Archive for June, 2010

Independence Day Prayer

June 28, 2010 - 10:07 am 39 Comments

May we as a nation be guided by the Divine to rediscover the sacred flame of our national heritage, which so many have given their lives to safeguard;

Let the wounds of separation and divison be healed by opening our hearts to listen to the truth on all sides, allowing us to find a higher truth that includes us all;

May we learn to honor and enjoy our diversity and differences as a people, even as we more deeply touch our fundemental unity;

May we as a people, undergo a transformation that will draw forth individuals to lead our nation who embody courage, compassion, and hold to a higher vision;

May our leaders inspire us, and we so inspire each other with our potential as individuals and as a nation, that a new spirit of forgiveness, caring, and honesty be born in our nation.

May we, as a united people, move with clear, directed purpose to take our place within the community of nations to help build a better future for all humankind;

May we as a nation rededicate ourselves to truly living as one nation, “under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all;”

And may God’s Will be done for the United States, as we, the people, align with that Will.

For July 4th- Insights into Jefferson’s Bible

June 28, 2010 - 9:49 am 154 Comments

Insights from Jefferson’s Bible
The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.

” I swear upon the altar of God, eternal hostility
gainst any form of tyranny over the mind of [humanity.]”

This quote lays the basis for one remarkable man and his valuable contribution to religious freedom and to our secular republican form of governance.
As a quote, it frames a lifetime of rare dedication, and serves us well as a lasting example of a personal faith that championed truth, reason, and freedom. These ideals formed the heart, mind, and soul of Thomas Jefferson.
As every school child knows, or should know, Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States. He was probably our most brilliant, literary, articulate, and visionary leader. As the first President espousing a republican viewpoint, which in those days meant peer representation and moving away from any monarchy or rule by a wealthy or privileged class. Jefferson’s presidency contributed the most to the progress and solidarity of the American character, it expanded not only its territory but sharpened its governmental ideals, and confirmed its religiously inclusive outlook.
Ironically, history seems to have thought more of his presidency than he did! He purposely left out any mention of presidency on his gravestone epitaph. Instead, it was inscribed to include what Jefferson felt were his most important accomplishments:
The gravestone at Monticello reads:
Here was buried… Thomas Jefferson… Author of the Declaration of American Independence and of the Statue of Virginia for Religious
Freedom and the Father of the University of Virginia
We can ask: Why such a glaring omission? To him, those years were but a step in a progressive life- a life that was dedicated to the pursuit of serving his guiding ideals.

His intentional omission of the Presidency indicates Jefferson’s wary approach to privilege and to power and the need to direct ones energies towards the common good. Widely read in the classical philosophies, they left him incomplete, for they were too involved in self interest. As a consequence, and as a clear preference, he directly credits this caution to his understanding of moral teachings of Jesus, and to all the parables about money and power as having a persuasive ability to corrupt us, and how the desire for personal success and power can take us away from making sincere and lasting social and moral contributions to the betterment of our society and the world.
As Americans, and as serious students of both our country’s political and religious realities, I expect that you know the contents of the Declaration of Independence; maybe not by heart, although I would guess that it is at least familiar because of its famous, stirring Preamble that so many of us were assigned to memorize in grade school, along with The Gettysburg Address, and along with saying the Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis. While a case can be made for such patriotism, or at least for greater political literacy, I will not ask that we recite it together this morning… However, I do think that an annual reading of its contents is a valuable exercise in reminding us of its lasting significance- and to recall how those guiding principles, values, and ideals that it contains greatly influences us still.
For Jefferson, the Statue of Virginia, the first such statue since the founding of Rhode Island by Roger Williams, was a cornerstone in his life. With the assistance of his fellow Virginian, James Madison (Remember, Virginia gave us four of the first six presidents, with the other two being from Massachusetts) together they crafted a statement that offered complete religious freedom to all citizens, regardless of their personal creeds or their dissenting convictions. Remember, at that time Maryland was primarily Catholic, Georgia Methodist, and New England Calvinist; Once this statement that became ratified, it was the first governmental statement that did not require any religious beliefs before being accepted as a citizen of a state.
The third most significant and lasting endeavor, was started when he was in his 70’s; This was to found the University of Virginia. …

