Recently I’ve found inspiration from the strangest of places. My only brush with these creatures in real life has been in the dreaded appearance of mounds of dirt in my parent’s garden while I was growing up. Caddyshack famously expressed most people’s loathing for these little furry beasts when the character Carl Spackler said, “In the immortal words of Jean Paul Sartre, ‘Au revoir, gopher'” as he attempted to dynamite the earth burrower’s hole. Yet while on holiday at my in-laws’ house I found myself strangely identifying with gophers- those of Mt. St. Helen’s to be specific.
While watching PBS a NOVA programme came on called ‘Mt. St. Helens: Back from the dead’. Being a bit of an ecology nerd (apologies to my fellow geek friends) I was consumed by the telling of the explosion that happened in 1980 resulting in death, destruction, and sweeping panoramas of ash and black. Scientists told how they wondered if anything survived and how on earth anything would ever make a comeback to such a desolate location. As the ground continued to shift and rumble while the volcano remained active for some time, brave scientists began walking and flying around in search of signs of life. Months and months in to this search with absolutely no hopeful glimmers, a man in a helicopter spotted something different- a fresh mound of earth. As the pilot landed and the researcher walked towards the soil which stood in stark contrast to the dense blanket of ash, fresh revelation hit: some little critters that had lived below the surface of the earth- pesky varments though they were- had survived the eruption and their lives continued on, though with fewer fresh roots to chew on.
|A gopher mafia family
These underground inhabitants kept on doing what they do- digging. Not because they were trying to be at all helpful but because, well, what else were they going to do? As they dug and carried on, fresh piles of soil appeared on the surface, mixing in nutrients and spores to an otherwise inhospitable landscape. As a result of their survival, life began gradually to return to the blast zone with plants growing, amphibians and mammals returning and birds having a place to nest and bring in fresh seeds. All thanks to a pest.
As I sat watching these gophers and life return to Mt. St. Helen’s, I felt a sort of pathetic kinship (don’t worry, I’m not going to say I cried). Having moved from a place of doing ‘alternative ministry’ where things are dressed up a little bit differently and feeling ‘edgy’ but the gist is still the same, and now moving to a place of truly ‘underground ministry’, going to subcultures that the church has rejected outright, I resonate a bit with the gopher.
Firstly and most critically, I see that as we dig our way underground, we are able to draw up fresh nutrients to feed the church itself. Most truths and movements that have changed culture (and the church) have not come from the ‘top down’ or a place of influence and prominence (humanly speaking) but from the depths- the culturally radical and dissident. As Leonard Sweet says in Nudge, ‘The centers of power and wealth are a long way from the margins of our society, where the most creative stirrings of the Spirit are born and bring new life into the whole. It is hard to score semiotic (ed- the art of reading the signs) hits from the centres of establishment power.’ These underground folk are causing a stir, and one that Jesus can often be seen at the heart of- if you’re perceptive enough and willing to point him out. It’s exciting to work within these deep underground cultures and see Kingdom truths in operation that mainstream society and church culture has neglected or compromised on- ideas of community, equality, advocacy and solidarity with the poor, shunning materialism, and so on (whatever ideas you’ve conjured up right now about how your church might live these out, you likely don’t go as far as these underground scenes). We’ve set out to Nudge these people into recognising the Jesus values they are operating under, and also to bring these revelations to the church itself.
I believe that we have so much to dig up from these underground cultures to fertilise the imaginations and intensify the richness of the life we as Christ followers can live here on earth. Church-folk so often find their heads in the clouds, looking for Christ elsewhere, yet we must start recognising the creatures under our feet that are enriching our every day lives, whether we know it or not, and see where we can sight Christ in their very existence. To be honest, I find my gopher-y self learning a lot from the underground scene- not at the sake of compromising my understanding of all things Christ, but in finding out that Jesus is a whole lot more omni-present than I dreamt and far, far ahead of the dawdling church- myself included. Now, THAT is good news!