Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Plastic Bits and Healing Waters

Driving frequently between Hastings and Grand Island, I’ve invented a game that I call Spot the Plastic. Any time I think of it, I look for plastic along the roadside or out in the fields. So far, every time I’ve looked, there has been something to see – a plastic bag from a store, a cup, a chunk of Styrofoam from a cooler. It's not a lot of fun; it's really very discouraging to realize that there's so much plastic to be found.

This week I’m on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, where plastic litter along the ocean shore is as obvious as it is in the Nebraska countryside. A year ago I wrote about the plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean and its effect on marine birds and animals. When I visited the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday afternoon this week, I saw a display of objects that had been found in dead albatross chicks as part of the food bolus.

Some of these plastic bits from the ocean look like the same things we find in the middle of the U.S. mainland. This is a photo I took last winter of plastic debris along the edge of Lake Hastings:

And this is a photo from early last summer on the shore of Lake Ontario:

These are some of the things I saw early yesterday morning here in Kaua’i:

These bits and pieces of plastic are so much a part of our environment now that we often don’t notice them. When we do, finding a way to clean up our fields, waterways, and oceans seems so overwhelming that we can feel paralyzed by helplessness.

The Gospel lesson for today’s Daily Office was John 5: 1-18, the healing of the man at the pool. Jesus asks the man “Do you want to be made well?” The man answers, “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up.” (The stirring of the water indicated a time when the water had healing properties.) The man doesn’t say whether or not he really desires healing; he says he can’t do it because he needs someone to help him. Then Jesus says, “Stand up, take your mat, and walk,” and the man does just that. He didn’t so much need someone to lift him up and place him in the pool as he needed someone to empower him to get up and walk on his own. Instead of being paralyzed by helplessness, he needs to start walking.

Many people wish we could clean up our environment. As we discover more about how plastics are entering our food chain and how pervasive they are in our environment, many of us wish we could find a way to make things better. Do we have the will to do that? Do we – collectively – want to be made well? Do we want our world and ourselves to be healthier and more whole? If so, we can get up and take the first steps. We can do small, everyday things that add up: carrying reusable shopping bags with us, using real mugs and cups at home and church instead of plastic or Styrofoam, recycling plastic if we live in a community where we can do so (or working to make recycling available).

Doing the small and obvious things that we can and being aware of the plastic debris we see every day will lead us to the next steps, to seeing what bigger changes we all need to make to have a healthier world. If we truly want our planet to be healed, God will empower us to see what we need to do and to be able to do it. Then the water in our oceans, lakes, and streams will be life-giving water, healing water.