Blessing our home by staying in our home

Jon Magnuson, Cedar Tree Institute

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is supposedly the richest man in the world. He and another billionaire venture capitalist Elon Musk both have a similar idea: Fly on a rocket to the planet Mars. Colonize a sustainable human community there.

No, this isn’t fiction. Bezos’ private company Blue Origin has already booked passengers for an upcoming commercial space travel venture at $200,000 to $250,000 a ticket. The flight is booked solid.

Is this as bizarre, naively arrogant as it sounds? Yes. The truth is increasing numbers of people seem interested in abandoning our home, planet earth. So, who is to say that now that we have despoiled our given home, we will not do the same, if given the chance, to the far reaches of our galaxy?

There’s another option. Taking a serious look at theologian Thomas Berry’s invitation to join in “The Great Turning.” To participate in a new, unprecedented awakening shaped by science and deep spirituality.

To learn to fully appreciate the beauty of the earth and her resources, to commit to a new level of stewardship, wise use, and revered sustainability.

That means looking, in new ways, at the health of our communities, our villages and small towns, here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Pondering on how to best protect our unusual landscape — the forests, lakes and streams — and our sisters and brothers — the fish, the animals and the birds, all which frame our life together.

The global pandemic is giving us pause to think about how we care for one another. And question what each of us, in our own way, call “a good life.” Here in the Great Lakes Basin, we are being given one more chance to reset, protect, and celebrate our peoples and natural resources. This will not only involve scientific and political work. It’s also a spiritual task.

Could our rugged home here in the Upper Peninsula, without the slightest apology, become known throughout the country as modeling and celebrating the best of rural life? Could we design together an intentional economy around seasonal festivals, art, and music? Could we become known for our vineyards, farmers’ markets, for our fishing and seasonal hunting opportunities? For our holistic healing centers and state-of-the-art medical facilities, our hospice care, our substance abuse treatment agencies and our unique partnerships with our five federally-recognized American Indian tribes? For the country’s finest infrastructure (roads and bridges), clean water, for renewal energy initiatives, eco-friendly logging industries, and simplified lifestyles?

Up close and personal, right now Marquette County is dealing with a draft proposal regarding an industrial rocket launch site in Powell Township near the shores of Lake Superior. Thousands of citizens have responded in a petition expressing their shared view: “NO” The impact on shoreline integrity, the plight of adjacent home owners, and the damage (sound) and vibration on nearby rockface and woodlands is incalculable.

Two years ago, I sat among a group of faith-based community leaders interested in developing a deeper commitment to water stewardship in the Upper Peninsula. Our guest that evening was Al Gedicks, a retired university professor and one-time seminary student, who has served as a leader for Wisconsin’s most notable, effective environmental efforts.

He warned about surrendering to what he called “The principle of inevitability.” He was pointing to a reluctance in voicing opinions about development projects that potentially damage human health and threaten the quality of streams and forests.

Conventional wisdom suggests corporate financial interests always prevail. “No,” he said, “Together we make a difference. We can shape what the future will be for our community. I’ve lived it.”

A deeper vision for life together in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula can be forged with harder, more honest , reflective conversations about quality of life, not simply financial markets. Economies can flourish in bold new ways that will bless our home and our natural resources. Now is a good time for those of you who are ready and able to bring energy and support to such efforts.

Among those on-the-ground groups who are committed to this challenge are Friends of the Keweenaw, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition, our region’s Federally recognized tribes, Great Lakes Recovery Centers, leaders of our faith communities, our local Chamber of Commerce, U.P. Arts and Culture Alliance, The Lake Superior Watershed, the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve, and Citizens for a Safe and Clean Lake Superior.

Yes, Mr. Bezos and Mr. Musk, you will do what you want. You have enough money to do that. But know there are others who live here in this corner of the Great Lakes Basin, more of us than you think. We prefer to stay home.

And we plan to fight, to our last breath, to bless this place.

Editor’s note: Jon Magnuson is affiliated with the Cedar Tree Institute, a nonprofit organization that initiates projects and provide services in the areas of mental health, religion and the environment.


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