Where does it come from?

Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton and the diocesan Stewardship Resources team.

See more Stewardship meditations and get stewardship resources for your parish at cnyepiscopal.org/stewardship>

We do have a unique ability to take something as a given. When we turn on a faucet, water will flow; when we flick a switch, lights turn on; when we adjust a thermostat, the air inside our houses turns warmer or cooler; when we pull that tiny computer out of our pocket (the one few of us ever actually use for phone calls), we expect it to deliver instantaneously a world of news and entertainment to us.

Yet it wasn’t always so. A great-aunt of mine talked about her father having a well drilled in their home’s backyard, remembering that he would stand there, every day, and carefully and deliberately pump up water into buckets or other containers, as if doing so was a sacred act. Years later, my great-aunt’s older brother, my father’s father, would each fall lead his family into their house’s basement, where a huge coal fired furnace stood, and light the fire for the season. For him, too, this was an event to celebrate and observe with reverence. We don’t have much of a record how our ancestors reacted to the arrival of electricity and electric lights, but the reaction of Downton Abbey’s popular Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley, is probably not far off the mark: “First electricity, now telephones. Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an HG Wells novel. But the young are all so calm about change, aren’t they?”

We enjoy these luxuries as if they were our God-given rights, and it’s so easy to forget that we’re in a privileged minority. This is certainly true on a historical scale,  as so many generations of our ancestors made it through life without any of these modern conveniences. Perhaps more importantly, today much of the world still lacks access to one or the other of these modern conveniences, and often lacks access to more than one.

So, what are we to do? It’s probably a good start to teach our children, or grandchildren, to turn off the lights, the TV, and maybe a radio, when they leave a room. Just like our parents tried to teach us. Young children are such keen observers, and they will pick up quickly if our actions don’t match our instructions to them. 

When we use fossil fuels, we can  teach our children that the sacred web of life extends from millions of years back to our days. We could help them imagine that this web stretches beyond the boundaries of the earth, as so much energy on this our planet home derives from sunlight. It nourished the world which decomposed into fossil fuels, as it nourishes the meadows, the orchards, and the fields which sustain us today. We’re becoming much better at capturing the sun’s light and energy to directly generate the electricity, without which the current quality our daily lives might be hard to imagine.

Even if we are struggling with being good stewards of this our home planet, we can start with a small step here, another small step there. Eventually we will find ourselves on an ongoing journey to leave the world to the next generation, and the generation after this, in a shape which has affirmed the connectedness of all life, across time and space—a place in which to live and be part of God’s creation is not merely a struggle of survival, but a joy—rejoicing in the Lord always!

  • Virginia Nagel

    It really isn’t all that far back. I was on in 1939, and spent most of the WWII years living with my grandparents on their little farm near Amsterdam, NY, because of the Nazi Uboats in Long Island Sound. We had Kerosene lamps, a privy out back, a pump in the back yard, and coal stoves for heat and cooking. We did laundry with scrubbing boards and a hand-powered wringer on a big washtub, and took our Saturday night baths in that same washtub front of the kitchen stove. We got plumbing and electricity when I was 14…and my mom finally got central heating many years after I had married and moved to the city. My story is not unusual, either.

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