Tuesday, January 16, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

There was an important factor that I didn't count on when we showed An Inconvenient Truth at church. Maybe it shows that I am out of touch with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe it shows that I haven't been paying attention. Maybe it doesn't show anything, I don't know. But what I didn't count on was this: many Republicans have a deep dislike and distrust for Al Gore.

Now, I must say here, that out of the 24 people who came to watch and discuss (more than double the usual turn out when we show feature films), I am talking about the vocal minority. There were four or five very outspoken people out of the bunch--but they rattled me. They were predisposed to not believe a thing Gore said. They were predisposed to believe that he was selling hype to further his political career.

I simply had never thought of Al Gore that way.
I never really thought about the movie as being partisan--which is totally my bad --because as soon as the discussion started people, ideas, science was sliced up into what was Republican and what was Democrat.

I have only fairly recently switched political parties. Most of my life I was a Republican. My parents are conservative (though we never had any sort of political discussion at home) and so, at 18, I voted like Mom and Dad and didn't really think about it. During the 2000 presidential campaign, in St. Louis (when I was gigantically pregnant with Moses, born November 3) we hosted a series of "Debate Parties" where we'd invite a bunch of folks over the watch the debates and discuss. It was hard to get a good mix of conservatives and liberals, as we were at an LCMS seminary, but we managed to get some diversity and it was so great. I learned a lot. I was torn between voting for Gore because of his environmental passion and record, but ultimately voted for Bush as a single-issue pro-life voter. That's where I was at the time. Though I voted against Gore, it wasn't an easy decision because of the environment.

Paul, as a biology major and nature enthusiast turned me onto being green when we met. He was passionate about birds and their habitat, fighting invasive species (curse you, purple lustrife!) and restoring native prairies and wetlands, recycling and whatnot. I always thought recycling was a good idea and would throw my can in a recycle bin if there was one -- but I hadn't connected it with my faith as "environmental stewardship." I vaguely remember being annoyed at Paul's insistence on considering the environment in making decisions early in our marriage. Over the years we've both gotten more and more serious and deliberate about making green choices: cloth diapers, compact fluorescent light bulbs, recycling, composting, keeping the house cool in the winter and warm in the summer, buying local farmer's market produce when we can, shopping second hand before buying new, considering product packaging at the grocery store, buying wind energy, riding bikes around town when the weather permits, etc. These things all came about gradually and over time without too much adjustment or sacrifice (okay, the light bulbs when they first came out at like $12 a pop were a sacrifice).

Over time my political views have changed as well -- and almost as gradually. While my thoughts on abortion haven't changed, they are tempered with much more compassion than in my youth and "pro-life" has come to have a much broader definition in my mind (ie: I don't think war is pro-life). Paul's work with the poor since entering the ministry has brought many social issues into focus for me. Though I hadn't really thought of myself as Republican for some time, it wasn't until right before the last presidential election I marched into the county courthouse and officially switched parties.

So, that's the baggage I brought to movie. Back to the story.

During the discussion a man mentioned scientists they heard refuting "the theory of global warming" on Rush Limbaugh. This was an epiphany for me. He thinks of Al Gore the way I think of Rush Limbaugh. I really had to stop and give these folks some serious props. That's the way they feel about Gore and they came to watch the movie and discuss it. Would I have gone to hear Rush Limbaugh speak about anything? If there was documentary of Donald Rumsfeld talking about the war would I be able to go in with an open mind and hear what he was saying?

I decided to start thinking about things relatively (lowering my expectations a bit) and be glad for people coming and showing any interest at all. I could debate the rights & wrongs of the biases we walked into the movie with, but we all had them, and with that in mind, it was big of some of these folks to come.

In the end, almost everyone believed that, if not global warming exactly, humans are having a negative impact on the environment. And we should do something.

That's a start, anyway.

