Water and Health in the Bronx: Protecting the Sacred

by Kelly Moltzen
Guest Contributor

Photo © Kelly Moltzen, NYC Watershed Tour

It is hard to not be awed by the scale and tremendous care that goes into supporting the gigantic system bringing water to New York City and the surrounding counties. Flowing from the Catskill/Delaware Watersheds and the Croton Watershed, approximately one billion gallons of water are consumed in New York City every day, serving 8.5 million residents as well as millions of tourists each year. In all, the New York City Water Supply System provides nearly half the population of New York State with high-quality drinking water.

It is humbling to realize just how dependent all these millions of people are on the water supply functioning the way it is supposed to. Water constitutes about 50-70% of our bodies as human beings. Water from the reservoirs, aqueducts, and street-side sampling stations is quality tested by the Department of Environmental Protection’s scientists, with nearly 630,000 analyses performed on the samples in four state-of-the art laboratories (NYC DEP). Read More

If an Ancient Cathedral Had Burned: Farewell to Grandmother Oak

by Ched Myers

Old trees are our parents, and our parents’ parents, perchance.

— Henry David Thoreau, Journal, Oct 1855

On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, three weeks into the Thomas Fire here in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the losses from California’s largest wildfire on record (scorching more than 280,000 acres) became searingly real, personal, and almost unbearable.

Ventura County, CA after the 2017 fires, photo by Tim Nafziger, used by permission.

The weather was warm and blessedly clear of smoke, the fire now 85% contained and only still burning far in the backcountry. So after the Farmer’s Market, Elaine and I took a ride on our little scooter. We figured we’d recovered enough psychologically from the immediate trauma of the conflagration to be able to take a look around the perimeter of the Ojai Valley. What we saw was sobering: from East End to Matilija to White Ledge Peak (upon which we gaze every day from our home) to Red Mountain, there was little but ashen scars in every direction. Entire mountainsides had been burned down to dirt and stone.

We saved the last leg of our impromptu tour for that part of our watershed most beloved to us: the hills behind Lake Casitas. Here in 2005 we first encountered uncompromised chaparral and undisturbed old growth oak savannahs—exceedingly rare in overdeveloped southern California. Here we hopped fences and hiked off grid, sat under trees, and came to know plant communities. Here we received the deepest confirmation of our decision to move to this place. Read More

Pesticides and Shalom: Advocating for Sustainable School Grounds Management as an Act of Watershed Discipleship

by Jennifer Powell
Guest Contributor

Creating good childhood memories with my children is important to me: team sports, family camping trips, backyard barbeques, lovable pets, and birthday parties. More importantly, I hope to give my children a sense of connection to their community and the land and to bolster their capacity to face the challenges of the world they will inherit from my generation. These challenges can feel hopelessly overwhelming. Our current ecological and social realities make it easy for anyone with awareness to fall into despair. Therefore, I want to give my children a sense of hope against the dire backdrop of capitalist consumption-driven climate change. Real hope springs through engaging with reality as it stands, yet responding as a loving community toward changing the things that we can. Recently, I was presented with an opportunity for the children and families in our watershed to plant the seeds of that kind of hope and help them grow as I became aware of pesticide use on school grounds, and advocacy in my community against that management style. In what follows, I’ll share my story of becoming aware of this problem, connect it to themes in the biblical tradition, articulate some of the cultural problems we currently face in the United States, discuss some of the problems with pesticide use, and end by describing some of what my community is doing to move in a healthier direction.

I. Awareness

Few places in local communities touch more lives than school grounds: the acres of land that provide the earth foundation for our learning centers. Beyond the classroom buildings, these acres house the fields upon which our communities play team sports, exercise, train dogs, fly kites and frisbees, and the playgrounds where our children jump and swing. They are the sites where childhood memories and foundational ethics are formed and the future is shaped. Read More

Small Gestures

On Sunday morning, as part of our celebration of the MLK Day weekend, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the destruction of the site of the Asistencia Santa Gertrudis a few miles from our home, where a small Chumash village survived between 1830 and 1865, giving the name “Casitas” to the area. After a hurried archaeological excavation of the site, the state ran a freeway over it in January 1968, something that could never happen today because of laws around disposition of native artifacts. So our little Farm Church circle said some prayers, told the story, and planted some new plants, as the memorial site was burned over in the fire. A small gesture of mindfulness in our watershed.
–Ched Myers

