Thursday, January 31, 2008

Deanna: Alternative Transportation & Letting Go

From Deanna Akre Matzen, Earth Ministry Operations Manager:

Lent has always been, for me, about setting aside the personal obstacles that separate me from God. I started observing the Lenten tradition of fasting or feasting when I was in high school. My first Lenten journey, I chose a feast - setting aside time every day to play my guitar and sing worship songs. It seemed easier at the time to add something to my life that would bring me closer to God than to remove something. In subsequent years, I began to think about the actions or addictions that came between me and God. In college, I gave up playing computer games - an easy way to fill my bored moments and to while away hours of my days – a much more successful practice than the time I tried to break the habit of swearing. This year, being presented with the challenge of giving something up that not only comes between me and God but is also harmful to the environment, my first thought was to give up one of my biggest environmental addictions, driving my car to work.

Day after day, I think, “Tomorrow I’ll ride my bike… Tomorrow I’ll ride the bus.” But tomorrows turn into next week and next week turns into next month and I’ve continued to choose the easy route. Every day I choose to go to bed late and get up late, jumping into my car 15 minutes before I need to be at work.

I live a mere 4 miles from work. This is a much better commute than most people in the Seattle area. So, this year for Lent, I pledge to not drive my car to work and to choose mass transit, biking, or walking instead. By forgoing my car for alternative forms of transportation, I hope to not only save carbon, but also to improve my physical health, and use the time spent commuting to draw close to God in prayer.

Before I embark on this journey, I feel I should elaborate on the reasons why I fail to not drive my car to work. I’ve already touched on the number one reason, sleeping in too late and needing to get to work quickly. Here are the other reasons:

I often fail to ride my bike to work because:

  • it’s too cold

  • it’s raining

  • I need to go somewhere, besides home, right after work

  • I need to drive somewhere during work hours
I often fail to take the bus to work because:

  • I have to leave 20 minutes earlier to walk a mile to the bus stop

  • It costs more than driving but takes more than twice as long
I love driving my car because:

  • Seat warmers

  • A great sound system

  • Fahrvergnügen

  • Flexibility of time

  • Speed
Writing these reasons down, I realize that I can do better. I can overcome convenience and comfort for 40 days in an effort to relate to Christ’s struggle with temptation in the wilderness, to save up to 8.8 pounds of carbon per day, and to develop the habit of better transportation choices. My hope is that the habit of not taking my car will spread into other areas of my life beyond just commuting, that my life will be enriched by letting go of the addiction of driving, and that I will have a new sense of time in a busy society.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kaitlin: Water: A Gift and a Blessing

From Kaitlin Torgerson, Earth Ministry Outreach Coordinator:

For most of my life, I could be found from spring to fall on the beach or paddling one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. All through my childhood, I played in the sprinklers, ran through the slip ‘n slide, and had squirt gun fights. Water was everywhere, and I had an endless supply coming from the faucet or hose. Moving to Seattle this past summer didn’t change my perspective at all. It only took me from the lakes of Minnesota to the Puget Sound and rainy skies of Seattle.

I learned some water conservation from my parents to save on our water bill. I don’t let the water run as I brush my teeth or wash dishes. But honestly, that’s as far as I’ve ever gone and I thought it was good enough. My utilities have always been included in my rent and my water bill is this mysterious thing that I’ve never seen. This elusive bill has led me to sit quietly as one of my former roommates would turn the shower on just to add humidity to our dry apartment. I love long, hot showers in the morning and cool ones in the evening after exercising. I’ve become notorious amongst my current housemates for leaving half-filled water glasses throughout our house.

This winter, however, I was reminded that I live in luxury. My college roommate wrote from Kenya where she is spending two years teaching science for the Peace Corps. There she has learned conservation like she never thought possible. In particular, she’s learned to live off her allotted two liters of water a day for washing, drinking, and cooking. Two liters? Americans on average use 80-100 gallons of water a day and I am no exception.

My college roommate is now part of the one billion people who lack access to clean drinking water. Worldwide, 1.5 million children under the age of five die due to unsafe water and a lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene each year. The problem isn’t just outside this country either. Forty percent of America’s rivers and 46% of our lakes are too polluted for fishing and swimming. Massive withdrawals of water upstream keep rivers from reaching the sea.

I am part of this problem. I’ve become careless with the precious water that brought me into God’s family through baptism and washes away my sin. For Lent this year, I’m not doing my typical fasting from chocolate and soda. Instead, I’ll be giving up something that affects more than just my own body. I’m fasting from my careless use of water and treating it as the grace-filled gift God meant it as.

So what does this mean?

  • Cutting my shower by five minutes. No more lingering!

