I am often asked by people how the struggle for “the mountains” is coming along. As we enter the New Year 2010, many of us might be pondering that question.

Ok? So how do we feel about the future, those of us who are activists struggling to save the mountains, the mountain culture, the mountain ecology, and integrity and civil society in the face of destructive coal extraction practices in West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and adjacent areas of Tennessee and Virginia?

This past year has had its ups and downs.  The EPA in Washington may be buckling down on mountaintop removal.  Maybe.  The coal industry is “pouring on the coal” (so to speak) in high-priced propaganda to resurrect lagging investment in coal-fired power plants, all the while scapegoating environmentalists.  High tension exists between coal supporters and those fighting abusive coal  practices.  The Copenhagen talks illustrate the difficulty in getting meaningful change.  So what gives us hope for 2010 and beyond?

In the Christian Bible, Hebrews 11 speaks to the nexus of hope and faith.  The first verse reads, Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.” This is followed by a listing of numerous named and unnamed biblical heroes who pressed on in faith against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  Some of them saw the fruits of their faith, others did not.  Some were victorious, others seemingly failed.  Yet God commends all of them for their faith, and what God commends will ultimately have its triumph.

Hebrews chapter 12 begins, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Our hope ultimately cannot be in the government, although it is important to influence government to a better good. Our hope cannot be in popular sentiment, for we know popular sentiment can be whimsical and capricious.  Still we should seek to influence others to a better good. Our hope cannot even be in ourselves, for down deep we are weak and we falter. Even so each of us needs to work on developing and disciplining our own character.

We have a choice to make. Hope or despair.  And despair leads to inaction, cynicism, and paralysis.  Hope for a healed, restored, and harmonious creation, coupled with our conviction that God wills this to be, inspires us to faith in action.  God takes up and uses our faith-inspired action, often in a way we cannot fathom or see.  Thus our hope is in God.

We have much ahead of us for 2010.  Keeping hope alive and strong is essential.  Let’s all encourage one another to be strong in hope!

–Allen Johnson

The birth of Jesus according to the Gospel of St. Matthew is fraught with peril, flight, exile, and murder.  The innumerable Christmas pageants tend to omit most of this drama, perhaps because pageants often are for children. “The Wise Men” are coupled with Luke’s “shepherds” at the manger scene.

Herod is the villain in the story.  Wily and jealous of any usurper to his throne, Herod pleads the Wise Men to lead him to the new born King of the Jews so that he, too, might worship him.  The Wise Men find Jesus and pay him homage with precious gifts. Warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they leave for their home country by another road.  Upon discovering that the Wise Men had tricked him, an infuriated Herod orders all male children in the Bethlehem area up to two years old slain.  Joseph, warned in a dream, escapes to Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus.

History notes Herod the Great, as differentiated from sons, as a master politician, exceptional architect, and supremely cruel and paranoiac ruler over Palestine.    As a regional vassal king of the Roman Empire, he had immense opportunities for self-aggrandizement as long as he continued to fill the coffers of Rome and maintained political stability. Ever guarded that he might be overthrown, Herod executed numerous members of his own household, including two wives and several sons.

In 20 BC Herod built the expanded second Temple in Jerusalem.  An extraordinary achievement, the Temple was built in less than two years with thousands of slaves and the employment of at least 1000 priests to comply with religious code.  This Temple is the scene of some of Jesus’ dramatic healing, teaching, and confrontations with religious authorities. Jesus was arrested, tried, executed, and buried all within a few hundred yards of the Temple.

Herod was a murderous despot. A modern equivalent might be Saddam Hussein.  It would be slanderous to compare Herod with anyone in American politics or corporate power.  However, it is instructive to delve into some of Herod’s inclinations as applicable to power-mongering in today’s American society.  Let me explain:

First, Herod pulled out all stops to aggrandize and protect his own power base.  One notes this trend, even though much softer, in today’s political and economic battles.  The public loses.

Second, life for Herod was expendable in deference to his own selfish ambitions.  The history of Appalachia bears witness to this grim truth of the Herod spirit arising in the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster to Blair Mountain to Black Lung to Prenter’s contaminated well water.

