Monday, July 26, 2010

I've been doing some reading to prepare for a course on environmental theology and ethics that I'll be teaching here at the Sanibel church this fall. I just finished a really fine essay by Jurgen Moltmann from his book Creating a Just Future. It dates back to 1989, but it feels very contemporary. He sees things in relational terms, and at one point observes: "The living relationship between a human society and its natural environment is determined by the techniques by which human beings extract what they need to eat and live from nature and return their waste products to it." (52)

Clearly, in the current crisis here on the Gulf, there have been techniques which have failed. I don't have the technical expertise to determine if they are good techniques gone awry, or if they were faulty from the start. Indeed, that is a question that bis being asked about deep water drilling in general. Here in Florida, as we enter this election cycle, it's a hot topic. To drill or not to drill? Should Florida's coastline be open to drilling? Or is drilling a technique which is fundametally harmful to the relationship?

While I can't judge the technical merits of drilling, I do have a bit of training in the realm of relationships. And in human relationships, technique does matter. I've spent many, many hours working with men who abuse their wives and lovers. Often, part of that counseling is all about technique--learning new ways of communicating that don't tear at the heart of the relationship.
But there is more to it than technique. For ultimately such men need to learn a whole new way of thinking about the women in their lives. Ultimately they need to come to see them as partners, as equals, as people deserving of their love and respect. And while good technique can be helpful, in the end, it needs to grow out of a transformed attitude, and a transformed understanding. Without that transformation, things never change.

Drilling may or may not be a good technique. We need to figure that out. We also may need to invent some new techniques. But more than that, we need to change our attitude about the earth itself. We need to see the natural world as a partner, deserving of our care and respect.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Like so many others, I've been holding my breath this past weekend, hoping and praying that the cap will hold on the Deepwater Horizon well. Despite all the oil that has already spilled into the Gulf, there is a measure of relief to be found in the fact that for the most part it has been stopped. Who knows how long it will take to clean up what's already polluting the waters, the beaches and the marshlands? But at least the end of the spillage appears to be in sight. This time.
I suppose that's a rather pessimistic view. And certainly, it is my fervent prayer that this never happens again. But it will take more than prayer to change things. It will take concerted effort on the part of individuals, corporations and government. It will mean changing our personal habits of energy consumption. It will mean putting safety and environmental concern ahead of profit. It will mean fully enforcing existing regulations and creating new ones as needed. And all that is a tall order. A very tall order.

Sunday, my two grandsons were here on island with their Mom and Dad to help us celebrate my wife Linda's birthday.. They arrived in the afternoon, and we spent time at the pool just being a family. Then, Linda and my daughter-in-law and Zach, our oldest grandson, went down to the beach for an hour or so while I cooked dinner. While they were there, Zach dug a big hole in the sand. Little boys (and girls) have probably been doing the same since the dawn of time! This morning though, when I walked the beach, I saw no sign of the hole. It had been smoothed down and filled in by the tide.

It will take more than a night and a change of tide to undo the hole dug in the environment by the oil spill. It will take many nights, and many tides. Years of them, I suspect. I just hope that if and when we are done, we don't forget the hole. I hope we carry away from all of this a new understanding of just how much work it will take for us to make sure other little boys and girls will be able to dig holes in the sand and jump in the waves and collect shells on the shore.
(PHOTO CREDIT: Linda Bradbury-Danner)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

As you cross over the causeway that connects Sanibel Island to the mainland (or "the continent", as some locals call it) one of the most magnificent sights is watching as brown pelicans skim over the water's surface. They are big birds-- their wingspan can reach seventy inches across--and yet they seem to fly effortlessly, gliding through the air with great ease.

Yesterday, twenty-one brown pelicans and eleven northern gannets were released here on the island in hopes that they might find a safer place to live. They had been covered with oil when they were found along the Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi coastlines. After being cleaned up and rehabilitated they were transported by plane to the area and then set free. According to the local newspaper, they are among the 1085 birds that had been rescued as of yesterday.

No one knows for sure if they will stay here, or fly back home. Brown pelicans it seems have a tendency to return to the place where they first took flight. One can only hope they will avoid getting re-entangled with the oil spill!

Pelicans, of course, are only following their instincts. And if they do return to familiar territory it can hardly be called a matter of poor judgement. Not so we human beings. True, sometimes we just act on instinct, but the reality is we are capable of making choices, for we have God-given free will.

So what choices will we make today? Will we learn from this disaster and choose to live in a different, more environmentally aware way? Will we change some of our wasteful habits? Or, will we simply return to the familiar?

The new pelican residents here on Sanibel may not have a real choice, but we do. Just a few months ago, in November 2009, brown pelicans, which had been threatened back in the first part of the twentieth century by the use of DDT, were finally taken off the endangered species list. Our choices will help determine whether or not they stay off .

(Photo Credit: Mike Baird,

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Last week our congregation hosted a middle school youth group from the Windemere (FL) United Church of Christ. We provided floor space for their sleeping bags; helped them make arrangements for showers with the local Rec Center; fed them pancakes one morning for breakfast. Nothing extraordinary--just one church helping out another.

The kids and their chaperones worked with a city official and a representative from one of the environmental groups here on the island, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. SCCF, as its known locally, has been instrumental in helping Sanibel be a sanctuary island. It manages over 1300 acres of wild lands here on Sanibel, runs a marine laboratory and a superb nature center with trails, a touch tank and a butterfly house!

The youth group helped plant sea oats. In all they planted nineteen-hundred seedlings. Nineteen-hundred! That's a lot of sea oats! While they may sound rather innocuous, sea oats (uniola paniculata) are actually a very important part of our ecosystem. They can grow to six feet in height, and provide natural protection against the ravages of tropical storms. Their long root systems help to stabilize the loose soils of barrier islands and coastal environments. Unfortunately, they can be fairly easily destroyed by pollutants. As strong as they are--and they are strong in many ways--they can be wiped out by human carelessness.

In the courtyard of our church we have an eternal light created by one of our local artists, a very gifted fellow named Luc Century. It was erected in partnership with the Jewish congregation that shares our facility. It is a beautiful glass cylinder, etched with sea oats. The light itself is powered by a solar panel. It is a constant reminder that even as the sea oats literally help to hold our island together, so the light and love of God holds our world together.

Sea oats may seem rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things. So too things like providing hospitality, creating art, and partnering with folks from other places and other religious backgrounds. But I am convinced such things count for much. I am convinced that every time we stop, as those kids from Windemere did, to tend to the earth, we are making God's love a bit more real in our fragile world. Every time we provide hospitality, every time we partner with folks of differing faith backgrounds, every time we pause to observe something beautiful, we are making God's light a bit more visible in a sometimes darkened world.

Sea oats--who would have imagined?