“They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.” Isaiah 65:21
Sounds pretty basic, right? Sounds like common sense and a foundational understanding of justice. Isaiah shares God’s promise that faith, commitment, and determination will be rewarded with peace and longevity on the land. But for too many families in West Virginia, and across Appalachia, it is a promise denied. The reasons are as complicated as each person’s story, but it may come as a surprise that you and I have participated in this broken promise . . . and that you and I are part of the answer to restoring this promise.
We were installing a new roof with a neighbor, Greg, and the topic of mountaintop removal coal mining came up. Greg shared with us that he could never again return to his homeplace. His family had been pushed off their ancestral land by coal companies, which went on to blast away the mountains above his hollow in search of coal, burying his homeplace under hundreds of feet of “overburden” from the dismembered mountains above.
“I can never go home…they took that away from me.”
I will never forget those words or the look on Greg’s face.
Greg is not alone.
And his story is all too common.
The setting may be different:
- poisoned land, air, and water from natural gas fracking and its pipelines
- farm fields tainted by toxic residue left behind by industry
- food tainted by GMOs, herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers
When you and I participate in these systems without question, we hinder people from living God’s promise.
What do we do when standing face to face with injustice? Harder still, what do we do when our eyes are vigilantly protected from coming face to face with the injustices we participate in?
We break forth from our stale Lenten traditions of giving up chocolate and throwing an extra dollar in the second collection and then checking another season of repentance off the calendar. We rip our plug out of the wall and engage in fasting from electricity, technology, and ignorance. We take that dollar and give it to a local sustainable farmer for real, clean food or to a campaign for renewable energy. We plant a seed in the ground as our prayer, one that will nourish not only our body, but also those with whom we share our harvest. At Easter, rather than gorging on jelly beans, we consider how our Lenten practices might rise with Christ into a new lifestyle.
How will you participate in the “new heavens and new earth” (Is 65:17) created by simple actions of solidarity?
Eric Fitts (Loyola University Chicago, 1999; West Virginia University, 2007) lives in Clayton, WV, with his wife Colleen, and three children. Eric and Colleen are part of the founding group of Bethlehem Farm, a Catholic community in Appalachia that transforms lives through serving with the local community and teaching sustainable practices, where Eric currently serves as Director. They live in community with fellow Caretakers and invite volunteers from across the country to join them in living the Gospel cornerstones of prayer, community, simplicity, and service. Eric also serves on the board of Nazareth Farm, Bethlehem’s sister farm, and Sprouting Farms, a nonprofit that combines education, resource sharing, land access, and food production models to support new & beginning farmers, jump-start local wholesale market channels, and help nurture the local farming community. Eric additionally served as mentor of the Mother Jones House at Wheeling Jesuit University. Eric’s other passions include raising barefoot children, working in the garden, running, hiking, and stargazing.