Jefferson, an experienced architect, agronomist, and philosopher; he designed all the buildings, its landscaping, horticulture, and he even influenced the recruiting of its first faculty ands the design of its first college curriculum. Remember, Jefferson was known to say that his whole life was in books! In fact, so extensive was his personal library- that after the library was burned by the British in 1814, he gave his library to his country-some 10,000 volumes- that donation became the first Library of Congress!
Because he was such a multidimensional man… Brilliant and flawed, futuristic and patriarchal, ideological and duplicitous, it would be foolish to try to give you a comprehensive biography… He is the subject of much ongoing research!
Besides, I know that I will return to him next Fall, as I am considering a sermon series on how U-Uism has had such an important impact on politics and the national character- so much so, that it has already provided me with definitive information that declares that we are not a Christian country… We are a U-Uist country! But more on that later…
Today, I will limit my focus on Jefferson as a religious reformer, and as a pioneer in creating what he called, “The Philosophy of Jesus” where he asserts, in no uncertain terms, that ethics in action is the true basis for a religion, not some obtuse theology!
For Jefferson, a person’s faith is not just what they believe privately or individually…
One’s faith, be it liberal or conservative, is best seen or revealed by how well they practice what they say that they believe, and how well they support its ideals, and how well they live it out in their choices and responsibilities on a daily basis…
As an astute public servant, letting his pen express his strong opinions, he also learned to be sensitive to the temperamental wind of politics, and the whims of religious controversy. As a man who prized reason above all assertions of faith, he never fully revealed his dissent from traditional Christianity until he left office. Yet, even with such decorum and discretion, he was unmercifully vilified by New England Calvinists, because he was such a strong advocate of personal and religious freedom.

He was often scourged from the pulpit as depicted as a “corrupter of morals; as a virulent atheist who wished to undermine traditional religion! There is even a story of a baptism; Some Boston cleric refused to christen a child because he was named after Jefferson; to baptize a child named Thomas Jefferson was a blasphemous act!
As a retort, Jefferson once wrote: “[That any attempt towards religious coercion should be resisted, and any rule by guilt, fear, or ignorance are the avowed enemies of religious freedom and personal liberties. If coercive activities win out, because of a lack of support for liberalism, then there is a possibility that half the world will become ignorant fools, and the other half would become hypocrites!”]
You can see how popular he was with priests and prelates! By getting themselves “engrafted into the machine of government,” he said, the New England clergy “have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.” Which clearly relates to the Religious Right today!
Because of the hot controversy surrounding him and his dissenting religious beliefs, his only recourse was to explain and expound on his convictions through a series of now famous letters to his friends; John Adams, James Madison, Dr. Thomas Cowper, Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and Joseph Priestley…
In fact, it was Priestley’s book on The Corruptions of Christianity that inspired his own questioning and his further dissent from orthodoxy. His letters to Priestley, Waterhouse, and to Dr. Benjamin Rush, the father of mental health and Universalist minister, Jefferson revealed a religious outlook that was a profound and simple faith.
My colleague Wayne Arnason, formerly the long time minister at Charlottesville, VA near Monticello, once made these observations from the pulpit of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church:
“[The first thing we may say about Jefferson’s Unitarianism is that he took very seriously…. The second thing we might say is that he was ” a very conservative Unitarian.” … Earlier in life, he was a believer in God as the first cause, architect, and master builder… As he grew older, Jefferson moved away from Deism, to a belief in a God that is knowable through human love, through justice, moral perfection, reason, and expressed through natural beauty.
While some would choose to dispute this because of his wide ranging and sometimes paradoxical statements, Jefferson did believe Providence or destiny and in an afterlife though he had no rational proof of it. Now some scholars looking at and
analyzing Jefferson’s life say with compassion, that his beliefs reflected all the sorrows he personally endured. His wife whom he adored, died after ten years of marriage. Only two of his six children survived into adulthood, and only one outlived him. In one of his letters, It was said that his fondest hope, as he grew older, was that he might be united with his wife and children.”]
In contrast, within his later correspondence, Jefferson stated that his religion was based on logic and not based on faith. It was, at its core, morality in action, and “salvation by character.” So the controversy rages on about whether Jefferson was a Unitarian… Witness a recent posting on the web site dedicated to the new book, Founding Faith by Steven Waldman, in the chapter on Jefferson: “The Pious Infidel”

