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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

How Then Shall We Pray?
distributed 3/23/01 - ©2001

The two parts of this week's note are closely related. Part II gives us a way to follow up on what is talked about in the first part. Read on ...

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There's a word that is spoken in almost every church, every Sunday, as we lift our prayers of petition. When the folk in the pew get a chance to voice what is in their hearts, the word comes up again and again. The word is "cancer."

We pray for the people who battle the disease, and who suffer through agonizing treatments. We pray for the families and friends whose lives are torn apart. We lift our prayers of hope for a cure.

But our prayers about cancer rarely venture in a different direction. We seldom say a word about the causes of this epidemic in our midst.

There are reasons for the way we pray, of course. The personal stories of the victims are immediate and heart-wrenching. We are stirred to compassion by clear-cut needs. It is all so painfully real that prayer comes naturally. The causes, though, are so much harder to pin down. Except for the lung cancer of smokers (and we don't want to stir up guilt and blame at such a difficult time!), identifying the causes of cancer gets into tricky statistical analysis and complicated biology.

The book, A Civil Action, tells a compelling story of how hard it is to trace the sources and effects of toxic chemicals. (The movie, unfortunately, does not go into depth on this critically important part of the legal battle.) That historically accurate story from Woburn, Mass., also helps us see how cancer is not just an issue for individuals and families; it strikes whole communities.

Cancer in communities is not an isolated event. This week's news told of a new study by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. A growing number of schools in the U.S. are being built on abandoned dumps or too close to polluting factories, placing children's health at risk. The report focuses on case studies of 15 schools built on risky sites, in cities ranging from Houston, Texas, to Providence, R.I. It also calls attention to the health problems associated with pesticide-spraying near schools.

Too often, cancer does not just happen. People are GIVEN cancer by the polluted, poisoned environment we have created. Whether from smoke (first-hand or second-hand), agricultural chemicals, toxic wastes, arsenic in the water, or countless other sources, there is a cause for the cancers. Our free-wheeling use of chemicals has a steep cost in human life -- and the life and health of other species, too.

Cancer is an eco-justice issue. It shows how we are all part of a fragile global environment, and it raises profound questions about justice. Who gets rich and who pays the cost? How is our environment being exploited for short-term, poorly-understood human advantage? Cancer teaches us that our lives are not only shaped by our personal choices, but also by broader institutions and forces.

Listen to the prayers this Sunday. And give voice to a prayer about the causes of cancer.

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Put a blank tape in the VCR on Monday evening!

That's when PBS will air Trade Secrets: A Moyers Report. Bill Moyers investigates the chemical industry and its hidden toxic legacy.

The program is based on interviews with historians, scientists and physicians, and on a massive uncovered archive of secret industry documents that Moyers and producer Sherry Jones say rivals the now legendary "Tobacco Papers" for sheer, appalling shock value. What those papers apparently reveal is an industry that has put our health and safety at very dangerous risk and marshalled powerful forces in a largely successful effort to hide the truth at any cost.

In Denver, the show will be broadcast on KRMA, channel 6, at 8:00 PM. In other parts of the country, as they say, "be sure to check your local listings."

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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