The Water Crisis and Letting Jesus be the Hero of Your Story

"Everyone is the hero of his own story." This quote, paraphrased from John Barth, struck me at a Maryknoll Affiliates Conference over the weekend. We were watching a film called A World Without Water, which documents the current and impending water crisis. During the course of the film, we see people in Bolivia, Kenya, and even Detroit struggle to afford water, either supplied by private enterprise or, in the case of Detroit, by a local government trying to make the distribution of water more profitable. One of the people interviewed in the film says, "The World Bank believes in water privatization the way that others believe in Jesus, Mohammed, or Buddha," and this despite the many failures that have occurred where this approach has been attempted.

This statement could be taken as a mere condemnation, but it also highlights a grave challenge that we face as human beings struggling to see and be God's presence in the world. In Scripture, we are warned often about "false gods," and that term gets thrown around today to criticize people whose worldviews frustrate or disturb us. The real challenge, though, is to acknowledge and abandon our own false gods: those human traditions and trappings that prevent us from embracing and serving the Christ in creation.

The issue of water privatization presents a powerful example for people to consider. On the one hand, the idea of privatization is borne out of the idea that the government in a certain area is unable to reliably supply or afford to supply clean water to all of its people. On the other hand, the private companies to which this then entrusted are denying many people access to water out of a concern for making a profit. On both sides, people believe that they are providing the answer and doing the noble thing. Yet, in both cases, a failure is occurring that is denying many people access to one of the most basic resources necessary for survival. People on both sides need to ask, then, "What is the fundamental principle that must be protected here?" Is it that private enterprise is best-equipped to solve societal problems? Is it that some problems can only be solved by government intervention? Or is it, possibly, that all people have the right to live, and need access to clean water to do so?

Think what would happen if that last principle were the central, connective thread in this debate. What compromises (and sacrifices) would be made on both sides? After we watched this film, we celebrated Mass. In the Gospel reading, Jesus admonishes, "You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition" (Mark 7:8). We need to abandon certain human traditions in order to honor God's commandments. To truly protect and promote life, this will require breaking from many of the traditions that we may find central to our identity: our political ideologies, our national pride, our economic worldviews, our views of justice, possibly even elements of our religious traditions.

It is difficult to do this, and often we are afraid of giving up power, control, or simply the comfort of thinking that we know how the world works. But if we instead view it not as giving something up, but as embracing the word of God, then we can find the strength to make these sacrifices and the joy that comes in walking a path closer to that word. Everyone, at some point, is the hero of her own story, but we have also seen what can happen when we let Jesus be the hero of ours.