The ministry of earth-keeping

Peter Monkres

During the 4th of July weekend, my cycling odyssey brought me to a campground in Upstate New York. It was located on a scenic lake and all the sites with water and electricity were taken. The staff took me under their wing and offered me a place to set up my tent in a grassy overflow area. To my delight, they returned an hour later with a picnic table, grill and a beautifully butterflied chicken, which I roasted over hardwood coals to celebrate Independence Day. I deeply appreciated their hospitality.

During my stay, I noticed a number of “No Swimming” signs posted along the shoreline. At first, I thought they were meant to warn campers away from propellers and fishing lures. But I soon discovered that the swimming ban was meant to protect the unwary from toxic pollution. Not only people but their pets were warned to stay out of the water. Even so, many campers made the best of it by boating on the lake and catching big Northern. But, of course, eating them would be like seasoning your fillet with a little mercury or strychnine. Sheepishly, the locals told me how much they valued their local lake; but the state and city couldn’t afford to clean it up. After this admission, we all were silent and sad for a moment. Then, as if to say, “Oh well, what can you do?” we shrugged our shoulders and went about celebrating our holiday on the shore.

There are more and more natural places like this lake in America. The land, water and air are in need of healing but there’s no public money available. Even worse, the recent disaster on the Gulf reminds us that many corporations are willing to compromise environmental protection in order to maximize profit. Sadly, the behavior of BP is not an anomaly, merely the most egregious example of earth-exploitation.

The State of West Virginia currently is suing the Environmental Protection Agency to remove a prohibition on “mountaintop removal”—a mining technique that grinds up entire mountains to extract coal. In Pennsylvania, energy companies that own mineral rights are invading family farms and engaging in a drilling technique called “fracking.” They pump a witch’s brew of high pressure water and chemicals into the ground to break up sub-surface rock and extract natural gas and in the process are contaminating wells. Residents are forced to use bottled drinking water. But, the companies say, in their most inhumane way, “There is no scientific evidence that our drilling practices have poisoned wells.”

A local resident was asked what she would like to say to the executives of mining company accused of polluting her well with arsenic that flows from a tailing pond in Little Blue Run. She replied, “I’d like to invite them to come to my home and offer them a drink of water from my tap. I wonder if they’d drink it.”

TheArctic is, in many ways, our bellwether for the environmental crisis. We all know about the melting of the polar ice cap and vulnerability of the polar bear. Recently, scientists reported yet another warning sign—a rare mass migration of walrus. Between ten to twenty thousand, mainly mothers and calves, fled from ice floes to dry land along the Alaskan coast. Scientists are warning that “unless we dramatically reduce our greenhouse emissions, the walrus is on a trajectory to extinction.”

Thisis the future we have to look forward to if we follow the global warming deniers and those who chant “Drill Baby, Drill.” But there is another choice. We Christians can champion a spiritual renewal movement that inspires people to live more simply and sustainably. We can be earth-keepers rather than earth exploiters and fulfill our God given responsibility of stewardship. It’s clear that we are selling the future to pay for the present. Let’s transform this foolish strategy by funding the future of God’s creation—an interconnected marvel of shalom in which each part cares for and encourages the well-being of the other.

Each month a member of the Cook County Ministerium will offer Spiritual Reflections. For November, our contributor is the Reverend Peter R. Monkres of the First Congregational Church – United Church of Christ, Grand Marais, a Just Peace church.

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2010-11-13 digital edition

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