In the run-up to Easter this year, I noticed an idea circulating on Facebook, "Give up Garbage for Lent." I was intrigued, clicked on the link, and invited others in our home educating network to join us in taking up the challenge. As a teenager, I was pretty up-to-speed with the green agenda and was vegetarian for 8 years for ecological reasons, that is the idea that land can be more productively farmed by planting crops to feed the world, than by farming cattle so the wealthy can eat meat. I was passionate about things like that. Somehow the eco-warrior within me has been dormant for some years, but with this Lenten challenge began a journey of re-awakening.
We met as a small group of 5 families to discuss the challenges presented each week, and to encourage one another to make changes in our lifestyles to reduce our rubbish. Looking back, these were small steps really - We invested in a compost bin for the garden, and worked on reducing and reusing paper and plastics. We also reflected on our belief that the earth is the Lord's and everything in it, and thought about our Christian responsibility to look after God's amazing creation. I gave our group the name "Mustard Seeds" to the embarrassment of my older boys, but I love the image this name evokes. In our first meeting, I gave each child a tiny mustard seed. Even though we may feel as insignificant as that tiny seed; though we may feel our small actions don't make much difference in the grand scheme of things, we have to remember the mustard seed grows to be a dominant plant, the kind of plant farmers didn't want sprouting amongst their crops because it would take over and dominate its surroundings. Such is the potential of the mustard seed. We have to believe that by our tiny actions, a dominant culture can be challenged. We have to keep on doing the good we know we need to do, trusting that together we can make a difference. So 'Mustard Seeds' was born.
Early on, our group watched the inspiring film, "The Clean Bin Project" made by a childhood friend of mine who has lived for many years now in Canada. The film is the challenging story of a year-long competition between Grant and his partner, Jen, to see which of them can produce the least rubbish. Of course, the way to achieve zero-waste is by not buying 'stuff' and their ability to get through the year with just the tiniest amount of waste is heroic. Admittedly, Canada is ahead of the UK with less packaging on foodstuffs, but still, their film is provocative and memorable. We are left wondering, is it really possible to live waste-free?
I had long had questions about what exactly happens to our rubbish once our bins are collected. I was sceptical about whether the rubbish we put out for recycling is really recycled. I wanted to find out. In the film, Grant and Jen had visited their local rubbish dump and recycling centre, and I wanted Mustard Seeds to do the same. It was funny, because the children all wrote and emailed our local council to try and arrange a visit but, in the end, it was asking around whilst my eldest son and I were visiting the tip that resulted in making the right contact to arrange the visit. I felt triumphant because, with all the concerns about health and safety, it felt like a privilege to be allowed in. Our visit was very informative and surprisingly inspiring. The men we spoke to were genuinely concerned about the city's waste and were working hard to do all they could to deal with the problem and to make our rubbish work for us. We discovered that the content of our recycling bins does indeed go to be recycled at another centre, and the content of our non-recyclable bin goes to be incinerated, generating power which is utilised to light and heat buildings in our city centre. It was an enlightening and memorable visit.
After this, the children in our group began to make their own small protests, petitioning McDonalds to provide recycling bins, for example.
I noticed that there was a conference being organised this September at our local Cathedral entitled, "Reconciling a Wounded Planet" - exactly in line with the themes we had been studying as a group, and I contacted the organisers to see how we might be involved. One of the conference objectives was "a 40-year legacy", so they were delighted at the prospect of having young people involved. So, this month, the Mustard Seeds children prepared work to display at the conference on the theme of "What we want our world to look like in 40 years time." I loved watching the children work together in their multi-age group from 3-14 years, producing two short films, some posters, a poem and an aquatic car of the future across two days. As well as having our work displayed alongside some submitted by local primary schools, we had the privilege of attending part of the conference. We listened to the keynote address by Sir Ghillean Prance, and then the younger children had their own environmental art workshop, and took part in a fun interactive activity about sharing the earth's resources. The older children and adults were able to join the various seminar streams. The older boys were inspired by a session on Developing Technologies, whilst others of us attended the Community Engagement stream, hearing in particular from the founders of The Rubbish Diet and the Incredible Edible Network. What was most inspiring about these speakers was the way in which a green initiative became an engine for community involvement and transformation, far exceeding the aims of the original idea. Mustard seeds germinating.
The highlight of the conference for me was attending the debut of the brilliant new production from Riding Lights entitled, "Baked Alaska". It was during this performance that I really felt convicted of the part we all play - by nature of our carbon addicted lifestyles - to climate change, and to the impact that addiction has on other parts of the world, contributing to so many other problems. Riding Lights are so clever in their script writing and in the way they present the parables so that we are challenged to think in new ways. I was challenged. Who is my neighbour, and how by the choices I make each day, is my carbon footprint impacting their life? Recommended viewing - now touring the UK.
At the end of the performance, members of the audience were immediately called upon to write a message to our local MP encouraging him to take positive action on climate change in the run-up to the UN summit in Paris at the end of this year. We all did this, and then a local volunteer was sought to deliver the messages. Sitting in the front row, our Mustard Seeds group volunteered, so we now have an appointment to visit our local MP to deliver the messages and share our concerns about climate change. I am looking forward to it.