New Lenten Observations: Pray, Fast, Create A Sustainable World
Before jumping into the topic, I want to say “thank you” to Tito and the entire staff for the invitation to contribute to TAC. I’m humbled and honored – and I hope to meet the fine standards already established here. It’s gonna mean more reliance on a dictionary and thesaurus, and the use of something I’ve seen referred to as “rational thinking”, but that’s a challenge I’m willing to undertake. Readers of my blog Acts of the Apostasy are familiar with my style; as my masthead says, “Orthodox commentary on heterodox hooligans – serious; satirical; humorous; faithful.” I can’t guarantee the most erudite (I had to look that up) commentary, but hopefully it will spark some worthwhile thoughts and conversations. So let’s begin…
Lent starts tomorrow. Ash Wednesday. A time to tighten our belts, wash our faces, deep-fry some haddock…
…and exorcise our homes of those eeeeevvilllll incandescent light bulbs.
That’s right – according to the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, your Lent will be meaningless if you don’t focus on creating a more sustainable and just world. It’s all about forgoing plastic shopping bags and installing CFL’s. Forget about growing in holiness. It’s all about glowing in fluorescence-ness.
As Lent begins with Ash Wednesday March 9, Dan Misleh wants to remind Catholics that it is not just about giving up chocolate or ice cream for 40 days.
Instead, the executive director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change would like to see Catholic families and individuals make some permanent sacrificial changes that will also contribute to a more sustainable and more just world.
“The whole issue of climate change is about consumption and lifestyle,” said Misleh of the changes the Washington-based coalition would like to see implemented far beyond the Lenten period.
“Lent is the perfect time to examine our lifestyles,” he added. Even giving up a food item like chocolate or ice cream “reminds us that we do need to live more within our means, more in touch with people who don’t have any of these things,” Misleh said.
The coalition — which includes Catholic organizations representing the U.S. bishops, health care providers, teachers, men and women religious and a wide range of others — is promoting the St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor, through which individuals, families and institutions promise to pray and learn about environmental issues, assess their own contributions to climate change, act to change their choices and advocate Catholic principles and priorities on climate change.
If it were me, I’d pledge to take care of the poor first. I notice things like word order. But that’s me. And I’m not sold on the notion that any reduction in my lifestyle will ultimately improve the lives of those who have less than me. Sure, I’ll have some solidarity in spirit with those who have less, but at the end of the day, those who have less…still have less. From their perspective, nothing will have changed for the better. Is Christianity all about everyone being equally miserable, or is it about spreading the joy of the Gospel?
Let’s read on:
Pope Benedict XVI — dubbed the “green pope” for his support of environmental initiatives at the Vatican — has been critical of what he sees as a lack of worldwide commitment to mitigating climate change.
In a January 2010 address, he told diplomats accredited to the Vatican that he shared “the growing concern caused by economic and political resistance to combating the degradation of the environment.”
But he also said that the devastation of the world’s forests, the spread of its deserts and the pollution of its water cannot be reversed without moral education and changed lifestyles.
Arguments pro or against man-made climate change aside, reducing the Holy Father’s 2010 World Day of Peace Message to two sentences provides a great disservice, and is a tad disingenuous, considering the deep beauty, theology and nuance of the entire message. This post is not intended to discuss that message, but it behooves us to read the whole thing, paying particular attention to paragraph 13, in which Pope Benedict said: “On the other hand, a correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment will not end by absolutizing nature or by considering it more important than the human person. If the Church’s magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things. In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the “dignity” of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings.”
Bear in mind that not all the Sustainability Oracles hold that point of view – I suspect that even some of the “Catholic” ones don’t. Back to the article:
As a next step in that educational process, 24 newly trained “Catholic climate ambassadors” will begin making presentations to parishes or schools this spring, especially about “the need for solidarity with the poor, who are the ones most impacted by climate change,” Misleh said.
What will the environmental footprint be for those 24 “ambassadors” as they travel from parish to parish, I wonder…
Among the other resources available to raise awareness about the need for global solidarity are the Lent 4.5 faith-formation program developed by the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center in Louisville, Ky., and Catholic Relief Services’ Operation Rice Bowl.
“Passionist Earth and Spirit Center” – now there’s an interesting bunch. Cosmology, eco-spirituality, enneagrams…I’ll leave it at that.
Lent 4.5, a seven-week program, gets its name from the fact that if the world were divided equally among all its residents, each would receive 4.5 acres of land from which to derive all of his or her food, energy, clothing, housing and “gadgets.”
Remember – that number will decrease every year, too, as the population increases…
“But it takes 22.3 acres to maintain the average American lifestyle,” the program’s website notes. “There is a new way of observing Lent that helps us care for God’s creation by taking steps toward using only our fair share of its resources. Moving in the direction of 4.5 is essential for anyone walking in the footsteps of Jesus today.”
And there it is. Americans are unfairly stealing resources from the unfortunate. We’re not limiting ourselves to our fair share. Thus, unless you’re reaching for that magic number of 4.5, you’re falling short of the glory of God. Or something. Whatever that something is, it’s now quantifiable. Since I have a nice house, two vehicles, a gas-powered mower and I barbecue copious amounts of meat during the summer, my family of 4 greedily consumes nearly 90 acres worth of stuff. Naturally, that means several dozen Ethiopians are suffering. If only I were to reduce my footprint, some of those Ethiopians’ lives would miraculously improve.
Alas, it doesn’t work that way. It’s not even true. An eco-conversion – whether it be expressed by driving more fuel-efficient cars, or installing CFL’s, or buying more local produce – would benefit no one…but me and my family! Our bills would be lower, our health would improve, we’d feel better about ourselves. Granted, doing such things can be steps towards being better stewards of creation, (not entirely, though – the production of batteries for electric cars, for instance, wreaks havoc on the environment), or better stewards of our gifts, and is part of the response to living God’s will. It’d be a response to resisting the sins of avarice, envy and gluttony – all very good things – provided the motivation is properly ordered.
But I don’t think I’d be fully responding to the call of loving our neighbor. Christ commands us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned. Such things require intimate interactions with the individual – the “human ecology”, as Pope Benedict calls it – and face-to-face involvement, not merely making lifestyle changes in order to put notches on our tightened eco-friendly imitation leather belts.
Otherwise, you end up with the following: