“What are you doing in your neighborhood for Earth Day?” my friend, who is the Executive Director of a nonprofit focused on contemplative activism, asked the group of church leaders.
Once again I was reminded that I’m not very good at facilitating group observance of these types of days, much less finding ways to participate myself!
Do I go to a rally?
Do I retweet a thoughtful article?
Or maybe just share that really cool meme?
Yeah, share the meme…
Notice that I didn’t wonder about planting a garden or building something with my hands in my neighborhood? That’s because these realms are currently still beyond my skill set, though I hold out hope that one day I might both have a “green thumb” and not hit it with a hammer. So I’ll defer to other folks on these matters, like Andy Wade who recently gave some super helpful and practical guidance on these matters in his Godspace article, Earth Day in the Neighborhood — Top Ten Ideas.
Nevertheless, as I’ve thought more about my friend’s questi0n, “What are you doing in your neighborhood for Earth Day?” it turns out that I do have a few practices that form my response:
Until this morning I didn’t know about the origin of Earth Day — and I’m probably not the only person writing about Earth Day on Earth Day for whom this is the case. It actually feels really freeing to confess my ignorance in this hyper-informed world in which we live!
So if you are an Earth Day rookie like me, here is a helpful synopsis from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro:
“In the spring of 1970, Gaylord Nelson announced that a demonstration about the environment would happen on April 22. Approximately twenty million people showed up to celebrate the first Earth Day. Since then, environmental concerns such as oil spills, global warming, extinction of wildlife, and pollution have been pushed to the forefront of political and popular concern.”
For me, the learning starts there. But it continues with learning more about my impact on the world.
Last fall, I put a pause on eating meat. I ate vegetarian for over three months, mostly because I had a few experiences that made me realize how little I know about what I eat (something I read and something about monkeys in Gribraltar and someting about seeing pigs in a truck on the highway in Colorado). I still have so much more to learn, but now I at least know that eating one less cheeseburger a year actually reduces my “water footprint” more than shaving a minute off my shower every day!
So I’m learning more about what I eat, but also about the city I live in. Recently, Seattle’s Duwamish River was rated the 5th on the list of “America’s Most Endangered Rivers.” I knew it was bad (and so did Seattle’s own Macklemore), but not this bad!
Earth Day reminds me to continue to learn about how we are harming and healing this beautiful planet, and urges me to translate my growing awareness into action.
Indeed I want to listen to the environmental experts and activists about how to live an eco-conscious life. But they are not the only ones who have something to teach us.
I recently spent time listening to stories from community leaders in some of the poorer neighborhoods of Philadelphia, where row houses line city blocks as far as the eye can see. Some of these leaders observed that people really don’t leave their neighborhoods — if they have a laundromat, corner grocery store, neighborhood bar, and Chinese takeout restaurant (and maybe a Dunkin’ Donuts) they are all set! They stay in their neighborhoods because they have a loyalty to their particular place — but they also stay in their neighborhoods because they don’t have the means to leave!
We need to listen to the lives of these Philadelphians as they live locally in a way that has a reduced impact on the planet, whether or not they are conscious of it.
On Earth Day, while privileged people like myself pontificate about flying less, driving less, and meat-ing less, the poor in America’s cities and around the world are busy practicing eco-consciousness by shopping local, growing food in gardens, walking and taking public transportation to work.
“Blessed are the poor, for they will inherit the earth.”
It’s a mashup of Jesus’ Beatitudes, but I think it is true. The world’s poor, with their limited mobility, live in a way that cares for the earth and treats it as an inheritance, a gift to be shared by everyone.
I want to listen to the poor, these caretakers of the earth — not to limit them to their current socioeconomic reality, but so that I might begin to live with limits, in such a way that treats this planet as an inheritance for all.
My friend’s question about Earth Day activities wasn’t primarily a personal question for the pastors in the group. She was wondering what, if anything, our churches had planned in our neighborhoods.
I’ve thought about it, and as it turns out, my church is doing something in our neighborhood for Earth Day. But the truth is that it isn’t particular for today — it’s something we’re doing for 366 days this year! What we are doing in the neighborhood as a church is that we are being the church in the neighborhood.
This may not sound very significant, but the sad truth is that for a long time the church has been disconnected from place. The predominant understanding of “church” in America has become an event we commute to, rather than a community of people following Jesus and joining God’s renewal in a particular place.
A local pub in Seattle is continuing its annual Earth Day tradition of “kegwalking.” According to an article, “Each year the folks at Latona Pub celebrate earth week by transporting kegs to the pub without the benefit of motorized vehicles. They call it ‘kegwalking.’ The primary vehicle involved is the simple hand truck, but bicycles are also used in some instances. Even rowboats and sailboats have been involved.”
I saw these folks pass through my neighborhood last year with a keg in tow. It looked fun, but grueling!
Imagine if the churches in our cities observed Earth Day with our own rendition of “kegwalking” by asking all church members to walk to the Sunday worship service. Odds are that it would be extremely challenging and involve walks of many miles for the majority of participants! People would be criss-crossing all over town.
This wouldn’t be the case for many churches in those Philadelphia neighborhoods I mentioned earlier — and I’m proud to say that this wouldn’t be the case for our church either. But I say this out of gratitude, not arrogance. We stumbled upon this ancient way of being the church ten years ago and have been encouraged and challenged by faith communities in neighborhoods everywhere ever since.
So I guess for Earth Day this year, my church is going to practice our daily version of “kegwalking” by continuing to live in the neighborhood, which not only reduces our carbon footprint (less commuting to church!), but also grows our respect for the entire planet by growing our love for our particular place — the cherry trees and the japanese maple, the open space of Greenwood Park and the provision of the Thorton Creek watershed and the mountain views from the ridge.
I’m an Earth Day rookie, but it turns out their are some ways I’m observing this important day — learning, listening, and living. How about you?
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