Thursday, April 26, 2012

Earth Day Matters

Scripture appointed for the 3rd Sunday of Easter includes Acts 3:12-19; I John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

No other world religion insists upon the importance of flesh and matter as much as Christianity does. The Gospels begin with the Incarnation, the divine nature robing itself in human flesh so that human nature might grow into the full stature of Christ. And the Gospels culminate in all the material matters of Holy Week: palm fronds on a dusty road, bread and wine in an upper room, water poured on disciples’ feet, a kiss in the garden of Gethsemane, cruel blows falling upon a gentle Messiah, tender embrace of that bruised body by mother and dear friend.

And in his end is our beginning. Raised through death, from death, his physicality remains central to his story. In one resurrection appearance, he broils fish for his disciples’ breakfast. In another, he meets one disciple’s resistance by urging that brother to see him whole by touching his wounds. And today, the story of one more appearance features both his display of his injuries (testifying that he is the man of Golgotha) and his appetite for their familiar table fellowship (“Have you anything here to eat?”).

It is this honoring and utilizing of material being that made it natural during Lent to enrich our study series on creation by encouraging one another to sign up for daily e-mail suggestions from the Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, an approach to Lent launched by the United Church of Christ and endorsed by Episcopalians and many others. Last year, over six thousand people the world over welcomed this day-by-day opportunity to fast from carbon as their Lenten discipline, embracing Lenten opportunity to become more conscious and conscientious in their daily lives. Barbara, our organist and choir director, was one of those six thousand, and this year some unknown number of us followed her lead.

In what I believe I can promise to be a different sort of sermon than usual, I’d like to mark this Earth Day by sharing with you three of this year’s Lenten suggestions. Each offers answers to a particular question.

The first is: What can you do about junk mail?

Each year, the average American adult receives 41 pounds of junk mail. The online business estimates that over a five year period, that volume of catalogs, credit card offers, unsolicited charity appeals, and circulars consumes over 100 million trees and 28 billion gallons of water, and produces more carbon dioxide than nine million cars. For $24.00 (that’s an Earth Day special offer), says it will for five years stop 80-95% of your junk mail.

Or you can do it yourself, if you’re the industrious type—and passionate enough to keep at it—by using to stop unwanted catalogs, 1-888-5-OPTOUT to eliminate credit card offers, and DMAChoice,org to report other junk mail. I hear there’s also an Apple ap to help stem the tide of what enters our mail boxes.

The second Lenten Carbon Fast question is: Is it bad to leave chargers plugged in after their job is done?

Jumping to one bottom line, a disciplined approach to this matter may save the average household $200. But there’s always another bottom line: how might this help our environment? Standby power use is responsible for an estimated one per-cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Some people will say that’s not enough to matter; others will believe that every little bit helps.

So this question addresses two matters. One is “vampires”, appliances that suck energy even when you think they’re shut off, like microwaves, DVRs, TVs, and game systems—anything with a colorful light or a digital clock. If unplugging these items is awkward, one noted blogger recommends putting such appliances on power strips, clustering two or three per strip.

“Wall warts” are the second offender. These are chargers with big boxy plugs, and other AC adapters. Often, we leave them plugged in when disconnected from the gadget they recharge. I’m likely to leave my phone charging overnight, which uses ten times the energy that leaving the charger dangling would use. It isn’t rocket science to observe how long my phone takes to recharge, and then begin imagining other times of day (or night) than bedtime to do it… but that’s my habit, and I’ve been sticking to it—until this weekend, when practicing what I would be preaching prompted me to discover how easy it was to start changing that habit.

Third among the Carbon Fast questions that caught my eye was this one: Are there ways to green our funeral care? As you’d bet, the answer is Yes, and the reasons for asking this question are many.

One may be the personal desire expressed by someone who is a water resources management specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “I have always felt,” she writes, “that the modern ways of burial are not the way I want to go. I would want to be connected to nature in death, not shut out from nature.”

Toxic embalming materials like formaldehyde are part of that shutting-out, and burying into concrete vaults caskets made of impermeable finished wood and metal further the job. The finishing touch is to locate burial in a cemetery, by its nature an inflexible use of land that supports neither naturally-existing plant and animal life, nor much by way of human communal use, when you get right down to it.

It has been estimated that US cemeteries inter more than 1.5 million tons of reinforced concrete each year, along with more than a million tons of steel, and 30 million board feed of hardwoods.

Alternative choices, both new and ancient, can be explored through the Green Burial Council, the first nationwide clearinghouse for greener burial products and services. What are some examples?

Caskets made of plain pine wood, woven willow branches, painted cardboard, cane, bamboo—all described as beautiful, simple, and biodegradable.

Chemical-free burial is possible. Unless a body is to cross state lines, embalming is not required by law. Refrigeration will buy time, or prompt burial can be an answer for some, as it long has been for Jews, Muslims, Baha’i, and Quakers.

The green burial movement is creating a new kind of burial ground, in partnership with land conservation groups. Natural lands, not manicured grounds, are preserved for multiple uses, including bike or walking paths, native species conservation, environmental study, and burial, though not marked by large headstones-- perhaps a tree, a small marker, or just a GPS coordinate known to the family. While there are 200 green burial grounds in the UK, the movement is still in an early phase here, and has still a short list of such memorial preserves.

Cremation can certainly be a green practice, but has its own environmental hazards that are being addressed, like controlling carbon emissions at cremation facilities and resisting the pressures of the funeral industry to invest in miniature concrete vaults that seem designed to defy the opportunity to allow the return to the earth of human dust and ashes.

I believe I may have delivered on my promise of a diferent kind of sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter. Questions like those raised by the Carbon Fast belong in Eastertide, when our scriptures tell us that the righteousness of Christ is shown in the right deeds of his people, and when Christians are challenged to show by our actions what we profess by our faith.