I am a sucker for a trend.
I like to think that I hover above fleeting moments, fashionable ideas, or flashy gimmicks but I confess to jumping on just about any bandwagon that rolls through town. A small sliver of my ego wants to appear aloof and anti-establishment, for detachment is forever en vogue but mostly, I like kitschy and flashy.
Lately I’ve been exploring connections between the green/eco trend and faith communities (the Christian community in particular). For decades these two did not play nice together and both still holler across political aisles and ideological chasms. But lately, many church-going folk are waking up from their ecological slumber to discover that their understanding of God should inform how they live as citizens of planet earth.
In short, Christians are going green. And green is trendy. Really trendy.
Despite my penchant for all things hip I struggle with trendy church because it takes Jesus’ message of justice and peace and slaps it across a T-shirt. It takes an anchor like hope and crams it on a bumper sticker. Believing that somehow an ancient faith that values humility and modesty would look all pretty to a slick world on the back of an SUV.
Today green is all the rage. Whether it is Coca-Cola greening up their act for the Olympic Games in Vancouver, rock stars who travel in bio-fueled buses or chic organic T-shirts in urban boutiques, American culture is unashamedly green. I cannot blame the church for wanting to cash in.
So, many faith communities find themselves at the threshold of this conversation. Desperate for new congregants and an opportunity to prove relevance there is a temptation to dabble in eco ideas for the sake of looking hip. This inkling is often truncated by political horror that the church might turn loose a bunch of hippies. And yet you can almost feel the pastoral salivary glands in motion. Could this be the gig, the epic maneuver of the decade that the clergy needs to attract the world’s attention? But when people of faith recognize that a more sustainable life is ultimately about transformation that trumps this trend they help change the trajectory of the world. Bump it back into line with Jesus’ desires for love, justice and mercy rather than hype.
Turns out the ecological injustices of our time often land in the backyards of the poor. Landfills, power plants, illegal deposits of chemical waste, and even the electronics we thought we “recycled” often land in communities where people lack the financial resources, education or social structures to fight. These facts rarely attract the hip and uber-savvy.
Combating these realities is the transformational piece of environmental conversations and congregations are designed to seek transformation. To truly achieve it they must see beyond television specials and green-washed marketing tactics to the real conversation. To advocacy work that is timeless. Churches that have tapped into this wellspring of wisdom are empowering people by saving the planet and they offer hope for other faith communities to do the same by moving from trend to transformation.
For those looking to make Earth Day an integrity-filled opportunity to engage this conversation, consider a few of the following options: Involve your congregation in a local park, trail or neighborhood clean up effort. Consider weaning your denomination off single use items like Styrofoam cups, bottled water or plastic table wear. Encourage friends and neighbors to walk to worship rather than drive. Look for places to add native grasses and plants to your landscaping. Plant a tree and connect the event to a holiday or the memory of a friend or beloved member of the community. Donate home garden produce to a food pantry.
Embrace the green planet, people, and places God created long before it was hip to do so.
Image by James Wang