On June 18th, 2015, Pope Francis released Laudato si’ – On Care of Our Common Home, the second encyclical of his papacy and the first authored entirely by him. When I heard Pope Francis had released Laudato si’, the first question I had was, “What is an encyclical?” Wikipedia defines an encyclical as “a papal letter sent to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church.” Laudato si’ is Pope Francis’ message on the environment and human ecology. It explores environmentalism, poverty, science and modernism, and technology.
I attended a talk at church a few weeks ago titled, “Indifference, Individualism, & Incarnation.” It was one of several talks offered in our church’s speaker series on Laudato si’. Over the course of sixty minutes, Fr. Kartje explained how we don’t wake up one day and decide to destroy the planet. It’s rarely a conscious decision we make to do harm by throwing a bottle on the ground or using plastic forks when non-disposable cutlery is readily available. Somewhere along the way, we can become indifferent to the small but cumulative effects these decisions of convenience have on our “common home.” Indifference can lead to a breakdown in awareness, making it easier to exceed the thresholds of reasonability when it comes to using the earth’s resources for societal advancement. Fr. Kartje talked about this concept in the context of limits. Humans naturally want to break through limits –we want to overcome and push forward. Each night at home we’ve been firing up Netflix to watch an episode of “America: The Story of Us,” a show that originally aired on the History Channel. While I’m grateful and proud of many sacrifices made by early Americans, its been eye-opening to see how much of the pioneer spirit was driven by profit and greed. This drive for limitless potential, cutting down forests, burning coal, industrialization, all driven by an unquenchable thirst for profit, has come at a detrimental cost to our environment. God gave us resources – in Genesis, humans are given “dominion” over the earth – we are called to subdue it and prosper. But just like God gave Adam and Eve the instruction not to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge, we were called to use the resources responsibly. Fr. Kartje used the story of Adam in Eve in more detail. He said God gave them that one limit, but human nature drove them to eat fruit from the tree anyway. Fr. Kartje argued that God does not use limits as a way to inhibit our potential – it’s actually the opposite. Limits encourage us to think creatively and make better use of our time.
That concept hadn’t fully crystallized in my mind by the next day. I was still trying to feel the one-two punch of such a profound statement. I had lingering confusion over how to apply the idea to my life.
At work, I finally watched a Ted Talk my boss had sent to our team several days prior. Artist Phil Hansen developed a tremor in his hand that made it impossible for him to continue creating pointillism pieces. He stopped making art for a while. Then he decided to “embrace the shake,” and his art has never been the same.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink our relationship with limits, both the limits God gives us and those limits we put on ourselves. Instead of thinking of limits as roadblocks, maybe they are a jumping-off point to the better version of ourselves in which God intended us to grow.