Good morning, my name is Jonathan Mark an alumni of MVS and regular attender of the SMC congregation. I come to you this morning to share the story of when I visited the ancient and mighty Appalachian mountains. I want to begin this message today with a few disclaimers, this is an issue that is close to my heart, personal experience, and education. I have written essays, made speeches, and experienced the effects first hand and therefore my message today is fueled not only by scripture, but by my personal narrative.
The first image that comes to my mind when I envision the splendor of God’s creation is that of the mountains. Mountains are tall, expansive, and seemingly eternal. They are beautiful rugged things, which the brave can walk through and enjoy.
The imagery of God on top of a mountain is an old story, perhaps because like God mountains can be seen from many different perspectives (you can see Rainier all the way from Seattle to Portland) just as God can be glimpses from Catholics, protestants, Anabaptist, and perhaps even other religions, but from on top of the mountain you can see all perspectives a 360 degree view of the scenery around them(just as God can see the whole world in perfect clarity).
Furthermore, Scientists tell us that the cascade mountains that we can see from outside this very church were formed 100 million years ago by the collision of the North Atlantic Plate and the Pacific plate, but 100 million years is relatively young for a mountain range, by comparison the Appalachian mountains are half a billion years old, making them one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world.
While the cascades are beautiful, I have spent many a summer vacation camping in them in Oregon. Nothing can really compare to the splendor of the Appalachian mountains. I traveled to the Appalachian mountains in summer of 2007 as part of a high school week-long trip to study the effect of coal mining on the environment and people of the Appalachian mountains in Kentucky.
Upon reaching the Appalachian Mountains i was blown away by the beauty of the place. Of light filtering through oak and hickory, rolling hills and deep hollers (valleys) filled with clear streams. There really is not another place like this in the US at least. Like the Redwood forests of Northern California, these forested mountains and hills held a special character. I also met people who felt a deep connection to that land. Who pointed out the names of mountains to me and recounted trips into the mountains on weekends. While I was in Kentucky I saw none of the redneck hicks of popular culture, instead I found intelligent, ex-miners, activists, artists, and musicians who all worried deeply about the effects of mining.
The trouble in paradise is that while God has made creation, making some places unique and beautiful and whose very presence is a praise to their creator humans are still involved and have the free will to shape creation into something else. Just as Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden humans can be tempted to believe they can take ownership of creation to become God.
Let me take a moment to explain why I am so concerned about coal mining, or a particular process of mining called mountaintop removal. Mountaintop removal, unlike other mining practices employees fewer workers and has a far greater environmental impact. Much like the name, this mining practice involves taking the top off of a mountain. This begins with clearing away trees and topsoil to be burned, next 600 feet or more of the mountain is blasted often at a force that can crack the foundations of those living near by.then the coal is dug out and the top of the mountain is pushed into the small creeks and rivers around the mountain. Let me stop for a moment to give context. First, the average height of mountains there is about 3,000 feet so removal of ⅓ or even half of the mountains elevation is possible. Second, people live in small towns spread out in the valleys around the mountains so there are always hundreds if not thousands of people living in the vicinity of a coal mine, and third, thousands of miles of streams get buried and polluted.
Still we are not done, because this coal is not the pure black coal you see in movies, but instead is a mixture of coal, rock, and dirt. Coal needs to be chemically processed and the resulting coal slurry (containing water, dirt, and toxic heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, lead, and chromium) that remains is deposited in huge sludge lakes in abandoned mine shafts or on top of mountains. These impoundments often break, unleashing a mudslide infused with toxic heavy metals. The most chilling thing I heard about these impoundments is that they are so unstable that it is not a question of if, but when they will break and there is a constant fear among people who live in their shadow of the day they will break, like the fear of the next city destroying earthquake in San Francisco, or the next eruption of Mt. Rainier. These slurry lakes containing billions of gallons of toxic water carry the same sense of Armageddon.
The sadness in this tale is that this story repeats itself all over the world, on my Goshen College Student Service Term in Peru I learned of how the rubber industry on the early 20th century was supported by slave labor of the indigenous people and how mining in Peru today continues to impact the lives of the people there.
But what is God’s call in the face of this present discord, what are we to do about something happening around the world? While I would encourage people whose gifts are for protest to research and speak truth to power, I understand that this is the call of a few and not the call to all. Instead, let us remember the words of Paul in his letter to pastor Timothy at the church in Ephesus. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But we have food and clothing we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” We must remember that the it is greed that has led to the errant mining practices. That it is our consumption that fuels the extraction of coal (and other raw materials) at any means necessary. And it is by being mindful of our energy consumption that we can be in greater relationship with the creator and creation itself.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you this morning and share my story. Let God’s will speak into what must be done on Earth. Amen