Monday, August 9, 2010

This past week there was a fair amount of good news out of the Gulf. The oil well appears to have been successfully capped, the oil spill itself seems to have largely dissipated and we are told 75% of the oil has been cleaned up. If any or all of that is true it is good news indeed.

But there are many skeptics. A friend recently traveled to Louisiana and reports that many of the fishermen, restaurant owners and others there are very doubtful about it all. Certainly the marshes are still polluted, many of the shrimp boats aren't fishing and the tourists haven't come back.

So what are we to make of it all? What am I to make of it all? I certainly want to celebrate any good news and progress in the clean-up. Thousands have invested their time and energy in the effort. I want to acknowledge their commitment and hard work. It is worthy of praise! Gratitude is important!

But I don't want to lose sight of what has happened here. I don't want it to be swept under the rug--I want it to be remembered so that we can work to prevent it from happening again! There are things to be lamented! Human and animal lives lost. Ecosystems destroyed. Oil wasted. Jobs gone. It is worthy of tears! Mourning is important!

I am reminded in all this of the Book of Psalms--that collection of ancient Hebrew poetry that has songs of thanksgiving nestled cheek-by-jowl with the wailings of those who have lost much! It is uncomfortable having seemingly contradictory emotions at one and the same time. But life often works that way. And the Psalms provide a way to express those thoughts, those emotions. The psalms provide a template for prayer in times such as these. As scholar Walter Bruggemann writes: "In season and out of season, generation after generation, faithful women and men turn to the Psalms as a most helpful resource for conversation with God about things that matter most." (The Message of the Psalms, 15)

In times like these I am grateful for Psalm 30, that promises God will turn "mourning into dancing." And I take great comfort in the many extremes of emotion expressed in Psalm 139. I can be angry and hopeful at the same time. I can be simultaneously happy and sad. And God will be there. For, as the psalmist says, "even if I take the wings of the morning, and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me."

Yes, these are days filled with environmental highs and lows, but through it all, God travels with us. Such is the promise of the Book of Psalms.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Last week I attended one of the orientation sessions for those of us here on Sanibel who signed up to be part of the Coastal Watch program. The program was established by the City of Sanibel to create a group of trained volunteers to monitor the beaches for tarballs and other signs of oil.

Everyone who signed up had to first pass an online course which provided basic information about the oil spill in the Gulf and safety concerns. Then following the orientation we each received our official "uniforms"--a bright chartreuse t-shirt emblazoned with VOLUNTEER on the back, and a white baseball cap with the Coastal Watch symbol.

The reality is we may never have to wear either of them. As of last week the oil was 300 miles from our shoreline, and Coastal Watchers won't be pressed into service unless the oil comes within 75 miles of Sanibel. Still, it is good to be prepared. And better yet, it is good to be reminded that we can make a difference as individuals.

The panel of local environmental and safety experts who presented the orientation shared many intriguing facts and figures. One told us about sea turtles, another warned against dehydration, one spoke of how Sanibel fits in the larger picture and yet another took up the subject of dealing with the public. There were other topics as well--but the thing I wrote down on my notepad--the remark I found most important was made by a fellow connected with the wildlife refuge. "Your role," he told us, "is to provide the eyes and ears for us as a community." In some ways, it was to state the obvious. After all, it is called Coastal Watch! But the reality is the job of being the eyes and ears of the community when it comes to environmental issues can't be restricted to a group of volunteers. Here on Sanibel, and around the world, we all need understand that watching out for the environment is one of our responsibilities as human beings!

Theologian Sallie McFague puts it well: "Never before have people had to think about the well-being of the entire planet--we did not ask for the task, but it is one being demanded of us. We Christians must participate in the agenda the planet has set before us--in public and prophetic ways--as our God 'who so loved the world' would have us do." (Life Abundant, 210)

I am truly pleased and impressed that 200 folks on our island of a little over 6,000 signed up for the Coastal Watch. But I pray the day comes when we human beings are all part of a concerted effort to watch over not just the coast, but the entire planet.