From Exile to Hope: It’s All in the Attitude

From Exile to Hope: It’s All in the Attitude

April 27, 2023

By: Nan Smith

In my work as an outdoor environmental educator (interpretive naturalist), I led programming for all ages aimed at helping them to learn about their natural world. I led hikes through prairies and woodlands and taught about Iowa’s flora and fauna. I helped students to explore the critters of ponds, showed them how to catch and study insects, and I taught them ways to look and listen for birds.  

What a life it was! I loved the work I did! 

I believe my work was made even better, because early on I adopted a piece of valuable advice given to me by a seasoned naturalist. A precious little tidbit. And although, I can’t remember who told me these words, I can say that these simple words made all the difference in my work. These words shaped every hike I led, every pond I explored, and every response I made. They influenced how I interacted with my groups. In short, these simple words became my mantra. They became the foundation for all I did in sharing my love of creation to others.

What were these wise words? 

Simply this. “Nan, make sure that you help the people love the land.” In other words, my role as a naturalist was to provide a positive outdoor experience for all who I was leading. My mission was to help each individual experience the joy, the wonder, the beauty, and the awe to be found in the natural world around them. My task was as simple and as daunting as that, because in the long view, people will value and care for that which they love. If I wanted others to preserve our natural resources; if I wanted them to care for creation, then I had to help the people “love the land” so that they would value it and I had to help them value it so that they would love it.

In these past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about this connection of love to value and value to love. I believe that how we view this idea impacts how we live into this new future as the United Methodist Church. It impacts how we express who we are and what will be our identity in the world as United Methodists, especially as we consider how best to live into loving God and loving neighbor.  

The question becomes, what are people hearing and how are people reacting to this new understanding of the United Methodist Church? You see, I fear that those outside of the United Methodist Church and especially those who have not spent time in any church are only hearing about the conflicts, the disagreements, and the judgments that have been defining the United Methodist Church these past years. I fear that all that these people are hearing is the “we/they” rhetoric. I fear that all they are hearing is the negative language.  

If that is our narrative, then how can these individuals come to love and value this church we are so passionate about; how will they come to love and value the gift of faith. I believe we need to be conscious of the narrative we are expressing. It is time to focus in on the positives, because it is hard to love what the church is offering when all you are experiencing and hearing about is the negative.

So my invitation to all of you who are reading this, is to consider why you love being United Methodist; to consider what you love about being part of a faith community; and to consider why and how you feel energized by your faith. Share that with others! Help them to understand the love that you carry around what you believe. Express why your faith is so valuable to you.

These are the stories that we need to be sharing with others. This is the witness we need to be giving. This is the message the world needs to be hearing.


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