Is your carbon footprint the only mark you’re going to leave behind . . .

. . . or will you walk humbly and leave Christ’s footprints in the world? asks Michele Morrison

Can you name the Seven Deadly Sins? I confess I had to look them up. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Good description of modern society don’t you think?

But back in March, Bishop Girotti of the Vatican shrugged them off in favour of seven modern ‘social sins’. Top of the list? Environmental pollution.

In the 21st century, one of the most heinous crimes (or sins?) is to carry on with a cavalier consumption of finite resources whilst emitting noxious poisons which are killing the planet. Google ‘carbon footprint’ and thousands of sites queue up for inspection, many offering to help you calculate your individual footprint and then to ‘trade’ its negative impact, (get out your credit card), in order to offset the damage your individual lifestyle is doing to the world.

But is your carbon footprint the only mark you’re going to leave behind? Recently, on holiday in the Grand Canyon, we saw signs advising that nearby were fossilised dinosaur footprints. The gigantic beasts have gone, but their footprints prove that in the mists of time they trod the earth in southwestern USA. Murderers may leave behind footprints which implicate them in a crime scene. My dog’s footprints often reveal she has tiptoed through the tulips where she ought not to have been.

Five toes and a sole are not really this article’s focus, but the way we live our lives leaves a metaphorical footprint on other people. When we feel we have been ground down and hurt by someone, for instance, our natural reaction is to want to leave our footprint on the heart of the one who hurt us – “One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you!”

As Christians, though, we are challenged to leave not a retaliatory footprint on the hearts of others, (nor a giant carbon footprint!), but the footprint of Jesus Christ.  So what does it look like? (Nothing to do with length of second toe or height of arch – or amount of CO2 given off!)

If we are living lives obedient to Jesus, our actions and words should imprint God’s grace and mercy on the hearts of those with whom we mix. They should trace a trail of selflessness, sacrifice, and service, startling to observe in our self-absorbed society. They should witness to our own transformed lives and effect change in the lives we touch. Our responses to people, issues and events should often run counter to general public opinion, challenging others to ask questions and ultimately, to meet Jesus themselves.

Whew, tall order, eh? How do we do it?

Developing a Christ-shaped footprint begins with nurturing a living relationship with the Lord. In Rob Bell’s Nooma DVD on anger, he describes the natural human condition as one in which our spirits can become seething hotbeds of resentments, fears and pains primed to erupt with volcanic fury. Rage – wrath – a deadly sin rears its ugly head. One only needs to commute on grid-locked motorways or in crowded undergrounds to see daily examples of people whose anger spews out in aggression or even violence.

In a high-tech world where computers crash and take with them all our documents or e-mail addresses, where televisions require a book of directions just to be switched on, where telephones are answered by recorded messages, rage is a real temptation for us all.

How do we resist and maintain peace and calm in the midst of stress and tension? After all, we, too, are only human. Ah, but no. Not only human, but fully human, indwelt by the powerful Holy Spirit. As we allow Jesus to reign in our lives by the Spirit’s power, as we spend time with him, we develop not just his footprints, but his character attributes (Galations 5) and his mind. (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Recently, I read that various forms of meditation are available on the NHS. I was saddened (though not surprised) to note that Christian meditation is not one of them. It is an indictment of Christians, not of the NHS, that this is so, because we have distanced ourselves from meditation, fearing that it smacks of New Age. But meditation is a means of renewal and refreshment, of adjusting our vision to that of the Lord and being transformed by him. Even if we haven’t time for daily meditation, it is critical to the shape of our footprint that we ring-fence our quiet time. We need to feed on the Word and presence of God if we are to leave a godly impact on the lives of others.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “One must care about a world one will not see.”  We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We love God; therefore we love our sisters and brothers (1 John 4:20) and the world he created.

Many environmentalists love nature for its intrinsic beauty and want to save the world for its own sake. Christians love nature because it is a reflection of God’s own breath-taking creativity and power, through which we want to tiptoe reverently without leaving a trail of destruction in our wake.

So, for God’s sake, literally, we want to reduce our carbon footprint while increasing our Christ-shaped footprint – not just in terms of environmental care but, more importantly, in terms of relationships both personal and between nations. We want to nurture wholeness and healing, reconciliation and love, and declare truth, justice and mercy. We want others to look at us, and see Jesus.

We cannot walk the earth without leaving footprints. We cannot interact with others without leaving a mark. So how do you measure up? Are you striding through others’ lives in hard-heeled boots, or stepping softly in Christ’s wake?

If, like me, you stand ashamed and guilty, then take heart: what a relief it is to know that unlike your carbon footprint, offsetting your negative spiritual footprint does not require your credit card, nor does it require a tedious application of appropriate penances to be paid for each failure (the Medieval church’s response to the Seven Deadly Sins). Indeed, the price has been paid for every sin. It is to the Cross we can go with penitent hearts, and then stand up and step out to try again.

Through daily prayer, meditation, and Bible study, we are all equipped to leave the gracious, merciful footprint of Christ on the world we inhabit. So hang out with God, and walk humbly with him, and the footprints you leave behind will be the lives saved for eternity by Jesus working through you. They will easily outlast those of the dinosaurs.

Calculate your spiritual footprint

1. When you pass a homeless boy on the street, begging, do you:
a. Assure him you’re praying for him
b. Give him a cup of soup and pray with him
2. When friends excitedly share a morsel of salacious gossip, do you:
a. Listen carefully and then add what you’ve heard
b. Excuse yourself from their company
3. When your call for help to the internet service provider is routed to an advisor in Delhi, do you:
a. Explode angrily, demanding to speak to someone who speaks proper English
b. Politely request him/her to repeat when their accent obscures their meaning
4. When you distribute invitations to a neighbourhood barbecue, do you:
a. Calculate that you’ll be short of a chair so can’t invite the neighbourhood grouch
b. Include the curmudgeonly old man despite his reputation
5. When choosing food for the church food bank, do you:
a. Buy the cheapest products you can find
b. Choose a few special things for the recipients to enjoy
6. When you hear the news, do you:
a. Find yourself unmoved by frequent pitiful stories
b. Find yourself on your knees before God crying out for others
7. When a friend expresses despair over the state of the world, do you
a. Agree with her
b. Share the reason for your hope for the future: Jesus
8. At the end of a trying day, do you greet your family with:
a. A list of the day’s woes
b. A smile