environmental justice

Love and Dirt and Dust

By Brian Carr

Human beings have a profound connection to dirt and dust.

What a strange concept for most of us. We as humans often have a higher view of ourselves that to be related to the dirt and dust around us. If you found dirt and dust in your home, wouldn’t you clean it up? We appreciate clean. 

And yet our history and creation are so dirty

From a cosmological and scientific point of view, we are literally made from dust. Specifically, from the dust of stars. It is in stars that the elements needed to sustain life are created, and when these stars explode, they release these elements into the universe. It is through this action that Earth received the elements necessary to sustain life. “For you are dust,” so says both science and Genesis 3:19.

From a theological point of view, the creation story from Genesis 2 tells us that God created us from dirt and clay. The first human, ādām, translates as “earthling” or “groundling” and was made from the ădāmāh, which translates as “earth” or “ground.” The ‘ādām from the ădāmāh. The groundling from the ground. 

We are intimately tied to the ground; to the dirt and earth. 

Humans oftentimes have a top-down theology of themselves. We were made in the image of God and so we are as close to God as any created thing can be. Everything else is below us. We came from above and were then placed on this earth. 

But in reality, we are a ground-up species. We were created from the ground. We are made of dirt and dust. We came up from the earth along with all of creation. We are not above everything else, but among and with it.

We come from humble beginnings.

And yet we’ve brought ourselves to prideful and dangerous heights. 

In no way am I trying to devalue how important it is to be a human. Every person has immense value and worth, and we were indeed created in God’s image. But this does not make us gods. It does not make us angels. It does not place us on God’s divine council. 

We must realize that we are a part of this earth. We were created in the image of God so that we could work with creation, to work with each other. We were created for all of creation. We can only truly realize this if we recognize our shared and humble beginnings. 

We have placed ourselves above the rest of creation. We have decided that we have the right to use and abuse nature and animals and resources. This power hungry concept has also led us to believe that we have the right to use and abuse each other. We forget that we have all come from the same humble material. Humans, trees, animals, flowers – all from dirt and dust. 

We need to, literally, ground ourselves. 

Barbara Brown Taylor once said “My skin is happy on the black dirt, which speaks a language my bones understand.”

There is a deep connection with the earth below our feet. Something profound happens when we run our hands through the soil. We are connecting to the very dirt that we were created from. God ran her hands through the dirt in order to form us, and so we find connection to God when we touch this same dirt. 

We also find connection to each other, through dirt and through God. 

Learn to love the dirt, because as a wise prophet once said, “Life’s a garden. Dig it.”

"Almost Heaven... West Virginia"

By Rev. Mindi

I am a fifth generation ordained American Baptist pastor. My grandfather, his brothers, my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were all Baptist ministers in West Virginia.  Though I’ve only been to the state a handful of times over the years, there are certain things that stick out in my mind. Getting carsick on the winding back roads in the mountains. The blue sky. The high bridges over the deep rivers cutting through this Appalachian state. The number of churches.  The green rolling fields. Now, all those generations before me are buried back in West Virginia. And the mountains—my God, the mountains. While I grew up in Alaska with Denali practically in my backyard, the mountains of West Virginia, much, much older—both geologically speaking and in my connection with them.

Coal is part of West Virginia.  Outside of my extended family, just about everyone I have known in West Virginia worked in a coal mine or for a coal company or had a family member who did so. Many of the members of my family’s churches were workers in the coal mines or worked for the coal companies in some way. They provide most of the jobs there. Coal provides, but coal takes away. Just do a quick Google search for Coal Mining in West Virginia and these are the photos that come up. Entire mountains have been taken down by the coal mines.  And of course, for years the coal companies paid their workers in script that could only be used at the company store.  I know of at least one story in my family that my grandfather got into trouble for trying to help miners organize within his church.

So this latest tragedy—300,000 people now without access to water, having to purchase bottled water or have it sent in from the National Guard—has me fuming. It’s not only not drinkable, but residents have been advised not to bathe in it, brush their teeth in it—basically, they should not touch it.

West Virginia is Baptist Country. My great-great-grandfather was the Director of Religious Education for the West Virginia Baptist Convention for over thirty years in the early 1900's, my great-grandfather was president of the state convention in 1948. The river is the place you go in your white robes to be baptized as a believer by immersion.  I can’t sing “Shall We Gather At The River?” without thinking of the cool waters pouring down from the Appalachians.

Water is the symbol of our life as Christians. We celebrated the Baptism of the Lord last Sunday (if you follow the Revised Common Lectionary), where Jesus goes to John at the River Jordan to be baptized.  Right now, you cannot get baptized in much of West Virginia. You cannot gather at the river because we’ve allowed it to be poisoned.

The company that stored the chemicals was never inspected or tested because it only stored the chemicals, it didn’t create them, so therefore they were exempt from the Department of Environmental Protection regulations.  And because of so little oversight and the loopholes, scientists don’t even know what exactly was leaked, how bad it is for us and other creatures, or what the long-term damage might be. Scary.

So what is our call as Christians?

We need to work on strengthening environmental protections and regulations. Look into your own state’s environmental protections, call your legislators and ask what needs to be done to make sure this doesn’t happen elsewhere. Take up the call for environmental justice in your church because environmental justice affects all of us. This is not something that can afford to be a liberal issue, this must be an issue of health and safety for all of us and for God’s Green Earth. 

Pray for the people of West Virginia. If you have connections regionally or locally with other churches, ask about sending funds or bottled water to help. And bring about resolutions or statements, however your denomination works, to address these kind of issues so that the church also is heard. Give the church a voice that speaks out for environmental justice nationally.

One industry should not have that much power in one place. One industry should not hold the jobs, the mountains and the water supply hostage, directly or indirectly.  As Christians, we need to be speaking up and taking a stand.