I am becoming my grandfather, and that is a good thing. Let me explain.
The more I have gotten involved in the evangelical creation-care movement, the more I have found myself drawn toward practices that my grandparents didor would have done if they were available. Each time I "reduce-reuse-recycle," I become more like Grandpa Gushee from Milton, Massachusetts.
I am becoming convinced that creation care and what we evangelicals usually call "stewardship" are basically the same thing. This discovery is slowly changing my family's lifestyle. The more that lifestyle changes, the more I skip back about 60 years to the values of an earlier generation.
These are values such as hard work, modesty in consumption, consistent giving, frugality in spending, saving for the future, and squeezing every last drop of value out of our possessions. You work hard and earn an honest living, spend your money judiciously after setting aside a generous portion for giving and saving, buy only what you need, and make it last as long as you can.
To be fair, these were values that my parents tried to instill in my sisters and me. But we were children of the 1960s and 1970s. Parental values had a hard time competing with mall values, schoolmate values, and TV commercial values.
I know that I haven't warmed easily to simple living. I didn't get everything I wanted as a kid, but I did get as much as I needed and some of what I wanted.
Early married years saw some pretty simple living. As newlyweds, Jeanie and I delivered newspapers for a time while we went to school in Louisville. That was not fun. Date night consisted of cheese bread and water at Pizza Hut. A whole date for $3.00!
But as our income increased, our lifestyle went up with it. Three years living in urban Philadelphia while working for Ron Sider did not win us over to the simplicity gospel. (Sorry, Ron.) As our children came along, we became more acculturated and began living in suburban style. A bit of inherited money helped that process along, and off we went.
Then the creation-care movement came calling. I became involved in various efforts of the Evangelical Environmental Network, helped draft the Evangelical Climate Initiative, and now get to hang out with some of the country's leading environmental scholars and activists. I began to see that concern for creation is both biblically and empirically mandatory.
I also began to see that, as Al Gore has discovered, you must walk the walk if you are going to talk the talk of creation care. There can be no gap between proclamation and practice on this one. Not just because critics with sharp knives are near at hand, but also because integrity demands it.
So theory is now becoming practice in the Gushee household. We are making a gradual transition to compact fluorescent light bulbs, which cost more on the front end but use less energy and last longer. Despite the lack of mandatory recycling or even easily accessible recycling here in Jackson, Tennessee, we are recycling plastics, paper, and newspaper. We are reusing the back side of printed pages in the home office whenever possible. I now imitate my old boss Ron Sider and scribble many of my notes on the back of used paper. Ron is famous for that.
We have set the summer thermostat to 75 and the winter thermostat to 65. I am trying to retrain myself and my family to turn off every light in the house that is not being used. We are seeking to get maximum use out of our old cars; next year, when we train our fifth family driver, I will get a hybrid, and she will get my old Explorer. Jeanie loves to plant trees and is doing so across our property, which is good for the environment and beautiful in itself.
We have a long way to go. Our utility bills are still too high, as are our gasoline costs. We must find a way to cut both. We eat out too much. Probably our house is too big, and we should downsize someday, though I pity the poor fool who tries to drag Jeanie away from the home in which we have now raised our children.
In the end, the lifestyle that Grandma and Grandpa Gushee pursued is at least beginning to come into view over the horizon. They lived through scarcity and the Depression and learned valuable lessons from it. They were good stewards because they had to be. The challenge for 21st-century Americans is that many of us don't. We must become good stewards simply because we choose to be.
As we do, we might discover that economic and environmental stewardship go together, hand in glove. Perhaps this rediscovery will motivate us to preserve the health of our planet.
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Other articles on the environment are available in our special section.
Gushee's recent columns include:
The Joy of Policy Manuals | There's more to workplace justice than good intentions. (April 26, 2007)
Jesus and the Sinner's Prayer | What Jesus says doesn't match what we usually say. (March 6, 2007)
Dethroned | Jesus puts the all-important self in its place. (January 8, 2007)
Children of a Lesser Hope | What happens when we lose confidence in the church. (November 1, 2006)
How to Create Cynics | Everybody knows when we're covering up our confusion with God-talk. (September 1, 2006)
What's Right About Patriotism | The nation is not our highest love, but it still deserves our affection. (July 1, 2006)
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