My grandmother lived an environmentally friendly lifestyle even before “going green” was the buzz. Grandma canned jellies, fruits and spreads in reusable jars while sealing garden-grown veggies in airtight bags to freeze for winter use. Not only did she sew and mend many of her own clothes, but she washed them by hand, and, with great care, hung the clothes up to dry. The neighbors’ chickens provided eggs for the entire neighborhood, while the milkman came weekly. Life and community were built upon this altruistic model.
Yet somehow, despite the environmentally friendly marketing campaign, contemporary society has digressed in the conservation department. Our idea of going green has morphed into a recyclables bin at the end of the driveway and paper plates on Sundays instead of every night. It’s no secret that our environment—in the form of unnecessary waste, CO2 emissions and global warming—has paid the price for our busy, wasteful lifestyle.
In his book Deep Economy, Bill McKibben argued that by replacing community with cheap convenience, our society has sold out our collective integrity for quantity. We have chosen to become families who work tirelessly outside the home in order to afford newer vehicles, bigger houses and lavish vacations. In the crux of this busyness, we are forced to forgo the “good” in exchange for the quick and easy.
Yet, all this has come with a hefty price tag: less time as a family, poor health (high blood pressure, heart attacks and obesity) and eco-destruction. New York Times’ bestseller Thomas Friedman even goes so far as to say that permanent eco-destruction is inevitable if we do not change our lifestyle from lavish to environmentally frugal consumers. Friedman points out that many natural goods that we (and Grandma) enjoy—chai tea, aloe vera, coral in the sea—are only still around due to government foresight, protecting these vulnerable natural commodities. I’m not going to be the one to tell Grandma that she can no longer enjoy her nightly organic tea and honey because we chopped down all the trees and polluted the rainforest to impress the Jones’ with our SUV. I’m sure you don’t want to volunteer to have that conversation either.
Yet, the question remains: Why do we continue to buy into this fallacy of quantity over quality despite staggering evidence of the family and social destruction that we are causing from gluttony of resources? My guess is that our view of success is so tied into the American dream—material riches, prominent career and powerful social status—that we fail to see God’s view of a successful individual. Over and over, the Psalmist spoke of wisdom, generosity and obedience as characteristics to strive for. When will we get it into our heads (and hearts!) that worldly riches will get us nowhere?
So, here we are, back to square one. How have we, as a Christian community, even reached a point as to “not care” about our God-given call to stewardship? My guess: Taking care of the environment has morphed into a political issue, becoming tainted in the eyes of many. A non-political issue has been thrust into the all-too-familiar dichotomy of red or blue, causing many of us (including me!) to boycott and altogether ignore the seriousness of natural stewardship. However, I would advise that we must first decide not buy into “politicalness” of conservation. Christians should be leading the way to take care of God’s gift to us.
Now, what am I suggesting? I’ll begin by telling you what I’m not suggesting. I’m not suggesting idolatry. The worship of God and care for our neighbor must trump care for the environment—always. Secondly, I’m not suggesting an obsession with the Earth. No picketing, tree-hugging or wearing burlap bags to save energy. You get the picture. Lastly, I’m not suggesting a list of “do’s” and “do-not’s.” That would make us Pharisees, and God knows we already struggle enough with legalism.
What I am suggesting: Practical, smart efforts to be better stewards of what God has given us. Grandma froze green beans and tomatoes and made strawberry preserves, because she had the gift of a green thumb and could work wonders in the garden. I, on the other hand, am not gifted in that area, and my efforts would probably have the reverse effect and cause eco-destruction if I tried to till up my backyard. I do, however, have a small say in our company’s recyclable and paperless policies—and, by living in the city, I am able to capitalize on public and foot transportation.
Regardless of if you are a country mouse or a city dweller, we all have our unique place in God’s Kingdom. For that reason, we have been given different gifts, talents and interests. Yet, it is our ongoing decision whom we are going to worship with those gifts. One of my favorite verses, Joshua 24:15 says, “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” What a challenge! Are you choosing the god of materialism and riches? The god of pride and vanity? Or are you choosing our Creator God, the Giver of Hope and the Healer of brokenness. Choose today that you will serve the Lord through your time, money and stewardship and not buy into the fallacy of “more” and “bigger” being better.
To kick-start your new journey as a conscientious environmental steward, I put together a brief list of ideas. Remember, these are just a few thoughts to get you started. Chat with your neighbors, talk to your spouse and/or collaborate with your children about ways in which you may become better stewards of God’s gift to us. Just remember, every day, you choose.
1) Unplug your appliances and turn off lights—so simple, yet something we often overlook
2) Hang your laundry out to dry. All it takes it a laundry line, some clips and a semi-private location in the yard. You’ll even get used to the fresh, natural scent of air-dried clothes!
3) Invest in reusable water bottles and coffee mugs. Imagine the paper waste you would save if you committed to use reusable cups only for a year.
4) Discover bulk foods. Flour, pasta, oat bran, raisins, nuts and chocolates—all may be found in this mysterious section of the grocery store. Bring your own reusable containers, eliminating all packaging waste.
5) Local produce and dairy. The prices may be slightly higher than grocery store dairy products, but you will be supporting local farmers and feeding yourself (and your family) fewer preservatives, while enjoying much more piquant cheeses and yogurts.
6) Take the bus—or walk. One of my biggest misconceptions to overcome was that two vehicles (or more!) per family were necessary in the 21st century. However, that is simply not the truth.
7) Downsize. Do you really need an SUV and a 3,000-square-foot house? Not only will you save on your mortgage and fuel consumption, but you will be remitting less CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, lessening pollution and airborne toxins.