Loren and Mary-Ruth Wilkinson || A Unitive Interview

Posted on March 22nd, by Matt Humphrey in Heart, Interviews, Unitive Sessions: Technology. 11 comments

Loren and Mary-Ruth Wilkinson || A Unitive Interview

Like Bryan, I was a bit nervous going into this interview. I too had my iphone out and recording our call, cast over a new VOIP system (voice over internet phone) seemed strange to me. The Wilkinsons, Loren and Mary-Ruth, were at their home on Galiano Island. Unlike Bryan, I have spent countless hours and days with those on the other end of the line, so it made for a more familiar chat, even if technologically more complex.

It was in that old house at Hunterston Farm that I first encountered the wisdom and care which the Wilkinsons bring to issues of technology, to our common life with food, and to caring for God’s Creation more generally. For over 30 years they’ve been bringing students from Regent College into contact with Creation and inviting them (and us) to reflect on how faith informs our life on earth – whether through a trip on the boats, a few hours spent in the garden, or gathered around a large table of food, lovingly prepared. This is important work and a necessary part of our learning the art of following Jesus.

The particular course we discuss below is called Technology, Wilderness, and Creation, and is being offered again this summer through Regent College.

 

Matt Humphrey: Could you tell us a bit about the history of this course? When did it initially come to be?

Loren Wilkinson: … the course really started in our friendship with the Fosters here on Galiano Island, who are boat builders. We became so impressed with the craft of those boats and how they did put you in touch with a whole other technological tradition – a very different technology, a technology more connected to the natural world.

Mary-Ruth Wilkinson: It was a way of seeing God’s technology as opposed to ours, in a way.

LW: Yeah, it didn’t override Creation with human technology but was a technology which, both in the craft of the boats themselves – the way they were made – and in the kind of travel they encourage, you are put more directly in touch with the world. So we commissioned the Fosters to build a boat for us.

MRW: Yes… to be in boats and to see and experience this wonderful thing really starts this whole process of knowing how to deal with technology – understanding the difference between a motorboat and a sailboat, for instance.

boats

 

MH: In the book of readings for the course, you write, “the purpose of these readings is to provide a chance to reflect on two opposite ideas, wilderness which you define as “the natural world apart from human influence,” and technology which you define as “the many ways in which we human beings, by our very nature, try to shape the earth in order to shape our wants and needs.” Do you stand by those definitions and in what way?

LW: … It increasingly became obvious to us, as we spent time in the boats, that the word wilderness comes from the word ‘wild’ and the word ‘wild’ comes from the word ‘willed.’ It is referring to those things in nature – originally beasts or animals – that were not tamed and therefore followed not the human will but rather their own will. One of the things we quickly experience in the boats is that the Sea and the weather don’t always do what we want them to do.

MRW: And tides are some of the most ‘willed’ parts of Creation!

 

One of the things we quickly experience in the boats is that the Sea and the weather don’t always do what we want them to do.

 

LW: Just the experience of being in a boat that doesn’t allow you to override these natural cycles of weather and water is a way of experiencing wilderness at a fairly profound level… the experience of being in a rowing/sailing boat on the Sea is a way of experiencing that directly – it isn’t made according to our desires.

MH: What is your definition of technology?

LW: Well technology, then, is all the ways in which we human beings shape and do things in the natural world.

MRW: The experience of being in these boats is a way of looking at the historic transformation that has occurred in our human attempts to make that world which is ‘willed’ external to us to be conformed to our wishes and wills. We begin to see that development – that there was technology long before the modern world after all – and so we respect the human capacity for technology but we think critically about the process of losing our ‘touch’ with the natural world through this very technology.

LW: Another way of saying that is that this experience is not at all – and it is very important to get this across – is not a way of saying that technology is bad, that modern technology is bad, or that motors are bad – rather that technology very quickly becomes invisible to us. We just don’t notice it… And when you are forced into the wilderness… we begin to see the whole process of shaping the world through technology in a way that is more visible and obvious to us… the boats bracket out our normal experience of modern technology and thereby enable us to see more clearly how we interact with the natural world – Creation – more regularly, through tools. A sailboat is a tool after all.

 

Technology very quickly becomes invisible to us. We just don’t notice it. And when you are forced into the wilderness we begin to see the whole process of shaping the world through technology in a way that is more visible and obvious to us…

 

MH: You know, I’m actually calling you now through VOIP (Voice over Internet Phone). I’m also recording our conversation for my notes on an APP I just downloaded a few minutes ago to my IPhone. Have I sinned?

LW: One of the things we have to resist is the idea that modern technology is bad. OR that we are somehow morally superior when we’re in a rowing boat. That isn’t the point at all. Rather, it helps us to think about it and put new questions into focus – questions which need to be asked. What becomes obvious in this course is that we are much more engaged in this – with our bodies, even…

MRW: And with other people…

LW: With other people, it is quite profound to be in the same boat with each other, to provide the same energy with each other and really having to work together. One of the ways that shows up is that very quickly people realize that they should be singing.

