I’m a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and many of us have taken on the Lenten discipline of fasting from single-use plastics.
I used to be a teacher, and there’s a teaching method called frontloading we could use here. Frontloading is that thing your teacher did when, before you read a story together, they taught you the words in the story you might not know, but need to know for the story to make sense. Let’s frontload, shall we?
Lent is a time in the church year that begins 40 days (not including Sundays because every Sunday is a small Easter for us, so they don’t count in our days of Lenten focus) before Easter Sunday. Lent is a stretch of days when we look inward at our lives and outward at the world, recognizing all the ways we need a savior. One very common practice is to give something up for Lent, to fast from that thing. The intention is that every time we crave that particular thing, we are refocused on the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Not doing a thing for a while, offers us an opportunity to notice how much we rely on some things ~ and hopefully, it helps us to remember to rely on God.
#NoPlasticsForLent is a practice encouraged by the Young Adult Ministries of the ELCA. We meet up on Facebook Live each week for some tips and encouragement as we move through these weeks paying attention to our use of single-use plastics – and fasting from them.
That’s a lot of frontloading. You still with me?
Okay, so I kind of wondered how hard this was going to be. I figured it would take some intention, but not that much. I’ve been reducing my plastic use for years, now. I bring my re-usable bags to the grocery store. I bring a fork from my kitchen drawer instead of using a plastic one for my lunch at work. Here’s a picture of what I pack for showers when I travel. I use my plastic razor handle because I already own it and purchased a couple dozen razor heads on clearance long ago. If I tossed it out and got a bamboo handled razor – the plastic one would be in the landfill. So, I’ll use this as long as I can. That broken up bar of soap is a very gentle soap I love. And it works for my whole body, including my face and hair. The soap travels with me in a plastic container – but it’s far from “single use” plastic.
When I have purchased a drink in a plastic bottle, I reuse it again and again for my tea. I drink lots of tea, and I make a couple gallons each week. At home, I keep it in jars with reusable straws. I prep many bottles of tea-to-go each week using the plastic bottles I’ve purchased, usually when traveling.
I use a bar of dish soap instead of a bottle, and I hardly ever use paper towels anymore except for something very greasy – or maybe an Eleanor Accident.
So, I thought I’d do this Lenten discipline with my ELCA friends because it would help me pay closer attention to my plastic use. As Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) approached, I knew I needed to have some rules for this discipline. It is actually impossible not to use plastics in this American life. I mean, I can’t buy rubbing alcohol in anything but a plastic bottle. I can’t buy medicine or vitamins in anything but a plastic bottle. And “single-use” was complicated, too. Tupperware bowls in my cupboard are definitely not single-use. I’ve been using them for 20 years. But, a ketchup bottle isn’t going to be get reused in my house, so is that single-use? Even if it takes me months to use up?
It turned out this plastic-use is so slippery I didn’t know how to make rules about it. So, I decided I would be very intentional about fasting from convenience-use and pay close attention to learn more about myself and my relationship to plastic.
And here’s some of what happened:
I was traveling for work and discerned we needed more snacks (it’s a spiritual gift of mine). I didn’t have my car, so I didn’t have my canvas shopping bags. And I didn’t think twice when the cashier loaded up my junk food in the worst, most heinous thing in the actual world (not including COVID 19)…plastic bags. I just said, “Thanks!” and put it all in the car. I am clearly the best as fasting. When I realized it, I took a picture of those damned bags all lumped up on the table. Ugh.
On that same trip, we stopped for fast food. I was prepared for this. I had cans of soda (very, very recyclable) in the car and skipped ordering a drink which would have a plastic straw and lid. And then, I just ripped this ketchup packet right open without thinking about it…
When I got back from that trip, I thought – Well, traveling is hard. I don’t have as much control as when I’m home. So, this will be better.
My first day back at work, I needed to refill the copy machine with copy paper…but first, I had to take the plastic wrapping off. Yes, I know you can buy paper not wrapped in plastic. 1. I don’t purchase our paper. 2. It gets so humid in our building for many months each year that the paper that’s stored is affected, and our IT guy says it even jams up the copier. I’m guessing that’s why we buy this kind of paper.
Okay, well I don’t control that, either. So, I’ll just be sure to be very intentional in my life in my own apartment! Eleanor Rigby and I can just be very serious about this.
And it worked great! Except when it didn’t.
Because I bought some chicken. I spent more and got the kind without styrofoam, which is really evil stuff. But, instead, I got a plastic tray wrapped in plastic wrap.
And I finished my B12 vitamins
And I finished the blue cheese.
And couldn’t buy paper towels that weren’t wrapped in plastic.
And there are things that make the single life much easier and better. Little cups of avocado mash from Costco belong in that category. It’s the perfect size for one person, and it doesn’t rot when you look the other way like fresh avocados do. The ingredients are: avocado, lemon juice, salt, pepper. It’s actually a perfect food…but it comes in plastic cups with plastic peel-off lids. And I had some in the fridge before I started this Lenten practice, so not eating them while they are still good means throwing both the food and the container away as waste. Not gonna do it.
That was how it went for the first couple of weeks.
And then the coronavirus took our safety and my attention.
I felt so vulnerable.
I went to Costco to pick up the heartburn meds they carry for cheap. I was out of them, and I would also grab some caramel and cheddar popcorn they carry. We weren’t in full-quarantine mode yet, but people had carts FULL of paper towels and water and such. That made me decide to shop a little for some food for me if had to be quarantined.
I picked up this salad, which I knew would be several meals for me, and I put it back down because it is just more plastic. But, I was starting to worry and feel unsafe, and I decided I wanted this more than I wanted to maintain my Lenten discipline – and I picked it back up.
And Spirit whispered to me right there in Costco something about how vulnerability helps you prioritize yourself, your safety. And while I stood there with the spinach salad in a plastic shell with smaller plastic cups with lids inside with dressing and chopped onions in them…Spirit gave me a sure and certain lesson about those who break rules to protect themselves and their families.
40 days plus Sundays.
Practice fasting from single-use plastic.
That’s all that was required of me.
And I couldn’t do it because I got scared.
So, now I’m thinking about what it means to your life when you aren’t a single white woman who lives in relative safety. When your children are still living in your home. When your home is dangerous, not because there’s a virus on the loose that may or may not get you, but because war is on the loose which will definitely get you.
Or famine is on the loose, and it is presently getting you in its slow, evil way.
Or the drug cartels are on the loose, and they are running the damn show.
If my priorities shift when I might be in danger, then let me see more clearly with the eyes of Christ my neighbor who is actually in danger.
And let me welcome the stranger.