Third, Herod co-opted religion to consolidate his power by building a magnificent Temple and through enabling an elite religious priesthood to benefit economically while hoodwinking and burdening the common people.  Too few churches in America today are willing to challenge corruption due to compromised alliances.

Fourth, Herod built monuments of pleasure and ego for himself and for his legacy.  Herod’s plush vacation palaces and vast tomb display his vanity.  There are those today who plunder God’s creation and exploit God’s creation for wealth and pride. Appalachia continues to suffer under their selfish greed.

Fifth, Herod opposed Jesus all the while masquerading his feelings by pretense. I personally believe an imposter will reveal his or her true hand when confronted by a choice between their god and the true God.  Their love of money (mammon) often smokes this out.

Sixth, Herod was an unhappy man who died in torment.  Jesus taught, “What profits a person to gain the whole world yet lose his (her) soul?” (Matthew 16:26).  As anti-mountaintop removal activist Larry Gibson often asks, “What in your life is not for sale?”  Let’s hope it isn’t our soul.

—Allen Johnson

Joy To The Cosmos, The Lord Has Come…

Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).  The Greek word for “creation” is cosmos. The Gospel (good news) is for all creation.  Believers are called to be ambassadors, witnesses, first fruits of this good news.  Creation is to benefit.  Creation is to be blessed.

The extraordinary good news an angel announced to shepherds on Bethlehem hillsides 2000 years ago was, “Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David the Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10,11).

Several centuries ago the renowned hymnist Isaac Watts penned one of the great Christmas songs of all time, “Joy to the World.”  The words resound with good news to all creation. Comments in italics…

Verse 1 (nature rejoices that Jesus the Lord is come to be its king)

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Verse 2 (when when we humans accept the reign of the Savior, the very land is able to be in the condition and purpose that God has created for them.  This is their joy, so to speak)

Joy to the Earth! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Verse 3 (this refers to the curse of rebellion against God, exemplified by Adam’s sin, which alters creation’s blessings)

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Verse 4 (Jesus is the measure and marker of how we humans and our nations are to rule. Alas! How far short humans fall.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Let us enter 2010 with renewed commitment that our deeds and lives will indeed be witnesses and advocates of Jesus’ Good News of Great Joy to our neighbors, to our communities, even to our enemies, and to all creation.

–Allen Johnson

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

Go Tell It on the Mountain” is an African-American spiritual compose in the mid-19th Century that is often sung as a Christmas carol.  The Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, records an angel announcing to shepherds out at night with their flocks, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  After the shepherds witness the newborn Jesus, “they made known what had been told them about this child.”

Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, lies in the Judean hill country, part of a broad-shouldered north-south mountain spine lying between the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the sub-sea level Dead Sea to the east.  The inhabitants were adapted to this rugged hill terrain.  Jesus later on grew up further north on that mountain range, in Nazareth in the province of Galilee.

The aristocratic priests and elite urbanites of Jesus’ day looked down their noses at Galileans.  For one thing, Galileans had an accent that included a slurring of their words to such an extent that words were often misunderstood.  The Temple priests accused Galileans of being lax in their tithes and religious observances.  The priests did not believe Galileans had good character or intelligence. Since Galileans were poor agricultural people, and in disfavor by the urbanites, they came to be derisively catcalled, am ha-retz, “people of the land.”  Or in modern vernacular, “hillbillies.”  Jesus was a hillbilly.

Shepherds in the time of Jesus were looked down upon as unreliable, uncouth, thieving, and rowdy.  Their testimony was not allowed in court.  Yet it was to shepherds that the angel announced the birth of the Savior.

Modern elites today tend to look down on mountain people living in the heart of Appalachia in a way that is analogous to Galileans and shepherds of Jesus’ time.  And it seems easier on the conscience to defraud and exploit mountain people once they’ve been downgraded.  A desecration such as mountaintop removal would never happen in the Poconos or Catskills that are playgrounds for the rich and mighty.

A few months before Jesus’ birth, Mary his mother prophesied about this birth.” He has shown might in his arm: he has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.  He has brought down the powerful from their seats, and has exalted the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he has sent empty away” (Luke 1:51-53).

