Many years ago I worked in a drug and alcohol treatment center for pre-teens in the inner city in Philadelphia (it was mostly prevention but yes there were ten year olds using in the face of very challenging lives). Everyday I saw the negative power of poverty, drugs, alcohol and despair. I despaired. I felt there was no hope. And then one day I was listening to an NPR reporter interviewing a nun who worked in similar conditions in Harlem. He asked her the question that was on my mind, “why do you do this when there seems to be no hope.” Her answer woke me up, “But there is” she said, “everyday someone like you does something small that makes a difference and it is in these moments that God is present and I know love will win.”
And so I struggle because in the end I know Love will win.
As a Christian I am called to be a caretaker of God’s creation, all of God’s creation, and to not participate in its destruction. I committed to it in my baptismal vows (“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”). Sustainability to me thus is finding a balance in my relationships to the planet, to others and with myself that causes no harm and celebrates God’s creation. However in today’s world it is increasingly difficult to live sustainably. We are faced with environmental inevitabilities such as melting ice sheets and rising sea levels. We are faced with violence on a daily bases through wars all over the globe and of our own making. And we are pushed by society to be increasingly “connected” which often leaves us disconnected from those around us. We are failing our planet, our only home and God’s creation. In fact we as a whole are participating in the de-creation of what God has made. Every day we are bombarded by news of how our actions have sent the planet into a tail spin of environmental disasters and of news of war and death. We as a species are really bad at doing what God has asked us to do. It seems hopeless.
I know love will win.
I see my efforts in sustainability in three areas: the environment, the community and personal. I must do all in my power to not harm our environment. This shows up in decisions I make every day. Everyone of my choices and behaviors matter. The coffee I drink, the clothes I wear, the food I eat, the electricity I use, the car I drive all affect others and the environment often adversely. I also must do all in my power to help build a community that is sustainable and healthy for everyone. This shows up not just in how I treat my family and neighbors but how I share my resources with those who have less and fight for the needs of all people. And the hardest one of all, I must treat myself in a way that allows me to sustain my well being while doing all the tasks of my life.
I struggle everyday to walk this out and I fail often. When I am successful I don’t use paper coffee cups, I use my electric lawn mower, I wash my plastic bags, I turn off the lights (a full time job with young kids), I don’t use chemicals on my lawn, I eat locally produced food, I am kind to my family, I volunteer at Habitat and Second Harvest, I teach Sunday School, I pray, I exercise, I get enough rest… .
These are miniscule efforts in the face of what needs to be done. I have friends who don’t own cars because of the fossil fuels they consume, who don’t eat meat because of the amount of resources it takes to produce, who haven’t used a plastic water bottle or paper coffee cup in ten years because of the landfills…
My effort, my successes and my failures have value. I am on a journey. I believe God is asking me to be on this journey, to struggle with the competing pressures of my life and to get up every time I fail to try again. For it is on this journey of caring for what God has made that I will discover my place in creation and help love win.
God of unchangeable power, when you fashioned the world, the morning stars sang together and the host of heaven shouted for joy: Open my soul to the wonders of creation and teach me to manage faithfully the riches of this good earth, to the honor of your glorious name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Julien Goulet, Assistant for Communications and Administration, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania