Over the long weekend, a new exhibit opened at the Indianapolis Zoo. The Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center has been eight years in the making, and the community was excited to finally meet its residents. I happened to wake up early on Saturday morning and caught the last few minutes of an interview with one of the scientists working in the center. ...I started my day out with a laugh.
Because this guy, who has spent his life working with these beautiful beasts, was trying to explain why the center looks more like something out of Andromeda Strain and less like something out of Asia (my words). What he said was something like this:
"The reason you don't see a lot of trees or a lot of forests or other natural-looking pieces of landscape in here is because these orangutans were not born in the wild. They have spent their whole lives in captivity, so this is their natural habitat."
Like I said, I started my day out with a laugh. But it got me thinking: what is my natural habitat? What is yours?
There are a lot of people in this world who are interested in telling you what your place is. Where you belong. They want to use your past to define your future. They want to use your comfort zone to put up a safety net around you. They want to keep you right where you are and tell you how good you are there. They want you to look around and recognize that you recognize everything, and start to think of right where you are as home.
There are enough among us who don't buy that logic that we can see it's not necessarily the truth.
Think about the rags to riches stories. Men and women born into poverty, who grew up with very little or nothing at all, who learned to scrimp and save and stretch pennies. Then one day, they decide they weren't made for this and they set their feet on a path to step into something better. They become wealthy, or at least well-off. Some falter, frittering it all away because they don't know how to handle it, but many more succeed. Their past in poverty giving them the discipline they need for wealth.
Think about the woman who has been abused her entire life. Who has had men using her, women hating her, and a whole world throwing punches at her face. She's heard the echoes of a world crying, "whore" but she looks in the mirror and longs to see something different. Then one day, she does and she becomes a woman who stands in the face of the world and exhibits strength, and grace, and beauty. She becomes the fighter, and she teaches others to do the same.
Think about the cancer patient, the man who has been sick for longer than anyone can remember. People even forget what he used to be like; his new habitat is the hospital. Test tubes, IVs, chemo, isolation, puke, powerlessness.... Then he stumbles upon something, even the smallest thing, that lets him remember and he knows he wasn't made for this place. He gets back to living, even while he's dying, and chooses not to have his life taken from him but rather, to give into his life, wherever it may take him.
There are so many stories of this. Of people around us, perhaps even many of us ourselves, who refuse to believe the place where we are is the place we are meant to be.
And this is no more true than in God. Quick survey: how many of you have been called by God (first calling) to be exactly where you're at? Doing exactly what you're doing? Nobody? I didn't think so.
God calls us to places that don't seem natural. Sarah, the barren, to be a mother of nations. Moses, the stutterer, to be the voice of a nation. David, the adulterer, to be the faithful king. Hosea, the prophet, to be the husband of a prostitute. Judas, the betrayer, to be a close friend. Paul, the oppressor, to be a liberator. Aidan.... You.... He's constantly calling us to the weirdest of all places.
Yet when we get there, when we take that first step, what we find is that the weirdest place is perhaps the most natural of all. It answers the nagging suspicion that we were created for something more because here is more, and it's just perfect. (Although we're still not.) I still live in awe every day that God has decided to do this with me. Because it doesn't look anything like my natural habitat. The same is true of every man, every woman I have ever met who is doing the very thing God has called them to do. When we're in that place that God has for us, we live with a humble grace that can't seem to fathom it. Because it seems so natural, but it doesn't look like it would be. It is instinct that has taken over, and instinct is something you can never get away from, no matter where you find yourself.
Which is how it came to be Saturday morning, before dawn broke, and I couldn't stop laughing at these orangutans climbing all over metal structures, deftly crossing man-made bridges, holding onto this and hanging from that and using their fingers to manipulate all of the toys in their sterile environment, all while this guy in the foreground declares, "These orangutans were born in captivity. They wouldn't know what to do with a natural habitat." Oh yes they would.
Give those primates a tree. They'll climb it. Give them a vine. They'll swing from it. Give them sticks and rocks and pine cones and watch them put their creativity to use. They know what to do with their jungle more than you give them credit for.
Just like most of us, who grew up sterile but were born to be wild.