Excerpts from a talk I gave yesterday in my ward in the Tree Streets of Provo, Utah. To be honest, I wrote it an hour before I gave it, so the roughness of it is on me and my profound ability to procrastinate.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today on a subject that I can stand before you with a witness and a testimony of truth that rings in the deepest parts of my soul: earth stewardship. I am also grateful for the opportunity to stand and ask for forgiveness in my confession that I am not a perfect steward of the earth that we all occupy. I am not even great steward. Most of the time I am, at best, aware. I am aware I can do better to resist convenience for consecration and resolve to be a part of the solution instead of the complication. For this I ask for your forgiveness.
We read quite a bit about stewardship—from vineyards to talents—in the scriptures. To me, stewardship is the act of balancing the needs of ourselves with the needs and desires of the world around us. A good steward constantly asks: what needs to be done and how can I have the energy to do it?
How do we know what is to be done? That is a directive God has already given us. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34) More specifically, Alma taught the members of his newly formed church to “impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given. And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.And this he said unto them, having been commanded of God; and they did walk uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants.” (Mosiah 18:27-29)
One of the most significant moments of discovery about earth stewardship came to me while listening to Brother Riddle talk about iniquity in gospel doctrine. I came to understand that iniquity is the sin of imbalance—or inequality. Iniquity is the desire to be better or have more than someone else—it’s the path that leads to consumption, greed, human exploitation, bank failures, economic disparity, global hoarding and immodesty—in the purest form of that world. He went on to explain that we have more than enough on this planet if we would all share. And to me, that was the entire gospel plan wrapped up in maybe a two minute aside by a human being who has spent his life thinking of stewardship.
If there is one thing that makes me the most proud of my Mormon heritage it’s the idea of sharing and consecration. That starts here, in sacrament meeting as we take turns sharing trays of sacrament and three hours of our lives together. But it also reaches to my love of shopping at Deseret Industries or spending an afternoon sifting through the piles of dropped-off items in Pam Smalley’s covered drive way with my neighbors. The thought of repurposing clothes, toys, vases, furniture, books or shoes is a far more romantic notion to me than anything I haul in one afternoon spent at Target. But again, that is not to say I always think of redevelopment first when I need something, but I claim a desire to be better.
If earth stewardship can be defined as sharing out of love for one another, then it becomes less daunting of a task. I find that I use more resources when I work alone. For instance, when there is a job that needs to be done in our family, if I do it alone more time is consumed, energy is depleted and home management is diluted. But if we work together, regardless of how cheerfully we do it (although work with a good attitude also drains less reserves) we save on so many precious resources. Taking care of our earth—from recycling to using public transportation or having a bike plan—is nothing more than home management. This is our home, and we share it with our global family.
Recently we have heard a call from our general councils to defend the family. I am not always comfortable understanding what that means. But if I can think of defending the family as a mandate to protect and preserve the earth so that families can thrive here—from clean drinking water to stable economies—then I count myself as a passionate defender. Some of the things I believe we as Latter-Day Saints do well to defend our earthly home include—our communal effort to clean and maintain our chapels, use locally-sourced materials in our temple building and follow government directives on water consumption—as we’ve seen outside the Los Angeles temple where brown grass testifies loudly our dedication to drought initiatives. And speaking of that vision—the beautiful temple juxtaposed with a crisp, dead lawn—it made me proud for being a part of a religion that embodies the idea that appearances are not as important as participation.
Recently the city came out with a water report. I reads: “This is the fourth year in a row, and the 6th time in the last 9 years, with mountain snow pack well below average. The total snow pack in the frontal canyons east of Provo was slightly more than 50% of normal this year, the 4th year in a row at 70%, or less.” We are lucky to live in a city with ample water storage, but we won’t have it forever. Even more, we are surrounded by cities that don’t have the water sources Provo is blessed to have. The news about our shortage of snowpack for the last decade makes us have to start discussing our allocation of water: how do we feel about sharing our water with non-Provo communities? And what can we do to use less water? Can we arrive at a pack to let our lawns go brown for the sake of water conservation? Can we put aside judgements and concern for our neighbors who take a less-than-conventional approach to sustainable landscaping? Can we honor the fact that we live in a high desert with water issues and eschew the constant convenience of using water to change our environment to appease appearances?
Can love one another by using less water?
After we, as stewards identify what we need to do for our guardianship of this earth, we also need to be aware of how much capacity we have to meet our goals. Simply put: we need to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others and the earth we live in.
Interestingly, I find that I refuel and find resources when I am in nature. I have found the scriptures in D&C 59 useful to me “Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.”
I feel the most alive when I am with my children experiencing nature. Last week for instance, we wandered off the Despain Bird Refuge trail bordering Utah Lake, forged around the ten foot willows, over piles of water-worn rocks and indigenous plants to find a shore of thick mud. We took our shoes off and let our feet sink into the silt. My children were absolutely spellbound. They were giddy, or as the scripture describes their souls were enlivened and their hearts were gladdened. We followed trails of geese prints and watched the water ripple around our legs. The mud was such a spiritual sensation for them; they couldn’t help from picking it up in their hands and spreading it all over their bodies. We all wanted to be more than just observers, there was in fact a longing to be one with the mud and the water and the plants. When we emerged back on to the trail we had mud in all our crevices, in our hair and in all our memories.
The great Christian writer Wendell Berry talks about being dust of the earth, “God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope. He formed man of dust; by breathing his breath into it, he made the dust live. Insofar as it lived, it was a soul. The dust, formed as man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul. “Soul” here refers to the whole creature. Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discrete parts temporarily glued together, but as a single mystery.”
Recognizing that I made of the creation—the same elements that made my body helps me feel invigorated when I return to it. Loving the creation of God (my body included) gives me the desire and energy to take care of it.
As Mormons we declare the importance of connecting with our ancestors. We spend countless hours of our lives digging, processing and extracting names so we can do temple work for those who have lived before us. If we can have the vigor and enthusiasm for our kindred dead, perhaps we can find the same dedication for our future posterity as well. We do the work for the living when we take care of their earthy inheritance. Every sustainable building or investment in public transportation is the turning of our hearts to our children. As Latter Day Saints, we should be forefront in leading this cause—loving and taking care of the earth should be as paramount as our temple worship—and certainly we will be blessed to have the energy and revelation to do the work.
Earth stewardship makes us better Christians. Nature constantly reminds us of the plan of salvation—in it we see life and death, resurrection and redemption. As Nephi explains “all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.” (2 Nephi 11:4) An afternoon spent observing the natural world has the capacity to teach us more about divinity then just about any other resource available to us. A night underneath stars will beg questions we don’t necessarily contemplate during Sunday School. A rigorous thunderstorm has the capacity to remind us of how small we are compared to the great works of God. And natural disasters return us to God with pleas of reconciliation. Being aware of our natural surroundings sometimes feels like a homecoming–and has the power to return us to remembrance of what is true and real.
Brothers and Sisters, I want to use the opportunity to stand before you right now to pledge my commitment to taking care of our home. I pledge to be more aware and more educated. I hope you’ll forgive me when I make messes or fail to make the best choices. I ask for your wisdom to bless my life and the lives of my children. If there is anything I can do to make our lives here more equitable and sustainable I ask you to teach me. We know from our articles of faith, to our current practices that this earth is important. This is where we work out our salvation, learn to love and care for one another and make our spirits come alive. Thank you for sharing this earth and this work with me. And thank you to God for his hand in all these things.