Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 15, 2010
Light a Lenten candle this Earth Hour
A carbon fast reflects the true meaning of the Lenten season
Journey to Justice
Hide the chocolates! I'm giving up candy!" Today, is Lent for North American Christians merely a confectioner's nightmare (or a dieter's dream)?
Isaiah 58 offers a different challenge: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe them?"
Although an ancient tradition, under the papacy of Gregory the Great in the 600s, Lent became a 40-day (not including Sundays) preparation for Easter. It was marked by fasting and by denial of pleasures. Christians fasted until afternoon and ate only one meal per day, usually in the evening. Many went vegan, skipping meals of meat and animal products, even fish.
In 2010, Benedict XVI's short Lenten message is a profound reflection on the theme of justice. The pope reminds us that in Lent, "The Church invites us to a sincere review of our life in light of the teachings of the Gospel." If a "sincere review of our life," leads us further than our dietary choices, what more could Lenten observance mean?
SOCIETAL RENEWAL PLAN
For a growing number of Christians, "carbon fasting" has become part of a personal and societal renewal plan towards Easter.
Essentially, a "carbon fast" is a reflection on our over-consumptive lifestyle choices, followed by conscious reductions in our energy use (and misuse). It can call us to sacrifice convenience, as well as to act in solidarity with victims of global warming - poor people living in the Global South, animals, plants.
Our kitchen fridge always displays CCODP's Lifestyle Awareness Calendar as a guide for Lenten observance. The 2010 version develops the theme of seeds and food, in keeping with Development and Peace's "food sovereignty" theme. Last year's calendar made many more explicit links to the environment: climate change, fair trade options and our need to reduce, reuse and recycle.
PAY PER KILOMETRE
For example, one day we were asked to "donate 10 cents for every kilometre you travelled this week." Another day stated, "Our carbon footprint is increased by the fossil fuels used in transporting tropical fruits to Canada. Donate 10 cents for each tropical fruit in your home, including those that are canned."
A Carbon Fast calendar for 2010 is now available on the website of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.
The Sisters of Charity of Halifax live a long way from the State of Washington. But realizing that greenhouse gases know no boundaries, they have placed on their website easy-to-use information on a 2010 Carbon Fast for Lent from Washington Interfaith Power and Light.
Suggestions abound to cut down on carbon emissions: from timing your shower, to buying local, to Saying No to Unwanted plastic Bags (SNUB), to inviting your family to watch a film about climate change and then writing or calling an elected official about what you learned.
In our family, Earth Hour has become one of the most special moments of Lent. For the last two years we have invited a group of friends to drop by for song, prayer and conversation while we turn off all the lights for 60 minutes. Our teenaged daughter and her friends play the guitar; we share a few prayers and then discuss what Christian action for the environment could mean.
Earth Hour now involves hundreds of millions of participants around the globe. Dozens of cites across Canada, as well as companies and institutions, participate by shutting off their lights and saving thousands of tons of carbon emissions. Earth Hour takes place this year on March 27, with lights out at 8:30 p.m.
DOES IT MATTER?
Observing Lent through "carbon fasting" or sitting with friends in candlelight, in prayer and reflection, might seem to be pointless or merely symbolic actions. Can such action really help the environment, other people, or us?
Pope Benedict answers this way in his Lenten reflection: "Faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: Humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from 'what is mine,' to give me gratuitously 'what is his.'" A carbon fast can be a modern, spiritual and effective way to echo Isaiah's vision for true Lenten observance.
(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, http://www.cpj.ca, an ecumenical social advocacy organization. It should be noted that in the past Joe represented Catholic groups on the KAIROS board and served as the founding vice-chair).
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