Shuck and Jive

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Awakening the Dreamer: A Sermon

My sermon was heavy this morning. It has been within for a while...

Awakening the Dreamer
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

September 13th, 2009

I am sure you have played this game before.

If you could get in a time machine and go back to any time period in history and watch the events unfold, where and when would you go?

I can think of a few times and places I would like to visit. I would like to see the birth of the first of the species homo sapiens, the invention of the wheel, the invention of agriculture, the building of Pharaoh’s pyramids, Jesus “sermon on the mount” or perhaps his famous question to his followers, “who do you say that I am?” and so forth.

It would have been fun to witness the moment when Constantine dreamed up his scheme to Christianize the Roman Empire thereby making all his imperial decisions “holy” ones. I would have liked to have been there when Galileo realized that Earth moved around the sun. It would be fascinating to see first hand the great events that turned society one way instead of another.

But of all the significant times and places to be throughout history, there may be no time or place more significant than right here and right now.

The human beings alive on this day, September 13
th, 2009, will do more to shape the future, either by action or inaction, than any other people in any other time.

That sounds like a grand, hyperbolic statement. Are we that important? Yes and no. We are only important because we live in an important time.

The irony is that most of us are completely oblivious. We are oblivious to the importance of the time and the events that are unfolding. Also, we are oblivious to our own power to respond to these events and thereby impact outcomes.

We need to awaken. Awakening or waking up is a spiritual concept inherent in all wisdom traditions. When we read the gospels we find both John the Baptist and Jesus saying, “Repent!” As in “Repent! The kingdom of God is near.” Or “Repent and believe the good news.”

What does “repent” mean? I had previously thought that it meant that we need to feel bad and confess our sins and try to do better. It is often placed in the context of being saved so you can go to heaven when you die.

The word in Greek is metanoia and it has a variety of meanings including turning, or returning. Changing or reorienting are other possibilities. Underneath it is awakening. It is a change of awareness. Jesus and John the Baptist before him were calling on people to “Wake up!” Wake up and smell the coffee!

When you read the Bible and run across the word repent, substitute “wake up” and see how it changes the meaning. Wake up, become conscious, open your eyes, open your ears.

My fifth grade teacher always had a yard stick with him. He would swing it around and every now and then he would whack the top of his desk or one of the student’s desks. “Wake up, people!”

The idea here is that we are sleeping. We are going through the motions. We are not aware of what is happening, not aware of our surroundings, and not aware of the changes that are taking place. We are setting ourselves up to be unconscious victims rather than conscious actors.

The message of Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Hebrew prophets was essentially the same: Wake up, wake up, wake up. Buddha and Muhammad offered the same message: wake up. Be conscious. Be aware.

In a couple of weeks we are hosting a symposium, entitled appropriately enough, Awakening the Dreamer. It is an interesting play on words. Awakening from slumber is one part of that. We are also awakening the dreamer in us; awakening our imagination. The idea is to awaken within us our creativity and imagination. The task before us is to rethink meaning, value, and purpose.

I just finished an important book by a journalist who has written extensively on environmental issues, Dianne Dumanoski. Her latest book was just published this July. It is entitled, The End of the Long Summer: Why We Must Remake Our Civilization to Survive on a Volatile Earth.

The Long Summer she refers to is the last 12,000 years. This past 12,000 years have been a period of rare stability in terms of Earth’s climate. This stability has allowed for the emergence of complex civilization. This stability is changing, in part because of human impact. She invites us to imagine a goldfish who somehow climbed out of the tank and started messing with the controls. According to Dumanoski, the changes have been set in motion and are not likely to be reversed. Our role is to adapt to them.

She writes:
The End of the Long Summer looks anew at the human story and sets forth an account radically different from the onward and upward progress narrative of the modern era. The source of its hope lies not in the belief that humans are destined to achieve dominion but rather in the evidence that we are a stormworthy lineage that has managed to flourish on an increasingly volatile Earth. We come from a long line of survivors who were tempered in the crucible of climatic reversals and catastrophic change. This book also explores the challenge of living in a time of great uncertainty—a challenge our forebears faced repeatedly in their evolutionary passage—and what this moment requires of us. Above all else, it concerns, “the obligation to endure.” P. 3.
I recommend her book for the scope of the challenge. The challenge is not how we are going to solve particular energy or environmental problems. The challenge is how we are going to respond and survive to changes that are upon us. That will depend on how we see ourselves.

  • Do we see ourselves as entitled? Entitled to a lifestyle of energy consumption beyond our means?
  • Or do we see ourselves as flexible and adaptable, living within the means of Earth and its bounty?

  • Do we see Earth as a storehouse of resources to accumulate, use, and discard?
  • Or do we see Earth as a living organism in and of itself of which we are a part?

  • Is our role to accumulate enough wealth so we can spend the last 20 years of our lives playing golf in Florida?
  • Or is our role to give away and share not only material things but eternal things like wisdom and skills, especially to our children.

I think we have but one role. That is to prepare our children for a future that is beyond prediction, beyond what we can construct, beyond what we know. What will this preparation involve? Practice. Practicing flexibility.
Practicing creativity.
Practicing cooperation.
Practicing collaboration.
Practicing trust.
Practicing goodness.
Practicing dreaming.

This is the most exciting and perilous time to be alive. It is times like these that the great masterpieces of civilization are written. The legends and the great myths were all written for times such as these.

Forget Frodo Baggins and Lord of the Rings.
Forget Moses crossing the Sea of Reeds.
Utnapishtim surviving the flood with his little boat.

This is our time. The adventure before us is nothing less than the great adventures of the gods and the goddesses.

When I say “forget” I mean that rhetorically of course. We need to remember and learn those great stories.

