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Doug Demeo

Doug Demeo

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Crucified Creation and the Hope of Eco-nomics

Posted: 04/21/11 02:08 PM ET

A few years ago, when I first learned about Mountain Top Removal operations (MTR) during a cultural immersion experience in West Virginia, I became so numb and overwhelmed with disgust, I imagined myself incapable of doing anything constructive. A few months later, I found relief in composing a poem about the sheer destruction of our Appalachian Mountains. Each time I recite "King Coal" in front of people, there is a bit of emotional release. However, when I look around the earth, today, the weight of creation crucified seems too much to bear.

Increasingly, natural gas and the issue of "hydro-fracking" are holding people's attention. In making the documentary, GasLand, Josh Fox investigates what lies beneath the surface of "America's fuel." He begins describing the serenity of his home in the woods and the winding stream which feeds the Delaware River in northeastern Pennsylvania. Offered $100,000 for the sale of property, Josh chose instead to see just how under siege our national lands are to gas exploration. The same feelings that gripped my awakening to MTR returned as I watched the film. The immensity of ground water contamination and the apparent impunity in which industry operates is stunning. At hundreds of drilling sites from coast to coast, shale beds are injected with millions of gallons of water mixed with nearly 600 highly toxic chemicals. This activates mini tremors, which release natural gas from the bedrock. Among other public health problems, local supplies of drinking water are destroyed.

I grew up enjoying the woods around Lake Cochituate in Framingham, Mass. With pond hockey in the winter and baseball during summer months -- and a lot of swimming and sailing on the lake -- I relate to Josh's deep affection for his surroundings. I too found solace outdoors.

By the end of GasLand, Josh claims the Pennsylvania woods for everyone. People of all ages should be free to experience the pleasures of nature, which includes having access to fresh drinking water.

Friday is Earth Day. It is also Good Friday. Could God be delivering a clearer message? Consider the characteristics of crucifixion, at least according to Mel Gibson's theology in The Passion of Christ. Four features stand out: 1) infliction of pain beyond measure; 2) innocence is the victim; 3) death is the result; and 4) all of us are complicit in some fashion.

In order to appreciate these characteristics, there is no way around a litany of environmental woes. Hundreds of square miles of the Appalachian Mountains: lost forever. A majority of colorful coral reefs: gone. Amazonian and Indonesian Rainforests: one or more of the planet's lungs, ripped out. Nuclear meltdown; a Gulf's gush of oil; concentrated animal feeding operations (C.A.F.O.s). We can certainly add to this, but the evidence is in. Innocence is being crushed at the hands of every means of torture, resulting in a swoon of death. And as far as I know, if there is any blame to go around, only one species is hooked on fossil energy and "the good life."

In faith, we can more fully open ourselves to nature's pain, which is Christ's pain. The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it (Psalm 24: 1). While we contemplate the great sorrow of earth and sky, we must acknowledge our role. Perhaps only then may we sense a transformative understanding of resurrection and what it means to share in "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev 21: 1).

We can live in harmony with nature. This is our industrial calling. The definition of economy is management of home; the prefix "eco," derived from the Greek word oikos, means home. Thus, if we care for life on this one planet, then we as economists, engineers, entrepreneurs and many other kinds of professionals, will develop our practical knowledge -- through the best of theory and trial -- that cities, buildings and factories must purify and replenish as surely as do wetlands, forests and oceans. Any industrial innovation or retrofit must look to the evolutionary rhythms of God's creation to enable the healing and regeneration amenable to a new heaven and a new earth. There is no Super Plan separate from our most inspired ecological and theological know-how. The emerging realities that John envisions in the Book of Revelation begin here and now. In welcoming and co-producing God's will, whether in economic, industrial or spiritual terms, we must conceive no less than oneness with all creation.

There are plentiful signs of commercial oneness with creation. Harmony is afoot in the sustainability movement across cultures and economies the world over. Yet, we just might not be able to perceive these signs until we share in the awareness of Mr. Kurtz in Heart of Darkness: "the horror, the horror."

Good Friday is Earth Day, an especially opportune time to see and feel and repent of creation's pain -- which is ours.