By Bill Robinson
A number of years ago, I had a boss who took a perverse pleasure in giving annual reviews to his employees. After we each provided an accurate, detailed summary of our accomplishments and failures, he would say, “Nice words kid, but what did you do today?” What a profound question!
Back in early January, this space was filled with light by a brilliant E-pistle written by 11-year-old Nathan Denoyer. In it, Nathan quietly and gently took us all to task for doing so little to mitigate the collapse of our environment, both globally and in Arizona. In his words:
“And what is being done about it? If we are honest with ourselves, almost nothing. Many people have called for action but nothing big has been achieved.”
I confess I was both humbled and shamed by Nathan’s comments and was almost instantly reminded of the words of my employer so many years ago —“What did you do today?” Regrettably, like most of us, my honest answer must be “Not much.”
As Christians, we have an unfortunate tendency to say a great deal about our faith, but then don’t do very many of the things we profess to believe. When called to answer the question “What did you do today?” we find our actions fall short of our words.
We seem to suffer from a collective lack of stewardship for God’s Creation and a collective obliviousness to the preventable environmental collapse occurring right under our noses. Perhaps we ignore these things because they don’t yet affect our immediate environments. Most of us live in safe, clean, and attractive communities with water always available from a tap and food always plentiful and easily available. We don’t seem to regard environmental issues as more than a mild irritation. The grim projections of the existential effects of climate collapse and the very visible evidence of SEVERE water shortages in the Southwest don’t appear to motivate us to do anything.
So, what do we do to care for our creation and for our fellow humans — as a Church, as a Diocese, as a Parish or Mission, as Christians, or as individuals? This question is at the heart of our Baptismal Covenant and is being addressed in our diocese by two ministries: Native American ministry and Creation Care ministry. Both ministries have convened councils to develop actions that deal with environmental issues and the cultural fabric damaged by those issues — issues that overlap and are shared by these ministries.
One such shared issue is water. The Council for Native American Ministry deals with the cultural aspects of water — the Federal, State, and commercially mandated water shortages on the 22 Native American nations and communities that occupy nearly 1/3 of the land area of Arizona. For many decades beginning in the 1880s, reservation water sovereignty was progressively usurped by governments, court decisions, and commercial mining and agriculture. Without rights to water, Natives lost their traditional agriculture and were forced to rely on government commodity food for sustenance which, because of its high carbohydrate and fat content, has led to the highest diabetes and morbid obesity rates in the country among indigenous people.
The Creation Care Council addresses water in the context of all life on earth, including humans, and in particular life here in the Southwest and in our diocese. Climate-caused water shortages are precipitating a crisis of truly unimaginable physical and moral consequences in the Southwest driven by extreme drought on top of exponential population growth. Water use now exceeds the supply of water, most notably from the Colorado River system, the source of 80% of Arizona’s water. For the first time, Arizona is seeing a mandatory reduction in delivery of Colorado River water this year.
Both councils have taken action and are working with churches in the diocese and other groups to take action for the future of God’s Creation. But I confess, Nathan, it seems like it’s too little and, perhaps, too late. I take comfort, however, and am inspired by the words of Jesus to keep trying; words that, I fear, too few remember, let alone actually believe.
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Jn 14:12
I assume His words were meant for all of us. So, remember that you can do “greater works” than Jesus the next time you are asked, “What did you do today?”
Bill Robinson is the manager of the Crazy Chile Farm at Church of the Transfiguration in Mesa and is a member of both the diocesan Creation Care Council and the diocesan Council for Native American Ministry.