Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Gospel and the Environment, Part II

Having offered a brief critique of aspects of the green movement, I want to be clear that I am not chastising the entire movement. Rather, I have been chastised by it! These 2 posts are an attempt for me to communicate, and as a verbal processer, even better understand my own thinking on this journey from apathetic exploiter to steward.

I have not been moved by a simple desire to conform to the current culture, nor by the discovery of an 11th commandment, but by a deep conviction that the good-news that Jesus proclaimed offers real hope, even a better hope (than a simply pragmatic "let's do it because it's better for us in the long term" approach) to our relationship with the physical world.

This conviction starts with the reality that the ecological crisis we face today (even apart from global climate change) results almost exclusively from human ignorance and greedy exploitation. It is clear that our minds and ultimately our hearts have been the problem. In Pollution and the Death of Man, Francis Schaeffer succinctly states that in treating the land properly we have to make choices in 2 areas: time and money. I know that my heart is inclined to always try to do more in less time and with less money. Earth friendly practices usually require more than I am willing to give.

From a Biblical perspective, this directly results from The Fall and our broken relationship with our Creator. He created us and tasked us with the stewardship of the physical world. When Adam and Eve disobeyed the one command God had given them, they not only experienced brokenness in their relationship with their Maker, but also in every relationship, including their relationship to the physical world. Whether you take Genesis 1- 3 to be historical narrative or not, the themes conveyed are clear: We were made to walk in perfect communion with God, one another and the created world. Our self-centered disobedience broke that communion.

The good-news of Jesus is that he is restoring the relationships that have been broken by the fall. By dealing directly with the effects of our self-centered disobedience, he restores us to a right relationship with our Creator. In doing that, he unites all his followers into one body and brings them into right relationships...loving and truthful relationships with one other. And what has the most bearing in this discussion is that once we've been brought into a right relationship with our Creator, we can be in right relationship to the physical world that he made.

Again, Schaeffer is helpful here when he describes that people in proper relationship to their Creator have ceased trying to exalt themselves over the creation. From a Biblical perspective, we are unlike the rest of creation in that we alone, of all the creatures, have been made in God's image and are thus able to relate to Him in a personal way. But from that same Biblical perspective, we are also like the rest of creation in that we too are created and are not God. This has helped me think about my connection to the trees and the birds in our yard. They are in one sense my brothers and sisters, for like them, I have been created.

But I am not simply a part of the creation. I am also created in God's image. That is why dominion and stewardship are given to us. We can have a relationship with our Creator, and as we know Him, we can properly exercise stewardship and dominion over His creation. Lynn White, in the article i referenced in the last post, justifiably points out that the Church historically has not exercised proper stewardship, but has tended to exploit (a self-centered dominion) the physical world. Unfortunately, we as followers of Christ do not always properly know our God or His call on our lives.

This was my story for the first 13 years of my life as a Christian. I was ignorant of the negative influence my decissions had upon the environment around me. I viewed calls to eco-conscious living with suspicion and even contempt, erroneously thinking that it was just an agenda to get Democrats elected or a "misplaced" desire to save the world. (I have since stopped listening to the Republican pundits and paying more attention to the value in both parties.) Those were my surface reasons. But underneath, I just didn't want to take the time or spend the money. Part of me still doesn't. Life seems easier if we just do what is convenient. Only in the last couple years, as i've interacted more with the green movement, have I begun to realize that the environment is something that I should care about because I care about the Creator.

It's crystal clear now. I mentioned at the top of this post that my desire to live a more environmentally friendly life doesn't come from a new 11th commandment. It actually comes from the one about loving God. John Stott, in The Care of Creation, says "God intends...our care of the creation to reflect our love for the Creator." This is what i mean by having a transcendent ethic for green living. Pragmatism eventually breaks down because we need a reason bigger than ourselves to live for something besides ourselves. Being rightly related to the Creator, and caring for the physical world as His creation provides the "meaningful underpinning" Missy referred to in a recent comment. All created things have intrinsic value because God made them. So now, myself and my family are taking small steps.

We are beginning to made decisions that we think would honor the Creator. We recycle more consistently, not primarily to preserve the earth for ourselves or our grandchildren, but because we live before the Creator who calls us to honor him by caring for His creation. We are planting a vegetable garden this summer. I want to grow and care for these vegetables in eco-friendly ways in part because I think that is better for my family, but largely because that garden belongs to God, not me.

