For my kids, the highlight of our National Parks experience so far has been the 45-minute educational talk that happens each night in our campground. Usually given by a park ranger, one of the most memorable talks during our time in Glacier was given a member of the Blackfeet Nation who came to sing and share stories. My kids were captivated.

Captivated until, that is — during a song about a bear who stole the warm wind and hid it in his den — my son pointed to the ridge behind the man with the guitar and cried, “Bear!” 

Sure enough, a black bear was there, munching on thimbleberries and minding his own business. 

“Let’s hope he doesn’t get too much of a hassle,” said the speaker, as he continued on with his song unfazed. (My kids had a harder time staying focused.) I watched him for a while, moving slowly from one bush to the next. I found it hard to fathom a huge bear finding those tiny little berry at all nourishing. It must take a thousand berries to satisfy a bear. A Million.

The speaker that night had a lot to say about interdependence and mutuality. The bear, the berries, the moths and the glaciers and the fir trees all play a critical part in the beautiful flourishing ecosystem around us. And for a thousand years, so did the humans who called that place home. Delicate, respectful, and honoring of each creature — mindful of the dignity of each player’s irreplaceable contribution. 

It felt so… Christian to me. So faith-filled. I thought, “I believe that,” and “That feels like the truth,” and “I want that in my life.” It felt like good news.

Studies have shown that the lack of exposure to the natural world is having terrible consequences for our kids. For their attention spans, their sense of wellbeing, and their physical health. It’s being deemed “nature deficit disorder,” and it makes sense to me that it has big impacts on a person’s spiritual life, too. How toxic it is to our sense of God, to our not-god-ness, to have more exposure to the forces of capitalism than the forces of the moon and the rainfall and the population of grasshoppers. Makes you more focused on the spending than the saving. More focused on the using than the contributing.

On our last day in the national park, we hiked a long rigorous trail that ended at an ice-blue lake that was filled with melt from a glacier. A glacier that, rangers reminded us again and again, would not exist in just ten short years. I thought of that bear, those moths, the Blackfeet, my kids. I thought of Jesus, one with the Creator. I wondered what my small place in the web of creation could be, given the enormity of the loss we face.

“I’m going to write a letter to Congress,” my 9-year old said on the hike down, “it’s just not fair that they’re not fixing the melting glaciers.” 

“I’ll help you,” I told him. 

One among a thousand. A million. 

Kate Kooyman

Kate is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

11 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Yay!

  • mstair says:

    Evocative article; brought a couple other quotes to mind:
    “If God’s going to destroy the world anyway, why should we care about driving SUV’s” (Mark Driscoll)

    If people really believed in God and His plan for our future, they wouldn’t concern themselves about environmental issues …
    On the other hand, if God really did create humans, then we are unable to NOT care about the environment that He created us to tend and care for …

    “You can’t love God and ignore the Earth” (Rev. Rebekah Simon-Peter.)

    … to both sides this quote applies …
    “It felt so… Christian to me. So faith-filled. “ (Kate Kooyman)

  • Grace Shearer says:

    What an experience you and your family are having! Thanks for sharing this with us. Bears are so hugh and are content with berries. I wish they would satisfy me even though I’m smaller (hopefully) than the bears. Enjoy yourself. Thoughts and prayers for all of you.

  • Lynn Setsma says:

    Oh, Kate. I love this. Hold close all these wonderful things you are seeing and processing. Love and miss you.

  • Matt Huisman says:

    My in-laws just recently visited GNP, and they really loved it. We’d like to go too. It’s a shame that we weren’t able to get there before global warming caused them to take down all the placards saying “the glaciers will all be gone by 2020”.

    • Tom Ackerman says:

      Honestly, I try to understand your comments, but I am left scratching my head in confusion. I don’t think anyone actually “predicted” that all the glaciers would be gone by 2020, buy maybe someone did. Are you trying to say in your comment that the glaciers will not be gone in a decade? Please let me quote from the Park Service: “In 1966, the park [Glacier] had 35 named glaciers large enough to be considered active. By 2015, only 26 named glaciers remained. The average area reduction was 39 percent, though some lost as much as 85 percent.” In a decade, there may well be some remnant pieces of glacier left in a decade, but the glaciers are rapidly disappearing. Is you comment implying that you don’t believe any of the ice melt observations? What is your basis for saying they are incorrect? I could conjure up other inferences, but maybe you should just say what you mean. Thanks.

