The Web of Sanity and Fullness

Pond with morning mist evaporating

Pond with morning mist evaporating

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?

I responded that 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.

The Spider’s Web with Morning Dew

My calling as a pastor was 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 delivered us to this place is killing us and destroying the balance of nature.

My calling is to shake us loose from the mental and spiritual chains of species superiority, My calling is 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 New Testament epistles to the Ephesians and the 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 that 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 set the new theological and anthropological  paradigm free from 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.

Building of the Tower of Babel – Master of the Duke of Bedford

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 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. Osalescence 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 insurance and drug company’s 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.

Black tar heroin - U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Black tar heroin – U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

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. The real pushers are legal. They’re given license, while those who would shut them down are looked upon 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 willing compliance 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.

The Good, Good Earth: Our Island Home

The Good, Good Earth: Our Island Home

We need to recover the gratitude and spiritual paradigm of a natural abundance in order to push against the false promises of those who would have us believe that our lives and the world would be empty without all the stuff that ends up in the landfills or washes ashore in the estuaries of the Gulf of Mexico.

So……Chime in, friends. How would you answer the reporter’s questions?

11 thoughts on “The Web of Sanity and Fullness

  1. Walk softly upon the earth. Not sure where that came from, but the human race all too often wants to take the easy way – so we drive instead of walk, buy, the latest labor saving device, and now have been convinced that we must ‘buy, buy, buy’ so that our economy will be strong enough for us to live in comfort – all the while, the top get 15% pay raises, while the rest mostly have fallen behind in the the past 30 years. Like the frog in the pan heating, does not realize his mortal danger, til his ‘goose’ is cooked because the increase in heat was so gradual So it is with humans – too many of us (because everyone born now has the right to a long life- – we have fowled our own nest,, and the earth can no longer support us, etc. How many know the pleasure of standing on a rock in the prairie with our face to the wind?


    • I’m going out on the prairie with my fact to the wind. Thanks, Karin. The shifts have been gradual but they are indisputable. Every piece of objective research shows the flow of wealth out of the middle class to the top, and the bottom just keeps growing. Thanks, as always, for your compassion and love of justice.


  2. Waqaa Gordon,

    Your comments about extending a discussion of environmental ethics into the realm of a new
    (and friendlier) theology make my heart sing! Richard Louv advances a similar idea when he says that we will mature as a species when we come to understand that our own individual social groups include ALL living things around us…..not just other humans. Rolling Thunder also pointed the way to such a change of consciousness when he taught that, “a time is coming when the White People will need and value the wisdom of the Native Americans” (to survive and prosper in what was, in his time, an awareness of a still future environmental crisis about to descend upon all of the Earth).

    Meta Tantay,
    J.R. (White Bear Stands) Lince-Hopkins


    • John, glad you popped your head out of the stormy studio to share here. Louv’s and Rolling Thunder’s observations are so on the mark, it seems to me, and they give some degree of confidence that this line of thinking, feeling, living is on the right track. Thank you!


  3. “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” has been singing through my heart since discovering the Shepherd of the Hill’s prayer garden and its potential for beauty and peace. Making it even more creature friendly will be one small step towards modeling that we are participants not owners.Besides hoping that others will enjoy jumping into a habitat project , I’m expecting some interaction from the Great Spirit. ” If you build it He/She will come”.
    My recommendation of Richard Louv’s books Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle are very relevant here, to help us reflect on restoring our awarenesses and deepening our appreciation of the non materialistic world.


  4. I’d answer the reporter’s question by reference to this blog. By the way, I remember watching one of the last interviews ever given by Barry Goldwater. He had no sympathy for the automobile companies of the day who complained about foreign makers taking up too much of the American market. “They built cars to last,” he said, in essence, “not with built-in obsolescence” My take on his comments? Honesty and integrity were important to him, not building financial empires.


    • Barry Goldwater was a man of integrity. He was a conservative’s conservative at the time he ran against LBJ. He stood by his principles and didn’t mince words, which often got him in trouble. Senator Goldwater was known for his sharp tongue, but was also a man who put the country ahead of his party or its platform. He’d roll over in his grave looking at his party today. He was an advocate for his beliefs who knew that the U.S. Senate is a place to get things done, not a place for public posturing or a partisan standoff. Thanks for the memory.


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