Think of it like this. If a good friend of yours asks you to house-sit their mansion on the hill, would you finger paint the walls, dump your trash in their dining room, shit in the bathtub, and burn their couches in the fireplace because they produce a nice green flame? If you didn't like the person, you probably would. If you didn't really know the person, you might. But because you love the person and know they love you, you wouldn't dream of it. God has called us to "house-sit" his creation. And since Christ has restored us to a right relationship with him, one where we love Him because He first loved us, we want to care well for his creation.

That is the hope that I believe the gospel uniquely provides. It doesn't just give good reasons to take care of the creation. It doesn't tell me that it's better for me, or my children or my country. It doesn't tell me to do it so that God will love me. It tells me how to be forgiven and to experience the love God already has for me. It restores me to a relationship with my Creator and it's that relationship that changes my heart and motivates me to care for His creation.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Brief Aside

Okay, so prompted by several comments, i wanted to mention an idea I've been chewing on. Like Amy and Missy, I've been more aware of the amount of waste we produce. We recycle, as do most folks on our street and that's wonderful. But everyone of us fills up the large city issue trash cans each week.

I think that if there were no landfill, and each person had to keep their garbage on their own property (much like it would've been in the not too distant past) we would all be a lot more sensitive about the waste we produce. But as it is now, I'm basically throwing my trash into someone else's backyard. Out of sight, out of mind.

Practically speaking, i think landfills are a necessity. I just don't see any practical way around them. But I think the city could do a better job of making us aware of the impact of our waste. They can't make me keep it in my back yard, but they can hit me in my wallet. We already pay a flat fee for trash removal. Why not charge us per pound of trash? The city already uses a mechanical arm to lift the trash into the truck. I don't think it would be too hard to add a mechanism to weigh the refuse and a computer to track the address.

Now, I'm generally not for motivating people in this manner. In fact it's a little self-centered and pragmatic. I would prefer that my heart be persuaded more by faith and conviction than by a little greed. But when we talk about instituting policies that govern a society, I'm all for a little prudent manipulation.

Think about it. If you new you could reduce your trash bill $10 a month by composting, recycling more and by buying products that used less packaging, wouldn't you?
I find it hard to believe that such a simple idea hasn't been proposed and even implemented in other communities. Please tell me if it has and how it has fared.

Still working on Part II

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Gospel and the Environment, Part I

My dear wife introduced me to you a few weeks ago. I've been hiding ever since and have finished this blog post after an appropriate bribe, and in a desire to prepare for a panel discussion I'll be participating in this coming Thursday.

Over the last 5 years, we've grown to appreciate the passions of our city and university. Some we do not want to share, but many are passions we are growing to appreciate and even embrace. One in particular is eco-conscious living. In the midst of a country that has gone green, it has been hard to not breathe in the purified air.

While we have been motivated largely by a growing conviction that we are stewards of the physical world, I have begun to ask 2 questions in particular about this green brigade we seem to be joining.

Are there assumptions and motivations that the popular eco-conscious movement is based upon that I as a follower of Christ cannot stand upon?

And secondly: Does the Gospel offer a better paradigm from which to address the brokenness of the physical world? This question has stemmed from a larger journey in which I've developed the conviction that the gospel offers real hope for all people, communities and systems that are marred by sin.

In this post, I want to address the first question and examine the assumptions and motivations under girding the popular green movement. I do so from a humble beginning though, acknowledging that I as a follower of Christ stand with sap on my hands. I, who believe that my Father in Heaven created the world and called us to steward it for His glory, have turned a deaf ear for too long to the cries of those who could see our physical world being exploited and neglected. I am thankful that the Lord has seen fit to rebuke me through a movement that doesn't necessarily believe in Him. I also need to state that i recognize that there is justifiable blame to lay at the feet of the Church over the last Milena for the current ecological crisis.
For more on this, read the article The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis by Lynn White.

I'm going to stay away from examining the reality of the crisis. There is still much debate about the degree to which humans are creating global climate change. It's a healthy debate that I am keenly interested in. But it has no bearing on this discussion for there are many ecological "crises" that exist independently of global climate change and therefore deserve our attention.

