A newspaper reporter asked me some questions. We were preparing for a First Tuesday Dialogues series on sustainability called “The Good Green Earth.” The series would bring five speakers, including spokespeople from the Gulf of Mexico deeply engaged in hazard assessment, technology, and recovery in the wake of Deepwater Horizon.
What’s your sense of the possibilities and trends for sustainability in your work now and what does it look like in the future?
One of my inspirations is Paul Tillich, according to whom:
Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt.
Faith consists in being vitally concerned with that ultimate reality to which I give the symbolical name ’God’. Whoever reflects earnestly on the meaning of life is on the verge of an act of faith.
My calling as a pastor is to help us here at Shepherd of the Hill and here in Chaska literally “go out of our mind.” Because the collective mind that has gotten us to this place is killing us and destroying the balance of nature. So it’s to shake us loose from the mental and spiritual chains of species superiority, the mistaken notion that we – humankind – are the exception to nature. It’s a call to help re-shape our understanding of ourselves as participants rather than owners, participants rather than conquerors or manipulators, members of a diverse natural order of interdependent life. The spiritual resources are there in Hebrew scripture, in the NT epistles to the Ephesians and to Colossians, and in the ancient respectful spirituality of some of America’s indigenous people. By “going out of our mind” we will come back into a the web of sanity and fullness.What factors do you see pushing towards or against sustainability?
Historian of science and technology Lynn White said flat-out the root problem of the sustainability crisis is religious or spiritual, and so is the solution.
So, number one, we have to address the old and emerging questions about what Tillich called “Ultimate Reality” and the meaning of our existence. We have to go into labor to push the new theological and anthropological paradigm free from the womb of the old destructive thinking. What we are beginning to find as we go into this spiritual labor is that this more respectful, more holistic way of thinking is not new at all – it’s the older paradigm that got side-tracked by greed and pride.
God has “come down,” as it were, to frustrate our attempts at building the secure city called Babel; God is making us nomads again who recognize that we and the Earth are already full, not empty. Every settlement comes to nothing. Every tower built as a monument to pride falls.And number two, and I’m afraid there is no other way to say this – we will never make it without leaving behind the economic system of greed. Capitalism is killing us.
The consolidation of wealth and corporate power have a stranglehold on national, state, and even local public policy. The members of the Boards of the oil companies sit on the Boards of General Motors and Ford. So it’s no wonder that U.S. federal policies on transportation are car-friendly and suspicious of mass-transit, regardless of a car’s gas mileage. And obsolescence is built in because you can’t sell something five years from now if the old model is still like new. Our health care and the FDA are in the palm of the drug company’s hands so that it’s illegal to go across the border to fill your prescription in Canada.
Finally, the sustainability of the human species itself is, I believe, imperiled by chemical alterations that are meant to do good but that, in the long run, make us biologically less resistant and resilient. Our natural immune systems are being weakened by pesticides in the food we eat and by the pharmaceuticals we ingest from the drug store.
We have become a nation of addicts. Addicted to illusionary dreams of abundance. Addicted to prescription drugs. Addicted to fast food and faster short-term solutions. Even instant gratification is too slow. Controlled by advertizing that sells us prescription drugs that’ll give you an immediate erection but may send you to the emergency room if it last more than four hours,or drugs that may ruin your liver or land you in a casket, and the real pushers are not the petty drug peddlers on Minneapolis’s North Side – they’re legal, they’re given license, while those who would shut them down are looked on as crackpots and throw-backs who are opposed to progress.So…what’s stopping real progress , a more Earth-friendly way of organizing human affairs that embraces reality itfself, “Being-Itself”? The intransigent, legal, institutionalized arrangements of power and money, on the one hand, and our willingness to comply with the de-democratization of America that salutes the system of greed. We have to learn again, and we are – very slowly, pushing and screaming, that “the Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”. We have turned it over to the forces of greed and destruction.
We need to recover the gratitude and spiritual paradigm of a natural abundance in order to push against the false promises of those who have us believe that our lives and the world would be empty without all the stuff that’s in the landfills and washing ashore in the estuaries of the Gulf of Mexico.
So……Chime in, friends. How would you answer the reporter’s questions?