I am intrigued by a book I was given to read by my son, Mark. Its title is Feral by George Montbiot (published by Penguin in 2014). Some of it is an easy read, some not.
His basic argument is that the world, especially the more ‘developed’ world needs rewilding. The environment has been woefully depleted by clearing forests and the countryside for farming. (He has a particular dislike for sheep and their destructive grazing habits.)
But the longing which he expresses for a world where nature is allowed to run its course less hindered by human intervention, is not just about the ecology of land and sea. It is about how we human beings live and interact with our environment in a fulfilling way. Our lives need rewilding!
Environmentalists tend to focus on changing our behaviour to do less damage, to pollute less, to waste less, to travel less, to leave less of a footprint. While all these things are good they do not address the ‘tameness’ of our lives. Possibly quite the reverse. We were meant for a closer engagement with nature than feeding the ducks!
In the 18thcentury North America, there are many recorded instances where ‘white’ people of European descent were captured and ended up living freely among Native American communities, and also where Native American (Indian) people were captured before living freely among white communities.
Whenever given the choice to return to their own people, Europeans (men and women) chose to stay with the Native Americans and Native Americans chose to return to their own communities (pages 44-46). The more confined, settled life of the people of European descent was almost universally rejected in favour of a more mobile, free and uncertain life – a more fulfilling life. I think we suffer from thinking our way of life is better than others.
250 years on, more than ever, we suffer from “spirits oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care” as Timothy Dudley-Smith writes in his hymn ‘Lord, for the Years’. The spiritual malaise that comes from too much time and resources spent on our entertainment, while much of the world around us suffers from deprivation.
It’s true that our lives can be suddenly upended by a medical diagnosis, a tragic accident or life-changing event, but mostly we have stable lives. Safe even. We may not always feel ‘safe’, but in comparison with the rest of the world it is surely so.
George Montbiot convinces me that the ecology of land and sea needs rewilding, not least because human beings need it. Our lives need physical and other challenges that are worthy of the people we are made to be. We need bigger challenges than a video game.
We behave as if some things in our world are extinct when they are not. We (men and women!) need to become the hunters we once were. Together we need to hunt and destroy poverty, prejudice and exclusion. We need to hunt and destroy corruption. We need to hunt and destroy loneliness and isolation, mental and physical diseases and much much more. Everyone who takes up the hunt will find it challenging and rewarding.
For me this is abundant life. The life Jesus calls us to. Costly, risky, swimming against the current, free and fulfilled.
With my love and prayers,