The news about Paul Lister, and his determination to ‘re-wild’ his own patch of the Scottish highlands is a classic story of contemporary Britain, and it has a lot to say about the situation facing the church in this fair isle too.
First there is the fantastic story of the multi millionaire businessman, who having bought his own patch of Bonnie Scotland has decided to return it to the way nature intended, spending millions on bringing back boars and moose, planting native trees and plants, and even making desperate attempts to bring back wolves and bears too.
Then there’s the problems – he has fenced his estate in, enraging the walkers and climbers who have the hard won freedom to explore them thar hills. More than that, if his estate is fenced, then it cant be a wilderness, its a zoo, and in a zoo you cant let the nasty animals eat the nice ones!
Its a story that will go on and on until one day the money runs out, or somebody lets Lister have his way. On a personal level, I have a lot of sympathy for the idea of re-wilding the countryside, but in all honesty I cant see it happenning in the UK. The British countryside is a vast money making machine, reintroducing animals like wolves into it would sound a death knell for shooting estates and sheep farms for a start.
And this leads me on to the church.
I would dearly love to see the church re-wilded. Like Scotland, the church has the appearance of wildness. But in reality the wild place it once was, is no more. Just as Scotland has been tamed, its natural appearance transformed, and many of its natural inhabitants hunted into extinction, so the church is practically unrecognisable from what it once was.
Like Scotland and its over abundance of red deer, which many think are beautiful and pretty wild in themselves, the church has become overpopulated with grazers, who roam around looking pretty, fighting with each other and generally just munching up the foliage.
It is the high population of red deer which means that Scotland will be unable to re instate its natural vegetation, the red deer just scoff it. A consistent cull of red deer is already necessary just to maintain the vegetation it has got. The heather that has come to be the symbol of scots mountainside is in fact a weed, a parasite which smothers the growth of anything new, or anything ancient which seeks rebirth.
The venerable scottish thistle can still be found, bristling in its spikyness – but its not a very attractive plant really, not when all those thorns get on your fingers.
In the church we have our own flora and fauna – we might consider our traditions and practises as flora – they cover the church, they appear to be the distinctive feature of the church, and all too often they smother the birth of anything new, or the re birth of anything ancient.
Where a venerable outpost of early Christianity exists, its often too spiky for us to cope with.
What is the answer for Scotland? First bring back boars – we need pigs who root around and stir up the ground. In the church, we too need those who will root around, make a mess, be a bit dangerous – dig stuff up, turn it over, make a noise.
Bring back predators – lets be honest whatthe church needs like a hole in the head (I should know, I’ve got a hole in my head) is more deer. More people to look pretty, but be good for nothing but shooting. We dont need those pew fillers, those ‘Christians’ who refuse to let the notion of discipleship affect their lives in any way other than what social groups they mix in, and what they will watch on tele.
Lets get some wolves in, who will kill these deer, or at least scare them off. Lets reduce the deer number, whittle them down. Lets get some bears in too – big brutes who can really make some impact on the world.
Lets find some of that old vegetation which has died out, and encourage it to grow again. Lets embrace the dirty, the dangerous, the wild.
Lets say no to the sanitised version of church, and say yes to re-wilding.
But lets not put a fence around it – instead of creating a zoo which looks like a wild place, lets create a real wildness – that spreads like a virus over the world. And guess what, that needs the estate managers, those who have grown fat and confortable on the money making activities of the church to change their ways.
Lets accept the fact that making a living out of this is not what its about, this is not an enterprise! Its not a business! This should be a wild place, with wild people and wild ideas – ideas about changing the world, about self denial, about love, about compassion, about God.
Let’s pray that God, who is the ultimate multi millionaire, will re-wild us, killing off those who are having a negative impact, and planting new growthin the old vegetation. I see signs of wildness, shadows of it, pockets of it… I see it in World Horizons, I see it in the Simple Way, I see it in alternative worship, I see it in the new monastics… but I long for the day when the real wildness will break out, and we’ll be back to the way we should be.
(Except now I’m worried that I’m a deer, when I ought to be a moose, or a pig, or a wolf… or perhaps a red squirrel. The red bit is right anyhow.)