Today I shoveled the neighbors’ driveway. Not because they’re disabled (they’re not), or because I’m especially good or kind (I’m average kind), but because I believe in snow shovels. Every time I hear the roar of a snowblower or smell the gasoline drifting across the still earth, the irony makes me cringe. Our fossil-fuel solutions to a snowy inconvenience is, after all, only going to contribute to a more extreme snow next time around. Solving climate with climate change makes no sense to me.
There are several families in our congregation who refuse to buy snowblowers. The reasoning is that this is the simple life—like our theological cousins, the Amish, the question these families have asked themselves is, “Will this new technology help or hurt our relationships with each other and with God?” Snowblowers don’t build relationships, as thoughtful as it is when the neighbors blow my sidewalk. In fact, the noise and the speed of the clunky thing rarely gives me even less opportunity to thank them. On some winter mornings, I’ve seen a half dozen neighbors out, each with their own snowblower, never speaking to each other. What an embodiment of excess and private ownership, for each of us to own our own machine to clear our own 10 feet of sidewalk!
Of course, the church owns a snowblower. Of course, I am grateful when, in the sleety, heavy snow of the weekend, my co-pastor cleared my driveway. Of course, a snowblower is convenient. But do I believe in it? Is it a best practice of discipleship? Do I believe it creates more good in the world? Not for a second.
As a church, we are in the business of relationship-building. Our congregation owns half a block, two driveways, and a parking lot. Wouldn’t we be better off to ask around, to recruit a couple of teenagers to shovel our walk when it snows? Wouldn’t it be good stewardship to invite people into our space, to pay teenagers for their time when it is harder than ever for them to find entry-level jobs and college is more expensive than ever? Wouldn’t it be missional for us to recruit one of the homeless men we feed every other month to shovel our walk? Wouldn’t it be revolutionary? I believe that every thing, in every change of season, there is an opportunity for church to be radical. How odd that using a shovel is something radical.
The point of snow, I think, the reason God created it, is the same reason that it gets so hot and lethargically humid in equatorial states and the residents take daily siestas. The point of snow is to slow down. To treat creation not as an inconvenience but as a Sabbath reminder: did you Sabbath this week? The snow also forces us, in our insulated homes, outside. It has been repeatedly proven that our mental health improves when we spend time outside, but I’m hardly out for longer than the walk to my car in the winter—unless it snows. Why rush the thing that nourishes us?
Snow is not an inconvenience. Well, it is an inconvenience at times but isn’t it, in a way, inconvenient to be Christian? Isn’t it inconvenient to be kind and altruistic and give away your money and your time as if you had eternity to spare? Inconvenience is not an ethical guideline. Snow may be inconvenient, but it’s also quiet, contemplative, reflective. Aren’t those Christian values, too? To shovel is a faithful act.
Am I nitpicking? I thought the Christian task is to approach each part of your day as an opportunity for prayer, praise, and relationship. To view inconveniences and intrusions as invitations to discipleship. If we can’t master the small tasks—the shoveling of snow—how will we ever master the larger challenges of stewardship and discipleship?
I believe in God. I believe in goodness. And so I believe in snow shovels.
Maybe next time I’ll shovel the whole block.