Creation Care Lessons from My Grandmother
This week we observe Earth Day and Creation Care Sunday. I know that we can tend to politicize or spiritualize our relationships with Creation, and I know that warm-hearted Methodists can come to differ on what role environmental considerations have in our spiritual and daily lives.
We can get overwhelmed by all the advice we get on what the best environmental practices are, and we may forget about the unintended consequences of new “green practice” that have their own, different impacts. I remember learning at a national Creation Caregivers conference that the best practice for the environment is conservation. Insulation is an even more environmentally friendly practice than installing solar panels. Management helps as much as investment in new technologies. Recycling has less impact than simply using less packaging and products.
I had a deep and abiding respect for my grandmother when I was growing up. She farmed with my grandpa in Smith County, Kansas, just a few miles north the center of the lower 48 states. It was the land near where “Home on the Range” was written, and near where Willa Cather’s memories of frontier life sparked her imagination. It was the first land I loved. My first encounters with creation, with the power of the land were formed there. My grandpa was also a lover of this land and saw it as more than something to be exploited and worn out. He was an early adherent of terracing his fields to reduce run off, of rotating crops and lowering tillage to conserve the soil, and letting the land tell him what might grow best. It is really my grandmother that taught me, and maybe you remember a few of those lessons from your own family.
Here a few things my grandmother taught and modeled for me. No, she was not an environmentalist, but she was a great conservationist.
Here are a few of her tips:
- Double up your trips: My grandparents farm was pretty remote from any towns, and shopping days meant a trip to the beauty parlor and a haircut and hanging out for Grandpa, maybe parts for some machinery, the drug store and then groceries and home.
- Don’t waste food: Everything was eaten in my grandmother’s house…not always by humans, but always eaten. Every evening, there was a bucket of leftovers for the cats and one for the hogs. Anything left for human consumption went back into the “deep freeze”. She also canned vegetables she grew in her huge garden, made pies and jellies with gooseberries, choke cherries and wild plums that grew along the creek banks, and even had a small orchard.
- Give yourself away: As my grandmother aged, she began to give away here knickknacks and table linens and gifts she had received. She always asked what we like and wanted, and I have several of her treasures and things I treasure as a young person. Most gifts would be things I would have long discarded. Borrow what you do not need to own: I remember every visit to my grandmothers, my own mother would leave with a stack of magazines, most of which were just being passed along after my grandmother had read them, borrowed from someone else.
- Respect the land: There were memories and recurring nightmares I suppose, of dust storms and grasshopper infestations, of good years and lean ones, years with and without rain. Conversations or correspondence with her always started with a weather report. She paid attention, she kept records.
- Love your neighbors: My grandmother was a columnist for the Smith County Pioneer for years. She kept track of the social comings and goings, submitting her “items” weekly. She also was concerned about who had damage from storms, who needed help. She taught me that we were stewards of our land, of the waters that flowed through it, and the people who lived around us.
I became interested in environmental justice not because I loved nature, but because I loved people. When we forsake the earth, we create real consequences for real people…usually people without power, or comfort, or safety. Loving the environment is loving God and loving neighbor. Will it save the world? Will it turn around our impact? Perhaps not, but when we focus less on our own convenience and more on how we reflect God’s love for creation and our love of God in our actions with creation, then we can see the importance and good to do what we can. Whenever we can. However we can. For me, it is just that simple.