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Going green: the colour of peace


Dan Kehler, the Associate Pastor of Bergthaler Mennonite Church in Altona, biked 125km to Winnipeg in the pouring rain to attend Mennonite Church Canada’s 2008 Assembly/Summit.

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October 24, 2008
Deborah Froese

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — If you aren’t quite ready to “go green” to decrease your environmental footprint, would you consider going green for peace?

That’s what Dan Kehler is doing. The Associate Pastor of Bergthaler Mennonite Church in Altona says that society’s addiction to oil has made it a commodity that drives war. “I figure the less carbon I use, the less I participate in the economy of oil and the less I participate in the war that is currently going on in Iraq.”

Kehler credits a Mennonite Church Canada Learning Tour to Colombia in Feb. 2007 with raising his awareness about oil dependency. After returning from the trip, both he and his wife struggled to come to terms with the contrast between their comfortable Canadian lifestyle and the poverty and injustice they observed in Colombia, where people are routinely forced from their land or even murdered so that others can reap profits from natural resources such as oil.

“It [oil] further divides the poor and the rich, the hungry and the not hungry. It changes the entire landscape of humanity from one where we are called to live in harmony and close communion with the land to one where I don’t have to think twice about eating a banana from South America because oil is cheap enough to bring it here.” That banana, he points out, was commercially grown in an area where the land should really be used to grow food for the local community.

“I decided to consciously allow that to work at changing the way I do things,” Kehler says.

He began to leave the car at home as much as possible, even biking in the winter and using a bike trailer to buy groceries. The Kehlers still use their vehicle for family vacations or for visiting outside of town, but in an average week they spend less than $20 on fuel. Some weeks, the car never leaves the driveway.

In July, Kehler made a three-hour and forty minute bike ride to Winnipeg from Altona for Mennonite Church Canada’s Annual Assembly. It was pouring rain at the time.

Breaking free of the “oil addiction” can be daunting. In a rural congregation such as the one Kehler pastors, farmers depend upon the oil industry to fuel their equipment and to provide petroleum based chemicals for their fields.

“To ‘go green’ when you’re talking about someone’s livelihood is a lot harder than just leaving the car at home,” Kehler says.

Sometimes theological understanding can get in the way.“If this world is going to be destroyed and replaced with a new world, why would we worry about it?” he says. “But if we see greening as an act of peace-keeping, that is something we can get a hold of. Our call to peace is rooted in Anabaptism.”

In an email exchange he writes, “The whole gas-in-the-car talk…has caused us to look more closely at how we use energy in general.” Instead of turning on the air conditioner for the entire summer, the Kehlers chose to use it only on the hottest days – fewer than ten in total. They drew blinds to keep summer heat out and used a window box fan and the evening breeze to cool the house.

It’s late October and the Kehlers have not yet turned on their heat. This fall they have drawn from the bounty of their garden, baking and cooking more frequently and using stove heat to warm the house. “It has turned into a bit of a challenge now to see how long we can go without turning on the furnace,” Kehler writes.

They are looking at reducing their consumption in general. “As a family we have started the journey of understanding the depths of our consumerism. I suspect that it will have its setbacks and its successes, but it is one that our faith calls us to walk,” Kehler writes.

He is quick to admit that changes made by one person or family won’t make much difference from a global perspective. “The difference for me personally is that I believe I will be held accountable for what I choose to do, so to choose to come on the bike says that I’ve made a choice not to participate in the economy of oil.”