Rev. Neil Dunnavant

Rev. Neil Dunnavant,
Executive Pastor

A current bestseller has got me to thinking about the issue of what is natural and what is not. Is it natural to be good or to be bad? To be selfish or generous? The book is called Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy. Outside of human conduct, when we mess with the natural world trouble surely follows. The book is about things like invasive plants, abundant use of non-native species, and how so very unnatural the typical American yard is with lots of green grass that would never grow there naturally. It is natural for yards to have fallen leaves (excellent natural fertilizer) but we rake them to the street because they kill our beautiful green unnatural grass. You get the idea. This creates a whole chain of unnatural and harmful results that impact insects, birds, mammals, and really the whole ecosystem.

My favorite bird (though I rarely see it or hear it) is the bobwhite quail. People my age and older grew up seeing coveys of the beautiful birds regularly and hearing their lovely calls. There are many theories about why the quail are in serious decline, but the main culprit seems to be tidiness caused by the overuse of weed eaters and the planting of non-native grasses in pastures and fields. The quail need a grass they can easily run through, but most farmers plant grasses that grow too thick and dense for the quail. They need hedgerows and thickets, and these are now constantly being mowed down or killed with chemicals. A messy wild untidy look is what the quail need. They need the native grasses like broom sedge. Our unnatural preference for tidy, green, and lush has ruined the habitat for the quail. To save them we need to develop a new aesthetic.

In Calvinistic or Presbyterian theology we say the natural condition of humans is sinfulness or depravity. Calvin even said total depravity. Surely he overstates the case! But in the plant and animal world God made them neither good nor bad but simply to be themselves, to express their nature. A dog acts like a dog. A quail like a quail.

What is our nature? The Biblical story is that God made us good and then we rejected goodness and had to be restored to goodness through the redemption of Jesus. So through our relationship with Christ we have our old good nature back. And that is good news. It may be heresy, but I always think it unnatural when people behave badly. They seem to be acting unnatural. Like a dog uninterested in sniffing a fire hydrant.

Obviously, there is a lot more to ponder on this subject. But it is not natural to sit at a computer all day, so I’m wrapping this up and heading out for a run. We were born to run, weren’t we?