Our community role requires periodic, intentional reflection about caring for Appalachia
By Michael M. Barrick
In the New York Times bestseller, “Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World,” author Paul Hawken writes, “The way we harm the earth affects all people, and how we treat one another is reflected in how we treat the earth.” Hawken reveals that this was one of the earliest lessons he learned in researching the guiding principles of environmental and social justice movements.
What is implicit in his statement is that we are each part of community, and how we live that role as stewards of creation – for ourselves and our neighbors, near and far – requires periodic, intentional reflection.
One ideal time begins today, Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of Lent on the liturgical calendar for those denominations that adhere to the customs of the calendar. It is a time of reflection and repentance. Even for those traditions that don’t officially observe it today, the concept of reflection and repentance is common to most belief systems. Because the concept of community is universal – and ancient – so are many of the characteristics of community. Two of those merge in this season – the concept of atonement and the role of the individual in community. This year, with numerous forces pushing for increased energy extraction activities that will accelerate environmental degradation, it is tempting to just fight – to react. And certainly, advocacy is always appropriate. Yet, it is also a season to set aside some time for reflection.
For those involved in – or concerned about – the environmental challenges facing Appalachia, in particular those areas overlaying the Marcellus Shale, it is an appropriate time to reflect upon our own roles in creating those challenges (what, in ancient terms might be called sins of commission), or failing to fight them as strongly and as wisely as we can (sins of omission).
The concept of repentance or atonement is, admittedly, ancient. Perhaps that is because it has proven to be beneficial for the individual as well as the community. One need not commemorate Lent to pause and reflect; one need only to care whether or not he or she is being a good steward of the environment. At the very least, spending a season reflecting upon our own shortcomings will remind us of the importance of extending grace and unconditional love to those who we consider opponents in the call to protect and preserve Appalachia.
It is a conversion of the heart. It begins with nothing more than an honest review of our motives, words, actions and attitudes.
It helps us recall the forgiveness that others have extended to us, making it easier to extend a compassionate heart to those with whom we battle and attempt to persuade. By reflecting, repenting and then responding with generosity that flows from a converted heart, we will achieve the first and most important task required in order to enjoy success in our objectives – we will develop authentic relationships that can provide unmatched loyalty from friends and respect from opponents.
As I consider how I might achieve this is my own life, as well as how my lifestyle impacts not only the environment of my own community, but communities around the world, I find myself asking myself several questions. Through the questions, I wish to explore if I have been the steward that I should be. They include:
1. Have I been a good steward of creation?
2. Have I been a good steward of my mind?
3. Have I been a good steward my talents?
4. Have I been courageous?
5. Have I lived consistently with my message?
6. Have I lost faith in humanity?
7. Have I competed instead of cooperated?
8. Have I treated our opponents with grace?
In time, the answers will come. Perhaps by Easter; more likely, it will be Earth Day and beyond. In fact, the answers are never complete. These are questions, I have discovered, I need to ask every day.
Of course, none of us has the luxury of reflecting only. Action is to flow from it. So, even as I challenge myself every day, I will also set aside yesterday, forgive myself for failures, others for offenses, and get back to work. Lent, I hope, will help me keep a proper perspective as I do so.
© Appalachian Preservation Project, LLC, 2015. The Appalachian Chronicle is a publication of the Appalachian Preservation Project. The Appalachian Preservation Project is a social enterprise business committed to preserving and protecting Appalachia. If you wish to support our work, please consider becoming a member.
The Appalachian Preservation Project is also handling planning for the “Preserving Sacred Appalachia” Earth Day conference scheduled for April 20-21 in Charleston, W.Va. Learn about it here.