Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Beautiful River

Today was The Baptism of Our Lord on our liturgical calendar, a day when we remember Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan River and reflect on our own baptisms.

At Church of the Resurrection in Omaha this morning, one of our hymns was Shall We Gather at the River. During one of the choruses about the “the beautiful, the beautiful river” I thought of the Elk River in West Virginia, a beautiful river that has become contaminated by a coal-washing chemical. Reading about the situation in and around Charleston before going to church made the singing of this hymn poignant. This contamination has made the water supply in a nine-county area of West Virginia unsuitable for anything other than flushing toilets. According to an article by Joanna M. Foster for Think Progress, the leak is much larger than what was originally reported:

As over 300,000 people in West Virginia face a fourth day without water, state environmental officials are now estimating that as much as 7,500 gallons of a chemical used to process coal — Crude MGHM — may have spilled into the Elk River. That number is a substantial increase from early estimates of 2,000 to 5,000 gallons.

Scientific American tells about Crude MGHM and how little we know about it, saying that its effects should be much less than the effects of “exposure to the slurry of water and other chemicals formed after coal is washed”, something to which many people have been exposed in West Virginia and other coal-mining regions.

This morning we renewed our baptismal covenant as part of the liturgy for The Baptism of Our Lord. We promised to seek and serve Christ in all persons; we promised to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. It seems fitting in that context to look at what is happening along the Elk River, one of the beautiful rivers on our planet, and to the people who are caught in a system that allows the coal industry to continue putting profits before the health and safety of people.

Which will we choose? Will we choose the beautiful river of life “flowing by the throne of God”, or remain complacent and choose rivers contaminated by chemicals that are harmful to living things?