Magazine article Cross Currents

Christianity and Environmental Justice (1)

Magazine article Cross Currents

Christianity and Environmental Justice (1)

Article excerpt


Each person's personal experience brings us here together today. Let me say a little bit about mine. I grew up in Colorado, my father a uranium geologist. During the uranium boom, it is fair to say that people did not understand the effects of radiation; we played in mine tailings brought from the mine to our sandbox. During my teen years, I worked with migrant workers, made trips to the Navajo reservation in Arizona and felt deeply the beauty of the land in the West. In my experience, God was in those mountains! At the same time, a different kind of love of urban areas brought me to Barnard in 1968; meeting Union Theological Seminary (UTS) chaplains at Columbia--bright, concerned with social justice, ultimately brought me to UTS. Following ordination, I developed an ecumenical ministry to the elderly in New York City, focused on work in welfare hotels on the upper Westside. But my anguish about environmental crises compelled me to pursue an M.A. in Environmental studies at New York University. The great experience of working at CODEL (Coordination in Development), a Christian ecumenical agency supporting small-scale environmentally sustainable development projects around the world, brings me to a quote from Dr. Cornel West in the wonderful public course held at Union this spring, "Christianity and the U.S. Crisis": "Issues must be felt! Think critically; certain conflicts need to be felt to discern causes but also felt to think that it is worthwhile to struggle to change them."

I began to feel the issues at CODEL, which over forty years supported one thousand small-scale projects--organic farming, women's literacy, micro-enterprise, and organic forestry through funds from Lutheran World Relief (LWR), United Church Board for World Ministries, Maryknoll Sisters, and Heifer Project Intl. among other Christian groups. At one village in India, we saw groups of men standing around an excellent check dam, in which water collected so that three crops instead of one could be grown in a year. This looked like an environmental success, but apparently it was not a social justice one for the women, who were still unfortunately standing off in a circle, not directly involved at least at that public moment. I saw a farm in Uganda, in an area devastated by AIDS, with orphaned children sitting along the dusty street corners; yet this family farm, given one cow from LWR and Heifer Project, was flourishing; there was a biogas unit run by the farms' waste; a huge kitchen garden with melons the size of pumpkins; and the female head of the family farm even sold melon wine. A perfect image of the peaceable kingdom, a family living well on the land, a model farm.

The secrets of these successes were not hard to see and partly describe: they were small-scale, grassroots enterprises, with the health of the communities and of the soil being paramount. Whatever profits were made were returned to the community, to communities intact enough to write proposals for and receive community development funds.

Out of this experience I coauthored with Don Kill, a Columbian priest from the Philippines, a book, Ecological Healing: A Christian Vision, which incorporates a description of what can be right or wrong from the standpoint of justice, community life, and the environment. As part of our work toward rightness, we imagined two prayers for the graduation of Inday (an imagined student in the Philippines) from agricultural school, one a Prayer of the Earth Community and the second a Prayer of the Modern World.

Prayer of the earth community

  We thank you God, our nurturing Mother on Earth, for the many
  opportunities we have to enhance the Earth community today. We
  are grateful for Inday's ability to listen to and to learn
  from all things that interact to nurture the fertility of the
  soil and community. We pray that she may continue to live in
  harmony with the natural world. Bless her family, whose
  concern for the soil has taught her the wisdom of living
  lightly on the Earth. … 
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