I consider myself a follower of Jesus, someone who yearns for and works for justice. I participate in a social justice church. I teach, pray, and preach about Jesus’ preferential option for the poor. I believe in Jesus’ words about rich people and how hard it is for them to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23).
But as I consider my position of privilege in this world, I feel more and more like the young man who approached Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:16-30). Jesus told him to sell all his possessions, to give the money to the poor, and to come and follow. I’ve got this feeling in the pit of my stomach that I might follow in the footsteps of that affluent young man, and go away, grieving, for I, too, have many possessions. I am, indeed, a rich person in this world. I ask myself, When did I turn into someone who would walk, sadly, away from Jesus’ invitation?
There’s no getting around it—those of us in North America live in a culture that encourages us to want more and more. How much is enough? When do we have enough? What are the spiritual costs of having more than enough?
Gandhi said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” And we see this greed illustrated in a world in which humanity has altered the fragile balance of creation by our consumption of the earth’s resources.
Today, the conversation between Jesus and the rich person from Matthew 19 might go something like this:
Rich person: “Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?”
Jesus: “If you wish to be perfect, stop your over-consumption of the earth’s resources. Give to the earth as much as you take from the earth, so that your descendants will have a safe place to live.”
That charge from Jesus can be overwhelming. What can one person do to change the degradation of our planet? How can I make a difference in this seemingly hopeless struggle to change the path that we are on?
One person who has made a great impact on our planet is Jane Goodall, the 87-year-old British anthropologist. I recently watched an interview with Goodall, a person who has spent her life giving to the earth. Goodall has witnessed so many challenging changes in our planet, and yet she shares four reasons for hope. (Watch her interview with Best Friends Sanctuary or check out her new book, The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times.)
Goodall finds hope in:
1. The intellect of human beings. Just as we figured out how to burn fossil fuels, we can figure out how to live sustainably.
2. The resilience of the earth in being able to heal itself. Over and over again, nature returns.
3. Young people who are changing the world. Goodall has started the “Roots and Shoots” program for young people who come together in small groups and choose ways to help people, animals, and the environment.
4. The unshakable spirit of human beings. Even when the world seems hopeless, humans find reasons to hope and ways to enable healing.
Goodall asks, what if, each day, all of us in the world took one action to make a difference to this earth? Here are some earth-friendly spiritual practices for you to try out. Commit to taking one action each day.
1. Use less energy in your home. Turn off lights and devices you are not using. Set your thermostat to 78 degrees in the summer and 68 degrees in the winter.
2. Be gentler on the environment. Select items in the store with less packaging. And find places to recycle packaging that you end up with in your home.
3. Stay off the road at least one day a week. Save up your errands and do them all during one trip. If you order from Amazon, select an Amazon delivery day to cut down on the number of trips to your home.
4. Eat less meat. Pick one day or one meal a week that is meatless for your household.
5. Conserve water. Turn off the tap when you are brushing your teeth. Drink filtered tap water rather than bottled water.
If you find yourself challenged by our shared task, you are not alone; I’m right there with you. There are no simple answers to our shared dilemma. I hope that we might journey together and share with each other our insights, challenges, and revelations. And, perhaps, the action we intend to take each day.
May we not be those who turn away from Jesus in sadness. Rather may we follow the Christ who declared, “For mortals, it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, NRSV).
Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel. Her latest release from Upper Room Books is Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.
Photography by Karsten Würth / Unsplash