Jesus’ identification with the lowly of the world, those looked down upon  by the self-sufficient and proud,  is not part of today’s slick and tidy Christmas story.   Yet this is a vital part of the Christmas message.  So…go tell it on the mountain!

—Allen Johnson

We need your help to bring an end to mountaintop removal coal mining. PLEASE MAKE A CALL TODAY!
This week, over 140 citizens from Appalachia and across the US will gather in our nation’s capital as part of our 4th Annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington.

They will be meeting with members of Congress to urge them to co-sponsor HR 1310, the Clean Water Protection Act which would help to end mountaintop removal coal extraction.

Mountaintop removal is one of the most egregious environmental and social justice disasters in America today – over 500 mountains, equal to over 1.5 million acres of land have been destroyed by this practice.  Residents and supporters from across the US are asking for an end to this practice and an investment in sustainable economic alternatives for Appalachia.

You can help end mountaintop removal. Click here to show your support for the mountains, the people and the waters of Appalachia.

By calling your House Representative in Congress today, you can make the case that now is the time for Congress to take action to stop mountaintop removal coal mining.  Our goal this year is to pass the Clean Water Protection Act in 2009 — be a part of making history with us!

Call your House Representative today: Use our nifty call-in tool that will dial your Representative directly at no charge and provide you with a script for speaking to them by clicking here In addition to the provided script, it would be great for you to add why, as a person of faith, you are in support of the legislation.  Let your Representative know that:

*God calls us to sustain creation for future generations. (Psalm 8:6-8)
*God calls us to walk with those in unjust systems.  (Proverbs 31:8-9, Matthew 25:34-40)
*God calls us to protect what belongs to him. (Genesis 2:15-17)
And much more!  Please elaborate and add your own reasons.

You can also find out whether your Representative sponsored the Clean Water Protection Act in 2008 here

Thanks for helping to save a national treasure, the Appalachian Mountains and its communities.

PS. We strongly suggest you call your representative, but If you would prefer to contact your Representative by email, click here

Sandra Sleight-Brennan produced a three part series for the Environment Report on NPR about Mountaintop Removal which aired this week.  Part 3 of the series focused on the role that relgious groups play in the fight against MTR and features Christians for the Mountains.  Please check out the story.

February 5th is the day of National Teach-in on Global Warming Solutions.  We always hear of the dangers of Global Warming, and it is important to know how this will impact humans and ecosystems, but now is the time to talk about solutions.  There are ways that we can stop things from getting worse and get onto the track of a healthy future.

Marshall University in Huntington, WV is hosting a teach in. Below is the agenda.  Want to find a Teach-in closer to home?  Check out the action map for an event near you.

National Teach-In on Global Warming Solutions
February 5, 2009
Marshall University’s Program for Participation…

The Global Warming Solutions Gallery

Location and Time: Marshall University Student Center, Room BE5, 10am until 7pm

a.    10:00am – 11:00am: Connect to “Focus the Nation”
b.    11am – 11:30am: Coal River Wind Project Presentation
c.    11:30am – noon: Dr. Mike Little’s Agriculture Reclamation for Mountaintop Removal Sites Presentation
d.    Noon – 1pm: Discussion of “A New Shared Economy for Appalachia” paper
e.    1pm – 3pm Green Jobs Panel, with representatives from:
i.    Center for Economic Options (CEO)
ii.    WV Youth Action League (WV-YAL)
iii.    Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER)
iv.    More participants TBD
f.    3:00pm to 3:30pm: Green Bridge (a green business being developed by MU students)
g.    3:30pm to 5pm: Open Mike
h.    5pm to 7pm: “Kilowatt Ours” (film)
i.    Other Gallery Items:
i.    The Global Warming Solution Poster Series provided by Marshall’s HON480 “Global Climate Change: Scientific and Social Perspectives” Class
ii.    Kat Cadle (poster and handouts on simple ways to live sustainably)
iii.    Showcase of Marshall’s available, relevant library items on green design, sustainability, global warming, etc.

Anyone interested in presenting an idea, project or information about a global warming solution can email Libby Callicoat at callico1@marshall.edu to be included.