Monday, February 14, 2011

How Do We Love?

by Donna L. Watkins

Many times people, sadly, especially Christians, minimize efforts to save the earth or that loving the earth has anything to do with loving God.  

Psalm 140:12 says, "I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor." 

God also says in Proverbs 29:7 that "The righteous know the rights of the poor; the wicked have no such understanding."

"Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker" (Proverbs 14:31).

© 2009 Donna L. Watkins - Hampton National
Historic Site - Towson, MD
Most of us in America don't realize the plight of the poor around the world and how it connects to the earth.  The poor always live on the margins of God's creation.

Culturally it used to be a shared Christian value to live in moderation, avoiding excess and sharing our resources with those less fortunate.

Now under the influence of advertising we store our "riches" in homes with twice as much space as is being used for anything other than to store more stuff.  The list goes on, but you can paint your own picture similar to the guy in Luke 12 who tore down his current barns and built new ones big enough to hold all he was being blessed with.

Dump sites aren't established in wealthy areas, toxins aren't dumped in lakes of resort communities, and death from environmental injustices (such as mountaintop mining) can't be fought by the poor, such as Appalachian people affected by it. Some three million pounds of explosives are detonated each day in West Virginia for coal mining, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and the process shears up to 800 feet of elevation off each mountain peak. (Reference: Mountaintop Mining)

One lady, Judy Bonds, stayed to fight the battle of mountaintop mining, but in the process of the fight for over a decade, Judy died of lung cancer. She was the 9th generation of her family to reside in Marfork Hollow in West Virginia.  Her inspiration and motivation for the fight was her grandson who was 7 years old when she began.

© 2007 Donna L. Watkins - Ivy Creek Preserve Barn
Charlottesville, VA
There are hundreds of thousands of such stories around the world and in our own nation. Unless we, who are supposed to love, as God's representatives "execute justice for the poor" it will all go unnoticed because large corporations wield a lot of power in a consumeristic society.

Which brings me to excerpts from an article by Gordon Aeshliman, President of Target Earth International, that is titled, "Loving the Earth Is Loving the Poor."

Get your mind to a quiet place removed from simply scanning and rushing on to the next email or website ... ponder these thoughts deeply seeking what God is speaking to you personally. Remember the compassion that Jesus had as he walked among the poor and lowly of the earth in His time.

From Gordon:
...our modern lifestyle of consumption puts a heavy burden on the earth.... What that means is we are living outside the capability of our own land to support us. Even worse, we are taking from others to bolster our way of life. We go to another's valley, well, river, forest, mine, and even sky to supply our high level of consumption. Our high level of consumption also means a high level of waste—from all the effluence from manufacturing and packaging to the toys that last for barely a year and the clothes that quickly go out of fashion....

And here's the harsh reality for the poor: it's usually their resources we are capturing to support our lifestyle, and their land, rivers, and lakes where we are dumping our waste....

In the wealthy West we live what is called a "phantom" lifestyle. Rather than relying on the earth around us, we almost invisibly (like a phantom) rely on the earth of others. If we run out of vegetables, we import them from another country. If we need more electricity, we import it from another state or river or region. The same is true for water, minerals, fruit, and meat. 

If we need more petroleum, we import it from abroad. Very often we lose our innocence in the capturing of those resources. We take land that belongs to another group of people; we invade countries; we destroy rain forests. The true cost of living the modern lifestyle is not measured by what we pay at the cash register. Rather, it is measured by what we have done to other people's rivers, valleys, oceans, and land. And, more precisely, what we have done to the poor....

The cultural preoccupation with wealth and its temporal benefits is not founded in the faith tradition. Indeed, that preoccupation is as dangerous to our spirituality as it is to the bodies of the poor. It certainly is not in sync with the character and call of the Creator. Our wholesale destruction of God's creation in the pursuit of our self-defined good life is certainly a curious contrast to the biblical notion of the character of Christians—temperate, self-controlled, compassionate, satisfied, not coveting, not stealing, not harming those who have little....

