There is a common theme that keeps coming up in my every day, and that theme is: everything is connected. Everything can be traced back to anything. We live in a world that is completely interrelated.
As much as our culture would have us believe that the best way to live is to be independent and completely self sustained.. that is in fact impossible. No matter what we do, we depend on others, and no matter what we do we affect others.
Why is it that there is this every man for himself mentality? Is it because we truly believe we can live our lives independently from one another? Why do we believe that our actions do not affect anyone but ourselves?
I am reading a book called The Tarball Chronicles: A Journey Beyond the Oiled Pelican and Into the Heart of the Gulf Oil Spill. by David Gessner. It’s really putting the whole BP oil spill into perspective, and a lot of other things for that matter. It’s proving once again to me that everything’s connected. Reading this book has been a very profound experience. I definitely wasn’t expecting this kind of incite in reading this book.
The following are some excerpts from The Tarball Chronicles talking about the interrelatedness each of us has with the oil spill, with the fragile coastline, with nature, and with one another. There is so much good stuff in this book, so I want to share with you some of the profound, brilliant ideas that this environmentalist, bird watcher, and lover of the heart of nature has recorded in his book.
“The people who made and sprayed DDT were not evil. Who wouldn’t want to get rid of mosquitoes? They weren’t evil, but they just believed that they could control things. They believed they could make things better than they are; that they could always fix what got broken; never considering that some of the things they were breaking had taken a million years or so to make.”
I think the same is true if we look at our own lives. We have this desire to control things, to have things our way. This need to harness the wildness of this world that we’ve been given, a gift from God that we need to fix. It’s a trend that’s been going on since the beginning of man. We take matters into our own hands and end up screwing up a lot of things, and starting a chain of events that ends in so much destruction. So much so that we can no longer trace it back to the cause.
In talking about the issues facing the Gulf and seeing the need for change, Gessner has some interesting points… he indicates that there’s a deeper problem that we are facing…
“The thing we really need to fix is ourselves. It’s not about the fish, it’s not about the pollution, it’s not about the climate change. It’s about us, and our greed, and our need for growth…”
“Maybe, as we do this, we can be guided, not just by the desire for ease, but also by older ideals of sacrifice; of good work and growth and wildness beyond an engineer’s dream of straight lines.”
All of this is coming from a scientifically minded man who explains that he does not believe in God. Gessner sees that the basis of a lot of issues begins with our human nature. He repeats the theme of the loss of sacrifice throughout the book, and points out that our inability to give of ourselves to help others and to sacrifice things that comfort us is destroying the Earth. This idea of sacrifice transcends religion.
“Nature was our first home, our old home, and to paraphrase Emerson, we miss it dearly. I am not saying that we should all run off and find cabins in the woods. There are no more cabins anyway. No places apart. Think of this place, this fish camp, seemingly remote, but vulnerable to the tendrils of oil. I’m not talking about “getting away from it all,” but its opposite: acknowledging where we came from. How to really understand that this thing we seem so dead set on destroying is our home and that we are — still — a part of the world we grew out of? I’m not suggesting we need to have a perfect relationship with so-called nature; that we need to grow zucchinis and wear flowers in our hair. But if we don’t need a pure relationship we do need some relationship.”
When we divorce nature from our lives we suffer in ways our brains don’t understand.
Ahhhh, relationship : ) When we cut ourselves off from relationships, something ugly happens. The same is true when we refer to our relationship with others as with our relationship with nature. Gessner points out that without some sort of relationship with nature we suffer. We suffer in ways our brains don’t understand. Why is that?
I believe God has provided us with this idea of relationship, this idea of interrelatedness and community to experience the love of God. It is a gift to experience a taste of the love and communion among the Trinity. Everything springs from our relationship with others, and our relationship with the Earth. I believe that when our relationship with the Earth is cut off we suffer and therefore the Earth suffers. As the Earth suffers, we suffer even more physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’s a vicious cycle. You can see the proof of the health of our relationship with nature all around us as oil swirls in the Gulf. The health of our relationships and their effects on our existence transcends religion.
“To walk by the shore, to swim in the sea, to fish, and feel the sun. Could it be that we are willing to give this up for the comfort of forms and straight lines? It’s as if our new credo were, “This thing, this business model, developed over the last hundred years or so, this system that gives great rewards to few Homo sapiens, is superior to the vast and complex machine of life of all beings that has evolved over billions of years.”
