The Making of an Eco-chaplain

The Making of an Eco-Chaplain

A year ago, I began to see that my work was changing.  Caring for the Earth had become my deep love in ministry.  I’ll admit I’ve been making it up as I go, but I’ve been calling the work “Eco-chaplaincy.”  I say it with love and dread because after all, what does it mean when our Earth is so ravaged that it too, like a prison or the Iraqi desert, needs a chaplain?  And what, exactly, does an Eco-chaplain do?

I found my answer at Walmart.

Lauren visits her first Walmart

My Eco-chaplain livelihood found its groove when I joined the founding team that designed and facilitated over 200 day-long sustainability workshops for the 1.2 million associates of Walmart Stores, Inc. Traveling across the country in the Spring of 2007, speaking with the faces of America at hundreds upon hundreds of Walmarts—a place I had been taught to oppose and avoid—I turned toward love. With a necessary naiveté and “beginner’s mind,” I entered corporate America to invite change, to be changed, and to provide space to consider a new operating practice.

One of my all-time favorite movies is MaryPoppins.  I love how Mary finds magic in the mundane.  I also love her fastidious tendencies.  For a good long while now, I’ve wished I could snap my fingers and – just like the toys inJaneandMichael’s nursery – have the environment return itself to a lush, forested, healthy planet.  InMaryPoppin’s world, it’s fine to use what’s around you and to play with vigor, so long as you put it back…each article in its right place.

There is no "away!"

In my work with Fortune 500 employees, I facilitate retreats where we talk about, “nano-practices.” It sounds technical, and it is based on a great deal of theory, but its essence is exceedingly simple: small actions result in big impacts.

Take, for example, a participant from the retreat at Frito-Lay Headquarters – I’ll call him Mark.  I askedMarkwhat one action – one behavior change – he wanted to exercise regularly to bring greater sustainability to his life and the planet. Marksaid, “I’d like to spend more time with my family.”

“That sounds great,” I said intrigued, “How does it help the planet?”  “Well,”Markschemed, “….one night a week, we’ll turn off the TV and go for a walk, as a family.” I nodded, liking where this was going, “We’ll save electricity and spare CO2 emissions by not using electricity; we’ll be out in the park getting exercise and enjoying nature together…AND!”  Markwas getting pretty excited, “we’ll also pick up litter while we’re out walking. Any recyclables we collect, we’ll cash in and give the money to a charity.”

Small actions; big impacts.

Through this work, I’m reminded again that a chaplain’s call is to bring connection; to prophetically state, “Here, and now! No matter how set apart, lost or beyond-love this place may appear, the Source of our Breath abides here, too.” Looking for God or honoring the mystery in a variety of settings is the work of a chaplain. Just as the chapel stands apart from a church or temple, a chaplain endeavors to create sacred space in the free-standing complexity of hospitals, campuses, military bases and, yes, corporations (even Walmart).

A Joy-filled moment during corporate retreat at the Houston Zoo


Furthermore, an Eco-chaplains’ calling is to serve and act with Joy.  I feel strongly that activism is defined as much by the peace-marching, protesting activist as by the devoted nano-practitioner who experiences a ripple over time— and that it works best when our actions bring us joy. Mother Earth wouldn’t have it any other way; it is written in the scriptures of every Faith Tradition I know.

Eco-chaplains, unite! The planet has made her aches known and the scientists have let humanity know we have a limited amount of time to act. May you be moved to act boldly, and to live and serve from the place of your deepest joy.