What is your opinion of global warming? Though this question usually leads to a plethora of dueling political, theological, scientific, and personal ideologies about climate change, most people do believe we should be good stewards of creation. The point of division is what care for creation should look like and how should it be done? The more I write, pray, and reflect on the question of care for creation, I think that one of the struggles of getting on the same page with the environment is the use of a language of extremes to accentuate subtlety of change.
For example, smoking is not allowed in any public building in the state of Wisconsin. When this policy was enacted, there was much debate about the relationship between personal freedom and public health. Years later, while on vacation, I was surprised to learn that smoking is not banned in public buildings in the state of Oregon. When a good friend of mine joined me for a few days in Portland, we observed how each of our hotel rooms clearly carried the remnants of past patrons who smoked, giving us a deep appreciation for Wisconsin's smoking ban. However, we also observed that this "small change" of Wisconsin's smoking ban was far more impactful than we realized. It wasn't until we reentered a "contaminated environment" that we could appreciate a clean environment.
Part of me wonders if this experience of Wisconsin and Oregon is part of the reason why developing ethos to support care for creation is so difficult. When what is experienced by many are "subtle changes" to climate, the full impact of what is happening in creation can often go unnoticed. When attempts to create ethos gravitates toward language of "radical change," I wonder if there is something almost intuitive that questions this language since it seems to be so out of step with daily experience (at least in the state of Wisconsin where fellow blogger Christopher Graney rightly points out the local numbers can be interpreted in a way that questions whether or not global warming is happening in the Badger State).
Could it be that much of the apathy found when trying to promote care for creation is lack of attention to the subtleties of the environment, in contrast to the more culturally fashionable language of radical, diametrically opposed realities dueling with each other? Put another way, can we develop ethos to care for creation by emphasizing the small changes that end up having a major impact on the future of our common home and humanity?
In the weeks to come, I will be exploring these questions in a creative way. Since moving back to Eau Claire, I have had the joy of reconnecting with some of my former students I was teacher and/or chaplain for at Regis Middle and High School. Michaela Pittenger, a middle school student when I left Regis, is now working on a degree in photography (gosh, I'm feeling older than I should). Michaela has a love for artistic photography, is one of my parishioners at Saint Olaf Parish, and has a deep passion for ecology and sustainability.
I asked Michaela if she would be open to explore a project with me by taking some of the key principles I have explored in my writing on care for creation and have her bring her artistry as a photographer to those principles to create visual stories based on those principles. She eagerly agreed to this project and tomorrow we will be meeting to see the first stories Michaela has put together based on my writing. I can't wait to see her work!
Basic examples of some of Michaela's Photography
I will be sharing these visual stories of care for creation with you in an attempt to help develop ethos for care for creation not only through words calling for significant change in our daily lives, but images that can draw our mind and heart into the particulars and "smallness" of care for creation. What excites both Micheala and I is that this project wont just be meant to create beautiful pictures, which I'm sure they will be, but to help us be attentive to creation through visual storytelling. Both of us are excited to share these stories with you.
Images inspire inquiry, inquiry builds knowledge, knowledge leads to truth, and truth leads to appreciation and action. This is the trajectory I pray can be developed in these visual stories. Will they accomplish this lofty goal? Time will tell. Nevertheless, my hope it that the efforts Michaela and I put forward in this project will inspire the readers of The Catholic Astronomer to not only embrace care for creation on a personal level, but will inspire you to actively promote this ethic of Catholic Social Teaching in the world you live.
Spiritual Exercise: Is there a story in creation you would like Michaela and I to explore? Leave your suggestions and, together, let us strive to enact positive changes in creation, inspired by attentiveness to the subtle beauty of creation's story.