This is the third article in a series on creation care through the church year.
A s summer turns to fall in the northern hemisphere, we are deep in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. Comprising most of the church calendar year, Ordinary Time’s name comes from how it counts time: it numbers the weeks. Set between the preparatory and celebratory seasons in the calendar, Ordinary Time is about using the gifts offered in Advent, Easter, and Pentecost. The emphasis is on action: having been equipped, it is time to act—to join God’s ongoing work in the world and live out our callings as people of faith, hope, and love.
In this sense, Ordinary Time also encompasses the common meaning of “ordinary”: the quotidian, day-to-day ways we live and move and be.
Right now, Ordinary Time is taking place during times that are…well, not ordinary. In terms of the biosphere we live in, these are extraordinary times:
- The concentration of heat-trapping gasses in our small atmosphere is the highest in 4 million years.
- The last seven years have been the warmest on record.
- There is again this year either too little or too much water—the most basic, ordinary stuff of life—as weather patterns shift.
- Jackson, Mississippi, just escaped a seven-week-long drinkable water crisis.
- Parts of China have seen the worst drought on record.
- Fossil-fueled floods have displaced 33 million people in Pakistan.
- Rainwater is no longer safe to drink anywhere on earth due to chemical pollution.
- “Heatflation” from rising temperatures is making food more expensive, putting even more of a financial squeeze on our neighbors near and far.
- We are losing the presence of other species at a rapid and devastating rate.
I could go on, but you get the point: this is not normal. This is happening now, not in the distant future. And this is not the way it’s supposed to be.
Extraordinary times test ordinary discipleship. They press on us questions of what it means to count our time, to make our time count as creatures and as neighbors.
For all of us finite creatures, the only way to live through such times is through daily, faithful decisions. As writer Annie Dillard memorably put it, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”
So what can we do with our days? What kind of daily decisions can we make, in these extraordinary times, that work for the good of creation and everyone in it?
To care for creation, care for your neighbors
Past articles in this series have grounded creation care in our creaturehood (Lent) and peoplehood (Pentecost). Now, in Ordinary Time, our feet can meet the ground through neighborhood—the practice of being a neighbor. Neighborhood presents many ways we can care for the community of creation around us through our daily lives.
Let me offer a few practical ways:
1. Build place-based community. A neighborhood is a physical place where many of us live alongside others. But because everyone is our neighbor, according to Jesus, neighborhood is also a practice. In times of weird disruptions and extreme weather, neighbors are our first lines of defense and help. So, getting to know our neighbors is important for community resiliency; contributing to and relying on our community is a powerful way to care for one another and work together to make a more sustainable future. Place-based communities are where we can prepare for a more difficult world in the short term, even as we work for a better world in the long term.
2. Reduce the impact of your household practices. There are lots of ways our ordinary lives can not only benefit our health and happiness and finances, they minimize pollution and the burden that energy-intensive activities place on creation and everyone around us, especially the most vulnerable. Here are a few research-backed ways to drastically reduce our pollution and contribute to the common good; they are areas we can practice freedom for our neighbors and freedom from what is doing harm:
- Home energy: seal leaks, improve insulation, set thermostats to use less energy, and switch to renewable sources if possible.
- Appliances: swap methane or gasoline appliances to electric ones when they break down; in particular, electrify your heating and cooling.
- Food: minimize food waste and eat more plant-rich diets.
- Transportation: decrease reliance on energy-intensive modes like single-occupancy car trips and increase other means of getting around.
- Clothing: choose fewer, better-made garments and hang onto them longer.
- Land: if you have a yard, replace some lawn grass with native perennials that benefit the biodiverse web of life.
- Money: research where your bank or investments are being lent to, and consider switching to a green bank or funds that are lending to or investing in solutions rather than pollutants. And if you are fortunate to have extra money, consider where donations can be used to protect creation.
