Let's Be Honest...Why is oil so important?

Sitting in a little cafe in Memphis called the Caritas Village is a good place to reflect on the realities of American life. There is a kind of honesty in the air in this place. Rich and poor , black and white, young and old, gather here in this place dedicated to social justice.

A question: Why is oil so important to us here in the United States? Many will respond to this question with the truism that it is the consumption of oil in everything from automobiles, house heating, airplane travel, plastics, etc... that sustains our affluent way of life. All true. But in this conversation there is something missing. The elephant in the room is the U.S. military- industrial complex. That multi-trillion dollar web of people and machine that former President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address in 1961. This " misplaced power...of vast proportion" has grown ever since the second world war until now. With the Pentagon as its sacred temple the military-industrial complex dominates every aspect of American life from education to media to church to grocery shopping. War has become a very profitable business in the United States and a lion's share of our federal budget every year goes to maintain and develop the United States military and its related industries.

So, what about oil? Imagine... the U.S. military without oil. Can you? Our war making ability is absolutely dependent on extremely high consumption of oil. All the bombs, planes, missiles, tanks, ships, subs, guns, etc... could not function without it. Is it any wonder that our government is desperately trying to control the vast oil reserves in the middle east and elsewhere? So desperate in fact that we are willing to destroy countries, murder leaders, and kill and harm thousands upon thousands of men, women and children.

And why so desperate? It seems clear now that our government is determined to deepen its present domination of the globe. Keep in mind that there are now over 725 known U.S. military bases in countries around the world. Many of these were built against the country's wishes.This is the cold fact of empire. Control... domination...record high profits by companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Haliburton...all industries deeply involved in supplying our military and profiting immensely from their transactions. And all of this is fundamentaly dependent upon the diminishing natural resource - oil.

Most scholars say that we are now or soon will be at peak oil production. What then?
Do we grasp in desperation at the declining supply of oil? If so, for how long? And at what consequence? Are we really willing to wage more and more wars with more and more death and destruction, there and here, for the sake of our narrow definition of affluence, domination and profit?

Earlier an entry read " Can a song save the world?" If by a song we mean a metaphor for true beauty, simplicity, and openness of heart then I think we need to do a lot of singing. We need to sing of a future not dependent on oil but truly interdependent in the deepest human way. In the past few years I have heard of more and more local economies that sing of sustainable living, experiments in economic sharing, creativity, and courage. I believe the hope of the future is here. We dare not wait for our political leaders to save the day. We must look to ourselves. I remember the founder of the Taize Community once spoke of a " fine human hope". I believe in this. This hope for a new future resides within us. This Hope is calling us to live out a new way of life not tied to former prejudices and preconceptions. Certainly not tied to the politics of oil. A future that is truly free of these illusions. May we say our " yes for a lifetime" to this hope of a new way of living.
Looking together to a future struggling to be born...

Stefan Andre


Can a Song Save the World...?

