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Grief and Belief


The sun-glinted vacation serenity, the bottle-green water and sandy white beaches (the most beautiful in America), the lazy motions of dolphins off shore, the gentle tides, the freshest-tasting amberjack and red snapper on earth ...

As a Gulf state native, I know the Gulf of Mexico is a soul-restoring oasis, a livelihood to millions, the blue-green home to a whole world of underwater life, a zone also of hurricane fury — a place that deserves and demands respect.

So the continuing oil hemorrhage in the Gulf, now in its third month, is a matter of mind-numbing sorrow and stupidity. After 9/11, after a nearly 10-year war, after Katrina, after the worst economy since the Depression, the United States' outrage and grief should be nearly exhausted. But now this — 11 workers killed, their families deeply mourning, the Gulf poisoned beyond belief. Outrage and grief are called on again.

And action, too. Christian action.

We can blame BP. We can blame lax government regulation. We can blame the arrogant modern-life assumption that big technological answers have no dire consequences. But I must look in the mirror. I have to see my own connection to this oil disaster my never-challenged expectation that I should use as much daily fossil fuel as I want, as if it were a divine right.

We are a religious nation. Yet the American way of consumption makes no connection to reverence, belief, ethics, awe, humility, courage or discipleship. Consumer culture daily produces the illusion that there is no friction between daily routine and belief, no contradiction between excessive waste and biblical stewardship, no responsibility to be modest as creatures of God's green earth. Consumerism expects exuberance and calls it patriotism, and wesre expected to be frankly unrepentant about it.

The church has a different story to tell. Love of God and neighbor leaves me no choice but to see the interconnections of this life, connections between my lifestyle and its consequences on others. And this is not easy to admit.

But change is possible. A helpful petition* is circulating that gives churches words for prayer and ideas for action.

The petition provides a litany of lament and reconciliation that asks worshippers to "mourn our complicity and active participation in an economy based on toxic energy that has made such death inevitable."

Further, it urges a weekly Friday fast from foods that are trucked long distances and rely on petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. It asks that Friday be a day to walk or carpool or take the bus to work rather than drive.

The petition urges that these practices continue until the oil cataclysm is cleaned up and "the work of restoration of God's creation in the Gulf has begun."

That restoration begins with precise prayers and honest soul-searching and with gratitude that we are given another chance to make it right.

*The petition was composed at the 2010 Duke Divinity Center for Reconciliation Summer Institute. Read it at

--Columnist Ray Waddle, author of two books published by Upper Room Books, lives in Bethel, Conn.

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