Brendan and I had a conversation last night about going green, the global economy, and what "good things" America has contributed to the world. It all started when we were reading the LifeWay magazine that our church distributes, and I was pleasantly surprised to find an article called "10 Simple Ways to Go Green." As many of you may have noticed, the Christian community isn't so big on the idea of going green, mainly (I submit) because it is an idea that predominately was started by the Democrats, and most Christians seem to think that God is Ronald Reagan - I mean, a conservative Republican. I don't know if we're just jealous that we didn't think of it first or if we just really like clear-cutting forests to make way for more LifeWay warehouses, but Christian and environmentalist don't seem to be two words that you find in the same sentence very often, unless, of course, that sentence is, "Wow - that Christian is very vocal about how strongly he opposes that environmentalist's perspective." So, when I saw that headline on the cover of a Christian publication, I was totally stoked.
"Brendan!" I said. "Look!" I said. "An article on going green! In a Christian magazine!" So we flipped to it, and I have to say I was a little disappointed. It started off well enough, citing the verse that says, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it," and talking about Biblical stewardship of the planet God has placed us on... but then it made it's mistake: The author suddenly changed from talking about how God has called us to take care of the earth and started talking about how good it is for the global economy to be environmentally conscious.
"Umm ... should Christians really be all about investing in the global economy?" I asked (because I really wasn't sure).
"Why not?" asked Brendan.
"Well, you know, global economy becomes one-world currency becomes one-world government becomes that creepy 'coexist' symbol ..." I trailed off.
"Do you think that a Christian's job is warding off the coming of the Anti-Christ?" he asked.
"Well, no. I mean, it's going to happen, regardless, but I'm not saying we should stop it. I'm just wondering if we should invest in it."
"Well, why not?" Brendan asked.
"Umm, yeah, sure. I'll take the mark of the beast if it'll save me $50 a year!" I said sarcastically.
"Will it really save me $50?"
"Come on; you know what I mean."
There seemed to be no clear-cut answer. Brendan figured that on the one hand, a man's got to eat, and there's money to buy food in the global market. On the other hand, the Euro is to be avoided at all costs.
We got back to the article and its talking about why we should go green because it'll save us so much money. "Money?" I asked. "Why does it have to be about money? Why can't it just be about the biblical principle? Why can't it be about caring for your children enough to try to make the world a little less disgusting for them? Why does it have to be about money and what's convenient for us? Why can't it just be about taking care of things for God's glory and respecting Him by respecting the stuff He gave us?" Then I remembered:
We are Americans.
If it isn't convenient and/or turning a huge profit margin, we don't want to do it. I mean, yes, it is nice that buying produce at the farmer's market saves me money, but it's nicer to think that locally-grown fruits and vegetables don't require several gallons of (Venezuelan or Iraqi) gas and oil to transport them to the area. Lowering my electric bill is nice, but not as nice as thinking that I'm one of many who are conserving fossil fuels. It's nice to save money by not buying disposable diapers, but it's nicer to think that I'm not dumping metric tons of non-biodegradable waste in landfills. All that to say, the money should be a nice side effect - but not the motivation. When money is your motivator, there's a problem.
"But what about my job?" you ask. "I don't like my job. I do it because I have to get paid. Doesn't that mean that money is my motivation for doing my job?" Well, yes and no. Your short-term motivation is to get paid, but what about the long term? Are you working just for the sake of the money? I doubt it. At least, I hope not. The end goal probably isn't more money: It's a roof over your head, food, health insurance, a reliable car to take your kids to school, things for your family's safety and provision. I'll amend the above statement: When money is your main motivator, there's a problem.