(Laughter)

MH: Why is that?
LW: Well working together goes so much better if you are singing. Sometimes it works beautifully and sometimes it doesn’t but it always happens that people just want to sing, and being in the boat brings that out.

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MRW: Where it doesn’t work well is when people think “Row, Row, Row your boat gently down the stream” is a good boat song – it isn’t at all!

(Laughter)

LW: We need technology which engages our bodies – and we are in serious danger of losing the important daily involvement of our bodies… That is a serious danger and something we are necessarily going to question – the problems that come about when you assume you are only engaging the world meaningfully through a screen.

 

 

We need technology which engages our bodies – and we are in serious danger of losing the important daily involvement of our bodies… That is a serious danger and something we are necessarily going to question…

 

MRW: It is interesting because we have these stories over the generations of the menial work being done alongside singing. So there are songs for plowing and songs for all sorts of activities – seemingly menial at times – but important. And the engagement between the body and the joy of singing was a way of connecting that work to other people and the world itself. Song was one of the amazing outcomes of this process of Joy.

LW: And everybody can sing. Music is so available to us today – at the touch of a button – and yet people don’t have the opportunities to sing. Yet when you sing, the body itself becomes the instrument – the same instrument providing power to the rowing boats, mind you.

MH: Going back to the readings, you say that they are intended to focus, “on the Christian doctrine of Creation.” It is probably fair to say, this doctrine isn’t so well known among Christians today. How would you begin to explain the doctrine of Creation to folks who don’t know much about it?
MRW: Okay, so describe the Universe and give two or three examples?

[Laughter}

 

Everything that is – nothing has to be! Yet we take it all so much for granted. The world is simply poured out in a continual lot of unexpected gifts to us.

 

LW: A central idea to start with is the contingency of Creation. That is a sort of philosophical word; a better theological word is GIFT. Everything that is – nothing has to be! Yet we take it all so much for granted. An experience such as this course puts us in touch with the contingent nature of Creation – it doesn’t come out of necessity. The world is simply poured out in a continual lot of unexpected gifts to us. But we normally pass right by that and forget the fundamental question: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is going on here anyway?

MH: And we get to experience that ‘gift’ of Creation best by being on a boat?

LW: Yes, and yet another dimension is the astonishment of our own consciousness of it all. Animals experience Creation, no doubt, but we seem unique in the ability to really reflect on it, to draw it up into art, to study it in science, to make with it a means of worship – of thanking God for everything that is and offering it back up to Him.

MRW: We come to see Creation as a whole long process in which God has been working with deep love and joy to create something that is very good. That God has been working through all of that essentially towards the Incarnation – the central act of God coming to dwell with all he has made. That is symbolized but more, made real to us really, in the bread and wine – that God has come to dwell with us. We want to really get that message across – God has come to dwell with us – and not just get a message across but live that out with our students in this course.

 

That God has been working through all of that essentially towards the Incarnation – the central act of God coming to dwell with all he has made. We want to really get that message across – God has come to dwell with us.

 

MH: You look quite soberly in this course at the state of the planet. If we were going to give a report card to the health of the planet which sustains us how would it do?

LW: There is such an implicit contrast on the course. What we are experiencing is largely nature undisturbed. We see healthy ecosystems along the shore, healthy forests, we experience the ancient cycles of weather and tides in ways that folks rarely do. We all get the sense that things are exactly as they should be. We read Psalm 104 which goes through this wonderful liturgy of Creation and being on the boats it is like we are right there – things are just as they should be.

MH: What is the problem then?

LW: Well it isn’t the whole picture. Especially where we camp, on the south end of Saturna Island for a few days, we are facing south towards the straight of Georgia – the waterway which is the main connection between western Canada and China. SO every half hour there is this sort of rumble and here, going one direction or the other, is a tanker or container ship rumbling through taking Canadian resources to China or bringing cheap goods back. So in this marvelous setting with the alpenglow coming off Mt. Baker to the South and everything being well you have these 1000-foot container ships taking cheap consumer goods into Vancouver.

MRW: Yet even in Psalm 104 you have “there the ships go to and fro…”

LW: Yes, so even there, this is acknowledged… Yet we are now approaching a real crisis situation and one of the more concerned elements of this is new even since we began the course – the acidification of our oceans. This has not had much of a noticeable effect – even here on our coasts – and yet we are only just now discovering it. So just as we are learning of the marvelous intertidal life among us, we also know just how deeply that is all threatened. All that symbolized very clearly to us in these massive container ships running by every 30 minutes.

 

MH: It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the state of the planet. I can imagine many students being upset about the state of things. What gives you hope?

LW: The answer it seems is the experience itself – of being outdoors, in the natural world, spending those weeks together – it is just a profound reminder that we are the recipients of this great Gift from God in the world. “It is Good.” We all go back with some dread and disappointment no doubt, hearing the bad news. And yet it comes in the midst of experiencing and hearing just how wonderful life is – it is all unnecessary, all a sheer gift.