Do we really believe this? Could we?
Maybe the answer is “yes.” Maybe we hate uncertainty so much, and are so intent on stamping it out, that we don’t mind also crushing the living world in the process. Maybe our twin gods of ease and speed have ascended above all else.
I feel uncertainty is a driving force of our need and desire to control. We feel we can’t control anything in our own personal lives, so we have to control this creative force of nature.. build levees and dams to stop the flooding, to stop the messy madness…
“One thing I like about a shack like this is that it’s honest. It admits that the world is uncertain and impermanent and that the ground is never firm, that sands shift and islands migrate. For most of us the fact that this same world is wild, joyous, dramatic, and enlivening somehow does not make up for its messiness. We are quick to sell our birthright if things are convenient and quick and straight. Sacrifice is an outdated virtue. Better a controlled castle than a shack that can be wiped out at any moment.”
Gessner brings up sacrifice once again. I have to be honest, this is not a theme I was expecting to be reminded of constantly in a book about the BP oil spill. The idea of sacrifice is connected to a spiritual life just as much as it is with a healthy relationship with nature.
“What if instead of sacrificing other places — Sydney Mines and the Gulf and Alaska — and other species — killer whales and gannets and dolphins — we chose to sacrifice a little of ourselves? Is that so ludicrous? Unfortunately the word sacrifice has… been hollowed out. It has become rote. Something politicians say. It has lost its heroic connotations and isn’t a word people really use that much, which is understandable. our culture has emphatically chosen the opposite route of Thoreau, focusing on getting more to the extent that the idea of consciously doing with less seems laughable. But what if someone came to you and whispered..
‘Do with a little less and two things will happen. The world will be better and you will be happier.’“
Sounds pretty simple, right? But I get discouraged thinking about the improbability of huge corporations being convinced with these words.. of our culture and even myself being convinced to be changed with these words… This book has been overwhelming to say the least. There is a pressure that comes along with this slow realization that everything is connected, that the way I decide to live my life has a direct effect on others and on the environment.
I came across a chapter in this book called Faith. I have to say I was very intrigued. This author had made it very clear that he did not believe in God, and had no qualms about sticking strong to that. Here’s some things he had to say in reference to White Pelicans:
“What I experience when I see the birds, these great white radiant birds, is more akin to what Jim Duffy described when he said he could believe in both a certain book and the rocks, God and science, even though they tell different stories. Like Jim, I can believe in two stories: the pessimistic Eco-story of my tribe, and, at the same time, a greater, wilder story. That story has nothing to do with words or the future or how we will or won’t act. It is happening right now. It is an irrational story, an ineffable one. It is about the birds themselves. It is the birds themselves. White. Radiant. Flying.
I am not a religious man. But as I watch one white pelican veer away from the rest, my body fills with something that I have no words for. I don’t have an organized system of belief. But I do have faith in that single white bird.
What is faith if not belief without, or beyond reason? That is what I have in nature, even at this late date in its destruction and demise. I understand that we are at the end of nature, that it is dead and outdated, and that I’m kind of old-fashioned for believing. But still. To say it is as close as one can get to going to church has become cliche, but being out here with these birds does offer me at least some of the pleasures and consolations of religion. It offers me a place outside of myself, a place to consider things beyond me, a place of wonder and awe. It is where religions were born.
Because along with wetlands we are losing this: a place other than human, a place not smeared with our clumsy thumbprints, and a place, since we are being practical here, with the distinctly human use of seeing beyond ourselves. It seems reasonable to point out that for some of us BP has soiled not just our beaches but our church.”
Why have we tried to separate the church and the environment? Why is there this movement or tendency for Christians to see environmentalist as a dirty word? And in the same vain, why are there scientifically minded people who discredit faith as something delusional people buy into? Why do so many discredit the church? I believe these things are interwoven and it can be a beautiful thing when seen that way. The church and nature are connected. The way we treat the environment should be a major component of how we live our faith out. Gessner continues…
“It is a truly miraculous world we are destroying. A world where shrews can somehow become dolphins. Think of that. Think of the delightful fluidity, the sheer thrill of adaptation. Could straight lines lead to this, could engineers plan out how to get from the A of a shrew to the B of dolphin? “Miraculous” may have strictly religious connotations for some, but I’ll stick with it in this instance. You can believe that this is God’s creation or you can believe we evolved. You can even believe in both. That is not my fight at the moment. But whatever your beliefs, and whatever your origin story of favor, how can you not believe in dolphins and white pelicans?”
