{New to this series? I’m writing each day in Lent 2017, using mugs as inspiration, or at least prompts. Why? Don’t get me started.}

Today my oldest grandson turns 17, so it seems appropriate to share another mug he designed in elementary school. His class had been studying rainforSONY DSCests, and the artwork on the mug was Ryan’s imaginative take on the subject.

My own school years are l-o-n-g ago, so maybe I’ve just forgotten by now…but I don’t recall learning anything about rainforests, ever. I suspect that unless you were a biology major in my era of academia, rainforests just didn’t come up in classroom instruction. But when rainforests began disappearing, then teachers and learners took notice.

Here’s what I know now. (Pardon me if this is old news to you, but Ryan’s mug got me thinking…) According to a science website especially for kids, the following are locations of our rainforests: Africa, Asia, Central and South America. The Amazon Rainforest is the largest. Maybe the writer on that site meant to say these were the major rainforests. Because North America has a rainforest I’ve hiked in. It’s in Alaska. And I have a photo that I shared with Ryan when he was studying the topic seven years ago. It’s below.

Interestingly, that site for young learners defines a rainforest as having lots of tall trees, a warm climate, and lots of rain. Well, two out of three. I don’t think Alaska is known for its warm climate. But the main thing is this: rainforests are being destroyed globally with areas the size of New Jersey disappearing annually. Maybe it comes down to greed. At least, we (speaking globally) feel that we need the land for agribusiness, grazing, timber resources, including pulp, and roads, presumably so we can get further into the forests to tear down more trees.

Plus, there’s climate change that brings drought to once rainy climes. Pardon my personal stand on this, but to be clear, it is not a mere cosmic adjustment or realignment that brings about today’s climate change. It is we human beings. And our greed. Our perceived need for that which we could do without if we cared about the future of our planet and maybe our great-grandchildren, to focus it more personally.

The decline of rainforests has a massive impact on the ecological balance of life on our planet. This isn’t the place to go into a depressing list of environmental disasters. Google it, if you must. But I am moved to think about my own complicity in the biological and economic conditions that affect both climate change and rainforest destruction.

For one thing, I need to pay more attention. When Ryan’s mug comes up in the morning coffee rotation, maybe I can use that as a reminder to be more careful, more care-filled, about my want/need decision-making. What impact will today’s choices make in regard to earth-keeping? Every day, we are overwhelmed by how little we can make an impact on enormous problems that confront us. Will turning off an unnecessary lamp help save the rainforests? If I wear this pair of Nikes one more month, or this pair of Wranglers? I already turn off the running water while I brush my teeth. Well, good for me!

I’m paying a premium for fair trade coffee to put in these mugs I’m writing about each day. Some professor writing in the Huffington Post says I’m pretty much being duped. But my church denomination says it’s a good thing I’m shopping for goods with that fair trade designation. I want to do the right thing. If I can just figure out what the right thing is. I’ll keep watch for anything that says it’s rainforest alliance safe to eat/drink/use.

Our prayers of confession, Lent or otherwise, must include our acquisitiveness. That’s a newer name for an ancient sin: greed. We are being sold a bill of goods every minute that we engage in mass media or social media, with advertising designed to convince us that our life would be more fulfilling, happier, if we bought this or acquired that. I once taught a seminar on media advertising and the commercial pitches focused on just a handful of human desires that would be met by almost any product: health, prestige, safety, and appetites (nutritional and sexual). From breakfast cereals to Chevys, from antacids to cosmetics — life would be enhanced if we forked over some money and acquired the product. We all know, though, that life is improved only temporarily by whatever we buy, and maybe, truth be told, life isn’t better at all.

One of my favorite sins, I hearby admit, is covetousness. I break that commandment daily. I don’t covet my neighbor’s wife or donkey, but almost anything I see at the big box store full of electronics would make me happy. Here I am with more than my share of stuff, and yet I’d be estatic to have more. My 40″ LCD TV is aging, and there on the horizon is that 60″ 4K curved screen TV, so perfect for my living room. And then, I’d have to upgrade my DVD player, buy some new versions of old DVD movies, and get a more advanced audio system. And then… I realize it would never be enough. And another tree would fall in the rainforest, and even without my being there, the crash would be deafening.

I must curb my enthusiasm for adding to the clutter of my life. No matter how shiny, advanced, or enticing that stuff might appear. I must rein in my desire for new things, release my hold on some old things, and remember it is not the “things” that matter anyway. My happiness is centered on being more than content, downright fulfilled, with the loving relationships that bless my life: my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my church family.

We share a planet that seems more fragile than when I was born over seven decades ago. When we realize how much the earth is threatened by just one or two generations of human beings whose wants and desires far outstrip their actual needs, the word “stewardship” comes to mind. We are caretakers of this creation if we think about it. Maybe caregivers would be a better term, since our constant “taking” is part of the problem.

Among the many Bibles of various translations on my bookshelves is an edition called The Green Bible, published by Harper One. All the scripture passages that mention the environment are printed in green ink. There is a lot of green ink involved here. References to water, wilderness, the land, seeds and sowers, the earth, meals and sunlight… all in green, plus essays added by Desmond Tutu, Barbara Brown Taylor, and others, and an Earth Day message by Pope John Paul II — along with a “Green Bible Trail Guide” (a study guide on environmentalism) — these features make up an impressive and helpful resource for those committed to earth-keeping.

Thanks to Ryan, his art, and that mug, I’ll remember the rainforests and my own half acre and try to be a better steward of this good earth.

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Alaskan Rainforest

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