorching summer and you may have found yourself down at the beach a few times. But how much do you know about the wildlife that lives on our beaches and in our seas? Last year I was introduced to Sea Watch: a programme that encourages the public to help those who work in the field learn more about the species that use our seas. Exmoor National Park were running a Sea Watch Training Day for anyone interested and had asked Lee Abbey to host it. As a member of the Lee Abbey community, and soon to be their Environmental Coordinator, I got the opportunity to join in.

We started the day at the Exmoor National Park centre in Lynmouth with some training about the species we were likely to see. After this, we made our way to the cliff top at Lee Abbey where there is a beautiful view of the Bristol Channel and Wales in the distance. Within minutes we spotted two Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), a mother and her calf. It was enthralling. Watching how they move and interact, excitedly waiting for your next glimpse of them, is captivating.

In other Sea Watches I have not been so fortunate. This year Exmoor National Park came once again to Lee Abbey to show more members of the public how to conduct a Sea Watch. The sun was out, the sea calm and the visibility good, and yet we stood there with our binoculars waiting patiently, looking and looking until we had almost given up. With twenty two minutes to go a Harbour Porpoise was spotted! First there was just the one and then three more, then another two, then another one and another one after that! They were worth the wait. At times like these it is easy to look in awe at God’s creation and to feel the joy of witnessing another of his creatures – an intelligent creature whose lifestyle is so different from ours, and therefore somewhat mysterious and whose presence is never guaranteed.

People often ask, ‘what is the difference between a porpoise and a dolphin and how can you tell them apart from a distance?’ Unlike dolphins who will jump completely out of the water[1], Harbour Porpoise tend to expose only their dorsal fin and a short curve of their back. Harbour Porpoise are in the same group as dolphins and whales (cetaceans) and are the most commonly seen cetacean in Northern Europe. Another of the main distinguishing differences is their lack of beak, so they have a much rounder face than dolphins[2]. Harbour Porpoise are also brown all over whereas the Common Dolphin is two tone, dark grey on the top with a whiter hourglass shape on its flanks[3].

As a Christian, I believe that God calls us to be stewards of the earth by caring for his creation. At Lee Abbey we are fortunate that our estate includes a beach which is open to guests and public. However, this beach comes with a responsibility. The amount of plastic accumulating in the ocean and the effects that this has on wildlife has been all over the news recently. It is not unusual to see pictures of seabirds with plastic rings around their necks or turtles caught in rope. We hear about how plastic breaks down into smaller pieces which are toxic to fish and anything else that predates on them, including us.

To tackle this, many people take part in initiatives such as the ‘Great British Beach Clean’ run by the Marine Conservation Society, or the ‘International Coastal Cleanup’ set up by the Ocean Conservancy and we encourage our guests and community to join in with these. Just spending ten minutes picking up litter on a beach can save numerous lives in our oceans and is a great way to meet other like-minded people who also care about the planet. The Marine Conservation Society even encourage people to survey the litter they pick up and send the data back to identify what kind of litter is being thrown away. They use this information to influence organisations making the products to see if they can come up with a solution to reduce sea waste.

The newest initiative in this involves nurdle hunting. Nurdles are the little pieces of plastic, just bigger than a grain of sand, from which nearly all plastics start life [3]. They end up in the sea due to accidental spills from ships, and consequently, on our beaches too. Once in the sea, other spilt toxins are attracted to the nurdles and accumulate [3]. This year people all over the world have been sifting through sandy beaches for nurdles to help reduce the amount going back into the sea.  It is movements like these that show just how important science and politics are in caring for the earth. When you join the community at Lee Abbey you make certain promises about the way you intend to live and one of our promises is to “cherish and protect God’s creation”. Sea Watches and beach cleans are just a small part of this.

Further information

Lee Abbey Devon

The Sea Watch Foundation

The Marine Conservation Society

The Ocean Conservancy

[1]W. Arkive, “Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis),” 2018. [Online]. Available: http://www.arkive.org/short-beaked-common-dolphin/delphinus-delphis/.

