Wednesday, January 16, 2013

“It’s Not Dark Yet, But…”

The following entry grew from a brief response to Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, whose article, “It’s Not Dark Yet, But…”, in his blog “Coming Clean,” invites club members and other blog followers to urge President Obama to make “tackling climate disruption a top priority of his second term:” 

Hello Mr. Brune: 
 I appreciate your concern and zeal for a better environment.  However, the Sierra Club should not invest too much of its time and resources in the polluted waters of Washington with its failing leadership.  For example, I'm trying not to question the president's judgment as he has led Washington's effort to "pick winners" among companies promising "green energy" options.  Unfortunately, he gave us too many losers like Solyndra while wasting tax dollars in the process.  Indeed, my confidence in a leadership that has wasted trillions on bridges to nowhere has waned.   If the same trillions had been invested under the direction of knowledgeable business entrepreneurs guided by good scientific technology, we could be on the road to much cleaner energy and much less political cronyism from Washington.  Witness the difference between FedEx and the US Postal Service.  Or, consider some of the amazing successes coming from private investments in alternative energy based on new technology.

“Getting darker?”   It sure is.  And, unless the US addresses its penchant for borrowing from China, one of the Earth's biggest polluters, America will enter the kind of "darkness" known only to societies like the Soviet Union and China in the mid-20th century where the government had its way in social planning in every area of life.  Programs out of Washington, funded by borrowing more money, have never and will never produce the results possible in a free market economy that is allowed to function in an environment of real justice which is enforced by rule of law. 

Oil derrick of "fracking" operation  near Carrollton, Ohio

"Saving the Earth" is like "Saving Our Children" from the evil intentions of people with guns (or knives or drugs).  In both cases, the focus should not primarily be upon the "outward means" (guns, knives, smokestacks, pipelines and drilling rigs).  Rather, the focus should be upon reclamation of the moral and ethical disposition of those choosing and using the "means."  Aldo Leopold was not opposed to wise use of Earth’s natural resources when he stated:

By and large, our present problem is one of attitudes and implements. We are remodeling the Alhambra with a steam-shovel, and we are proud of our yardage. We shall hardly relinquish the shovel, which after all has many good points, but we are in need of gentler and more objective criteria for its successful use. -- A Sand County Almanac, pp 263-64 [Ballantine edition]

Mr. Brune, caring for the Earth and our children both have major moral and ethical requirements and I like what one of your predecessors, Carl Pope, said:

We sought to transform society, but ignored the fact that when Americans want to express something wiser and better than they are as individuals, by and large they gather to pray. We acted as if we could save life on Earth without the same institutions through which we save ourselves.  -- Sierra Magazine 83 (November/December 1998): 14–15, 14.

It's not dark yet, but... darkness will come unless we realize that climate change, mass shootings, out-of-control national debt, abortion, gay marriage, corporate fraud, etc. are all just the “tips of icebergs”  because we have submerged and suppressed the voice of moral conscience that had come from objective moral absolutes rooted in Judeo-Christian teachings.   If we return to these teachings and apply them, we will have hope of staving off the darkness and seeing a brighter day and a greener, safer Earth. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Creation Conscious Christmas Cleanup

Once again, our celebration of Christmas has become part of family history recorded in our memories and photos.  This year I’ve been trying to glean some lessons by reflecting upon our preparation and celebration of Christmas.  It all started when I was preparing our so-called garbage for weekly pick-up at the curb.
Thanks to our attempts at recycling, our weekly output of “waste” is less than one average-size garbage bag per week.  As a result, the company who serves us discounts our quarterly rate—a nice economic incentive over and above our calling to do what is right as stewards of creation.   So, I became quite reflective as I sorted the “Christmas waste” from our collective unwrapping and “un-packaging” of gifts.

Christmas wrappings, packaging, and reusable boxes
While I was gleaning and separating the metal, plastic, cardboard, and recyclable paper, I began to reflect on how we handle the material side of Christmas.  I’ve recorded my thoughts here in hopes that they will give additional life and usefulness beyond our regular ritual of handling the “stuff” of Christmas celebration.

While pawing through the pile of crumpled, colorful wrappings, I had to consider the relative importance of my gleaning and sorting in the first place.  After all, considering the mountains of garbage generated at Christmas, what difference can my separation and recycling make?  Besides, isn’t it likely that my ‘garbage company’ can do an even better job of sorting and recycling than I can?  Aren’t there more constructive ways for me to use my?   But then, my pawing and pondering began to yield some unexpected treasures.