*Mar 18, 2008 5:28 PM It’s no wonder that Jefferson admired Unitarianism. He had quite the distaste for organized religion, but an admiration for Jesus. Were he transported in time to the present, I’m sure he’d be disgusted with the Christian right, but I also think he’d view secularists as misconstruing his viewpoint. Ultimately, Jefferson wanted us all to be free to form our own beliefs, without … compulsion.
Modern conservatives who can’t bear to think that the Declaration of Independence was written by a Bible-defacer have spread the rumor that Thomas Jefferson created his own Bible as an ethical guide to civilize American Indians. … Actually, Jefferson’s editing of the Bible flowed directly from a well-thought out, long-stewing view that Christianity had been fundamentally corrupted -by the Apostle Paul, the Early Church, the great Protestant reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, and by nearly the entire clerical class for more than a millennium. Secularists love to point to the Jefferson Bible as evidence of his heathen nature; but that misses the point, too. Jefferson was driven to edit the Bible the way a parent whose child was kidnapped is driven to find the culprit. Jefferson loved Jesus, and was attempting to rescue him” Release him from all the mistaken creeds and pious and perplexing
miracles attributed to him. He sought to recapture the moral teacher who had so inspired his character and who most consistently informed his conscience daily.
In a truly admirable, astute, and audacious way, Jefferson took up the challenge of writing a revised, ethical Gospel- a text that he believed would become universally regarded by all Americans as the text for civic and public morality, a basis for human rights, and the guidelines for personal conduct. Because he purposely excluded any texts or references to what he considered to be unreasonable and insupportable, he excluded almost every statement of faith or theological belief commonly held. Without saying, his ideas were considered to be vile blasphemy to the Calvinists, heretical to any pious Anglican, a travesty to any Catholic, an insult to any Methodist… And a refreshing, clear minded, and comprehensive account for any free thinking person!

Let it be known, that there is a serious attempt at revisionism trying to take place in our country today- where religious conservatives and fervent believers are trying to reclaim the Constitution and the Founding Fathers as pious men and devout Christians!
They use such lame evidence as they went to church regularly… As if that was some test of faith! Other than the effort of getting out of bed, it gives little credence to their claim… We all are familiar with the casual member, or the superficial identity, and throughout our lives we have seen ample evidence of those who “go through the motions” and look like they believe what is being said, and come to church only as a social convention… Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and many others did the same… Hardly a convincing tact because they knew their times… So they did not write to their friends or declare their objections publicly because of the political tenor and religious climate that would have easily interrupted any good they would do in the government!
It is also curious, ironic and a wonderful practice how the Congress, at least up to modern times, would award each new representative with a copy of Jefferson’s Bible, to be used as their ethical guide… I have to wonder if any of them have ever read it !

