Post-Trash Dreams

My middlest daughter, N, has taken up the cause of garbage-less living. She is new to this and shares her enthusiasm infectiously, reporting joys at finding this or that way to circumvent destining bits of life to the trash. She dutifully takes her own cloth produce bags to the grocery store, buys meat at butchers who do not use plastic and has located a bamboo toothbrush which is kind to the environment. N. is committed to the cause but is not ideological. She sometimes breaks her own rules, does not preach her lifestyle, but rather lives it winsomely. She is not in your face about it but makes public choices that signal a different set of values. In a way, she is living out what would be an attractive paradigm for any who are trying to alert others to an alternate lifestyle. Hers is not a coercive, inhumane nor dogmatic approach to a lifestyle change; she leads by attraction rather than shame.

My wife and I are proud of her efforts in this, as are her sisters. In small – and sometimes large – bits we have all taken up the cause in some fashion or another. For a time now, we have pretty much reduced our garbage to food wrapping; our green bin takes care of that which was once destined for landfills and recycling takes over most of the rest. Of course, we are not naïve about this, aware of investigative journalism that has tracked examples of restaurants and such that simply trashed what had landed in refill bins. We know that there are errors and deceits in the world of recycling. But still, this trash-less life is more than a choice about how to be in the world, but also an invitation for how to see the world: as worthy of the deepest care we afford this beloved earth, a gift of God.

We have been trying, in small ways, to lessen the amount of garbage we send to the curb. We try to avoid massive packaging but that is not always easy. Hard choices need to be made often, too often. Part of the problem, it seems is the big box reality that makes quick, daily trips to a local grocer outside of the reach of most. Instead we have to travel across town to acquire what we need and in so doing buy more and more that is deeply packaged. We have been chatting a bit recently around the dinner table about the older days when plastic was not ubiquitous. Memories of paper-bags for groceries as well as the pink paper meat wrapping have taken my wife and me to our childhood. This memory, for example, just this last Saturday inspired me, when buying some fish at the local store, to forgo the plastic bag around my paper wrapped fish. The other day I put my zucchini in my grocery cart without the requisite piece of plastic to protect a skin that I will wash and peel in either event.

I am intrigued by the commitment of many young people on this and like fronts. When I was their age I concerned myself with the most trivial of things. Many of the youth and young adults I know are open to the world and engaged in justice, and for that I am glad. While our contributions and theirs may be incremental, the reach of our actions are far when we live simply with integrity and in joy. Faith communities have much to learn from young activists on this front. May their tribe increase!!

Sacred You

The world is scarred, and
its people bleed; their
tears stain oceans. Earth’s
skin is torn; hope
evaporates. Dreaming
reverts again to nightmared
sleep that leaves, that left
both Mother and child bereft.

 

And yet You come, You
Healer of our Every Ill, You
Balm in Gilead, in Syria, in Ecuador, in Attawapiskat –
rippling across globe like
pebbled waves – as dogged as
spring’s march, sap’s flow, universe’s expanse.

 

You kiss this scar we are
and etch beauty across pain.
You come to us again.
You come.
You.

Public and Private Transit

I generally exercise at the Athletic Centre at the university where I work. I find fitness breaks really need to be convenient, or they are quickly sidelined by this pressing need or that persistent email. Having a gym ready at hand is so very helpful. An added bonus is that my weekday runs are on a treadmill, which I understand to be easier on the knees.

On the weekends, however, I like to do an outside run. It is really a rather different experience in that I use some alternate muscles when running on the ground. Yet other important differences obtain. I have to pay more attention as I run. Traffic patterns, and sidewalk and road hazards warrant attention, as well as the especial need to negotiate people who are travelling in the same direction as me.

Last Saturday I was running down Weber Street, and crossed Franklin, at which point I usually turn left and run a couple of blocks before ducking into a cemetery, a soothing stretch in my run. As I ran toward my intersection, I saw the light go green in my favour, with a walk light to boot. I looked ahead and saw a woman in the right (turning) lane coming toward me. I have learned that you want to ensure you make eye contact in such cases. She saw me, and I kept an eye on her as I sprinted across the street. She glared at me. I suspect it was because I was slowing down her turn. Unfortunately, I understand her impatience. I experience it when I drive.

There is something about getting in a car that ratchets up my hurry-up gene. I have told colleagues that when I drive to work, I arrive with my shoulders tight, my brain a little frazzled, and my blood pressure seemingly raised. But when I catch a ride, take the bus, or walk I arrive relaxed and ready to begin (or end) the day with more equanimity. I experience myself differently in a vehicle. I am often uptight, anxious and impatient – having experienced anything and everything in my way as a hazard and/or an annoyance. In the middle of winter, when I have to wait for pedestrians, I have to remind myself that I am safely ensconced in a few thousand pounds of protection that is temperature controlled, and the poor shmuck on the street is navigating puddles, or snow-banks, or howling winds with a few layers of protection. I have to remind myself that I can afford to take a deep breath and show a little kindness.

