Father John Blogs on No Impact Week
So far this week:
I’m John Rausch, a Catholic priest with the Glenmary Society and director of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA). I’ve never blogged before and don’t know anything about Twitter or Facebook. I don’t even have a cell phone.
I am participating in the No Impact Week because this forms part of my spirituality—that which centers me, gives me life, and connects me with you and creation in the web of life.
I come with a faith perspective, and confess to you that this coming week I will drive about 700 miles doing my ministry, yet I will be mindful and aware of how much I am consuming.
Today, I drove about 200 miles from Abingdon, Virginia to Stanton, Kentucky, where I live. Friday, I drove my Honda Civic (36 mpg) to Hazard, Kentucky (75 miles) where I carpooled with Sr. Robbie Pentecost to drive the last 125 miles in her Toyota Prius (50 mpg). Today, Sunday, we reversed the drive, so nearly half the trip meant carpooling.
Observation: While looking at the carbon footprint of how much we drive, we need to include some grid about why we drive. If your mother is seriously ill, you may need to drive 300 miles by yourself to see her. Alternately driving 100 miles for some sporting event may need a closer examination. For essential driving, we rely on community members to contribute some of their “carbon miles,” so others can bring compassion to outside situations.
This weekend was CCA’s annual meeting. Folks who attended dealt with people incarcerated, environmental problems, drug addiction, health care costs, and poverty issues. Dealing with issues in Appalachia requires me to drive 22,000 miles a year. My carbon footprint may be big, but the region is ever expansive and demanding my driving. Since this meeting is annual, and not more frequent, I see this face-to-face interaction as contributing to greater community and shared responsibility.
I don’t buy a lot. I cook for people as a ministry to those in ministry. When we think of cutting back, we sometimes overlook the gift of friendship and how it inspires us to do more with less. I’m aware of what I am consuming, but struggling this week to find a healthy balance.
Your brother, John
Today, Monday, we look at trash. How much comes wrapped in cellophane, cardboard, and plastic! As consumers we need a knife, scissors, or quick dexterous pulls to release what the wrappings hold. Nothing in a store goes without packaging, bar codes, or produce numbers.
Today I purchased a few items for a dinner with friends for tomorrow. The scanners beeped with each item and recorded the price. Efficiency needs exactness, hence the need for waste—not like the farmer eye-balling the product, weighing it, and throwing in some freebee. In paying, I mention “keep the change” and we all receive justice with a spirit of neighborliness.
In living in a rural area, I must cart my trash to the dump and recycle next to it. I create one 13 gallon plastic bag of waste per week and I deposit any vegetable matter in my compost pile in my yard. When I recycle I count the beer cans and containers that passed through my kitchen in that week (or probably two-week) period. Recycling is like an examination of conscience for Catholics. The evidence of extravagance must be carted off, perhaps denied, but still carted off.
I look around my office filled with piles of papers and magazines. I write, therefore I must read. I hold on to past periodicals because there might be an article that could later inform my writing, but the flaw in that thinking lies with not knowing where I read a particular article or derived a relevant fact, and so I cannot find it amidst the clutter. Paper can be recycled, so this Monday pricks my conscience that I need to clear clutter and cancel those publications that no longer seem that relevant.
Today, I drove 141 miles round trip to meet with a committee person to plan an interfaith prayer service on top of a mountaintop removed area. We usually define trash as that which we throw away. The electricity used to power this computer that transmits this blog came at the cost of trashing a mountain in Appalachia. To me, trash no longer looks like cellophane, but needless computers left on all night and lights not turned off.
Your brother, John
This is “transportation day” for our No Impact Week. Happily, today I did not crawl into my car. Frequently enough I don’t drive to town just to fetch the mail, which means about a 5-mile round trip. I get my mail from my post box when I return from one of my trips however many days later.
Today, after three days on the road and yesterday a total deluge of rain, I needed to wash my clothes. Although this house has a dryer, for the past four years I have saved 4.5 pounds of coal per load to generate the electricity to heat my dryer. I hang my clothes to dry—solar powered. My friend, Robbie, bought me a collapsible drying rack—best gift I’ve gotten in a century! On decent days I still put the dryer in the sun out back, and on cloudy days I’m prepared to drag it back in.
