Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sustainable living...?

For as long as I can remember I've had a soft spot for utopian visions. Or, more specifically, for anyone who dares to imagine beyond where we are now to a world that is MORE and BETTER. More human, more equitable, more celebratory, more free, more just. Better in terms of BEING a community where people live extraordinary lives, but extraordinary is the new normal. A quick aside here - we celebrate people like Ghandi or Mother Theresa, because they live their everyday lives as if the world really were a different place - a better place. Why do we allow ourselves to honour their example, but excuse ourselves for not following it?

Even when I wasn't doing the typical Christian things, like going to church or studying Scripture, or intentionally "fellowshipping" with other "believers", I was drawn to Jesus' proclamation that he had come that we might have LIFE, and more than that - that we might have it ABUNDANTLY. Or, as The Message puts it, "I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." I think that this is what utopian thinkers are after. More and better life than they ever dreamed of. But they DO the dreaming! And, on occasion, they really do rise above the din of mediocrity and they actually live the dream - some for moments and others in a more sustainable way.

That's all a lead-in to what's on my mind today. I confess that as I write, I have a tangle of thoughts and I THINK I've found a unifying theme, but I'm not sure how it will come out. So here goes...

I'm starting to worry that the leaders of the emerging generation will settle for "sustainable living" and forego the vision and effort required to even imagine what it might be like to actually embrace "abundant living". We talk (and talk and talk!) about reducing our ecological footprint - and well we should. But is this ALL we should aim for? I marked a journal entry this week from a student in my Globalization class. It's been a great class, by the way - what a privilege to teach 19 sensitive, intelligent, caring, emotionally and intellectually intricate university students about globalization! But, about the journal entry. This student talked about living in such a way as to do "no harm". It got me thinking.

If all of us would commit to live in such a way to do no harm, what might that look like? Would that produce "abundant life"? More and better life than we can imagine? Would it produce a utopian community or society? A utopian world? Well - honestly, I doubt it, though it certainly would be a step in the right direction. Here's the thing. As we emphasize environmental stewardship, I think there's a danger that we'll settle for a better life - for us and the planet - but not the best life. See, we'll figure out ways to continue to take more than we give. Seriously - the human heart is devious and we are GREAT at justifying our actions.

I listened to a series of podcasts this week by Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House. The series is called Get Over Yourself. If you're interested you can find the series on iTunes (just search for The Meeting House in the podcast directory) or, you can download the mp3 file at The whole series is good but I especially liked the 4th one: Materialism: The Culture of Mine. For a long time I've been thinking (pondering and worrying) about our acceptance of debt as a natural and benign adaptation to a world where our wants outstrip our financial resources. Bruxy makes the point that we tend to hide our debt but we display our "stuff". It's a trap. We are deceived into thinking that the life we see in the ads and the blatantly ridiculous reality shows (ok - so maybe I have a huge bias AGAINST those shows) and in movies and in music - let's face it - the world that we see presented in pretty much every venue - is the life for us, even the "abundant life". We KNOW that this is stupid. We KNOW that money and stuff don't make people happy. We KNOW better! But we are weak. Our desires are stirred by the media. Bruxy talks about the move from aspirational marketing - I WANT that - to affirmational marketing - I NEED that, and even I DESERVE that. We have become a bottomless pit of desire for stuff.

So, into this sad scenario, enter the environmental movement and the disturbing message that all this STUFF is not only using up the earth's resources in quite unfortunately wasteful ways, but is also contributing to the poverty and suffering of millions of people in "poor" countries. I put "poor" in quotation marks because they are poor compared to us when the yard stick is economic growth and access to credit. Whether or not they are "poorer" than us in less tangible ways - like their sense of identity and community - well, that's something for another day... But the environmentalists urge us to live more simply and more sustainably. And I suppose out of that message has come this idea that we should do "no harm".

Like I said, not a bad first step, but PLEASE, let's not think that this is ALL there is. And let's not wait until we can pass some test for doing no harm, to start doing good. The fact is, if we're going to wait until we can be certified with a "no harm" stamp, we may never get around to actually doing good - putting MORE back into life than we take out. And, when I say MORE, I'm not thinking so much about money or planting more trees than we destroy. I mean MORE of the intangibles. When we really LIVE according to a different reality than the one the media portrays - a reality where peace and love and justice and mercy and hope are the norm. A reality where we live up to utopian ideal of true community. Where we really CARE about other people and that caring leads us to sacrificial action - putting THEIR needs and their value BEFORE ours. Where we share, not grudgingly or stingily, EVERYTHING that we have and everything that we are, from our stuff to our character. Where the world around us is a better place because we bring into it the presence and character of the one who said that we should love our neighbours as we love ourselves.


Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

SJMac said...

Lois - I just stumbled upon your blog today. What a joy it is for me to read! I have been scribbling down so many similar thoughts and it's encouraging to read what's on your heart and mind. Thank you - keep writing!