There have been news stories this last while about sidewalk-free neighbourhoods protesting the planned implementation of walk-friendly streets. At one level, I can understand this. Walkers can be erratic, and some are even in-your-face bold. But a refusal to address the fact that most of us will one day necessarily need to be able to walk to public transport seems naïve at best, and willfully belligerent at worst. This refusal, at a deeper level, bespeaks a deliberate rejection of empathy; an unwillingness to experience the street in the shoes of people on the street; knowing what it means to be the little guy in the fight.

Drivers, it might be said, are an individual manifestation of the cult of efficiency run amok. The person before me no longer represents a relationship to be negotiated, but a problem to be solved. Of course, I am really transferring my shallowness and impatience onto other drivers, whom I only know from a glance or two (or worse yet from no glances) in my direction. For all I know, their driving might be attributed to a hard hospital visit, or a troubling performance review, or a fight with their partner, etc. But then again, such factors are really an argument in favour of a broader access to public transit – an argument, alas, which may well fall on deaf ears since many of us, I think, prefer the private character of our cars to the “public” of public transit.

I suppose both the private car and the public transit represent seemingly innocent answers to the innocent question: how do we get around? But we cannot afford to ignore that this seemingly benign question is sometimes answered in a malign modality that shape us in ways unaware. At the end of the day, cars more often than not enforce a self-enclosed subject who engages his or her surroundings via the mediating power of a car, while a walker or jogger, or such has a more intimate relationship with her or his environs.

There may be a life lesson in this. I’ll leave that to others, but I want to make the simple observation that no one can opine on this increasing question with impunity. We all have some skin in the game. I, for the sake of the environment – which includes me, look forward to the day when buses and streetcars outnumber cars on our roads. In the interim, I’ll try hard to smile at passing motorists, and patiently wave walkers across the road.

Charmed Again

I send this missive from Copenhagen, where I am on route from a conference in southern Denmark. I arrived here yesterday and leave tomorrow, and so the day afforded me the opportunity to do a little looking about. This is not the first time I have been to Copenhagen, a city I find to be utterly charming. This morning I made my way to Marmorkirken, a dome marble church across from the Royal Palace. The music was beautiful, and the service meaningful even though my Danish is less than elemental. Today is All Saints Day, and taking communion at a half round altar rail (whose other half extends into eternity, where it is attended by those we remember today) is always a powerful experience. I then went to the Danish Jewish Museum, where I learned a bit more about the incredible (and successful) efforts of the Danish people to protect Jews during the Second World War. Late in the afternoon I took a train ride to the Swedish city of Malmö, not so very far from Denmark and had a lovely walk and meal before returning.

The conference that brought me to Denmark was entitled “Luther from the Subaltern –the Alternative Luther.” Scholars from around the world spoke to themes either neglected in Luther studies or to new challenges that emerge in studying Luther today. My modest contribution addressed the manner in which the earth and its well-being were especially important to Luther and provide us with a meeting place for him and our contemporaries as we consider ecological concerns. I thought of that as I returned from the railway station and passed an electric charging station for cars. Increasingly people are mindful of the need to tread the earth carefully, which is somewhat easier in a place like Copenhagen. Major parts of downtown are car free, and so you see a plethora of bicycles and many people on foot. The public transit is to die for and unsurprisingly people are generally more fit. Of course, to some degree, Copenhagen and like cities are beneficiaries of wise planning in the past and careful contemporary regulations. Rules about the height of new buildings in the city core, and a concerted effort to keep historic buildings beautiful and functional make for a very fetching city.

When I returned from my train trip, I was going to read in the hotel, but the siren call of the city had me out again. It is rather like an affectionate cat wrapping itself around your leg; begging you to pet it (cat haters please insert an appropriate dynamic equivalent here). The city is inviting, well-run and simply fun to be in. It strikes me that the success of the Danes in design might not be unrelated to their living in well-designed cities. Our environment shapes us, and we shape it as well, which brings me back to Luther. In the mid-20th century there was a school of Luther research in Scandinavia that spoke of Luther’s interest in creation and created matter, asserting that it held as much importance for him as redemption. If we read Luther as if all he offers us are insights into the soul then that is all we will get. But if we anticipate that he has interest in caring for the earth too, we might well find some fodder for future reflections. Luther can’t do our theological work for us, but he can give us tools to attend to our relationships with God, one another and the world as well – a world that includes not only natural beauty, but charming urban space too.