The Common Good

A Time for Moral Reckoning

Sojomail - June 3, 2010



QUOTE OF THE WEEK

We can fly to the moon and back how many times? And we cannot stop up a damn well.

- Eric Authement, owner of a shrimp processing plant in Dulac, Louisiana, that his family has run for generations. (Source: New York Times)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

A Time for Moral Reckoning

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I am watching unbelievable pictures tonight of endless swaths of brown oil mixed with the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, of dying wetlands and marshes, of miles of contaminated coastlines, of dead birds and animals, of helpless and hopeless Gulf Coast residents sadly witnessing their livelihoods and their lives slipping away. With the explosion and sinking of the BP oil rig six weeks ago, the immediate talk was about environmental threats and technical fixes, economic losses and political blaming, and debates about responsibility for the costs. But with the failure of the latest attempt to stop the spill, and with both BP and the federal government admitting they still really don’t know how much oil has already spilled or will spill, a national discussion is beginning about the fundamental moral issues at stake, and perhaps even a national reflection on our whole way of life based on oil dependence and addiction.

After the failure of “top kills” and “cut and cap” strategies, it now appears the gushing of oil into the sea could continue until at least August, or maybe even longer. This could be one of those moments when the nation’s attention all turns to the same thing, as in 9/11 and the days after Katrina. To use an over-used phrase, this could be a “teachable moment,” but as 9/11 and Katrina demonstrated, we don’t necessarily learn the right lessons from teachable moments. This time we had better do so.

First, we have to change our language. This isn’t a little “spill,” it is an environmental catastrophe -- the potential contamination of a whole gulf (already a third is now off limits for fishing) and hundreds of miles of coastline, and it threatens to expand to an ocean and more coastlines. It will bring the destruction of critical wetlands, endanger countless species, end human ways of life dependent upon the sea, and now, it will increase the danger of a hurricane season that could dump not just water, but waves of oil just miles inland from the coasts.

Theologically, we are witnessing a massive despoiling of God’s creation. We were meant to be stewards of the Gulf of Mexico, the wetlands that protect and spawn life, the islands and beaches, and all of God’s creatures who inhabit the marine world. But instead, we are watching the destruction of all that. Why? Because of the greed for profits; because of deception and lies; because of both private and public irresponsibility. And at the root, because of an ethic of endless economic growth, fueled by carbon-based fossil fuels, that is ultimately unsustainable and unstable.

It’s not just that BP has lied, even though they have -- over and over -- to cover up their behavior and avoid their obligations. It is that BP is a lie; what it stands for is a lie. It is a lie that we can continue to live this way, a lie that our style of life is stable and sustainable, a lie that these huge oil companies are really committed to a safe and renewable energy future. BP should indeed be made to pay for this crime against the creation -- likely with its very existence.

But I am also reminded of what G.K. Chesterton once said when asked what was most wrong with the world. He reportedly replied, “I am.” Already, we are hearing some deeper reflection on the meaning of this daily disaster. Almost everyone now apparently agrees with the new direction of a “clean energy economy.” And we know that will require a re-wiring of the energy grid (which many hope BP will have no part in). But 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 Freidman 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.

There is not one answer to this calamity; there are 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 level, we literally need a conversion of our habits of the heart, our energy sources, and our lifestyle choices. And somebody will need to lead the way. Who will dare to say that an economy of endless growth must be confronted and converted to an economy of sustainability, to what the Bible calls stewardship. What about the community of faith?

I am told this morning that the smell of oil is already apparent in the parks and playgrounds near the Mississippi coast. Unless this crisis in the Gulf finally becomes the wake-up call that signals a new national commitment to end our dependence on oil, our children may now be smelling their future.

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ON THE GOD'S POLITICS BLOG

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Another Cost of the Flotilla Raid
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Nonviolence and the Gaza Freedom Movement
by Nathan Schneider

Three days have passed since the Israeli navy attacked an international Gaza Freedom Movement "Freedom Flotilla," intent on breaking Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, in international waters. The explosion of media coverage surrounding this makes it likely the highest-profile act of (supposedly) nonviolent resistance to occur in years. But the dust has yet to settle. The boats and the activists who were aboard them are still under Israeli control, and so also, therefore, is their story of what happened. As information comes in, here are some questions to keep in mind for thinking about this horrific event through the lens of nonviolence.
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The Kingdom of God is not an Empire with Language Laws
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In Barabara Kingsolver's novel titled The Poisonwood Bible, one of the main characters, Reverend Nathan Price, is an American missionary to the people of the Congo. Failing to understand the nuances of their language and insisting on the primacy of the King James Translation of the Bible, he proclaims to them that Jesus is Bangala! Thinking he was saying that Jesus is supreme. Of course the villagers simply looked confused since what he really said was "Jesus is Poisonwood" -- meaning Jesus is a noxious plant. But since the King James was the only true translation of the Bible, he refused to substitute another word.
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I'm Part of the Reason For That Oil Spill
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The "Freedom Flotilla" Tragedy
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On May 31, I awoke to news reports that the Israeli Navy had boarded and fired on 10 small ships in international waters approaching the coast of Gaza and bearing humanitarian supplies for Palestinians suffering an Israeli blockade of many (not all) civilian goods. The Flotilla refused demands they dock at an Israeli port, because their journey is in part humanitarian in the narrow sense, and in part it represents a demand that the blockade be ended and the Palestinians treated as a People worthy of respect and direct relationship, not mere mendicants hungry for a handout. That respect is what the Israeli government refused -- and has refused for years.
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Evangelical History and 'Nonperson' Women
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I recently stumbled across the book The Young Evangelicals by Richard Quebedeaux. Published in 1974, it gives a sociological overview of evangelicalism in America and the emergence of a (then) new generation of Evangelicals. The author seemed to have hoped that this new generation (who were more globally minded and service oriented than their fundamentalist counterparts) would define the future of the movement. Of course in hindsight, there was a backlash against these more progressive voices (i.e. Jim Wallis?) and the Religious Right ended up gaining the dominant voice in the evangelical world. What I found fascinating though was seeing a picture of Evangelicalism from this time period that mirrored exactly what I grew up with in the '80s and '90s and that still exists today.
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In this simple statement from his poem "Mending Wall," modern American poet Robert Frost voices the deep concern with how human fear leads to building walls that separate us from others. "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know," goes on Frost, "What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence." While the Great Wall of China has been reduced to a tourist attraction and the Berlin Wall stands as symbol of the progress of freedom, reality is that nations around the world are building walls at an unprecedented pace -- from the U.S.-Mexico border, to Israel/Palestine, and in an article in a recent New York Times, to a small village in Eastern Europe ("Walls, Real and Imagined, Surround the Roma").
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SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS

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Top Stories:

How Christian is the Tea Party Movement?
STLToday.com
First, an anticipatory note to the commenters – Yes, I’m blogging about an article written by notable progressive and left-leaning Christian Jim Wallis. Yes, it’s from the Huffington Post. And yes, it’s critical of the Tea Party movement. If all of that disgusts you, please quit reading now – I’m interested in thoughtful discussion, not ad hominem arguments and knee-jerk reactions. +Click to continue


Odds and Ends
Christianity Today blog
Sojourners president Jim Wallis was a guest on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, discussing the BP oil spill as a moral and religious issue. "This oil spill is really apocalyptic. It mirrors our oil addiction. We have to do something about it right now. And that's what churches are saying. And that's just our responsibility to say, 'This is, for us, protecting God's creation,'" said Wallis. +Click to continue


"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.




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