The End of Obedience


Water drops

Photo from Stock.Xchng

by Donna Sinclair

I was raised, in the 1940s, to be polite. I was a good child, obedient for the most part, and well-mannered. When I tested raising my voice a bit in the late 1950s, my peers suggested I might want to stop being so loud or I would never get a boyfriend.

I reverted to being polite.

But now, it is the season of Lent 2014 and I am rethinking that position. It’s because of one of the Lenten readings. Moses has led his people to a new camp at Rephidim, but after setting up they discover there is no water.  The people are angry: “Give us water to drink.” But Moses says, “Why pester me?” (Exodus 17: 1, 2).

I study this passage from Exodus and decide that being polite is oversold. Moses has led the people out of one wilderness, but landed them in another wilderness where there is no water. None. At all. There is not an ounce of politeness in their response to this situation. “Is God here with us, or not?” they demand. Moses fears death at their hands.

Well, naturally. This is not a case of the people asking their leader for a tax credit on hockey equipment or cheaper cell phone rates. This is about water. We can’t live without it. The leadership has failed.

And hey. This story looks familiar. Our own national leadership has led us to a place where the water is threatened. Vast tailings ponds in Alberta, fiercely contaminated by tar sands operations, are held (for now) behind massive earthen dams. Unpressured by government, the corporations involved make little discernible effort to clean them up – even though what is at stake is the once-pristine, third-largest watershed in the world.

Moses would never have gotten away with this.

Our leadership threatens our water further by enthusiastically supporting pipelines: the Keystone XL through the precious, fragile sand hills of Nebraska with the Ogallala aquifer just a few feet below the surface. Energy East, beside my own Northern Ontario city’s Trout Lake, now unprotected by federal environmental legislation. Northern Gateway, through British Columbia’s Great Bear rainforest, the last intact temperate rainforest in the world. Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain. Enbridge’s Line 9. The list of potentially nasty water-contaminating leaks expands.

Where are those cranky Israelites when you need them?

Because – I realize as I study this passage – righteous pestering for what we need (not merely want) gets results. God jumps into action. Instead of striking down the malcontents, God sends Moses with the elders of Israel to strike the rock at Horeb until water gushes out.

Lesson learned. When I hear about groundwater contaminated by fracking, rivers contaminated by dilbit spills, and scientists, statisticians and environmental organizations muzzled so we won’t figure all this out, I do not feel obedient. I feel noisy. I am sure that’s why Moses agreed to take along the elders in his quest for peace. They (concerned about their grandkids) probably pestered him, and God, the loudest.

I refuse to be polite about water.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Long View, The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario. Her most recent book is Tommy’s Angel (2013).

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Categories: Daily Life, Donna Sinclair, Ecology and Environmental Issues, Ethics, Leadership, Peace, Justice, and Equality, World

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2 Comments on “The End of Obedience”

  1. Ruth Hill
    March 11, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    Thank you, Donna. One must be willing to be the brunt of a lot of persecution when one starts shining the light of awareness into the darkness of denial. Not rocking the boat can often allow it to sink. Complacency appears to be the easiest way out, but has the worst consequences. The amount of resistance one meets is often a barometer of how important the problem is, and how thoroughly entrenched is the status quo.

  2. Donna
    March 18, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    Wise words, Ruth. Thank you for your comment. It is a time to resist being complacent, especially when it comes to the precious and irreplaceable: water, democracy, the earth’s atmosphere.. The list of things we take for granted, and should not, is long and getting longer.

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