A careful and tidy homemaker is a good model for the environmental movement. Especially for religious people, the woman — isn’t it usually a woman? — caring for her home day after day, managing her domestic environment, can be a useful image of God desiring the overall health and harmony of our common home, Earth.
This woman is first of all always aware that she and her little home exist in a web of relationships. She appreciates what she has and feels a sense of owner’s pride. But this pride comes from seeing inner value in what she has, not the mere fact of possessing it. So she responds to what is around her; lives with a sense of responsibility; wants things to shine or perform with their intended beauty of form or function. Dust and dirt and disarray and clutter — mess, generally — are her enemies.
In short, she is not covetous, to use language of the biblical commandments. She doesn’t pile up stuff simply to have more. Things must fit into her sense of good use and harmony.
Our model homemaker/environmentalist maintains her way of life in two patterns of growth: by developing her own mind and heart, and in the expanding company of others through conversation and debate. In this way she is always reminded that others are a part of her world and affected by what she does, as she is affected by the activity of others. Connections, relationships are not an add-on to life for her. They are in its essence.
She sees nothing in isolation. Nothing is simply and absolutely hers, even as she loves her children absolutely. Having gone through the precarious experience of gestation and birth, she has a profound sense of life as gift. Desiring to protect and maintain it absolutely, she also knows this cannot be. Life is a journey of finding and continually re-finding balance between these inner and outer realities.
What she desires and what can be are always in tension. She has a deep understanding of that, and is comfortable with conversation about how that tension can be managed for mutual harmony. Notice: the tension is not ended. That might be a condition of heaven, but here on Earth it can only be managed.
The goal of our model homemaker is to manage it for the common good, in which her family/community can flourish individually and together.
If this model were followed in our political debates and environmental policy we would not see sudden agreement on what to do about global warming or air and water pollution. We would relate to one another politically as friends, though, not enemies. We would debate as fellow citizens of one community.
We would compete for political power as a responsibility for sharing its benefits and burdens with rough equality. There would be no more politics as war seeking total victory.
We would listen to each other with a desire to understand for the sake of new harmony, not with an ear for each other’s weak spots.
Some environmental messes are easy to understand even if not easy to clean up, like the riverway work of Chad Pregracke and his Living Lands and Waters project clearing the junk thrown into and washed up along the nation’s rivers. Most are more complex and difficult, like the products of coal-burning power plants that clog the atmosphere and runoff of chemicals from farm fields. Even more complex are the tradeoffs in harm and benefit from exploiting different sources of energy: oil, natural gas, wind, sun, nuclear.
But easy or complex, all of it filters through our politics and our personal sense of citizenship. Those are the energy sources for our management of the environment. Do they reflect the careful homemaker appreciating everything as gift shared in harmony?