Thursday, June 30, 2016

Simple Suggestion #254... Have waste-less dinner parties

One of the things that drives me crazy about large family gatherings is the tendency to pull out the paper plates, plastic utensils and disposable cups. Garbage bags full of them end up in the landfill every year, and though it's convenient, it's just not necessary -- besides, that kind of waste of resources in single-use items is not good for our planet.

SuperSu to the rescue! She's one of my Simplicity Sisters (@redworm_mama for you tweeters) and she's brilliant. She came up with the Party Box -- well, two of them, actually, and she lent them to me for our Canada Day party tomorrow.

Here's what you get when you borrow Supersu's party box:


Everything in the box was either purchased at a thrift store/garage sale, or made/donated by Su herself. Much of it may have ended up in the trash, but she rescued it from ignominy and now it's keeping all those other single-use party items from even being purchased and used only once before the long drive to the landfill. And it's a very festive looking collection, as you can see by the pictures below.






The cloth napkins (mostly made by Su) say "Use Su's", and don't you love the host/hostess' apron? There's a cute little apron for a child host/hostess, too. The utensils are sturdy plastic or good old-fashioned metal silverware/flatware of different kinds, and you'd be hard pressed to set a matching table for more than six people... but the variety makes for a very festive looking gathering, don't you agree? (The reusable cups are mine -- it would be hard to fit them into the boxes.) This is only fourteen place settings -- you could easily feed fifty ore more with the dishes/utensils in these two boxes.

As a Master Composter/Recycler, Sue is into reducing, reusing and recycling in a big way, and she's a strong supporter of the sharing economy. Her party boxes are available for loan if you live in the Edmonton area and can pick up/return them on your own steam. She can be reached at supersu @shaw.ca. And if you don't live nearby, maybe you'd consider starting a party box for the sharing economy where you are. 

Wasteless parties are the new black, so there!

July 2nd, the morning after the party...
A good time was had by all at our Canada Day party. 23 people came, we sang our anthem in both official languages, the food was delish, and there was no big black garbage bag of single-use so-called disposable items going out the back door at the end of the night. Not even one paper napkin! I told everyone about the party boxes during our "Fun Facts" icebreaker, and one of my friends said that "Supersu deserves an award."

But knowing my humble friend, she's feeling the love just by knowing that she's making a difference and planting the seeds for future wasteless parties. Some of my friends are now planning to dig out those plastic dishes and unmatching utensils and make party boxes to be shared around their clans for larger family gatherings, too.

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Simple Suggestion #253... Go back in time

A tradesman and his family lived in a space
much like this in Fort Edmonton in 1846
Yesterday we took a little family field trip to Fort Edmonton. It's a lovely historic park in the crook of the North Saskatchewan River's arm. The park highlights different eras in the life of Edmonton, beginning with the fort that was established by the Hudson's Bay Company in the mid 1800's. In the history of humanity, 170 years ago isn't such a long time.

What always strikes me when visiting the fort is how simple and uncluttered everything is. Furniture was built for function more than comfort. Almost everything was made of wood, plant and animal fibres of some kind -- totally biodegradable materials. Beds and doorways were short because people who sometimes went hungry didn't grow so tall. Gardens were necessary, hunting essential, and the spring supply boats were anticipated more than Christmas.

I wouldn't want to live the way they did. I like my comforts, but the spareness of those homes helps me realise that I would probably be just as happy without so many books on my desk and pictures on my walls. I wouldn't want to live without a refrigerator or hot water tank, but there are many other things in my home that are unnecessary. In the mid 1800s, no one needed exercise machines. Or patio furniture. Or tablet computers. Or clock radios. They worked hard, played hard, entertained each other and slept from dark til dawn.

Going back in time offers us the opportunity to think about the craziness of consumer culture and the hectic lifestyle it seems to engender. If you have a museum or historical place in your neighbourhood, why not pay a visit for a reminder that life can be lived more simply?

Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #44... Simplicity and prayer

Did you grow up with Grace and Gratitude? My years of working in our family church supplies business ensured that I did. Grace (circa 1918 by Eric Enstrom/Rhoda Nyberg) is a portrait of a man praying before his meal, and Gratitude (by Jack Garren in the 1960s) is the companion picture of a woman in a similar posture.


What I always liked about these two was the simplicity of the images. They seem to say that if you can live in gratitude and try to be aware of God's grace -- even if you don't have many possessions -- you have enough.

Which fits with the theme of this week's section from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, which is entitled Joy and Peace (paragraphs 222 to 227. It can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down). This section of Pope Francis' letter to the world is all about choosing to live more simply, which is, of course, my favourite topic.

Less really is more these days. Choosing simplicity is downright subversive and counter-cultural in a society that has been brainwashed into believing that if we don't buy, buy, buy, the economy will die, die, die. What our brainwashers have failed to notice is that excessive consumption has brought our world to its present ecological problems... the overemphasis on buy, buy, buy leads directly to die, die, die for too many of our ecosystems. In paragraph 222, Pope Francis and his writing team remind us that
Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that "less is more". A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment.
This makes me think of Christmas, the big consumer holiday of the year. When our children were little, we quickly learned that if they received too many gifts, things got lost in the shuffle and were under-appreciated. So we cut back on the gifts, and our little ones were just as happy. More stuff does not equal more happiness. As noted later in paragraph 222, choosing a simpler existence "allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack."

"In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have," say Pope Francis and friends in paragraph 223 of Laudato Si. The entire paragraph is just excellent (read it for yourself!!), and seems to echo wise teachers from the past... I'm thinking in particular of Richard Gregg, a follower of Mahatma Ghandi, who summed up Ghandi's practice of Voluntary Simplicity (in 1936) as follows:
Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life. It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions. It involves a deliberate organization of life for a purpose. (Quoted in Mark A. Burch's book, Stepping Lightly: Simplicity for people and the planet. (2000, ISBN 0-86571-423-1) pp. 9-10.
I love the line about restraint in some directions which can lead to a greater abundance of life in others. Isn't that what our consumer-driven society is really looking for -- abundance of life? But we mistakenly think our possessions are what brings us joy. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I invite you to consider three high points in your life -- the times you felt most joyful and fulfilled. Then note who you were with, what you were doing, why you were so happy, and what, if any material items were required for the experience. We do this exercise in Simplicity Study Circles all the time, and it's always interesting to note how few consumer items are actually required for the happiest moments of our lives.

"Even living on little, they can live a lot," says Pope Francis in paragraph 223, and of course he is talking about all of us when we find joy and satisfaction

  • in relationships,
  • in serving others,
  • in using our talents,
  • in enjoying or creating music or art,
  • in relating to nature,
  • in prayer.

This brings to mind another old song on YouTube, which kind of says the same things using a musical format...



Paragraph 224 reminds us of the personal, societal and environmental imbalances created by 1) consumerism, 2) an overemphasis on autonomy, 3) a lack of faith in our Creator, and 4) the belief that our feelings are the best indicator of "what is right and what is wrong."

Instead, we need to find inner peace, says paragraph 225, the kind that is connected to simplicity, to care for the environment and to working for the common good. Because so many of us fill our lives with so much noise and frenzied activity in our pursuit of being good people who are doing good things, we forget that less is more when it comes to spirituality. We can't enjoy God's gifts to us if we don't make the time to appreciate them. We really won't find peace if our possessions and activities are doing violence to God's creation somewhere behind the scenes.

"We are speaking of an attitude of the heart," Pope Francis says, "one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone [or to creation, I would add] without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full." Our culture is too much like the rich young man in the tenth chapter of Mark's gospel, worried about our possessions while Jesus is looking at us with love -- but are we too tied up in our stuff to notice?