Jefferson’s religious views, as given to us in his many letters, were the forerunner of liberal religion since he would repeatedly emphasize the superiority of reason over any doctrinaire faith. Following the Great Commandment, he also saw service to his neighbors and to the betterment of his society to hold an equal importance to any profession of beliefs- thereby allowing ethics and compassion to trump any dogmas and directives from an exclusive religious point of view. He called the results of his efforts, ” The Philosophy of Jesus” and what he actually did was this:
He had four copies of the New Testament, and a larger blank book… Excluding the Hebrew scriptures as being too archaic and too inhumane, and excluding the letters of Paul because he saw him as the first corrupter of the religion of Jesus, he focussed only on the Gospels and the words attributed to Jesus according to the best scholarship of his day…. Which is generous by the standards of the Jesus Seminar today…
He then proceeded to literally “cut and paste” separate quotations and collate all the teachings of Jesus that correspond most closely to a humanistic, liberal, and egalitarian point of view. He did this using the Greek, Latin, French, and English translations! With a painstaking precision, and with his investigatory editing, he produced a much condensed version of the Gospels that he felt would appeal to “the moral sentiments of a more enlightened populace”. Without going through all his edits, it is sufficient to say he saw Jesus as a moral teacher, as a man, and as the supreme human example of how to live, and how to treat other people…

Jefferson’s exercise, of creating one’s own set of texts, ideas, and resources that are most inspirational and meaningful to you would seem to be a recommended task for any U-U’s who seeks to identify themselves within our larger movement in a clear and comprehensive way. To me, it sounds like the best Adult Education imaginable!

For a few years, I subscribed to the Jesus Seminar reports and research and found it to be fascinating and complementary to my own investigations. Just to refresh you, The Jesus Seminar is a collection of progressive Biblical scholars, using the very best literary, archeological, and cultural context, sought to discover which of the words of the Gospel, did Jesus actually say- which ones were authentically his… To summarize the work, and following Jefferson’s example, these scholars found that only about 25% of the Gospel could be considered to be original or authentic… Which, for many of them, was sufficient to maintain their progressive faith as liberal Christians. Before returning to Jefferson, I would recommend that every U-U spend some time creating their own Gospel or set of ” Good News.” Each of us has the freedom to draw from World Scripture, philosophy, poetry, lyrics, science, art or any other source that you find to be inspirational, of lasting value, and worthwhile. The creation of your own Bible, your own personal or spiritual resource book, then becomes your enriching personal commentary or literary companion, and can act as an important pathway towards self discovery, inner comfort, acceptance, and peace.
It is my conclusion, after rereading various sources on Jefferson’s outlooks, that we need to look to giants like Jefferson, imperfect as they might be, for our best human and humane examples.
In fact, Jefferson was such an active, avid, advocate of religious freedom that he wrote , in 1822, to his colleague and friend, Benjamin Waterhouse, these words of fervor and conviction:
“I rejoice in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief that has surrendered its conscience to neither kings nor priests, and that a genuine doctrine of only one God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young [person] now living, that will not die a Unitarian…

Overly idealistic? Of course! But there is no denying the strength, confidence or courage of his words! His earnest ideals sought to challenge public contentment and to energize social transformation.
It is my hope that this community will grow more Jeffersonian; To become as strong, as resilient, as prophetic and willing to add our names beside his… And I believe that such a goal is possible- As a congregation that actively and generously supports its mission, and as a community that will work to clarify, uphold and extend its foundational values.
Following in his example, may we become examples of goodness, truth, mercy, service and freedom… Not just for ourselves … But for all of us to know and see!
So Be It!

Living In The Presence- A Sample Dialogue

June 25, 2010 - 12:37 pm 32 Comments

Living in The Presence:
A Sample Spiritual Direction Dialogue

“What does it mean to live more spiritually?” Asked one of my former church members who had come in for her regular spiritual direction session with me. … Most often, she has arrived with a million things on her mind- all the usual list of duties or concerns- children, work, marriage, friends, church, etc., but today, it was different… I could sense that she was more pensive, introspective… Ready.
Once settled in her chair, she asked me the question again, “what does it mean to live more spiritually?” I paused for a moment, to listen… To discern and to make myself receptive to receiving a heartfelt reply. As I try to recall it, this is what I said:
“To live more spiritually is to be open to learning more about how best we can live in the Presence. ‘ She looked at me with a bit of a puzzled look, and offered a polite correction. “You mean to live in the present, right?” “No” I replied. I am sure that I did not get the two words confused.
After some silence, she asked, “What does living in the Presence mean?” I then offered an explanation:
“First we have to define and separate out what I mean from a lot of the New Age jargon. There is plenty of advice on the market today that urges us to live in the present moment- to avoid lingering over any regrets or not to be apprehensive about any future possibilities with their anticipatory anxieties. Over all, this is good advice… As far as it goes…