Becoming free of the "American dream" is no easy task, but it can happen on many levels. The first thing to do is to evaluate our personal consumption and to become free of the idea that our worth and fulfilment are wrapped up in the pursuit of "stuff" and status symbols. (It's hard to imagine Jesus preaching a life of getting all the goods we want or of seeking the approval of the cultural establishment.) 

The less we consume, the less we are taking from the earth of the poor, from the rivers of the poor, from the future of the poor. The less we consume, the less garbage we are dumping into the rivers and backyards of the poor. Developing an ethic of consumption that meets our needs while also defending God's creation and delivering justice for the poor is the frontline biblical work for Christians today.

We are promised that one day there will be no more tears. God will wipe them all away. We are promised a new heaven and a new earth. In this new heaven and earth there will be no more pain (Revelation 21:1-4). That's a world without thirst, without hunger. But that day will not be our doing. What we have is now. And so we reverently keep God's earth. And we seek justice for the poor of God's earth. Nothing less suits our faith, nothing less honors the Creator. And in today's modern world, nothing less makes sense.

...If it's true that to hurt the earth is to hurt the poor, it is also true that being kind to the earth is being kind to the poor. Every time we save another acre of rain forest, clean up another river, recycle another bottle, say no to another frivolous purchase, we are serving God's creation and we are serving the poor.

How innocent is a glass of orange juice?  Gordon tells a story behind some of the orange juice we consume in America. While in Belize on a mission trip, the team was confronted with a lot of intestinal illnesses and rashes affecting Mayan kids in a small village.  These Mayans had lived in the rain forest for thousands of years, but had been kicked out in the early 1990's when their ancestral land was sold to a large orange producer.  (Mayans never kept title to land; they didn't believe you could personally own it).  So they were forced to move some place else which happened to be downstream from the original land.

While investigating the source of the illnesses, they discovered toxins in the river they were bathing and drinking from.  The rain forest that was purchased was cleared and orange trees were put in with pesticides and fungicides leeching into the river, so they were being poisoned by the cultivation of the crops.  

Keep in mind that the many farming chemicals that have been banned in the U.S. are not banned around the world, so it's easy for corporations to find a place where they can use them ... and then import the products produced by them back into the U.S. food supply.  

This was the case of the orange concentrate produced in Belize to make some of the orange juice we drink.  Isn't it ironic that even though America "gets away with something" we still suffer from the consequences.  The toxins won't show immediate symptoms as with the Mayan children since the source is less concentrated, but we are no longer ignorant about the effects of pesticides.

The United States constitutes roughly 4% of the global population, but consumes almost 1/3 of all the world's resources. This is to support our high expectations and demands for stuff. That means we're not using up our own land and resources, we are taking away resources of other poor nations and individual people.

In the United States, close to 85% of all toxic landfills are in neighborhoods comprised of people of lower economic means and people of color. Native American reservations often agree to accept landfill waste as a means to increase income, but sometimes with life-threatening consequences. Consider Dawn Mining Company who bypassed federal requirements by buying land from the Spokane Indians in Washington State to mine uranium and produce radioactive waste pits.

If you have an interest in learning more about social justice, this website provides a Short Course in Environmental Ethics.

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2 comments:

PhoenixPhire said...

Donna, this is great. Your very first sentence caught me up in a tremendous way. God placed the earth and all that is on it into the care of mankind.

Are we not taught in the Bible that we are to follow in the footsteps of our Lord? Is not our goal as Christians to become more like Him each and every moment of every day?

The Bible is full of scripture, many of them in Psalms, in which we learn that God Himself is and always will be the great master of the earth and all that is on it. They show His continuous care for His creations, all of them. For He is ever mindful of them.

Here are just a few:

Matthew 10:29

Matthew 6:25-34

Psalms 65:9-13

Psalms 104:10-18

Psalms 147:8-9

Psalms 148:1-14

Linda Maendel said...

Really enjoyed this insightful article!

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