Snapping Turtles

I hope you had a refreshing weekend.  I did, though I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about Chelydra serpentina, the common snapping turtle, which is found throughout the ponds and lakes of the Midwest.  My family first learned about them from a neighbor who had to remove a number of them from his lake because they were killing ducklings and cygnets (baby swans) by the droves. They removed 20 large snapping turtles, several of which weighed more than 25lbs.  That will make you think twice before swimming in a lake.

My first encounter with one surprised me.  While the turtle moved ponderously across the road, it had a startling quick snap when I poked it with a stick, so much so that it sent me stumbling backwards as my daughters had a good laugh. I have found myself thinking a lot about this encounter as I reflect on our society and even my own responses to the stress and tension of the moment.  We are living in a time that urges us to draw back into our protective shells, whether it is lockdown orders or social distancing, isolationist trade policies or social media echo chambers.  This is not a critique of those policies, but I have been observing my own psychological and spiritual temperament in this context, and I have noticed that my inclinations are mirroring the larger culture: withdraw! At the same time, when provoked, I come out snapping with a shortened temper and little grace, a peevish attitude, and a tendency to assume the worst of others. I don’t think I am alone; we seem to live in a country of snapping turtles, from national politics to the local grocery store. 

Interestingly, snapping turtles don’t show up in the Bible, probably because they are only found in North America. Scripture does, however, put forward a different animal that in many ways is the antithesis of this ugly reptile: sheep.  Unlike snapping turtles, sheep are docile, gentle, and vulnerable without the protection of their master. Unfortunately, those descriptions don’t spring to mind when I think about our culture or the Church this past year. And before I become too judgmental, I have realized that I am part of the problem.  It is probably safe to say we all are. A society or the Church does not become turtle-ish without millions of individual decisions and attitudes making it so in the aggregate.

Of course, it is hard to be counter-cultural. When people in my last five interactions have been aggressive or rude to me, I go with the flow in the sixth, seventh….  The constant buzz-saw of talking heads becomes part of my conversation as I carve up someone else’s perspective. The cynicism of the last ten comments on Facebook seeps into my own posts. While this is unhealthy for our own souls, it is also not good for our communities.  We need to be wary of our community becoming a pond of snapping turtles where the weak and exposed are devoured.

I am sure we have all snapped this last year, maybe more than once. But let’s not succumb to that societal instinct and continue to work at being sheep.  The world is a better place when we are, and the Church has a beautiful testimony when she follows her master because she knows his voice (John 10:4).