Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Green for God

It seems everyone in the church has suddenly decided that being environmentally conscious is a good, even holy thing. Congratulations. The scientists are telling us it's already too late, but at least we are getting the point.

Now all the liberals out there, especially the younger ones and the parents of the younger ones (who twenty years ago were shamed by their kids into learning to recycle) are saying "It's about time! Here's something we can agree on for a change. Rather than deciding whether someone is going to heaven or hell by looking at who shares their bed or blindly following the next Republican who claims to be a born again Christian despite showing absolutely no sustained relationship to a faith community of any kind, we finally are talking about doing something useful for the world. We can all work together, right?"

Yes, I know how those last sentences read. Those liberals can be pretty judgmental too, can't they (Notice how I refuse to label myself as a liberal. Maybe I'll talk about that sometime soon too.) Not exactly the best way to start an alliance. But maybe if everyone can learn to keep their mouths shut about other issues, we can actually get something done, especially if we can agree that maybe, just maybe, the government can also be a partner in this. Good will is certainly welcome. Organizing as a people to do something also helps. And at its ideal, isn't that exactly what government is supposed to be?

Unfortunately, the Sunday forum at the campus ministry where I work read a book on environmental action by one of the evangelicals. I won't mention it's name, but one of the gurus of the emergent church movement, Brian McLaren, gives it a front cover "Enthusiastically recommended." You can figure it out if you really need to.

Notice how I said we read this book unfortunately. I should mention that this was a group of activist type folks who hang laundry, reuse plastic bags, take cloth bags to the grocery and try to buy local whenever possible. And I should also say we loved the appendices, which include a way to do a home energy audit, notes on home appliances to help you when shopping, and practical lists of things you can do today through the coming year. But we also had the reaction that one often has to converts. "This guy has taken a good idea and run over everyone with it." Worse than that, his excess seemed designed to make everyone else feel guilty. Theologically, I saw more than a little Pelagianism in his writing.

Here is a way too brief and overly simplified explanation: Pelagius was a fourth century theologian who believed that one could work ones way into God's redeeming love through a life of good deeds. Augustine, in one of his better moments, refuted that claim, saying that it is only by God's grace that anyone is saved; Pelagius was condemned as a heretic (Perhaps a bit of overreaction too).

Why did we feel this way? Perhaps it was his daughter chiding him for cooling down a glass of water with ice on a hot day. Or maybe it was the image of his teenage children (a boy and a girl) working wonderfully side by side in the garden on a summer day. There was the chapter in which he managed to turn the idea of sabbath time into a rule that seemed more rigid than the Pharisees could dream up; in fact, I thought of Pahrisees often while reading this book.

How about the lecture on how evil television is? Or the one chiding anyone who does not buy ethically responsible food that glossed over the extra cost of this --I do work with lots of public college students who don't have lots of money or cars-- and never said a word about how much fuel I would have to spend to go get this food. Buying local, after all, means two things: products grown locally and not burning lots of fuel to get them. We have to balance between the two.

I completely jumped ship when, for reasons that now escape me, he declared that he was not taking blood pressure medication on the argument that Winston Churchill had high blood pressure and lived to age 91 without benefit of such medication (that did not exist for him, of course). At that point, I realized that logic was not a part of this doctor's argument either. That's right; the author is a doctor. I would not seek medical advice from him either.

So, the net effect of this book was to turn off a sympathetic audience of people seeking ways to alter our own lives (further) to be more environmentally appropriate. We decided to make our Lenten discipline as a congregation to examine our building to find ways we could do a better job. Sure we will use some of his checklists, but I won't suggest others read the book. Excess guilt trips are not the best way to motivate people. We don't have to look at how many ways we can make people feel bad about themselves in order to build up God's kingdom.

When will the church finally figure this out?

1 comment:

absolutleybill said...

For a good book on greening-up buildings and lives and such, check out Radical Simplicity. I believe it is the "go to" book for such things in the conservationist community.