Friday, November 25, 2011

The First Week of Advent Devotion: Environmental Justice and Loving Neighbors as Ourselves

The First Week of Advent Devotion by Sue Smith

“‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NRSV)

I saw a lone fir tree last week, looking like it was ready to be decorated for the Christmas season. But it is not. It is planted in soil covering a cement cap that shields soil so contaminated by dioxin, it could not be remediated. This is the former manufacturing home of DDT and Agent Orange.

I saw this on a tour of the Ironbound section of Newark, NJ, named because it developed inside the railroad tracks crossing the city. Today the majority of the population is African American, Latino and foreign born, moderate to low income, and approximately 75% of the population has less than a high school education. People who don’t live there know this
section as having the best Portuguese restaurants in the state, yet it is a food desert. On this tour, what I saw was environmental racism. This is not the reflection of a person who has experienced the injustice in this community, but of a white, middle-class person who toured it one day and saw circumstances that would not be tolerated in my neighborhood. What I saw is a community that suffers from the cumulative impacts of multiple injustices:
  • The dioxin-laden site, along with other pollutants from numerous old industrial sites, contaminated a 13 mile stretch of the Passaic River. In many neighborhoods, the rivers play a large part in the community, this river does not.
  • The Ironbound abuts Newark Airport and is surrounded by five major New Jersey highways its air is polluted by emissions and noise.
  • Port Newark is also adjacent to the Ironbound and 7,000 trucks regularly service the port.Trucks idle for hours at the port waiting to load cargo and drive through the Ironbound. Community members did a truck count once for 2 hours at 6 intersections and counted over2,000 trucks.
  • Port Newark is also a visual reminder of the US trade deficit, with towering piles of emptyshipping containers (a visual eyesore as well).
  • There is a lack of recreational opportunities – not many parks, others closed because of contamination. One chemical company, as part of restitution, built a recreational center. The pool had to be suspended above ground because of the contamination in the soil at that location.
  • Covanta operates the largest incinerator in the state here (over half of the trash comes from New York City). And the air scrubbing equipment is not as advanced as the other installations in the state.

In this season of anticipation of the birth of Jesus, I am drawn to his commandments. If we love God, we need to love all of God’s creation. Can we do this and tolerate multiple injustices to the earth in one place? Can we love our neighbor and tolerate multiple injustices to our neighbor’s community?

But in this season of hope –I saw great hope. The Ironbound Community Corporation is very engaged in helping residents organize and advocate to remediate the current problems, and prevent further cumulative impacts. They provide awareness tours. They advocated keeping a medical waste facility from being built. They are involved with the planning process for the restoration of the river banks. They are saving the few parks they have.

In this season of anticipation of the birth of Jesus, I am drawn to his commandments. If we love God, we need to love all of God’s creation. Can we do this and tolerate multiple injustices to the earth in one place? Can we love our neighbor and tolerate multiple injustices to our neighbor’s community?

What can we do?

  • Always respect a community suffering from environmental injustice and how they are working to make their situation better.
  • Provide support by writing letters and standing with the community when asked.
  • When you throw out your trash, think about how to create less going to incinerators.

More Information:

Gracious God, in this season of anticipation and hope, care for those who are impacted by environmental injustice; keep them safe from further injustices; give them strength in their work for justice. Open the eyes of the unaware. Help us all to tend your wondrous creation, working towards a healthy earth that will lift everyone. Amen

Sue Smith is the Treasurer of Presbyterians for Earth Care, a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Rumson, NJ, a GreenFaith Fellow, and a student at New Brunswick Theological Seminary.

Click here to access the whole 2011 PEC Advent Devotional in PDF format.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Gift for You: PEC Advent Devotional

Dear Friends in Earth Care,

Our Update this month is an Advent Devotional with a new twist: integrating the mysterious beauty of Advent (and Christmas) with the mystery and beauty of Creation. Through this PEC devotional, we invite you to experience Advent through your spirit, heart, mind, and your senses – and to experience it deeply. Click here to read the Advent devotional.
You might take a few moments daily to reflect on the devotional offering for the week (or day). Consider the reflection inwardly, breathing in and out with a sense of birth/rebirth.

Experience the star(s) in a deep way, knowing that we are all stardust, knowing that we are all part of the mystery.

Recall St. Francis of Assisi's words..."Most High, all powerful, all good Lord. All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor and all blessings...Praise be You my Lord with all your creatures...Brother Sun...Sister Moon...Brothers Wind, Air, and Fire...Sister Water... Praised be you, my Lord through our Sister, Mother Earth who sustains and governs us..." (Canticle of the Sun.)

Consider creating a special space at a table and adding some elements from Earth that symbolize soil, water, air, and the other amazing animals that share this planet. Add those to symbols which you hold most sacred in your relationship to Christ: a cross, Bible, meaningful texts, pictures. Add elements which contain fragrance such as pine branches as well as different textures -- a bowl or pitcher of water (or a picture of snow), a candle, feathers, maybe in white to represent a dove.

Invite others into your special space this Advent—especially children and youth—as you share gratitude for Christ and Creation. The space may be your heart or your table space. It may be in person or through a letter, email, or prayer. Breathe in the opportunity for deepening relationships with others, as well as with Creation.

Dear friends, may the mystery of this holy season be integrated in your heart and mind. May the blessings of God's Creation hold and renew you. May you know this Advent/Christmas as one of Rebirth as you share the Gift with others in the family of God.

Many thanks to those persons who have written a reflection for this version of the "Update.” Particularly, I want to thank our new newsletter editor-in-training, Abby Mohaupt. Abby is a student at McCormick Theological Seminary with an emphasis in Environmental Theology. We appreciate the skills she brings to this volunteer position, along with her enthusiasm, graciousness, and energy.

We are sharing this Update both in printed version and through e-mail. Each week of Advent, we will send you the reflection, as well as the daily reflection for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Click here to read the Advent devotional.

May the blessings of Christ and the richness of Creation be with you,
Diane Waddell
Moderator, Presbyterians for Earth Care