However, it still misses the mark, because it remains on the psychological level or the it only addresses the ego need for assurance and confirmation. To live spiritually, needs to have a transcendent dimension, and it requires an intimacy that often escapes our everyday awareness, or even the best of psychological advice. To incorporate, literally to enflesh the holy, asks us to be not only mindful, but also to realize our connection, our relationship to that which is larger and greater than oneself. Life and time cannot be reduced down to the feelings we need to affirm or the fears we need to avoid. Instead, consciousness, or the dimensions of the soul, are better understood as what kinds of connections we can make, what kinds of intimacy we can share, what ways life both transcends and includes the ordinary.”
She nodded cautiously, as if to agree while having her doubts…
She spoke to me about how she gets the basic idea, but is unsure about the connections I am referring to or how we can be connected to life on a deeper and larger scale. I tried to explain further:

“To be a spiritual person, is to know and be aware that there is a much larger reality that what either our culture or even our creative media proclaims. Being spiritual is , at its essence, being a warrior or being courageous enough to face one’s own darkness and welcome what those aspects of ourselves can teach us. Through our awareness we become personal alchemists- turning our personal lead into the gold of refined awareness, virtue, and values that promote compassionate connections to nature, to the world around us, to one another, and with ourselves. Being spiritual is a lifelong quest to follow the light of consciousness, to experience healing, and to foster a sustained sense of hope for the future.
It asks us to live beyond our discontents, and then live and breathe into new definitions of relational, being wise, being free yet responsible for the consequences of our lives- how we participate with others, how we function in culture, who we trust, how we love, and in what ways can we find the sacred dimension that exists in all that we say, touch, and do.
She responded with both delight and amazement.” Wow, that means whatever I call God is with me always!” “Yes!” I agreed. “But its also quite important that you do not unnecessarily limit what you mean by God, or restrict yourself to only a few ways that what is holy or divine can be known or understood. Some people will call this idea of God as Author or Source, Some prefer more classical language such as being Christ like, Krishna consciousness, Buddha nature, Holy Wisdom or Sophia. Whatever words you chose, they become the expression of your higher and deeper reality.
Whatever you desire to call it, this Love-Intelligence, is something real- a presence or a power, an energy or an effect that exists in you, around you, and can be felt when you are with others- be it your children, your lover, a close friend, or in a true spiritual community. Personally, I call this presence The Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of divine guidance and a Holy love.
(more dialogue ensues, and she speaks of a time when there was an intimacy with nature, when she experience a protective empathy or connection with the trees and fields around her childhood home…
” Yes, it often can come to us through an experience in nature, and yet, what is necessary is to realize that it is omnipresent, and that it is an omnipresence- always close at hand, IF we are willing and open to perceive it, invite it, welcome its presence within and among us. I am convinced that this is the way we humans come to experience whatever is holy or sacred in our relationships, and how it is that we can receive healing, assurance and peace.”
We ended our session shortly after this, taking some time in silence to retain what we have said, and how our words have affected us and how new ideas and realities have penetrated our awareness. She promised herself to take in these ideas more wholeheartedly, and to continue to aspire towards being open, inviting, and willingly receptive to these glimpses of grace…
As she walked out the door, my last words, as I have tried to recall them were these: “Living in the presence is not easy, but it is necessary for our spiritual and personal growth.”

