Magazine article Tikkun

Yankee Doodle Faced Big Oil

Magazine article Tikkun

Yankee Doodle Faced Big Oil

Article excerpt

WE HAVE JUST HEARD FROM LESTER BROWN the very best of how the scientific enterprise has enriched us, not by chopping the world into little pieces, but by seeing the way in which those little pieces interweave. And yet, we know that scientific knowledge is not enough. If it were enough, we would be much further along than we are in protecting the Greenland ice sheet and healing the planet.

The Network of Spiritual Progressives has taken the initiative to pull together an amazing amalgam of religious, secular, and spiritual organizations. Why? Because what Lester Brown has taught us tonight- just to use the categories of Jewish Mysticism, of Kabbalah- is one of the four profound worlds of reality. The spirit, the heart, and action, as well as mind, are crucial. That's why I'm going to invite you into a moment of painful and transformative spirit, emotion, and action.


Eicha, eicha- Alas, Alas

How lifeless sits the seacoast.

Once filled with fish, with pelicans.

Once filled with the living fisher folk,

With livelihood, and way of life.

Now soaked in oil,

Each breath a gasp,

Bereft of life.

What have I just done? I have tried to unite something very old and something, obviously, very new. The chant I used, the melody, the lament, is one of the oldest pieces of Jewish tradition. It's the lamenting melody with which Jews once a year chant the Book of Lamentations, the book about the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem. In our generation, the earth is a sacred temple- for all the peoples, all the cultures, all the species, all the life forms on our planet.

I said the words were new, but in some ways even they are not so new. The ancient interpretation ofthat sacred space was that the Temple was a microcosm of the world: the offerings of salt that were given there celebrated the mineral world; offerings of grain, barley, wheat, pancakes, and fruit celebrated the world of vegetation; the animals celebrated animal life; and the songs of the Lévites celebrated the human ability to sing, to breathe, to turn breath into song. That's what the Temple was there for. And when it was destroyed, the sense of suffering and the sense of bereavement were about the sense of disconnection from the earth.

Everything that was brought to that ancient sacred place was food. We have driven that out of our minds when we learn in textbooks that it was "the sacrificial system." What is that? It included, for example, pancakes: you read the biblical description, and it says take a handful of fine flour, mix it with oil, sprinkle spices, and turn it to smoke upon the altar- that's a pancake!

Earthy food was the connection to God. But food isn't the only connection anymore between human beings and the earth: coal, oil, plastics, uranium are the things that we "eat" nowadays. There was a reason for the emergence of the code of kosher eating- to eat food from sheep and cows and orchards and rain, you have to have a sacred way of doing it, and that includes a sacred means of self-restraint.

The human race- not for the first time in our history- has lost the sacred sense of self-restraint. We smash the sacred mountains of West Virginia in order to get each last lump of coal. We rape the deepest recesses of Mother Earth- under a mile of ocean in the Gulf- to get the last gallon of oil. We gobble the planet though we know- both from the sacred teachings and from our history- that gobbling leads not to abundance but to misery and poverty.

What is happening on the Gulf Coast today is the Garden of Eden all over again, where God says to the human beings, the human race: "Here's abundance! Eat joyfully and restrain yourself! A little self-restraint, please?" But we don't restrain ourselves. And what's the result? The earth will give forth thorns and thistles, not abundance, and you will have to work with the sweat pouring down your faces to get just barely enough to eat. …

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