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‘Just Creation’ panelist: ‘I don’t have to fix the world. I just have to be faithful’

After a previous panel took on Earth care, a second was tasked with discussing how to preserve precious water

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Jon Flobrant via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — After a panel assembled for the “Just Creation” conference put on by Columbia Theological Seminary and many partners took on the topic of the planet we inhabit on Friday, a second panel was asked later that day to speak about water.

Dr. William P. Brown, the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at CTS, moderated the water panel, which included:

Asked by Brown to articulate what’s sacred about water, De La Torre noted that many Native populations have water deities. “If I pollute the river, I am desecrating the goddess,” he said. “We have moved away from understanding the Earth as having its own rights and its own spirit.”

Juliet Cohen

“I don’t come to the work as a water advocate from a religious perspective,” Cohen said, “but there’s a reason why we gravitate to wanting to protect the water.” Many engage in the hard work because they grew up near a body of water. “They found something special, maybe spiritual, with water,” which makes them “feel at peace, at home when they are outdoors,” Cohen said.

The Chattahoochee River flows through three state jurisdictions — Georgia, Florida and Alabama. “My organization thinks about a basin and the watersheds that make up that basin,” Cohen said. “It has nothing to do with political jurisdictions and demands on the water.” It’s “heartbreaking” to think about the Colorado River not making it to its destination in Baja California, Cohen said. “If I were a river, I’d want to touch all my communities,” Cohen said. “When you talk to decision-makers making rules about permits, they don’t have that perspective at all. They are very myopic.”

“It’s a flowing love,” De La Torre said, “that encompasses all that’s beloved, emptying into the ocean where there’s even greater life.”

Kellyn LaCour-Conant

“To feel like a river is to feel that abundance and the fierceness of a protective mother, a force to be reckoned with,” said LaCour-Conant, a daughter of the Cane River Creole community of Isle Brevelle, Louisiana. “We owe our life on this Earth to the power of water.”

The greatest threat to the Chattahoochee River is stormwater pollution, Cohen said. “Controlling that requires a change in approach by land use planners, engineers and developers. We have the solutions. It’s just a matter of requiring changes to best management practices and local ordinances.” The City of Atlanta has “an excellent stormwater management ordinance,” that’s “a model” for other communities in the Southeast, Cohen said.

At 434 miles in length, the Chattahoochee River is the smallest river serving a major city in the country, Cohen noted. “Right now, it’s not a crisis because it’s been raining for months,” Cohen said. “But another drought will come.”

“As long as I can turn on my tap and have clean water coming out, I don’t have a problem,” De La Torre said, “and if I do have a problem, science will invent something to fix it. That ignorance and apathy is the greatest challenge.” Also problematic is the commodification of water, “which leads to wars between nations,” and even civil wars, such as in Syria, De La Torre said.

De La Torre was in Guatemala a few months ago. “A major reason for migration from there is because of drought,” De La Torre said. “Agriculture has collapsed, and so you move northward … We have a migration problem and wars at least partly because of water.”

Dr. Miguel De La Torre

Six years ago, De La Torre published a book, “Embracing Hopelessness,” a book that he noted explores “faith-based responses to unending injustices by embracing the reality of hopelessness.”

“I don’t believe humanity is going to change. The things we need to do aren’t going to get done,” De La Torre said. Nevertheless, “I will continue to fight for justice,” not for a reward in the life to come “and not because I’m going to win,” De La Torre said. “I fight because it defines the faith I claim to have, and more importantly, it defines my humanity.”

“Once I embrace that hopelessness, it is unbelievably liberating,” De La Torre said. “I don’t have to fix the world. I just have to be faithful.”

“The best way to impact the world is to help others, and that is enough to make me human and make me feel I am a positive impact on the planet,” Cohen said. “I have been hopeful until recently. Now I am debating where I am headed with the work I do.”

“I have experienced very low lows in my life,” said LaCour-Conant. “The loss of hope is so real to many of us.” While we can hope that a hurricane that’s bearing down doesn’t devastate our community, “that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for what might come,” LaCour-Conant said.

“People are struggling, and what gives me hope is continuing to build strength and power together,” LaCour-Conant said. “I am given hope by connections with family and peers, the people I love. I know we will get through it, and that’s what gives me hope.”

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