A Renewable Energy
Rev. Lindsay L. Fulmer
Ladera Community Church
July 4, 2010
Around the country on this day, in small towns and big cities, parades are lining up, high school bands are tuning up, and flags wave from front porches. Gas grills are fired up, out comes the picnic plates, potato salad, and the curling smoke wafts up heady summer incense. Someone’s barbecuing. The Fourth of July brings an old-fashioned spirit of community as strangers become neighbors, sitting on blankets under a starlit sky, oohing and ahhing over every sparkling burst of fireworks. This is our country, and oh America, how beautiful for spacious skies you are, for amber waves of grain and purple mountain’s majesties above the fruited plain. A tune tinged with nostalgia, for the way things used to be, the way we used to be.
The fervor of patriotism finds perhaps no greater expression than in a child’s heart; who learns the words to all the songs and trusts enough to believe them; who sees the wide horizon alight with possibility unmarred by other truths - the struggle and pain, the losses and sacrifices imbedded in history. Naïve of the shadows that shape a more complex reality; evidence both of enterprise and erosion.
Innocence and idealism submit to a shifting change in perspective as we grow. Our inherent self-centered child’s view of the world widens to include others, to accommodate differences, and adapt to them. Crises and challenges compel us to change, like it or not. We have no other choice if we are to survive the losses and logjams along the way. A time of crisis can become a time of opportunity like no other, a teachable moment, a motivating force.
Even as we sing songs about the beauty of this land, the pictures streaming to us from the gulf depict a terrible, heartbreaking catastrophe in the seas, day after wearily counted day. Pictures of red-brown crude oil mixed with the blue waters of the Gulf, pictures of dying wetlands and floundering birds and animals, heavily coated in oil, the grieved faces of helpless and hopeless Gulf residents as they witness the demise of their livelihoods and lives. As top kill and cut and cap strategies fail to stop the gushing of the oil into the surrounding seas, as storms and currents carry the crude to distant coastlines, as toxic dispersants add to the woes, and plumes beneath the sea threaten life far below surface levels, how we wish we could turn it off! Put a stop to it! In the midst of this perception of powerlessness, debates about blame and responsibility for costs flare up, and a national discussion on the fundamental moral issues involved begins to heat up.
We are swept by this spreading catastrophe into a teachable moment, not unlike the tragedy of 9-11, when our self-assured sense of invulnerability tumbled in a cloud of dust, and the reality we claim shifted forever more into a “before and after.” These oil-polluted waters summon up a call to change that we ignore at our own peril, for denial here has profound and far-reaching consequences.
Witnesses to such a massive despoiling of God’s creation, how do we respond, heeding the biblical call to be stewards of all creation, not just the land and all that lives upon it, but the seas, and all that dwell therein. We can tick off with withering judgment a list of causes, the reckless greed for profits, a litany of deception and lies, a willful practice of both private and public irresponsibility. Honest appraisal call us to go deeper and consider the ethic of endless economic growth, fueled by carbon based fossil fuels, an ethic ultimately unstable and unsustainable.
Jim Wallis, editor and founder of Sojourner’s magazine, noted in a recent blog, I am reminded of what G. K. Chesterton once said when asked what was most wrong with the world. He reportedly replied, “I am.” Already, Wallis says, we are hearing deeper reflection on the meaning of this daily disaster. Almost everyone agrees with the new direction of a ;clean energy economy.’ We know it will require a re-wiring of the energy grid. But even more, it will also require a re-wiring of ourselves, our demands, requirements and insatiable desires. Our oil addiction has led us to environmental destruction, endless wars, and the sacrifice of young lives, and it has put our very souls in jeopardy. New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman recently wondered about the deeper meaning of the great recession when he asked,” What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last fifty years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall – when Mother Nature and the market both said, “No more.” The Great Spill makes the point even more.1
The Apostle Paul, centuries before, cautioned the practice in community of both personal and corporate accountability and responsibility. It begins with realistic self-perception, and critical evaluation of ourselves, shouldering our own responsibility before we judge others. And this stern reminder: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, you reap what you whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption. If you sow to the spirit, you will reap eternal life from the spirit. The options here are as clear as the choice between life and death, echoed in Deuteronomy. Sow in the field of the flesh and you pursue the path of self-indulgence, answering only to the call of the self. A life lived like this will gradually turn in on itself, and eventually lead to death. Sow in the field of the Spirit, and extend your reach beyond yourself, transcend your own need with awareness of the Spirit shared with all life. Following such practice leads to life.
At the heart of the Christian tradition lies the belief that transformation requires sacrifice. Deep and abiding change is hard. Wasn’t it to sow everlasting seeds of the spirit that led Jesus to sacrifice in the name of self-giving love, transforming the fearful into faithful community? Wasn’t it to sow seeds of the spirit that led a Pilgrim people to sacrifice, leaving the security known world for a new one? What changes does this calamity arising out of the depths in the Gulf call us to? On the surface, many. Corporate responsibility, for a change. Serious government regulation, for a change. Public accountability, for a change. And real civic mobilization to protect the endangered waters, coasts, species and people’s livelihoods. But at a deeper and more fundamental level, we need, literally, an upwelling of a new spirit, a new understanding to transform our habits of the heart, our energy and lifestyle choices. Such transformation requires tapping into reserves of spiritual energy, an ever-renewable energy source freely given, charged and sustained in community. Somebody needs to lead the way. Someone needs to keep raising the ethical questions, keep sounding the wake-up call, to be agents of transformation in the name of compassionate stewardship, of sustainable life. For our children, our children’s children, and for all those who live and breathe and have no voice, for all creatures great and small. Why not, and I ask again, why not, communities of faith? Why not this community of faith? May we look, listen, and learn from this catastrophe. And change.
1Wallis, Jim, “A Time for Moral Reckoning,” Sojourners blog, 6/3/2010.