He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.’
--Matthew 22:37 NRSV
Earth Day is coming up, so let me share some of my ecologically-minded musings with you.
Sometime long in the past, I can remember reading an essay by a Christian social justice advocate who was also a mom. In her essay, she complained about the amount of plastic present in the packaging of the snacks she had to bring for her kids’ soccer games. When it was her turn to be the parent providing snacks, for safety reasons she had to make sure each was individually wrapped by its producer. Rather than buying one large bag of oranges and slicing them up on her own, she had to purchase individual plastic cups of orange slices sealed with even more plastic. I remember agreeing with her about plastic waste but also thinking, “Who cares about packaged orange slices when there are giant corporations dumping toxins all over the place?”
Fast forward more years than I want to admit, and I’ve been thinking about all the plastic my family uses. Is this something that happens to people when they have children and reach middle age? I made dinner last night and all of the food came in some kind of plastic packaging, even the organic healthy stuff, and most of it was of a sort that can’t be recycled. I just stared at the packaging for a moment in amazement.
I think like most people I don’t want to pollute the environment, and I think like most people I feel sort of powerless to make change on a large enough scale to matter. When you live in a state where your politicians hold safe seats in Congress and in the state legislature AND they routinely deny climate change is real, you can write all the letters to them you want but you are just wasting paper—paper they probably won’t recycle!
I’m well aware of the good modern plastics provide for us. I’ve seen the commercials made by the plastic companies. Plastic helps save food from spoiling and waste. Plastics help save lives with advanced medicine. Plastics can be recycled. Etc. Etc.
I’m also aware that most plastic we use never gets recycled but rather goes in landfills where it will take 10,000+ years to break down. Ever since China stopped importing our recyclables some years back, the market fell for paper, cardboard, and plastic leaving recyclers with nowhere to sell the stuff we throw in the recycle bins each week. Almost daily, more news appears about the amount of microplastics in our rivers, lakes, oceans and even the air we breathe.
All of this leaves me staring at the amount of plastic involved in my family’s average meal and wondering if that meal was worth the amount of plastic that will take 10,000+ years to break down? We recycle and even wash the food particles off our plastic, because food contaminates plastic making it non-recyclable. We compost food waste, and we try to reuse plastic whenever we can. Yet, none of it seems like enough.
As a Christian, I’ve been taught all my life that the second greatest commandment is loving others as I wish to be loved. It comes right after the first commandment to love God. So many Christians envision a future that ends with a fiery cataclysm which could come any day, but those of us who reject such a view are left with an indeterminate future. This means the command to love others includes more than just people alive now but also others in the future.
Decades ago, I read a book by a Christian ethicist named Robert Parham titled Loving Our Neighbors Across Time. I’ve forgotten what the book said—probably the same stuff most environmentally conscious Christians say—but I’ve never forgotten the title. People I will never meet will live in the far future with the plastics I use every day for the most ordinary things. Jesus commanded me to love them too. It doesn’t seem very loving to leave them my mess.
If you’re reading this, maybe your reaction is like mine was years ago when I read a Christian mom’s lament over plastic-encased orange slices. You have more pressing things to worry about. Maybe sane people don’t look at their groceries and think about their neighbors centuries in the future or maybe we are all insane not to do so.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851