Sunday, April 15, 2018

A time before: Adopting an Endlessly Renewed Openness, Starting with Sustainability

I am part of the Xenial generation, a bridging group that spans only a few years, too old to be a Millennial and too young to be a GenXer.

Technologically, we remember a time before cell phones and before the digital explosion, but we were young enough to whole-heartedly embrace it. We never lived without a remote for the TV. We were the first to embrace Blockbuster online, and then Netflix.  We were the first generation to be quietly occupied during long car trips, plugged into our Game Boys and Walkmans, able to play a video game on the go and zone out from the chaos around us. In grade school, we had penpals, and in college, we were the first to try facebook (or the less popular myspace). We had gmail accounts when you had to be invited to get one. We have always done our taxes using computer programs, never on paper. We lived long enough without technology that we know to appreciate it, and young enough not to be scared by it, perhaps even addicted to it as our phones are never far from our reach.

Culturally, we remember the time before TSA: when you went to the airport to pick someone up, you could wait at the gate, staring out the window, excitedly watching the plane pull up and all the people get off. We are a generation of fire drills, not actual fires, so a fire alarm is rarely cause for alarm. We have different “moments when”. The GenXers talk about where they were during the Challenger Explosion, the Boomers before them talk about the assassination of JFK, MLK, and the moon landing. The Millennials talk about 9/11. For us, the Columbine massacre was the first to change everything.

In class this week, a picture of the earth was displayed, and I smiled at the familiar image of the swirly blue oceans and white clouds set against a striking black background of nothingness. Our teacher (Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ) talked about how this picture, entitled the Blue Marble, changed everything and was named the most influential picture of the 20th century. For the Boomers and the Greatest Generation before them, this image showed one united world, the first chance for the globe to see itself in the mirror. Teilhard de Chardin (part of the Greatest Generation) had been buried for decades by the time this photo emerged in 1972, but he would see this as the incredible evolution of the universe – true global consciousness – the thinking layer of the earth (the noosphere) seeing its own reflection, and the ability to know that it knows. Wow.

To me – I didn’t understand the significance of this photo. I had never considered that this picture even had a name. It was as familiar to me as my baby photos were, and so, I had never known a time before this photo, that there could even been a shift in consciousness because of a single photo. I knew there was a time before people landed on the moon or sent something to space, but there was never a moment when my fellow Xenials and I didn’t know what the earth looked like. By the time we appeared, the impact of this photo has settled and the wave of ecological reform was well underway. We grew up with Sesame Street telling us to conserve water when we brushed our teeth, and we were reminded in school to turn off our lights for an hour each year on Earth Day. As adults, many of us embraced hybrids about a third of us go meatless to reduce the impact on the earth. For us, there was never a time that our economy and culture wasn’t global…after all, I had a pen pal on another continent. We never knew a time when we weren't worried about saving the world.

But really – who cares? Why does this photo and my personal awakening matter enough to warrant a blog? Well, I was reminded of my post-modern existence. That the lens with which I view the world is so very different from everyone else’s, and by extension how much that flavors how each of us thinks and acts. In the Congregation of Notre Dame, one of our current priorities is towards ecological sustainability to: ‘honor and respect our “common home”, take concrete action, resist the forces of destruction and promote life in all its forms’. Practically, what does that look like? From what I have seen, we meet to find ways to advocate for more ecologically-centered practices and have discussions within our houses to reduce consumption (of water, energy, paper, ink, gas…the list goes on). For example, the sisters in our house met to talk about whether it takes more energy to turn on a light rather than leave it on (with today’s bulbs, turn it off every time!), and whether to use the dishwasher or wash dishes by hand to save water (a full dishwasher conserves resources more than washing dishes by hand).

What surprises me is that the sisters engage in conversations that could seem confrontational and evoke defensiveness about how we do things and why, but instead they are open to constantly changing practices to do what is better for the earth. Wow. That’s not what the literature says about Boomers…(that they are stuck in their ways and unwilling to change). Maybe I need to realign my assumptions and worry less about the label of my generation and what we do (after all, that’s not very post-modern of me and instead labels me as a modernist, ack!).

Learning how to learn about sustainability is not something I expected to learn in the novitiate. Ever in the process of transformation, I recognize that to be a sister means to have an endlessly renewed openness to the cries of the world. Today, that is ecological sustainability. Tomorrow… we’ll have to wait and see (and hopefully be open to whatever challenge comes).


  1. I love that sustainability is a priority at the Novitiate! Protecting God's creation...

    1 Chronicles 16:33 

    33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
        before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.