Watershed Snapshot | The Jordan River Watershed, Part 2

Above photo: Jordan River today, Christopher-Sprake / iStock / Getty

My name is Jonathan. I am a Mennonite Christian Palestinian US American. My dual identities as a Palestinian, and as a white US American offer me insight to Christianity both as an indigenous wisdom tradition, and as a religion serving as a tool of global imperialism. I write each entry of this two-part blog post from the first person, as a Palestinian Christian, and as a Western Christian respectively. See part 1 of my Jordan River Watershed snapshot here.

Last year, over 2.4 million Christians visited the “Holy Land.” To put that into perspective, 60% of the tourists to Israel were Christian, compared to only 20% Jewish. Christian tourists spent billions of dollars to walk where Jesus walked, visit sites from the Bible, and see the remains of the world Jesus inhabited.    

Group baptism at Yardenit, from the Yardenit Facebook page
Group baptism at Yardenit, from the Yardenit Facebook page.

A favorite spot for these tourists is the Yardenit Baptismal Site, the most visited spot on the Jordan River. This site is not the site traditionally believed to be that of Jesus’ Baptism—that’s Al-Maghtas on the Jordanian side, or where Elijah ascended into heaven—that’s Qasr el Yahud, in the West Bank Palestinian territories. The Yardenit Baptismal Site has no biblical significance at all.

So why does virtually every “Holy Land” tour visit it? Because it is in Israel. It is a fictionalized baptismal spot created by the Israeli minister of tourism in the 1980s for Christian tourists to be “baptized in the Jordan.” Its purpose is to give Christian tourists the experience without having to interact with Jordanian or Palestinian Arabs. Read more

When the Well Dries Up and Jesus Isn’t Born…

by O’neil Van Horn
Guest Contributor

It’s been three years since I moved from California, my beautiful, beloved home state, to New Jersey. I know… “Why?” (No, I did not lose a bet—a question I’ve been asked on more than one occasion.) This seemingly irrational decision has what might be considered an even more irrational reason behind it: to pursue a master’s and doctorate in philosophical and theological studies. (Please pray for me.)

After the whole “why?” ordeal has been resolved, folks then typically ask me how I am enjoying New Jersey. Sometimes this question is sincere, others sarcastic. (I’ll just assume then that you’d like to know, too.) I almost inevitably respond with some mixture of seriousness and whimsy: “I quite like New Jersey. The seasons are interesting, and there’s water.” I usually get at least a chuckle, sometimes more when my timing is on point.

———

Watching my beloved California become regularly engulfed in flames, larger and deadlier each year, I am thinking more about water than ever before. Read more

Liberating Our Waters

by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann
Guest Contributor

One hot afternoon, my kids and I headed for Belle Isle, dressed in swim suits and looking for relief in the waters of the Detroit River. Cedar, who is now 2, immediately lay down at water’s edge, tummy in the water, and kept saying, “Thank you, water.” He said it over and over again with joy beaming from him. Where does he get it? Yes, indeed, he is right: thank you water.

After that, the kids both started digging a hole that the waves would fill. Isaac would lean his ear close to the water and say, “Water, what do you need? Oh, you want us to dig you a hole with a path for you to have as a home. Ok.” And he would start digging. Water became the third playmate. It had ideas and needs and there was real intimacy. I sat back and just listened. I would hear things like, “Ok, water, we will help you,” or, “The water says it loves it,” or, “I love you, water.” Read more

Trickle Up: U.S. Housing and the Biblical Call to Redistribution of Wealth

by Sam Greenlee
Guest Contributor

A couple of years ago, when we were trying to find a home to buy, we hoped to purchase a fixer-upper that would require us to take on less debt. There were plenty available, or so it seemed.

Time and time again our offers lost out to investors who had cash in hand and were looking to make a profit by flipping or renting out the homes. We often lost to investors who were actually making offers lower than our own, because their cash offers didn’t carry the risk of the loan falling through in the escrow process.

While we love the home where we eventually ended up, we found that we had to purchase a home that was near the top of what we could possibly afford. It didn’t have much left to be done and so there wasn’t a sure profit left to be squeezed out of it by investors. Read more

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

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

Married to the Land

by Todd Wynward

Imagine the U.S. government confiscating your beautiful local church building and grounds and turning its worship space into a public park. Imagine dune buggies and picnickers and diesel engines and fast-food wrappers. Imagine the sanctuary Sunday morning trashed, a victim of the party the night before.

Unimaginable? You bet. But that’s essentially what happened to Taos Pueblo in 1906, when earnest President Teddy Roosevelt violated the U.S. Constitution. Without consulting the Taos Pueblo community, he declared their Blue Lake to be part of Carson National Forest. Read more

Towards a a collaborative bioregional mission strategy

This post was first published on Churchwork under the title I said what our diocese most needed. Then I realized: nobody knew what I meant.

This Saturday, Episcopalians from greater Grand Rapids, Michigan, gathered with our bishop and staff at St. Mark’s, Grand Rapids for a Bishop’s Town Hall. This is the latest iteration of an annual event begun by our previous bishop. In times past it featured teaching from the bishop in the morning and workshops for vestry education in the afternoon. In those days it was billed as an educational event for new vestry members. Read more