Sluggish Faith: Act Two

Recall act one from the last post. Woman walking to work. Finds slug. Pokes it with a stick. Lessons learned about noticing connections, full-bodied faith, and hanging on. Sluggish faith clings on.

Act two. The camera pulls back on the scene. Act one was the close-up. The focus was drawn close, an intimate portrait of woman and slug. Act two is the wide-angle lens with the sidewalk and the buildings – and the other city dwellers.

Consider how long it took me to notice these slimy slugs, to wander in the grass for a stick, to squat down, to wait as the creature crawled on and then to sit as it clung to my sidewalk intervention.

Let’s say it was long enough for others to notice.

That’s the thing about urban nature. Getting involved with it is one part paying attention and one part noticing connections. But, it is equally one part performance, one part witness, and one part invitation.

Other urban nature folks have had this experience. It’s that moment when the watcher becomes the one watched. Leonard Dubkin, a “sidewalk naturalist” born in Chicago in 1904, finds himself laying in the grass on the east side of Michigan Boulevard, near the Art Institute. It is the song of a city cricket that captured his attention. Then, the song captures the attention of a female cricket, and Dubkin is drawn into the drama of cricket courtship. So drawn in, in fact, that he forgets that urban nature is one part performance, one part witness, one part invitation. He is reminded when he hears voices overhead:

“Why doesn’t somebody call an ambulance?”

“He’s probably just drunk.”

Here’s how Dubkin’s story concludes:

“‘I turn over and sat up in one swift motion, and, blinking my eyes in the sudden strong light, saw a crowd of people grouped around me in a circle. For a second no one moved, they all stared down at me as though I were a corpse that had suddenly come to life. Finally one man leaned down toward me and asked, “You all right?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I’m all right.” Then I got up hurriedly, pushed my way through the gaping crowd, and walked as quickly as I could down Michigan Boulevard, acutely conscious of the eyes that were following me, my face burning with embarrassment” (Dubkin, “Some Experiences with Insects,” 181).

If Dubkin had been watching the crickets in the grass with his daughter Pauline (which he does in The Natural History of a Yard), it’s unlikely that the scene would have drawn much notice – or that the final act would have been burning with embarrassment.

Grown ups get a pass when they watch and discover nature with a kid. It’s like a permission slip for exploring.

As I watched my slug cling to a stick, another grown up paused, grinned, and continued on. One part performance, one part witness, one part invitation.

It’s a performance, a public act of watching, full-bodied, sluggish faith on display, but as a means to redirect the gaze. It’s a witness to the infinite that hides in the finite nature that surrounds us. And, it’s an implicit, unspoken invitation to join in. I’d like to close by making that invitation explicit.

I’ve been trying to figure out what the tagline for this website means. Flocking the system. My sister is the creative genius behind this one, and you should have seen the string of text messages that surrounded its creation…

We knew it was the right one, but I’m still trying to articulate the meaning. The lessons from the slug give a hint. Flocking the system is in part about taking your grown up body outside and paying attention, seeing patterns, being astonished, and telling others. In the city, naturing is a full-bodied, community-building activity. Or, it can be. And, I suspect it can be in other places, too.

Sluggish Faith: Act Two calls out the nested and networked ways that nature in the city connects me, my stick, and the slug to the soil, the grass, the sidewalk, and the neighbor. Everyone is implicated, connected, and networked in.

That means you, slugger.

You, too, have to come out slugging.

This has to be the end; I’m totally out of slug puns.

The important thing is that flocking the system needs your voice, your full-bodied sluggish faith as part of the witness.

That means you get to pen the next part. Sluggish Faith: Act Three is for you to write. What’s your story? Who will you tell?


photo courtesy of Sarah K. Allen Potemkin via Flickr


Thanks to everyone at Gettysburg Seminary for the opportunity to share some “Sluggish Faith” with you at this year’s 2016 Spring Academy!

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