We live in a time of unprecedented abundance. But not for everybody. Large swaths of scarcity afflict many parts of the world. I guess Russia is acting like it is one of those deprived areas, or pretending to be, or they wouldn’t be out knocking off another country to annex its wealth. Except that Russia is destroying the country in the process. What a stupid, sorrowful tragedy on top of a worldwide pandemic.
Russia’s criminal assault upon a sovereign nation has no justification. Once again, though, it illustrates a universal equation underlying our planetary existence: the equation to which we are all subject being: land=food=survival=land. The territorial imperative governs both nature and civilization, too, from prehistoric times to the establishment of the autonomous nation-states. Invasions like Putin’s have taken many different forms over time, we have committed our own and for the same reasons. Lately, the balance of power and respect for national boundaries has mostly kept the peace. But this invasion of Ukraine is an utterly brazen and ruthless land-grab. It puts Putin in a special line, from Napoleon to Hitler to himself. What has terrified us is that in the nuclear era no nation can afford – even in Ukraine’s defense – to prompt a nuclear attack.
As the Ukrainian people have done in resisting this invasion, we must summon our own spiritual strength now. Our part is to take our share of the responsibility for this fossil fuel dependent world. Oil, oil, oil. This war is yet another wake-up call to eliminate our dependence upon oil. Will this country respond to the plain facts and take up the discipline of reducing oil consumption and dependence? We should have done it long since in the cause of reducing fossil fuel consumption and cleaning up our air. The nation should have been prosecuting fossil fuel with the moral equivalent of war, the way President Jimmy Carter told us to during the oil cartel crisis of the mid-1970s, almost 50 years ago. He was right, and of course not enough people listened. After all, we have the best Congress money can buy.
At that time, it was a prudential argument, made for American self-interest. But now the very survival of the planet is at stake, the urgency is compounded by arriving at the point of nearly irreversible global warming because of damage to the environment and atmosphere by carbon emissions.
But aren’t Russia and the US just mirror images of each other? Isn’t the Ukraine just Russia’s Iraq? The tragedy for Ukraine results from oil being king, just like the tragedy caused when cotton was king. Nations will sacrifice anything, or anybody, for the sake of our creature comforts and its wealth. And, if it comes down to being able to put bread on the table, then stand aside, people are disposable and dispensable. This is the time to renew the commitments made at the first Earth Day in 1970–this country has strayed from the path, because the Koch brothers, among many others, waged a campaign of disinformation that scared the populace which suited the corporations just fine. American corporations and the Congress hardly bother to dispute the facts any more, they just deny that the facts are their responsibility.
But here we are, it’s the first Sunday of Lent, and Lent is just another word for mid-course correction, which lines right up with our mission. A mid-course correction today, though, involves something more like a conversion, given the polarization of the nation. Circumstances have changed, miscalculations have occurred along the way (the nation elected a science denier in Donald Trump), and we are significantly more tired.
We find ourselves in a kind of wilderness as Christ did. We witness Christ resisting the temptations of the Devil, which comes down to refusing the quick-fix and magical thinking. Jesus had one thing in mind during his ministry only, to get us to focus on our behaviors and decisions. We have first to resist the temptation of blaming our enemies and learn that if there is any “enemy,” it is us. That is a huge spiritual step, hard for individuals and, for nations, a near impossibility. This country always talks about personal freedom, but remains entirely oblivious to the freedom we lack from self-strangulating dependencies.
Pope Francis has made our case. Our job is to take up the “ecological conversion” of our nation–and to do this by applying ourselves to legislators and legislation. He says we must do this as a function of our relationship with Christ. This is “not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” By all means, let’s uphold our Christian values by example with concrete actions–diet, personal purchases, way of life. We must do this as individuals and families, and also as a church. But self-improvement alone will not do the trick. It is the vote, at this late stage, only the vote which will turn the so-called tide.
Lent is often practiced as a penitential season, a season of abstinence, self-denial and mortification of the flesh in preparation for Holy Week and the Passion of Christ. The idea was to approximate sympathetically the suffering of Christ. Wrong. Such a goal is neither attainable, desirable or theologically warranted. It is one of those grotesqueries of religion into which Christianity seems to revel. Mel Gibson’s movie is an obscenity. I want us to use Lent to a positive purpose.
The treasure that Jesus wants us to seek gives eternal satisfaction. According to this, the “wealth of nations” must be understood as the land and the people together, and in their indissoluble relation to each other. We sacrificed that vision when we extirpated the native peoples of this continent. There is a record of the early learnings, but that was lost with the genocide. Since then we have paved over the continent three times with our superhighways, our urban sprawl, the glorious suburbs, and our mechanized farming–all fueled by fossil fuels. The commercial world is possessed by a frenetic competitiveness, not to meet human needs, but to beat out someone else who might meet human needs better. This competition is said to keep prices down, but it drives up unnecessary products. The wealth of this nation is fueled with oil. It needs a conversion to Christ, because Jesus said, I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly. That’s the Resurrection way. I invite you this Lent to contemplate the abundance of our lives and what we are supposed to do with so much.