The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
When I'm meeting with church groups about how to make good and faithful environmental choices, I'll often use a teaching strategy that catches folk off guard.
The typical setting is a church classroom or fellowship hall on a Sunday morning. Ten or twenty people are gathered together to talk about ways of living more gently on Earth. We're talking about the practical steps of installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, turning down the thermostat, and other basic strategies for saving energy. Our discussion covers things that can be done both at home and around the church.
Eventually, somebody will ask a question along the lines of, "We've already done most of those things here. What else can we do?" That's when I smile, and say "What about this?" I walk to the door, and turn off the banks of fluorescent lights illuminating the room.
Click! Click! Click! Three light switches turned off, and the room is ... still fairly bright.
It is a startling moment for many people in the class when they realize that the sunlight coming through windows is providing plenty of light to let us do what we need to do. The mid-day light is quite adequate for having a discussion and reading class handouts.
A quilting group might need to use the lights, even when sun is streaming in the windows. At night, of course, some of the lights need to be used. (It really isn't charitable to talk about committees that are "in the dark" for all their meetings.) But on a bright morning, turning off the lights leads into some interesting discussions about what we've come to expect, and what we really need.
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Life would be so much easier if there was just one rule to follow -- "save energy whenever and however you can." Saving energy is an important virtue, but it is not the only consideration in our decisions -- at least, not yet.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about a policy that I use to try to discern when long-distance travel is worthwhile in my ministry. There are times when I decide that it is legitimate to burn fuel to go to a meeting, because something important will happen at that gathering. There are other times when I decide that such a journey is a waste of gas. As several readers pointed out, the decision does not have to be a binary "do I go, or not" choice. Taking the bus or the train instead of flying or driving provides other options to use in juggling the costs and benefits of travel.
Similarly, we need to be able to think about our standards for when it is worthwhile or necessary to use electric lights. Turning on all the lights, all the time, is a common church practice that needs to be strongly critiqued. But on the other side, it is probably not realistic in church settings to say that we're only going to turn on the lights when it is too dim to read essential documents, or when people will fall down the stairs in the dark.
I don't have a tidy policy to propose this week, but I will name a few considerations that might be helpful for churches that want to deal with this level of witness.
When I turn off the lights in the middle of a class session, people are astounded. They are not even aware that there are choices to be made. We'll be making progress in our congregations -- and from there, into our homes and communities -- when we increase awareness that these choices are possible. We'll be working for social change when we help people communicate their values, and when we model how simple changes can provide new options.
Sometime soon, turn off the lights in the middle of a meeting, and see where the conversation goes.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: email@example.com