Today I'm looking at Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home paragraphs 209 -215 (which can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down). The first time I read the encyclical, the ideas in Chapter Six excited me the most. These paragraphs make up the second section that is titled Educating for the Covenant between Humanity and the Environment.
We know all about contracts in our business-focused world, but generally don't have much of an understanding of covenants these days. If you look up covenant in the dictionary, you'll find that it's usually compared to a contract, with a phrase or two about a biblical contract between God and human beings, with certain obligations involved on the part of both parties. But a covenant is actually a love-bond, and even if one party or the other fails in living up their commitments, the covenant continues because they have pledged to work things out, and forgiveness and healing is supposed to be part of the process. We'll come back to the idea of covenant a bit later.
Paragraph 209 points out the importance of building new habits in the face of the ecological and social crises our planet is facing. Basically it is saying that those who know about the "God-shaped hole" inside each person (that can't be filled by consumer items) need to teach our young people other ways to live. The Pope notes that the brainwashing of the market economy isn't easy to resist and therefore "We are faced with an educational challenge."
This is where environmental education that is more than just scientific explanation comes in. In paragraph 210, the Pope and friends call for "educators capable of developing an ethics of ecology... helping people, through effective pedagogy, to grow in solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care."
My daughters and their classmates all studied ecological education in grade four, yet I have seen some of those same kids drop bags of fast food garbage to blow around the school parking lot (and there's always a garbage can in the school hallway). How do we make ecological education stick?
Education toward "ecological citizenship" through sharing scientific information, making rules about how to treat the environment, and attempting to teach good habits isn't enough, says Pope Francis, unless people are "personally transformed" and respond, not from a contractual mind, but from a covenantal heart:
If the laws are to bring about significant, long-lasting effects, the majority of the members of society must be adequately motivated to accept them, and personally transformed to respond.... A person who could afford to spend and consume more but regularly uses less heating and wears warmer clothes shows the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment (paragraph 211).I love the Pope's list of "little daily actions" that change our world in that same paragraph:
avoiding the use of plastic and paper
reducing water consumption
separating refuse [into waste, recyclable and compostable materials, I assume]
cooking only what can be reasonably consumed
showing care for other living beings
using public transport or carpooling
turning off unnecessary lights
A covenantal heart exists in every person on the planet, I'm convinced... it just needs to be awakened to the love relationship each person shares with God and God's creation. And love relationships often begin with doing little kindnesses for others that also make us feel good about ourselves. Pope Francis listed a few kindnesses toward Mother Earth, ways of entering into a covenant with our planet, and there are so many more! (The Simple Suggestions moodlings found by clicking here talk about some of them...) Any of the little positive steps we take for our environment are signs that we care enough to do the right thing rather than the most convenient -- or as Laudato Si says, are "an act of love which expresses our own dignity."
But it's so easy to convince ourselves that picking up one little piece of litter or turning off the radio/TV/computer/whatever before leaving a room doesn't matter in the long run. Sure, these are little things, but little things matter, too: "They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile" (paragraph 212).
Paragraphs 213 and 214 speak of the different settings in which ecological education (toward doing little and big things) can take place -- stressing the importance of family as "the heart of the culture of life." My daughters roll their eyes at me regularly when I talk about living simply and reducing waste when consumer culture doesn't think twice about single use items. What they don't realize but might understand in their heart of hearts is that I am trying to teach them awareness and respect for their surroundings, others, planetary resources and their future.
The middle of paragraph 215 sums up the biggest challenge we face with our world today, I think -- to teach everyone to see the inherent value of creation:
By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple (paragraph 215).As I see it, self-interested pragmatism and individualism are closely related. Remember last week's challenge to do something about overcoming individualism? Here's what I did: went out of my way to meet and get to know a lady who often walks alone past our house, sent a bunch of homemade muffins home with a L'Arche assistant, picked up a pile of scavenged wire on our local foot bridge and carried it across the river to a garbage can. Little things that made life brighter or better for others, or the planet.
Beauty is everywhere, in creation and the people around us, just waiting to be discovered and appreciated so it can pull us out of our self-interest/individualism. I fear sometimes that this internet age with its gimmicky digital images and sounds that are so connected to consumption of things distract us from things of REAL value. So again, in the week ahead, perhaps we could continue with the challenge to overcome individualism -- and create some new habits that stick -- with an extra step. Why not bring someone with us to participate in the beauty and goodness of the REAL? Hopefully I'll bring my girls. Who will you bring with you? Maybe we can do some of the things mentioned in the video below... (Thanks to my sister for sharing it with me... and indirectly, you.)
Next up: Talkin' 'bout ecological conversion