|God & Nature Magazine||
Learning lessons from Nature: A conversation with Corina newsome
By Ciara Reyes
For Corina Newsome, Ambassador Animal Keeper at the Nashville Zoo, nature has something to teach us about the importance of diversity and loving our neighbors, from the molecular level all the way up to the level of the organism and beyond.
Corina has a B.A. in Zoo and Wildlife biology from Malone University, and previously worked at the Philadelphia Zoo and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo before starting her current position. She is actively involved in science outreach, serving as a steering committee member for the Young Evangelicals for Climate Change and starting a program at the Nashville Zoo geared towards providing on-site learning experiences for low-income high school students.
Growing up in a large urban city like Philadelphia, her interactions with nature and wildlife were limited. It wasn’t until her first internship at a Zoo and a college course in Ornithology (where she learned that there were 10,000 known species of birds), that she found herself fascinated by the sheer amount of diversity that existed within a single organism and intrigued by the nature and wildlife that had been around her all along, even within her urban hometown.
For Corina,“wild spaces - the plants, animals, and water - the materials that God has fashioned this earth with to provide for us, (are) a reflection of his hospitality. I look at it as a reflection of him preparing something for us and asking us to maintain it.” Corina connects this ethic of responsibility to care for and maintain the environment to the the Biblical principle of loving our neighbors and social justice.
“If I’m living carelessly in regards to the natural space around me, whether its what I do with my trash, how often I leave the water running, how often I leave the lights on - things that are consuming resources or creating waste in any capacity - the waste may leave my space but it goes into someone else’s space, and because of that (my action or inaction) imposes on their well-being - it becomes a social justice issue.” Unfortunately, an ecological application of love for neighbor is something that Corina believes is under explored in churches.
Perhaps, it is challenging to know exactly what constitutes a neighbor, or what actions have the potential to negatively impact others around us - one may find themselves like the expert in the law who approached Jesus asking, “And who is my neighbor?” For Corina, “loving our neighbor (people) requires us to tend/steward "the garden," because the garden (earth) is home to all of us, The combination of all of our wasteful, destructive behaviors that impact the environment, necessarily impacts the livelihoods of people around the world--and it impacts the vulnerable most immediately and intensely. Loving my neighbors has to be reflected in the way I interact with creation. Even though I’m not in direct contact with (everyone around me) I am in contact with nature, which is in contact with them…its all connected that way.”
If one extended neighbor status to wildlife as well, birds would arguably be one of Corina’s favorite. She is especially interested in the impacts of human expansion and habitat modifications in areas where birds migrate through. “Stop over sites are places where birds catch a meal or nap as they’re migrating thousands of miles to their wintering site down south. I am very interested in studying how we can maximize protected areas in urban settings, or in areas where there have been a lot of modifications, to be most hospitable and preferred by migratory bird species…so we don’t see them die out,” Corina shared. Her passion for protecting migratory bird species resonates deeply with the moral of the parable of the Good Samaritan, that love of neighbor involves showing mercy and compassion on the vulnerable. Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” to which the expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
While the natural world, operated by natural laws can be quite merciless in operation - a direct contrast to love for neighbor theology - Corina believes that it still holds important lessons for the church to consider. In nature, “at a molecular level, a genetic level, homogeny can be dangerous…if everyone is the same (in a population) that species is at risk because they’re more susceptible to being wiped out by a single disease or trigger they’re vulnerable to, but if you have this richness of diversity, you are much more robust.”
When considering the potential applications for church communities, Corina affirms the value of drawing on diverse experiences and perspectives to solve problems within or around us:
“In order (for the church) to be the most robust, the strongest, and the most powerful group of people (they) can be, locally or at a global scale…(it must have) the presence of diversity of experience - diverse cultures, ethnicities, individuals from different socioeconomic statuses and all kinds of demographic identifiers. If you have everyone offering opinions from the same perspectives, there’s a good chance you’ll miss the answer to the problem, but if you have a diverse (group of) people offering perspectives and ideas and answers from a variety of different backgrounds, there’s a much better chance you’ll come across the answer to whatever problem you’re looking to solve.”
Zoos understand the importance of diversity in nature and therefore work to protect and preserve species that are threatened, endangered or likely to become extinct. Zoos also function as important educational facilities - they help introduce the general public to wildlife they may never have seen or noticed otherwise because “being able to see with your own eyes is very important to even beginning to care, and therefore make behavior changes on their behalf in our every day lives” says Corina.
It is this act of observation, of seeing what is around us or being taught how to see what was there all along in nature, that Corina calls an act of worship: “Looking closely adds another dimension to our understanding and appreciation and worship of God.”
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it was the unnamed Samaritan who, “saw (the robbed and injured man), (and) had compassion on him.” May we “Go and do likewise,” in our relationships with those around us.
Corina Newsome works as an Ambassador Animal Keeper at the Nashville Zoo, where she specializes in animal training, environmental education, and outreach.
Reaching beyond her vocation as a keeper, Corina takes advantage of every opportunity to get city kids connected with wildlife. She recently developed the Pathway to Animal Care Careers program at Nashville Zoo, and serves as the director of the Malone University Wildlife Careers Program, both of which provide career exposure to low-income area high school students. Corina earned her Bachelor of Arts in Zoo and Wildlife Biology from Malone University in 2015.