Thursday, June 26, 2008

Less is more: More on the personal scale

I met with my pastor a couple of weeks ago to talk about starting a green ministry. He asked me if he should buy a hybrid car. I told him that in his situation, I wouldn’t.
This reminded me that I’ve heard a number of friends, and a family member or two talk about buying a hybrid for commuting to work. Like many people, they don’t really understand the hybrid technology or the situations in which it creates a benefit. In fact, I find a great many well-meaning people who have had the “green-living aha!” seem to think that all we have to do is swap-in a bunch of CFLs, trade-in the family car for a hybrid, and then we can all get back to doing whatever the hell it is that we do. As a group, we’re missing the point.
While to some extent it is easy being green, the real trick is in thinking green and shifting that thinking into the way we live. This is what I’ve (inartfully) tried to express in my last couple of posts. We need to make resource conservation as important as managing our finances or having a job. This needs to be part and parcel to our social contract with our families, friends, and neighbors.
The mindset that drives a resource-conservative lifestyle means understanding what is useful, what is valuable, and what we really want. It also means understanding how things work- both human made things and natural things- and seeing costs. It means being less self-centered.
Rather than looking merely at replacing a few products with more resource-conservative ones, we need to think about how we live and how we achieve what we want. Instead of (or in addition to) buying a hybrid car to reduce fuel consumption during a 45-minute daily commute, we should strive to live close to work. Instead of expecting the exact same products will be sold all over the country and all over the world, we should recognize that Omaha is geographically, culturally, and ecologically different from Orlando, Oakland, Ottawa, and Odessa, and so will be many of the things we consume there. Living in a way that naturally reduces the demand for resources and minimizes waste is much more effective than trying to create technological quick fixes.

15 comments:

Pat Jenkins said...

erd i love you brother but i am never going to understand you putting the planet ahead of mankind. i don't want to sound condescending but a green ministry? you've got to be kidding me. if you find Christ your purpose is to walk in the experience of life to it's fullest and that begets respect of what isn't yours. i see no reason for having a ministry aimed at saving a planet when mankind is lost.... but i wish you well!!!

Sue said...

erd -- While I agree with you that there has to be change at the individual level, learning new habits, establishing new priorities, all the right mindedness in the world won't help if there is no affordable housing near where the work is. Many cities are developing revitalized downtowns, with lots of new housing. But such housing projects are generally aimed at those who can afford $300,000+, which leaves the vast majority of Americans out.

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
Improving peoples’ lives by working to correct problems like pollution or resource depletion puts people first, not some abstract wilderness. There’s very little difference between my church’s work for our local food pantries, our work building homes in southern Mississippi and Louisiana, and the work I’m proposing to be better stewards of our home. This all helps people.
As I work with others to develop my church’s green ministry, I’m sure I’ll write more about this. But for the moment, I’ll put the question to you: Given that people know that there are ways to serve our neighbors in our local and global communities, why wouldn’t Christians choose to do this?

E. R. Dunhill said...

Sue,
That is the $64,000 question: How do we make urban revitalization something other than a yuppie phenomenon? In the city where I live, a redeveloped mixed-use city center includes condominiums in the vicinity of $300k. Though a downright bargain in the DC area, this still targets people with professional-level incomes. We’re also experiencing a great deal of interest (though it’s cooled a little over the last 6 months) in buying into what had previously been “less desirable neighborhoods”. Again, this sort of home still isn’t cheap, but considering that I live in cycling distance from some of the most expensive suburbs in the country, half a million dollars for a home opens the door for lots of people. These are at least steps to open cities to the middle class.
I’ve long thought that in Montgomery County, MD we need to address the problem of housing for low income families, though I remain confounded as to an appropriate solution. Housing owned, built, and/or operated by governments has a poor track record. In the case of privately developed housing, the market will do away with the cheap real estate quickly. I recall that you’ve mentioned here and there the housing issue, so I’ll bounce the question back to you. How do we fix this?

Pat Jenkins said...

erd the history of mankind has shown the one thing that is always in need of "saving" is mankind... (i hope you know i am defining saving as a changed soul as opposed to the assumed idea of "saving" your behavior) unitl this is accomplished then the world will not "change" and this should be the focus of the church!!!

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
I'm not sure that answers the question. Why shouldn’t Christians help people?
I think scripture is clear that believers are charged with more than simply proselytizing. In both Luke and Mark, Christ teaches that people should “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This sentiment is repeated in Romans, Galations, and James. John the Baptist offers, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."
James addresses the issue like this in Ch 2:
14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Doesn’t this all sound like we should care for the basic needs of others? If not, what does this sentiment mean and why does it come up so frequently and in so many different ways?

