SASKATOON — The local Saskatoon group Churches for Environmental Action hosted a workshop March 4 at Mayfair United Church, highlighting the call to live simply.
“Drowning? Ways to Live Simply” included a theological introduction, a presentation from a city councillor about the vision and challenges around environmental action at the civic level, and workshops offering practical tips and ideas for action.
Christopher Hrynkow of St. Thomas More College opened the afternoon event, reflecting on Christian ecological ethics and the call to battle our “addiction to stuff” as a way to care for the earth and to live justly with those in poverty and on the margins.
“When the market and its chief product — stuff — is worshiped, simple living is too often displaced,” Hrynkow said.
“There are alternatives on offer for Christians who struggle to put their heads above the torrent of excess consumption that seeks to drown them, even if it is just long enough to hear the voice of the prophets calling us back to more nourishing relationships with God, our self, our neighbour and the rest of creation.”
Hrynkow noted that the market model of endless consumption is neither sustainable nor fulfilling. “We suffocate ourselves in the service of broken story; we drown in the stuff we own and hoard.”
He pointed to a growing Christian understanding that the dignity of the human person and the integrity of the natural world are inextricably linked.
“For instance, the World Council of Churches and several Roman Catholic orders seek to have ‘Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation’ (JPIC) as a mutual set of commitments or a covenant underlying all their programming.”
Embracing simple living is a prime path of action in this regard. “This need not be an overly austere asceticism, but there remains an imperative to limit consumption through a type of green simplicity that frequently activates the potential for joy among ‘deep greens’ of both the secular and religious variety,” he said.
A vision of something better than what the advertising industry offers will drive transformative action, Hrynkow suggested, saying that such a vision could embrace the virtues of hospitality, co-living, respect, tolerance and communality, and bring “the joy and health benefits that come from simple living.”
Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ firmly connects the vision of simple, responsible living to peace. “This is a choice against both domination and consumerist orientation, in favour of growth understood in terms of the growth of positive relationships,” Hrynkos said. “Laudato Si’ offers a specific antidote to a ‘prosperity gospel’ that equates God’s favour with spiritual, physical and financial mastery.”
As Pope Francis writes, “Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.”
Hrynkow concluded by encouraging his listeners to take up the imperative to both support Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation and to save themselves from drowning in stuff. “Right here, right now, we can build the foundations we need to incarnate the virtues for another possible world, characterized by JPIC and deeply satisfying positive relationships.”
Saskatoon City Councillor Mairin Loewen, a member of the city’s standing policy committees on transportation and environment, utilities, and corporate services, spoke about local initiatives and challenges related to environmental action.
Ten-year goals set by the city in 2013 include improving the quality of storm water run-off, increasing new sources of green energy and renewables, reducing green house gases, soil improvement, improving access to green space, and cold climate energy efficiency, Loewen listed. Other shorter-term goals include developing strategies to deal with extreme weather events, implementing energy-efficient practices in city buildings, transportation and operations, and eliminating the need for a new landfill through the diversion of waste through recycling and composting programs.
“We don’t lack for goals,” she said, adding that the challenge is to marshal resources to meet those goals, with a lot of competition for the same resources.
After the two presentations, four practical workshops were offered on the topics of community gardens, green kitchens, organizing an environmental block party, and determining “what goes where” when it comes to household waste.
Myron Rogal of the Justice and Peace Office for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon also shared information about the Citizens for Public Justice lenten initiative entitled “Give it up for the Earth!” The campaign is centred on a postcard that includes a pledge to individual climate action, and a call for more far-reaching national climate policy. The aims are to raise awareness about climate change and collect signatures as a demonstration of support for increased federal government action.