    • Matt Huisman says:

      Since we’re quoting the National Park Service, here’s a video of a GNP welcome center with displays stating things like “Computer models indicate that the glaciers will all be gone by the year 2020.” https://youtu.be/Afa6mMMuZhg Kate’s Park Rangers at least have the decency to use the more elusive “in just 10 short years”.

      There is a lot of alarmism in the environmental movement – and much of it is aimed at kids. Nobody ever restrains these exaggerations – including scientists who are Christians. I get wound up when people go overboard – justified by “truth over facts”. Long-term glacier ice melt trend, fine. Sahara desert by the end of the week, not fine. [Note: We’re not even to the difficult part – where we speculate on the implications or causes of these trends.]

      Someone at the NPS thought the glaciers would be gone by 2020. I guess you’re telling me that they’ll be entirely (<10%) gone by 2030. We'll see, but I wouldn't bet on it if I were you.

      • Tom Ackerman says:

        I do not know the basis on which the Park Service put up the “2020” signs and I personally would not have put them up because natural variability within the climate system can and does alter the manifestation of a global trend in a regional area, making short term prediction dicey. Also, modeling the behavior of individual glaciers is difficult because of local characteristics such as snow accumulation rates, bedrock characteristics, and the like. But glaciers are melting all over the world, sea ice in the Arctic is shrinking, the Greenland ice sheet is melting, etc. These are not exaggerations, they are the “facts”.

        To use your words, I get “wound up” when people nitpick some statements (the individual “trees”) and use that to deny the fate of the “forest”. There are dozens of indicators that I can cite that show conclusively that our climate is warming. Some indicators are physical and some are biological, but they all clearly point the same direction. We, as a climate community, are not “speculating” on the causes of the warming. We know the cause, based on a convergence of observations and a wide range of models from the relatively simple to the very complex. We, as a scientific community, have a solid 30 year record of both consistently identifying the cause, documenting our knowledge, and making global climate change predictions that are largely accurate. You are upset about “exaggeration” while I am appalled by the number of people in our society, and yes in our church, that are willing to figuratively put their heads in the sand and ignore the heat on their backsides.

        And, I take personal affront at your comment about “nobody” and “scientists who are Christians”. You are slandering me and other climate scientists who are Christians without any real knowledge of what science we do or how we do it. I have spent 45+ years doing research, teaching, and writing on climate. I have always tried to do my work with honesty and integrity and I do not appreciate cheap shots.

  • Having recently gone through 6 National Parks on a guided tour, it was good to see parents with young children in the parks.

  • Matt Huisman says:

    Let’s talk about cheap shots and slander. My little quip about to Kate’s post was a cheap shot about the integrity of the NPS that she is relying on to shape the worldview of her children. You drop in as the Environmental Ranger to run down my little shot (is there a Bat Signal out there for this kind of thing – I wasn’t expecting your comment for another day or two). Now you acknowledged the relatively minor point that someone in the NPS went out over their skis a little while still maintaining the larger point that world is warming and we ought to recognize it. Fine with me.

    As for my little jab at scientists, it’s just an observation that the leading edge of the environmental movement is both insatiable and nuts. There is literally nothing that can be said that is too extreme – why is that? It’s a small challenge, make of it what you will. Your personal integrity is your own business. (People are quite comfortable asking me to address the crazy on my side. NBD)

    Slander on the other hand…now slander is a thing. Slander is when someone takes a position – let’s say something like pro-life, pro-2A, immigration/education/welfare reform – and is instantly demonized as ipso facto racist. They’re not wrong. They’re not mistaken. They’re flat out racist. And this slander flows like melting ice from a glacier around here.

    • Jessica A Groen says:

      A US white person feeling the adjective “racist” is slanderous and demonizing is comparable to a Dutch Calvinist feeling the word “sinful” is slanderous and demonizing. We Generation X Dutch Christians from Chicago’s south Metro area who read and comment on this blog are not able to evade the reality that we too were born into a web of racism and sin. Neither term connotes demons, monsters or ignoramuses. Both terms humanize us, remind us we are not born immune from the principalities and powers of our social surroundings and our institutional networks. The terms locate us in systems of damaging beliefs and behavior which we didn’t invent, but neither can we extricate ourselves from. You and I, and the bloggers, and the readers, and the critics, are sinful, racist, beloved, rescued, valuable, and walking a lifetime path of recovery and health. We can continue on this path giving thanks to prophets who urge us to take that hard and painful look in the mirror. And giving triple thanks to a Savior who tells us that what we see in the mirror is not a hopeless cause but a hurting and vulnerable child who needs, and will most definitely receive, an equal measure of compass guidance and unconditional love.

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