In an attempt to encourage this "attitude of the heart", Pope Francis has recently begun something of a campaign to remind people to pray in thanksgiving before and after meals -- paragraph 227 has been appearing in church bulletins lately. Yes, maybe some of us need to get back to the basics of simple mealtime graces before we can attempt more serious ecological reforms, but I was hoping for a more challenging campaign -- like perhaps encouraging us to try a year of living really simply -- buying only what we need, or finding ways to cut our use of energy by 20 or 30 percent, churches included. (Note to Pope Francis and all the other bishops out there: I'm also still waiting for places of worship to have regular sermons about saving our environment...) But maybe eventually those mealtime graces will lead us to a more respectful "attitude of gratitude" -- and remind us of the importance of prayer and meditation for keeping in touch with the Source of all life as we work toward the more difficult challenge of seriously reducing consumption for the sake of creation.

I know I haven't moodled much about the importance of prayer in these Laudato Si reflections, probably because I feel the urgency for action to return our sister, Mother Earth, back to health before it's too late. But the very first Sunday reflection was about the encyclical's A Prayer for the Earth, which I've posted at the end of every reflection since in the hopes that my readers pray it with me every weekend. Prayer is also necessary in the work Pope Francis is calling us to do -- it helps us to live in hope, to keep our eyes fixed on God's love for the great web of creation, and inspires us to work for the common good of all of creation.

So for the week ahead, let's do like our Grace and Gratitude people at the top of this moodling and give some attention to our spiritual practices. Do we remember to give thanks for our food? Do we offer some time and attention to Christ, who looks at us with love even when we are too busy? Let's simplify some spaces in our lives to make room for the richness of life Christ promised in my favourite verse of scripture, John 10: 10b -- "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: Rebuilding a culture of care

Friday, June 24, 2016

And now for a message from our sponsors

It's Aboriginal Awareness Week here in Canada -- Aboriginal Day is tied to Summer Solstice. And here's a great little video from Wab Kinew, who is one smart guy. I am celebrating my Aboriginal friends this week, and sharing this video with you.

The title of this moodling might seem a little off the wall, but if you think about it according to Wab's fifth point below, our First Nations brothers and sisters have supported our lifestyles a lot more than we have supported theirs... It's time to learn more about their history and work for reconciliation in a serious way, Canada.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A special project

"Do I Need It?", also known as The Reducing Song, is nine years old already... and getting rather glitchy on YouTube. So when my daughter and her boyfriend gave me the Christmas gift of remaking it, I was excited. It needs serious updating -- as you can see below.



For my readers who have yet to run into my secret career as a songwriter, this tune came out of my Master Composter/Recycler Course in 2007. The day I went for my interview to join the program, I was very excited because I wanted to learn more about reducing my impact on the planet, and composting and recycling fit with my ideals as a Voluntary Simplicity practitioner. The interview went well, and on my way home, the refrain to this song popped into my head -- from the Source of all inspiration, I guess. 

I didn't know what to do with it, so I walked around for the first weeks of my course, singing and humming it to myself so I wouldn't forget it. It wasn't until the course instructors announced that everyone in the class had to come up with a final project about waste reduction that I knew what I had to do -- write some verses about reducing waste, of course. I wrote too many -- and I'm such a nervous solo performer, I couldn't imagine standing up and singing it in front of the group.

Thankfully, my sister suggested I make a video -- so I recorded the sound track in the peace and quiet of my kitchen using a cheap microphone and my laptop. My mom and I visited the local Salvation Army Thrift Store (that has since closed, unfortunately), we ran around taking a few more pictures, and it all came together quite nicely thanks to Jeanine's patience as video editor. The version above isn't the original -- I re-recorded and added more images before posting this version to YouTube.

It's been a lot of fun receiving feedback about my song from folks all over the world over the last nine years. Musicians detest it because, hey, I never thought about varying the melody to make a "bridge," and honestly, I can't stand the sound of my own voice, either. But school teachers, environmentalists, recycling enthusiasts, and students from Australia to Taiwan have shared my funny little video with their circles. It even ended up in the Taiwan English School Curriculum as part of a lesson on Senseless Consumption. It hasn't gone viral by any means, but seems to have a fairly steady viewership (most of the hits are from my Uncle Mark, I think, who is the King of Recycling in his small town). What really makes me happy is when it gets quoted on the Master Composter Recycler Facebook page, or by someone I know. That means it might be having an impact on peoples' consumption patterns. (My family really hate it because it's an earworm!)