First, i am wary of the way in which eco-consciousness has become a form of Self-Righteousness. I've heard of too many conversations about green-living devolve into comparisons aimed at proving one's merit. "How often did you ride your bike to work this month?" "I even rinsed off the aluminum foil and recycled it." And then there is the Ford Escape commercial where the girl is ashamed to go to a party with her dad and his gas guzzling SUV. But's's a hybrid. Now this peer-conscious-teen feels okay about being seen in her dad's car. Commercials are certainly not the definitive word on our motivations, but ad agencies aren't paid to be idiots...they know what people want. We want to be seen as eco-conscious. It's become the way to sell groceries, clothes, cars and homes. I'm not faulting the green practices of the product makers, but rather this appeal to a desire that "My ass be always greener than the other guy's."

Lord knows that we, His followers don't need to add another form of self-righteousness to our significant collection.

Now, I want to take a moment to mention carbon offset companies such as TerraPass. The general idea is that this company helps you calculate your carbon footprint and balance it out through the purchase of verified carbon offsets (which is basically money that funds carbon reduction research). Intriguing idea, and I'm glad the money goes to research. But think with me about this for a minute. When I decide that I can't (or don't want to) reduce my carbon footprint any further, I buy a terra pass carbon offset so that I can fund efforts to reduce carbon emissions. I allow myself to indulge in my current lifestyle by giving money to this program. Does that sound like modern day Indulgences to anyone else? Am I being a tad harsh? Some people will not use the carbon offset programs in that manner. But many will b/c it's easier to throw money at this than change one's lifestyle. Unless you're poor. What if you don't have the money to buy a carbon offset? In many ways this sounds like a means to easing the conscience of wealthier Americans who are greener in theory than in practice.

I am not doggin' the idea of funding research. But I'm struck by the more subtle reality that this is a conscience-easing-tonic for many who are choosing to not reduce their carbon footprint further. This observation has caused me to turn the same eye to my heart and examine where I've substituted trade-offs for true obedience and creation care.

Finally, I want to speak briefly to the fundamental ethic behind much of the environmental movement today. "Why should we take care of the planet?" What response would you give? What response do you most frequently hear? The most common answer I hear is that one enjoys the world and wants to preserve it for that enjoyment, or that one wants to preserve it for another's enjoyment (usually their children's children).

I'm not a philosopher, but it seems to me that this ethic is a self-centered utilitarianism. Do I hear a "so what?" out there. Well, I hear one from myself. However, I am becoming convinced though that the problem is with the lack of real transcendence. I believe that for an ethic to remain, it must transcend human rooted to something outside of ourselves. What happens if what I enjoy becomes a real problem for someone else? What if I can preserve what I and later generations would enjoy while still exploiting other parts of the created order? What would make that wrong?

Many recognize the weakness of this foundation and so argue for a combined effort between science and religion to combat global climate change. While I do not agree with the content of his argument, E.O. Wilson illustrates this approach in his book, The Creation - An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. One long-standing synthesis of these 2 is a pantheistic approach to environmental care...a belief that all things are sacred because god, or the universal spirit is in all things. While this view does provide a transcendent ethic, it is not compatible with Jesus' teaching about the nature of God and the physical world.

So, as a follower of Christ, i am learning from those of various ideologies who have blazed the trail before me, but i do so with a self-examining eye. I want to take real responsibility as a steward and walk humbly before my Creator, not in self-righteousness and not simply for how it benefits me. My next post will look more at the hope that the gospel offers for a physical world marred by sin.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Proud Mama

Check out Justin's first "published" art!! We're proud over here and can't wait to hang it up in the house.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What Do Girly Time, Birth Control, and Family Vision Have in Common?

Do you need some more girly time in your life?
I do! Missy and I are trying to decide between the liquor store and the pawn shop so that we can have said getaway. (I linked her, showing I'm a little in denial that she's leaving the blog world.) Want to join us? Where should we go?

Birth Control. Want to hear the Catholics and the Protestants dook it out? No, seriously. Over here, you'll see a frank but very gracious conversation as we all bring our questions and thoughts to the table. Stop by and leave yours.

And lastly, I am very intrigued and excited about the possibility of creating a Family Vision Statement, as exampled here by a dear friend. I'm thankful he published his. Maybe we'll get to this after we marinate all the raw chicken I bought on sale, catch up on scrap booking, reply to some important emails from dear friends who have been buried in my inbox, catch up on sleep, etc.etc.etc.

So, after I wrote all of this, I realize now that these 3 subjects do- in actuality- relate... how interesting...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Let It Give You Chills Again

I pray these words will never become trite in my heart and mind.

I'm honored to have a brother in my Church heritage that would love Jesus enough to love his neighbor in such full, sacrificial, generous, real, Biblical, and challenging ways.

