India has a huge environmental problem: trash. The cities and towns are overflowing with refuse. It’s simply overwhelming. Rotting food, discarded car batteries, raw sewage, plastic bags and more ooze along the streets. The volume of detritus is enough to make you sick, or worse. As I write this, I’ve just returned from visiting the holy city of Varanasi. Hindus believe that having your ashes or corpse laid to rest in the Ganges River will provide a shortcut around the steps of reincarnation and ring your spirit directly to heaven. Devout Hindu pilgrims come to the city to bathe in and drink from the Ganges. Just recently, an American man died after one such pilgrimage to the Ganges. As you can imagine, I’m gladly following the eastern custom of removing my shoes when entering a home from the streets!
Hinduism has created a fascinating paradox in India. On one hand, creation is treated as god. Animals, trees, flowers, water and even rocks are worshiped. On the other hand, creation is treated quite carelessly. A sad but familiar sight is that of cows (famously revered by the Hindus) contentedly gorging themselves on trash as they freely wander the streets of India’s cities and towns.
In theLazarus at the Gatestudy we urge participants to make one lifestyle change to consume more justly. In a world that moves so quickly, it’s easy to forget that our food comes from a farm or our clothing comes from a factory, let alone that God’s creation is often hurt through our poor consumption choices.
Christians must be at the forefront of movements that protect the oppressed and care for creation as we share the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. And yet in the West, Christians wonder if doing the former compromises their ability to do the latter, or vice versa. Many reach the conclusion that the church is best off doing one or the other well but not both (and certainly not at the same time).
And yet, Indian Christians are being salt and light through specific ways they are living in contrast to the broader society. Stewardship of God’s creation has been one tangible way that the Church can be visible. Christian homes are neater and have adopted simple sanitation practices that help to improve the health of families and the long-term protection of water supplies. Many of the villages we visited were visibly less plagued by litter. Hindus and Muslims know who their Christian neighbors are.
As the world’s largest democracy modernizes, consumption patterns are changing rapidly. Like the United States, India is eating more convenience food and beverages – thus creating more trash. Arguably, leveraging effective waste removal systems need to be implemented by government, at least in urban areas. Regardless, it is exciting to see Christians offering a solution that cares for creation while thoughtfully articulating an inconsistency within Hindu belief and practice.