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Sunday Morning: Watershed Literacy

July 22, 2015

The White Plains Presbyterian Church is part of the Bronx River Watershed. Watersheds are earth’s natural communities. They are defined by the water that runs through them and the ridges that cause water to flow into one watershed or another. Everyone lives in a watershed. This past Sunday, as part of our sermon reflection time, we tested our literacy of this place we call home.

I took as my text, “And when Jesus came to that place…”  I didn’t cite any particular chapter and verse because this phrase or one like it can be found in almost every chapter of Mark’s gospel. (In chapter six alone Jesus is seen racing from place to place). We thought about the importance of particular places in scripture, and wondered what it would be like for Jesus to visit “our place.”

Which raised an important question: Do we like this place?

One of the last things that Kurt Vonnegut wrote is a prose-poem he called Requium.

The crucified planet Earth,
should it find a voice
and a sense of irony,
might now well say
of our abuse of it,
“Forgive them, Father,
They know not what they do.”

The irony would be
that we know what
we are doing.

When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
”It is done.”
People did not like it here.

So I asked, “Do we like it here? Do we even know where here is?”

The importance of this question about place is underscored by Baba Dioum, a forest engineer from Senegal:

We won’t save places we don’t love;

We can’t love places we don’t know.

We don’t know places we haven’t learned.

I asked my congregation “What is the one question you can count on every child asking from the back seat of the car during along road trip?” And the congregation responded, “Are we there yet?”

I responded that the question running through our worship service would be, “Are we here yet?”

For the remainder of our reflection time I shared a series of questions from a watershed literacy quizdeveloped by Kevin Kelly called The Big Here. You can read the questions yourself and see how well you know the place where YOU live. The congregation on Sunday discovered that they could pretty easily identify local flowers, the time of sunset, even the source of our drinking water. But they struggled to know (specifically) where our trash is taken, who uses our recycling, and where solid wastes go when we flush them.(I had answers for all of these). There are many more, and much more challenging questions in the quiz.

Over the next several months I will be collecting this information on my blog as a sort of “watershed welcome” for new residents in White Plains. If you know an answer to a question pertaining to the Bronx River Watershed, please send it along to me. The EPA also has this cool tool to help you find out what watershed YOU live in.


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