[2]FIDRA, “Nurdle Free Oceans,” 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.nurdlehunt.org.uk/

[3]Sea Watch Foundation, “Harbour Porpoise,” [Online]. Available: http://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/harbour-porpoise/

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© Jo Greenwood

Jo Greenwood is the Environmental Coordinator at Lee Abbey in Devon, a Christian Conference Centre, where she works within a Christian community to encourage guests and the community to care for God’s creation. She has a BSc in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and has volunteered with the National Trust, Surrey Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, and A Rocha Canada. Jo arrived at Lee Abbey in 2016, initially working on the farm before changing roles in September 2017. In her spare time, she enjoys reading a good book as well as playing the trombone in the worship band and learning the flute.

Guest Post: The Wonderful Thing About Nature

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Pixabay

My kids love Winnie the Pooh. They love to parade around our flat and sing, “The wonderful thing about Tiggers is Tiggers are wonderful things. Their tops are made of rubber, their bottoms are made of springs!” It’s a song that Tigger the tiger sings in the Disney film Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. Tigger is explaining to Pooh Bear the things that make him so wonderful. All of the individual parts that make up Tigger are the things that make him so wonderful. Is this not also true when we look at nature?

Whether as scientists or curious observers, when Christians look at nature we are amazed. We love to marvel at the wonder of God’s creation in both the whole and the individual parts. Those individual parts paint a grand picture of the whole of nature. Sometimes, when we take a closer look at the individual parts, it can cause us to wonder at the whole of nature. Kids are particularly good at this.

One day, my 5-year-old son asked me, “Papa, what happens to food after I eat it?” His curiosity led us on a wonderful journey of just one system in his body. We discussed how his body works, why it needs food, and how it deals with the “waste.”  This discussion evolved into talking about how all the systems of the body are related and work together to make him into one whole human being. We began with the individual parts and ended with the whole. All the while, we marveled at how our whole bodies work.

Child-like curiosity is a wonderful thing. It is the key to wonder. Without curiosity there would be no wonder. Neil Degrasse Tyson recently said, “Kids are born curious about the world. What adults primarily do in the presence of kids is unwittingly thwart the curiosity of children.” Tyson argues that telling kids not to play with eggs, we stifle their curiosity to find out what happens when eggs break. In other words, we stifle kids’ curiosity to explore and, ultimately, wonder.

I once heard a biology professor say “All scientists are really just kids who never grew up. They never lost their sense of curiosity about the world.” Scientists are not the only ones who are curious about the world. Pastors, theologians, and philosophers (just to name a few) are also very curious about the world. Sometimes they ask similar or related questions to scientists. But all these disciplines have at least one thing in common, they all lead to wonder.

Nature is full of wonder. Recently, I visited the Münster zoo in Germany with my family. Typically, it is my kids who enjoy it the most. But there was something different for me on this trip. As we passed the wide variety of plants and animals, there was a wonderous realization; all of life is related. I had what you might call, a Grand Canyon moment. The Grand Canyon offers a unique experience. It sets a person in perspective with the vastness of the universe. For a glorious moment we can feel our own insignificance in front of such vast beauty.

Standing in the Münster zoo, I had a similar flash of wonder. I had a moment of awe through feeling my own insignificance in the vast web of biological life. As we walked along I contemplated the similarities between individual organisms. How penguins are similar to ostriches. How fish are similar to reptiles. And, yes, how monkeys and apes are similar to humans. It wasn’t just the anatomical similarities that were so remarkable, it was the behavioral similarities. Watching monkeys display competitive, jealous, or inquisitive behavior. Watching apes use a stick to dig peanut butter from the bottom of a jar made me feel like I was watching our common ancestors use tools for the first time. It was as if I had taken a time machine back 100,000 years and was watching history happen. Walking through the zoo was like taking a personal tour through individual branches of the whole evolutionary tree. I felt the simultaneous wonder of belonging to nature, while also having the unique calling by God to care for it.

In every area of life, we are reminded that the universe declares the glory of God. Our glorious God has made each individual part of nature to lead us to wonder. That alone makes nature worth exploring. Or to say it another way, the wonderful thing about nature, is nature is a wonderful thing.