  • All of those stories are about change and how the heroes and the heroines responded to change.
  • All of those stories are about how they discovered within themselves the skills and the character to survive.
  • All of these stories, all of our wisdom tradition, is preparation for what we are going to face in the coming decades.

When I say coming decades, I mean starting now. We are in the zone.

To illustrate the changes coming I refer to two news stories that have appeared in the last couple of weeks.

British Petroleum is celebrating the discovery of an oil field, 250 miles off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico. 250 miles in the water. Six miles below the surface. They are celebrating the great technology they have to drill that deep and that far out.

We should be asking what does it mean that we have to go to that extent to find oil?

This is the Tiber field and BP is calling it a “giant” find. According to the article:
BP says it could hold between 4 billion and 6 billion barrels of crude and natural gas…. Of that total, the companies might be able to extract the equivalent of 450 million barrels of oil.”
450 million barrels of oil. That’s a lot. Until we consider. How much oil does the world consume everyday? 80 million barrels.

Every day, the derricks are pumping around the clock. We produce and consume about 80 million barrels of oil a day. The United States consumes a fourth of that,
20 million barrels every day.

450 million barrels divided by 80 is almost six days. Not quite a week.

What if they were to get all 6 billion barrels? How long would that last?

75 days. Between now and Thanksgiving.

International Energy Agency reported last year that the world will have to discover fields as big as six Saudi Arabias every year by 2030 to meet demand.

How important is oil? Excuse me while I blaspheme:
O Cheap Oil: In you we live and move and have our being.
For the past century, life as we know it has been based on the abundance of cheap oil. Everything we have and value is because of petroleum. Oil, natural gas, coal, the big three. These gifts of life millions of years past are finite and each is reaching its peak in terms of production capacity. That means life as we know it is peaking.

I won’t argue the point. I refer you to a website, The Oil Drum. Also, authors who have written about these things include Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, and Paul Roberts.

I will stop beating this horse. Perhaps you don’t believe them. Let’s say for sake of argument that there are 200 trillion barrels of oil that we somehow missed in North Dakota. Let’s say we could keep this party going for another 100 years.

Well, there is another side of it. We are caught between oil supply and the effects of oil consumption. Because of fossil fuels, our global population has expanded to over 6 and ½ billion. That population has doubled since I was in the 6th grade. The strain on fisheries, food supply, fresh water increases each day. Not to mention pollution of air and water and the grim reaper, climate change.

Here is the second story that is a sign of our times. For the first time in the history of human seafaring, a ship is crossing the arctic. This is from the Independent:
It has been one of the elusive goals of seafaring nations almost since the beginnings of waterborne trade, but for nearly 500 years the idea has been dismissed as an impossible dream. Now, as a result of global warming, the dream is about to come true.

Within days, a journey that represents both a huge commercial boon and a dark milestone on the route to environmental catastrophe is expected to be completed for the first time.

No commercial vessel has ever successfully travelled the North-east Passage, a fabled Arctic Sea route that links the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific far more directly than the usual southerly cargo route. Explorers throughout history have tried, and failed; some have died in the attempt.

But early next week the German-owned vessels, Beluga Fraternity and Beluga Foresight, are scheduled to dock in the Dutch port of Rotterdam. It is the culmination of a two-month voyage from South Korea across the perilous waters of the Arctic, where an unprecedented ice-melt has at last made the previously impassable course a viable possibility.
We have been burning the candle at both ends and it is getting shorter.

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the anointed.” Jesus then proceeded to tell them that the Son of Man or the Human Being, the anointed, must undergo suffering, death, and then rise again.

The anointed human being in a perilous time, a time of great change and challenge, must learn to let go, to lose all claim to entitlement, to discover one’s soul, and to find the resources of strength, courage, and life. We are called now to awaken. We are called to prepare our children for an unknown and unprecedented future.

It will be fraught with uncertainty, fraught with danger, and filled with life. Quoting Dianne Dumanoski:
Looking ahead it is natural to focus on the dangers, but those who will be making their way in this uncertain future will also have unusual opportunities….In the struggle to continue the human journey, they may live lives enlarged by a shared sense of great purpose, leavened by imagination, and enriched by the creativity that survival has always required. P. 252


  1. I posted a song on FB that fits this sermon nicely.

  2. If I had a time machine I would visit the dinosaurs and the great woolly mammoths....I agree that repentance really means to awaken to a new level of knowing. Many people have awakened to the fact that we are living in extraordinary times, but many feel hopeless. I feel like there is not much I can do besides have my personal opinion on matters and talk to people about that. The problem as I see it is not telling people to wake up, but actually trying to get people to talk about important matters, such as unneccessary wars (that waste tons of oil and life), energy consumption, the econonomy, corruption, etc. I think we need some real truth coming from the leaders in Washington before we get on a good path. I'm waiting for that truth to emerge, and I don't believe Obama and his czars are it.

  3. Rachel,

    Good thoughts. I think Obama is a nice guy and can speak in complete sentences. But he is not leading. Check this interview with Robert Hirsch, The Stonewalling of Peak Oil He said:

    "If I was involved in the government at a high level, I would argue very strongly to the president that he needs to take national and international leadership on the problem. He should do some homework to be sure that he hears what the issues are -- do it quietly -- and then stand up and say, “world and country, we've got a very serious problem and here is what my administration is going to do about it.” That's what I would argue for because somebody has to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes. That's going to be very difficult because people don't like to hear bad news, and this is terrible news, and as it sinks in, markets will drop and there will be an immediate recessionary reaction, because people will realize that this is such a horrendous problem that having a positive outlook on employment and the economy is just simply unrealistic."