Reflections on the Lessons of This Time of Year

By: John A. Lanier

Northampton, MA –News Direct– Ray C. Anderson Foundation

This week is a confluence of two things I hold very dear to my heart – my faith and the environment. As a Christian, this past Easter Sunday was the highest holiday of the year, a day filled with joy and celebration. As an environmentalist, Earth Day this Friday is the one day each year where society in general acknowledges the importance of caring for the planet. Rather than dive into some wonky economic analysis of an environmental issue or wax poetically about the potential of a clean tech innovation, I want to simply share a reflection about these two days.

Restarting a Journey of Faith

I don’t often write about my faith, but it’s a core aspect of who I am. I grew up with weekly involvement in both the Roman Catholic and Presbyterian faith traditions, so I learned early on how to celebrate differences in religious groups. As I grew, my faith journey became rooted in Catholicism, informed in particular by the Society of Mary, which is the religious order that runs my high school. Through their influence, I came to prize religious values ​​like humility, compassion, gentleness, love of neighbor, and love of self. Those continue to be the fundamental characteristics of the Christian life that I strive to live.

When COVID began two years ago, much of the rhythm of my religious life was disturbed. I’m sure for anyone of faith who is reading this, you can relate! Going to church each week and participating in our sacraments was so enriching, but then it was just…gone. And because we chose to be very COVID with our two young children, it stayed gone for nearly two full years. We don’t regret that decision, but it showed me how hard it is to stay engaged with your faith when you don’t have a broader community with which to practice it.

We resumed our churchgoing ways in late February, and it’s been wonderful to be back. It genuinely adds joy to our family life, and our kids have seemed to enjoy our weekly ritual. And so I found myself fully experiencing the happiness of Easter this Sunday. For obvious reasons, Easter has theological undertones of new life and renewal, and it feels like our family gets a restart on the practice of our faith.

At its core though, Easter isn’t just one day. Yes, we Christians celebrate one particular moment in the life of Jesus, but it is THE moment. Our entire theology is underpinned by that day, so we don’t get to check a box and forget about Easter until the next one comes around. If we are doing it right, everything that Easter represents should be a part of our daily lives as Christians. That takes work though, and it’s the work I am committing myself to over the coming year.

Earth Day Is More Than Just a Day

Which brings me to Earth Day. I want to be very clear that I am grateful for all of the mindfulness that Earth Day brings. Literally millions of people observe it and take some sort of positive action to help our planet. Of course that is a good thing.

You can tell a “but” is coming though, and here it is – I wish that degree of mindfulness were always present. I find that the exact same lesson I take away from celebrating Easter is the lesson that I hope people take away from Earth Day. It’s not just a day!

I know it’s a silly trope to say “every day is Earth Day,” but the truth of that sentence is plain to see for anyone who thinks about it for even one second. It’s why I blanch a bit when I see Earth Day campaigns that involve just one single moment of action. Cleaning up trash for one afternoon does not satisfy a year’s worth of obligations toward environmental stewardship. It’s not like Earth Day is the equivalent of having your annual physical. “Thanks doc, I’ll see you next year!”

Just Like with Health, Environmentalism Takes Work

In fact, human health is a good analogy here (and any longtime readers know my pinchant for analogies). Imagine sitting down with your doctor at that physical, and she asks in general how you are doing. “Great!” you might say. “I’m healthy – I ate a salad just last night before coming to see you.” How do you think your doctor might react?

Being healthy isn’t an on/off switch. It’s a spectrum, and where you fall on it relates to thousands of variables in your life. How active are you? Do you have a good diet? What’s the quality of your sleep? Are there any substances you abuse? Do you take unnecessary risks to your health? How is your mental state? And on and on and on.

Neither is environmentalism an on/off switch. How carbon intensive is your diet? Have you switched your home to energy-efficient appliances? Have you cut fast-fashion out of your wardrobe? Do you drive a gas-guzzler? Do you vote for political candidates who take environmentalism seriously? Do you include environmental organizations in your charitable giving? And on and on and on.

I’m not shaming anyone who doesn’t have perfect answers to those questions. Heck, I myself continue to work on being a good environmentalist! And that’s the point. Being healthy takes work. Having a rich faith life takes work. Being environmentally conscious takes work.

My ask is that you don’t commit to doing one good thing this Earth Day. Instead, spend some time reflecting on how you can get better at being environmentally responsible every day.

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