After reading this sample session, I now invite you to reflect on these wise words from the Creation mystic, Meister Eckhart, who wrote:
“Spirituality is not found by taking flight from the world,
not by running away from things or feelings, but by running
into them, and running through them.
We must learn to connect ourselves to the Presence there,
no matter where we are or with whom. We must learn to
penetrate our layers of darkness in order to find our core,
our true selves. In order to find God to find peace and love,
abiding there.]”

Again, Yet or Spill? The Gulf and Religion

June 16, 2010 - 8:31 pm 22 Comments

Again, Yet, or Spill?
Taking a look at our ecological and ethical crisis, and making some soul searching conclusions about church, culture, and the changes in consciousness that are needed, and how best to take an inclusive approach to cleaning up our self created mess!

After listening intently to the President’s address last night on the disaster in the Gulf, and in conjunction with some excellent supportive quotes, from Sojourners and other sources, I would like to offer a reflection on the current… And ongoing socioeconomic and cutural-industrial crisis from a spiritual and religious point of view…

I begin by offering this quote from the poet and social critic, Mary Oliver:
We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity.
Mary Oliver, from her poem “Of the Empire”

From the writings of progressive Catholic theologian, Donald Gelpi, we find similar questions and an exposition of his larger ecclesial and cultural concerns. He gives us his reflections on the Spirit, the Church, and human nature in these words:

“In my darker moments I began to wonder if humans can achieve authentic faith in the Spirit in a fragmented church composed of fragmented people. Both personal and pastoral experience have taught me that our human perception of God is filtered through feeling, through image, through language, through spontaneous beliefs and prejudices. And evaluative filters can either illuminate or distort our sense of the divine.
Our creedal stance is shaped by ritual but also marred by superstition, neurosis, and human limitation. It is conditioned by history, molded by half-understood abstractions. Our denominational creeds are like the froth that scuds across beach flats in the wake of a storm. The thundering debates that engendered them have subsided into oblivion.
Because it is a form of human awareness, Spirit consciousness flickers. It has flickered in my own life. It flickers in the lives of most Christians. The forces that shape or inhibit Spirit awareness in both individuals and communities interweave in complex patterns. And unless we criticize those forces they will continue to inhibit and distort Christian awareness of the Spirit. One such force is theology.”

One of the glaring omissions so far in the Gulf debacle is the silence of a majority of our mainstream churches. I suspect that some of that reason is their lack of a theological and spiritual connection to ecology and to the ecosystem, and how some churches remain largely uninformed concerning the connection between ecology, Spirit, and life! However, there maybe a more pernicious yet largely unconscious motive which is that most churches, affecting the Protestant ones most acutely, as they have relied on laizze fare capitalism for their funding. It is speculated that 50% of the churches in the East continue to exist because of the historically generous endowments from a few generations ago, and those funds being provided by industrialists whose fortunes were amassed from a general disregard for the ecological results of their industry… and worse, the lack of a theological conscience gave an implicit permission to begin the now looming ecocide that first began with their amoral, yet all too profitable enterprises.
Complicit corporate disregard for an ecologically based consciousness has acted as a systemic and accumulating poison to the biosphere and to the point of species extinction and the endangerment of sentient life. The mounting consequences of industrial ignorance and its greed fueled incentives, has fostered an systemic corporate myopia and an economic stolidness that becomes entrenched and insistent in seeking to satisfy its rapacious and exploitive needs. As a consequence, corporate petroleum and other aggregate businesses, avidly demonstrate an almost total disregard or a glaring disrespect for the privilege of the extraction and expanding use of nature’s gracious bounty.
This alienation from the land, the self, and the patterns of connection that that exists between humanity, life, and planetary survival are just beginning to be bravely accounted for and proclaimed. Historically, our churches and our Calvinist/Protestant ancestral brands of theology have lacked either the sufficient moral courage or the ethical candor to address these issues when they first arrived on the economic and industrial scene. The devil’s bargain between Protestantism and capitalism has only superficially benefited both- the costs to the integrity of a Christ-like concern for the creation, all of its creatures, and for our sisters and brothers has become reduced to a token, if not inconsequential concern. Few churches budget for social justice or economic parity or humanitarian outreach in any substantial or meaningful way. Polite forms of charity, versus true generosity appears paramount- after all, the churches have to worry about their own survival as social intuitions, right? Its popular to ask “What would Jesus Do or What would he say?” I ask, how did the average Christian in most of our modern churches miss his disregard for money, property, and wealth? How is it that we have conveniently forgotten about
“leave everything, take up your cross, and follow me!” And other such declaratives appear regularly throughout the Gospels and their parables about how the rich are spiritually impoverished. Not that social and ecological pioneers such as Rachel Carson in the 1950’s have not tried valiantly to sound the alarm bell, its was never really heard! It has been the whining and incessant clamor for jobs, wrapped up in the prosperity myth as part of the American way of life that drowns out even the most constant and compassionate voices.
As I see it, churches, synagogues, mosques, etc., and every genuine spiritual community that is rooted in compassion and justice are now being summoned- by the tranformative archetypes of the collective unconsciousness- be they angels, dreams, intuitions, or simply empathetically attending to the overwhelming physical evidence- to compel our religious institutions to accept their moral leadership by earnestly and openly take up the gauntlet, to respond wholeheartedly to the crisis, and accelerate the growing awareness of the necessity for wholesale economic and personal change that will eventually lead to a full scale cultural transformation!

From Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners Magazine:
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. At a deep level, what’s not working in the U.S. is our lifestyle — particularly the consumerist energy habits we showcase to the rest of the world. Moving toward a “clean energy economy” will require more than just a re-wiring of the energy grid; it will also take a re-wiring of ourselves — a conversion, really, of our habits of the heart. We must adjust our expectations, demands, and values.

Remember, this incident that now threatens to smear the Gulf waters is only the latest insult to the residents and wildlife of that area. First was the accumulating “dead zone in the Gulf from the toxic pesticides, chemical farming, and animal waste disposal from factory farms, then there was the disregard for adequate housing standards in the lower wards of New Orleans, and the dismal, halting and regressive response to Katrina- some five years ago which is still a pressing, stubborn problem where there are still many residents living on the edge of a social disaster. And now… We have what might be considered a deadly gas and petroleum deluge… Who could say what will be next?

There is much to be done… Starting with the basic personal steps of energy conservation in our homes and daily routines, outward to every social group we belong or support, and implore them to make visible and substantial commitments to sustainablity and to proclaim that compassionate, ethical change and the demand for a theological and religious stance that promotes ecological justice is truly a matter of moral integrity and a true case of defending natural security! (Q: What is our National Guard doing in Iraq? How much greater and more important would their presence be in assisting with in prevention and clean up- here… Where we genuinely need them!)

One last glaring point… Because of our greed and the insistence on a profitable bottom line at any cost, we have encouraged a business mentality that does not willingly take into account the consequences of its actions. Is it too far fetched, too aggressive, too interfering in the life of these multinational corporations to insist that at least 10% of their profits be reserved for safety measures, or to create an ongoing substantially funded escrow account that gives the necessary assistance to localities and communities to protect themselves from the aftermath of a soulless technology?

Of course, there are many things we can do… Some would be judged unrealistic, others too unlikely to succeed, but here is one that I received as I was completing my ideas for this blog…
I want to share this with you and ask that you take this petition seriously… And ask your church or spiritual group members to sign it, and then work for whatever reforms and changes that are needed in our country, and in our own lifestyle choices…

Dear Rev. Peter,

Every day, people ask us what they can do about the catastrophe in the Gulf. Here’s one concrete thing: end our addiction to oil.

