John Prine’s Paradise

And daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away
by Singer, Songwriter, John Prine, “Paradise”

Paradise-boats..jpg

When the late singer and songwriter, John Prine, wrote the song, Paradise, Kentucky had long been one, if not the epicenter, of the coal mining industry.    In 1820 the first commercial coal mine in Kentucky opened in Muhlenberg County, the Western Coalition, whereby 1879 the state produced one million tons of coal.   Then in the 1900s another area within Kentucky, the Eastern Coalition, also began producing coal.  Such that by 2006, Kentucky was the third-largest producer of coal.

Though the coal industry provided for thousands of jobs through direct employment or indirectly over generations, the environmental impact upon the land, air and freshwater has been devastatingly consequential…particularly as concerns public health.  In communities that engaged in mountain top mining, there are elevated mortality rates for lung cancer as well as for chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease.  Tragically, these threats do not appear to go away after mining has ceased nor after land reclamation has taken place. [1]

From the opening chapter of Genesis, we hear these words, “…and God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.”   Scripture unequivocally asserts that first, creation belongs first and foremost to God and God alone, and second, as created by God, it is very good.   Likewise, Jesus’ actions (such as in showing solidarity for those on the margins) signify a deep and lasting caring, for those in the present and future generations.   His actions demonstrated a deep kinship and love for neighbor and all of creation.

Yes, we are facing so much loss right now.   Schools remain shuttered; unemployment and poverty are looming; graduation, wedding and travel plans have been put aside; the death toll continues and we remain sheltered in place, wondering how long this will last.  Figures larger than life, on the frontlines and those who lived quietly, have succumbed in the wake of this devastating illness.

Yet even as our hearts break due to the terrible toll this pandemic is taking, even as we’re overwhelmed with the plundering of God’s beloved creation, let us never forget that we are uniquely called to exercise solidarity.   When we wear a mask, when we keep physical distance to protect others and even phone a neighbor to see if they’re alright – have you considered how consequential even simple acts of courtesy and kindness are?    And when you compost, recycle and even resolve to go without meat one day a week – have you considered how simple steps can demonstrate a kinship with this fragile planet, we call home?

[1] Wikipedia, Coal Mining in Kentucky, en.wikipedia.org

[2] Image from – onlyinyourstate.com/kentucky/ghost-town-ky/

Author: Jessica McArdle

These are dark and corrosive times. As a writer and ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, I use prayer, poetry, reflection, and scripture to re-align our embattled spirits with the uniqueness and urgency of our God-given identity and call.

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