As a Baptist child, I was baffled when my schoolmates pestered me with questions about what I was “giving up for Lent.” What was Lent and why would people give up something for it? Many years and lessons later, Lent in the United Methodist Church prompts me to consider my relationship to other people, to the physical world, and especially to God. What might I do to strengthen relationships? Environmental practices simultaneously shape relationships with others, with the world, and with God, and Lent is a good time to start improving.
The global United Methodist Church’s Social Principle on "The Natural World" says that United Methodists believe in the “responsibility of the church and its members to place a high priority on changes in economic, political, social, and technological lifestyles to support a more ecologically equitable and sustainable world leading to a higher quality of life for all of God’s creation.” Wow. What can my 2-person household do toward that enormous mission? The Social Principle, read together with the book and website Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, gives us a roadmap.
United Methodists should consider what they eat. Apparently this means a lot more than preparing fabulous recipes for covered dish gatherings on the lawn! Drawdown’s concrete solutions to global warming harmonize with the broader United Methodist Social Principles. For instance, Drawdown says, “If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases,” so we can reverse global warming significantly by eating less beef. Wow, again! Here are some more Lenten possibilities:
- Compost food waste.
- Choose foods that are labeled “non-GMO”.
- Shop at local farmer’s markets or join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
My husband, Wade, built and planted a raised herb bed outside our kitchen window. Memories of picking vegetables with the family on my grandfather’s farm warm me, along with the morning sun on our herbs, when I harvest seasonings for the next vegetarian recipe I’m attempting. Thank God for the beauty of living and growing things that delight our senses and warm our insides as they nourish us just as God intended.
The Social Principle says that United Methodists believe in saving energy, encouraging development of renewable energies, and working on an individual level to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. Drawdown agrees. During Lent, we could begin to:
- Plant a vegetable or herb garden.
- Replace all lightbulbs with LED lightbulbs.
- Use mass transit (MARTA rail, buses, streetcars), telework, carpool. Walk instead of driving, when we can.
Recently, I noticed that a local Kroger store is adding new shelving - and lighting on every shelf! Is this really necessary? On my inquiry, the manager said that the extra lighting will not be on every aisle, and the new lighting is in fact LED lighting. Whew, at least it’s LED! The customer service staff wrote down my suggestion that the store put up signage to inform customers that they are being green and using LED lighting. We are in community and helping everyone when we talk the talk AND walk the walk!
The Social Principle says that United Methodists believe in conserving and protecting our water, and not selling it for profit. Drawdown has suggestions here, too:
- Reduce use of water (fewer/shorter showers, re-use water, etc.)
- Use a fillable and reusable bottle for water, and look for bottle-filler fountains, rather than purchasing single-use bottles of water.
- Because production of paper uses large amounts of water, use recycled paper whenever possible (stationery, greeting cards, unbleached paper towels, etc.).
Recycling everything that we can is rewarding. We recently recycled a mattress. We learned that the Atlanta Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (Atlanta CHaRM) sends old mattresses to a partner that breaks them down and re-uses old parts, adding new textiles for sanitary concerns, and issues them for re-use by people of lesser means than ours, such as through the Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta. Now we can say a prayer for a restful night of sleep for someone using our reconstituted mattress, instead of envisioning it adding to an ever-growing landfill.
How exciting, we can do this! We can be grateful that there are so many things we can give up or change for active daily devotion to our relationships with others, with the world, and with God. Getting closer to the natural world means getting closer to God, and also strengthens just and fair use of natural resources. This year, making a positive impact on our environment will infuse my Lenten acts and omissions with special meaning, purpose, and gratitude for our world. Thanks be to God.
Betty Bentley Watson
for the Glenn Environmental Committee (GEC)