Sunday, March 10, 2013

Creation Care in the Clutches of Capitalism

Whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked. —1 John 2:6

I used to hate those bumper stickers that asked, “What Would Jesus Drive?”  As a poor urban dweller, I felt bad that I couldn’t afford the hybrid vehicle that usually accompanied the sticker.  Happily, I sold my car, in the name of Jesus, and purchased a bike that I ride to work most days.  Then, I spent a few hundred dollars winterizing myself with wind and rain resistant gear.  Money well spent.

There’s something that happens when you change a central aspect of your lifestyle, like the way you travel to work, that inspires you to ask profound questions.  I think it was the especially cold rainy mornings when my face was suffering the bombardment of sleet and the wind chilled me to my bones that caused me to ask, “Why am I doing this, again?”  Perhaps it was self-righteousness or simply the need for motivation that drove me to conclude repeatedly, “David, you are caring for God’s Creation.”  It’s rather a self-aggrandizing notion to believe that the pedals you are pushing are furthering God’s work in the world. It was moments like these in which I believed I had finally left my impoverished urban past and arrived at middle class Christian stability.  I was high on my noble rides to and from campus.  I began to amass texts that would further confirm the righteousness of my commute when I came across a quote, from Sallie McFague’s A New Climate for Theology, that gave me pause:

“A single return flight between New York and London produces 1.2 tons of greenhouse gases per passenger, the equivalent of a year’s allowable emissions if emissions were rationed fairly among all of the planet’s human beings... Many people who would not drive, let alone own, an SUV think nothing of flying all over the world for pleasure or business or even to attend conferences on global warming!”

I was undone!  Though I pedal my bike uphill against the wind for Creation Care and to support the sustainability of simple living, I realized that one flight could cancel all of the changes I’ve made.  Here’s the problem: I can’t stop flying.  McFague is right.  In order to be a cosmopolitan Creation Caring Christian you must fly all over the world.  Which means we do not ask suburban middle class Christians to consider changing their lifestyles to address the climate crisis in one of the most significant ways, living locally.  

In reality, I have more to learn from my city dwelling origins about Creation Care than most of the lifestyles of the middle class cosmopolitan Christians I’ve encountered.  This is for the simple fact that cosmopolitan Christians do more to pollute the earth than most city folk.  Cosmopolitan Christians are quintessential capitalists who consume in order to conserve.  If we want to save on energy use, then we purchase new light bulbs.   If we want to reduce our carbon emissions, then we purchase a new car. 

City folk living below the poverty line, on the other hand, commune in order to conserve.   Admittedly, many native urban dwellers are not overly conscious of creation Care responsibilities.  Still, even in their lack of awareness they often live more sustainable lives than the suburban cosmopolitan Christian who rides his bike to work, composts her food waste, and sports the “What Would Jesus Drive?” sticker on the family car bumper.  That’s because many native urban dwellers do not own cars, they ride the bus or the train.  Their world is communal and local.

My suburban world is not naturally communal or local.  Suburban Christians seek to be cosmopolitan.  We are cultural tourists.  Between our vacations and our short-term missions trips, our world is global.  We celebrate our mobility.  Consequently, our Creation Care values are disconnected from our Cosmopolitan lifestyle.  While our bumper stickers, like duct tape, might make us feel like we’re solving a problem, they are only making us feel better about our complicity in the crisis.  So I’ve found one more reason to hate those “What Would Jesus Drive?” bumper stickers.  Besides the fact that I can't fit bumper stickers on my bike frame, they too easily allow those of us middle class Christians—major transgressors of global pollution—to believe that we don’t need to change our cosmopolitan ways.   Perhaps that's the point of capitalist driven caring.  Thus, instead of asking how Jesus would travel,—a more open-ended question—asking what Jesus would drive easily becomes a way to make a commodity of Creation Care.  I suppose the problem is that it would be difficult to capitalize on Jesus' mode of transportation.  He walked.