Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Sea Turtle Massacre of '09

Heading home on the Cross Island Expressway was a breathtaking sight last night. It was one of those perfect nights when the road is empty and you can really appreciate the moon and its reflection on the water. Seeing the light shimmer off the Broad Creek I thought to myself, “I’m so glad to see an almost-full moon, knowing it lessens the likelihood of sea-turtle hatchlings dying as a result of attempts at romantic ambiance on the beach”. Yes. That’s seriously what I thought. After the community of Hilton Head watched in horror as dozens of sea turtles scrambled to their accidental death a few weeks ago, we’ve all probably come to a greater appreciation of how important the moonlight is.

In case you Bluffton folks missed the latest island news, a marriage proposal took a tragic turn when luminaries arranged to form a heart on the beach were left lit overnight. Dozens of baby sea turtles emerged from their nest and instinctively started scrambling in the direction of the light which they assumed to be reflecting off the water but were actually only candles stuck in the sand. None of them made it to the ocean and they died from exhaustion or at the hands—erm, claws—of snow crabs who emerged the clear winners in this story.

Regardless of how you feel about sea turtles, snow crabs, or any other aspect of the circle of life, one can imagine how pathetic it would have looked to see all those turtles scurrying away from the ocean. From our vantage, it’s obvious which is the moon and which is a paper bag, but from the turtle’s perspective it probably wasn’t so easy to tell the difference. Especially with all your newly hatched brothers and sisters also confused, it must have been easy to just go with the flow. The image got me thinking about how we often allow ourselves to be distracted in life.

The first commandment God gives the Israelites when He makes them His people is, “I the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other Gods besides me” (Exodus 20:1-2). Throughout the Old Testament, people stray from God and worship everything from power to money to a golden calf. They fear that God isn’t who He promised, and their neighbors seem to be better off from burning inscence before a pile of gold.

We can look at the Israelites and roll our eyes, wondering how dumb can you be to put your faith in a golden cow. I mean, it makes for a nice Sunday school coloring page but that doesn’t really apply to us in the present. We’re very enlightened; we know who we are and where we are headed. Or do we?

I think that to God, sometimes we look a lot like those baby turtles. God creates each one of us to be with Him forever in heaven. This world is not our home. Sooner or later we’re going to die and depending on the choices we’ve made, our soul will spend eternity in heaven or hell. The Gospel of Matthew reminds us, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:13-15).

Just like the turtles mistook the lanterns for the moon, lost track of the ocean and died following the wrong path, we can become entranced by idols in our lives and stray form our path to heaven. And it’s not always the obvious golden calf. We can get distracted by subtle things. What starts as skipping Church one Sunday for little league turns into skipping for a month cause we’re just too tired to get everyone together in the morning which turns into only going on Christmas and Easter... which turns into finding God in “nature” and wondering why our kids have taken up shaking tambourines in togas at the airport.

Maybe you think I’m exaggerating, but it’s true that once we allow our focus to stray from God, we risk never finding our way back. There are many things that compete to be gods in our lives, many things that are good and seem deserving of our attention. But we need to remember that ultimately, there is only one road that leads to heaven and one God to be followed.

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