Mockingbird Monday: Are Maudie and her flowers really going to hell?
I know it is still February, but the brief onset of warm weather and rain has things budding (maybe prematurely) here in Ohio and it has me thinking of springtime. I am looking forward to warmer temperatures, things turning green again, and being outside. I thought it would be appropriate to talk about Miss Maudie and her flowers today. This is an excerpt from “The Parable of Miss Maudie’s Azaleas”, which focuses on our attitude toward creation and what it means to be a good steward of the environment. Environmental issues are so often polarizing and political, but I think it is necessary for us to put that aside and consider what our faith teaches us about caring for the natural environment. Maudie is one of my favorite characters in To Kill a Mockingbird; not just because of her wisdom, but for her love of the outdoors…
In a conversation about religion, Maudie tells Scout about some of the Maycomb church folks who pass by her house. They seem to take issue with her lifestyle, she explains, saying that they believe she spends too much time outdoors with her flowers and not enough time inside reading the Bible. In fact, they told her she and her garden were going to hell. I love how Maudie connects “God’s outdoors” with being indoors reading the Bible—almost as if she places equal value on both exercises. Maybe our outlook on faith affects our attitude toward the earth. Songwriter Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine recently posted a letter on his Web site, ruminating about his farm in Ohio: “I remember wondering aloud after we had our first garden out here about whether the church had missed a sin. The pleasure of cupping ones hand around the smooth underbelly of a vine-ripened tomato is about as blood red sensual as it gets. Yep, they might have forgotten to forbid that one.”4 It reminds me of Miss Maudie’s attitude toward the church people passing by her yard. There is something sensual about nature, and it makes me wonder if we really have forgotten that our purpose is to enjoy the goodness of creation. The lines from Psalm 104 remind us of the splendor of nature and that the Creator’s fingerprint is all over it: “He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart” (vv. 13–15 niv). Yet I grew up in an evangelical subculture and have listened to many good folks talk of “this world” with so much lamentation in their voice. Like Andy Dufresne from Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, they are just biding their time until escape. Some are closed off from placing value on their relationships and the beauty of nature around them. They believe they have punched their ticket to the sweet by and by and aren’t concerned about tossing their trash out of the window on the train ride home. They have little concern about the world they will leave for their children or the quality of existence they are creating for their neighbors. Our attitudes and understandings about the symbiotic characteristics of the natural world are slowly progressing, but I am afraid that some people of faith (like the ones passing by Miss Maudie’s yard) have missed the mark with their attitudes toward nature. I have certainly come a long way to understanding my personal accountability in these matters of creation.
What is your response to caring for the environment? What can you do to fulfill that responsibility?