  • Installing a low-flow shower head

  • Showering less frequently

  • Always carrying my reusable water bottle with me

  • Flushing the toilet less. (if its yellow, let it mellow…)

  • Using nontoxic cleaning products

  • Praying as I wash my hands
Water is both a gift and a blessing; I want to respect it as such. Psalm 104 reminds me of my duty and responsibility to care for all of creation: “You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, giving drink to every wild animal; the wild asses quench their thirst. By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches. From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.” Our current conditions are not satisfying. It’s time for me to do my part.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jessie: No Cows For Lent

From Jessie Dye, Earth Ministry Program & Outreach Director:

When I was little, all Catholic School Kids gave up candy for Lent; the school candy store closed as of Ash Wednesday, not to open again until Easter. The adults couldn’t eat meat the whole time, or eat between meals. We walked the final journey with Jesus at Mass on Sundays, during Holy Week, in religion class and at home. This was taken very seriously, and it is a discipline that I have valued for the decades since then. While both my own spiritual journey and the Christian theology of Lent have evolved since those days, the concept and practice of fasting during Lent retains a strong hold on my psyche. Each year, I reflect and pray and plan for it, and the Lenten journey still matters in my year. In 2008, the fast is: cows.

In real life, I’m right there with Jimmy Buffet and his cheeseburgers. Meat is great. There’s a wolfish quality to my love of chewing on bones, and I’m thrilled to be just above my dogs in the food chain. It’s unladylike, I know, but there it is.

Still, I can’t help but be aware that eating cows is not a good practice:

  • Each pound of beef uses up 500 gallons of the world’s precious water;

  • A regular American 8 oz. steak has 50 grams of saturated fat;

  • A diet rich in beef increases the odds of many cancers, including breast, colon, and prostate;

  • Cows are a leading producer of methane gas worldwide; cow flatulence is exacerbating climate change;

  • Feedlot animals are tortured.
It’s that last I can’t live with. I can accommodate dots 1-4 by self-righteously purchasing meat for my household from Thundering Hooves, a wonderful ranch in Eastern Washington that raises pasture-finished animals that are as close to indigenous as possible. They eat local grasses, never go to feedlots. Their ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids is just what it was throughout most of human history, and not bad for our arteries.

Most importantly, as Dan O’Brien says of butchering his free-ranging bison in the wonderful book Buffalo for the Broken Heart: “they only have one bad day”. We are all going to have that bad day, and I don’t mind participating in the food chain. I’m happy to eat animals; I just don’t want to torture them.

I saw a feedlot from a back road in the central valley of California not too long ago, and those animals were miserable. The word that comes to mind in describing how they are treated is cruelty. Factory farming is an inter-species holocaust; my conscience rails at me for looking away, or worse, participating. There’s no pasture-finished dairy nearby, and I eat a lot of cows that aren’t from T. Hooves.

So no cows for lent. No beef, milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, or God help me, cream in my coffee. For six weeks I’m going to step away from the hoofed ungulates of choice, for the sake of our good Earth, my waistline, and most of all my conscience. I can remember those who have no clean water, and imagine that they are getting the gallons my cows would be drinking. There will be less methane all around. And on my one bad day, the cows on the other side of the rainbow bridge might give me a break.

Next installment:

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lent & Environment

What we can do as people of faith caring for all creation?

Did you give up something during Lent last year? Keep yourself away from sweets? Eat fish instead of meat? Or have you tried reducing the number of lattés you drink per week? These are also good ways to start caring for all creation because these behaviors help you live a simpler life. However, there is more you can do to care for our Earth. The strategy is simple: You stop environmentally harmful habits and start environmentally friendly ones!

Here’s a list to get you started:

~Fast from heavily processed “junk” foods.
~Fast from disposable coffee cups or water bottles by carrying your own.
~Fast from eating meat, which consumes much of the world’s resources.
~Feast on foods lower on the food chain such as whole grains and vegetables.


~Feast on the light of God by having one meal by candlelight.
~Fast from regular lightbulbs--switch to energy-saving
compact fluorescent bulbs.
~Feast on energy efficient appliances or look for ways to save energy with your current ones: turn down the water heater to 120 degrees and set your thermostat to 55 or lower at night and when you're not home.

~Fast from extra packaging by purchasing in bulk and/or bringing your own bags to the store.

~Fast from individual automobile use for any destination in easy walking, bicycling, or public transit distance.
~Feast on improved gas mileage--check your car's tire pressure regularly.

(Or if you're looking for a new car, consider a hybrid or other fuel efficient vehicle.)

~Feast on the blessing of water by offering a prayer of thanks to God each time you wash your hands or drink from the tap.


~Feast on the outdoors by taking a walk.
~Feast on the richness of God’s word by reading Scripture through the lens of eco-justice.
~Feast on the beauty of community by calling or visiting with a loved one.
~Fast from household chemicals by using vinegar, baking soda, soap,
and hot water to clean and disinfect.

The preceding ideas are courtesy of
Earth Ministry, Seattle Climate Action Now (a partner of Earth Ministry), Seattle City Light, and Living in Lent, Caring for Creation, a resource created by Presbyterians for Restoring Creation.

As added motivation, members of the Earth Ministry staff will write posts about their Lent & Environment commitments. We encourage you to post comments and stories about your own Lent & Environment journey!

Who is Earth Ministry?

Since 1992, Earth Ministry has sought to inspire and mobilize the Christian community to play a leadership role in building a just and sustainable future. Earth Ministry leads people to care for creation through education about individual and congregational lifestyle choices and by organizing for social change through environmental advocacy. We believe people of faith can make a difference in current environmental issues!