It Is a Way We Know. And It Is Time.

October Light
Image by fred1st via Flickr

A personal confession for Lent 2010–Fred First

I believe mankind inhabits the Earth not by accident; our place here is a precious gift to us and to all living things.

But as Earth’s dominant and most intelligent species, well-endowed for care-taking, we have failed to care adequately for its soil, water and atmosphere. Living as if only our fleeting present mattered in the long history of life, we have knowingly let our population over-run the planet’s ability to provide for us.

Many of us have taken more than we needed and have used up faster than earth’s systems could replenish, and our future as a species is uncertain.

I believe that what is necessary in our times are conversion and repentance, words drawn from a vocabulary of broken relationship and far more familiar to our grandparents than to our children–old-fashioned words that cry out for change in a time of global and local relationship crisis that could end tragically.

Closer to the precipice toward which our generation has traveled we do not want to send our children. Convicted of this, we have nothing to do but to stop where we are, acknowledge our error and turn around while we have light and time.

In this “cathedral made without hands” as John Muir called this unspeakably magnificent world of stone and flesh, of water and of blood, let us confess that we have wandered out of fellowship with each other and with the good earth.

We have lost our way, putting other gods before us: the consumptive engines of our opulence in all its forms;  the terrible weapons of power and of disempowerment we wield against those at home and abroad who would stand in the way of a pernicious and counterfeit progress; the electronic noise and light that have become our prayers without ceasing; the false god of our personal comfort while millions go to bed hungry or thirsty or sickened by the dis-eases of  poverty that our engines of consumption have created in their back yard.

We have come to believe in our selves, in our nation, in our way of life as sacred, in our blessings as ordained entitlements, and in this, we have strayed from the path, and urgently require conversion–a reoriented about-face with deep and sincere remorse, and with a pledge that we can and that we will find the better way forward. It is a way we know.

I believe we know in our heart of hearts that in arrogance and pride we have traveled a great distance from our source, drawn away by our failed efforts to secure an illusory security and nourishment in things, in power, in a diet of mere information.

As a prodigal people, it is time to go home.

In our turning, we will renew our ties to the places we call home, to gardens and to watersheds, to our neighbors in need and those who can give back for our common good. In our repentance, we will slow down, giving thanks for our senses that lead to insight that comes only to those who are still.

We will discover how truly abundant our lives have been, even without the possessions we thought we must have, when all along, what we needed was to love one another. What we needed was to tread softly and reverently on the abundant earth with thanksgiving and with humility. If we can achieve these things together now, we will endure.

This I believe.

Andrew Sullivan / The Atlantic / The Daily Dish expresses similar convictions.

What do you believe?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Powerful words, Fred. I wish people would pry themselves from reality TV to ponder what it is that you are writing. And I wish that preachers would preach what it is that you are writing instead of focusing on individual salvation.

  2. Your essay calls us to a radical change, as your term conversion implies. Many of us are willing to make incremental changes, like the Republicans with health care reform. And maybe if we steadily keep pressure on, the gradual changes will eventually lead to large results. I guess that is all we can hope for from ourselves. If that be true, let’s lean on each other constantly to keep forward momentum going. Your excellent essay is the best kind of leaning on your fellow humans.

  3. For some reason, I stopped getting emails of comments, so have thought this deeply-felt statement had bloomed unseen. So be it. It was for my benefit, after all, to know what I think by seeing what I say. Then, I discover today that a few have heard–and feel inclined, as you say, Kathy, to lean on my friends and neighbors for their support and encouragement. Thanks, everyone.