Thursday, June 24, 2010

En-Gulfed in the Need for Community

Watching the horror unfold in the Gulf of Mexico has been deeply troubling. For me, it is much more than an industrial "accident," an unfortunate but necessary risk to preserve our way of life. It is a potent reminder that this way of life is killing the planet.

As prophets like Wendell Berry have proclaimed for many years now, the industrial economy is not sustainable; it is, in fact, the source of much of our cultural and natural dis-ease. In a 1991 essay, Conservation and Local Economy, Berry wrote that "The aims of production, profit, efficiency, economic growth and technological progress imply . . . no social or ecological standards, and in practice they submit to none. But there is another set of aims that does imply a standard, and these aims are freedom (which is pretty much a synonym for personal and local self-sufficiency), pleasure (that is, our gladness to be alive), and longevity or sustainability (by which we signify our wish that human freedom and pleasure may last). The standard implied by all of these aims is health. They depend ultimately and in escapably on the health of nature; the idea that freedom and pleasure can last long in a diseased world is preposterous. But these good things depend also on the health of human culture, and human culture is to a considerable extent the knowledge of economic and other domestic procedures - that is, ways of work, pleasure, and education - that preserve the health of nature."

The standard of health is what Christians refer to as "salvation" - health in its ultimate, cosmic dimension. Too often, we have thought of salvation as something reserved for human beings sometime in the future in some other world. We forget that Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is among us and that we should pray for God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. St. Paul picks up this theme, seeing the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as encompassing the end of the "old creation" and its death-dealing ways, and the birth of a new creation. John's Gospel tell us that "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:17)

This world whose salvation (health) God desires encompasses far more than human beings. St. Paul, again, "For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of the cross." (Col. 1:19-20) God's love exemplied in Christ's self-offering in solidarity with a suffering world is for the healing of the whole creation.

When St. Paul speaks of the creation waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God, groaning in labor pains (Rom. 8:18ff), I believe he is giving poetic expression to the hope of the earth for a human community ordered to the standard of health. The earth is groaning still in anticipation of such a community, children of God committed to saving the earth from its bondage to decay.

As Berry reminds us, "Community, then, is an indispensable term in any discussion of the connection between people and land [and, we must add, sea]. A healthy community is a form that includes all the local things that are connected by the larger, ultimately mysterious form of the Creation. In speaking of community, then, we are speaking of a complex connection not only among human beings or between humans and their homeland but also between the human economy and nature, between forest or prairie and field or orchard, and between troublesome creatures and pleasant ones. All neighbors are included."

Questions about deep sea drilling and the viability of a fossil-fuel based economy as a whole must be answered in terms of this comprehensive vision of community. A truly inclusive community, which the Church aspires to be, must recognize sea turtles and plankton and marsh lands as neighbors too. It is in defense of these neighbors, groaning in agony, that we are called to act today as the people of God. Only then will the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

No comments: