Erin Taylor is a Naturalist (an advocate of outdoor education and local ecological appreciation) in Texas. Here’s her terrific blog and Pinterest, where I particularly enjoy her Field Notes Fridays, which is a coalition of folks who go out in nature and offer their blogs and pictures from their excursions.
One of her recent posts hit home because it was a reflection on an outreach attempt by a local United Methodist Church and she offered her reflections as an ecologically-minded individual. Here’s what happened:
Imagine enjoying a vacation in one of your favorite outdoor places. You come upon trash tangled in the grass by a river: a card attached to a pink ribbon and the remains of a ragged green balloon. The card has a friendly message from a United Methodist Church and a request for you to respond with where and how you found the card.
So the church at Easter had put an invitation and a card attached to a few dozen balloons and let them out all over the Dallas area. They wanted to know where it went; but further, a response and an invitation to come to church. It was a form of evangelism.
Dear [Undisclosed] United Methodist Church,
I received your Easter card attached to a balloon. Thank you. But please consider finding another way to share your message.
I was in LLELA (the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area), a 2,000 acre nature preserve in the heart of the metroplex. The group I was with hiked and explored beautiful forests, prairies, and aquatic ecosystems for three days. On April 26 we were surprised to find your card near the river, tangled in the grass. We read your message and although no one disparaged it, three people in the group are members of United Methodist churches and seemed to cringe at their denomination being associated with litter.
Taylor continues with many educational examples to show how litter, plastic, and rubber pieces affect wildlife and environmental cleanliness. Is it worth the risk of death to a bird, turtle, or other wildlife to spread the news of Jesus defeating death? To insiders, perhaps. To outsiders who are ecologically-minded…no.
Thankfully, Taylor is graceful even in her firm values and offers the following alternatives that are more ecologically-minded:
I implore and encourage you to use your creativity, passion, and love to find another way to share your message.
- Send paper airplanes off a tall building, or leave little cards on benches, on buses, or in restaurants. You might be shocked to hear a conservationist propose strewing paper about, but paper is biodegradable and, in the United States, usually sustainably sourced.
- Join the Geocaching community and leave messages of hope and love that way. When you add to or create geocaches of your own, you’re tapping into a network of engaged, interested searchers.
- Start a sustainability club or committee to consider your outreach, even looking at your utensils, cups, and plates. I hope you ascribe to the well-founded belief that every action and choice an individual or organization makes changes the world – for good or ill. With more information, we can make decisions that better all species.
And Taylor ends on this really helpful note:
I also understand that your balloon release was intended to be a joyful and community-enhancing event. My horror at finding a balloon in the wild doesn’t squelch my curiosity: I’m fascinated by the distance this balloon traveled: about 25 miles in 6 days (as the crow flies). I have lots of questions I’d love to ask you about how many responses you received, where they were from, and more. I’m not writing to squash your joy or outreach; I’m writing to help you do less damage.
I recognize your denomination and possibly congregation face many challenges in the future. As you decide your path and actions, please carefully and compassionately consider the environment in your ethics. Your decisions affect humans and all other species, the least of these, who have no voice in our society. With just a few habit changes, you can profoundly influence the world for good.
May we find ways to share the love of Christ that include the natural world, for if we destroy it, there will be no one left to evangelize. But before that happens, those whose theologies and outreach methods don’t take into account ecological impact and harmony will be discarded on the hillside like the balloon and string above.