I had a chance to visit this year's graduating class of Master Composter/Recyclers in April, and we watched it as a group. Its outdatedness and glitchiness made me immediately ask the group for their assistance in the remake, and a few of them were quite excited about participating. So on Saturday, a group of us gathered in our basement "makeshift sound studio." My daughter and her boyfriend set up recording equipment and took pictures. We made plenty of mistakes, had a lot of fun, practised our percussion, and eventually the basic sound track was laid down, ready for editing. Over the next weeks Landon and Christina will work on audio and video and hopefully the finished product will be ready around the time that I finish my final Laudato Si Sunday Reflection.

So watch this space for the World Premiere of The Reducing Song -- Do I Need It, take three, by the Marvelous MCRs and Honourary Guests. I promise, it will be the best one yet!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #43... Talkin' 'bout ecological conversion

Not sure why I'm droppin' consonants and vowels in the title of this week's moodling, except maybe that I've been listenin' to Tracy Chapman's Talkin' 'bout a Revolution. Actually, the two are kinda connected, now that I think about it -- conversion and revolution are both about making change -- one internally, and the other, externally.  This week, we're looking at both kinds of changes -- in us, and in our world.

Here's the link to access Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home -- scroll down to paragraphs 216-221 to have a look at this week's chunk of Pope Francis' encyclical, which was given to the world one year ago today. Has it made a difference? I really believe it has helped the cause of our planet even though you don't hear the words Laudato Si dropped very often -- but the media seems to be taking a greater interest in news stories related to the environment, more than pre-Laudato Si. I've listened in on more conversations about environmental issues, and I'm hoping that Pope Francis' work is waking everyone up to the changes we need to make. What do you think? I guess sometimes it helps to have a global figure come down on the side of creation -- I just wish it had happened several papacies ago.

But I'll give Pope Francis full credit for finally taking environmental issues in hand through his letter to the world, and through offering his "suggestions for an ecological spirituality" in paragraph 216 of this section on Ecological Conversion. He reminds us that "the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body of nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us." I know that for too many centuries, churches have focused almost entirely on the eternal salvation of the people in the pews, forgetting that salvation is supposed bring everyone and everything God made into the fullness of God's love. Praying with and for the people in the pews doesn't go far enough -- action is required to help creation toward abundant life, too!

Pope Francis and his encyclical writing team start paragraph 217 by noting something Pope Benedict called attention to in one of his homilies: the external destruction of our environments is increasing in proportion to our own spiritual emptiness, which we try to fill with possessions, I would say, or experiences -- that can't satisfy us spiritually. Jesus talked about this in one of my favourite passages of Matthew's gospel -- chapter 6, verses 25-33. Consider the lilies, he says. Seek first God's reign, he says. And with our hearts focused less on our possessions and more on what is really most important and valuable in our lives (our relationships with one another and creation), we don't have to rely on materialism and waste the earth's resources to fill up our souls with God's goodness. Pope Francis knows this when he says
the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion... whereby the effects of [our] encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in [our] relationship with the world around [us]. Living our vocation to be protectors of God's handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.
In paragraph 218, we revisit the example of St Francis. He was born into a life of wealth and luxury, but his experiences as a prisoner of war and his illness following gave him a lot of time to reflect on his playboy lifestyle and the people living in poverty all around him. He woke up to the emptiness that his status and possessions couldn't alleviate, and his personal conversion brought him into harmony with God and creation. I think sometimes we forget that God can change our hearts, too, and bring us to that same harmony.

Coral reef bleaching -- image from World Wildlife Fund

Personal conversion is necessary -- and so is the conversion of all the systems that create pollution, violence and injustice. In paragraph 219 we find that "Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds." Our solitary actions can change the world a little, but communal, world conversion is what will really make a difference. United, we succeed in a hurry; divided, it takes a lot longer... and we are running short of time. Yesterday I read a story about how 90% of the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing coral bleaching because of warming oceans. The corals can rejuvenate, but not if our oceans keep warming.

