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

Reclaiming an Abundant Life
distributed 9/23/16 - ©2016

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Judith Rose of Alexandria, Minnesota. Her generous support helps make this publication possible.

Today's text comes from the Gospel of John, the tenth chapter, the tenth verse. (And fear not, my non-Christian friends, I'm not going to get too "churchy" about this!)

John is quoting Jesus; "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

Now, "abundant" is a tricky word, in any context. It is often taken to mean "more than enough", as in a farmer's celebration of abundant rainfall. But in this passage from John, the promise of Jesus is clearly about the quality of life, not the quantity of stuff.

I'm seeing some hopeful signs that our culture is waking up to the difference between this kind of abundance, as opposed to affluence and prosperity. I'm seeing indicators that folk are getting fed up with the mindset of more -- more money, more growth, more things -- and that they're claiming quality of life in a pushback against the demands of a commercialized society.

That's good news as we try to ratchet down our excessive environmental impacts. And it is good news spiritually, as we turn toward a more values-directed way of life.

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My secular text for the day is a story from the Denver Post, "Are Colorado's mountain towns too busy? Fifth consecutive record summer has people talking". Three paragraphs at the start of the lengthy report show the tension between competing goals and values.

With annual summer tourism business in the mountains surging anywhere from 4 percent to 14 percent for the past several years, the breakneck pace raises the question: Is there such a thing as too busy?

Ask the marketing people who measure their tourism-growing success by the soaring tax harvests for their towns, and get the same answer: Heck, no -- busy equals winning.

Ask locals who have seen summer crowding on their favorite trails and their restful offseasons dwindle from a few months to a few weeks, and hear the opposite response: Please turn off the tourist spigot. This community is about more than money.

One of the mountain residents quoted in the story is a newly-elected county commissioner from the resort town of Telluride. Speaking about the high cost of living in these communities, she said, "We have to work our butts off to make it work financially to live here but if we have to sacrifice our quality of life now, it's no longer worth it." She added, "this summer just felt like too much. Maybe it's time for a different discussion about what makes a successful mountain town."

What is "too much?" She listed these factors: "Businesses were unable to provide quality service. Workers are stressed out. There are public safety concerns when the [tourist] traffic is constantly circling town looking for a parking place."

Abundant life is more than a bustling economy. When high prices, crowding, trash and no time to relax pile up, the good life has gone away.

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There's a much more angry and vocal push-back going on -- in Colorado, across the US, and around the world. There's a rising cry about fossil fuel infrastructure crowding into our communities and our lives.

I know of several places just north of Denver where citizens are protesting fracking operations next door to schools. (Eco-Justice Ministries has joined a lawsuit trying to stop one of these planned well complexes, in a case with very strong environmental justice factors.) Residents are adamant that "abundant life" does not include the fumes, noise and traffic of an industrial operation placed in the middle of a neighborhood, or right beside a sports field. That's especially true when those most impacted get none of the economic benefits, and when they're cut off from decision-making processes.

Oil and gas pipelines are no longer seen as part of a prosperous world. Increasingly, those close by now see them as a danger to health, and a risk to clean air and water. The Dakota Access Pipeline, being protested so visibly by Native Americans in North Dakota, is also being resisted by farmers and ranchers all along the pipeline route, whose land has been taken by eminent domain for corporate interests.

No longer are people willing to tolerate trains loaded with explosive oil rolling through their cities, or sprawling new shipping terminals to load coal on ships, as the costs they must bear for progress and wealth.

There's a growing realization that "this community is about more than money", and that community life should not be sacrificed for unconstrained energy production. The good life, the abundant life, is very different from raw economic growth. The abundant life includes beauty, and relationships, and leisure, and joy, and ecological flourishing.

I find it hopeful that people are getting fed up with the demands of a world dominated by economic values. I find it hopeful that communities under assault from fossil fuel "development" are claiming the qualities that make for an abundant life, and rejecting a commodification that values only tax revenues and property rights.

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Three months ago, when I wrote about "The Good Life", I saw the desire for a rich quality of life as a problem for eco-justice change.

I have often made the statement that most people will not give up what they consider to be the good life, even if they are called on to do so for a very good cause. If getting to a world with a stable climate and a healthy biosphere means giving up comfort and independence, most people will consider it an unacceptable deprivation.

My point, back in June, was the need to re-define the good life, so that people can choose a different and better way of life, instead of feeling forced to give up what they value.

Today's texts -- about Colorado mountain towns and energy protests -- shows me that some of that re-definition is already going on. There's a reclaiming of human and community values that challenges the assumptions of a purely economic world.

People are saying that more cash flowing through a town's economy isn't the best measure of success. People are saying that more oil and gas flowing out of the ground isn't the best measure of community health.

Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." May we -- in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our voting decisions -- remember the rich and delightful qualities of the abundant life. May we reject and resist the trend toward a diminished way of life, one which sacrifices far too much health and joy for the sake of an unsustainable prosperity.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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