Being in seminary studying ethics and social justice, I am learning a lot about a lot. How are we living ethically? Are we aligned with our values while being good stewards and citizens of the communities in which we live? How are we showing up individually and collectively in support of each other and ourselves? With these questions come many answers, and then, more questions. But in my Environmental Ethics and Global Hunger and Care of Creation courses, I have to say I’ve been stumped.
In looking at the complex issues of our climate crisis, rising rates of waste and increasing incidents of hunger, there are many potential solutions from various academic and scientific organizations. Personally, we are told that we need to reduce our consumption, conserve our energy or water, and recycle or properly handle our waste. Systemically, we are given small and grand plans for zero waste, green development, or fully renewable infrastructures. However, most of these are tourniquets to stop the bleeding and only address the symptoms in our triage state.
While all of these do need to happen now, what about the long-term solutions? What about the root cause of how we got here in the first place and what we can do to address it in the future? That’s why I’m studying theology — what has driven our personal and collective values, and therefore, our behaviors that have created this crisis? We also need to revisit our core ethics, values, religions, and look at why we’re living the way we’re living. Then, we can better decide which solutions to pursue individually and communally.
If my theology tells me to be a good steward of God’s creation or my ethic is to be a responsible planetary citizen, what does that mean? Are my actions in alignment with those values? For either, it seems that we need to remember that we are all fellow beings on earth with whom we should care for and support. Both of these premises mean we are all interconnected as fellow brethren or citizens and that what we each do affects the other. We are all bound to each other as common inhabitants on this big ball in the sky.
If that’s so, then should I care about the trash I leave on the sidewalk or trail, or the water I use for my lawn? Or the food I throw out from my refrigerator, or gas I use to drive my SUV? The answers to those questions need to come from each of us, but then they also touch all of us collectively. That I have found is the key — that no matter our faith or ethic, to recognize that each of our individual decisions and actions has an impact on our next-door (and global) neighbor. Both spiritually and physically, what I do personally affects you. Now that is a responsibility and covenant I need to take seriously. The scientists tell us we won’t survive as a species if we think we can act only individually. The theologians and ethicists question if it is moral to do so.
Then, are your actions aligned with your theology or ethics? Now, I ask myself that every day, for the sake of my neighbor and future grandchildren.
Formerly a Colorado state senator, now a seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, Linda Newell is a speaker, filmmaker, facilitator and consultant. She may be reached at email@example.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell or @TheLastBill on Facebook.
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