Recently I visited the Blue Penguin Colony in Oamaru. Having been ushered through the Visitor Centre 50 of us gathered in a little grandstand to wait and to watch - and to listen to an expert tell us about the blue penguin. She knew her stuff! She described what the blue penguin looked like and how they lived. Just 30cm tall! They spend each night in their little hobbiton up a slope and then in the morning they waddle down to the ocean and disappear for up to 50kms of swimming and as many as 1000 dives for food. Then each night they return, gathering out from the shore in clusters, before surfing in on the waves together and waddling back up to hobbiton for the night.
How clever is that?! And so there we were, peering into this thickening twilight waiting for these surfies to arrive. How silly we must have looked! But out of that great big expanse of dark ocean they surfed on in and waddled on up. We were, as the brochure expresses it, 'captivated by nature'.
Just one day earlier I had been chatting with a young woman who had been selected for the Peer Sexuality Support Programme (PSSP) in her high school. Three days of training and a very thick workbook later, we were having a chat. They knew their stuff! They described what the issues of sexuality are today and how the body and the law and the relationships and the helplines work. It is all in that workbook: from body image to contraception, from anatomical detail to HIV/AIDS, from sexual orientations to shaping values, from cultural issues to gender issues, from eating disorders to sexually transmitted infections, from sexual abuses and coercions to abortions and adoptions ...
How clever are these people? It just goes on and on and on. How sad I felt! An ache-y, throbby kind of sadness. Has our society slid so far that someone somewhere now feels that teenagers need to know about all this in such graphic detail?
Penguins and Sexuality. What do these two experiences on consecutive days have in common? Both demonstrate the upsides and downsides of science. The upside of science tends to be that it answers the what and the how questions fully. It is about description and about process. The downside of science is that when it infiltrates penguin colonies and sexuality programmes and fully answers the whats and the hows it really believes - and I emphasise the non-scientific word 'believe' here - it really believes that the task is finished. Explanation is complete.
It isn't. Followers of Jesus cannot accept this. What and How is never the full story. Science does not tend to be wrong as much as it tends to be incomplete. There is also a Who and a Why. No one volunteers this information - but behind those penguins and that sexuality there is a person and a purpose.
There is something sillier than peering into the darkness looking for surfing penguins. It is the silliness of worshipping the penguin, rather than worshipping the penguin's creator.
There is a something sadder than working through a workbook crammed with all the problems associated with teenage sexuality. It is the sadness of recognising that if we followed the maker's instructions it could all be said on a single page.
Penguins and Sex have this in common: they are the designs of a creator who longs for us to ask our whats and hows - but then to frame our responses with wonder and worship.