Saturday, November 7, 2009

OPINION: My Great Life and the Dream of the Earth

By Joseph Langen

That which extends throughout the universe I regard as my body and that which directs the universe I regard as my nature. All people are my brothers and sisters and all things are my companions. - Chang Tsai

When Bob Fussell and I met early this year we exchanged our latest books. His novel, My Great Life, finally rose to the top of my reading pile and I finished it a few days ago. It started as the story of a self-satisfied advertising executive, proud of his climb up the ladder of socioeconomic success. The story ended as a moral tale about our relationship with our home, the earth.

The last page left me contemplating the balance between our romance with the wonders of the earth and our collective responsibility for its welfare. My mind traveled backward and forward.

What led me to read Bob's book at this time? I just read Lost in Translation, a love story in the context of searching for the lost remains of Peking Man in China. The subplot centered on the life and relationships of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit paleontologist. Years ago, my interest in his writing brought me to an appreciation of the human role in the life of our planet.

I recalled Thomas Berry's book, The Dream of the Earth, waiting patiently in my pile of books to be read. The last few days have fully immersed me in his essays about the earth, our sharing in its life, what we have contributed to its decline and our responsibility as its caretakers. Thomas Berry was the priest who helped me forge a path to life after the monastery. He also served for a time as the president of the Teilhard de Chardin Society and was lauded at his recent funeral by friends of the earth. I do not suppose it is any coincidence that these books, their connections with each other and their lessons came my way when they did.

A couple days ago I read a story about the cash for clunkers program and a chemical mixture poured into clunker engines rendering them instant junk to throw on our mounting piles of trash. The article stressed the instant profit flowing to the manufacturer of the Clunker Bomb but made no mention of the process as an example of what our throwaway society is doing to our environment. We take it for granted.

We have tricked ourselves into thinking that we can go on pillaging the earth without long term consequences for our home or even for our own well being. Our quest has become to control, exploit and consume the earth and its resources rather than to act as their caretakers. We have not completely destroyed the world yet. We have the choice of continuing to make the environment inhospitable to our survival, leading ultimately to our extinction. We also have the choice to become loving stewards of our world and environment.

Life Lab Lessons

* Do you care what happens to the human species after you pass on?
* What do you wish to leave as your legacy?
* Do you cherish the earth or see it as a commodity?
* Think of the earth as your home.
* Do what you can to protect it.

Joseph G. Langen is the author of Commonsense Wisdom for Everyday Life, Young Man of the Cloth, The Pastor's Inferno and Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage. He recently release a free e-book, Conversations With Calliope - A Year With My Muse. He also distributes Sliding Otter News, a free newsletter on commonsense wisdom topics. Learn more about his writing and publishing through Sliding Otter Publications at:

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