An Invitation to See "Both-And"
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
This blog was born in my struggle to find a place where I fit into the existing dialogue on environmental issues. I hear passionate, and sometimes strident, voices on all sides. People are advocating for one policy or another, fighting to “win” on their issue. I hear environmental doom preached with no gospel of hope. What I find lacking in all of it is a holistic, reconciling approach that acknowledges the relational complexity of life on this planet.
Many people are surprised to hear I’m both an environmental engineer and a Lutheran deaconess. It seems normal to me, and I find no conflict between science and faith. They both answer important questions about life, but the questions are different. I need both to fully understand life. Science tells me how the physical world works, what’s happening in it, and how I affect it and am affected by it. As I grow in understanding of the complexity, intricacies, and beauty of the physical world, I see glimpses of God, the Creator. Faith tells me who I am, why I’m here, and leads me to discipleship in caring for all creation. I call it the “both-and” perspective. This helps me see the complex natural systems that sustain our lives and our impact on these systems.
Today’s environmental problems are the cumulative effect of the daily activities and choices we make, which ripple through the planet’s natural systems. Each day we use water, energy, material goods, and other things to survive as living beings and to do what we need and/or want to do in life. Seldom does one action or choice create an environmental problem. Instead, all our actions and choices over many years have a cumulative impact. Today’s environmental challenges are what sociologists call wicked problems. In this use, wicked does not mean evil. Rather, wicked means resistant to resolution because of its complexity and interconnection with other issues.
Surprisingly, there is a paradox of good news in this complexity. My actions alone can’t solve today’s environmental problems; however, today’s environmental problems can’t be solved unless I act. That means what I do makes a difference. I have control of my daily activities and choices. With these, I can be part of the solution to today’s environmental problems. To do this, I’ve started a project called Living Connected. Its goal is to transform the ways I use six gifts of creation: water, energy, land, food, material goods, and waste.
Yes, I know calling waste a gift sounds funny. Working on hazardous waste projects introduced me to the concept of declaring something a waste. Under U.S. waste regulations, a product doesn’t become a waste until someone decides to discard it. In a general sense, this means something is not a waste until a person says it has no use. For example, think of the rancher or farmer who has a field full of equipment that is both not usable for its original purpose and is still not waste, because it can be used for parts to repair other equipment. Waste becomes a resource when we reuse it or repurpose it through recycling, as part of the Three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle. One way I transform my use of creation’s gifts is by making different choices about what I call waste.
So, what if the cumulative effect of our daily actions and choices led to abundant life, instead of the environmental challenges we now face? If this sounds good to you, then join me in Living Connected! Together we’ll discover the ways abstract environmental problems touch us in our daily lives. We’ll explore the science and engineering that bring the gifts of creation to us and the surprising ways they connect us to our neighbors. We’ll reflect theologically on the meaning of the connections and consider how God is calling us to act. Science will inform our choices and faith will guide and inspire us when the choices are difficult. Through it all, we’ll look to overcome today’s environmental challenges in ways that both care for our neighbors and lead to wholeness (shalom) for all life on planet Earth.