We invite you to read and reflect on these words by fellow UUs from around the country.
If you would like to submit your own essay or photograph, we invite you to email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A New Wind Blowing in the Pacific Northwest
By Florence Caplow, 2014-15 intern minister at Quimper UU Fellowship, Pt. Townsend, WA.
All photos by the author; taken on August 24, 2014, at the blessing of the Lummi Nation Totem Pole Journey.
On a soft, gray August day last year, I sit in the pews of the high-vaulted St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle, Washington, with 450 other people: native, white, black, Asian, Christian, secular, Buddhist. We are there to honor and bless the 5,000 mile Totem Pole Journey of the Lummi Indian Nation, joining with them in their fight to protect treaty rights, sacred places, and the land and water of the Pacific Northwest.
The journey, led by master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James, who also carved the 19 foot totem pool that is journeying with them on a flatbed truck, is a protest against an enormous proposed coal port, one of the largest in the world, which would destroy a 3,500 year old Lummi village site and important native fisheries in Northwest Washington, near the Canadian border.
But the Lummi and other native peoples in the Pacific Northwest are fighting for more than that: they are fighting for our future, for all of us. That is what has brought these 450 people to the church on a weekday morning. We are united in our desire for a future.
We listen to the impassioned words of tribal leaders, spiritual leaders, and political leaders, all facing, together the juggernaut of energy development and energy transportation that threatens the environment of the Pacific Northwest and the world.
It is easy to feel despair about the state of the climate and the seeming relentless drive toward ruining our planet, but I am surprised to realize that I feel genuine hope, welling up from the ground, from the beat of the drums and the faces around me.
Paul Hawken, in his groundbreaking and hopeful book, Blessed Unrest, wrote that he believes that if indigenous people and environmentalists came together, we could turn the tide of destruction. On that morning in St. Mark's I felt a new wind blowing, and the wind said “We can do this. Together, with the leadership of those whose land we stand on, we can stop the madness.”
In the past few years, with the enormous increase in US and Canadian fossil fuel energy extraction – the Alberta tar sands, coal mines in Montana, the fracked oil fields in Dakotas – and the drive to send these fossil fuels into the insatiable maw of China and other fast-growing Asian countries, the Pacific Northwest north and south of the Canadian border has suddenly become ground zero for battles over coal and oil ports and pipelines and railways, all aimed toward the beautiful Salish Sea (Puget Sound, the Georgia Strait, and the Straits of Juan de Fuca) with its leaping salmon and orcas, islands, and tribal communities.
At least six mega ports are in the works for Washington State. Despite widespread unhappiness in the region with being a conduit for tons of climate-changing carbon sources, the battle seems stacked against us. How do we stop the largest economic forces in the world and their hunger for profits, for oil, for coal?
Here's what I think, and what I feel: we will stop them, not through money or lawyers (they have an unspeakably huge advantage there) but through moral force.
As I sit in St. Mark’s, I can almost see that moral force, palpably, running through each person there, and especially in the faces of the Lummi fishermen and carvers who are taking time away from their families and work to travel through the lands affected by fossil fuels development. As one of the travelers said, “This is the developers' worst nightmare, this church filled with people of faith.”
The roots of this gathering go back to 1987, when faith leaders in the Pacific Northwest issued an historic apology, the first of its kind, to tribal leaders, recognizing the churches' “long-standing participation in the destruction of Native American spirituality,” and asking for forgiveness. The letter also promised solidarity and support by churches to tribes in the “righting of previous wrongs.”
Now the tribes are calling on the churches to make good on their promise, and the churches stepped forward: religious leaders from ten denominations stood in the church that day, signing a declaration of support as the tribes face the challenges of fossil fuel transport and climate change.
Our Pacific Northwest District (PNWD) will take up the question of adding our signature to the declaration at GA this June, after two congregations voted to bring it to the PNWD and committees and boards of countless others (including my congregation, Quimper UU in Port Townsend, Washington) also voted to support the signing of the declaration.
In Canada, too, the tribes are rising up. First Nations people, under the banner “Idle No More,” have prevented an oil pipeline from being built from Alberta to the West Coast. Now a small band north of Vancouver, BC, has started a cross-border movement called “The Treaty to Protect the Sacredness of Our Salish Sea,” and tribes on both sides of the border have agreed to sign it. The treaty calls for solidarity from non-tribal people of the Salish Sea as well.
I think, as UUs committed to environmental and climate justice, we need to stand with the tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Their battle is our battle. And I am delighted that the Lummi Indian Nation will be our partner in the Public Witness at GA this year.
I want to close with words from Jewell Praying Wolf James, spoken at St. Mark’s last August.
You ask, what can we do?
We need you to talk to your congregations, talk to your children, that God created the earth and therefore it’s sacred.
You are the ones who vote your politicians into office, they are the ones who can tell the regulators “no!”
We’re calling on everyone to use your voice. Do you need permission to stand up?
We have to do this:
And everyone, 450 people in that huge cathedral, stood up.
