Taking Intersectionality Underground

– Andy Wade –

morel mushroomLast week I explored intersectionality from the perspective of how we see life and how, by not paying attention to the multitude of influences on our lives and communities, we can easily move to ideas and “solutions” which only make a situation worse. Today I want to go underground.

If you know me on Facebook you know that I enjoy hunting wild mushrooms. I’m fascinated by these mysterious micological miracles and the more I learn about them the more I’m left in awe. Here are a few fun facts (some of these are contained in video 2 below):

  • The largest organism in the world is only one cell wall thick and covers 2,400 acres (9.7 km2 – that’s 1,665 football fields!) in Eastern Oregon’s John Day Wilderness – it’s a mycelium mat that’s 2,200 years old (this one’s the honey mushroom)!tokyo.subway
  • One cubic inch of soil can contain over 8 miles (12.87km) of mycelium.
  • Japanese scientists did an experiment to see if slime mold could design a more efficient subway system in Tokyo (right) and discovered that they could!
  • Turkey Tail mushrooms have been proven to dramatically increase the immune system and survivability among breast cancer patients.
  • It’s very likely that trees and other forest plants would not survive without the nutrient exchange made possible by mycelium in the forest floor. (video 1 below).

I bring this up because right under our feet is an entire inter-connected world that makes life possible. This is a world with multiple layers of communication and exchange that we’re only now discovering (but integral to the complex First-Nations’ belief system). I’m fascinated by all this because there is so much to learn about how God chose to create in a manner which requires interdependence. We are created in the image of God but also from the dust of the earth. Whether we recognize it or not, we have deep, life-sustaining relationships with everything around us. As Dr. Simard says in the video (1) below:

I feel when I’m walking through the forest that I’m gliding past an iceberg because what I’m seeing is just the tip of what’s going on… in a lot of ecosystems over 2/3 of what you see is actually underground.

Our modern approaches to farming/gardening, industrial production, community planning, and even our churches, has been significantly influenced by the idea that life can be separated, analyzed, exploited, and reassembled as individual parts. We’re discovering the disastrous effects of assuming minerals can be extracted at will without affecting the environment around it. We’re reaping environmental and health consequences of viewing food as a commodity and farming as simply a system of inputs and outputs. And we’re suffering from years of attempting to separate and analyze inner faith and outward praxis as if they are stand-alone parts rather than inseparable facets of the whole person in whole communities living, breathing, and expressing the fullness of God.

We need the reminder the rest of creation has to offer. We are not stand-alone parts. In many ways we’re not even “individuals” since even my body is a massive community of microbes, spores, enzymes, and bacteria working together for mutual benefit.

In seminary we’re taught family systems theory to better understand the context of those coming to us for counselling. Individuals don’t stand alone but are part of a broader social system – the family. We can see this at work in church families as well. But what if, like the forest, this is only looking at what is above the ground? Within this family system is also issues of diet, exercise, and environment and so much more. As Dr. Simard says of the forest, even with our eyes wide open we only see about 1/3 of what’s actually going on.

This brings me back to the whole issue of intersectionality. As we walk through our neighborhoods and cities we need to always keep in mind:

  • What we see and think we understand is probably just the tip of the iceberg of what’s actually going on.
  • There are connections and inter-relationships all around us that we’re not aware of so we need to proceed slowly and with great care – eyes open, ears open, and relationships broad and deep into the community.
  • God is doing more than we can ask or even imagine (Eph. 3:20). This is true in our neighborhood and in the lives of each and everyone there. This means that God’s “agenda” is bigger than ours and we get in God’s way when we forget that we are just one thread in an intricate and delicate pattern being woven together.

What’s your experience with intersectionality? How does this idea shape/re-shape how you approach your fellowship and local community?

The videos below are long, but fascinating. You will be glad you took time to watch them!

What Plants Talk About (53 minutes)

The Future is Fungi – Paul Stamets (1.5 hours)