Sunday, January 12, 2014

Don't go out there by the river, where bright angel feet won't tread...

I couldn't quite figure it out.  Why did this morning's service have me so out of sorts?

Today's lectionary featured Matthew's account of the baptism of Jesus.  Not an unfamiliar text.  Perhaps the most interesting part of it was John's disavowal of Jesus's request -- "you should be baptizing me" and all that.  There was also Psalm 29 and a longish bit from Isaiah.  None of those are terribly bothersome scriptures.

The hymns weren't necessarily the problem either.  OK, so "Shall we gather at the river" is a bit old-hat for a recovering Baptist, even if it was highly fascinating to both Aaron Copland and Charles Ives. The others were new to the Presbyterian hymnbook, so at least interesting to hear the first time.  The anthem was that thing from O Brother, Where Art Thou? in which I have difficulty finding coherent and complete sentences, but that's also old-hat by now.  So the music wasn't it, either.

The baptism itself was a wonderful event, even if from my admittedly distant perch I was beginning to wonder if the child was going to kick his way out of the grasp of both parents and pastor.  Baptisms are wonderful events, to be celebrated, right?

It took a while to dawn on me that my trouble wasn't anything in the liturgy so much as the headline that formed its backdrop this week.

Maybe you missed it in the midst of the "polar vortex" or the shocking revelation that the governor of New Jersey is a bully.  But near Charleston, West Virginia, a chemical plant managed to bust a leak and disgorge a whole lot of chemical spillage into the Elk River.  More pointedly, the spill happened just a short distance upstream from one of the primary intake points for the state's principal water utility.

The particular fun of this spill is that the chemical in question (Crude MGHM, used for washing impurities out of coal), seems to be a bit of a mystery chemical to way too many people.  No way to text for its toxicity in water; not a lot of clarity on just how toxic it is to drink or breathe or shower in or any such thing.  It's clearly enough to smell bad and to make some folks near the spill sick, and apparently enough is known to tell folks that even boiling the water, that old purification standby, doesn't work in this case).  But one has to wonder just how much thought went into letting a plant that works with such a chemical regularly get upstream of a water-utility facility in the first place.

All the more lovely is the absolute silence of the corporation that owns the plant, Freedom Industries (what a bitterly ironic name; is this what "freedom" means anymore, one's freedom to dump all over another and get away with it?).  Their website, in case you're wondering, has diddly-spit to say about the spill.  At any rate, residents in and around Charleston can't drink the water.  Or bathe in it, or prepare baby formula in it, or anything other than flush with it.  (At least they can do that.  Yikes.)  Such is the desperation of the situation that police got called in to guard a shipment of bottled water to Wal-Mart.

Amidst this, I wonder how many churches in the Charleston area were observing the Baptism of the Lord today?  Did any baptisms have to get cancelled?  Or were fonts getting topped up with Aquafina or Dasani?  Would today's baptism have been possible if that kind of spill had happened here in or around Richmond?

Maybe this kind of thing is why those creation-informed liturgies took over Advent on this blog.  Or maybe it's just the cavalier way we ignore the precious stuff of creation or let it be devolved into mere fodder for our conveniences or for somebody else's profit, which leads us to where we are, with the substance that is essential to not only, you know, living, but also to one of the two generally accepted sacraments in the Christian tradition becoming little more than a waste dump for liquid toxins.

What does it take to get us to care, church?  What does it take to get us to treat God's creation as, well, God's creation?  What does it take to get us to shout down and call out the damnedness of those who oh-so-piously preach against "getting political" when it comes to something so basic as what we drink to keep ourselves alive, and get on with the business of righting what we have so long wronged?  How many water sources have to get despoiled by chemical spills or fracking or tar sands extraction or who knows what other foolish and greedy process before we Christians will get angry enough to scream so loud about it that we drown out the idiot duck guy in Louisiana or the neo-Calvinist fear mongers or those others we get so heated up about?  Seriously, what the Hell is it going to take?

Yeah, dammit, I'm angry.  If you're not, perhaps you might want to pay more attention.

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