Our ecological conversion requires "gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God's loving gift and that we are called to quietly imitate [God's] generosity in self-sacrifice and good
works," says paragraph 220. I can't imagine that there's an environmentalist to be found who isn't in awe of nature and the way it works. Gratitude to our Creator springs from that kind of awe, and what follows is an awareness that we have received our world from a Benevolence that asks nothing in return. We are called to be just as generous to all living beings with whom we share our planet.

We must also hold onto the convictions of our faith, including "the awareness that each creature reflects something of God and has a message to convey to us, and the security that Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light." If our faith helps us to see creation in this way, we also see that "God created the world, writing into it an order and a dynamism that human beings have no right to ignore"(paragraph 221).

Yet humanity has unfortunately ignored so much of creation -- at our own peril -- and it's not always easy to get the attention of those people who haven't yet awakened to creation's intricacies, and teach them the kind of self-sacrifice that it will take to save our planet from further destruction. We have started with ourselves, with reading this encyclical, with working on our own ecological conversion. What comes next?

If we go back to paragraph 219, we see that communal conversion is the next step. We need to move out of our comfort zone and call others to join us in our respect for and protection of God's creation. Perhaps we can share our knowledge when it comes to a particular environmental concern. Maybe we can show someone something about nature's intricacy that inspires awe in us. Perhaps we could get involved with an environmental organization that is working to save bees, butterflies, bears, belugas, or any other creatures we care about.

There are so many possibilities. Wikipedia has a page of environmental organizations listed by country and title. There are over 20 just in Canada, and many of them offer free resources to help us become more aware of the issues our planet is facing, information that can be shared with those who are less aware of our sister, Mother Earth and her struggles to support us all. I'm hoping you already have your own favourite ecological causes.

So this week's challenge is to talk up some of the possibilities for environmental education and activism with the people around us. If we can start with one conversation that helps raise a friend's awareness of an environmental issue, it can be like a stone in a pond that ripples out to touch others. And that's where communal conversion -- or environmental revolution -- can begin.

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: Simplicity and prayer

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Heartbreak

Dimitri near Wissant, July 6, 2014
Life is so unpredictable.

When I opened an email yesterday with a subject line mentioning bad news from our friends in Belgium, it was the last news I could have expected. My friends' 34-year-old para commando grandson/son died during a military training run near Antwerp. He told the trainer he wasn't feeling well, and not long after, his heart just stopped.

Dimitri had served in Afghanistan and impressed us all on our visit to Belgium two years ago. When we heard about the bombings in Brussels earlier this year, we all feared for him and his military friends who have been on patrols ever since. It must have been a stressful time for him, and I know that he was looking forward to coming to Canada in August for a "trip of a lifetime" -- his emails had more exclamation points than I've ever seen in one place. We were considering an overnight rafting trip with him and his travelling buddy.

Our hearts are broken for his parents and grandparents. My thoughts are full of hugs and prayers for Luc, Brigitte, Gaby and Yvonne.

Rest in peace, Dimitri.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Simple Suggestion #252... Take a nature break

When I sit at my computer too long, my eyes don't like it. So I've decided to take more little nature breaks. Here's what I saw during one of my breaks today. Bees amaze me, that they can even fly with those stubby little wings. Just thought I'd share.

Why not take your own nature break today? Go outside, even for just two minutes.

Monday, June 13, 2016

As I am #5... Google Larry

I don't know about you, but today I need something good and heartwarming to pick me up. Larry's perseverance and his search using Google and other means with his L'Arche assistants have won my heart. I'm so glad for him... Stories like these are worth telling. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #42... New habits that stick

After last week's reflection about the change that is a comin', we need to to make sure that whatever change comes, it sticks. I've gotta hand it to Pope Francis and his encyclical team -- they're covering most of the bases I can think of when it comes to protecting our sister, Mother Earth, in a pretty methodical fashion . In this week's paragraphs, they talk about how to make our environmental awareness into long-term habit.

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
planting trees
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.)



