In our last post (Nature Deficit Disorder and Stewardship: Crisis in Creation), the problem of nature deficit and exercise deficit disorders and their relationship to a lack of a stewardship ethic was discussed concluding with the notion that faith based outdoor education can be viewed as a solution. Given that, what is that outdoor educational perspective that can make it a solution?
On a recent night hike in the mountains with students from a local Catholic school, I witnessed a very important conversation. The student in front of me to his friend said, “So, what if Freddy Krueger is out here?” His friends response was crucial to our times, “That is not real and this is, God is real and that tree that you are about to walk into is real.” Besides making me laugh, this conversation is a poignant statement of a culture mired in a two dimensional world disconnected from
authentic relationship and starved of the concept of stewardship.
Youth culture, in both urban and to a lesser extent in rural environments, is mired in a two dimensional world. In this two dimensional world, relationships are shallow, fear is a barrier to real experiences, humility is replaced by the reset button, and God is something talked about instead of “someone” experienced.
For most urban Catholic youth the experience of God is limited to Sundays, if that. There is a chasm between what they hear about God and what they experience in their daily technology heavy lives. For example, how can one relate to God as a provider when food is easily found at the local grocery or convenience store (albeit poor examples of food). When challenged to really think about it, most teens say that their “provider” is their parent(s) who works to get money to buy food from a store. And they are beginning to only relate to their parent(s) via text. There is rarely a concept of God having provided the job and thus the money to get the food, no less the phone. Even rarer is the concept that God provided the food by giving us the brilliance of the seasons, water, sunlight, photosynthesis, farms, and even farmers. Thus, without these concrete connections the chasm to authentic relationship and stewardship continues to grow.
Looking at the depth of these examples, we see two very important missing concepts, “Relationship” and “The living God”. In fact, it is the relationship to God that is centrally missing. This is the essence of Nature Deficit Disorder so eloquently coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods.
Nature Deficit Disorder can be understood as youth growing up in a controlled environment that prohibits an authentic relationship with God, with oneself, with others, and with creation (nature). The reality is that here in the amazingly majestic mountain state of Colorado, approximately 90% of the youth whom I lead in their outdoor education adventures at JPII Outdoor Lab have never been hiking. Sounds like a number that you would expect to see in New York City. If it is 90% here where hiking is available at the edge of most neighborhoods, what is it truly like in places like New York City? I would propose that it is approximately the same percentage and one costing our culture in profound ways. Yet, ask any youth about how many kills they got on Call to Duty and Assassins Creed. You will get a torrent of information about how they, alone, or maybe in a room with another youth who they did not talk to for hours on end, made it to such and such level, made x number of kills, etc.
There is a chasm between their two dimensional world and their true authentic life in the three dimensional world that is costing society a Grand Canyon sized price.
So, how is this chasm crossed? Getting youth out in creation! When youth are guided into creation several key things occur. First, the something is something that is not in their control like video games or social media sites. With guidance, they start to see that what is out of their control is in God’s control. In fact, it is a gift from God. Second thing that happens is confrontation with fear. Youth quickly experience anxiety that comes with knowing that they are not in control. Overcoming this fear opens youth to the concept of relationship with a loving God, who provides for them and for all of creation. Now comes the bridge over the chasm to relationship, which is built upon experience, knowledge, and trust. Students open up to learning about who God is and how he is revealing himself to them through his creation, in the silence, in a three dimensional real world. The risk of failure is real, and they learn to trust that God forgives, expects them to show up, and loves them throughout their journey to becoming a better version of themselves. With all of this, they experience a deep encounter with God as provider, caregiver, creator, friend, and Father. The exhilaration they experience is one of true authentic relationship.
To help form great stewards of creation, youth and adult, we must first move out of our two dimensional worlds where fear is holding us hostage, as my young student was experiencing on the night hike. Get out into the real rawness of God’s creation to bring our perspective to God, who as my second student so beautifully stated, “IS REAL”. There in creation we learn to see God as ultimate care giver, Lord in control of the world, and Father revealing himself to us physically and in the depths of our hearts. We come into a deeper relationship with the God that helps us to order our lives in our urban setting. Here we can see his hands at work through our grocers, employers, and each other. In turn, we care about the grocers, our employers, our neighbors, and all that we rely upon in creation to sustain us. The food we eat, the oil resources we use, the air we breathe, and the water we drink become definable as something that God gives to us as gift through the hands of the people He loves. This is transformative. This is living a life of authentic stewardship.
So, I encourage you to get out into creation, even if it’s Central Park. God uses all of His creation to reveal Himself. Begin a habit of thankfulness for those gifts given by the God who loves and cherishes you beyond all telling.