Out of the Birdbath, Into the World

St. Francis is much more than decoration for a garden. His spirituality demands conversion in our hearts and in our world.

St. Francis is much more than decoration for a garden. His spirituality demands conversion in our hearts and in our world.

In honor the the Feast of St. Francis, Franciscan Earth Corps, in collaboration with St. Camillus Church Young Adults and the Franciscan Friars, is hosting an event tomorrow about applying Franciscan spirituality to the ecological crisis. Along with being the event’s emcee, I will be giving a 2-3 minute personal talk about how I have changed something in my life for a greater care of creation. The following is an extended version of that talk.

I’ve mentioned before that the environment is a big issue for me. I feel that it is the most neglected aspect of peace and justice work despite being one of the most pressing issues of our generation. When we sit down and look at the numbers, there’s reason to panic. For instance, many scientists believe that there will be nothing left to fish from the ocean within fifty years. Can you imagine a fishless ocean? What’s even more daunting is that the United States E.P.A. estimated that more resources have been used in the last fifty years than in the rest of human history. These are just two of the many earth-shattering (literally) facts that reveal the grave condition of our earth and the imminent danger our consumption is causing others, especially the poor. Something obviously needs to be done.

Well, the first thing that needs to be done is to determine who’s to blame. The effect is pretty clear, but what, or rather who, is the cause? Many want to point the finger at multinational corporations because of their size, affluence, and history of circumventing environmental laws for the sake of higher profits. While true, multinational corporations are certainly not innocent when it comes to ecological justice, who keeps them in business? We do. Multinational corporations have enormous leverage and financial capabilities because we shop at their stores and buy their products. Not only that, we as consumers and we as American consumers, also use energy in our cars, our homes, our waste, and in our stomachs. If the information from above about the direction we’re heading concerns us, then it’s about time we looked at the problem not as something outside of ourselves, “those evil multinational corporations,” and instead something for which each and every one of us is partially responsible.

When I did some research about my own consumption, I found that the way that I ate as an American is positively unsustainable and that changes needed to be made. When you stop to think about how much grain is needed to produce a cow (6-7 pounds for every one pound of meat), how much carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia cows produce in their lives (more greenhouse gases per day than a car, including 2/3 of all ammonia in the atmosphere), and how much deforestation occurs to make more room for cow pastures, you realize that consuming beef is one of the worst possible things one can do to the environment. Pork, chicken, and wild fish (as opposed to farm-raised) are better in terms of greenhouse gases, but each bring with them a host of other problems.

So what did I do? I tried being a vegetarian. The Franciscans observe an additional Lenten fast prior to Christmas, so I decided to give up meat entirely from the feast of All Saints until Christmas Eve, and then again for the Lenten season before Easter. What I found in that time was that vegetarianism is awful. Seriously. I was hungry all the time, I lost weight, and I struggled to get anyone to take me seriously. Worst of all, I found that I was doing more than I should have been doing. Feeling so overwhelmed with the lack of worldwide progress, I felt that it was my duty to make up for everyone around me. What I actually did was to take on more than I could handle.

Did I give up then, you ask? No. I reevaluated. I identified all of the values that were at stake, i.e. environmental impact, physical health, financial concerns, and the possibility of converting others, and let them sit in tension with each other. What would happen if I just let go of my need to come up with the perfect solution that would change the world and instead just allowed my desire to be authentic to each value play itself out differently each day?

In order for that to happen, I had to accept that I could only control myself. As was a common theme during novitiate, there’s no use worrying about or judging others for what they do because there is nothing I can do to change others. The key for me was to do what I felt I needed to do in order to feel personal integrity.

In the end, I decided on two things: 1) I may eat meat once per day, of an appropriate size (3-4 ounces) and 2) for every meal that I don’t eat meat, I must find a way to replace the protein lost. There have been times since then that I have gone a week without any meat, and there have been other times when I found it best, either for my health or for the sake of those providing the food, that I have broken both of these rules. At this point, the flexibility has actually helped me keep with it because it makes the changes easier to manage.

Ultimately, the point of sharing my diet with you is to say that the ecological justice is important to me, and that I’m willing to change major aspects of my life to affect change (even on a small scale.) The way we eat is not the only way to affect change, nor is it necessarily the most effective. I hope that, if you care about the rate at which we are destroying God’s creation around us, you will take to heart my attempts to reform my daily life and make a change in your own life. Check out this checklist for possible suggestions and see how well you’re already doing. This feast of St. Francis, is there something that you could pledge to do to make a positive impact on our world?

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