"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" -James 1:17
I have been a Christian since I was a child, and my very basic understanding of Jesus Christ and Christianity is this (pardon the crass paraphrase here, I am no theologian). He showed up and told people, "You are letting these accumulations of rules and religious baggage pull you away from God. The two greatest rules are to love God and love each other." Basically everything else in the red letters, to my mind, expands on this, and he tells story after story about these themes.
In the prodigal son, we see the unconditional love of the father at play, but we can also learn from the "good" son, who stays and works, then feels frustrated and jealous that his misbehaving sibling receives such love. We can learn that being close to God is a reward in itself, and just because you do everything "right" doesn't mean God loves you more. It's the other side of grace.
In the good Samaritan, we watch a bunch of people who are supposedly "right" with God turn their back on an undesirable person who needs their help. Like so many of the examples that Jesus sets in his actions, this story shows the value and love in helping someone who doesn't agree with you or who is even your enemy. Your taking care of others pleases God.
I think a lot about the seemingly simple charge to love others and to love God, and what this action entails. These two instructions dominate and organize my faith (and deeply inform my being a liberal and a feminist as well). If you really accept God as creator of everything, then loving others, no matter what their religion or race or whatever becomes (in my one opinion) an absolute necessity, because they are just like that prodigal son- maybe not on the same track to Him as you are, but equally loved by Him (and it's not your business or your right to judge them beyond that). I know that loving someone means communicating (it's why we pray and meditate, right?), it means to care, it means to "protect, trust, hope, and persevere." We show these people love because God created them, and just like we wouldn't rip up a handmade gift (I mean, no one rips up a scarf from their grandma or a card from a child), we should treasure other humans as specially made by Him.
What could we as Christians do better to love God and show him we are grateful for his creation? One of the clearest (but most difficult) answers to this question is to be better stewards. When God first charged Adam and Eve to take care of the world he made them, the task was relatively straightforward- take care of the Earth and the animals on it. In Genesis, we read "“Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
He gave us responsibility for everything on the Earth, to build up his creation and to take care of it. Everything was right in front of their eyes, so if there was a problem, they could see it. Thousands of years later, capitalism has pulled us far away from these things- we (mostly) don't grow or hunt our own food, we don't take care of our own waste, and we don't make about 99% of what we use (is anyone reading this actually wearing something they made? I am wearing a sweater from The Gap and eating Goldfish, so I know I fail this test.
Green practices, tree-hugging, etc. has become another political issue where I believe in some cases, Chist-claiming politicians are actually fighting against our charge as Christians. The debate about global warming rages on, but no matter what your opinion, can you really say that you are honoring God's creation in how you are living your life? Why does it even matter when it is CLEAR we are not doing what we should as human beings and as a nation to take care of the world around us? Are you encouraging kind treatment of animals, of plants, of the Earth? I know I could do much better at this. If you aren't making it yourself, I believe STRONGLY it is your responsibility as a Christian to vote with your money, to show companies that your won't give them money for treating the earth badly. To me, this would include buying ethically treated animals, shopping at places that treat their workers right, and encouraging Earth-friendly modes of eliminating waste in your neighborhood.
The next response to this line of thinking is "Holy crap, do you know how hard it would be to do all of this?" I totally agree! This is a huge challenge, not to mention how expensive it is in some cases (buying ethical meat is so much more costly for example).
Tough noogies. I think stewardship should be hard. Much like taking care of your home, your body, or the things that are immediate to you, taking care of the world should be continuing labor and it should cost you something. It never becomes something you don't have to try at, but the longer you let it go, the harder it becomes to pull things back together. God made us this way for a reason. Capitalism likes to promise easy, speedy, and cheap, but this lie they sell us over and over again isn' doing any of us any good individually or on a larger scale (see- self-checkout. It's not that much faster, they are literally putting you to work, and you are costing someone their job). The sooner we give up this idea, the better we can serve God through the way we live our daily lives.
