Friday, September 02, 2011

Going green without the dreadlocks

Guest post by Mark Stevens

Average white Australian male seeks sustainable way of life without hugging trees, giving up deodorant or growing dreadlocks.

In my early twenties I imagined I would live out my life in the concrete jungle in a swanky apartment somewhere in the inner city. I would spend my time sipping lattes and networking. An apartment was the perfect choice for me. No garden meant no outside work and more time for networking and coffee. I cared little for the environment and had almost no concern for the earth beneath my feet. My theology was firmly entrenched in the heavens. I gladly ignored the "on earth" part of the Lord's prayer.

I recently turned thirty-five. Last week my family and I installed solar power and we are two years into a five year project to produce half of our food needs through our veggie patch, chickens, fruit trees and vines. I am a minister, a pastor. Every spare moment I find is spent in the garden with my wife and two children. If I cannot get into "the patch" as I call it a few times a week I begin to get restless. Gardening forms my Sabbath day and my Sabbath rest. Fifteen or so years later I love being outside. I love the earth beneath my feet and between fingers. I never knew espresso could taste so good as it does sitting in my patch perusing the coming harvest.

So what happened? How does an average white Australian male fall in love with gardening and desire to live sustainably? Well, I cannot speak for everyone but for me it all began with my wife and Jamie Oliver.

My wife’s influence is a no brainer. I love my wife. I like spending time with her. She likes gardening and being outside therefore I like gardening and being outside. As I began to spend time digging holes for her, weeding with her, planting with her and our children, the practice of gardening grew in me. The snip of the secateurs as I pruned roses and the smell of fresh compost drew me in. As I undertook these most basic of garden chores I discovered a rhythm, a spiritual rhythm. I found myself praying “leisurely”; I found myself relaxing.

I also discovered how much I appreciated the feeling of accomplishment which came from gardening, especially the veggie patch. At the end of the day as the sun began to set, I could see what I had accomplished. My work had shape and form. Much of what I do in ministry is mysterious and unknown to me. With gardening it is apparent. I have proof that I have "done" something. As the seasons roll on, I see the reward of our labour. In fact as I write this I can see the thirty or so jars of preserves, bottled sauces and other dried goodies all grown and harvested in our garden. (Don’t get me started on how much hospitality the garden has produced!)

I realise that coming to gardening and an understanding of sustainable living through Jamie Oliver is the equivalent to arriving at a theological degree by studying with Pentecostals (tongue firmly planted in cheek) - something else which I did - however, it was Jamie Oliver’s television series, Jamie at Home that began to develop in me a vision for life which grew up out of our own land and not the land of others. I loved the way he grew food and then cooked with it. As I saw the way he lived, I found myself longing for a different kind of life, one which revolved around the seasons and flavour and not the shops and my consumer-driven tendencies. Jamie may not be everyone’s cup of tea (something else we can grow in our patch) but he has, for me at least, opened the realm of my imagination.

More than anything I have discovered gardening has helped me slow down, reflect more, pray more and spend time with those I love. In all honesty, I am unsure about the science of climate change (for no other reason than I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination) and I could never see myself leaning left and voting Green. But why shouldn't conservatives also care about conserving a livable planet? As a Christian, I believe in creation care and creation stewardship and it is on this topic that conservatives like me have remained silent for far too long! I am very concerned at how worried we are about the financial bottom line and yet give little to no thought about our environmental bottom line. I believe my generation is using the environmental credit card to rack up a debt which makes the US debt ceiling seem like a parking fine. I worry about the future for my kids.

As a family we have made the decision to "do what we must" (as opposed to what we can) and live in a way which reflects the hope we have in Christ for a renewed creation alongside a renewed humanity. It has cost us money and time. It has meant we have had to adjust (not change) our thinking. I doubt our small effort will achieve anything on a large scale, nevertheless, we believe we are doing the right thing. The rest is in God’s hands. By the way, I haven’t worn deodorant for years but don’t tell anyone!

Rev Mark Stevens is minister at Happy Valley Church of Christ in Adelaide, South Australia. He is a regular contributor at Near Emmaus and has his own blog at The Pastor's Patch.