The Green Thing

I got an e-mail from my mother today – one of those e-mails we all get that is forwarded from one person to the next to the next.  I typically don’t read these when I get them, but I always read Mom’s for two reasons:

1. She’s my mom – I feel like there’s some sort of unspoken rule about always reading the e-mails your mom sends.  Come on – she has cleaned my poopy diapers, held my hair while I barfed and cooked thousands of meals for me. If I can’t read an e-mail from her, I am a horrible person!

2. My mom rarely sends lame e-mails.  If I get a forwarded message from my mom, I can almost guarantee that it will either be funny or poignant.

Anyway – I got this message from her today.  I’m sure she didn’t pass it on to create some big discussion about environmentalism and “being green,” but it certainly made me think about a few things.  Here is what was in the e-mail:

The Green Thing

In the line at the store, the cashier told the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.

The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. The former generation did not care enough to save our environment.”

He was right, that generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

But they didn’t have the green thing back in that customer’s day.

In her day, they walked up stairs, because they didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. They walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time they had to go two blocks.

But she was right. They didn’t have the green thing in her day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s diapers because they didn’t have the throw-away kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts – wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

But that old lady is right, they didn’t have the green thing back in her day.

Back then, they had one TV, or radio, in the house – not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief, not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, they blended and stirred by hand because they didn’t have electric machines to do everything for you.

When they packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, they used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, they didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. They used a push mower that ran on human power. They exercised by working so they didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right, they didn’t have the green thing back then.

They drank from a fountain when they were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time they had a drink of water. They refilled their writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and they replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of
throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But they didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or rode the school bus instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. They had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And they didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks were just because they didn’t have the green thing back then?

~Author Unknown~

So my first thought is this: What the heck kind of punk kid is working the cash register at this grocery store, huh?  I don’t care if that woman was single-handedly responsible for the destruction of our planet! That is no way to speak to a customer or an elder.  I really hope the story that prefaces this e-mail is made up. 

Now, I am no expert on the environment, so take what I say for what it’s worth – approximately nothing.  However – I really think that the “back then” this author is referring to is really right before the beginning of the end as far as our environment goes.  When my grandmother was growing up, I’m sure life was a lot like what is described.  Maybe it was this way for my mother too, but in my opinion the time when my mother was a child was really when we started to see a lot of damage start.

When my grandparents were kids, there weren’t a ton of “convenience” food items at the store. Again, I’m no expert, but from what I understand, these convenience items were created and really rose to popularity during my mother’s youth.  100 years ago people would have never dreamed about eating meat out of a can, cheese from a tube, whole meals just dumped in a pot and warmed, powder turning into “cheese” for macaroni, etc.

The next time you’re at the grocery store, take a moment and take stock of all the foods that are full of sodium, preservatives, chemicals we can’t pronounce, etc.  Look at the packaging these foods are in.  Think about the convenience food you use in your own home.  How much trash have we accumulated all in the name of “convenience” and “ease” and “time-saving?”  Let’s not even talk about how unhealthy these types of foods are for living creatures to ingest.  That’s an entirely different post!

Many people I know don’t have to drive very far for the grocery store.  I do, because I live in a tiny town, and unless I need something basic, our local grocer just doesn’t carry what we buy.  But let’s think about this for a minute – even if my mother walked to her nearest grocery store (which is down the street about a block away), and even if she only bought fresh items (nothing canned or frozen or boxed – just produce and meat), we still should think about how far that food has traveled to arrive on those shelves.  I bought grapes the other day that were from South America.  Really? Don’t we grow grapes in America? How much fuel was spent transporting those grapes from South America to Lafayette, Indiana?  AND – how much was the person who picked those grapes paid? Probably next to nothing. There’s so much shame tied into our current food system if you really think about it.  The unfairness of how people are paid and treated, the resources spent on transportation, etc.

I am learning new things all the time about how to be more responsible in my life here on Earth.  There are great strides being made by many in this “green” movement.  But let’s not stop at buying cute reusable grocery bags.  I think it’s important to understand WHY we’re in this place to begin with!  The biggest thing (in my opinion, which has already been determined to be worth squat) that has contributed to the current state of our environment is our desire for life to be QUICK and EASY.  We have sacrificed a lot of our integrity in the name of convenience.  We fill our schedules with things we feel we need to do (even though we don’t), feed ourselves crap because we have no time to cook, and we create more trash than any person should because we’re lazy.

Michael Pollan has suggested in some of his writings that we begin to live like our grandparents.  If your grandmother wouldn’t have recognized it as food, DON’T EAT IT!  I would add to that if your grandmother wouldn’t have packed her schedule tighter than a sausage, drove her kids to every single available engagement and used tiny plastic bags to carry her groceries home in – DON’T DO IT!

I don’t know – maybe I’m wrong about all of this.  I don’t know whose fault our current ecological status is.  All I know is that we really need to start living in a way that might heal our broken planet.  Just my opinion – for what it’s worth!


