The image above is a representation of three dispositions of heart the human person has toward creation:
Consume, Conserve, and Curate.
From the standpoint of Consume, it is a basic fact that the human person does need to consume certain things from creation to survive and advance as a people. Yet, we also know that consumption without moral restraints can lead to exploitation, wastefulness, and harming human dignity as the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” gets wider and wider. Consumerism also leads to an isolationist mentality in which the more we consume the more “self-centered” we approach life. Regard for how our life choices impact others is lessened, replaced by the ethic of “What is good for me is what is morally correct.” This radical relativism creates deep conflicts between people and nations.
From the standpoint of Conserve, the call of Pope Francis to care for creation is deeply rooted in conservation. In the United States, what is often missed in the debate between renewable energy sources and fossil fuels is conservation. The cultural debate I often hear is, “We will have so many more people in our country in the future, so we need more energy, so we can’t rely on fossil fuels alone, so we need robust renewables so we don’t run out of fossil fuels.” There is nothing in this statement I would disagree with. I would simply point out that there is no mention of a very important first step: How can we reduce our level of consumption, conserving our current energy production first, then explore the question of renewable versus fossil fuels? My fear is that the mere development of renewable energy sources with no attention given to conservation will simply lead to a more ramped consumerism, not addressing the core disposition of heart that has created our problem in the first place.
From the standpoint of Curate, this is where we move from the functional and moral to the spiritual. Something that needs to be added to our reflection on the relationship between consumption and conservation is the human person’s call to be Curator, or steward of creation. When I think of a curator, they live a life of painstaking attention to masterpieces that have been created so that the integrity of the creator’s work is protected and generations to come will have access to the master’s original masterpiece. Every good curator knows that if they do their job, the works of art they care for will outlive them. In a similar way, we need to have a curator’s heart when it comes to care for creation. We need to realize the painstaking attention needed to protect the integrity of the Creator’s work, allowing it to sustain, support, and delight generations to come. We can see a “Sacred Canvas” emerge in our world when embracing this mentality, understanding how we are both creature in and curator of our common home.
Spiritual Exercise: What is your level of consumption? How do you conserve? Do you have a curator’s heart, willing to protect the Creator’s Canvas? Pray with these questions and, together, let us protect this masterpiece we call our common home. Let us reverence the artistry of God.