His neighbor was me and my family, which is so convicting.

But I don't stay immersed in the guilt. I let him give me hope for love... love horizontally on this earth and love vertically back and forth from Heaven. Let's allow his words to give us hope once again.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Considering Birth in America

Today I had the opportunity to see the film The Business of Being Born. It's a documentary of birth in America, produced by Ricki Lake. After some negative experiences during the birth of her first child, she began to ask lots of questions about birth and the culture of birth in America. Her research led her to "do birth" completely differently with her second child as well as to create this documentary... in the hopes of bringing to the surface these questions and challenge the status quo of birth in America. This documentary is a history of birth in our country, a collage of birth stories, interviews with obs/midwives/advocates/etc., statistics that make you think, and much more.

This film left me mourning, considering, celebrating.

I mourn that my own grandmother had an experience much like the women I learned about in the 40's. She gave birth to my mother alone (fathers such as my grandfather, a pediatrician by the way, were not allowed in the room with the mothers). She was tied to her bed... now I realize this procedure was probably done in order to "keep women and staff safe" during their encounters with drug induced Twilight Sleep. She was confused, afraid, unable to remember what was happening to her, dehumanized. During her labor experience, my grandmother was often told by the nurses to shut up if she were screaming. "Recovery" included weeks of lying flat on her back... a couple in the hospital and several out. It's a wonder anyone had more than one child and survived all the issues initiated by such an experience. I hurt for her and other women who had no other choice but to experience birth in this way.

I consider... in 50 years, what are the harmful aspects of the current birth system that will bring more such aforementioned mourning? What are the pieces of it that we have bought into as a society, the pieces our eyes are too dulled to see? What are the pieces of it that I have bought into? Lord willing, Doug and I will someday get to add to our family. How might we alter our birth choices to better suit our desires and the well being of our baby and of me?

And thankfully, I also celebrate. I celebrate that our God created women to be able to participate in one of the most glorious events ever imagined, birthing children into this world. I'm thankful that God has graced me to be one of them. I celebrate our sons and the beautiful aspects of both Justin's and Nathan's births. I thank God for the ways that those births were transformative for the intimacy I get to share with my husband.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hair Thoughts and Introducing

This is really tempting me right now. Maybe it's because I'm due a haircut. Maybe it's because I could wear all those really cute scarves and headbands. Maybe it's because I'm drawn to the philosophy. Are you tempted at all?


And introducing a guest poster...
I have invited my dear husband Doug to share with us some grass he's been chewing on the past couple months. We're blessed to work for an organization that greatly values continued learning... so he's had the opportunity to read about and ponder our stewardship of Creation from a variety of sources. Check back in the coming days for his debut post... and welcome him in his virgin blog post!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Eating Cheaply and Healthily

We are always trying to come up with new ways to eat more healthy and more cheaply. Towards that end, I just found a gold mine of blog posts about this topic. Check out this blog post and then follow the links and then follow the links from there... you can go on forever! I'm excited to sit down and really consider lots of these ideas. Those posts run laps around my following dinky ideas.

Here are some ways we save money at the grocery store:

We play the Grocery Game. Using this service, today I bought Smuckers Jelly for .30, Pam Olive Oil Cooking Spray for .80, and 1 lb of fresh Tyson boneless skinless chicken breasts for .98, Russell Stover Private Reserve dark chocolate for.50 (a girl's gotta splurge), and Peter Pan Peanut Butter 18 oz for free. The GG philosophy is to load up on food items when they are at their lowest price, never buy at regular price unless you have to, etc. This service costs about $1.25/week and they match coupons with local sales. It's not a perfect system but we've saved lots of money and learned a lot about shopping cheaply. And I only have to shop at one store, the grocery store down the street.

Doug dug (I just had to type that) out a space for our new garden. We plan to plant yellow squash, zucchini squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, melons, lettuce, carrots, and probably some herbs. We plan to save lots of money at the store during harvest time... and I plan to freeze and (learn how to) can so we can benefit from the harvest for months to come. This summer, I'll get back to you about how cost effective this was.

The only beverages we buy are milk (albeit it organic for the boys) and orange juice... of which we only drink a small amount with breakfast. Oh yeah, and we do splurge on free trade organic coffee and the occasional bottle of wine. We don't purchase any other juices or sodas.

We try to reserve desserts for really yummy homemade ones and go without at other times.