>Caution Tape


I am so excited to be able to share these following words with you. Ted Lyddon Hatten is the Conference Artist for the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. We were blessed to have him speak at our PAUMCS conference this week in Des Moines. I was so moved by these words, that I e-mailed Ted, and asked if he would mind sending me the statement. He was very gracious to share this with me. The first part explains a little about the art he created, and the rest is a beautiful, haunting statement for you to read and meditate on. Enjoy…

The artwork for the PAUMC gathering was created to be part of a larger installation for the 2005 Iowa Annual Conference Session. Our theme that year was Stewards of Creation. In addition to these three images, I incorporated sod and caution tape in various locations throughout venue. The following words served as my artist statement. tlh

They call it caution tape and it is intended to be noticed. Yellow with black letters – Police use it to cordon off a crime scene. Construction workers use it to mark off an area in need of repair. You are supposed to see it, to take note, take caution.

If your eyes are open you will see the caution tape around here and what it surrounds. It is sod; grass. There are seven circles of sod – four in the building and three elsewhere. It is up to you to decide if the sod enclosed by the caution tape is a crime scene or an area in need of repair. If it is a crime scene you’ll want to be careful not to touch it – you wouldn’t want to leave fingerprints. It’s the oil that does you in. The oil. That’s why fingerprints can be left on a wet glass. It’s the oil. And you need a solvent to dissolve oil. Petroleum distilled and refined works well. Wipe down what you touch and not even of trace of you will remain. It is also handy as a fuel for the combustion engine in your car, your SUV, and your RV. With gasoline we can go wherever we want in speed and comfort.

“Sovereign God, when we look upon the heavens, at all of creation, and we see the work of your fingers.”

“Stewards of Creation” is our theme for this year’s Annual Conference.

Adam and Eve were the first stewards of creation and they have taught us well. They did not ask to be made but made they were. Made in God’s image which means they were hungry. They found themselves in a garden that had everything they needed – including limits. Abundance beyond the need to measure. And they were told by their Creator to “till and to keep that garden.” Translated another way – they were told to serve the land – to be servants of the land.

I believe the future of this planet hinges on the order of those words.

And they were also told that if they honor their appetites – honor, elevate, obey their appetites they will have open eyes to see the death they have brought.

But the fruit forbidden was ripe – a delight to their eyes and they were surprised that it hung so low – so easy to reach. And with their emerging vision – just before they sank their teeth in the fruit they saw God’s fingerprints.

Hanging over the chancel for these 3 days is a triangular prism that depicts the four elements around which each of our major worship services is built. Fire, air, water, earth. The Fire is the light that shines within just as the light burns, shines within everything that lives.

Air is the side dominated by a Great Blue Heron. Her eyes are locked in on one of two things; Either danger to her offspring or food. It is possible, I suppose, that she is sizing up the fish in the adjacent panel though they nearly out-weigh her. But I think the former is more likely the truth. She has spotted danger.

In the Water swim three fish. They are either trying in vain to blend in with their surroundings or they too bear the fingerprints of a Creator apparently obsessed with color.

The water looks like the air in the other panels and the plowed ground resembles the ocean floor and the marsh and this is quite intentional. The ecosystems that enable life here are infinitely complex and intimately connected one to another. The chemicals we apply to the land end up in our water. The waste we belch into the air falls down onto the land.

The land, of course is our home and our destination. We know it well – it feeds us, shelters us, holds our roots in place and gives us life. The apple in the center of the Land panel has a pattern that, with your emerging vision, you will find in the Air and Water panels as well.

But it is tempting. Tempting to reverse the order of the words spoken to Adam and Eve by God. To act as if the land is here to serve us. Tempting to honor our appetites. Tempting to continue to repeat the sin that stopped being original a long time ago.

As the juice ran down the chin and neck of Eve and Adam – so too does the crude oil run down our chin and our neck. Our combustion engines take us from place to place with speed and comfort but petroleum, refined and distilled, is also an effective solvent. And with it, we are erasing fingerprints of the Divine.

We are stewards of creation. Each of us is called in many ways – a blend of vocations unique to us – as original as the patterns on the pads of our fingers. But to be a steward of creation – that is a calling that falls equally on us all. No one is ordained or consecrated or set apart for the roll of Steward of Creation. We are all called to this ministry.

But if we are unable or unwilling to answer that call faithfully then the sod and the earth it comes from is indeed a crime scene.

The Heron has spotted the danger to her offspring and her eyes are locked in on us.

Should we find a way to answer that call and become faithful servants of creation –

should we find a way to honor God rather than our appetite

then our already opened eyes will see Divine fingerprints

and Divine presence everywhere we look.

And we will hear the echo of God’s voice;

“It is good.”


Ted Lyddon Hatten

Conference Artist

Iowa Annual Conference



>Here is the script from a skit we saw this week at PAUMCS. It’s a conversation between God and St. Francis of Assisi about suburbanites… enjoy!

GOD: St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the World is going on down there in the USA? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers weeds and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It’s temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, sir — just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back On the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the gro wth and saves Them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a Sheer stoke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It’s a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You’d better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the Winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy Something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST. CATHERINE: Dumb and Dumber, Lord. It’s a real stupid movie about………….

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.