Here is Brian McLaren’s tribute to the Steve Irwin (as first posted on Jim Wallis’ blog. Brian makes some very interesting points about Irwin’s missionary-esque love and care of God’s creation. Very interesting to think about indeed.
Within hours of the Crocodile Hunter’s death on September 4, 2006, I started receiving sympathy emails from friends who knew that I was a big fan of Steve Irwin. They knew that I am one of those strange Irwinesque people who use words like habitat and riparian and substrate, who think rattlesnakes can be beautiful, who are intrigued by spiders, who find it as interesting (though in a different way) to watch a tortoise plodding along as to watch a football game, who can’t hear a bird singing or notice a leaf in the sunlight without needing to know its name – including its scientific name if possible. They think I’m a little strange, and they think Steve was a little weird, but they wanted to express their sympathy anyway. I have nice friends.
I confess, I’ve shed a few tears thinking about Steve’s stingray-induced death at 44, about his classy wife Terry and their beautiful kids Bindi and Rob; about what they’ll miss, and what we’ll all miss.
I know this might sound strange, but I think the man was a kind of missionary. He knew why he was put here on this planet; he knew his mission, and he knew it was more than a job. It was a vocation, a truly spiritual calling, an invitation and solemn duty to join in the care of God’s sacred creation.
What characterized Steve’s mission? Saving love – and especially for the creatures that are often misunderstood, despised and hated – crocs, sharks, snakes, spiders, and their kin.
Saving love, I’ve noticed, is at the heart of most good things in the world – musicians with a saving love for an almost forgotten genre of music, archeologists with a saving love for the artifacts of ancient civilizations, citizens with a saving love for their city, doctors with saving love for at-risk patients, teachers with saving love for at-risk students, social workers with saving love for at-risk families, pastors with saving love for at-risk sinners.
There seems to be a clue there, perhaps even a revelation, that saving love is in the heart of everything. Steve’s saving love was for wildlife, and based on the words of Jesus – about God’s care for sparrow and wildflower – in Steve’s consuming passion his heart was resonating with God’s own.
He had a zealot’s passion for saving wildlife, and he had a childlike freedom to let his passion show. Somehow, he managed to grow up without ever outgrowing the unabashed wonder and unedited enthusiasm that all of us probably had at one time.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Steve as missionary tonight (a re-run was on TV, and I couldn’t help but watch it, even though I’ve seen it about four or five times before). I was struck in a new way by how Steve took the high road, the positive road. He didn’t spend a lot of time attacking multinational corporations and the way they plunder the environment (as I do). You didn’t hear him fuming about clueless governments with whacked-out priorities (as I do), or ranting against complacent publics (ditto), or whining about what’s gone wrong with modern western culture (repeat ditto). Maybe in private he vented sometimes, but not in public.
Instead of damning the sinful ugliness of humans who lack saving love, he chose a different strategy, a better one, I think: he simply, consistently, passionately, and naively demonstrated saving love by praising the beauty of God’s creatures – confident that he could inspire that saving love in others if they could just see the beauty too. He called himself “a wildlife warrior,” but his only weapons were enthusiasm and love. I think all of us – whatever our mission – could learn a lot from him. (The previous point was understated, but you probably already noticed that.)
In our saving love for children (unborn and born), in our saving love for cities and farmland, in our saving love for justice and peace and the oppressed and the war-ravaged, we have to remember the irreplaceable value of celebrating their beauty with Irwinesque wide eyes and face-breaking smiles.
I don’t recall Steve speaking of God much. But every time he said, “Isn’t that a little beauty!” I think he was speaking for God, the One who notices and loves the smallest goodness of every created thing. The look on his face when he sat with an orangutan or swam with a green sea turtle or let a lizard perch on his finger – that look in itself was a sign and a wonder. Sure, some people think he was over the top, but with millions of other fans, I miss him, and with them, I’m inspired to live life a little – no, a lot – louder and freer because of him … playing my own unique part in the sacred mission of saving love. Rest in peace, Steve-o. Well done.
Brian McLaren is an author (brianmclaren.net), most recently of The Secret Message of Jesus, and leader in emergent (emergentvillage.com). He is also board chair for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.