Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

White Christmas
distributed 12/22/06 - ©2006

My friend from Argentina would always remind me that this "white Christmas" thing is a cultural tradition, rooted in some parts of the Northern hemisphere. For her, Christmas was always a summer holiday.

In my part of the world, the traditional holiday sentiment of cards and popular songs likes a pleasant dusting of snow. But Denver got a serious dose of the white stuff this week. Our metropolitan area got about two feet in 24 hours, and we're still digging out.

Those of you in warmer climes can gloat -- and I'm sure you will -- but as we move into the holiday weekend, I'll share a few eco-justice reflections from this week's snow storm.

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The most obvious realization of these days is that Nature wins. These big "upslope" storms suck wet air off the Gulf of Mexico, and pull cold air down from Canada. When those conditions meet along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, then any notion of humans being in charge of things looks pretty foolish.

Our big, fancy, state-of-the-art international airport closed for 48 hours, stranding thousands of travelers at the terminal, and disrupting airline schedules across the country. Interstate 25, the north-south artery for the region, was shut down all the way from Wyoming to New Mexico. Even the shopping malls closed for a day!

We live in a society that has come to expect life to be predictable. Our transportation systems, on-demand utilities and well-stocked stores let us pretend that we have tamed the world, and that the events we put on our calendars are sure to happen on schedule.

A few days of snow are a fairly gentle reminder that "God willing" is a good suffix for any plans that we make. It helps us remember what was a daily reality for our ancestors in a less technological world -- the forces of nature are more powerful than we are.

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The announcement of "snow day!" brought very different realities to people across this region.

Happy students got to stay home from school, and many of them have dodged their final exams until after the winter break. (That's good news for now, but won't be as much fun when serious studying is called for while still on vacation.)

Salaried workers picked up an unexpected vacation day. Hourly workers, though, found themselves either in crisis or in heaven. Retail clerks, hairdressers and restaurant workers are among those who were counting on extra pre-Christmas hours to boost their paychecks. Instead, they lost two days of work that won't be made up. On the flip side, snow plow drivers, tow truck operators and truck stop vendors have put in long hours for bonus pay.

As is so often the case, the affluent members of our society can coast through these sorts of disruptions with little inconvenience. Those with lesser means feel the impacts more dramatically -- usually with serious added costs which are hard to absorb, and occasionally with unexpected opportunities.

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The snow storm allows us to see a side of human nature which is not always so visible. We rediscover that there is joy in community and in service.

Despite economic theories which say we're all self-interested individuals, eager to maximize our own gains, two feet of snow brings out volunteerism and friendship. There's the guy with a big 4-wheel-drive truck who cruised the highways, pulling out stuck cars for free. Countless folk have slogged into the drifts to push to a car with spinning wheels. Neighbors help each other dig out sidewalks, and check in on those who might be in need. People who rarely speak to their neighbors take the time to talk.

Being stranded for a day or two reminds us that we are a part of a community. We remember that it feels good to help.

We can see more clearly, too, the nature of essential community services, and the people who provide them. Not only do some work 12-hour shifts in the peak of the storm to plow roads, but others scour the streets to be sure the homeless are safely into shelters, and nurses stay on the job until their replacements can get to work.

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In the grand scheme of things, the Holiday Blizzard (as it was quickly named in the TV news graphics) isn't a big deal. Travel plans have been mangled, and lots of people have been inconvenienced. Some cars have dented bumpers, and one roof collapsed. Thankfully, no one has died because of this storm. Compared to the devastation of Katrina, the Colorado snowstorm doesn't even deserve mention.

But the good news that we didn't lose hundreds of lives, or have entire communities demolished, allows a gentler look at the realities which surface in the face of a storm.

Our lives will be back to normal in a few days -- except that we may carry a renewed awareness that we are part of a natural world that is far larger than our meager control. We may be more aware of those who are economically vulnerable, and be more eager to provide both charity and social services in the coming weeks. We may feel more human and humane as we remember that we're embedded in community.

All of those are appropriate things to remember as we head into Christmas -- even if it is summer where you are.

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I hope that you all have a joyous Christmas. The offices of Eco-Justice Ministries will be closed for the holidays, and I'll be taking a week off from writing Notes.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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