Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Going Postal
distributed 2/4/05 - ©2005

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Daniel Ziskin, the executive director of Jews of the Earth in Boulder, Colorado. We deeply appreciate Daniel as a colleague the faith-based environmental movement. His generous support helps make this publication possible.

The bulk mail department of the regional post office was fairly quiet last December when I took in our big fundraising appeal. There was time for some conversation with the mail clerk as he processed my mailing -- checking all the details on the paperwork, weighing envelopes, and confirming that my letter met the requirements for non-profit bulk mail.

As he examined the information on his computer terminal for our postal permit, the unusual name of our agency caught his eye, and he asked, "Eco-justice? What's that?"

I started into Stock Response #5d (the short one designed for non-church strangers), and told him that social justice and ecological sustainability are intertwined. I shared the one-sentence definition of "the well-being of all humanity on a thriving earth." I was starting into my third sentence (about our work with churches) when he interrupted me.

"Do you deal with animals?" There was an edge to the postal worker's voice.

Sweat broke out on my back. Is this mild-mannered fellow a hunter who feels like his rights are being trampled by eco-freaks? And the real question -- will he take it out on me if he thinks I'm one of "them"? How do I answer?

"Well," I hedged, "it isn't a central part of what we do, but, yeah -- we talk about caring for all of God's creation, and that includes animals."

That's when his pent-up emotion came out.

"Did you see what they're doing out there? Just outside the fence where that new shopping center is going in? That used to be a big prairie dog colony. A few of us used to love to sit on the loading dock during our lunch break and watch those little guys. And now the bulldozers are out there, just covering them up."

He was standing with a stack of my letters in his hand, not moving. This wasn't idle chatter while he did his job. In his voice and in his eyes there was a wash of different emotions -- anger, grief, helplessness. His work could wait while he talked to me.

A beloved part of his world was being destroyed. But it wasn't just his own sense of loss that he communicated. He was angry that the rodents next door were being buried alive.

We talked for a few minutes more as he sent my letters on their way. I told him about some folk that I know who work to save prairie dog habitat, and to relocate the animals instead of having them bulldozed. And we talked a bit about some of the other tragedies that we so often see as humans reshape the Earth. It was a somber conversation.

As I drove away from the post office, I looked at the construction project with fresh eyes. I saw more than big yellow machines, belching smoke and shifting huge piles of dirt. I had become aware of the destruction of a vibrant habitat, the snuffing of animal life, and of the impact those changes were having on a batch of postal workers -- good and caring people who were carrying a profound sense of the brokenness of their community.

+     +     +     +     +

Those few moments at the post office were emotionally powerful. But there's a larger point that I find illustrated in that event, a message about ministry and pastoral care.

In the echoing, anonymous back rooms of the regional mail center, a clerk took the chance of opening up to a stranger. He interrupted me, because his question was so urgent, so important -- do you care about animals?

He'd been carrying a heavy emotional burden. But other than his lunch-time friends, most of the people he encountered each day were oblivious to the situation, or uncaring about the loss. So when he found somebody on the other side of the counter who might care, he grabbed the opportunity to share his feelings.

I wonder -- how many others around us carry hurt, grief, anger, alienation, helplessness -- all triggered by their experiences of the destruction of God's creation? There are so many places where that painful reality can come upon us. A stark new subdivision replaces an open field that used to grace your day with spacious views and glimpses of wildlife. Or you are ambushed with a disturbing news report about expanding deforestation in the Amazon, or an oil spill that fouls the ocean. It can come from the sudden hurt when chainsaws level a grove of trees, or it can be found in the constant ache that that is carried by those with an awareness of accelerating global warming.

In our churches, do we let it be known that we understand and that we care about those sorts of hurts? Do we provide a setting where the often-hidden grief and anger can be shared? Do we offer a place of healing for those hurting people, and do we offer a place where shared hurts can energize people to work for the healing of the planet?

The clerk discerned such an opportunity from a two sentence definition of "eco-justice." It doesn't take much, but it does take an opening to show that it is safe to talk about such things. Many of our church members need a hint of permission before they will speak up.

Pastors can provide an opening in a sermon illustration, children's story, prayer concern, or a newsletter article. We can let it be known that deep feelings about God's creation -- whether close to home or in the broad sweep of nature, whether feelings of pain in the face of destruction or joy in the midst of beauty-- are understood and accepted.

Doing so may open new doors for pastoral care. Doing so may build new community for transformation and healing. Can you open that sort of door at your church?

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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