Lent is about sacrifices. I think. I don’t know for sure, I’m not Catholic. I’m technically not even Christian. I identify as agnostic. But I have been attending Catholic schools since the sixth grade, so I know a thing or two about Catholicism.
When you give something up for Lent, you’re supposed to choose something that gets in the way of your relationship with God. So if you listen to music all the time and never give yourself moments of quiet to reflect, you would give up listening to music as you walk around campus or at night before you go to bed. Or if you find yourself spending too much time on your phone or on social media rather than being present and strengthening your bonds with the people around you, you would give that up for Lent. Basically, Lent isn’t *really* about giving something up – it’s about gaining something, a strengthened relationship with God.
Either way you look at it though, it requires sacrifice. And we need to begin looking at our relationship with the Earth the same way. All of the conveniences around us, from one-time-use products to our cars to pre-cooked frozen meals, not only get in the way of our relationship to the natural world, but they are inherently bad for the planet. They reduce our awareness of what truly sustains us and provides us with every single resource we ever use. No matter how fake or plasticky something might look, it is entirely a product of whatever resources the natural world gave us. Perhaps some of those resources were altered or synthesized in a lab somewhere, but they didn’t just appear out of thin air. We have nothing except what the Earth gives us. But we are so far removed from the production of all the things we use and consume and throw away every single day that we don’t realize just how badly we have overtaxed our planet.
People really don’t emphasize enough just how dire our situation is. We don’t really comprehend just how unsustainable our lifestyles are. I recently took an online quiz about how many Earths we would need if everyone lived exactly the way I do. And I liked to think that I lived relatively sustainably – I usually eat organic, I don’t eat meat or fish, I rarely drive my car, and I avoid using disposable products. But despite all those efforts, the quiz results said that we would need 3.8 Earths if everyone lived the same way as me. And I realized it’s not enough to just switch to organic produce at the supermarket. It’s not enough to use high-efficiency appliances. That’s just tweaking a system that we must dramatically overhaul and reorganize. If we want to be sustainable, we need to completely reimagine every aspect of our lives. Most, if not all, of our food should be locally gown on polyculture farms without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. That kind of food shouldn’t just be a fun, “sustainable alternative” to normal produce from the store – local sustainable food should be the norm. Having electricity in our homes all the time, at least using the current sources we depend on (fossil fuels), isn’t sustainable. We need to be willing to make some sacrifices about that — can we eliminate heating and cooling from our homes? We feel like we can’t live without it now, but for most of human history, such things didn’t exist. Would we be willing to give up the comfort of climate control in our homes and other places in order to make sure the planet will still be around in another 50 years?
All of the things that artificially make our lives so much easier are things that get in the way of our relationship with the natural world that sustains us. We need to take radical steps to prevent its destruction. In doing so, we will forgo things that are nice to have and that bring us convenience; we *will* have to make real, meaningful sacrifices. But we will gain a renewed understanding of our place in the universe and a stronger, more sustainable relationship with the Earth.
And we should really get on that. Like, now. Because at this rate, the planet won’t be around for our children to screw it up like we have.
Liz Tate is a senior PPP major from Louisville. She serves as the Communications Chair on the Alternative Breaks Board, a Site Leader for X-Change, and a team leader on Dine Better Together interfaith team. Her greatest interests include politics, environmental justice, and potato-based edibles. Next year she hopes to do a year of service with Jesuit Volunteer Corps and continue to live out the messages of social justice that got her roped into the CFJ in the first place.