Faith Works 10-9-10 -- Newark Advocate
Environmental Hot Water Is Easy To Get Into
Last week was "Walk To School" Day in Granville, and I was invited to MC again.
This was the fifth (we think) time a lovely fall day was picked to organize a group walk from the main downtown intersection to the elementary school, and like most lovely autumn mornings, rain threatened, but held off just long enough to let us ring the old village bell, thank a few supporters, and stroll down the sidewalk a few hundred strong.
We're unusual in Granville in that the school and a large number of elementary age children are located where walking is even feasible. When the school is out on the edge of things, and often there aren't even sidewalks leading to it, walking or bicycling just isn't a option anymore.
And to be fair, the action is largely symbolic. Some of us drove to downtown, walked to the school, and then walked back to our cars where we drove off to work. Many of the kids who walked will possibly never walk to the building again all year, but get dropped off or ride the bus the other 179 days.
Yet some will take away from this community mini-rally a realization that walking to school (or cycling) is more feasible some days, at least, than they realized, and the kids who participate at least get a sense of walking as an option – if not always to school, at least sometimes to some places.
Faith communities know that symbolic actions are deeply meaningful, and can impact behavior and choices far beyond the immediate contact of a gesture, ritual, or presentation. Baptism for cleansing, weddings for marriages, communion as a core element of Christianity – you can see them as "just a symbol," but as Paul Tillich said, "Never say 'just' a symbol." Symbols have power, as a conduit from the everyday to a wider context, even the eternal.
I was thinking about all this as I've been part of an adult study at a church near where the "Walk To School" journey began. Sunday evenings, a few of us have been meeting to talk about Christian faith and "Creation Care," and what environmental issues say to us as we talk about our core beliefs.
One thing that struck us is that, in this short series for adults and kids, we begin the evening with a meal. Being good 2010 Americans, we all eat it off of disposable plates, using disposable utensils, drink from disposable cups, and wipe off our fingers with disposable napkins . . . then we go off into our four adult classes to talk about "that which endures forever."
Cognitive dissonance, anyone?
Meanwhile, there are cabinets in the kitchen full of ceramic plates with a fine blue etching under the glaze, in a classic font saying "Centenary UM." As a traveling preacher who occasionally ends up looking for a cup or spoon, I know that such dinnerware is not hard to find in most churches around the Midwest, but I also know it gets rarely used.
Am I volunteering to wash dishes, I can hear some older (women) folk ask, who remember quite well having to stay long past the end of every food-based gathering, hand washing and drying the cutlery and putting it all up in the cupboards?
I can claim truthfully that I have, and I would, but it's not as simple as that. Hygiene issues, impaired immune systems, all kinds of factors drive us towards disposability. Even bringing our own "pitch-in plates" from home, the kind that let you take a really big pile of potato casserole and broccoli salad, is a complication that people simply look at differently.
But what would it take to make a point of, once in a while, using that which is not disposable for a church dinner? You won't change the climate or save a koala bear with it, but how many ways might our thinking, even our hearts, be changed by getting those blue edged plates out, or carrying home our dirty dishes that can be reused?
Which would probably be in a plastic bag that you can't recycle after getting food goo all over it. So you'd have to hot rinse everything, which takes energy, too . . .
Many angles to this question, but for believers, and particularly Christians, I wonder how often we think about the symbolic meaning of our common meals and our stewardship of the earth, right down to the stuff we're eating there and where it comes from.
Tell me about how your church talks about this, would you?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Knapsack @Twitter.