The Anabaptist Bestiary Project was an alternative rock band of students from Bluffton College under the direction of theologian Trevor Bechtel (also an MCCN member). While a great deal of popular music focuses on jilted lovers and sexual frustration, this group sings about sloths. Also bees, sheep, mosquitoes, lions and animals you might not even have heard of.
Together, the group reflects on the things that naturalists discover about other creatures and then engages in theological reflection on the behavior and place of these creatures in the world. The result is thought provoking, richly textured and musically interesting.
Bechtel, who also gave the 2014 C. Henry Smith Peace Lecture entitled, “The Already Peaceable Kingdom,” says that Mennonite churches ought to have banners with sloths on them. Because they move so slowly and the algae that grows on their fur blends into the forest, sloths evade predators by simply being hard to see. Thus, they represent an alternative to the flight or fight strategies that trap many of us in cycles of violence.
Some of the Anabaptist Bestiary songs speak in the voices of animals. In “Colony Collapse Disorder,” bees describe their delight in finding nectar and sharing this source of life with each other. Can we really know what bees think? Perhaps not, but this act of imagination is startling in its power to turn an abstract environmental concern into empathy for the widespread collapse of honeybee hives.
Make sure to read the lyrics, available online or in the CD booklet. Some of the songs require some interpretation, and you wouldn’t want to miss a word of, say, “Elegy for Sea Turtles” in which Bechtel has set a poem by Margaret Atwood to music.