Some of you may have checked out of this paragraph at the phrase “shrews can somehow become dolphins”, or “adaptation”. Others may have checked out at the words “religious” or “God’s creation”. Regardless of where you come from, or what your background is… I feel we can meet at the word “miraculous”. It is undeniable that this Earth, this creation is awe inspiring. I feel that you can believe this is God’s creation, or that we evolved, but it’s hard to escape that there is something greater and mysterious about how everything fits together.
“The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.” -Rob Bell
“I have always thought that nature was the source of my creativity, and the source of creativity for most artists, even those who never set foot on a beach or in the woods. But my thinking is evolving and I am moving beyond those inchoate ideas. I am coming to believe that nature is creativity. Not just a wellspring for humans but the thing itself.”
At this point of the book, I see a change in Gessner. He is no longer able to talk about nature without this awe.. without connecting it to other areas of life. As he does this his language gets more and more beautiful, and he makes more and more sense.
“When we kill the woods or beach we are killing possibilities. Our options, biologically as well as artistically, become limited. After all, you can’t simply re-create dolphin or pelican or kangaroo. I could go on but I will stop my preaching now. I am tired, weary. One of the things that straight-line thinkers like to do is segregate, keeping everyone and everything in their separate cells. In this way, we can focus on the narcotics of our specialties: macrame or biochemistry or golf. In my field this means keeping art separate from politics, which is one of the rules of literature in the past century. It is a rule that I would, quite honestly like to follow and one that I did follow for the first twenty years of my career. But it just doesn’t seem possible anymore.”
And so everything starts to blend together….
The final connection I want to point out is one that means a lot to me specifically. As you probably can tell, I have been enthralled by this new passion of Creation Care, the connection of nature and theology. I feel like this last connection kind of ties it all up in a neat bow.
Gessner decided to explore the idea that the BP oil spill is connected to all of us, and did so by emailing a bunch of professors that were at the top of their respective fields, and asking each of them to connect a pelican to their area of study….
“A philosophy professor recalled that the pelican was a religious symbol and sent along this Wikipedia entry: ‘In medieval Europe, the pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood when no other food was available. As a result, the pelican became a symbol of the Passion of Jesus and of the Eucharist.’ And, along the same lines, another professor offered up Psalm 102 which ends: “I am like a pelican of the wilderness.”
Wow. I had no idea that the pelican would have such a direct link to my faith in Christ. Even though this idea of the pelican feeding its young with blood is a myth, if you do some research you will see the countless images of pelicans used as an icon to symbolize Christ, the Eucharist, and charity among other things. Gessner continues…
“All of it went in my file, though I made special note of the idea of the birds feeding their blood to their young. As natural history it’s hogwash, but symbolically I can see the pelican as the offering we have sacrificed at the altar of oil, down in this body of water that is our national sacrifice zone.
There’s another way to look at it, though. Maybe the true offering has to come from us, in response to what has occurred. At the very least, the idea of sacrifice, which seems so outdated and quaint, has to be revived. In an age of instant gratification, why ever give anything up?
Perhaps because by giving up we gain something greater.”
Does this sound familiar?
“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me[Jesus] will find it.” Matthew 16:25
And now we are back to the idea of sacrifice. If we are able to live independently from one another, if there is nothing greater, if nothing is actually connected, if my actions do not affect you and vice versa … if our every man for himself culture is right, then what on earth would be the point of sacrifice? Where does sacrifice fit in to this puzzle?
I believe if each of us practiced some sacrificial giving in our lives, even in small ways, it would heal the earth, heal our relationships, and heal ourselves. We are connected, and instead of our actions having a negative chain reaction through all interconnections, our sacrifices could radiate out and positively affect all we are connected to.
I can think of nothing more beautiful than this life and the complexity of how interwoven it all is. It is all connected, and it is all beautiful.