This No Impact Week is playing on my mind. I spent an hour today cleaning my office by throwing away two stacks of old newspapers and magazines (I think I’m one day behind in terms of “trash day”). I will recycle another day, but today I decided not to drive at all.
Today I provided hospitality. Tonight I had three guests for dinner: a priest, a Brother, and a justice worker. Usually I provide meat as the entree, but tonight we went vegetarian because of No Impact Week. I planned a linguini with pears and gorgonzola, but because I refused to drive, I substituted fettuccine, apples, and blue cheese.
My observation: Folks like coming together. Food prepared with love satisfies. Hospitality makes the Gospel concrete. Two of the three guests are staying over in my guest room and on my futon.
My point about ministry: All are welcome in this place!
Your brother, John
Today I got word that my friend Billy died. He died of cancer of the appendix, a rare cancer, but he also was a person in recovery for over 20 years. I find myself wrapped in this No Impact Week trying to cut back from physical things, and yet from my intimate circle, a friend has passed. I need to reflect about the mystery of life and death in the context of this week.
Billy had a process addiction, not one to alcohol or drugs. We, as many commentators admit, are an addictive society. I preached one time we in the U.S. are addicted to militarism, and people like popcorn jumped from the pews and left—22 complaints on that sermon alone!
Billy’s addiction was a process addiction. People who cannot control their credit cards and desires share part of that kind of addiction. We are asked to buy locally and control our desires for exotic foods, but we are addicted to our power of purchase: We got the money, so Chile should deliver the asparagus in our mid-winter.
Today we think about food and how to buy locally. For many counties in eastern Kentucky, i.e. central Appalachia, there are no farmers markets. We have obesity and diabetes, but few farmers markets. In Stanton, where I live, a dozen farmers bring their produce three days a week, but except for one friend, Roland, few plant exotic varieties of vegetables like paw-paw and Japanese eggplant. While many people in urban areas have access to markets and diversity, many in small towns deal with what farmers have traditionally grown, and the season is June to October.
My answer to buying and eating local today got replaced by eating out of the local refrigerator, i.e. left-overs. Living as a one-person household curbs one’s ability to buy fresh for the future. I try to invite folks for dinners, but I buy foods when they are on sale or marked down. I want to raise a garden, but I’m on the road a lot and the critters who own the forest appear nightly appareled in bibs with knife and fork. The struggle over local food really deals with the priority of time to plant, or seek out a farmer, or give in and do the convenient.
My friend Billy lived the 12-step program. He didn’t take the quick fix, but sought out the appropriate route of recovery. I will pray Vespers for the Dead tonight, because Billy reminded me that we can all go from the addictions of comfort and convenience to the liberation of health and spirituality.
Your brother, John
Living in Appalachia, I know of no issue more volatile than energy. Around the coalfields, vehicles display stickers saying “Friends of Coal.” If the people living in coal communities had a friend, that person would confront the industry about the adverse health effects and ask why 60,000 children each year in the U.S. have brain damage from mercury spewed from coal stacks. They might ask about the 30,000 premature deaths from coal, the 700 deaths per year from black lung, and the respiratory sicknesses from air-borne coal particulates. Coal is a sunset industry, but the world’s demand for energy increases each year. Renewables just cannot keep up with the explosive energy demand in China and India.
I try to use natural light when I can—open the shades and work by the candle power of the great Sun-Candle. Wash gets open-air drying with winds blowing my underwear all over the place (laugh time for my friends!) I try to turn off lights and counsel friends to unplug computers overnight!
A few years ago, I preached in the coalfields that the sale of Hummers was on the decline because gas prices were increasing. I challenged the congregation to make their decisions based not on economics, but on the moral imperative for the care of creation and the common good. A couple got up and walked out—obviously, strippers (strip mine folks) who could not listen to anything that assaulted the status quo.
Second story: I rented my house in Stanton in 2001 when another priest and I established a religious community. Steve went to the electric co-op and got us hooked up and put his name on the contract. A few years later he moved out, but I continued paying the bill each month that came to our address, but under his name. Two years ago, Wendell Berry, the well-known environmentalist, John Paterson, M.D., and the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth asked me to join them in a lawsuit against the local electric co-op building a large coal-fired plant ten miles from my house.
