Obama’s Oil-Soaked Prayers

Big birds flying across the sky
Leaving shadows on our eyes
Leave us
Helpless, helpless, helpless

–Neil Young

If you watched the address by President Obama last night you might have been struck by the long reference to prayer at the end of the speech. As I listened to his anecdote about praying for the fleet and invoking the words of an unnamed Catholic priest for a blessing “even in the midst of a storm,” I was reminded of Neil Young’s classic song, “Helpless.”

In our 24/7 news cycle we are inundated with the images of a gusher on the ocean floor and big birds who may never again fly across the sky. Americans are as helpless as a president reduced to praying that someone, anyone, even the hand of a god in the sky, can stop this oil gusher.

The truth is, we did not get to this place overnight, or sixty days ago when this started. We arrived at this point of helplessness when technology began to overrun our ability to put it within the context of our moral and religious foundations.

Other than a few mentions of holy oil and olive oil, the Old and New Testaments and the Qur’an are all pretty much silent on the issue of a petroleum gusher on the ocean floor. Likewise nuclear weapons, human cloning, machine guns and land mines. Cell phones in church are a wash as well and nary a whisper on the need for a satellite feed of Christian programming into godless parts of the world.

When it comes to a scriptural basis for handling modern technology we are as far adrift as oil-soaked pelicans: The chains are locked and tied across the door.

The environmental movement was a whisper after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, but when the oil blowout happened in Santa Barbara in 1969, politicians in California and Washington reacted by passing the National Environmental Protection Act and the California Environmental Quality Act.

I was around in those times, had occasion to use these laws and other environmental regulations to protect American Indian sacred lands. We might have prayed, but it was not the only thing we did to hold corporations to account for rampant development.

President Obama is not helpless to stand by and look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century and neither are we.

It is understandable that we feel helpless to clean up the oil spill while nearly a hundred thousand barrels a day still flow into the waters of the Gulf. It is understandable that the president and his advisors are pretty much dependent on the oil companies to stop the flow of oil using experimental technology.

In spite of the president’s rhetorical promise to “kick some asses,” it is not advisable to blacken the eyes of the people who have the technology to stop blackening the beaches in six states or more.

So, what can we do?

Educate yourself. While reading about the state of planet can lead one to stand on a mountaintop and shout at the sky, a better solution is to stand at a supermarket checkout line and watch the your neighbors buy consumables by the cartload, and ask yourself: “Is that me?”

“Can I get by on less?”

Walk, ride a bike, and use public transportation. Walking and riding a bike does two things to help break the addiction to fossil fuels. It lessens your carbon footprint and also makes you healthier.

Get engaged in your local politics. The bumper sticker admonishing us to “Think Globally/Act Locally” is a prophesy for the environmental age. Your local city or county planning commissions are the ones who set policy about things like bike paths, public transportation, and housing developments which can “go green” by installing solar heating or setting easements for public gardens.

Let your lawn go to natural. Clipped green lawns with lush grass are a hangover from the days when the nobility had their bonded servants out trying to duplicate the Garden of Eden. The lawn thing is a particular burr under my saddle since my neighbor saturates his lawn with nitrogen based fertilizers and then soaks it with petroleum based chemicals to kill the weeds. Keeps the squirrels and birds off the lawn too and plays holy hell with my attempts to grow an organic garden.

I mentioned all this to him one day and his response was to say, “What are you, some kinda Commie?”

Finally, thirty years ago a prophet by the name of Neil Young wrote about the world “After the Goldrush.” In a dream he saw the chosen ones . . . flying Mother Nature’s silver seed to a new home in the sun.

Go solar.

Originally posted on Religious Dispatches.

Categories: Journalism.

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