May 4, 2010...9:36 am

The Oil Spill? I’m Guilty.

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I can’t stop thinking about the oil spill today. Yesterday, I read this blog post by Ed Brown, director of Care of Creation, Inc and author of Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation. His post is short and powerful. You should take a second to read it.

In it, he asks the question: How should we pray about this oil spill? Should we ask God to miraculously stop the flow of oil into the ocean? Immediately bring healing to the animals and creatures already devastated by the spill? Protect our coastlines so that the oil disappears before it hits land?

No, he says. This is not a natural disaster. “We have done this to ourselves,” he says. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been angry at BP. I’ve been frustrated at their failures. I’ve been second guessing Obama’s decision to go forward with off-shore drilling in the first place. I’ve been thinking, “Isn’t there anybody who can figure out how to stop this?”

But I’ve failed to recognize my own part in this disaster. The irony of the time I’ve spent reading and applying St. Benedict’s Rule is that I’ve done it alone, in a city where though I’ve made plenty of contacts and acquaintances, I don’t have much of a community.  And the Rule of St. Benedict is written for a community of monks who live life together. It’s about how to live as community, how to care for each other and respect each other. It’s about how to follow Christ together. And when we live together as we were meant to do, we recognize that we all contributed to the brokenness around us. I contributed to this oil spill just as you did, in my compliance in this culture of consumption, in my demand for more oil.

Brown says the biblical example we should be following as we pray for this situation is that of Daniel, who, following Jerusalem’s destruction and during their captivity in Babylon, recognized his and his people’s failures. “Daniel’s prayer is a model of how to pray when the disaster is our own fault:  It is a prayer of confession,” Brown says.  “It is an important principle that we cannot appeal to God for something that is our own fault unless we also admit to him that it is our fault.”

This morning I came across this article in The New York Times about the families grieving the eleven men killed in the explosion that set off this disaster. I hadn’t even realized there had been lives lost in the explosion. Of course, as a mom, I can’t stop thinking about Michelle Jones (mentioned in the article), whose husband was killed in the explosion and who is due to give birth to their second child any day.

What does it mean for us to realize our own part in this disaster? It feels like there’s so little we can do about our dependence on oil. It’s easy for me to remark on what a shame it all is and then go on living as I always have.  But we can’t deny that BP was digging because we need that oil to run our electricity, our cars, our lifestyles.

On this Thankful Tuesday, while I’m grateful that our family is not dependent on the oil coated southern coast for our livelihood, I know that my sigh of relief is not the kind of response that Christ calls me to. What should my response be? Yes, I can pray.  I can drive less, turn off my lights, learn to depend less on the oil-produced energy that runs my life. But I’d love your thoughts. What can we do to respect our land more, to care for our planet in a profound way? Because I can’t help but think that repentance is not repentance unless we change our ways.  It’s not enough for us to simply confess to God our failures as an oil hungry society.

You and I are regular people. We’re individuals. But God has called us to live lives of community and to recognize not only our own sin but the sin of the society we live in. We have failed our neighbors in Louisiana. Now, what will we do about it?


  • Some good thoughts. Tragically, I just keep thinking, “What CAN we do about it?” Buy Priuses? Revert to horse-and-buggies? Bike everywhere? I’m gotten way into cycling lately and ride everywhere I can that’s not work-related, and that still doesn’t sound good even to me.

    I feel like we’re mired in this. There’s no getting out. We’ll feel bad for awhile. We’ll grieve the 11 deaths. We’ll do exactly what you and I and plenty of others are right now — wondering how to change it.

    But sadly, this too shall pass, I fear, and in a year’s time we’ll likely hardly remember it.

    Man. That was way more depressing than I thought it would be when I started typing. And I’m actually having a great day.

    • I hear you, Brandon. Lately, I’ve been feeling better about my carbon footprint now that I live in a city (as opposed to the suburbs) where can rely on a car less and am in a more moderate climate (less need for the heater and the air conditioner). But is that enough? And I most likely won’t be here long term and we’ll move back to a car driving/air conditioner using lifestyle. Is there an answer besides really hoping some genius comes up with a way to change EVERYTHING about our dependence on oil? I don’t know….

  • In Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz, he talks about looking in the mirror and admitting, “I am the problem.”

    I’ve lived in Seattle, WA for 20+ years and been surrounded by the extreme tree-hugging, elite environmentalists. Some of their ideology is annoying, but when it boils down to it (as you say), I am responsible for our dependence on oil.

    If you believe the conspiracy theorists the technology exists to lessen this oily crutch, but I just don’t know. I do my part by religiously recycling, riding the bus and turning off the lights, but sometimes (like when an oil spill happens) I wonder if it’s enough.

    Thank you for being candid and transparent.

  • Micha, yet again you hit the nail on the head. I love your frankness and your call for us all to take responsiblity for our actions and for the wellfare of the world around us. I believe the small steps we are taking make a difference and the less we consume the better and that’s where the greatest impact is made. I think it’s all about taking action, the repantance with true 180 degree turn you mentioned. Action for a better world. Action for taking much better care of the earth we’ve been given.

  • Hi Micha:

    Interesting perspective. Another way to think about is to recognize that bad things happen in a fallen world.

    What made this particular situation so much riskier is its location so far off-shore. Ultra deep water drilling takes place because of the restrictions closer to the coastline. Ironically, environmental consciousness increases the risks for offshore drilling, and in this tragic case, something bad happened.

    The blow out valve meant to cap off the well in such a circumstance failed - no explanation for that that I’ve yet read. Plan B, which involves among other things, drilling parallel wells and cutting over to relieve the pressure, is time consuming.

    Western society runs on oil, gas, and derivatives, and as a result, we have built unimagined prosperity for ourselves and people around the world. Employment. Technology. Medical advances. Transportation. Etc. All are linked in some way to the demand for oil.

    Pray for bright minds to work through the very thorny problems associated with this particular tragedy, and for some breaks in the right direction. And pray for those families who lost loved ones. But also pray in thanksgiving that the resources built into our world have enabled so many advances, despite the occasionally painful setbacks which occur when downside risks break through.

    • Thanks so much for your perspective, Susan. You’re right. We have to recognize that nothing about our society’s prosperity would exist if we hadn’t found and used oil and gas. It’s so complicated. How do I even say I’m grateful for the society we live in and the advancements oil and gas have made? I have no idea of what life would be without those resources and it would be ridiculous for me to say those things shouldn’t exist.

      But it feels so complicated to me. Have we been good stewards of those resources? Does God approve of how we’ve sucked so much oil and gas out of the ground that the process is becoming more and more dangerous and leading to more and more unrest between countries? Oil definitely hasn’t brought peace.

      You’re right. Thank you for the reminder that we need to pray for bright minds and for those families who lost loved ones. And we need to pray in thanksgiving for what we have. But I think we also need to pray about how much our own individual comfort is continuing this insatiable demand for oil. Of course, we need oil. But how much of our use of oil is based on need and how much is based on comfort? That’s a complicated question I don’t know the answer to…

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