Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wearing My Christmas Colors

A few days ago, Melinda at Elements In Time asked readers to comment on what it was that made them become passionate about environmental issues. I responded, but I've continued to think about this since then. What made me, a conservative Midwesterner, raised in the red half of the Twin Cities, and a devout Baptist, also add into my identity the color green? How could I possibly integrate this element into the other elements and come up with an alloy that would hold together? I know this has been a mystery to some of my friends, and certainly to some of my blogging friends, and I'm sure there are people who are convinced I will eventually give up the green thing as some fad that has passed, and there are other people who secretly believe that I will turn from the dark side and renounce my moderately conservative evangelical world view as a relic of our Puritan past.

But that's not going to happen. It all works just fine for me. It's all been part of the real me since I was a child, really. I can care about sustainability without crossing the line into New Age Gaia worship; I can base my social conservatism on Biblical principles; I can evaluate economic systems based on what I think is most compassionate to the the poor and encouraging to the hard-working, and I can do that without hating people who disagree with me. Because, honestly, nobody walking this earth right now has it all figured out, and so we might as well keep talking respectfully with each other, and just enjoying each other as companions on the road of life.

I look back on a childhood spent, basically, outside. Okay, maybe I was a bit of a tom-boy, but really, children back then were pretty much expected to play outside. You came home from school, you changed out of your dress and school shoes into play clothes and you went outside. So did all the other kids in the neighborhood (and it was the baby boom so there were a lot of kids!), and you played. Or, if you wanted some alone time, you laid on the grass and looked at the clouds, or you sat in the crab apple tree and read a book. There were vacant lots, in which we dug holes. Why, I don't know, but we dug them. We girls played house in the weeds, and we made dinners of sour clover served on giant velvet-leaf platters. If it was cold we played in the snow. And there weren't any parents out there supervising, so stuff happened. I fell through the ice into a pond once. I fell out of trees a few times. I fell off a skateboard and broke my wrist. I ran a toboggan into a tree. I wasn't a clumsy child, I just wasn't safely sitting in front of a TV. None of us were. If there was blood, we went in a got a hug and a band-aide, and maybe a graham cracker, and then we went back outside. Our mothers did not bat an eye if we got filthy; they expected that. It meant we had played hard and had a good time. It meant that they could put us to bed at 8pm and know we'd be sound asleep in about two minutes.

So, I grew up loving the natural outside world, where you could watch a cercropia moth emerge from it's cocoon and stretch it's wings. Where you could pull foxtail stems to chew on. Where you could look up at the sky and think, "Looks like it's going to rain here in a minute. I'd better hurry home!" Where you could find baby bunnies in the weeds where their mothers had hidden them. Where you could find broken bird eggshells to add to your cigar-box full of special rocks and jay feathers, and honey-locust seed-pods. Kids don't get to do that so much anymore, and I think that's too bad. That's how I came to love the natural world and want to preserve it.

I watched and helped my grandparents garden on a pretty grand scale, both vegetables and flowers. I also watched my dad work hard on the city council to help site a new landfill when the old one got full, and become one of the earliest advocates of recycling. We were recycling at our house before anyone else I knew, because he thought it was imperative that we not use up our land fill options. I saw the beginnings of the environmental movement locally when some residents decided to prevent the damming of the Sangamon that would have flooded Allerton Park. I was in eighth grade when the first EarthDay was celebrated. I took a wonderful biology-for-non-majors sequence in college that turned me on to the amazing world around me even further. I camped and hiked, ran and biked.

I wanted my sky to stay blue, I wanted my favorite butterflies to visit my flowers every year. I wanted my children to have the same experiences that I had had, and was disappointed that they couldn't quite do that, because things had already changed too much. My husband and I always tried to instill that love of the outdoors in them through hiking and camping. We taught them to recycle, to think about how they transported themselves, to avoid wasting resources because they were valuable for all kinds of reasons, to be frugal so you could give to those less fortunate, to avoid ostentation because it was better to cultivate humility. It all went together.

I have believed for some time that we need to make some pretty significant lifestyle changes so we can keep from poisoning ourselves with our own waste. Then, a year or so ago one of my sons put me on to Colin Beavan's No Impact Man blog, and I was fascinated. I didn't agree with a lot of his politics, but that was okay; I admired his efforts to challenge all of us to evaluate the way we live.

I started to hear about Al Gore's movie. I was reluctant to see it, because, no offense to Mr. Gore, but he always seemed like kind of a dull speaker, and I couldn't imagine watching him for two hours. My husband was not at all interested in wasting movie rental money on a documentary of any kind, but especially this one. However, gradually we began to feel we should see it so we could discuss it intelligently with those who had watched it. I promised myself that I would try to keep an open mind. After seeing it, to my real surprise, I felt he made his case, and so did my husband. We decided to push ourselves further to practice a greener way of life.

The most daunting thing for us is all the political nonsense that everyone wants to add into the issue of climate change. But, whatever, my husband and I are going to live by our convictions on this issue just like we do on all the others. So, everyone, left and right, can think we're weirdos. Oh, well; that's nothing new.


Donna said...

Great post. I can SO relate! I grew up camping in Yosemite and learning about how John Muir tried to save Hetch Hetchy. We conserved energy long before it was fashionable, but we didn't recycle and my childish mind couldn't figure out why not. When recycling finally became common, I jumped in with both feet.

I was baffled as an adult to find that my green leanings were looked down upon by some conservative Christians and also that I was sometimes(shock!)voting for the wrong candidates! It's interesting living in both worlds. The friends I'm making in the blogosphere are invaluable and provide encouragement I've not found elsewhere.

