FROM THE PASTOR'S STUDY  -  AUGUST 2017

Dear Friends and Members of First Reformed Church of Bethlehem:


Summer has been around long enough for some to complain --“enough!” I’m quite certain that the origin of this comment in late July is the heat and the humidity. Still, if pushed to flesh out this momentary frustration, I suspect almost everyone would back down, when asked to select a January day as the replacement.


It is a typical summer; garlic getting ready for harvest, leeks enticing us to harvest early and daring us to wait until late October, when they will have tripled in size and doubled in taste. Not to mention tomato blight, so we won’t, but are strongly tempted to write another chapter to the book of Lamentations, a chapter specifically devoted to tomato blight lament.


Then there are the varieties of living creatures that have the idea they too deserve a summer harvest. We begin with gnats, mosquitoes, deer ticks, and of course, fawns prancing through the garden. (Last Sunday’s bulletin featured the picture of a small fawn with huge ears standing in the middle of the garden. His twin sister was resting between a row of sweet corn and lettuce.) And there are more critters; chipmunks, squirrels, birds of all kinds and finally, two huge woodchucks under our porch. And more than one helpful person has pointed out that thirty-four days after a passionate encounter, there will be three or four more of these hairy beasts. Not to mention this could happen more than once during the summer season. Already one stalk of corn has succumbed to their voracious appetite.


I’m not quite ready to consider this a crisis, but it feels more and more like it is becoming a crisis; and, of course, many of you lend a sympathetic ear to my story of woe, and some have even made suggestions, some more helpful than others. The friendly trap idea has merit, but any self-respecting woodchuck chooses fresh still-connected-to-the-ground food versus stuff spread out to trick them. Some devout advisors have suggested woodchuck heaven, an idea that sounds better to me every day.


But then it was Ellen’s birthday, and daughter Stephanie sent her a book, FINDING BEAUTY IN A BROKEN WORLD. Early in the book the author, Terry Tempest Williams, relates the story of prairie dogs in the large central plains of the United States. At times their dens can stretch across hundreds of miles, and number in the millions. They were and continue to be a nuisance to cattlemen, as horses and cattle step down and break through into a den. Frequently the animal breaks a leg and has to be killed.


So the solution is to kill the prairie dogs. Gasoline is dumped into the dens and ignited. The prairie dog numbers diminish. Problem solved, problem created. Author Williams links nearly fifty plants and animals that have some essential connection to prairie dogs, including buffalo and many kinds of birds. Prairie dogs create diversity. Destroy them and you destroy a varied world. Can we afford to tolerate and endure woodchucks? Perhaps the question is: “Can we afford to not have woodchucks in our yard?“ I’m still drawn to the woodchuck heaven solution, imagining them rehearsing the Alleluia Chorus or burrowing into a golden underground space. Frankly, I know they much prefer a den right under the hosta plants by our back door. That humble place IS their paradise.

The truth seems to be that we cannot avoid participating in how the world shall become. To do nothing is as much a choice as to seek wise decisions in a complex world. Over the past years we have been searching for ways to become more active in reverencing the totality of God’s creation. We may hope to do this with some magical solution, but where we are invited to begin is in our own backyard as people, woodchucks, mosquitoes and red foxes negotiate a reasonable survival for all of us. I believe it is true that God loves the world. I also have come to experience that some parts of the world are much easier to love than others.


May the Peace of Christ be with you this day,

Harlan E. Ratmeyer, Pastor

Harlan E. Ratmeyer, Pastor

38 Church Rd.

Selkirk, New York