3. Make your work have a positive impact. Our work lives are not separate from our vocations as creatures and as neighbors. Sustainability is becoming more and more a value across many workplaces and careers, and employees have more influence than they realize on workplace practices. How can your work also make an impact to shift from old ways of doing things to prevent more damage and keep more neighbors safe? Ask this question, and opportunities will present themselves.
4. Use your political voice. In a democracy, voting is a basic way to shape the common good. It is potentially the most effective action any of us can take as individuals to prevent further harm and contribute to better ways of living. Every level of society matters for the good of creation, so every race in an election matters for what kind of policies we get. Beyond voting, joining a local action group dedicated to an aspect of environmental protection can also be an effective approach.
5. Commit to telling the truth. These extraordinary times contain difficult truths and plenty of convenient untruths. Christians are called to pursue and speak truth. How does our language—what we speak about together—either engage the world’s realities or ellide them? How do our conversations avoid, pretend, or obscure what’s happening? Alternately, how can our conversations be open to truth, and how can we speak the truth with faith, hope, and love?
Sometimes our ecological problems can seem too large and vague to do anything about. If that’s the case for you, think about these practices in terms of ways to care for your neighbors both near and far. These are areas in which we can choose more life-giving ways than the apathy, avoidance, or fatalism within us and around us in society.
Ordinary Time reminds us that what we do with our days matters. We have been empowered to love and to serve. We all have a role to play.
The goal is not to reach perfection—which is impossible in how our societies are currently set up—but to contribute to the healing of creation, prevent further harm, and responsibly steward the gifts of this miraculous planet.
Time is of the essence
When we are honest with ourselves, most of us can identify next steps we can take to reduce our impact in order to care for our neighbors and creation. What are these steps for you? Can you take one or more action steps from the ideas above?
Around the world, September 21 is known as Zero Emissions Day, which encourages ordinary people to make sustainable everyday choices to protect our shared world. This is a special international day of action for a future without air pollution. But any day is a good day to take the next step.
And the sooner the better. The timing really matters.
Given the nature of the ecological crises we’re facing—like climate change and biodiversity loss—and the way that impacts compound, the coming years are the most critical for taking life-saving steps. When it comes to healing creation and preventing further harm by reducing emissions, what we do with our ordinary days right now counts for much more than doing the same thing later.
Ordinary Time, with its dual reminders about counting time and living faithfully in our daily lives, helps us to make this time count. This time-counting liturgical season of action reminds us that how we use our time for the good of our neighbors and creation matters, and especially in the face of mounting climate change.
And everyone has a role to play. We have common giftings and callings; we also have a joyful duty to use our unique gifts and callings in a time of a hurting creation.
We can live as finite creatures, we can speak about where we find ourselves, and we can live as neighbors in ordinary ways within the time we have been given. We can prayerfully, actively consider: What can I do next? What can I do today?
With God, so much is possible in these ordinary, extraordinary times.
Resources for embracing creation care during Ordinary Time
- Season of Creation Liturgical Resources (from the Climate Witness Project): Many church traditions have started to recognize the extraordinary times we live in and have started a new, ecumenical season within Ordinary Time: the “Season of Creation.” As the Climate Witness Project puts it: “The Season of Creation is a time during the liturgical calendar in which churches across the globe renew their relationship with God and all of creation and commit to prayer and action for our common home.” These worship resources are for worship leaders, liturgists, pastors, and laypeople to participate in the five Sundays between September 1 and October 4. It’s okay if you are getting a late start; it is never too late to start new practices of creation care.
- Project Drawdown: “The powerful role of household actions in solving climate change”: This article identifies the 20 highest-impact ways families and individuals can make sustainable changes in their daily lives.
- Project Drawdown’s Solutions: Besides the household actions listed above, this nonpartisan research organization shows the positive impacts that various climate solutions can have if implemented.
Nate Rauh-Bieri (M.Div.) attended the UN Climate Conference (COP26) representing the Climate Witness Project as part of the Christian Climate Observers Program. He lives and occasionally writes in Grand Rapids, Michigan.