The Center for Biological Diversity and took an historic step in the desperate fight against climate catastrophe when we petitioned the EPA to establish a national cap for greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act. The petition seeks to cap atmospheric CO2 at 350 parts per million, the level leading scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

More than 100 groups signed on in support of our legal petition. Tens of thousands of individuals are lending their names, including the nation’s preeminent climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, author Barbara Kingsolver, musician Bonnie Raitt, and actor Ed Begley, Jr.

Please take one minute to join us in moving toward a real solution to oil spills by calling on the EPA to do its job as science, the law, the tragedy in the Gulf, and common sense require. Sign the People’s Petition to Cap Carbon at 350 parts per million today.

And if you’ve already signed the petition, thank you. But to reach 500,000 signatures, we need your help again. Please commit to getting just 10 friends to sign the People’s Petition to Cap Carbon at 350 parts per million. You can forward this email or share this link on your Facebook page.
Click here to find out more and sign the petition.
If you have trouble following the link, go to


I support the legal petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and to the EPA to cap atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 350 parts per million — the level science says is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming — under the Clean Air Act.

For four decades, the Clean Air Act has protected the air we breathe through a proven, successful system of pollution control that saves lives and creates economic benefits exceeding its costs by many times. It’s time to fully use one of our strongest existing tools for reducing greenhouse gas pollution: the Clean Air Act.

Now is the time to enforce the Act, not gut it. I urge you to move swiftly to grant the petition and enforce the Clean Air Act.

More Solistice related reflections

June 14, 2010 - 11:35 am 16 Comments

i thank god for this amazing day

i thank god for this amazing day, for leaping greenly spirits of trees and blue true dream of sky, and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes

I who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday, this is the birth day of life and love and wings: and of the gay great happening illimitably earth

how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any– lifted from the no of nothing– humanly merely being doubt the imaginable you?

now the ears of my ears awake and now the ees of my eyes are opened!
e.e. cummings

May your life be like a wildflower, growing freely in the beauty aand joy of each day…
Native American proverb

We are one, ater all, you and I; together we suffer, together we exist, and forever will recreate each other.
Pierre Teihard de Chardin

From the book, A Year With Rilke, his selection for June 21st:

Look at the sky. Is there no constellation named Rider?
For the image is imprinted on the mind: this arrogance made from Earth and a second one astride,driving him, and holding him back.

Hunted, then harnessed: Isn’t this the sinewqy nature of our being?
Path and turning, a touch to guide. New distances.
And the two are one.

But are they? Or is it only the going that unites them? When they stop
they belong again to table or pasture.

The starry patterns fool us, too. Still it pleases us for a moment to believe in them. That is all we need.
Sonnets to Orpheus I,11

Myth Deprivation
Excerpts from a reflection by Eugene Kennedy from his book, The Joy of Being Human, for June 22nd…

Dr. Jan Ehrenwald, a psychiatrist, suggested that [we moderns] suffer from what he has called “myth deprivation.” … He means that {humanity] needs myths in which to believe– not fairy stories but the kinds of legends through which through which we pass on basic truths about ourselves–just as [we] need heroes to imitate and great visions to lead him on. When [humans] make ruin of their myths, turning everything sour and making antiheroes to stand over the graves of the dead gods, when men, in other words, tangle the lines of their own belief systems, they can only surrender themselves to the winds of fate. What we understgand about [humankind] at this time in historyconfirms something that should never have been forgotten: [Humans] cannot survive without beliefs any more than they could survive without air or water. [[we doe not reach or attain our fullsense of personhood] unless or until one searches for what is trustworthy, unloess he or she opens themselves up to some way of explaining the world and one’s life. It is a strange thing that this need keeps reasserting itself , no mtter how often it is thought to have been eliminated for good.
[Our human need to believe is obvious. Desperate things happen to us when we abandon the possibilities of faith and trust. We become more primitive and less like a human being….] What [humanity] needs is th rediscover the dreams he needs to put him or herself back together as a person. This is religious business, not a humanistic sideline, and it is an effort to which we all can contribute as long as we perserve the capacity to trust and the will to make that practical in the lives of those with whom we live.