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August 2018 Associate Minister

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From the “Too Many River Metaphors” service on July 22, 2018

Being born in New Orleans, the very first drink of water I took came out of the Mississippi River. New Orleans has no other viable water supply. Although I’ve never heard anyone describe it this way, I think it is a form of trauma.

My first drink of water came from the worst our country has to offer. Every rejected nitrate, runoff, plant waste, pesticide and chemical that had the misfortune of being placed in a stream and sent down towards the Mississippi was in my first glass of drinking water.

What troubles me the most about this first drink is that my infant body was subject to all of the whims and policy decisions of the entire nation. Imagine if in 1979 there were a new trend of putting glitter in your hair through shampoo. This is not unreasonable for two reasons: First, it was the tail end of the disco era. Second, just a few years ago large cosmetic companies were putting things in their products, like micro-beads. These have absolutely no practical usage, but they are marketed as if they do. These micro-beads wound up polluting our waterways.

Imagine if this country thought it was a great idea to have glitter shampoo. There’s nothing wrong with this. I am not so lost in the puritanical roots of Unitarian Congregationalism that I can pretend that my opposition would be aesthetic: if you want glittery hair, great.

But if this trend took over the whole country, then our drains would get filled with glitter runoff. I could imagine many entirely glittery rivers merging and joining to form a very glittery Mississippi. As much as that thought makes me smile, I can’t help but wonder. What would it have meant that my first glass of water was filled with glitter because our country decided their aesthetics were more important than my right to drink clean water?

You can enjoy what you will, but remember that there are real life consequences to what we do. The supplement to personal freedom is policies that prevent trends, whims and prejudices from hurting other people and communities.

Maybe this metaphor is about how we must always pay attention to when we are upstream while talking to someone who lives downstream. Those of us with upstream lifestyles may not see the cumulative effects of throwing our poisons in the river. We must always listen to those people who live downstream, those people who can see our lifestyle from the pollution we force them to endure.