Care of Creation Sunday
April 23, 2023
Betsy Hall: “I don’t have to be perfect”
Ron Gunderson and Jenny Hutton asked me to talk about how I’m raising my children to be environmentally conscious. I think they thought of me because of how often they’ve seen my girls playing happily in the woodlands. We’ve also picked up trash and helped water pollinator gardens. It was a very sweet compliment that Ron and Jenny thought of me. But my first reaction was that I’m not intentionally teaching my kids to be environmentalists. I’m just living my life out of a deep-seated fear and anxiety about climate change, and that has effects, both positive and negative on my parenting. So today I don’t have tips on what to teach your kids about the earth. Instead, I want to share my struggle to balance my concerns with the needs of my kids.
There are so many worthy causes competing for our attention and resources, and my heart breaks for all of them. For a long time, though, I’ve prioritized this way: We can solve all of society’s problems: curing cancer, stopping gun violence, bringing about world peace, and it won’t matter if we don’t have a planet we can live on.
Climate change is here. I’m genuinely worried about how extreme weather and sea-level rise will displace people and cause scarcity of resources like food and water within our lifetimes. I’m realizing that I’m living with that fear, and it’s not always conscious. How do I parent and teach my children without passing on that anxiety?
This past fall, Ken led an Adult Education class about perfectionism. If you regularly attend Adult Ed, you know that I am never there. But I made sure I was there that Sunday because I definitely struggle with perfectionism. There was a quote from researcher Brené Brown who said, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” At some point during the class, I also wrote down that perfectionism is used to manage anxiety. If we do everything perfectly, we can control that thing we’re anxious about. I realized that one of the ways perfectionism manifests itself in my life is around the environment. I fear that if I don’t do everything perfectly, I’ll harm the earth even more.
Shortly after the Adult Ed about perfectionism, I was giving one of my kids a shower, and they were dawdling and playing, and I lost my temper. I had an epiphany that I wasn’t only annoyed that they were prolonging bedtime. Underneath, I was reacting to my anxiety about them wasting water. I’m trying to be perfect to save the earth, and they’re messing it up. I realized that I need to step back and be mindful of how that anxiety and perfectionism is affecting my kids. If I have some perspective, they weren’t wasting that much water. They are children, and it’s ok if they want a little water play. I need to figure out how to balance teaching them about not wasting water with letting them be children.
Another place where I struggle with this is all of the stuff we have. It’s impossible to make the perfect decisions about everything we buy, consume, and dispose of. Thinking about the impact of every single thing is exhausting! A good example is these: light-up shoes. When my girls first asked for light-up shoes, I really hesitated. There are batteries in here, so I can’t throw them away when we’re done with them. I certainly can’t send them to shoe recycling where they grind up the rubber. But I said to myself, “They’re kids. Light-up shoes are super fun. They won’t want light-up shoes forever.” Now I have 6 pairs of worn-out shoes that are waiting for me to figure out how to responsibly dispose of them.
After all of this focus on my struggles with my concerns about climate change, I had to remind myself of the positive. As a family, we do a lot of things for the environment, and by simply living that lifestyle, my children are learning.
Whenever I ask them to throw something away, they ask me, “trash or recycling?” We use reusable water bottles all the time, so they think that disposable plastic water bottles are rare and special things to play with. One of my favorite things is hanging laundry out to dry. I love that I’m taking full advantage of God’s gifts of sun and wind. And I love that it forces me to take a break and go outside for a few minutes. And as Jenny and Ron noticed, my girls love playing outside, digging in the dirt, and climbing trees.
Most importantly, I have to remind myself that God is in charge, and I don’t have to be perfect.
Laurie White: “I want you to know this friend of mine.”
I have a friend that is incredible. My friend provides for me. She is selfless in giving me food and water. She also gives me medicine when I’m sick. I live and breathe because of her. She inspires me and heals me emotionally. She provides great vacations and at times is hilarious and quirky. She’s always interesting. She does have a destructive side though and can be utterly terrifying but that just adds to the mystery and awe of our relationship. I have to confess, she definitely gives more in our relationship than I do. I take her for granted. She’s old and ill and I forget to offer help. Sometimes I wonder why she is my friend when I see how lopsided our relationship is but she’s always there for me. Providing for me and actually, providing for you. I know you’ve figured out her name. It’s Earth.
When it comes to the Earth, I have very strong feelings and while I’m tempted to convey my panicked state about the climate crisis, I know it becomes overwhelming fast. So instead, I wish to share a love story with you…my love story with the Earth.
I am a product of the ‘70s. I confess to hugging trees as a young kid (ok and maybe as an adult) and spending countless hours high up in “my tree” reading books. My mother’s mantra was, “It’s too nice for you to be inside” so out I went, to putz around the neighborhood, ice skate in the swamp, or play in the brook (I grew up on Brook Lane and never understood why it was an issue to come home with wet feet). Our family vacations were spent towing a pop-up camper to national parks across the country. I was exposed early to the incredible vistas and forests we have. Today, when my family goes on vacation, we choose to spend time restoring our souls in the beauty of our Earth.