Mario A RussoMario Anthony Russo is a pastor, writer, and church planter. He lives with his wife Virginia and two children in the Rhine-Ruhr region of Germany. He holds an Interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Psychology (University of South Carolina), a Master of Arts in Religion (RTS), and a Doctor of Ministry (Erskine College & Seminary). During his nearly two decades of researching, writing, and speaking in the field of Science and Religion, Mario has developed a love for the interaction between science and faith, missiology, and pastoring. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_A_Russo

Guest Post: Building a habitable planet

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NASA

‘How to build a habitable planet’ is the title of a popular American college textbook which tells the story of the Earth from ‘The big bang to humankind’. It’s a big book – because it is a long story. All the evidence we have suggests that in its infancy the Earth was a most inhospitable planet and not very different from its near neighbours. Back then it had a transient volcanic landscape, a carbon-dioxide-rich greenhouse atmosphere and was periodically bombarded with asteroids from space. In contrast today we see a planet with mobile tectonic plates, oceans, continents, an oxygenic atmosphere and teeming with life, fundamentally different from Mercury, Mars or Venus. So, why? What is it about the history of the Earth which makes it so different now from its near neighbours? Continue reading

Book preview: Creation or Evolution – Do we have to choose?

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© Aureliy Movila, Freeimages.com

All Christians are, by definition, creationists. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament expresses this very clearly when he writes:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:2)

We cannot come to know God personally by faith without also believing that he is Creator of all that exists. The Apostles’ Creed affirms: ‘I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth’, a declaration central to the beliefs of all mainstream denominations. So Christians are by definition those who believe in a creator God; they are creationists. Now of course there is the slight problem that in common usage the term ‘creationist’ is attached to a particular set of beliefs held by some Christians, as well as by some Muslims and Jews, and these beliefs relate to the particular way in which it is thought that God has created. For example, some creationists believe that the earth is 10,000 years old or less. Other creationists believe that the earth is very old, but that God has intervened in a miraculous way at various stages of creation, for example to bring about new species. Since words are defined by their usage, we have to accept that this is the kind of belief to which the word ‘creationist’ refers. But this should not mask the fact that in reality all Christians are creationists in a more basic sense – it is just that they vary in their views as to how God created. Continue reading

Guest Post: Doing Faith and Science Like It’s 1718

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I was seated in the Bell Memorial Union at California State University, Chico, on a beautifully sunny fall day, interviewing one of my students, Giovanni, 19, who grew up in a devoted Catholic family and attended one of the finest Catholic high schools in the Silicon Valley before heading to Chico State.

These conversations always fascinate me because so many emerging adults—those 18-30 year olds among us (perhaps even reading this blog)—are declining to affiliate with any religion. When asked which box to check in response to “What religion are you?” 35-40% will mark “none.” I want to find out why. One key reason, noted by David Kinnaman of the Barna Group,emerging adults are becoming “nones” because they see the church as “antagonistic to science,” unwilling to take in, or take on, its insights and challenges. Continue reading

Guest Post: Entropy, Life and the Kingdom of God

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The Crab Nebula, a stellar explosion, a little hard to put back into an ordered state. Photo: Robert Sullivan/ Hubble – creative commons @flickr.com

That brilliant and entertaining atheist Steven Pinker has defined ‘the ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order.’

That might need a bit of explaining, not least to me. Entropy is, crudely, the measure of disorder in the universe. A low-entropy state is an ordered state; high entropy is a  disordered one. Because disorder is much more likely than order, disorder (high entropy) tends to be what everything leads to. Continue reading

Book preview – John Polkinghorne: Can a Scientist Believe?

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Pixabay

When I left the full-time practice of science and turned my collar round to become a clergyman, my life changed in all sorts of ways. One important thing did not change, however, for, in both my careers, I have been concerned with the search for truth.

Religion is not just a technique for keeping our spirits up, a pious anaesthetic to dull some of the pain of real life. The central religious question is the question of truth. Of course, religion can sustain us in life, or at the approach of death, but it can only do so if it is about the way things really are. Some of the people I know who seem to me to be the most clear-eyed and unflinching in their engagement with reality are monks and nuns, people following the religious life of prayerful awareness. Continue reading