Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Despite the less liquid form of H2O covering much of Nebraska today -- and doing that beautifully -- I’ve been thinking about water for several days. Last Sunday we remembered the Baptism of Jesus, and many parishes had baptisms that day. The prayers of thanksgiving over the water in our baptismal service remind us that along with being essential to life, water has great spiritual significance.

Personally Challenging Task

In the week leading up to the First Sunday after Epiphany (The Baptism of Our Lord), stories were popping up in the news about floods in Australia and South Africa . The floods in Australia were fairly well-covered in the news; fewer people here heard about the ones in Eastern Cape Province and KwaZulu Natal. The same week, I came across more information about the plastic in our oceans – both the extent of the pollution and more evidence that plastic is entering the food chain. Not having a lot of time to sit and process all of this, I simply didn’t write the post during the week. When Saturday came, it was even more difficult to focus on something this complex after news of the shootings in Tucson.

Since then, I’ve been looking at why it was so difficult to put these pieces together. Thinking about water brings together two environmental phenomena that I find very difficult to really comprehend because of the scale of the phenomena and the unthinkable nature of their consequences: the effects of climate change on people and other living things, and the extent of plastic pollution and its own effects on people and other living things. Thinking about the waters of baptism, reflecting on the relationship between the physical properties of water and its spiritual significance for us, is a whole different exercise when done with an awareness of the environmental realities with which we now live.

With this next Sunday’s Gospel (John 1:29-42 ) beginning with John talking about the Baptism of Jesus, the blog plan for this week is to talk about floods in this post, plastic and water in the next post, and perhaps be able after that to put together at least some of the pieces in relation to the waters of baptism.


This morning there were new headlines: Dozens missing from flooding in Australian valley and 13 Dead After Heavy Rains in Brazil. No single weather event can be connected to changes in the climate brought about by global warming; floods happen and have always happened. But two things indicate an overall connection: first, the record-breaking rainfalls and severe storms that have caused the flooding are exactly what scientists have told us will happen as the earth’s atmosphere warms and holds more water vapor; and second, there have been multiple floods in the past year with the phrases “record-breaking rainfall” and “catastrophic flooding” attached to them. If we were experiencing weather phenomena within the old norms, we wouldn’t be breaking so many records.

Remember the July floods in Pakistan? In early December, a reporter for the British Telegraph reported on current conditions in the flooded areas . A recent PBS NewsHour report tells more about the aftermath of the flooding and other water issues there:

If we find it difficult to imagine what is happening in faraway places, we might look closer to home and re\member the floods in Iowa last summer. A report on the impacts of climate change on Iowa was released January 1. It’s a good report for Nebraskans to look at to help us think about how we might best live in the next several years, and it does a good job of laying out the connections between global climate change and local weather trends. Increased precipitation and flooding is discussed in this report. An Iowa State University press release about the role of some ISU researchers in the study notes that the university itself was flooded in August 2010.

Along with concerns about flooding caused by increased precipitation and severe storms, global warming brings coastal flooding from sea level rise. Flooding of both kinds is expected to increase in the years ahead. Disaster aid to victims of floods is the sort of charitable work that churches have historically done. One consequence of increased flooding will be an increased need for aid.

I suspect this is one piece of the connection to the waters of baptism. We who have made a covenant to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" should think about how we would respond to increased flooding both close to home and far away.