Date: May 30, 2010
Scripture Lessons: Psalm 8 and Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-31
Sermon: Transforming Trauma
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
There is an old folktale that tells of the Otter who rushed before the king crying, “Your Majesty, you love justice and rule fairly. You have established peace among all your creatures, and yet there is no peace.”
“Who has broken the peace?” asked the king.
“The Weasel!” cried the Otter. “I dove into the water to hunt for food for my children, leaving them in the care of the Weasel. While I was gone my children were killed. ‘An eye for an eye,’ the Good Book says. I demand vengeance!”
The king sent for the Weasel who soon appeared before him. “You have been charged with the death of the Otter’s children. How do you plead?” demanded the king.
“Alas, Your Majesty,” wept the Weasel, “I am responsible for the death of the Otter’s children, though it was clearly an accident. As I heard the Woodpecker sound the danger alarm, I rushed to defend our land. In doing so I trampled the Otter’s children by accident.”
The king summoned the Woodpecker. “Is it true that you sounded the alarm with your mighty beak?” inquired the king.
“It is true, Your Majesty,” replied the Woodpecker. “I began the alarm when I spied the Scorpion sharpening his dagger.”
When the Scorpion appeared before the king, he was asked if he indeed had sharpened his dagger. “You understand that sharpening your dagger is an act of war?” declared the king.
“I understand,“ said the Scorpion, “but I prepared only because I observed the Turtle polishing its armor.”
In his defense, the Turtle said, “I would not have polished my armor had I not seen the crab preparing his sword.”
The Crab declared, “I saw the Lobster swinging its javelin.”
When the Lobster appeared before the king, he explained, “I began to swing my javelin when I saw the Otter swimming toward my children, ready to devour them.”
Turning to the Otter, the king announced, “You, not the Weasel, are the guilty party. The blood of your children is upon your head. Whoever sows death shall reap it.” [From Stories for Telling: A Treasury for Christian Storytellers, William R. White,
p. 82ff, adapted] Now besides the fact that this story includes water animals, what does this folktale tell us about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? There sure is plenty of blame to go around, isn’t there? Everyone points the finger at someone else. In the case of the oil spill, there is blame for governmental authorities who supposedly regulate the oil industry and drilling. There is blame for the corporate entities driven by the bottom line. There is blame for national and local officials. There is blame for presidents, of the US and BP. There is blame for a culture of unchecked greed. There is plenty of blame to pass around.
In speaking to the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday, Stephen Stone, a survivor of the oil rig explosion, said that the April 20 blast was “hardly the first thing to go wrong.” He continued: “This event was set in motion years ago by these companies needlessly rushing to make money faster, while cutting corners to save money.” [“Oil Rig Survivor talks to Congress,” St. Pete Times 5/28/10]
There is a Cree Indian proverb that states:
Only when the last tree has died
and the last river has been poisoned
and the last fish has been caught
will we realize that we can’t eat money. When it comes to this oil spill, there is plenty of blame to go around.
Now some people are calling for a boycott of BP. I don’t know about you, but I will simply go to another gas station. And still get gas. Yes, greed is to blame for this travesty. And unbridled corporate power. But the story of the otter reminds us that if we are honest and trace the whole trail of blame, it comes right back to us. We are the ones driving the cars that want the gas that comes from the drilling.
I know it is not quite that simple, but we also elect the officials who perpetuate dependence on oil powered energy. We pay the people who create budgets with woefully
inadequate funding for public transportation. We are the ones not wanting more taxes even if they are to fund new energy alternatives. We are the ones who are allowing corporations to run this country. We’re the ones who want larger dividends from our investments. We are the ones who don’t want to be inconvenienced by waiting for a bus. We’re the ones too busy to walk or bike. We’re the ones who chafe at paying more for gas like the Europeans do. From many angles, the blame for the oil spill comes back to us.
In the story of the otter’s children, there is much blaming and finger-pointing, but ultimately each of the animals is doing what it does out of innate instinct. Each one makes a natural response. The animals are not capable of exercising moral agency. They are not capable of higher level critical thinking. They have little choice in their reaction to fear, threat, or hunger. They have programmed responses.
This is not the case with human beings. We have the intellectual capacity to employ critical thinking and make choices about our behavior. We have the ability to exercise moral, ethical agency. This unique trait of the human species is celebrated in Psalm 8 which we read as a Call to Worship this morning. The Psalmist reminds us, we are made “a little lower than God.” We have incredible powers of assessment, creativity, and choice. We are not limited by animal instinct.
The psalm also reminds us that we have been created to have dominion over creation. To be caretakers of the earth and the entire cosmos. While each animal is created to care for itself and protect itself, we human beings are to care for and protect the whole web of life; the entirety of creation, including all the animals.
