Small Stuff (A Cross-Posting from Quaker Pagan Reflections)

Small Stuff (A Cross-Posting from Quaker Pagan Reflections) May 30, 2010

For quite a while now, I’ve had a growing concern about plastic and its impact on the environment.

Pagans, of course, theoretically worship the earth, the land, and the cycles of nature. And not only do many Quaker meetings maintain an environmental witness, but Quakers have long been enjoined to “examine our possessions for the seeds of war.”

What if we examined, all of us, our possessions for the seeds of a different kind of war, the war our species is waging on our planet’s health? What if we thought for any length of time about the true costs of the lives we live, and the conveniences we feel entitled to?

This thought has been returning and returning and returning to me, in waves that leave me rather breathless. I’m starting to think of these waves of pain–sometimes pretty intense pain–as a kind of labor. I’m starting to think of this kind of pain as the difference between having a concern, and laboring with one. It feels an awful lot like needing to give birth.

I think perhaps I can no longer bear to live as though my convenience is worth the death of ecosystems. I think I can no longer bear to choose quickness and comfort and modern ease over the lives of others, from whales and sea turtles to the plankton that forms the basis of all life in the sea–and, indirectly, most life on land.

Specifically, I find myself convicted that I am killing the planet I love through my heedless, selfish, foolish reliance on disposable plastics.

The video that pushed me over the edge a few weeks ago, from a growing personal concern to a sense of being placed under and laboring with a spiritual concern, is posted at the bottom of this page.

As I mentioned, I’ve been concerned about plastic for quite some time. I’ve been gradually removing more and more sources of disposable plastic waste from my life–starting with the easy stuff, like no more of those horrible plastic grocery bags or water bottles. And while I always do recycle what is recyclable, I have learned how inadequate that is–plastic, unlike glass, aluminum, or steel, does not truly recycle; it only “downcycles” for a limited number of cycles before it becomes waste forever.

For it will take hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of years, for plastics to ever fully degrade. They will choke macroscopic and microscopic life for every one of the years in between–not to mention the toxic chemicals they release into the environment for decades, if not hundreds of years, first.

When I think of this, the plastic container holding a package of cookies, the plastic bag holding my bread, the plastic bottle of shampoo or condiments or milk seems like an obscenity to me.

I think of how Quakers have responded to moral obscenity in years past, and I am ashamed.

I think of Elias Hicks, who was so opposed to slavery that not only did he refuse to wear or use cotton cloth, but as one story has it, when he suddenly suffered a stroke while traveling in the ministry during a heat wave, despite being unable to speak, he managed through his agitation to communicate to his hosts that he could not bear the touch of a cotton sheet upon his body. Through his restlessness, he eventually made clear his distress; he would not, could not, rest easy until that cotton was replace with a woolen cover, heat wave or no heat wave.

He knew that sheet was foul with human sweat and blood.

I know that plastic is foul, too. I know it. We all know it, don’t we–not just about plastics, but the thousand thousand ways human actions are destroying the planet?

Elias Hicks knew how to be faithful. Do I? Do we?

Can I bear not to be? What am I going to do with this?

I think that being faithful to the Spirit of Life is a lot like being faithful in a marriage. Let’s face it: most days, most of us don’t have to choose whether or not to cheat on a spouse. It’s not that that the big stuff doesn’t matter… but it isn’t what’s in the frame on a daily basis. It’s not normally what makes it or breaks it for us, and for those we love.

But we do have to find a way to not get bitchy when they’ve left their underwear on the rug, or come home late or too tired to do what we wanted them to, or whatever other small test of love and patience daily life brings to our lives together.

It is my experience that it is in the small things that human beings are least faithful to each other. I suspect it’s true for being faithful to our gods as well. And it’s when I look at the small things in my daily life, the details, that I am most keenly aware of my faithlessness.

My friend Marshall Massey has said that one mark that a leading is really from God is that it will be large, and probably lead us to do things that will be very difficult or inconvenient for us.

I think that may be right, sometimes. But I also think it’s only partially right.

I am not sure where this concern, this leading, this thing is going to lead me. I don’t think it’s going to lead me to quit my job and go live in an unheated yurt in the desert; I hope in doesn’t lead me to relinquish my beloved computer (made with plastic!) and the world I share through that computer.

But I’m getting a clear signal that the way I am living is not All Right. Yeah, God loves me anyway–that’s a done deal, unconditional love if ever I’ve found it–but I’m making Her very unhappy.

I just don’t want to make Mama unhappy like this any more. So a few things around here are going to have to change.

First of all, what will not change: this blog, at least for now. Quaker Pagan Reflections is home to a very wide range of my experiences and concerns, and I’m keeping it that way.

But, as of today, I’m adding a new outlet for my writing: the Chestnut House blog. That’s where I’m going to track my attempts to be as faithful as I can, first to that leading I think I’m feeling to reduce my plastic consumption, and second, to live a more environmentally-friendly life generally.

I make no promises not to talk about the environment here, on this blog… but over on Chestnut House, you will see the results of my attempt to dramatically cut my use of plastic.

Beth Terry, over at Fake Plastic Fish, has cut her use of plastic to about 4% of the typical American total of 88 pounds per year. I don’t think I’ll be in her league, and certainly I won’t at first. But I’m going to do what I can. The new blog is where I’m going to write about how.

Chestnut House is where I’ll be posting the mechanics of that struggle: starting Tuesday, June 1, I will be saving, photographing, weighing, and logging all of my plastic use. Every bit of it–or an explanation for what gets left out.

If you want to, you can keep score. I’m going to.

Expect a lot of very practical posts there–how to make ketchup may be an issue I’ll take on soon, for instance, as I am running low, and I can no longer find any in glass in my local stores. Expect it to be nit-picky with details, because there seems, from the limited amount I’ve done already trying to cut down on plastic in my life, to be no end of that.

I don’t know how I’ll do. I want to live with integrity; I want to be faithful to the Light that’s speaking to me.

But I doubt I’ll be graceful about it, any more than I have been about the small ups and downs of marriage. I am not an environmentalist saint–I love my fast food, pop-culture, easy-access American life too much for that. But then, maybe sharing that struggle is worth something, too.

I’m starting with the small stuff.

Next time I write on this subject, it will be over there. (I’m thinking of writing about shampoo… or maybe baking bread.)

Blessed be.

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