Point of View
Embracing a life of less
by Lisa Graham McMinn
“I’m convinced that we’ll live better lives (and more sustainable ones) if we rediscover ways to forge our community ties.”
I buy eggs from the Higgins. Mary Etta is the primary farmer; Ed teaches literature and writes poetry at George Fox. I buy from them because I prefer to eat eggs laid by happy chickens; hens that wander outside eating bugs and grain, that are warmed by the sun, and whose sounds co-mingle with neighboring birds, cows and goats. It’s also more personal than buying eggs at Fred Meyer. It creates a social bond of sorts — I help Ed and Mary Etta in their farming endeavors, and they give me eggs produced locally, with minimal harm to the environment and the hens that lay them.
Besides prophetic voices like Wendell Berry encouraging us toward gentle living, we have our Quaker heritage. Embracing a life of less, rather than the constant pursuit of more, seeking justice for disenfranchised and marginalized populations, and being good stewards of God’s creation are values Quakers hold. My current writing project is about walking gently — living in ways that will foster the flourishing of life beyond the 21st century. We face unique challenges in that regard. We’re celebrating 200 years of industrial and economic growth, but our progress has included trampling God’s garden a fair bit. I’d been reading what geologists, climatologists, politicians and business leaders have to say about ecology, but I wanted to know what Christians in earth sciences were saying — on and off the record. I wanted to hear their thoughts on global warming and the energy crisis. So I went to the American Scientific Association meetings hosted by George Fox this summer — and the presentations I attended portrayed global warming as an indisputable reality, and nearly all thought it anthropogenic — that is, caused by human activity.
Global warming will most affect the poor and those already living at the margins economically and/or environmentally. Deserts in sub-Saharan Africa are expanding with droughts and dried up aquifers. Food shortages, already compromised in Africa, are growing more severe. But it isn’t all bad news. The good news is that we have technology for alternative energy sources and models for how individuals, communities and nations are already lessening their carbon emissions dramatically.
I came away from the meetings assured that the best solutions to global problems will bring together multiple perspectives. Sociologists help us explore the meanings people associate with owning SUVs, why some resist switching to more efficient light bulbs, or think inflating tires is a political statement. Maybe insecurities about global shifts in power cause us to hang on to what we have — including the right to consume available resources. Maybe our American understanding of Manifest Destiny, and what it means that God gave humans dominion over this earth makes this a particular challenging conversation for some of us. The most productive conversations about caring for Earth will include theologians, political scientists, economists and sociologists.
As Christians, we believe we are created for relationship. We are not isolated individuals, but individuals in community, bound to and dependent on each other and to the earth that sustains us. I’m convinced we’ll live better lives (and more sustainable ones) if we rediscover ways to forge our community ties. When I think of myself as a member of a community and live with neighborliness, I live better. When I buy the Higgins’ eggs, produce from local farmers, and pay extra for local renewable energy to fuel my home, I’m working toward shalom, a peace that comes when the world is set right. When we live simply as communities, it makes a difference. We are collectively recognizing that all souls matter — not just our own. And we are recognizing that our well-being is intrinsically connected to the well-being of all of life — including critters, flora, fauna and eco-systems intended to bless, sustain and nurture us all.
Lisa McMinn (G91), professor of sociology, is the author of The Contented Soul (IVP 2006), and Growing Strong Daughters (Baker 2007).