We have the ability and the calling to tend and care for the whole of the natural world. And Proverbs reminds us that we have been given the wisdom and knowledge needed for our task. We have been given prudence, intelligence, and understanding of the orderliness, balance and sacredness of the universe, so that we can protect and defend it. Unlike the animals of the otter story who function from innate instinct, we choose how to exercise our will. We choose our behavior.
So when it comes to oil spill blame, the finger points at us. And part of our failure is related to the church. The church has abdicated its responsibility for the protection of the earth. The church has not put creation care front and center in its ministry. The
church has held back on this focus for many reasons. In part, we didn’t want to appear too earth centered, looking pagan or Wiccan, or like some kind of primitive animistic religion. We want to think we are more sophisticated than that and not be confused with religions that worship the earth, instead of God as if it is either/or.
In addition, the church has abdicated its responsibility for teaching about money and greed. Jesus talked more about money and wealth and greed than prayer. Yet the church has neglected that teaching. And it’s no wonder. The church benefits from greed. Rich members contribute more. Big donations fuel big buildings and big ministries, big programs, big salaries, and big egos in the church. So, the church doesn’t hit too hard on greed, either.
Having been reminded by Proverbs and Psalm 8 of our potential and of God’s expectations, we could easily gush with despair and hopelessness at the mess we have made of things. But friends, remember, we are made just lower than God. We have amazing capability. We have incredible power. We have enormous potential.
And we are the people whose religious tradition focuses on transformation. We are the religion with the story about life out of death. Nothing beyond love’s power. We are the people who believe in the power of renewal and redemption. Even from the cross, Jesus forgives his killers. [Luke 23:34] And he tells a thief, today you will be with me in Paradise. [Luke 23:43] Jesus never gives up on anyone. We are the people of hope. Our scriptures tell us, “. . . in Christ, there is a new creation” [2 Corinthians 5:17] and “Behold, I make all things new.” [Revelation 21:5] There’s an old saying, “Communism is a new suit on every man. Christianity is a new man in every suit.” Our faith is about the power of transformation and change. It is about the way back from sin and death.
So our faith tradition is perfectly suited to addressing the current oil spill crisis. And we know what we need to say and do. Greed is nothing new. Philosophers and sages have decried greed throughout the ages. Care for creation is nothing new. Religions back to the dawn of human emergence have worshipped, honored, and cherished creation. This is not new. Jesus shows us example after example of the lessons creation has to teach us. We need the earth to sustain us physically and spiritually. Environmental activism is not new. Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Teddy Roosevelt and the national parks, John Muir, Rachel Carson and others have all shared
concern for the environment. And in the 60’s along with the civil rights demonstrations and anti war protests and feminist rallies and gay rights events, there was the environmental movement with buttons and patches declaring “Smog Kills” and “Stop Pollution Now.” I won a poster contest in elementary school in the 60‘s for an anti pollution poster. There are people here who remember the oil embargo of the 70’s. We knew we had to reduce dependence on foreign oil back then. We had switch plate covers when I was in college in 1978 that said “Do it in the dark” reminding us to save energy. We know what we need to know. BP has a 583 page spill plan for the Deepwater Horizon well. [“A BP Cover-up?,” Niamh Marnell, 5/24/10, http://dcbureau.org/ 20100524450/Bulldog-Blog/a-bp-cover-up.html] We know what we need to know about our circumstances. We know we need to transform our values and relationships and institutions and refocus the locus of power to combat greed, apathy, ecocide and death. Abraham Lincoln is credited with observing, “Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow.” We know. We have known. But we have chosen not to act.
It is time for us, for the church, like that blessed wisdom figure of Proverbs to get out on the street corners, in the marketplaces, at the gates, on the soapboxes, and the world wide web calling for a new way. We need to proclaim our commitment to transforming our energy use and to care for the environment. We need proclaim our vision of our ability to transform greed into entrepreneurial creativity making safe, clean energy desirable, available, and profitable. It is time. We must raise our voices.
For Jesus, faith was never passive, vapid, or apathetic. It was active engagement. Nonviolent resistance. Creative confrontation. It is time to put order and rationality into practice and confront the destruction caused by greed and self interest, which are not practical or reasonable. The cost of the gulf spill, to the 11 who were killed and their loved ones, to BP, to the fisherpeople, to the environment, to the 8,300 life forms in the Gulf, to the health of those working on the clean up, to the plants and animals, to the human psyche, it is not worth the outcome. [“‘Top kill’ fails to stop oil leak, BP says,” St. Petersburg Times, 5/30/10] The cost of the spill, over $11 million in oil so far, over $760 million in clean up, so far, could have funded alternative energy research, development, and implementation. [“BP Oil Spill ‘Top Kill’ Procedure: $11 Million Of
Oil Not Enough For The Cleanup” Kamille Casia, 5/27/10, http:// http://www.worldbuzznow.com/bp-oil-spill-top-kill-procedure-11-million-of-oil-not-enoughfor- the-cleanup-cost/11126] Wind, solar, and according to our own Perry Dempsey, safe, clean nuclear energy. You can hear more about that after church in an open discussion about issues around the spill. When it comes to this oil spill, the profit just does not justify the loss by any means. It just doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make rational sense to keep this up. This dependence on oil which is fouling the planet creating death and destruction.
