Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Snow Day!
distributed 2/3/12 - ©2012

Snow day!

Denver -- my home town -- has picked up about a foot of snow in the last 12 hours, and we may get an additional 6-10 inches through the day. Schools announced their closing last night, prompting the cheers of kids and the distress of parents. Many businesses are shuttered, countless meetings and events are cancelled, and travel of all kinds is snarled.

I'm writing this week's Eco-Justice Notes from home, so my musings -- about a major storm being an occasion to break away from our normal routines and perspectives -- does have a self-referential aspect. Hmmm.

A special weather-related note to our Denver-area friends:
Rev. Jim Deming, the minister for environmental justice of the national United Church of Christ was scheduled to be here this weekend for a variety of events, including a meeting on Monday morning that Eco-Justice Ministries was co-sponsoring. Jim's trip has been canceled because of the storm, so our session with him on Monday will not be held.

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There was a time when people all knew that the natural world was powerful, and that weather would often shape human activities. In fact, that has been the universal human condition until very recently.

  • Agriculture was almost completely dependent on timely and moderate precipitation. Crops frequently were devastated by drought or too much moisture.
  • Travel was on unpaved roads and footpaths, not superhighways or rails. Flying above and around storms was a wild dream.
  • Heat and cold were intense personal experiences. Only small sections in homes would be warmed in the winter, and even in those spaces 60 degrees would have been considered toasty. There was no relief from summer heat and humidity.

In today's technological, urban world, we easily forget those lessons. We start to think that we are in charge, all the time.

  • Crops are grown with irrigation that draws on deep wells and long-distance diversions. Toxic chemicals hold pests at bay. Global shipping networks provide reliable food supplies even in the face of localized failures. An amazing number of people really don't know that their food comes from farms.
  • We confidently make travel plans that previous generations would have considered outlandish, and then feel miffed if nature gets in the way of an on-time arrival.
  • Buildings are so climate controlled that our wardrobes may not mesh with the seasons. Sweaters are as common to deal with overly air conditioned summer days as they are for winter chill.

Our changed relationship with the weather is a powerful part of our culture's wide-spread disconnect from the natural world. Many of our friends and neighbors -- indeed, many of us -- don't understand how ecological systems work, and how much we depend on them. Our lives are so predictable and comfortable that we are oblivious to what is going on around us.

It takes a major snowstorm, or a hurricane, or an extended drought to open our eyes to the truth about God's creation. We are part of creation. We do not stand outside of it. We do not control it. Countless human generations knew that as a condition of their daily survival. Those who were careless or arrogant about nature suffered severe consequences, and they tended to remove themselves from the gene pool. We have forgotten that truth, and insulated ourselves from the consequences.

More than half of the people in the US are now unconcerned about the crisis of climate change. Part of that apathy is because they don't have any gut feeling at all about why global warming would cause a problem personally or for our society. Weather changes are a matter of conversation, or perhaps a temporary inconvenience. Rarely do we have a sense of the way heat and cold, rain and drought influence our lives and our livelihood.

We cannot make responsible decisions about our lives and about the direction of our society if we are ignorant and uncaring about nature. There is a desperate need for good environmental education in our schools and communities. (There are many agencies and trained educators who are eager to provide those lessons in Colorado, and across North America. I encourage you to support them, take part in their programs, and advocate for their good work!)

Our churches need to return often to themes about our place and purpose in creation. We have valuable and faithful teachings about humility, gratitude and relationships which connect us with the workings of the world. Religious communities can affirm the integrity and worth of all parts of creation, and help guide us into a renewed awareness of how closely we are tied to weather, climate and the complex web of life.

Today's blizzard in Colorado is a startling reminder that we're really not in control all the time. A "snow day" helps put things in context, and remind us of truths that we forget at our own peril.

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Five years ago, a major blizzard hit Denver just before Christmas. My Notes on that occasion pondered questions of the economic disparities that are revealed and accentuated by that sort of storm.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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