Saturday, July 4, 2015

Can The Earth Support Our Addiction To Comfort And Convenience?

Reproduction of  1700's Irish Farmstead at the Frontier Culture Museum
On Wednesday I accompanied some of my grandchildren to the Frontier Culture Museum at Staunton for a first hand experience of what average families lived like in past centuries. We were all impressed with how hard life was for most people then, how small and cramped their living quarters, and how limited their food and clothing choices.

The contrast to our current American lifestyle was stark. We came from expansive homes with year-round climate controlled comfort and wardrobes full of cheap clothes produced by underpaid workers around the world. We arrived in a fully equipped Toyota van and left to enjoy a tasty lunch at a McDonalds afterwards, all covered with the swipe of a Visa card. Ours was lifestyle with far more ease, comfort and entertainment than would have been available even to royalty in centuries past.

Recently Pope issued his long awaited encyclical on the care of the earth, which opens with:

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.[1]

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.
The "harm we have inflicted" is not the result of our deliberate efforts to ravage God's creation. Rather it is the inevitable result of our addiction to comfort and ease, to providing for our convenience and our appetite for endless entertainment.

In short, we have come to identify as needs things that our forebears would have never dreamed of having access to, such as air conditioning, smart phones, flat screen TV's with multiple channels, clothes dryers, motor powered transportation--the list could go on and on. We have become spoiled and lazy by our wealth, and demand ever more of the fruits of it, mindless of the consequences of our choices.

So in light of our insistence on ever more things, is there any hope for the earth's sustainability? Maybe, if we change our ways and live more like our ancestors--and like Jesus.

"A final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you’ve piled up is judgment.
"All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger. You’ve looted the earth and lived it up. But all you’ll have to show for it is a fatter than usual corpse. In fact, what you’ve done is condemn and murder perfectly good persons, who stand there and take it."
James 5:1-6 (The Message)

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