Re-posted from Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries (photo by Chris Wight)

For more detail on our ‘re-membering’ of the Asistencia Santa Gertrudis, see Ched’s blog post from January 10th

Schade’s “Preaching the Body of God”

With all of 2018 ahead of us, it is refreshing to reconnect with more holistic understandings of how to understand our place in the world. Leah D. Schade does just this in her article in The Other Journal, “Preaching the Body of God.” She draws from the work of Sallie McFague to explore environmental justice from an ecofeminist theologian’s perspective, and invites preachers to not shy away from this work in their public witness. As she notes:

Engaging McFague will challenge preachers to question the underlying foundations of our language, especially within the overarching paradigm of patriarchy.

Schade offers helpful tools for thinking through how to preach on environmental topics in light of other justice issues, and in a way that people will understand and connect with. This article is a great read, reinforcing the aid that multiple lenses can bring to our work for environmental issues. You can also check out Schade’s other writing about preaching with eco-themes at her Patheos blog, EcoPreacher.

Photo © Tim Nafziger

Salal + Cedar Prayer and Action Against Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project

“A priest, a rabbi, a Hindu and a Unitarian walk onto a pipeline route…”

Photos © Murray Bush

It may sound like the beginning of a joke, but this set-up describes a weekly blockade of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project near Vancouver, British Columbia, Coast Salish Territory. Salal + Cedar, a watershed discipleship community in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster (Anglican Church of Canada), helped lead a blockade of the Kinder Morgan access road each Thursday in December, organizing an opportunity for an interfaith group to come together around the common goal of stopping construction of the expanded pipeline, and acknowledging a shared connection to the water, land, and creatures of their watershed and world.

Photos © Murray Bush

The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Project would “parallel the 1,150-km route of the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline, which was built in 1953 and is the only West Coast link for Western Canadian oil,” increasing the capacity from 300,000 barrels of oil per day to 890,000 (Kinder Morgan website). However, as Rev. Laurel Dykstra of Salal + Cedar puts it, “The proposed expansion project differs significantly in route [from the existing pipeline]. It crosses a whole ton of waterways and un-ceded Indigenous territory, where people have not been fully consulted, or have explicitly denied their consent.” The level of public outcry against this project has been significant, with letter-writing campaigns and well-attended protests and marches, but approval for the project has been pushed through anyway. As construction proceeds, it is time to move forward into a different kind of action. Of this moment, Dykstra says:

“To be at the outset of that different kind of action, to see where different voices will put their bodies, is an interesting and exciting time.”

Read More

Advent, Plastic, and Spiritual Disciplines

My kids anticipate Christmas like no other season. They spend the month or two ahead of time thinking about and discussing what they want for Christmas, making lists, and poring over the Lego catalogue that appears in the mailbox. They understand the waiting and anticipation part of this season, but perhaps not for the most spiritual of reasons!

This has me wondering about the best ways to engage in this season of Advent, and the season of gathering and of giving that accompanies the way that we United States Christians currently go about celebrating the birth of Jesus. Is there a space between jumping into the frenzy of the holidays full throttle, and being a humbug or a Grinch (prior to their transformations)? Read More

Eco-contemplation and Action: Bahnson on the Ecology of Prayer

The latest issue of Orion Magazine, a special 35th anniversary edition, contains several articles that may be of interest to those practicing watershed discipleship, such as “Women and Standing Rock: where does the body end and sacred nature begin?” by Layli Long Soldier (this page contains a number of articles, poems, and photos on a similar theme), and “One Good Turn” by Kathleen Dean Moore, the story of five activists getting in the way of the Keystone XL Pipeline. There’s also a great piece called “The Soldier and the Soil” about an Iraq war veteran who is dealing with his post-traumatic stress through organic farming. This issue of Orion alone could keep you in excellent reading material for the entire holiday season!

