I have been deeply troubled by the BP oil spill, which we should more appropriately call an oil eruption. I’m not sure the media is even free to report on the profound proportions of this incident. It is not merely an environmental catastrophe of epic scale- it is something more- and the nature of this cataclysm is yet to be seen.

GOD weeps over the Gulf oil spill

GOD weeps over the Gulf oil spill (montage: J Fowler)

This event has caused widespread emotional reactions across the country and especially in the Gulf Coast- which rightly it should. There has been grief, as images of wildlife and birds mired in thick oil have hit the media. There has been rage and calls for BP to be taken to the economic gallows and hung for it’s atrocities. There has been shock as many who depended on the Gulf for their livelihoods have in effect become servants of the cleanup, possibly never again to fish the toxic waters. There has been denial as government officials and corporate CEOs buy more time with strong words and weak-willed actions. And there has been lament– an awareness that somehow we are part of the economic-growth-obsessed suicidal system that has produced this disaster.

In the midst of all these many reactions though, I believe we have a fundamental misunderstanding as to what this event signifies. And when I say signify, I mean- what does this event mean?- what does this event say about the state of our hyper-consuming country and the industrial world- and even the position of our own uncomfortably troubled souls? It would be easy to say it signifies nothing, that it is just another terrible event- or worse- bad news that we just can’t stomach for another day. I understand this response- but I think this reaction speaks volumes of our addiction to…not oil, but…denial. We can only take so much bad news. But I’m not sure why we think we should try to insulate ourselves as much as possible from a troubled world. Sometimes I think the real folks who are in need of help are those of us trapped in our air-conditioned homes and gated communities. We have lost our ability to creatively engage, by the Holy Spirit, a sin-sick world. We are weary of having to process the ‘bad news out there’- and in reality we would rather remain a disembodied, disengaged consumer of mostly more positive ‘virtual’ experiences and information- but therein lies our brokenness (and my own included).

Despite our desire to forget the ‘bad news’ in the Gulf though, the ramifications will most likely go on for generations. This is not something that is going away anytime soon. If we are loving we will respond in whatever ways we can to help the communities most affected. If we are wise we will realize that this environmental disaster is a mirror or a window into the ways we’ve chosen to live- a lifestyle that on one end produces efficiency and convenience-an endless amount of pleasures and delights- and on the other end produces a never-ending stream of toxic waste, disease, and ecological breakdown- which multiplies social and economic crisis in the communities surrounding the exit or entry points of our production systems (near factories, factory farms, energy plants, landfills, etc). Unfortunately, the latter end is hidden from our sight behind barbed wire fences, factory walls, deceptions, and even our own bodies. We only feel the sting of the consequences when the system fails to hide the effects or when the cycle of consequence reaches maturity through events of crisis- whether through our own ill health, the destruction of GOD’s creation in our immediate or regional locality (and beyond), or other means.

It is crucial for us to remember that the broken BP oil well is not an anomaly in the modern world. This kind of devastation may not happen every day in the Gulf (at least not on this scale), but certainly it is undeniable by now that the fouling of our lands, waterways and air is a typical by-product of the assembly line, the power plant, of the landfill, – which in turn are the engines behind the very lifestyle we have become comfortable with and accustomed to. We are caught in a web that we have learned to love while we deny the possibility of living beyond it. After all, who would want to give up a life of comfort and ease? If there was no factory where would I get all that I need to live? If there was no power plant where would I get the electricity I need to live? If there was no factory farm where would I get the food I need to live? If there was no landfill where would I put all the trash that I produce?  For most of us we have fully and willingly resigned ourselves to this fate. For others of us, our economic troubles mean we can’t live beyond the web because we’re too busy surviving- there is no time to consider long term consequence- or so we think.

What has happened in the Gulf is no mere oil spill- it is not an accident in the truest sense of the word- it is an open wound- it is the lifeblood of the Industrial Age- mixing with the salty tears of GOD. It is a wound we have inflicted on ourselves. It is the howling of creation as it stands betrayed by it’s caretakers. And what will be our response? What will be our course into the future? Two roads stand before us. One leads to further pain- it is paved with human pride and self-centered ingenuity. The other road is paved with humility and a crying out to GOD to teach us how live in His love and wisdom and abundance that surrounds us (and from there will spring our ingenuity).

Can we attain a measure of ‘societal salvation’ if we return to a pre-industrial way of life or pursue a new age of renewable energies (which some of which I am for)? Is a life free of oil or electricity really more righteous or redemptive? Can carbon trading, nuclear power plants, wind farms and seas of solar panels really redeem us from our ways? The answer is no because the deeper issue is the inner destructiveness of our fragmented souls. Environmental issues are exposing our spiritual deadness before the Creator of All Things. There is but one remedy-one catalyst for true and lasting change- and that is to be first and foremost reconciled, through Jesus, with our Creator. Our future lies in humility before GOD and not in our utopian dreams. From that point of reconciliation a new way of life can begin.

J. Fowler

J. Fowler is the website editor and co-founder, along with his wife Pamela, of the Sustainable Traditions project. The Fowlers live with their seven children on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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