Once in the middle of the night I called up a friend and asked " Can a song save the world?" What a question! And what a time to ask such a question! Somehow it seemed urgent. What can it possibly mean? In the muddled blur of a misty mind at 3:00am the question seemed a lifeline and the answer - the hand at the other end. When the sun came up I wondered if there was any real meaning to it. A song. .. a simple creative act... honest from heart to heart... an expression, genuine, of imagination, of passion, of some kind of faith, of hope, and yes, of love.
Woody Guthrie, Janis Joplin, Joe Heaney, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger,... singers of songs all - pouring their art like cool water into thirsting souls. Singing of what was, of what could be, and of what others feel yet do not say.
It is said that all we can speak of in this world is metaphor. It's the image or symbol that draws us and calls us to life, to creativity, to a deeper humanity. If we consider song to be a metaphor in sound then perhaps this metaphoric medicine can indeed help, heal and even save in some ways that go straight to the heart of it all.
As I write these words the night is slipping into the next day and I am listening to Tony Bennet singing with K.D Lang - a love song. It is August 8, one day before the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Nagasaki and the beginning of the 2008 Olympics in China. Thousands around the world are holding vigils of remembrance and thousands have gathered to celebrate the human spirit in Beijing. On this date in 1945 and three days earlier on August 6 the United States government destroyed hundreds of thousands of human beings and ushered in the atomic age. A death decision. Now we all are in a time when nuclear weapons are poised ready to destroy the entire planet. Another decision to be made. Against such a force what good can a little song do? What good can a simple creative, hope-filled metaphor accomplish?
Whatever our creative calling there is no doubt that " the foolishness of God" is all we've got. Fragile metaphors, simple songs, dreams in the night, celebrations of human spirit...Perhaps our task, everyone's task, is to multiply these seeds of hope and fill this aching world with "the infinite goodness of the human heart". This last phrase" the infinite goodness of the human heart" comes from a man who sang a community into being. His name - Br. Roger of Taize. The community of Taize in France, where thousands gather each year, stands as one clear expression of human hope. It is a decision for life , not death. Like so many other examples around the world it is a stirring of imagination, a beautiful melody of a life-time commitment to peace.

Can a song save the world? Perhaps it is the only thing that ever has.

From California...Singing,
Stefan Andre


In California... With the Great and Small

For the past two Sundays I have been invited to make music in two separate ,very different churches. Last Sunday it was Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco. Some call it the Mecca of the west coast especially for Episcopalians. A magnificent structure atop a hill in the city Grace Cathedral is known for its grace-filled welcome to all peoples. The congregation is large and diverse and many in the gay and lesbian community find a warm welcome here. It was a joy for me to be at Grace Cathedral and to hear the congregation singing my " Lord Have Mercy" , my new Celtic Alleluia and others.
Today I was at the piano to lead a different congregation at a church in San Jose called First Christian Church, part of the Disciples of Christ denomination. Here I find a smaller gathering including those who are homeless and formerly homeless. The people and the structure are modest. During the service the congregation engages in a practice of dialogue with the speaker. This conversation happens every Sunday and is an honest response to the sermon. It takes some guts on the preacher's part to have such a spontaneous response which may include disagreement. After the service a man who goes by the name of " Wolf" gives me a big hug and says that 70,000 angels surround me as we make music together. Who am I to argue? An incredibly beautiful vision. It seems at times I can almost feel such a loving, enveloping presence. Wolf sleeps under a nearby bridge most nights and comes to church when he can. Later a man named Richard takes me upstairs to show me his art work. Richard was formerly homeless and his art clearly reflects his struggles ,his hopes, his fears. Following the service a class meets to focus on the topic: Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear. Good topic.

Blessings from California,
Stefan Andre


In the Midst of Violence and War...Listen

These days here in the U.S. we seem to be bombarded with news of violence, wars, impending wars, and fears of more violence. In the midst of it all there is the need to stop, breathe, and listen. Otherwise , we fall into that numbing place where human feeling and mindfulness are squeezed out by our brittle anxieties and intellectual fatigue. As we listen we grow in our ability to respond in creative and courageous ways. Albert Camus in" The Artist and His Time" says the following:

" Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, a gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say that this hope lies in a nation, others in a person. I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever-threatened truth that each and every person, on the foundation of his or her own suffering and joys, builds for all."

On a practical level, dear friends, may we take the time each day to hear the " faint flutter of wings, a gentle stirring of life and hope". Perhaps we find that in a few moments in the early morning in quiet and meditation. Or perhaps we find it in the serenity of a long walk or run into the beauties of nature. Where ever we find it may we deepen our practice of attentive listening and continue to be " awakened, revived, and nourished". In the midst of what seems to be an intensification of violence and war this life-giving practice is a life-saving response. As we enter even more deeply into this contemplative place we discover our true foundation and as Camus reminds us it is here in the deeper encounter of our sufferings and joys that each of us together " builds for all".

Stefan Andre