That being said, I actually pay to recycle. That's right: I pay to recycle. I don't have curbside pickup. I have to sort my own recyclables and make a special trip to a collection site in order to dispose of them. "Isn't that oxymoronic?" you ask. "You are wasting your precious fossil fuels just to make sure your tuna cans and cereal boxes don't get thrown away." Fair enough. However, I only take out recycling once a week, and I only drop it off when I know I'm already going to be driving near a collection site. That way, I don't waste a lot of extra gas to do it. However, I do have to use my time and some gas to dispose of it. It is not convenient to have an extra storage bin taking up space in my already-crowded, tiny kitchen, but there it sits. It takes extra time to rinse out every container we use and make sure it gets put in the right drawer of said bin. It's not fun to haul bags of garbage to my car and try to cram them into my trunk around all of the baby gear. The collection sites don't smell good, especially when it's over 100 degrees outside, but I go anyway. Why? Not because it's saving me money. Like I said - it's costing me in the form of time and driving a little bit out of my way. I do it because there's no good reason not to. Laziness just isn't a very good excuse. Convenience is for "ugly Americans," and I don't want to be one of those.
I'm so sick and tired of hearing about why we need to be "proud" to be American. There. I said it. Disown me if you must, but hear me out first: Why are you proud of something you didn't accomplish? Did you choose to be born here? No. It was by God's providence that you ended up here instead of El Salvador, Zimbabwe, or, God forbid, the dreaded France. Pride is for accomplishments, not chance happenings. I'm not proud to be a brunette; I'm not proud to be a woman; I'm not proud to be a Pennsylvanian because I didn't have a choice in any of those things. Those are not accomplishments, They just happened. Now then, I am proud to be a well-read individual. I am proud that I can utilize comma rules and parallel sentence structure. I am proud of my ability to play the flute (even though it's kind of lame), and I'm proud that I successfully ejected a human being from my body. Those are things I can be proud of. Those are things I actually did. "Okay," Brendan said, "maybe I can't be proud to be an American, but I can be proud of what my country has done, of what my people have done."
Thus began the next phase of our conversation: What "good things" has America done? Now, I'm a firm believer that we need to mind our own business and stop telling other people how to live. If other countries want to become communists, let them. We have no right to be the democracy police. (PS: Regardless of what your government school told you, we're not a democracy - that would mean the people were truly empowered. You have no power. The government just wants you to think you do so you don't go trying to get any.) We cannot (okay, we can and we do, but we shouldn't) just go around telling people that they must adhere to the same set of rules we do and build their government around our ideology (much of which we actually stole from Scotland when we wrote the Declaration of Independence). When Brendan made me stop and think about what America has done for the world, I honestly had a hard time thinking of things besides meddling in the affairs of the Vietnamese and our bad habits of overspending and making friends with other countries only so that we can take their oil.
"You can't think of anything?" he asked incredulously.
"Well, I guess we played a pretty big part in ending World War II," I admitted.
"That's it?" he asked, even more incredulously.
"Ummm ... yeah," I said. "I was going to say that we helped end slavery, but let's admit it: We only jumped on that bandwagon after England and a bunch of other countries had already abolished it; we did it reluctantly, and half of us wanted so badly to keep it that we went to war within ourselves. Not exactly a big plus for us."
"What about medicine?" he asked.
"Enjoy your smallpox blankets!"
In the end, he pointed out that we provide tons of grain for third world countries and give it to them free of charge. We also ship crates of AZT to AIDS-ridden countries like Uganda and Rwanda (and other places that end in "anda") without asking for anything in return. I'll admit, those are big things. They are good things. I was wrong. We do some nice stuff. I still don't think our nice things outweigh our ridiculous bad things (by ridiculous I mean both "for no good reason" and "based on sheer size"). However, when I really think about it, neither do my own. For every "good deed" I've done, I can think of about ten things I've done wrong.
As Brendan so sagely remarked, "Take your average individual. If you sat down and listed all of the bad things they've done, you could write a novel. That doesn't mean they have no redeeming qualities, that they're completely unlovable."
Then we had a great laugh at the thought of America being described as "lovable" because we both agreed that was a stretch. Tolerable, I suppose. Somewhat likeable on good days. But clearly flawed, just like the rest of us. I don't hate America. I wish we were less selfish. I wish we had better spending habits. I wish we'd go to foreign oil rehab and stop being a bossy younger sister. However, when I'm honest, I wish most of those things about me too. So, I guess I'm more "American" than I thought ... and maybe there are worse things to be.