BY GALEN HOLLEY
TUPELO – In the book of Genesis, God gives Adam and Eve “dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air” and all living things. Christians and Jews read in this passage an obligation to be good stewards of creation and to care for the world that God has created.
Religious people throughout Northeast Mississippi are “going green” as a way of living out their faith.
The Rev. Bryan Collier of the Orchard sees a theological reason for “going green.” According to Collier, the successes and failures of Christians in caring for the earth have a theological and historical trajectory.
Collier said that “the Fall” of Adam and Eve derailed the natural world and blurred humankind’s understanding of its obligation to be good stewards. Collier added, however, that “green thinking” works well within the Christian language of redemption: “Redemption is about God restoring humanity to all God wants us to be and to do,” he said. “That includes all the resources he has entrusted to our care.”
John Wages of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tupelo said that being mindful of how one’s choices affect others is a spiritual practice. “Social justice issues are intimately connected to environmental health and stability,” said Wages. He added that Unitarians try always to live spiritual and mindful lives, taking into consideration the global community.
Twenty-year-old Meno Zook, a member of Pontotoc County’s Amish community, said that studying the Bible and living – sometimes, quite literally – the primitive lifestyles depicted therein, has kept Amish close to nature. “We live simply,” said Zook. “We waste very little and try to care for the earth that feeds us.”
Mary Ann Plasencia said that the youth of St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo share that desire to cut out waste.
In January the youth persuaded the parish to stop using Styrofoam cups – some 200 per week – at the Wednesday night meals. “Our church was spending a lot of money on those cups,” said Plasencia who coordinates religious education for grades 6-12. The parish switched to washable cups and, each Wednesday, two youths volunteer to wash them.
Collier said that the Orchard asks its members, including staff, to bring their own coffee mug each week. He estimates an annual savings of $250, not counting waste and disposal fees.
The Orchard is also reducing the amount of paper it uses. Collier and his staff have almost completely eliminated inner-office “hard copy” paper, using e-mail instead. Outside the office the Orchard hasn’t printed a newsletter in years, using instead the church website and e-newsletters to communicate with the congregation.
Collier added that, with the exception of a few hard copies, the church is also putting all its membership guides as well as small group listings and other introductory materials online.
Drive through Pontotoc and you’re likely to see the Rev. Pete Peterson picking up cans. Known throughout town as “the can man,” Peterson, the sacramental minister at St. Christopher Catholic Church, has collection boxes at 15 different locations. He even rummages through the garbage when he’s walking the golf course.
“There are plenty of beer and soda cans in there,” he joked.
In 2007 Peterson collected over 5,000 pounds of cans, donating over $3,000 to Habitat for Humanity.
Wages said that the Tupelo Unitarians recycle not only cans but cell phones. Their newest recycling item is computer ink cartridges.
Fourteen-year-old Van Thomas of St. James recently needed a project for his Eagle Scout badge. Thomas and his father, Tupelo veterinarian Glenn Thomas, built a recycling area behind the Catholic Life Center. Parishioners now have a convenient spot to drop off their aluminum and, instead of money going out on disposable cups, the church has money coming in from recycling. The St. James youth use the money from recycling to help fund trips.
Peterson of St. Christopher said, “Living simply is good for the planet and helps one to be in prayer with the world’s poor.” Zook of the Amish agreed. He said that although most Amish wouldn’t have a sense the green movement in popular culture, their lifestyle embodies the best of its principles.
Peterson and his house mate, Bro. Joe Stein, lead a pretty ascetic lifestyle: no air-conditioning and, weather permitting, they rarely use the clothes dryer, preferring instead to use a clothes line.
Zook isn’t trying to cut down on electricity – he simply doesn’t have any. He heats his home with the same wood stove upon which he cooks many of his meals.
Peterson’s clothesline arcs over his verdant vegetable garden – compost, no pesticide. Zook and his family also eat primarily what they raise in their gardens. Manure from livestock and composting nurture the soil.
The Unitarians too practice environmentally friendly gardening. Said Wages: “Human society depends on food webs and intact cycles like the water and nitrogen cycles.” One of their group, Otho Stevens, is a certified master gardener. Wages and other Unitarians recently helped start a children’s educational community garden project at Haven Acres Community Center.
Between what Peterson raises and cans from his garden and simple food that people donate his monthly grocery bill is an astoundingly low $35.
“I eat well,” said Peterson. “I just don’t overeat or eat extravagantly.”
Stein and Peterson are conscious of all of their consumption including electricity, fuel, paper and one resource that’s often overlooked: water.
The Rev. Tom Groome of First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo said that the average American flushes more water every day than a person in a developing country uses for drinking, cooking and cleaning combined. Groome said that Christians can “love our neighbors in a concrete and tangible way” by conserving water and other resources. He pointed out the work of “Living Waters for the World,” a Presbyterian organization that helps provide clean water to developing countries.
Zook’s water is drawn from a well by a gasoline-driven pump and held in large tank from which it runs throughout his home’s facets. “We use it sparingly,” said Zook.
Zook points out that although Amish might be doing more than their share to reduce the national carbon footprint, they’re not critical of anyone else. “This is the way we’ve always done things,” Zook said. “Other people live differently and we respect that.”
Groome said that a more just and equitable distribution of the world’s resources, which Christians can help bring about by conservation, can “change lives, no doubt about it.”
Plasencia of St. James said she’s encouraged by the fact that it’s not hard to sell young people on the value of being ecologically aware. “It’s cool these days,” said Plasencia. “They see it as the thing to do.” Thomas of St. James agreed, saying his generation is eager to “keep the earth as clean as we can so that we can live healthier lives.”
Zook, in a laconic manner befitting the simplicity of his surroundings, said, “We can all do something within our means.”
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.