Water, Fear and Hope

Last Friday I accepted an invitation to Six Nations to join with those of aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities, for a ‘Transboundary Dialogue on Climate Change and Water in the Great Lakes Basin’. What most struck me was the fearlessness of the participants as they talked about how to initiate adaptations to climate change, even as they listened to report after report filled with hard scientific data about the alarming rate and effects of climate change on everything from personal health (e.g., increased illness from water contamination, poorer water quality) to stress on social order (effects on transportation, industry and energy, municipal governments).

Aboriginal voices have especially rung in my ears in the hours since, rooted so clearly in traditional wisdom and, on that day at least, so appreciated by the academics and government representatives. With what I perceived as confidence that change is possible, Dan Hill (not the singer) for instance calmly said, “Unless we change our attitudes and ideas, we’re all going to die of thirst.”

I find myself thinking about the similarities between aboriginal communal traditions, descriptions of early Christian community, and contemporary expressions of intentional Christian community; about living and working together as one. It seems to me that those who are immersed in this kind of strongly knit community are better able to tell the truth about their lives with a confidence that the community can deal with the truth – that change of attitudes and ideas is possible – because the community can be trusted.

So often the voices of our government leaders seem to be appealing to fear. But those of us who are committed to spiritual practices for the sake of community with the capacity to love God’s world, know about living in the tragic gap which Parker J. Palmer describes as “the gap between the reality of a given situation and an alternative reality we know to be possible because we have experienced it.” We are aware of reasons to fear but we are focused on reasons to hope.

When I’ve had the guts to trust community with my own truth, I’ve experienced reason for that trust. However, unlike most aboriginal people I know, I tend to turn to fear of my community much more easily than trust. Our culture does so much to erode our trust in one another.

I have been taught that economy is the management of the household. Friday’s conversations were about how to combine traditional wisdom about air, land and water with scientific knowledge in order to manage the household so that healthy food, clean water and air, are realities today and tomorrow. My hope for what is possible in the “management of the household” grew with the imagining of how we could tell the truth and work together to build such community across cultures to ensure that “the seventh generation” has good water to drink. Perhaps these questions about the economy are mostly about how we understand our rightful place within the natural order or the greater economy about which poet Wendell Berry writes.

I offer leadership from within the church community and was the only one in Friday’s gathering of about 60 people who I heard identifying self in relation to church. To my relief and surprise, everyone with whom I spoke personally responded with positive regard for, good experience with, and high expectations of the United Church of Canada.
It is not too late for my church, and for members like me, to risk listening to truth and telling truth in such urgent conversations. Without such dialogue it may be too late for the healing of God’s world.