Sunday, January 11, 2015

Return to the Beautiful River

The Baptism of Our Lord, 2015

On the day we celebrated The Baptism of Our Lord a year ago, I shared the experience of reflecting on the waters of baptism during morning worship immediately after reading about the contamination of the Elk River in West Virginia from a coal-washing chemical. Especially poignant that morning was singing the hymn Shall We Gather at the River? with its chorus about "the beautiful, the beautiful river".

Platte River near Grand Island, Christmas 2014
Today we sang that hymn again. This time it was the Keystone XL pipeline that was on my mind. Knowing my interest in the issue, people talked to me about it before church, keeping this week’s events around the pipeline well in my mind as our service began.  People expressed an ongoing concern about possible contamination of our water and land right here in Nebraska should this pipeline be built and used to transport diluted bitumen, a slurry of viscous tar sands and chemicals that help it flow through the pipeline. Along with the global concerns about adding carbon emissions from tar sands oil to our already unsustainable carbon output, the immediate local concern is the possibility of this mix of tar sands and chemicals leaking into the Ogallala aquifer or streams or even our beautiful Nebraska rivers. 

On Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court announced their ruling allowing a controversial pipeline routing law to stand, taking away a legal impediment to construction of the pipeline. That same day, the House of Representatives voted to authorize construction of the pipeline. It was discouraging news to people advocating for our land and water and for some degree of climate stability, but it does not necessarily mean that the pipeline will be built. Opposition to the pipeline is deep, and Nebraska’s pipeline fighters and our allies in other states will continue to ask President Obama to use his authority to stop this project and to advocate in other ways for an end to it. Dropping oil prices and an increasing sense that it is time to shift away from fossil fuels may help make the argument against building it.

Once again this morning for The Baptism of Our Lord we renewed our baptismal covenant. 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. These promises would include paying attention to the beautiful rivers on our planet that sustain life, and to the people who are caught in a system that allows the coal industry in the United States or the tar sands industry in one of our neighboring countries to continue putting profits before the health and safety of people.

And so once again this year on the Sunday of The Baptism of Our Lord, we ask: 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?

Here is a recording of Anonymous 4 singing Shall We Gather at the River?