It’s Not Easy Being Green

Guest ColumnistCommunity News

by Kelly Soifer

My life changed dramatically in May 2003. What happened, you ask?  As a church that year, we pursued a study on stewardship titled Keeping the House in Order: Studies in Biblical Stewardship. We looked at the implications of our faith in terms of caring for the earth, disciplining our bodies, using our minds and spending our money and time in a godly fashion.

Out of that study, I decided that I could grow in my discipleship in all of those arenas by driving my car less and riding my bike more. Some reasons are obvious. Clearly, I saved money on gas by riding my bike. I greatly improved my fitness as well, which obviously helped in the stewardship of my body. And since I rode my bike, I wasn’t contributing nearly as much to my carbon footprint, better caring for God’s creation.

But as I rode nearly every day of the week (my goal was to drive my car no more than once a day), I also realized this affected the use of my time and my mind as well. I was not able to do as much each day because I could not book appointments and errands as closely together. This in turn forced me to look at my nearly obsessive need to be efficient and effective, and lay my approach to work at God’s feet. I also saw how much more I thought and prayedabout the various things I was talking about in those appointments as I rode to and from them on my bike. If I got into my car, it was far easier to tune out and listen to the radio, or make phone calls. Riding my bike as an alternative form of transportation caused me to learn far more than I expected.

As a result, I became a devoted bicycle commuter. Matt Steele fondly called me The Sweaty Pastor. I will admit to a few drawbacks… a flat tire or two at an inopportune time, a collision on the bike path that nearly broke my nose and probably broke a rib which was not my fault — a nine-year old took me out with his new mountain bike!), and of course, a bad case of helmet hair a good part of the time. But overall, it was definitely worth it.

What surprised me though was that this lifestyle shift did not stop there. I discovered that a commitment to green living is never exhausted, because one’s awareness enlarges daily. Progressively my housemate and I started composting, recycling much more, conserving water, shopping organically, and only using reusable grocery bags. It continues — a group of my friends and I have recently been reading up on buying produce locally and seasonally.

Some time after May 2003 however, it started becoming cool to be green. I suppose this came about for a variety of reasons – the popularity of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, the improved availability of hybrid vehicles, ever-increasing gas prices, and various celebrities pumping up the issue. I was sad to see a spiritual discipline become a pop culture trend! But I pressed on, helmet hair intact. I thought to myself rather smugly, At least I started doing all of this before it became so ‘popular’!

But then green living was everywhere. Hipsters were riding fixed gear bicycles (somehow still looking like they had just stepped out of an Urban Outfitters catalog). Starbucks started a World Water Day. Rock stars were buying carbon offsets to make up for the conspicuous consumption of energy used during their concert tours. And pretty soon, there seemed to be no sacrifice whatsoever in going green. It became less a decision of conviction and more of an issue of style! As I read recently on the blog Stuff White People Like,

Recycling is a part of a larger theme of stuff white people like: saving the earth without having to do that much…

Rats! A quick scan through the various topics highlighted in this hilarious blog confirmed my worst fears – I had become a cliché!

I pondered how I could reconnect my stewardship decisions to their roots. Thankfully, it did not take long for me to do so. One Saturday in February I needed to take my bike to the shop for a big overhaul – a complete replacement of my drive train, which is an all-day job. I wanted to ride my bike to the shop, but could not find someone to pick me up in their car from there. Slowly, it dawned on me that I could just take the bus home.

I shuddered. I had not taken a bus in Santa Barbara since I graduated from UCSB in 1983! What is my hang up with taking the bus, I thought to myself. A recent Q&A in the News-Press (2/18/08) on public transportation summed up my subconscious reservations:

What would it take for you to use mass transit?
If the time between two different buses was shorter, that would encourage me to take it more.

If it was more convenient. . . If it (went) through specific areas instead of just going up and down one street.

It would be nice if it was nicer. It’s kind of gross.

If they came and picked me up at my house.

I was embarrassed by these answers when I saw them in print. They were utterly ridiculous. Of course we would like the world to revolve around us… but that is not reality! I was humbled when I realized that I took the bus every time I traveled – whether it was New York City, St. Louis, Rome, Antigua (Guatemala), or all over Turkey and Greece – but I was somehow too proud to take it in my own town?! Now I was determined to take the bus.

It took awhile to figure out the right schedule, but soon I came up with the routes I needed. I ended up taking the bus four times that week. There were a wide variety of people on my bus rides: mentally disabled adults, college students who did not speak English to each other, elderly people, people in wheelchairs, mothers with young children, people with tattoos and body piercings, several folks who appeared to be mentally ill, and a few who looked to be homeless. Sometimes I was the only white person on the bus. I have lived in Santa Barbara since 1979, and cannot recall the last time I went out and about and did not run into an old friend or someone from church. However, on these bus trips, I did not see one person I knew. And that made me sad.

I still want to limit my impact on the environment. I still want to spend less money on material consumption. I still want to exercise more and use my car less. I still yearn to be less consumed with myself and my own need to feel efficient. I still want to make time to listen and to think and to pray. And I have learned that all of those things happen not just as I ride my bike, but when I take the bus. And the bus has one distinct advantage over riding my bike: it is definitely NOT cool.

On the bus something else happens – I enter a world I am less familiar with, a world where people do not expect the bus to come to their front door, and where they are not taking the bus out of environmental concerns. Rather, the bus is the only means of transportation available to them. Just as Jesus left the comfort of heaven to bring the gospel to our world, I want to leave the comfort of my world and enter the world of those folks right here in town.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:16-19)