Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Deprivation or Opportunity
distributed 9/15/17 - ©2017

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Linda Littlefield Grenfell, of Wells, Maine. Her generous support helps make this publication possible.

Humor is important, especially when the weather and the politics feel relentless. So I begin today with a story that made me chuckle.

About three times a month, a friend in Florida -- a retired Presbyterian minister -- sends out a diverse newsletter. It has poetry, political commentary, practical advice, and a sprinkling of jokes. Sometimes, he even quotes a section from these Eco-Justice Notes! But it is the funny stuff that makes me read through the mailing as soon as it comes.

Two weeks ago, John's newsletter ended with "The Devil and the Golfer."

A golfer is in a competitive match with a friend, who is ahead by a couple of strokes. The golfer says to himself, "I'd give anything to sink this next putt."

A stranger walks up to him and whispers, "Would you give up a fourth of your sex life?"

The golfer thinks the man is crazy and that his answer will be meaningless but also that perhaps this is a good omen and will put him in the right frame of mind to make the difficult putt and says, "OK." And sinks the putt.

Two holes later he mumbles to himself, "Boy, if I could only get an eagle on this hole."

The same stranger moves to his side and says, "Would it be worth another fourth of your sex life?"

The golfer shrugs and says, "Sure." And he makes an eagle.

Down to the final hole. The golfer needs yet another eagle to win. Though he says nothing, the stranger moves to his side and says, "Would you be willing to give up the rest of your sex life to win this match?"

The golfer says, "Certainly." And makes the eagle.

As the golfer walks to the club house, the stranger walks alongside and says, "You know, I've really not been fair with you because you don't know who I am. I'm the devil and from now on you will have no sex life."

"Nice to meet you," says the golfer. "My name's Father O'Malley."

Without dwelling too much on the notion of celibacy, there is a serious take-away from this little story. Our attitudes and values can make a blessing out of what some might consider deprivation.

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There are some aspects of an ecologically responsible lifestyle that call on us to make major changes. Conserving energy, eating intentionally, working toward "zero waste" -- there are lots of folk in our society who look at such practices as a hardship. It feels like they are being deprived of convenience and the right to consume whatever they want and can afford.

I've often made the comment that people are unlikely to give up what they consider to be "the good life" for any length of time, even if it is for a noble cause. Given the choice between environmental responsibility and consumer culture, most people seem to pick the mall.

So, if people won't give up what they believe to be the good life, then the challenge is to show them a different good life that can be embraced joyfully. What might have felt like deprivation becomes a quality to be affirmed and treasured.

Father O'Malley sort of illustrates that idea, but there are much better examples.

Last week, a friend talked about a moral choice that he made 20 years ago. After reading the book, Diet for a Small Planet, Jim became a vegetarian. We could describe that as a sacrifice. For two decades, he has given up meat. But that isn't the way he talks about it. For two decades, he has filled his plate and his stomach with food that is tasty and healthy, that does not exhaust Earth's resources, and that does not abuse the creatures who are our kin in God's creation. Jim is delighted to live meat-free, and he probably would consider it a great loss if he had to go back to an omnivore's menu. Jim would gladly make a deal with the devil to give up a fourth of the meat that he eats every week -- although I think that he'd try to strike that bargain for something more important than a golf game.

For much of the year, I have the joyous option of riding my bike to work. I am frustrated when a meeting across the city, or stormy weather, makes me get in the car. As I pedal two miles on quiet side streets and through a beautiful park, I get to laugh at the multitudes of commuters that I see stuck in gridlocked highway traffic. Giving up the car for the day (or the week) isn't a deprivation. I get gentle exercise, exposure to sounds and smells, connection to the community of bikers and park people, and the good feeling that I'm putting a lot less carbon into the atmosphere. More days on the bike would be a blessing, not a hardship.

I know of people who have "downsized" their home, and found freedom in having less stuff and fewer chores. There are folk who prefer to hang their laundry on a clothesline, instead of using the drier -- with a meditative time putting it out, a fresh air smell that comes back inside, and the dramatic reduction in energy use. Lots of my friends and colleagues have chosen vocations with low pay, because that is the work that they embrace as meaningful and rewarding -- in ministry, or education, or political activism, or social services.

We could frame all of these choices as a deprivation, a taking away, a hardship. From that point of view, doing the environmentally and socially responsible thing is a very hard sell, and we're left feeling frustrated and angry. But in all of these examples, making the eco-justice choice is an affirmative turning toward a better option and a more joyous way.

If we buy into the lie that the American Way of Life is the best of all possible worlds, then we're in big trouble. The "green" options will always look bad. But when we start to believe that there are other ways of living in this world that come with a wonderful mix of blessings and opportunities, then the turning toward right relationships and a lighter footprint will be a joyous choice.

May our love of God and our love of the whole Earth community entice us toward new and hopeful ways of living.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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