Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Earth: Caring and Sharing

There's an interesting New York Times article here about the disparity between the consumption habits of the developing world and those of the developed world. Perhaps you'd find it hard to believe, but the reality is that Western Europe, North America, Japan, and Australia consume more of the earths resources per capita by a factor of 32, compared to the consumption habits of the developing world.

When we look at rioting in Kenya, or attacks on oil rigs in Nigeria, it's perhaps a bit easy to become self-righteous, assuming that the anger stems from some sort of flaw in systems or governments, some sort of corruption. Maybe. But maybe it's a least partly true that places like these have grown weary of us consuming 32 times more than they do. Can't we help them rise up a bit to attain to lifestyles that result in access to clean water, education, basic medical care, and healthy food? And if it's incumbent on the developed world to simplify things a bit in order that this might happen, can't we cut back a little - living a little bit greener and simpler?

This seems to me to be a faith issue because as Adam's offspring we're invited to fulfill the charge given him to tend the land and care for it. Draining the oceans of fish, clearing the forests of trees, harvesting species to extinction, and supporting systems that uphold the vast inequities globally of lifestyle don't seem to be the best ways of fulfilling the charge given Adam. To the contrary, these realities indicate the extent to which the fall has tainted our ability to rule the earth well.

The path forward must begin with resource stewardship. You can consider this matter personally if you'd like by assessing your own carbon footprint here. My own conviction is that Christians ought to be at the forefront of these kinds of policy matters and discussions, but the reality is that too often the church ignores these matters. The reasons are sometimes theological (rooted in a dualism that renders all things physical meaningless) and sometimes political (as the church weds herself to political parties that seek to sustain and uphold the factor of 32 as some sort of divine right of Americans). But please, let's get beyond these things and begin to creatively consider how best to simplify our lives. Perhaps we'll find that buying more locally, cooking more real food, walking or biking more, and turning a few lights out will result in not only a smaller footprint, but a more joy filled lifestyle.

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At 2/1/08 11:00, Anonymous jess said...

Thank you Richard!
I always appreciate your perspective and am with you completely on this one. I recently took a position as a nutrition educator and school garden teacher in the Bay Area. I love my job, the people I work with, the unique education it provides to kids, and the opportunities I have received living in this area. I am continually surrounded by friends and others who really care for the world we live in and actually do something about it. Workshops, speakers, movies, and even parties about living a more sustainable and resourceful lifestyle are continually available. The most difficult part for me to understand is that I have not encountered a single Christian in anything relating to this area of work. It frustrates me that the two don't seem to go together. Why?!?
I know from experience that making changes like this can seem daunting. I have a long way to go myself to live more simply and consume less, and I am grateful to be in a place that encourages me to do so. However, I think that learning how this works on a personal level is essential, such as realizing that something can be done no matter where one lives. A year-round garden in sub-zero temperatures could be challenging. Re-using a grocery bag or cloth napkins...very possible. It also doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. Starting small...buying all local, organic food and fair trade coffee might seem like too much. Buying a few things might work. If we consume less all around, it should balance out...or hopefully will even be LESS complicated, time-consuming, expensive, or even stressful in the end. And if it isn't, it seems to me that Christians are all about making sacrifices...right?

At 31/1/08 21:44, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Appreciate thoughts regarding being a good steward of what we have and creation. That should indeed be pursued with vigor.

Certainly, providing for the needs of those suffering in Kenya or Africa in general is good and of high importance also.

We should use our full collaborative intelligence and imagination to attend to both of the above. To do so I think we have to consider the way things have gone over the last number of decades. Is there a long history of aid to Africa? yes, I believe so. Has there been good done as a result? also yes. Has the situation as a whole improved? tragically no. If the amount of aid to Africa was increased by a factor of ten would the situation as a whole improve? I believe the answer to still be, tragically, no. Only when the African people retain the fruit of their labor and it is not stolen from them by corruption, disease, and death - only then will the situation improve. Recognizing this is helpful because it follows that simply consuming less and giving more then won't solve the problem - and perhaps fixing the corruption and structure and habits of society are top priorities after all.

(Also I think the consumption / production stats can be a bit decieving. Is not producing and giving a good thing? When people in the US buy things and give them away, is that not counted as US consumption?)

I hope that this is, in the least, food for thought.

Thanks for reading


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