Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Transformation (Green Ink 2)

I became a Christian when I was in high school, late in my junior year. That summer, I got a t-shirt similar to this one:

The t-shirt I had also had Romans 12:2 written on it:

“Be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

While my transformation as a follower of Christ began when I was sixteen, my transformation into a steward of the environment didn’t start until I was thirty-one. I think I’ve told that story numerous times, so I’ll give you the condensed version, which starts out with a geopolitics paper on soybeans and all their uses. There was a long period of thinking about what I’d written in that paper before I took any other steps. I wanted to become a vegetarian, but I wasn’t sure I could really give up meat. And then in August after I turned thirty-two, I just sort of slipped into it. Jeff was gone for work for a few days, and I didn’t eat any meat during that time, mainly because I didn’t feel like cooking it. Once I realized that not only had I not eaten any meat for that time but that I didn’t even miss it that I much, becoming a vegetarian was much easier. About six months after that, I started recycling (some of us are late bloomers!). Six months after that, I started this MA program. And now I want to retrofit my house with various (expensive) energy projects. Including trying to figure out how to get a green roof onto our sloped roof. Or a windmill. I think the huge tree in the front yard probably prevents solar panels up there…

My transformation into who I am today didn’t happen overnight. Most transformations don’t.

I’m talking about transformations because of this Frome quote:

“Along the way I came to believe that society needs a transformation, a viewpoint of human concern to counter injustice and greed. The spiritual ecological dimension of writing with green ink provides a way of life with its own rewards” (Frome 171).

I also believe that society needs a transformation. If you ask me what I think is the most important transformation that needs to happen, I would say that people need to come to know Jesus and have their minds transformed and renewed. (Some of you disagree with me about the Jesus part, and that’s OK; we each have our own religious world view.) The next transformation would be that we all follow the two greatest commandments, as given by Jesus, which sum up all the laws: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

In my opinion, when one loves God and loves one’s neighbor, everything else follows, including being a better steward – not just of the environment, but of all that God has blessed us with. Human concern to counter injustice and greed is part of that transformation that I’d like to see myself. We can’t separate environmental concerns from injustice and greed because it is so often our greed and the resulting injustice that cause environmental concerns. What we do to the environment today will effect our children for several generations. We might be around to see some of it, but we won’t see the worst of it. But the effects don’t stop at that, because what we do today to the environment also affects people in third world countries.

Palm oil is a really good example of this because it is found in a lot of products we consume, especially crackers and cookies. When we consume these products, demand for the ingredients, including palm oil, increases. Increased demand for palm oil increases the demand for more oil palms, which are grown mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia. To grow more oil palms, tropical rainforests in this country must be cut down and the land burned to prepare it for the new trees. As of now, more than 170,000 km2 (105,633.1 mi2 ) have been lost to oil palm plantations in Borneo (1) (the island that houses Indonesia and Malaysia), which is just under half of Borneo’s total area. Destroying the native rain forest kills or drives out native fauna, encouraging species vulnerability or endangerment. And most oil palm plantations aren’t being farmed sustainably, causing soil to be depleted of nutrients.

There is a human side to the palm oil problem too. The continual burning of forest releases CO2 into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change. Higher demand for palm oil increases its price, making it difficult for poorer people around the world to buy it for cooking. And Malaysia’s government, at least, is replacing local leaders with timber company associates in a bid to take land from indigenous peoples.(2)

What we consume – our greed – fuels environmental and human injustices.

I’m not perfect; far from it, in fact. But I see what we are doing to this world and have to wonder how people who believe in God and that He created this world can participate in greed and injustice, especially those of us who call ourselves Christians. After all, Jesus told us to store up our treasures in heaven, not on earth (Matthew 6:19-20) and when we are the victims of an injustice, Jesus said we are to forgive “seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Jesus calls the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, and the peacemakers blessed, and I think He wants us to be transformed to have these qualities, that we might reverse injustice in this world.

And in focusing on environmental injustice, Frome says, “Focus on principle, rather than personality. In environmental journalism you are likely to upset somebody, but writing in one sense is outreach to adversaries, recognizing that people who disagree are not evil” (Frome 101). And this is why I’m not perfect: I don’t think of those who disagree with me as evil, but I do tend to think of them as lazy, stupid, insensitive, and lacking compassion and love.

Refocusing takes transformation. I need to be transformed so that I might love others and see them as children of God, but I also need to be transformed so that my own greedy impulses and drive to do injustice to others can be replaced with compassion, forgiveness, and love.

1. Little, Jane Braxton. “Regrowing Borneo, Tree by Tree.” Scientific American Earth 3.0. Vol. 18, num. 5, 2008: 66.
2. Mok, Kimberly. “Logging, Palm oil, and Human Rights in Borneo.” Treehugger.com.

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