(a pair of muddy chore boots, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Daily Office Readings for Friday, June 7, 2019:
As a kid, I was always in trouble for tracking mud in the house. It wasn’t that I was a dirty or slovenly child, it was simply that I was always so engrossed in whatever activity I was in, I simply wasn’t paying attention. Some adult was always yelling “Stop! Don’t take another step until you get those muddy shoes/boots off. Do I always have to tell you to watch your feet?”
Well…even at this stage of my life, the answer is still yes. I still forget I have muddy shoes. At least I was smart enough that, when I remodeled my house in 2011, I had the good sense to have the path from the front door to the back door tiled, rather than carpet or nice hardwood. At least I can easily clean up after myself.
In our Hebrew scripture reading from Ezekiel today, we often focus so much on what’s said about the fat sheep and the lean sheep, we lose track of the admonishment that precedes it, about feet and footprints. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?
It’s only been in recent years that discussion of footprints (such as our carbon footprint) have entered the front end of conversations, whether they are about stewardship, mission/outreach, or creation care. Sometimes we forget that someone is downstream when we are happily muddying up the water, or that in our quest to get somewhere, we’ve left huge, muddy footprints, or that in our desire to blaze a new trail, focused on that bright shiny object, we’ve bespoiled the view for everyone who stuck to the tried and true path.
For example, I learned recently that one beef cow eats an acre of corn in 44 days. It takes an average of 15 months to raise a grain fed calf for the market (30 months for a grass-finished one.) using that 15 months, that means the average beef cow eats a little over 10 acres of feed corn to be ready for market. Contrast that with the fact that one arable acre can feed 5-20 people for a year, depending on the location and the crop.
I love a good steak as much as anyone, but I have to admit that’s a pretty big footprint for a steak under the present way we do agri-business…and we haven’t even addressed what comes out the other end of a cow, which has its own footprint. (Just don’t get that “footprint” on your shoes when walking through the pasture!)
Dealing with bigger footprints has its own set of injustices. I can choose to buy meat that makes a smaller footprint, but it always costs more. I can choose to buy LED light bulbs to decrease my carbon footprint and my electric bill, but they cost more than standard light bulbs. Poorer folks don’t always have the means to make those sorts of choices. Sometimes our better choices in the long haul are choices that put people out of work and leave them with fewer choices. It’s complicated.
It leaves us with a situation where one size doesn’t fit all. I might choose to buy less meat, or meat that leaves a smaller footprint, but another person might choose to go vegetarian or vegan–and some folks simply don’t have the means to make much of a choice at all. Paradoxically, in the U.S. we have poorly fed people who don’t look poorly fed, but are obese because affordable food is usually highly processed, less nutritional food. Whatever we choose in being better stewards of the planet, we need to simultaneously be mindful of those who are not as free to choose and care for them, too.
One of the things the book of Ezekiel teaches us is to tread lightly in all things, and be mindful of the mud we’re tracking and the footprint we leave behind. As W.B. Yeats said in his poem, “The Cloths of Heaven”:
Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
How might we begin the process of treading more lightly in this world, and not treading on the dreams of those who have little choice where to walk?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri , as the Interim Pastor at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, MO.