This week's paragraphs (91-95) in Pope Francis' latest encyclical letter, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home carry some pretty sharp words. (see for yourself by clicking here). We finish the section on A Universal Communion and begin the one on The Common Destination of Goods, and guess what? Our North American lifestyle is a clear sign that things aren't shared very well around the globe. More on that later.
If human beings really believed that care for each other and care for creation are inextricably linked, would our world be in its present state of pollution and climate-related issues? Paragraph 91 notes that "It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted." Once again we hear the chorus [for the third time], "Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society."
Our sense of community and universal communion can exclude "nothing and no one" says Paragraph 92, because "our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings.... We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality.... Everything is related" [that chorus again, fourth time].
And yet, we are always disregarding aspects of our reality. For example, and this is just one of many, how often do we think about how or where our clothing is made? Are the people who make them being treated fairly? Are the processes involved compatible with a healthy environment? It takes research to find out those kinds of details, and most of us simply don't have the ability to interrogate the CEOs in charge, or the time to look into the business practices related to everything we wear. But here's a thought -- buying our wardrobe second hand, or wearing hand-me-downs is actually recycling and opting out of the consumerism that insists upon the latest style and the most recent market-created trend...
Am I repeating something I said a few weeks ago in that last paragraph? I'm starting to feel as if I'm always singing the same song from this encyclical, and not just because the everything-is-connected chorus is playing over and over again. Awareness of where we can improve the planet's health by using fewer resources eventually makes all these suggestions I'm offering rather obvious. At least, they're obvious to me. Are they obvious to you?
Unfortunately, awareness can be a dangerous thing. It means we have to change!
On Thursday I sat outside a coffee shop and became aware of how many disposable cups were carried out the door by its patrons. In my mind I was trying to multiply that by how many coffee shops there are in my city, and eventually I was tempted to stand up and scream, "Why don't you all bring your own cups and save the trees, the landfill, our planet?! You don't deserve coffee if you don't bring your own cup!" Of course, awareness of these kinds of things is part of the road toward being fully loving toward all that God made (provided I change my own life and make gentle suggestions rather than yelling at anybody! After all, I've used styrofoam and paper coffee cups hundreds, if not thousands of times. But now that I am aware -- it's really hard to go back to that old pattern. I've gotten pretty good at remembering to take my travel mug with me -- I'd say, 9 out of 10 times. But there's still that one time...)
Paragraph 93 says that "every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged." Here I would carry our social perspective even further than that yet again -- because it's not only human beings who are poor and underprivileged in this world -- we regularly impoverish other species as well by our lack of consideration. Saint John Paul II said that "God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone." But I think God went even further than that -- the earth isn't just for the human race! It's for all living beings. I can't disagree, though, when he says that "it is not in accord with God's plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few."
Unfortunately, it's too true that 1% of the world's population possesses more than half of its wealth, and that many of us in the cities of the western world have more than our share of the planet's goods. Paragraph 94 reminds us that "The rich and the poor have equal dignity," and quotes the Bishops of Paraguay regarding the rights of every campesino to "a reasonable allotment of land where he can establish his home, work for subsistence of his family and a secure life... [with equal access to] education, credit, insurance and markets."
Do any of us really have need for more than these kinds of basics: food, water, shelter, clothing, right livelihood, education and community? Paragraph 95 tells us that nature is a collective good which belongs to and is the responsibility of everyone. If we are honest, we don't actually 'own' anything. So really, those things we consider to be possessions are things we just administer "for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others." The last sentence of the paragraph is the real zinger: "the Bishops of New Zealand asked what the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" means when "twenty percent of the world's population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive."
I'm guessing that you and I are in that twenty percent. I know that if everyone lived as I do, we would probably need another four planets like earth to support our lifestyles! Which tells me that I need to tone it down! But how is the way we live killing people in the developing world -- or in the future?
It's not like we're doing it directly. It's the little things that we often aren't aware of that are the problem. Wasting or being careless with what we have. Buying more than we need. Thoughtlessly adding to global climate change by unnecessary use of fossil fuels. Eating too high on the food chain. Taking what we have for granted. Feeling entitled to more than our share because we've worked hard for our money. Going overboard to keep up with the Joneses.
The better way? Appreciating everything. Owning less. Travelling less. Eating simply. Sharing. Living in sufficiency instead of excess.
And participating in events that make us and the world more aware of how we can become more responsible for our planet, reducing climate change and other negative impacts created by over-consumption and unequal distribution of the world's common goods. The fact is that a lot of us have gotten used to living pretty "high on the hog." I'm suspecting that Laudato Si is Pope Francis' gentle way of telling us that we're going to have to tone it down several notches when it comes to our lifestyles in order to save the lives of those in the developing world and the generations to come, never mind our own lives!
That's all I want to say about Laudato Si for this week. But on a related note...
The Paris Climate Talks (COP21) are beginning on November 30th, and next weekend, around the world, there are many rallies and marches being planned to let world leaders know that we need serious action to reduce climate change. Here in Edmonton, people are gathering at the Alberta Legislature next Sunday, November 29th at 2 p.m. as a sign that we need and want action -- even if it means our lives have to change. All are welcome to rally together and show support for the global movement to reduce greenhouse gases and improve our planet's overall health. If you're not from Edmonton, hopefully you can find information about rallies and marches in your neck of the woods by clicking here.
And if you are from Edmonton, I'll be pouring the hot chocolate... hopefully mostly into travel mugs!
Next up: #19... How would Jesus live?