First, I realized that the “what difference can I make” argument extends far beyond whether or not we choose to exercise stewardship of our material blessings.  It is also at the heart of God’s call to evangelism and discipleship.  After all, if we are to be faithful as witnesses of the “Good News” toward a spiritually needy world, we must believe that our individual and often seemingly unnoticed efforts can make a big difference in God’s harvest.  That includes a “word fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11) as well as proper acts of stewardship of the material gifts of God.

Second, my sorting gave new meaning to the torn and shredded wrapping paper and packaging.  This pile of colorful, cast-off, coverings of the treasures we had only recently purchased and wrapped as Christmas gifts now served as a reminder of our love for our family.  A torn-open, cardboard package that had held a doll (“Made in China”), anchored securely with some flexible wire that is great for “twist-tying,” was also a reminder of the smiles and joy of our granddaughter when she first opened the package.  Other torn wrappings and packaging had been removed with anticipation by me, and I was reminded of the joy I saw on the faces of givers who were delighted at my excitement. Wonderfully, my stewardship of the cast-off wrapping paper and packaging seemed to provide a fitting closure to our time of giving and celebration.  Our love and kindness toward each other was being revived and extended by my responsible care in disposing of the materials that had once enclosed the treasures inside.

Third, and somewhat related to the previous point, I began to realize that my investment of time to properly sort and recycle our wrappings and packaging provided additional time to reflect thankfully on what we had just done in giving and receiving gifts.  So often, we hurry through activities that are only possible because of the gracious hand of our Creator God.  For example, the discipline of offering a prayer of thanks at mealtime allows us the blessing of pausing and considering God’s gracious provision of nutritious food and the ecological, agricultural, and economic system that makes it so readily available.  As I handled the wrappings and packaging, I realized that the “cost” of these materials went far beyond our monetary expenses in purchasing them.  There is also the “ecological cost” or “impact” on God’s creation through the refining, manufacturing, packaging, marketing, and shipping of the products and wrappings.  In light of these costs, it is only proper that we take time to recognize the ecological and stewardship mandates that define our responsibility and that of our children toward material resources.  

In summary, I was encouraged not to omit even small efforts to “make a difference” through words or actions of good will toward God, my neighbor, and creation.  Also, my attention to the stewardship of Christmas wrappings and packaging enhanced the benefit of these material resources by providing a few moments of reflection and closure on our time of giving and receiving.  Although their color and beauty is temporal, the eternal value of these wrappings was assured by acknowledging their role as vehicles of love and good will in our Christmas celebration.

I close with a few practical suggestions for applying stewardship of material resources to the Christmas (or any birthday) celebration:

1.    How am I doing in providing an example of good stewardship both of material resources, including what may be called ‘waste,’ and the Good News of Christ’s coming and soon return.   After all, shouldn’t my actions toward material creation, the Creator’s footstool (Isaiah 66:1), be a pleasing part of my worship and service to God?
2.    How can I be more conscious of the environmental impact of packaging?   What distinctions can I make in choosing products that are packaged with environmental stewardship in mind?
3.    I’m challenged to research my ‘garbage company’s’ role in the waste stream – what happens to our garbage?   Is it sorted and reclaimed?  What is my part in stewarding these resources?
4.    Are there lessons for both the givers and the receivers of gifts with respect to how we handle the treasured contents of a package AND the packaging and wrappings?   Have we lost the distinction between the means and the ends of gift giving?  Means as well as ends?
5.    I’m challenged to expand our use of reusable gift boxes.  Although young children enjoy tearing open packages with reckless abandon and joy, at least some gifts can be given in reusable boxes.  Indeed, we’ve begun to circulate some sturdy boxes covered with colorful paper among our homes, and which reappear the following year with a new gift inside (see examples in photo, upper right).  We also use other packages such as used cereal boxes.

Please “Comment” to add your thoughts, questions, or practical suggestions.

Prayer:   Father in Heaven, thank you for sending your Beloved Son to be the Savior of the world; especially, to be the Savior of all who accept His sacrifice to provide atonement for their sin.  Thank you that this Son of love Who entered this world and humbly took on flesh, wrapped in cloths in a manger; all within the busy, distracted, commercial world of His time.  Help us (help me) not to be so distracted by all the wrappings and trappings that I miss Your purposes for me.  After all, my own works—even my efforts to be more “green” environmentally-- are only filthy rags if I forget my desperate need for daily spiritual renewal through confession and regeneration.  Amen.