Before The Cleanup

The Ohio River at one time, was so polluted, that only mud cat and carp were able to survive in it, and neither was fit for consumption. A favorite recipe for preparing these carp went something like this. First you get a pine plank, scrub it and grease it with butter. You clean the carp, cover it with salt and pepper, put it in the oven and bake it at 350 degrees for thirty minutes. You then take it out of the oven, throw away the carp and eat the plank.

My oldest sister’s father in law, told of going to a large creek which emptied into the Ohio River, and bringing back tubs full of every kind of fish that you could imagine. He said there were so many fish in that creek and the water was so clear, that he didn’t need a rod and reel to catch them. He would crawl out onto a tree, a portion of which had fallen out over the water, and ease a long wire loop into the water, work it over a fish and yank, closing the loop and catching the fish. He said that in a matter of minutes, he would have all fish he wanted and be on the way home.

That creek, when I was in school was so polluted with orange yellow mine runoff, that nothing could live it. This kind of thing, along with the sewage and industrial waste which were daily pumped into it, had ruined the entire river system for hundreds of miles in every direction.

When a cleanup of the river was begun, most of us, gave it two chances of succeeding, little and none. It had been so long since the water was even fit to swim in, that nobody gave the cleanup a prayer, and even if they were successful in cleaning up the water, we all knew that the fishing could never come back.

They stopped the sewage and industrial waste from going into the river, and began in earnest to accomplish what we all saw as impossible. Even the color of the water changed. About ten years later, an article in the newspaper said fish in the river were now safe to eat. My reaction, like everyone else’s was “There is no way I will ever eat anything coming out of that river.” Many of us began fishing the river but no one kept what we caught, much less tried to eat it. Early on, I caught a huge rock bass which had lesions all over it, that sure didn’t look like it was safe to eat.

Some time later, when I caught a small muskie, I was shocked, because muskies do not live in polluted water, nor do beautiful channel cats and various other fresh water fish that were being caught. The fishing would never reach the level where it once had been, but the impossible had been accomplished. The river was back, but even though others did so, I never ate anything from it. I chose to remember what it had been before the cleanup, and missed some mighty fine eating.

It always disturbs me when I hear Christians and even whole denominations, excluding from ministry, those whose lives had been polluted by drugs, alcohol or some other sinful act, but who had been changed by an encounter with Christ. It seems that it’s OK for God to completely forgive, but somehow we don’t think we need to do the same.

Several years ago, a man called me and said that even though his entire life had been changed by his relationship with Jesus, he could not serve as a deacon in the church because he was divorced and remarried. He asked me what he should do. I told him to ask his pastor when divorce had become the unforgiveable sin, and to ask him where the Bible says we should hold against people, sins that God has forgiven.

I realize that caution must be observed before giving anyone a position in the church or anywhere else. But maybe before we condemn others because of their past, we would do well to remember the apostle Paul who by our standards would never have become an apostle, because he was directly responsible for the deaths of many Christian converts. And consider this: like Paul and the Ohio River, sometimes it’s better not to remember how things were before the cleanup.

Chaplain Fred Jeans
Kenilworth Care and Rehab


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