Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

Recently a relatively new acquaintance in the diocese told me that when he first met me and heard me talk about my ministry, he didn’t understand why anyone would do environmental ministry; for him it didn’t seem to fit the model of other ministries of the church. But he then said that after hearing me talk about creation care, he had begun to notice how often we pray for the earth and its resources, for God’s creation, and realized that concern for creation is found throughout our liturgy. I thought about this conversation after our midday Ash Wednesday service because repentance for our poor stewardship of the environment and for our lack of concern about that poor stewardship is spelled out clearly in these lines from the Litany of Penitence.

In fact, many of the sins we confess in the Litany of Penitence are directly related to issues of environmental stewardship: self-indulgence, exploitation of other people, an intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our blindness to human needs and suffering (including the suffering of people whose health is affected by air and water pollution or climate change). As we pray this litany on Ash Wednesday, it’s easy to read the words and move on to the next part of the litany without connecting what we are saying to any particular actions or situations; it’s easy to be sincere about our penitence on an abstract level without connecting that penitence to areas where we could and should make changes in our own lives. It might be good to find some quiet time early on during Lent to pray through the Litany of Penitence (pp. 267-269 in the Book of Common Prayer) slowly, taking the time to think more specifically about where we have fallen short so that we can truly repent and turn toward better ways of living our lives.

Today’s lectionary text from Isaiah (Isaiah 58:1-12) says that a true fast, a day truly acceptable to the Lord, consists of acts of mercy and justice. When we do these things, says Isaiah, we will find ourselves strengthened and guided by God. The passage ends with the statement that those who meet the needs of others and relieve suffering will “be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in”. Pollution and climate change are leaving many places where people live in need of restoration. God has work for us to do when we get up off our knees.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lenten Alternatives

Spring is coming, and Lent begins tomorrow. Anticipating Lent, I've been paying attention to incoming messages about Lenten disciplines that are intended to help us become more faithful stewards of the environment. These are pre-packaged Lenten disciplines; participants commit to the general idea of carbon reduction or environmental stewardship, and then follow daily suggestions for carrying out that commitment. They are especially useful for folks who want to do something to become better stewards but who don’t know where to begin.

Along with looking at these creative approaches to Lenten fasting, I’ve been thinking about my own Lenten discipline, trying to get a feel for whether one of these programs or some other discipline feels like something that might best deepen my own discipleship during Lent. For this post, I’m offering links to a couple of the growing number of environmentally-related “pre-packaged” Lenten disciplines, then describing another alternative coming from a slightly different direction.

The United Church of Christ has developed an Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast. Participants will receive a daily e-mail message with a suggestion for reducing carbon. A nice feature of this program is the promise that, where possible, a quantitative measure of the carbon reduction from the activity will be provided – an important feature for people who want to get some sense of how much difference such activities can make. Since this program will come as daily e-mails, I haven’t seen an overview of the activities, but it sounds as if it will be very focused on actual carbon reduction. As an alternative to signing up for the e-mails, the Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast has a Facebook page where the daily activities will be posted.

Several other carbon fast programs combine true carbon-fasting activities with activities that develop good stewardship in other areas. Earth Ministries and Washington Interfaith Power & Light offers a carbon fast calendar that suggests a carbon-reducing activity on most days with an occasional activity focused on other areas, such as water conservation. Having this program as a calendar to view on the computer or to print makes it especially attractive for families taking on the discipline together. Children can anticipate the activities for coming days, and parents can think ahead about how to carry out the activity in their particular household.

The Tearfund in the UK has designed a carbon fast that includes activities that address overconsumption and nudge us closer to simpler living. The Tearfund is dedicated to reducing poverty, so their program is very intentional about setting carbon-reduction and the other activities within the context of global justice.

As an alternative to carbon fasts that mirror the traditional fasts of Lent, we might do something that shifts the focus just a bit to the sort of self-renewal that leads to renewal not only to an ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship but also to the sort of deep connection with the non-human world that deepens our relationship with God the Creator and God’s Son through whom, as we confess in the Nicene Creed, all things were made.

It’s fairly simple: Find a way each day to honor God through some action that tends to the connection we have to God through creation, and include a prayer of gratitude for God’s creation as part of that action. Some days this may look similar to the carbon fast activities, being intentional about caring for some aspect of God’s creation while giving thanks for that aspect of creation. Other days it might be something that doesn’t look at all like a fast -- spending some time really looking at the spring flowers that will begin blooming during Lent, going out to see the Sandhill cranes, planning or planting an early spring garden. It may simply be sitting in the sun and listening to the birds.

The point is to find something that works to renew our connection to the earth in a way that we experience as a deepening of our connection to God and to be intentional about thanking God for some specific part of creation. The hope is that the renewal of that connection and our gratitude for creation will bring us closer to God, to a place where care for God’s creation flows naturally from our relationship to God.