Joel Martin: What kind of ‘footprint’ are you leaving?
Lord of the Valley Lutheran Church
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about carbon footprints. If you are like me, up until a year ago or so you never heard about carbon footprints, but now you seem to hear the phrase all the time. From what I understand, a carbon footprint is the measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. You measure your carbon footprint by keeping track of your energy use at home and at work, then you add the energy you use in traveling, add to that the products you use and the energy needed to produce them, add a couple of other things I am sure and you get your carbon footprint.
A carbon footprint is the cumulative effect of your daily, monthly, life-long use of energy. In other words, everybody has a carbon footprint ” the only question is how big. While it might be worth the time to write about how the term carbon footprint is not only a scientific term but also a word that relates to our lives of faith and what it means to be a steward of God’s creation, that is not why I have been thinking about them and now writing about them.
Instead, I have been thinking about carbon footprints because I am fascinated with the idea of what other types of ‘footprints’ we leave behind.
For instance, I wonder if we leave behind a ‘Forgiveness Footprint,’ after all forgiveness seems to be something we talk a lot about in church. I wonder if there is some sort of formula that could look at our lives and compute our legacy in terms of forgiveness. Maybe we would add the forgiveness we offer to other people, with the forgiveness that we accept from others. Then we subtract the old resentments that we won’t let go, multiplied by the things we have done and can’t seem to forgive
ourselves for. Finally, we divide that number by the number of people whom in our lives we refuse to forgive. If such a thing existed, what would your forgiveness footprint look like?
Or, what if, in addition to carbon footprints we also were hearing about “Compassion Footprints.” Would it change how you lived if there was a way to track the impact of our lives as individuals by the acts of compassion we offer to others? Would it change how you acted if you knew someone was keeping track of the acts of compassion you offered each day? Would it make you more generous with your time, with your resources? Do you think you would see people differently if your goal was not to use them, or get by them, or ignore them, but rather your goal was to see if there was something simple you could do to lighten their load? If we did this as individuals do you think it would make a difference in our community? I wonder if there would be less crime, less fear, less apathy.
Take it a step farther, if you placed a greater emphasis on acting with compassion would you expect others to do the same? Would it change how you view the potential presidential candidates, the public policy decisions facing Grand County, the state of Colorado or our country?
Before we get ahead ourselves, maybe we should start with something a little more simple, say a ‘Thankfulness Footprint.’ The thankfulness footprint would allow us to see the impact we have on our own life, our families life, even the life of our community when we live a thankful life. You wake up in the morning, it is an ordinary morning, nothing special planned, in many ways it is just another day; still, the first thing you do is offer a prayer, a short prayer of two words, “Thank You.” For in doing so you start your day realizing that the present day is a gift, and as your mother taught you when you were young, when someone gives you a gift you say ‘Thank You’.
So if the day is a gift from God, if your life is a gift from God, if everything you have is a gift from God, don’t you think in response we could at least strive to have a big thankfulness footprint? Of all the possible footprints discussed so far, it seems to be the easiest. Living a life of thankfulness really does not cost you much. It does not take much time. But you do have to watch out, because I imagine things might change as your thankfulness footprint gets bigger.
For I think when you become a more thankful person, and you begin to look for things to be thankful for, you will start to realize more and more that your very life is a gift. Then you might begin to see that the gift has not just been given to you, but that the gift extends to everyone, even to all of creation.
And when you live a life of thankfulness, don’t you eventually get to the point when you realize that your relationships are much too valuable, and time is much too short for you not to develop a healthy and large forgiveness footprint? After all, we’re all terminal. We are all “day to day.” And life is just too short to hold on to old resentments.
And don’t you think that a large thankfulness footprint will lead you and me to realize that all we are, all we do, is in response to what God has already done for us in our lives? Once we realize that, how could we not act with a greater sense of compassion in our lives, how could we not open our lives up to others in the same way that God has opened God’s own life to us? Don’t you think that as your thankfulness footprint grows, so too will your understanding that when it comes down to it we all have the same need: to be known, to be loved, to be accepted, to be treated and understood fairly?
When you wake up in the morning the “thank you” you offer is not just for your life, but for the view that extends out your window, for the water that flows from streams to the taps in your home, to the air that renews your life one breath at a time. And if thankfulness is a response to that gift, wouldn’t it be natural that you would want to do everything you could to take care of that gift? If your life is grounded in a sense of gratitude, wouldn’t you want to do your best to take care of what was given?
Knowing of course that there will be those following you in your life, wouldn’t you want to leave a legacy in which they could enjoy the same waters, have the same access to natural resources? If not for scientific reasons, for reasons of simple gratitude wouldn’t you want to make sure that your “carbon footprint” was as small as possible?
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