I suddenly realized that I might not be a co-op member because Steve’s name appeared on the bill. So, a Friday afternoon I called the co-op, dropped by their offices, and signed a contract. Basically, I joined the electric co-op on Friday and sued them that next Tuesday. Eventually, we won—they canceled the coal-fired plant!
Appalachia has been described as a mineral colony for the rest of the U.S. There are few jobs because the coal industry, now highly mechanized, has determined what can and cannot happen. Coal is the only game in town, but we need to expand the town! Wind and solar would do well in these mountains, but we need the capital investment and the political will to pull this off.
Meanwhile we endure mountaintop removal (MTR) for cheap electricity at the expense of community and creation. My admonition: Turn off whatever you can!
Your brother, John
When we think of water in eastern Kentucky, we think of mining. When companies do mountaintop removal (MTR), they expose the minerals to the rains that wash into the water table and pollute healthy streams. Low-income people need to add bottled water to their list for survival—an unnecessary commodity that comes because of corporate greed.
Just so folks know that I’m keeping up with the program, I collect the water that I run before the warm water cuts in when I’m doing dishes, and use it to water my plants. The commode mellows when it’s yellow, otherwise I flush for safety and health. Living alone allows me to monitor my usage regularly.
While I seriously can cut back in numerous ways in terms of water usage, I see corporate use and pollution as the main struggle for a healthy water supply. MTR pollutes streams and cracks existing wells (from blasts). If I put a jar of orange water on the table, people know that’s filled with iron, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and selenium—bad stuff! When I take people to the pond site where we could have drawn that water, folks could look around and see five trailers ringing that pond, and each trailer loaded with middle school kids ages 7-11. I then ask—where do kids play?
Currently the EPA is being assailed by political folks because the restrictions are costing jobs. No, the EPA is creating jobs because companies refuse to act responsibly and police themselves. EPA represents the common good. Without clean water we die. Without EPA we have no clean water. I’m willing to show anyone orange streams from mine acid drain off and offer them a drink. Please don’t take me up on my offer.
Your brother, John
Discover the benefits of service.
Saturday is Giving Back day, so for me I got to preach about No Impact Week to the Catholic congregation in Prestonsburg, Kentucky—all 25 of the folks.
Prestonsburg is 75 miles from my house, and after the 5 p.m. Saturday Mass I drove another 125 miles to Gate City, Virginia, for a meeting on Sunday night. This actually saved an additional 125 miles of driving because Prestonsburg was en route to my next appointment.
This week I logged 550 miles of driving: a bit higher than normal, but better than a recent 5-week period of 750 miles per week! I do more conference calls than in the past, but religious services and large meetings require driving. Curiously, many of my meetings that require excessive driving deal with care of creation.
In preaching about No Impact Week I realized that some bloggers were very concrete about food or travel or trash. I tended to be more philosophical (one of my editors called by stuff “dry.”) I know that the YES! literature emphasizes that simplicity brings a greater freedom and happiness, but I have his feeling that without a spirituality, that quest for less will not last. During the anti-war days of Vietnam many of my friends burned themselves out with demonstrations and actions. Only the ones who saw the war as part of a bigger picture of violence were able to maintain a balance.
By “spirituality” I mean the vertical of life, that which speaks from the core, the “attached” to the reality beyond the self or small circle of people. Spirituality gives meaning and purpose, it integrates mystery. People like poets, mimes, artists, and composers point to it as the realm beyond the flesh and blood.
My point: Without some spiritual grounding, living a simple life will get boring and dull, perhaps even spawn a spirit of despondency and envy. A healthy spirituality brings joy and excitement, happiness to be alive, to be one with the trees and birds, to be grateful for life in general.
I’m grateful to YES! for offering me this opportunity to blog. The writing made me reflect, and I became the greatest beneficiary of the work. I look forward to my next and last blog, which I won’t be able to send unless I discover some Internet connection. In Appalachia many places lack adequate infrastructure and that remains a big hurdle for social and economic development.
Your brother, John
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