Lent and Discipleship in the Era of Climate Crisis

By Monica Tang

The season of Lent calls us to re-evaluate our daily lives and to consider setting aside a habit or indulgence to adopt a practice that brings us closer to our dependence on God. Lent is a season that calls us to consider ourselves as believers and disciples, and not just consumers or citizens. Lent calls us to re-examine our ways of life and their impact on our neighbors and God’s creation and to live a life of integrity.

The word integrity stems from the word “integer,” which means wholeness. Steve Garber, my professor at Regent College, always emphasizes the importance of living the seamless life, where our faith effortlessly flows to our actions and public engagement in the world.

In the era of a climate crisis, appeals for personal actions and political actions vie for our attention. We are bombarded by tips on “how to go green” and advertisements for energy-efficient appliances or home features. We are invited to join a direct action, support a political candidate, or donate to a campaign. It can be confusing to decide which action to pursue and which action is most effective in addressing climate change.

As Christians, we have a theological framework for understanding both the role of personal sin and systemic sins as it contributes to the climate crisis. Our individual carbon footprints are tied to the energy and political systems that we live in.

Therefore, both personal action and political action matters to counteract and respond to those sins.

Personal actions matter because they help build discipline and habits. As I bring my cloth bag to the farmers market or grocery store, I am reminded of how reusing my own cloth bags means that I am not enabling plastic pollution. As I choose to make and eat a vegetarian meal, I am reminded of the impacts of factory-farming agriculture on the land and about its greenhouse gas emissions. I can thoughtfully and intentionally choose another path other than the path of least resistance. Collectively, personal actions can have up to a 40 per cent impact on emissions. We shouldn’t dismiss them.

It’s important to pair personal lifestyle changes and acts of discipleship with bold action in public life.

But personal actions are not enough in themselves to affect societal change. The scale of climate change can not be solved by personal actions alone, even if we all collectively went vegan, changed our light bulbs, or stopped driving. So once I’ve changed my die t to eat less meat and dairy, only use public transportation, and changed all the lightbulbs in my apartment, what do I do next?

Last December, I attended the UN COP25 Climate Conference. There, I heard first-hand about the impacts of climate change on the poor and vulnerable. I heard from youth delegates in Chile concerned about water shortages caused by melting ice in the Andes. I heard from pastors in Africa heartbroken by the impacts of climate- induced flooding in their communities. It reinforced for me that we were not going to be able to affect climate change with personal actions alone.

It’s important to pair personal lifestyle changes and acts of discipleship with bold action in public life. That may involve writing a letter to a Member of Parliament or a Minister calling them to continue to act on Canada’s Paris Agreement targets; supporting a local candidate; signing a petition; or participating in creative direct action.

Our group Earthkeepers has participated in CPJ’s Give it up for the Earth! campaign for several years, hosting an event during Lent. While we focus on education and outreach with Christian communities and encourage people to participate in advocacy, we also value the importance of encouraging people to take personal action. Give it Up for the Earth! is a good reminder that we need to practice what we preach and demonstrate through our own lives and examples that every action matters.

Christ doesn’t just ask us to renovate one part of our lives without addressing other aspects of our lives. As we pursue justice and peace, that means taking personal actions that demonstrate a new and transformed life, and public action to be a witness to our love.

Photo credit: John Englart. Fridays for Futures students at COP25 in Madrid.

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