Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Petroleum Man


A little over four years ago I watched the documentary film, End of Suburbia. Through it I learned about Peak Oil. I watched it several times including once with members of my congregation. I watched all the extra clips and interviews. One morning at about three I woke up sobbing. I had been hit with a sledge hammer of grief and fear. All of my foundations were shaken. My beliefs and dreams were pulled out from under me. I was in a deep funk of depression for months. I went to a counselor who helped me with some grief issues about changes in my personal life. He didn't appreciate my concern, though. I was grieving the collapse of civilization and he (like virtually every other person in America) was either unaware of that abyss or unwilling to look into it.
I started this blog to talk about it. I kept looking for a solution. I also wanted to find something within my religious tradition to speak to this. What does it mean to follow Christ into the abyss of collapse? That might be a Christian way of putting it. Even though I know that no one wants to hear it, and folks think I am little nuts (a jeremiad) for bringing it up, I now and again make posts about Peak Oil, global warming, the folly of growth, and the demise of Petroleum Man.

Petroleum Man
is a phrase I learned from Michael Ruppert. It refers to that period of human existence that began about 150 years ago and has reached its apex. Petroleum Man is fossil-fuel-powered humanity that allowed our population to increase from just over one billion to nearly seven billion. That energy source that has fueled Petroleum Man's dominance over Earth has peaked. We have begun to unravel. Petroleum Man has begun his descent.

It is scary shit.

It is no use arguing with me about it. I am just a country preacher. If you are ready to face it, here are some sites. Argue with them. Here is a nice definition of Peak Oil by Colin Campbell.

Only now, four years later, am I finally coming to a sense of purpose about this. I am not going to get a shotgun and some seeds and move to the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. I have no idea or advice to give regarding how to grow your own beets or how to live "off the grid." However, I hope those who do know those things will see their role as our teachers.


I don't put any faith or hope in any elected official or political party or in "progressive" or "green" politics. Those are illusions caused by denial. We cannot nor should not keep an unsustainable economic system going whether "green" or not. That said, I love my progressive and green friends!

I have no idea how this collapse will unfold or what life will be like on the other side. I am a country parson. That is what I do. That is what I will be. As such my role as Carolyn Baker writes is to be present in this collapse. This is time for us to participate in discovering our meaning. Like Jeremiah who in the throes of his nation's collapse in 590 BCE "buys a field" in the hope of a new life long after his personal demise, we must live with a vision for an Earth community that few if any alive today will witness.
I am grateful to have found Carolyn Baker's book, Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse. She pulls no punches. She invites us to experience fully the via negativa, the way of letting go and being present with loss. She writes:
When we allow ourselves to grieve the innumerable losses which civilization has wrought, our bodies and psyches are freed to move through the grief to a place of acceptance and re-investment....We accept that there are no guarantees, and as with any terminal illness, we have the opportunity to look fully into the face of our own mortality and beyond. Only then can we wisely re-invest in living our lives, regardless of outcome, which profoundly facilitates responding to collapse with grounded, prudent preparation. pp. 34-5
People may wonder, if civilization is collapsing, why I care if the Presbyterian Church passes a new G-6.0106b?! That is part of my own personal purpose. We are still living on this side of the transition even as we are aware of it, and however hesitatingly, preparing for it. My vision of an Earth community will be one in which all are equal. Maybe it is superstition on my part, but I think that any work for equality and dignity is never ultimately lost. I think of it as one seed that may take root on the other side.

I find myself also appreciating the
via positiva. How amazing it is that I am conscious at this point in history. What an incredible time to be alive! 13.7 billion years of cosmic history has led to this point right now. I am, through no will of my own, "graced" to be here. Who can know what serendipitous emergence may happen now.

This past week I witnessed my denomination's general assembly. With the magic of Petroleum Man's technology, I conversed with people across the country instantaneously. I found myself alternately amused, exasperated, and connected with this quirky group that includes quirky people like me.
I have to say, on one hand, faced with the scope of the collapse of global industrialized civilization, the PCUSA didn't have much to offer.

However, on another hand, it did and it will. Whatever emerges as we are present with collapse will be shaped by our shared story and our values. Kindness, compassion, our mythos of death and resurrection, sacrifice, courage, shared tears, passion for justice, dignity, truth, and joy will be summoned as they are needed. We will have a role and a purpose to play. I believe we are being shaped now for this role.


Carolyn Baker reminds us that the only way to stay engaged and to be present to life and to one another is to find a purpose. She writes


collapse is the next step in our evolution, transitioning us to the fullness of our humanity. p. 6.


Wow. And...

Unless one comprehends the intention of initiation, it can only feel like torture, injustice, scarcity, terror, and loss, and therefore, the natural tendency in such circumstances is to blame and lash out against one's persecutors. On the other hand, to hold a perspective of collapse as a spiritual initiation does not necessarily alleviate suffering, but it does temper the severity of it with a sense of meaning and purpose. p. 26
We are being "initiated" into a new humanity. Here is an interview with her about her book. I recommend it and her book for help in exploring the spirituality of collapse.

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