“I’m kind of anti-passion,” says Brenda MacDonald. “I don’t feel I have a passion. I have a lot of interests, and I’m interested in living responsibly. I’m not goal-oriented, but I’m pretty earnest about living responsibly.”
For the retired schoolteacher and her husband, Wayne, living responsibly means doing what they can to protect the environment and reduce consumption. “We try to grocery shop carefully, we bike wherever we can, and we have a garden in the summer.”
But lately, that commitment has gone deeper.
Recently MacDonald was part of a group at Wildwood Mennonite Church that studied Mennonite Creation Care Network’s adult curriculum, All Creatures Singing. As a result of their study, the group decided to engage in a voluntary carbon tax on their fossil fuel consumption. She describes the curriculum as “non-threatening, which is good because people in the congregation have been employed in the oil and uranium industries.” It provides a ways to “look at Bible passages through an ecological lens,” she adds.
Wildwood Mennonite also recently voted to join the Mennonite Creation Care Network and appointed a liaison to keep the congregation informed. MacDonald, for the time being, is that liaison.
She says that their membership has already prompted them to do things differently. For instance, having been made aware that the palm branches many churches purchase to celebrate Palm Sunday are not harvested in a sustainable manner, and that local Central American workers are poorly paid for their labour, MacDonald says Wildwood Mennonite opted to use juniper branches cut from her own backyard.
MacDonald says her love for creation probably began as a child playing outdoors. By the time she graduated from high school in 1972, she was aware of air pollution and knew that vehicles caused 80 percent of it. When she and her husband lived in Taiwan between 1979 and 1982, they visited the Philippines. She remembers learning how people were driven from their land so that bananas could be grown in monoculture plantations.
“I have always seen environmental issues as justice issues,” she says. “The economy, justice and the environment are so closely enmeshed.”
MacDonald cites Naomi Klein as being a strong influence in her thinking. “Capitalism drives our assault on the earth,” she says, quoting the author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. “As we strive to have everything we want, we lose our quality of life—time with family, time to just enjoy doing nothing.”
Is caring for creation a faith practice? For MacDonald the answer is most definitely yes. “Formerly, creation care would have been seen as a commendable value, but not as a spiritual discipline,” she says. Yet in their study of the All Creatures Singing curriculum, she and her fellow church members learned that creation care is “an integral part of how we live on earth.”
She adds, “It’s not just us relating to nature, but relating to each other, our aboriginal neighbours, and to God.” She points out that the traditional spirituality of indigenous people teaches the inter-relatedness of nature and people.
“Now that I’m getting older I’m getting a little impatient,” MacDonald says. “We have to do more.” She would love to see passenger trains running once more between Regina and Saskatoon, reducing the vehicle traffic on Saskatchewan’s Highway 11.
While in Germany in 2000, MacDonald noticed reusable packaging being used by the country’s dairy industry. She’d love to see Saskatchewan’s dairy industry move in that direction. As a teacher, she campaigned for her colleagues to use public transit to get to and from a teachers’ convention.
But she recognizes that one person campaigning isn’t always very effective and prefers to be part of a team. “If you have a team, you have to allow people to contribute in whatever capacity they can,” she says. “Klein is at the top, lobbying at top levels of government. I can’t do that, but if I’m on her team, she can speak for me.”
“I never want to become a preacher about this,” MacDonald says. “I’d just like to see people be more conscious. Don’t buy bottled water. Take your coffee cup with you. We’re not thinking about this. How can we raise people’s consciousness?”