*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: Talkin' 'bout ecological conversion

Thursday, June 9, 2016

My prayer chair

These days, this is the view from my morning meditation place...


And this is my mantra... "You, you who love us, source of life."

Monday, June 6, 2016

Simple Suggestion #251... Start a Bee Bistro

Our front yard is a buzzing Bee Bistro these days. Little bumbling friends visit all day every day in good weather. I could sit and watch them for hours.

When we bought our home in 2003, you could hardly think for the drone of happy bees in our back yard blossoms, but the front yard was a grass monoculture. It wasn't long before we decided to change it over to perennials a little at a time. We began in 2004 by digging up a three foot swath of turf along the sidewalk that leads to our front door and planting potatoes. In 2005, the City replaced our sidewalks, and instead of allowing them to replace the sod where they had removed a strip of our lawn, we asked that they hold back the sod so we could plant iris beds along the front sidewalk. Slowly and surely, our lawn monoculture was being replaced.

In 2007 I took a Master Composter/Recycler course and learned about lasagna gardening. By then, I had noticed a serious decline of bees in my back yard and learned about colony collapse disorder and other bee-related health issues. I really wanted to do something to help our little fuzzy friends. So when we dismantled a back yard rock garden that was shot through with quack grass in 2008, we layered newspaper over a large piece of front lawn, covered it with compost, and divided and transplanted a few perennials from back yard to front. It wasn't much to look at, and there weren't very many bee visitors, but it was a beginning. (We did all the work ourselves... those are city trucks and machines for cleaning the streets.)


In 2010, we turned the remainder of the south lawn into garden with more sheet mulch and moving more perennials from our backyard to the front, which allowed us more room for vegetable gardening.


15 months later it looked like this...


And this year it's really filled in...


Lupins, columbine, day lilies, irises, daisies, perennial geraniums, bachelor buttons and even chives are putting on a show, and our little bee friends are literally feasting on beauty! Butterflies, birds and jack rabbits seem to like it too...




It doesn't take much to start a Bee Bistro. Flowers are all that's needed -- even dandelions will do. It's not necessary to turn a lawn into floral chaos like we did -- tending flower seeds that will happily grow in a pot also works and requires much less effort. Starting small is always a good idea.

It's such a joy to watch things grow, and hearing the buzz of bees is definitely thanks enough in my books.

P.S. Looking for more Simple Suggestions? Click here.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #41... Change is a comin'

Yippee! We've reached the last chapter of Pope Francis's letter to the world, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. Flipping through its pages, I see plenty of highlighted sections, exclamation points in the margins, and words that I bolded and enlarged in red type. You should see my copy of the document (I copied it from the webpage and changed its fonts so I could read it more easily -- my eyes aren't what they used to be!) -- my 88-page constant companion has gotten a little dog-eared these last 10 months or so.

This week, we're looking at the first section of Chapter Six, Ecological Education and Spirituality, paragraphs 202-208. You can access them by clicking here and scrolling down.

The first thing in Chapter Six to be  highlighted, starred and brought to a red 18 pt font are the words in the first sentence of paragraph 202: "it is we human beings above all who need to change." Yes, dear brother Pope, humanity has traded its awareness of all that God has given us to share for the market-induced forgetfulness found in owning through consumerism, but if we work together to reawaken our common responsibility for our planet and one another, renewal is possible. Change is a comin'. But you are right, it will be a "great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge"!

Right at the beginning of paragraph 203 the Pope and his encyclical writing team remind us that we need to pull ourselves out of the "whirlwind of needless buying and spending." So often we buy more than what's required, forgetting that if we want the earth to supply the needs of all, we shouldn't take more than our fair share. Consumer culture's brainwashing demands that we always buy more.

If there's one thing I've appreciated about reading this encyclical's footnotes, it's all the other thinkers to whom I've been introduced. Romano Guardini is mentioned in this paragraph -- a Catholic theologian who realized that with mass production would come a mindset disposed toward mass consumption. Of course, at this point in time, our identity can no longer rest in our ability to consume. Our sister, Mother Earth, calls us to choose a different way. "We have too many means and only a few insubstantial ends..." the Pope tells us, because we have allowed our possessions to become a substitute for a deeper way of living.