So I know we as a family are resolving to become better stewards for the Earth. Not to be perfect, but to try to shop ethically. We are lucky that Seattle has composting and recycling as part of their garbage service, and I have to say, I am blown away by how little actual garbage you have once you compost (it is smelly though, if we are keeping it honest- I don't remember reading about stinkiness in the Bible except for Ehud in Judges, and that is unrelated). The true owner of your home and Earth is God, you are just keeping it right now. He gave us his best, so I am striving to better give him my best at this as well. I think there are some simple steps you could take if you wanted to start small:
1. Canvas grocery bags! Not only are they way way better for the environment, they also hold more stuff. Sure, you get to have the moment where you realize you left your bag in the car at least once a month, but if you are a normal person, the routine eventually takes over (I still fail at this).
2. Walk places or carpool. I know the possibility to do this varies a lot depending where you live, but if you can (meaning to me, less than 2 miles of a safe walk), then why not? It's better for you too! Also, please don't ride your bike. I hate bike riders. They are my mortal enemies (but really, if you can trade a ride in the car for a quick bike ride, I support that).
3. Stop using straws! I think this may have set this whole thing off for me. Do you know how much waste the average American makes just from all those one time use plastic straws? Really people, if you aren't a toddler, you can probably stand to skip the plastic lid and straw at a restaurant. Keep ones in your car like you keep napkins, and when you go through fast food or starbucks, turn down the ones they offer.
4. Use more ethical eggs- Unless you are supergranola Mindy, you probably buy your eggs. Eggs and their farmers have gotten on board with cage-free or organic fed practices more quickly, and in most cases, it is one of the smaller/ more affordable changes you can make.
5. Meatless Mondays (and Tuesdays)- A good way to cut down on meat cost so you can buy whatever you will eat is to have a few more meals with eggs or nuts as the proteins. It can really help, and you can put that money into the better choices at your grocery store if your farmer's market meat is as crazy expensive as ours.
6. Plant things- On a daily basis, we take and take from the world around us. If you can grow things where you live, even on your patio, grow them! Creation is one of the most beautiful things we can do as human beings, so do it more. Not to mention, if you are taking care of even a small percentage of what farmer's are doing, you can better appreciate the labor being put in.
7. Reuse! We receive the message over and over as Americans that we should want the newest, biggest, or best thing. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is figure out how to make the best of what we have first. I know as we have been looking for furniture, there are so many places selling simple things like shelves and dressers used, and you can paint and fix them up for way less than new furniture. The more you can make the best of what you have, the less you are using resources.
8. Actually unplug things! I am the worst about this, but we could probably all use a lot less electric if we didn't have 1 electronics on at the same time. I also read that if you do a better job caulking holes and weatherproofing your house, you can consume a lot less energy heating and cooling it. My mother got solar panels, and she will get all that money back in electric bills she doesn't have to pay. That's a dramatic move, but I think it is food for thought for us.
9. Compost and Recycle- If your community doesn't support it, this may be a fight worth having. Organic waste in regular dumps are much less likely to break down over time, so it only adds to the giant pile of junk taking over- do we really want to live like they do in Wall-E?
10. Write when a company packages things badly- Amazon often asks for packaging feedback- If you are receiving things that use unrecyclable packing material, complain. I just wrote the company we bought our crib from, because it came in all sorts of styrofoam. You can also question a store or company when things are packaged way more than they need to be- why is that even there?
11. This is huge, YOU VOTE WITH YOUR MONEY- If you spend money on something unethical, you are telling that company that you are ok with it, they should put more money into that, etc. If you care about animals, why would you tell them it is ok to treat them badly? Do the research, and if it seems sketchy, it probably is.
Obviously, all of these might be tiny steps, but they add up. After 5 years of using canvas bags, I know we have changed how much plastic waste we make.
Even though you can find lots of ideas for concrete steps to take, I think being a Steward of the Earth is more of a mindset than a simple set of concrete steps, because the world we live in makes some good choices completely unavailable. It also is difficult because so often the Earth-friendly choice is not the cheapest or least time-consuming, but that doesn't keep it from being worthwhile. Here is another (much more comprehensive) list of things you can do for your house if you own one (but some of the things on the list are about shopping, so that might help. This is another essay on Green Living and Christian stewardship that I thought was sweet and on point.
We are going to try to keep trying and stepping up our lifestyle to minimize impact. If you also try to practice good stewardship, how do you do it?