Yesterday I went with the youth of our church for a walk in the church’s neighborhood. We’ve been exploring the connections between faith and caring for the earth, and we had both a mission and a destination. The mission was to survey the neighborhood for what was “green” and what was not, recognizing that many things we observed would earn a mixed review. The destination was the Community Food Co-Op, which has a reputation as the “greenest” place in town to pick up something to eat.
The kids had a good time on the walk, carrying their clipboards and rating what they saw as “red,” “yellow,” and “green.” (In the case of cars, a big gas-guzzling pickup would be red, a moderately fuel-efficient car yellow, and an electric car green.) They noted bike racks, people walking, and banners promoting the farmers’ market. They also saw some litter, unnaturally weed-free lawns, and construction debris. When we reached the Co-Op, they chose their snacks carefully, knowing that their peers would probably rate their choices. Was it local? Organic? How much packaging? Was the packaging recyclable? And how nutritious was the snack?
As we ate, we discussed our observations. It is not possible, we concluded, to live on earth without making an impact. But we’d like to reduce our footprints from size 17 shoes to something smaller. And among these 11-17 year olds, there was agreement—we want to do this for ourselves and for the generations who will follow us.
In his recent encyclical, On Care for our Common Home, Pope Francis writes, “Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift we have freely received and must share with others.” (paragraph 159) And biologist E.O. Wilson writes, “If there is any moral precept shared by people of all beliefs, it is that we owe ourselves and future generations a beautiful, rich, healthful environment.” (2006, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth)
All of which reminds me of the unsung benefits of doing youth ministry. This is what I keep learning: spend time with kids, and you’ll find yourself caring about the next generation. Hang out with teenagers, and you’ll have hope for the world.