We sold our 3rd son in order to purchase a Vita Mix (sorry we hadn't mentioned him to you; we didn't want you to bond with each other). We've more than gotten our money back on making Nathan's baby food alone... not to mention all the smoothies, soups, chopping, etc. Instead getting back our 3rd son with the money, we're reinvesting in seeds for the new garden.

The last few months, we've cut eating out down to a family trip to Chic Filet or for a pizza once/month. If Doug and I go out on a date (we mostly "date" at home these days because we're lazy, it's more comfy, it's easier with the kids, and cheaper), we just make it a coffee and dessert or wine/hors devours time.

I've stopped buying convenient snack food like granola bars. I used to think I "needed" those things around for those busy, hungry moments. How ridiculous... if I'm that hungry, then maybe I should take the time to make something more substantial. But actually, I can probably simply wait for the next meal.

We try to eat meat at dinner only 4ish times/week. Other meals, we have meals that include eggs or beans.

We invested in a separate freezer last year so that we can stock pile items when they were at their lowest cost... like meat, veggies, virtually anything really. I've adopted the thought "if I'm going to take the time to cook, then I'm going to cook a lot!" If I decide to make my banana bread, I make 4 loaves and throw them in the freezer. I do the same with large quantities of soup, chili, cake, pies, etc. I'm slowly that you can freeze virtually anything. When we have a busy afternoon or hit a season when we're all sick and we don't feel like cooking, I can run to the freezer to save the day and not run out for a quick (and expensive and unhealthy) meal.

It takes more time and energy to save money at the grocery store... but I get motivated so that our family can eat more healthily, eat more enjoyably, spend that money on other more important things, give more money away, and save more money.

I would love to hear what you do to help save money in the food department!

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Big Boy

Today was a really big day in our home. Today Justin transitioned from crib to big boy bed. I feel quite full of that teary type of joy.

A little background... we just returned from a trip see my mom "aka Beep Beep" while Doug was at a conference. Beep Beep often rides on a train to visit my brother in northern Virginia. Justin gets very excited about any form of transportation... so he often asks to ride with her one day. Beep Beep would reply "when you're bigger, you can ride the train with me." And Justin would reply "I'm getting bigger soon!"

Meanwhile, Beep Beep's city decided to build a whole commuter train system. She planned a trip on the train downtown for lunch during our visit. While approaching the train Justin exclaimed, "I'm a big boy now!"... connecting riding a train with being a big boy... even though we were referring to the big Amtrak kind of train.. but anyway, we went with it. "You are a big boy!"

Justin loves his crib in many ways. It's literally hard to get him out of it in the morning and after nap time... he loves it. Whenever we brought up the idea of a big boy bed, he would say that he liked his bed. All along we had surmised we would wait until he was closer to 3- just a few months from now- for this transition for so many reasons. However, because of his high amount of crib attachment, we figured we should strike while the iron was hot.

With much conversation and excitement, our family traversed on foot to the very local bed and furniture store- literally 2 blocks away. It was worth the extra $30 we spent for this romantic experience in our neighborhood. With Nathan in my ergo and Justin at the front of our little group, we entered the store. When Mr. Fred, the owner, approached us, Justin told him himself that he needed a big boy bed (just the mattress and bunky board, really). Thus started my day with that teary kind of joy.

We made a huge tado about it... well, it IS a big deal ya know!? When we returned, Justin helped Doug put his bed together... Doug with his real screws and screwdriver, Justin with his. We talked about how the mattress came from Mr. Fred the bed man and how the frame was given to us from his big boy cousin Tyler. Knowing this bed was Tyler's made it even more exciting.

He had his last nap in his crib this afternoon, where he actually slept today. Afterwards, we brought in his new bed. We added his new car sheets and the other finishing touches. We had our family time, played some more, read some more. I read him his books and sang him Jesus Loves Me just like always... except tonight for the first time ever, he sang with me through both times! What a sweet little gift. I put him down with head on his pillow and he asked me to pull up his sheet. (He's never had any sheet or blanket or pillow in his crib... just his little blankies and animals... so there were many new things.) He then said, "I'm all tucked in now!"

Doug reminded me later how he's been pretending that little experience from seeing our bed and pillows and from books. I told him how proud I was of him for being in a big boy bed and how much I loved him and that I would see him tomorrow morning when the sun came up. He said he'd see me then too. And then he calmly said, "I'm in my big boy bed" several times. He was so proud of himself and so was I. I left the room with my heart full... full of that teary kind of joy that happens for us mamas at these huge occasions in our babies' lives.