But when I look around, I see that we're getting a bit tired of the clutter in our lives, and the lack of depth. Change is a comin'.

Paragraph 204 names a lot of the things that scare me when it comes to the North American dream of The Good Life: self-centredness, greed, empty hearts leading to overconsumption, an ignorance of reality's limits, forgetfulness of the common good, and the exaltation of personal need over social norms. As the Pope notes, global climate instability (which is now causing flooding in Europe as well as forest fires in drought plagued areas like Fort Mac) isn't the only problem -- our obsession with possessions when there are so many poor people on the planet "can only lead to violence and mutual destruction." And it is... you can bet there wouldn't be so many ISIS fighters if they all had the comfortable standard of living we do.

But before Laudato Si gets too alarmist, we are reminded that human beings can find a better way "despite our mental and social conditioning." In paragraph 205, the Pope tells us that
We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on paths of authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.
(I think Pope Francis could have left an exclamation mark at the end of that paragraph!)

Just think what would happen if every human being on the planet claimed our dignity as a child of God rather than believing ads that tell us we are what we wear, how we look, what we drive, and so on -- if we all really believed that our value comes more from the love we bear for each other than the money we have or don't have in the bank. I have come to love Pope Francis because so much of what he says and does is meant to remind people of their true dignity and the depths of God's love for them. He's on the right track, but not everyone is travelling with him -- yet. But change is a comin'.

Student boycott
Image from People and Planet
Change can happen, says paragraph 206, especially if we take seriously our power and responsibility as consumers. Do you remember the 2009 boycott against Fruit of the Loom? People in the US, Canada and Britain stopped buying clothing produced by the clothing giant and made a pretty big fuss until it rehired 1200 Honduran workers it had laid off simply because they wanted fair working conditions. It's just one example of how, when enough people wake up to injustice, they can work together to turn things around.

I have been boycotting Walmart for years. The corporation moved into my local shopping mall around 1994... and before long, all the little stores in the mall went out of business because they couldn't compete with the mega-chain's bargain basement prices (that come from unjust business practices toward workers in the developing world). I could go on and on about the injustices of Walmart, but it's all well-documented, even on YouTube.



If you've seen the documentary above, you already understand what Pope Benedict said in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate: "Purchasing is always a moral - and not simply economic - act" (paragraph 66). Maybe you'd like to join me in my boycott? And share it with other people in your life? Change is a comin'.

Remember last week when I was wondering if there was a charter that could bring faith and science together to save our planet? Well, it turns out that there was something slightly different -- an Earth Charter -- written around the turn of the millennium, and it has a pretty cool website that you can access by clicking here. Paragraph 207 of Laudato Si quotes the Earth Charter's call to humanity to turn the page on our past destructive ways: "As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning... Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life."

It has been almost 16 years since the Earth Charter called us to "seek a new beginning" -- and some of us listened, but many still haven't heard. Paragraph 208 is Pope Francis' own little Earth Charter, calling us in a slightly different way:
Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.
In the week ahead, what is one thing that we can do to overcome individualism? It's so easy to be caught up in our own little lives, but if we want to change the world, we need to step out of ourselves, extend some hospitality, and build community... perhaps by inviting a colleague for coffee? Sharing some baking? Offering to mow an elderly neighbour's lawn? Anything that brings us together and helps us to see beyond our own walls to the greater good that is around us all the time...

On my birthday two weeks ago I took a small step to overcome my own individualism. I had invited my usual family and friends over for a little pizza party and birthday cake when I got a surprise email from a friend I hadn't heard from in ages. I didn't even know she knew it was my birthday. Somehow, I was prompted (maybe by the Holy Spirit who breaks down individualism) to invite her to join the party and widen the circle. She came -- and was the last to leave, and a good time was had by all.

Not sure what I'll do this week to overcome individualism, but I'll let you know next week. How about you? What will you do? Change is a comin' -- and it starts with us.

*******
A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

+AMEN.

(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: New habits that stick