Saturday, 9 October 2010
When I was in New Zealand in the summer of last year, amongst the people I met, and stayed with, were Dave and Bev Mullan. Dave is a retired Methodist minister. His big thing is local leadership, or what he calls local shared ministry, but he has also done some thinking around what he calls mangrove theology. Depending on where we have been, I guess we will have seen mangroves in different places, but I always particularly think of sailing between the mangroves in particular bits of Panama. Anyhow, Dave writes, and this is an extended quote, but he says it better than I could: “On one side of the mangroves below our home there is the sea. Even on the calmest days it is always moving, alive. At different times it is restless, threatening, challenging; but always beautiful, seemingly never-ending, infinite. On the other side of the mangroves is the land. By comparison it seems thoroughly immovable, resilient and clearly finite. It seems as if it has been there for ever. Yet the land is very vulnerable to the effects of the sea. Erosion can change the land beyond recognition, damaging its contours, stealing its contents and converting earth and clay into the sand and mud of the beaches. In this process the sea can drag great trees to their death and can overwhelm the land in its powerful action. But where there are mangroves there is a protective barrier that keeps land and sea apart. .. The mangroves, by their role of separation, help to define both land and sea. In a sense, the mangrove community’s capacity to keep these two elements apart is what defines the mangroves themselves: they are, by their very nature, separators. Mangrove communities remind us of the church which itself is a zone of separation. It is placed along a dividing line between the everyday and the eternal. One of its most essential purposes is to find and keep a place that enables it to separate – and thus define – the everyday and the eternal. It treads a tightrope from which it may easily fall off to one side or the other but when it does that it ceases to exercise its most central role.” We sometimes talk about thin places - Iona, Holy Island, Taizé. How can we make the church much more "thin"? Mullan explores this by developing the mangrove theology concept a little further as he reflects on the cleansing element of the mangroves. “One of the primary roles of the mangroves is to cleanse run-off from the land. Mud and debris arising from storms and heavy rain are often absorbed .... Instead of polluting the ocean environment they contribute to the growth and strength of the mangroves themselves. ... Part of the role of the church is to be able to absorb some of the painful effects of human dysfunctioning; it offers itself as a haven in which the hurt and the weak may be comforted and protected and “takes on” some of their burden. It creates an environment in which the effects of evil may be tempered and even redeemed.” Yes, and so how can we move into that role?