Joyce said...

Donna, we're gong to have to go out for coffee sometime:) It is like living in both worlds, sometimes, which is odd to me, because it all makes perfect sense to me to think this way. But then, they say crazy people always think they are perfectly rational...

arduous said...

What a wonderful post. Joyce, I know that I've said this before, but I'm going to say it again because it bears repeating, I'm so glad to have you as a blog friend. You really have opened my eyes, and frankly, I think because of you I have been rid of many preconceived notions about religious conservatives.

You are right. We waste too much time when we let politics get in the way of what really matters. Because the truth is, the environment isn't a political issue, it's an everything on this planet issue. We all have a stake in this little rock we call Earth. And while I'm sure we have our differences, there are so many issues where we agree!!

So anyway, I don't think you're a weirdo. I think you are awesome, and I am so glad to have "met" you. I just wish we bloggers weren't all so spread out so we could all meet in real life!!

Green Bean said...

What a beautiful post, Joyce. I don't know where to begin. Your description of your childhood, your efforts to give your children as much as possible of the same really touched me. And I also love that you are who you are.

The "green movement" doesn't have to be all hippies or uber liberals. We all can care about what happens to this planet - whether we are on the left or the right. Really beautifully said. Thanks, Joyce.

Amy said...

I too don't see any disconnect between socially conservative Christian faith and being environmentally aware. To me, it is a natural extension of being pro-life and refusing to adapt to the consumerist materialism of the world (and I use the term "world" in the biblical sense). Fortunately, I am surrounded by Christians at my church and in my family that also feel this way.

But having been educated and now working in the environmental field, the other side of the fence can be just as incredulous. I have consistently had to listen to jibes against both conservative values and Christianity from my environmental colleagues. It is so tiresome and strange to me...and very sad. As Francis Schaeffer said in "Pollution and the Death of Man" Christians should have been on the vanguard of environmentalism. Instead we are often scorned for playing catch-up.

Anyway, I am glad I found your blog, I enjoy your posts!

Joyce said...

Arduous, GreenBean, I have had so much fun getting to know you guys, and I thik we have a lot in common. You are the kernel of a move toward inclusivism in the green movement that could be really exciting. I'll keep taling that up here, and you keep talkng it up there, and who knows, maybe we can help everyone get over the political stuff and start working together. That really excites me!

Amy, having someone like you working in the environmental field is such a breath of fresh air. I'm glad you get support from family and church. Actually, generally so do I. I find people my age and younger at church are really pretty interested in living susstainably. They just don't make much noise about it, and it isn't their only agenda. It will be interesting to see how they shape the future of the planet.

Super B's Mom said...

WOW this post really took me back to when I was a child. I think back sometimes of those days...and wish I could re-create that time for Super B.

I feel guilty that my life is so chaotic and rushed that we don't have time to play army in the woods, or set out to the pasture for a picnic of cheese sandwiches and fruit loops.

I can remember setting out first thing in the morning with my brother - to spend hours playing in the woods until lunchtime - when we'd smell my grandmother cooking biscuits and pork chops and make a mad dash for the house.

I totally agree with arduous that politics stick their nose into areas they don't belong. Many issues are not political issues, but people issues instead.


Joyce said...

Oh, picnics! We were always taking "picnics" with us! We would walk across a couple of fields (only the bean fields, we weren't allowed in the corn) out to where there was a double hedge row- as woodsy as it gets here- and eat our picnic in the little hidden path that was between the two sets of trees. It was like our own little world out there. I was living in town, but right on the edge, so I sort of had the best of both worlds, I realize now.

Abbie said...

I really like this post, because it shows that people aren't the stereotypes that are often pegged on them. I can relate, but in a different way. I care about the environment, yet I'm a republican. I have strong family values and high moral standards, but I don't believe in a higher power. I get worried that some friends will dislike me because of my political standing, and other friends will dislike me because of my religious beliefs (or lack of). I'm just happy that we're all free to be who we are and who we want to be.

Joyce said...

Abbie, that's supposed to be the cool thing about this country- we can think any way we like, and not get in trouble for it. I love what you've written about just giving your students the facts and letting them reach their own conclusions. That's real education, not indoctrination.

Somehow we've let the "political correctness" thing take over, and we hardly know how to nicely disagree any more. But here, we're coming out of hiding and getting to know each other. I'm pretty excited abou that.

Donna said...

Joyce, I'd love to do coffee sometime! Your state or mine? :) That's the one bummer of the blogosphere is you make all these great friends and then find out they live half a world away!

Joyce said...

Let's see, Donna... is Casper WY about half-way? How about Thursday morning at 10?

eco 'burban mom said...

That's wonderful, Joyce. As a non-church going former Catholic, it's interesting to hear from someone who loves and appreciates their faith and how it relates to the environment. You are very lucky to feel that way about your religion.

And, you are NOT a weirdo. I believe that those who don't appreciate the earth and attempt to leave it a better place than they found it the real weirdos.

lauren said...

I've never commented here before, but I found your blog on Green Bean's site, and I read your comments around the green blogosphere.

I had to say: The second paragraph of this entry was a clear sign that you are awesome. I really appreciate reading thoughts from an open mind that remind me to do the same. Thanks!

Joyce said...

Lauren, thanks for commenting. What a kind thing to say! Really everyone you see on this comment page is very open-minded and respectful of each other. I hope that we've all found each other's blogs to be a safe place to share. I look forward to hearing from you again!