By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
Frankly, some people may be tired of giving up chocolate, vodka, fried chicken or poker for the 40 days of Lent.Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant
But sacrificing a lightbulb, or higher temperature on the thermostat? Maybe finally spurning plastic bags for reusable organic cotton totes? As many of the Christian faith begin Lent on Wednesday, one option — the "carbon fast" — could be as basic as unplugging your cellphone charger when not in use.
Repentance, reflection and self-discipline are supposed to be observed during Lent, which symbolizes the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert and resisted Satan's temptations, as described in the Bible.Among some worshipers, Lent also is known as the time "to beat yourself up" before [Resurrection Weekend] Easter, rather than a season to "take stock with what you're doing with your life and make positive changes," said the Rev. Jane White-Hassler, a priest at Grace Episcopal Church in Newington.
A green Lent could mean "thinking about the environment and doing things to save it for yourself and those who come after us," said White-Hassler, whose church possesses the mind-set year-round. Since the summer, Grace Episcopal has been undergoing eco-friendly renovations and is considering solar panels.
The practice of a carbon fast for Lent has been talked about in Christian circles since at least 2008, when the Church of England suggested shrinking one's carbon footprint and provided a list of 40 green actions, one for each day of Lent. ("Day one, Ash Wednesday: Remove one lightbulb and live without it for the next 40 days.")
The call was part of a global effort with Tearfund, a Christian relief agency, to help drought-ridden, impoverished communities that already suffer from the effects of climate change.In Connecticut, the carbon-fast campaign gained a follower in the Rev. Tom Washburn, a Catholic priest and Franciscan friar who, at the time, ministered at St. Francis Xavier Parish in New Milford.
Often, when people consider the need for environmental improvements, "we talk about these huge, sweeping changes," said Washburn, now based in Boston as vocation director of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Franciscans. But "for the average person, we have the ability to make change in our own lives very easily."Shortly before Lent 2008, Washburn wrote about the fast on his blog, "A Friar's Life." And it became the topic of a column he wrote in St. Francis Xavier's weekly bulletin, "which got a great reaction" among parishioners, he said.
Soon the church's exterior and walkway lights, some of which were on past midnight, were turned off at an earlier time. Washburn also examined his personal habits.He may not have done each of the 40 steps — some can be difficult in day-to-day life, such as composting meal scraps or refusing to consume food that has been imported by plane — but Washburn said he did enough to become hyper-aware of his environment and basic wastes of resources.
There was the hallway light that was always on, the faucet water that ran while he brushed his teeth, the cellphone charger left plugged in the wall that needlessly drained energy.But the gas-guzzling church SUV? Well, Washburn's energy-saving didn't end with Lent.
Within a few months of the '08 carbon fast, Washburn traded in the Dodge Durango he had been driving at 12 miles per gallon for a 45 to 47 mpg — on average — Honda Civic Hybrid. The Franciscan province paid for the car."In the Gospel, the core of Jesus' message was that the kingdom of God is at hand. So we are stewards of that kingdom," Washburn said. "It's not just a good ecological approach; it's a good spiritual approach."