Before the showing of the film, I wouldn't have guessed that anyone would NOT BELIEVE IN global warming. I wouldn't have guessed someone would, in all honesty, not understand why a person would pay extra for wind energy. I get that people have different priorities and chose not to, but to NOT understand the concept....? I wouldn't have guessed that people would choose not to do something because they see no immediate personal benefit ("If I use stick deodorant instead of aerosol, will I have better fishing next year? I don't think so.")

It was eye opening.

I told the group that I like Al Gore. I told them that my "practicing environmentalism" (for lack of a better term) flows out of my faith and parallels it. I follow Christ and sometimes I see a huge impact from it. But most of the time, it doesn't feel like I'm changing the world. But I keep on praying, I keep serving, I keep believing because that's who I am. I do it out of obedience and out of gratitude to what Christ has done for me. I buy compact fluorescent bulbs not because it makes the sky above my house bluer (though if we all did....) but because I am a steward of this earth and that's how I help care for it. I do it ecause it's right, right?

After that discussion and our "Is God Green?" bible study the next morning I felt like a freak. I felt like I was on the outside looking in at a culture I don't understand but am supposed to be a part of. I felt like somebody in this group is wrong and somebody is crazy and maybe it's me. How could I see the world so differently from those around me?! How could these people whom I love and respect and enjoy come to conclusions completely opposite to my own? I called Susan and asked if she would like to start a commune with me for theologically conservative, socially progressive Lutherans.

I've since settled down. I haven't really reconciled all those feelings, but I don't know how to change any of it. My friend Jeremy often talks about homesickness: that we all long for our true home in heaven where all is right. I guess I'm feeling homesick. Until I go home, I guess I'll just have to keep working to make this temporary home more like that one. And start a commune. Any takers?


jeremy said...

i was surprised and educated when i finally watched the documentary; i still find al a little creepy, but i'm 100% for him on his educational trail. i'm stunned, too, by people who can outright deny the existence of environmental detriment.

Hope said...

I have not yet seen the documentary, but have learned lots just from conversations about it. I'm afraid I'm a person who really wants to be eco-friendly but hasn't taken many steps toward actually acheiving the goal. I'm an eco-wannabe who gets inspired by people like you and my organic farmer friends saving the world for me and my children. Thank you.

emdunbar said...

it feels wierd to be thanked. you should see the movie. it really is interesting--the subject matter is interesting, but it is also well done as a film. during the credits at the end they state all these things that you can do to help solve the problem. it's very inspiring.

Carey Gardiner said...

I think that you are one of the few and the proud, who can live with her feet in two "camps." Honestly, I think I do, too, and have been struggling with checking my liberal orthodoxy against some of the geuinely "conservative" positions that I hold. I read What's the Matter with Kansas a while back and it was very .... I don't know the right word... I just know that it helped me understand, even more deeply, how the debates in this country have been formed, why people might hate Al Gore (or be distrustful of him). I gotta say, though, that I think the Dems are smokin' their way through their first 100 hours fow work... just rolled back tax breaks for oil companies... GREAT POST...

emdunbar said...

Thanks Carey. Sometimes I get very weary having feet in different camps. Sometimes it feels like I have to defend myself on all sides. Sometimes it feels like there are very few people who understand how all my parts can make a whole. But there are such people, of course. And it makes for a rich and interesting life...just not always an easy one, but whose is?

"What's the matter with Kansas"? I haven't heard of it...may have to check it out.

Carla said...

You're doing challenging, and very important work, Emily. Being Green in a community that has a primarly agricultural economy is tricky, indeed. Please know there are tree-hugging, Democrat voting, quiet-in-church about it Lutherans out here rootin' for you. I love my church community--and I also know that it's easier to be quiet about many of my views and known by my closest choir pals as "That Damn Liberal" than to bring issues of environmental stewardship (and peace and justice issues, etc.) out into the open. I've taken the easy road, which isn't what The Big Guy calls us to do. You're doing THE work. Hang in there.

emdunbar said...

Carla, where have you been all my life?! Or at least the five years I've been in Hastings...