I have no qualifications to make me an expert on the Earth or global warming. All I have is my relationship with Earth. Experiencing nature has shaped my world-view. Last year, after Eva, our daughter, finished her studies on climate change in the Arctic, Andy and I went to Iceland to see where she spent her semester. We booked a 2-hour walk on a glacier and my core was moved deeply. Walking on 800-year-old ice that is melting so fast you can hear it gushing underneath your feet, is deeply disturbing. Once a glacier recedes, it doesn’t come back. The Earth spoke to me very loudly, making me see how damaged the Earth has become. Not just in Iceland, but everywhere.
Love and respect for the Earth has been lost. We have disconnected from what sustains us. We have fallen out of love with our Earth and don’t realize how dependent we are on her. To be fair, this mindset is deeply ingrained and pushes us away from what nurtures us. We glorify progress and convenience. We control our smaller environments and we feel powerful that we can stop rivers from flowing, make our homes comfortable year-round, shorten travel times, and raise crops and animals en-masse. None of these things are bad but all of these things have consequences. These technologies don’t change our reliance on the natural world for food, air, water and health – it masks it and does us the disservice of believing we have control over nature or worse yet, we don’t need nature at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. We need nature because we are a part of nature.
We take the Earth for granted and use her resources in a very callous and abusive way. As people of faith, we strive to have good relationships with each other and with God. When did we forget God created the Earth and Earth is an extension of God’s creative love for us? How did we neglect to cultivate a good relationship with the Earth like we do with people and God? It’s time, actually it’s past time, to take our relationship as seriously with the Earth as we do with others. When you have a strong relationship, you care enough to give of yourself for the benefit of the other. This is when change begins; change within us, in existing systems and in the environment.
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer will break your heart with its beauty. Kimmerer is a plant scientist, professor, and enrolled citizen of the Powtawatomi Nation. She writes about the deep relationship she and the Powtawatomi people have with nature saying, “People often ask me what one thing I would recommend to restore relationship between land and people. My answer is almost always, “Plant a garden.” It’s good for the health of the earth and it’s good for the health of the people. In a garden, food arises from partnership. If I don’t pick rocks and pull weeds, I’m not fulfilling my end of the bargain. I can do these things with my handy opposable thumb…But I can no more create a tomato or embroider a trellis in beans than I can turn lead into gold. That’s the plants’ responsibilities and their gift: animating the inanimate. Now there is a gift!” (Braiding Sweetgrass. p. 126)
We need to engage with the Earth. I can offer the suggestion of spending time in our Woodlands so carefully and lovingly restored. I also encourage you to go to Patapsco State Park just down Hilton Avenue to sit among the soaring trees and listen to the songs of the birds and the wind. We are so fortunate to have green spaces so easily accessible. Because of this, we have a responsibility to go there, cultivate our relationship with nature and then advocate and take action for the Earth who has lost her voice. Only when we have that relationship will our desire to care for the Earth grow and then we will make changes in our own lives. We have to understand how interconnected we are and all Earth gives to us – all that God gives to us in this marvelous gift of Creation. It is everything.
Because my family’s awareness of climate change has intensified over the last two decades, we have made some adjustments in our living. I’ll tell you a secret: Everything we have done for the Earth has benefitted us as well. The electricity we buy from a solar provider is cheaper than the BGE rate; going vegan has cleared my conscience of harming animals but has also made me feel better physically, walking places has fostered relationships with my neighbors, not fertilizing or watering my lawn means I don’t have to mow as often, and planting gardens has given me wildlife to watch from my window and fresh food on my table. Perhaps the biggest benefit though, is a peace I feel in my gut. I’m responding to my feelings for Earth. I am part of the natural world and because of that, I have a responsibility to minimize my carbon footprint and to walk gently on the Earth.
Everything you do for the Earth matters. The smallest action matters. Sure, you alone will not reverse the rising of temperatures, but it will make a difference in your heart. You will be fighting for a loved one, advocating for her, encouraging her, and bending the results towards success. It is important to start to kindle or deepen the relationship because each time you meet, you will connect more and see the quirks and learn the amazing stories of your new friend.
The ancient Indigenous proverb, “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children” speaks Truth, with a capital T. Fostering our relationship with the Earth will bring us into ourselves, who we were created to be. Stewards of the Earth. It was mandated by God from the very beginning, the genesis. What an incredible place we inhabit. The more you look, the more you see the beauty, wonder, and the startling ways in which nature works. I want you to know this friend of mine. I want you to feel she is your friend too. To invite her into your life means you will be made whole and firm and you will be part of Creation as God intended it to be. But most importantly, so the Earth might be healed by your love. Happy Earth Day. To you and to our beloved mother Earth.