Pat Jenkins said...

erd christianity has to have some differentiating principle about itself than that of any other form of "behavior" teaching. because it is very easy to teach "actions". we have many books, religions, and people themselves who share like ideas to what is right and wrong. and not saying actions are not part of the christian walk but the Christ taking the place of man as who he is, or becoming one is the real and only action of christianity. once this is recognized for each individual what you wish for will ensue. this should be the purpose of the church to unveil this truth.. so that does answer your question...

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
If Christ is to take the place of the believer, can this genuinely happen without inspiring the believer to embody the actions Christ taught? Christ taught that his followers should feed the hungry. Christ taught that his followers should serve others. Christ repeatedly put these teachings into action. If we reject these roles, where is He? Why should Christians reject Christ’s own words and actions?
Observing that Christians believe that we are saved by grace instead of actions recognizes that this authority belongs to God alone. Dwelling upon this fact to the exclusion of our responsibilities to others conveniently justifies apathy.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD and PJ: I have found your discussion to be very interesting. In your own way, I believe that you are both right although I tend to agree with PJ that a "Green Ministry to Save the Planet" seems a bit out there. Perhaps if it was a broader focus such as "Good Stewardship of the Resources That God has Placed in our Care" it might resonate more deeply with most Christians. That would encompass money management, caring for others, caring for the environment, etc.

Ultimately, Christ calls all believers to:

(NIV)19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt. 28:19-20)

But also, as ERD quoted from James 2, faith without works is dead.

We are saved by grace but that grace living within us prompts us to works in the name of Jesus through whom and by whom we are saved. You can't pick-and-choose the parts of the Bible that you like, you've got to take the whole thing. Live by faith, trusting that God will work out your salvation within you. We all must escape the chains placed upon us by the forms of religion -- i.e. organized churches -- and live out the life that Jesus commanded which includes both meeting the needs of the needy and leading them to Christ both through actions/lifestyle/example and words (the testimony of what He has done in your own life).

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris,
Thank you for your thoughts. I'm not sure I said anything about a "Green Ministry to Save the Planet". In fact I'm sure that what I did say write about was a green ministry to serve people. Actively improving our home to contribute to a healthy, dignified life for others is no different from serving people by stocking the local food pantry or building homes in Appalachia or the Gulf Coast. All of these things provide for peoples' basic needs.
I would also expand upon the reasons I feel compelled to serve others as a Christian. In Luke 10, Jesus addresses this issue:
25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
30In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
37The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: I think we are on the same page on the issue. My description: "Green Ministry to Save the Planet" is perception. The words we use meld into the pre-formed molds of the hearer. When you talk about a green ministry of any kind, you carry the baggage of the continual bombardment of the MSM's message of Global Warming and Environmental Activism. My comment was not meant to belittle what you feel led to do as a service ministry.

We each must do what God calls us to do or we will be dissatisfied with our life, continually searching for our niche. I believe that each of us is born with a particular "bent" for a ministry to which we will be called after our profession of faith in Jesus and entry into our lifetime process of being redeemed by the Creator.

Whatever our ministry, we must do it with all of our heart in a manner that glorifies and points to God and the salvation that He has offered through His Son, Jesus Christ.

I am a firm believer in the idea that part of our call as Christians is the service of mankind. We are to feed the poor, visit those in jail, heal the sick -- then they will be ready to hear the gospel of Jesus.

Pat Jenkins said...

erd i would agree follows would meet our "responsiblities". so again i say if the church helps others to that purpose what you hope for will come about!!!

E. R. Dunhill said...

Chris,
I apologize if I was a little kurt in my last comment. That's what I get for typing fast and not reading what I've written. You make an excellent point about not picking and choosing theology.
I do believe we are on the same page about a green ministry. What I'm setting out to do here and at my own church is to chip away at the politics and mental blocks that exist on this issue. You're absolutely right that "environment" and (in this context) "green", and a host of other words are loaded. People get angry at their mere mention. There's no need for this.
Speaking in somewhat outlandish generalizations, Christians and environmentalists somehow miss the fact that we are in many ways natural allies. Both groups are driven by huge ideas. Both groups are concerned about the well-being of others. Both groups have a strong tradition of service. Unfortunately, both groups are also accustomed to being completely misunderstood and find public ridicule for what they think and do. We need to bury the hatchet and get the hell to work.

Pat Jenkins said...

excuse me erd follows should be followers. i apologize and pan i apprecaite your imput on this. i need some help against mean old erd...

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
Excellent. This is why a green ministry is a natural result for people who are inspired to put belief into action. A green ministry is an opportunity to serve others in both the local and global communities.
It also presents some opportunities to promote better understanding of our theology. More on this point in a future post.