MH: And you eat well.

LW: Yes, that is one reason we try to cook very good food out there, for example. Food is a daily gift of Creation – we are all the recipients of such an amazing gift. So in some ways one this bad news is being encountered in the midst of this huge physical sensuous experience of good news. Life is good news! It overarches the bad news, it always does. That is the Christian story, after all.

 

Wilkinsons.Food

MRW: We must carry that good news in the midst of the bad. So we like to emphasize what Wendell Berry says, “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

LW: Yes and then, “Practice Resurrection.” That is our message.

 

“Practice Resurrection.” That is our message.

 

M: What might you say to University students who are interested in these issues and want to know what they can do about it?

L: They should be sure to take a walk in the natural world everyday if at all possible. Just get out and experience Creation everyday.

CommunionMR: One of our favorite places on this whole trip is the southern end of Saturna Island, looking out over the ocean and the sandy beach there. You stand on this little point looking out to the islands to the south and there is such a sense of God’s blessing and the gift of it all. We have a picture of an altar created by students and we share communion together there at the end of the course. It is a profound thing to share this sacrament – it pulls together the whole time of the course, all that we have learned and discovered in one another. It has been a very special place for us.

M: So your study of “wilderness, technology, and Creation” ends in Communion; why?

L: In the first instance, eating is the most obvious and regular way in which we interact with the rest of the created world – we are sustained by it, by eating it. So that’s very good news for those of us doing the eating and can appear very bad news for the thing being eaten. There is a real sense in which our life is sustained at a cost – we see this in our daily eating, if we pause long enough to reflect upon it, and we see this in the Eucharist. So in the Communion meal we experience most vividly through the ordinary everyday experience of ingesting, of taking in the gifts of Creation, that deeper more profound sense that God in His love has made all this life possible. This through giving Himself in Christ, but also through the giving of Himself in the gifts of Creation – the bread and wine are essential elements to our existence.

 

God in His love has made all this life possible. This through giving Himself in Christ, but also through the giving of Himself in the gifts of Creation – the bread and wine are essential elements to our existence.

 


Matt Humphrey Matt Humphrey works to integrate the life of faith with the practices of caring for Creation. Since finishing graduate studies in theology at Regent College, Matt and his wife Roxy have served to direct the internship program at A Rocha Canada in Surrey, B.C. Matt also teaches in Churches, Colleges, and Community settings. Some of Matt's favorite things include the Scripture, good conversations, the changing seasons, bluegrass music, and spending time outside with his wife and two children. Learn more about the work of A Rocha around the world at www.arocha.org and follow matt on twitter: @mwhumphrey
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11 Responses to “Loren and Mary-Ruth Wilkinson || A Unitive Interview”

  1. Joshua Chestnut Joshua Chestnut says:

    Matt,

    Thanks so much for writing this up. It was great to hear such familiar words of wisdom again from such ‘deeply good’ people and friends.

    That, and I also love that you put a picture with me in there!

    Really great stuff!

    -jwc

    • Matt Humphrey says:

      Thanks, Josh. It was a treat to interview them and to be reminded of just how much I have learned from them over the years. This was just an excerpt of the interview. The full thing will be posted to the Marketplace website shortly. Will post a link up here when it is.

      Blessings,

      Matt

  2. Matt, amazing post! I liked the way technology was discussed. Many people think it is bad but we need to find ways to use it wisely as everything in life. I also agree that creation gives us so many unexpected gifts for example HOPE! THis is what I wrote about few weeks ago at http://paulorbrito.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/hope-in-the-unexpected . God bless you, Paulo

    • Matt Humphrey says:

      Greetings Paulo! Great to connect with you and glad you liked the post. Yes I think you are right that our understanding of technology as “bad” needs a bit more nuance… that is precisely what the Wilkinsons are working towards and why I was so keen to interview them for this post. Thanks for sharing your blog post – looks like there is some great content up there. Keep up the good work!

      If you’re ever up in B.C. come see us at the new ARC property at Brooksdale!

      Blessings,

      Matt

  3. Valuable info. Fortunate me I discovered your web site unintentionally, and I’m stunned why this accident didn’t happened in advance!
    I bookmarked it.

  4. Kristin Dunnan says:

    I accidentally happened upon your article this morning. I took this class in 1996 while pregnant with my first daughter. I love the photos you included…what a gorgeous boat…breathtaking!

    I have thought back to that class more than just about any others I have taken. Your interview sums it all up so beautifully. I am eager to share it, especially with my daughter, who is now in college, and missed out on all but the rocking of the boat. I am grateful to revisit these ideas so well expressed; I didn’t expect this ‘little’ blessing today!

  5. Gert says:

    Hey, that’s the grteeast! So with ll this brain power AWHFY?

  6. Nelle says:

    I actually found this more enreitatning than James Joyce.

  7. Danke für die Tipps, hab nun den avblock 3. grades auch gesehen! sehr eindrucksvoll, wie sieht die klinik aus ?VN:F [1.9.20_1166](from 0 votes)

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