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A Step Toward Recovery from Our Oil Addiction

Moving toward a "clean energy economy" will require more than just a re-wiring of the energy grid; it will also take a re-wiring of ourselves -- a conversion, really, of our habits of the heart.
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My mother taught her children never to "toot our own horn." So last year, when Sojourners became the first publication ever (so far as I know) to win the best general interest magazine awards from both the Associated Church Press and the Evangelical Press Association in the same year, we mentioned it, but were quite modest about it. The ACP is mostly made up of mainline Protestant and Catholic publications, and the EPA is the major association of Evangelical magazines and newspapers. To win highest honors at both conventions is a major accomplishment in this era of polarization, not only in politics, but in the church.

From the research we have done in the past 24 hours, no other publication has received both of these awards in the same year -- at least since the days of the early church. (Though I must say, first century records of publication awards are a bit thin.) Apparently, there was a running competition between hand-carried letters (sometimes called epistles) put out by editorial teams in both Corinth and Ephesus.

So I'm sorry, Mom... but since Sojourners magazine won both awards again this year, I have to say a word about why I think this is a big deal, and why it makes me very grateful for our mission and our staff. To be able to speak across the whole spectrum of church life in times like these is very encouraging to me. Our mission statement is "to articulate the biblical call to social justice." And these awards are important because of the way they show how central social justice has become to so many of our churches (sorry, Glenn Beck). In particular, it demonstrates how a new generation of Christians want their faith to make a real difference, both in their lives and in the world. They share our strong commitment to demonstrate God's love for this world and God's compassion for the poor in particular. I meet them all over the country and around the world -- half of our audiences now are under thirty. And many of them are looking to Sojourners to help them put their faith into action. Nothing could make me happier.

Some of the best of this new generation work for Sojourners, and we are lucky to have them. Our whole team deserves credit for these wonderful awards. I have little to do anymore with the day-to-day operation of Sojourners magazine, and I am very proud of the people who do -- a combination of veteran writers and editors along with a core of young communicators for a new age of social media. Watching them do what they do is a great fulfillment of what a few of us envisioned when we were the young writers and editors with a new mission to combine personal faith with social justice.

But enough talking about awards. Okay, Mom -- now back to the mission.

Yesterday, the long-awaited announcement of a new energy and climate bill finally occurred in the United States Senate. On hand were Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, environmentalists, business leaders (including some from the energy industry), and even a few faith leaders. Now we get to see the actual bill, and we can begin to evaluate it. Like all things political, this bill will be full of compromises and concessions to get the necessary support for passage. Nonetheless, it promises to be the beginning, and just the beginning, of a new direction in America's energy future; it could mark a turn away from oil and fossil fuels toward cleaner and renewable energy sources. The attempt is to start mitigating the effects of climate change and to begin the critical process of adapting to a new energy future. For that adaptation, much more help will be needed for the world's poorest people and regions than this bill (in its current form) delivers.

Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation (and a person of faith), raised a prophetic word when he spoke of our "addiction" to oil. Addictions, as many people have discovered, eventually make your life not work anymore. And that is what has happened to the U.S. and the world -- our oil addiction is making things not work. The list of consequences is long -- from critical climate changes, to the loss of jobs, to supplying money for terrorists, to sacrificing the lives of our young people in wars over oil, to watching an oil spill that nobody seems to know how to stop pour hundreds of thousands of gallons each day into the Gulf of Mexico.

At a deep level, what's not working in the U.S. is our lifestyle -- particularly the consumerist energy habits we showcase to the rest of the world. Moving toward a "clean energy economy" will require more than just a re-wiring of the energy grid; it will also take a re-wiring of ourselves -- a conversion, really, of our habits of the heart. We must adjust our expectations, demands, and values.

Jim Ball, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network, says this bill is like the starter's gun at the beginning of a race. We have to start running in a different direction, and this bill would allow us to do that. But it will only be the start of a long marathon that will be completed by our children and grandchildren -- a marathon to overcome our addiction and be better stewards of our earth, our economy, our international relations, and finally, our souls.

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