Wake Forest School of Divinity professor Fred Bahnson

I point our readers particularly to “The Ecology of Prayer” by Fred Bahnson. It’s a beautifully written essay that moves through the wonder of a tide pool to the startling emptiness of a faith-based climate action rally, he draws us into the poignancy of the emotional and spiritual states many of us find ourselves in when we contemplate creation, and our impact on it. Using the metaphor of moving on to Easter Sunday too quickly without fully experiencing the deep and awful power of Good Friday, Bahnson wrestles with how to best deal with the startlingly intense human reactions to the natural world in all its beauty and loss. How do we grieve well? Read More

Watershed discipleship and the Thomas Fire

As the Thomas Fire and other fires in and around Ventura County, CA continue to threaten homes and wildlife, Tim Nafziger wrote an article for The Mennonite, detailing his experience evacuating the area for several days, “Relationships made tangible in Thomas Fire.” He writes about the switch in perspective required when one is more used to being part of the group that is helping, and describes help received from strangers and friends alike:

In our work over the years with Christian Peacemaker Teams, we have worked with people who have been displaced from their homes, those trying to return home and those resisting pressure to displace in conflict areas. This was our first time experiencing the uncertainty and anxiety ourselves. Signing in with the Red Cross brought that home.

As the impacts of climate change move closer and closer to home for those of us living in the United States, this experience may become common. Learning the lesson of interdependence—breaking down the dichotomy of helper/helped—can be painful and humbling for those of us who are used to being part of a group with power, and it can also be beautiful and grace-filled.

Read the full article

Learn more about the conditions that caused these fires

Read about the environmental justice issue of farmworkers required to work without smoke masks

Digging In: Heels, Histories, Hearts | February 19-23, 2018

Join us February 19-23, 2018 in Oak View, CA for the Bartimaeus Kinsler Institute, with a focus this year on “Digging In: Heels, Histories, Hearts.” Register for the institute by December 15, 2017 for early bird rates ($360 includes registration, accommodation, materials, and meals Monday night-Friday morning).

This institute offers an opportunity to gather with others from across the country to learn and share about strategies and leadings for living as disciples of Jesus here, now, in our particular watersheds and as a global community. Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries has hosted these institutes since 2007, encouraging Christians to go deeper in their faith through both inward and outward practice, following their motto: “Discipleship at the Intersection of Seminary and Sanctuary, Streets and Soil, Soma and Psyche.” Read More

Reflections on “Blessing the Waters of Life” conference

A beautiful, relatively smoke-free week in early fall greeted Presbyterians and others from across the country as they gathered at Menucha Retreat & Conference Center on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge the last week of September. After an unauthorized firecracker sparked the Eagle Creek fire in early September about 20 miles east of the retreat center, and a fire season with an unusually high number of days filled with smoke hanging over the gorge and Willamette Valley, I didn’t take the view for granted. The multifaceted issues relating to the fires brought home the need for the Presbyterians for Earth Care conference being held there, with the focus, “Blessing the Waters of Life: Justice & Healing for Our Watersheds.” Oregon Public Broadcasting reported on issues such as air quality, evacuation of local communities, the local economy, transportation disruptions, conservation and forest management best practices conversations, disruptions to education, threat of landslides after the fire and rain, difficulties for fish and fisher-people, threats to the drinking water source for Portland, and concern over tribal fishing areas and the health of the fish population tribes rely on as an important food and cultural resource. This one fire is an apt metaphor for the way that humanity is interacting with creation in harmful and avoidable ways, with multiple dimensions of consequences, and it is again feeling pertinent and relevant as so many are under forced evacuation around Los Angeles, CA right now due to the Thomas Fire and other fires in Ventura County. Read More

Watershed Discipleship in Latin America

“We are doing this discipleship; we are disciples of this watershed!”

Beatriz Fernández de Hütt, a representative from Amigos del Rio Torres, and Karla Koll presenting on watershed discipleship, “discipulado de la cuenca,” at the Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana in San Jose, Costa Rica

A woman named Beatriz Fernández de Hütt exclaimed the above quote during her presentation at a workshop on the Spanish translation of the watershed discipleship book. She leads a group called Amigos del Rio Torres that works to clean up the river running through San Jose, Costa Rica.

She learned about watershed discipleship at a recent workshop at the Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana (UBL) in Costa Rica, where Josh and Grecia Lopez-Reyes represented Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries (BCM) and presented on watershed discipleship, sharing from Discipulado de la Cuenca about the connections between watershed care, Christian faith, and the social and environmental justice concerns facing humanity and our planet today. This event celebrated the collaboration between UBL and BCM to bring the Spanish translation to print. When I spoke to Grecia and Josh about their trip, they expressed inspiration from the fact that many of the people they met in this workshop were already doing activist and advocacy work in their watersheds and were Christians, but had not necessarily connected their environmental work with their faith. Read More