And we want to remember that this is Memorial Day weekend. It is more than a holiday to mark the official beginning of summer. Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who have served in the military to protect and defend this country. Did they serve to make this country safe for corporations to perpetrate ecocide and leave workers destitute? And what about those serving today, men and women, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, fighting and dying to protect our access to foreign oil. Is that what we want our military to be doing? Dependence on alternative renewable energies would get us out of these conflicts that are damaging, wounding and killing our young people and tying our hands in international relations. It just doesn’t make sense.
We have the capability of honoring the sacredness of creation and meeting all of our energy needs with safe, clean, renewable energy. And it makes sense, as well as dollars and cents. We can do this. After all, the Psalmist tells us we are just a little less than God, who is responsible for the whole web of creation and life. Certainly we can tackle the problems which have contributed to this oil spill travesty. We have been given all that we need . What we need to do is make a bold witness. Cry out. There’s a saying which reminds us: “Our lives begin to end the moment we become silent about things that matter.” It is time for us to burst forth from our tombs of silence and speak up and speak out.
As I read countless articles and perspectives about the oil spill this week, I wondered about what I could do. One of our members, Mary Weber, states the challenge this way: “Change – it has to be drastic and permanent, and it is scary – a total lifestyle change – with people along for the ride who may not be on board.” I thought about this. Frankly, I really don’t want to change my lifestyle. I don’t like change. I like my car, my
air conditioning. I like flying – to my nephew’s wedding in Milwaukee in a few weeks, to visit our kids in New York. To talk about drastic change appeals to me in theory but not so much in practice.
Every quarter, I get a new issue of Wellesley Magazine. When it arrives, I flip to the class notes and see if there is anything interesting going on with someone I know from my class. Then I toss the magazine aside. It gets moved from here to there until finally some months later it ends up in the recycling box in the garage. So an issue arrived this week. I glanced at the class notes. And then somehow, mysteriously, found myself reading an article on the back page. Millie Leinweber Dawson, an alum I have never heard of wrote: “One quiet Saturday morning several months ago, I did something I’d wanted to try for a long time: Instead of driving the nine miles from my house to synagogue, I rode my bike.. . . Feeling victorious, the next day, Sunday, I decided to bike to my usual yoga class and then buy some groceries. I found I could carry a fair amount of food in my old blue backpack. . .
“On Tuesday, [though,] it dawned on me that I hadn’t used the car in four days. When I thought about my afternoon hair appointment, I decided not only to go by bike, but to try to manage without my van for the rest of the week. . . .
“Giving up the car made me feel virtuous, the way I imagine Catholics feel giving something up for Lent. I actually do feel sinful using my Sienna minivan to trundle my slight self around. The thing weighs 4,177 pounds empty. But our budget won’t accommodate a new hybrid right now.
“I’ve been stewing over the environment for a long time. Global warming is as high on my list of everyday concerns as what to do for dinner. I compost. I recycle dry- cleaner hangers and every scrap of plastic I find. . .”
Dawson goes on to tell of encounters with neighbors and nature along the way as she continued to bike.
“At the end of my car-free week,” she tells us, “I felt a sense of accomplishment I hadn’t felt in a long time. I decided to use my bike as often as I could from then on. And so I’ve been riding the Huffy places I used to just drive to: the library, the post office, my
favorite coffee place. Deciding to think ‘bike first’ has changed the way I manage my time and money. . . .
“My bike week reminded me that it doesn’t take much to make me happy.” [Wellesley Magazine, Spring 2010, “Free Wheeling,” by Milly Leinweber Dawson, ’76, p. 80]
As I finished the article I figured the writer must live in a temperate climate where biking could be practical, not here in tropical heat wave Florida. But it turns out she is from the Orlando area. And I assumed that she must be young and have not yet experienced the pops and pulls and pains of the aging body. But she is 6 years older that I am. So much for my excuses to resist change! We have at least five bikes at our house. The challenge is to change my thinking from biking as recreation to biking as transportation. We can’t all bike, but there are changes we all can make.
In the folktale about the otter, the otter has a legitimate excuse for his circumstances. It is his nature to be a predator. It is his innate programming. We have no excuses. We are programmed to be flexible and thoughtful and reasonable. We are intended to be continually developing and emerging and improving. We are wired to be responsible for caring for the earth. We have in our nature the ability to delight God, to honor wisdom, and to embody love. We are the people of the resurrection, with faith that life can come from death. We are not limited by instinct. We must demand change of ourselves, of the church, of the government, of industry, and society. We have been created such that we can be transformed by this trauma in the Gulf and transform the world. May we be true to our nature. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.