THE POINT OF NO RETURN
Sidebar WhackO In The Court Of Poetic Justice
Michael O’Kelly, retired UU Minister, sent UUMFE this climate justice-themed poem. He is the author of three volumes of poetry – Sympathies: The Aoide Protocol (iUniverse, June 2014); Altarpieces: Structures of Poetry and Spiritual Thinking (iUniverse, May 2011); and Glistenings: Till Death Do Us Part (Xlibris, Corp., April 2010). He lives in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
Fault serves in an insane world just won’t play.
This issue’s always at break-point, PJ.
Play-makers have spoken many loud sounds;
but how to say “Backyards,” “Earthlings,” and “Choirs”
so people hear trumpets of new Scripture
and see Mother Earth as no second best.
Clearly, the old calling of Common Faith
finds unio sympathetica with Common Ground,
where our dead are as loud as gods are mute!
Still, rambunctious believers won’t yet sing
in our one-world choir of shared destiny.
Deniers dig heels in dated dogma.
Bad guys shoot-bomb the innocent daily.
Our lonely Planet’s getting lonelier,
as galaxies expand far past the far.
Earth-Angels are hoarse from crying aloud.
It’s insane! People dying every day
midst cries for Jihads and Armageddons,
civil wars that kill and displace thousands;
as pace quickens to planet overload
(a mere 7 billion and counting more),
as tipping-point chaos-precipices
proliferate. Earth’s Angels are so hoarse:
wings cramped by randoms of the mundane bad!
So much terror in our jurisprudence.
So much jurisprudence in our terror.
Criminality’s a banality.
Pornography plays as the new poetry.
Surveillance spies on its own democracy.
More juice for jus inter gentes, PJ!
THE GLACIERS ARE M E L T I N G AWAY!
HOW NOW TO ROUSE PEOPLE – so consumer-sized,
super-dogmatized, super-sexualized. . .
to just go back home to the backyard hoe,
play ball, cheer the team, dig worms, fish the stream,
fix up the place, re-aquify the fonts;
seed Vergil, the Vitruvian, and Voltaire;
wing with wild geese wedged through the warming sky,
weed gardens, dig tunes from the uttermost:
utterances of squirrels, whales, butterflies,
and reclaim the land – WHEN ALL LIFE’S ON TRIAL?
The storm of statistics showers us no grace;
hearing Earth’s frailty louder saves us no face.
The Earth Angels cry now for sanity
with every dead rainforest bird and tree,
every melting glacier and quaking sea,
each terror’s war, nuclear territory,
every road kill of endangered specie.
What jury-choir is this writ preaching to?
Who hasn’t seen Earth through Apollo’s eyes?
Old Blue Marble’s rolled in everyone’s socket,
rumbling loud visions in everyone’s pocket.
I could be some Dike or Astraea:
some voice for divine seers shelved in toyland.
Don’t know if I’m Krishna or Arjuna,
or a four-mouthed Brahma chanting old verse:
multi- tongued baton shook at weakened bees,
for bold new Brahms, Bartoks, Bernsteins, Bizets.
I’m choirless: worse. . .can’t make statistics sing.
What’s the score - when there’s no Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching?
Just ephemera in prolifera:
obitua after obitua?
Just harsh soul-cry from ars poetica
in a Cirque du Celeb wonder world
of piercings and tattoos unlimited;
whine&wince singers in strobe-light surround,
robo- iPhoners with HD TV’s:
pimped by internet and 3-D movies.
I don’t see high-fiving fans waving towels
to rally the volley of this venture.
I think, too, of throwing mine in the ring;
to stop the carnage of unread pages.
More fill for land-fills is not fulfilling.
Yet, some could tune their racket’s for whacking.
Help! Backyard-Ungrund voices need more hype!
Even “selfie” books and “smartie” journals,
that few will buy or grasp . . . or even hold,
turn-up the gas to absurdity’s fire.
(Life so essays for poets on self-hire.)
Who says poetry makes nothing happen?
Its journey’s sharp-bark bark’s barken
In the midst of timin’ that’s lost its rhymin’—
Poetry’s hurtin’ for poetries to happen!
Laud’s applause dims in the land of Auden:
And Stevens’ “necessary” angels are laggin’ behind!
THE GLACIERS ARE M E L T I N G AWAY!
This is the Play. The Game. The Deal. You in?
Beauty’s a duty and truth’s a career;
be the magic wand or both disappear.
So, PJ, which side of the net you on?
Poetries or Politics? Pen or Sword?
Voice or Noise? Worth or Words?
Peace or . . . “just”. . . War?
A match! Match play! Over-matched?
Need a Light for the Choir?
What? “Forge Ahead!” That’s your judgment call now?
That’s one heavy – message the world – anvil:
that Earth as it spins is our Rolly Grail.
There’s small Audience in “that” Resonance.
“Just hammer,” you say, “and let the sparks dance:
some luminaries will seize dawn’s advance,
volley the revelations of Earth’s New Chance.”
Sounds, maybe, like a “Call me. . .Maybe,” song.
But I’m no mystagogue or hierophant,
no owl or eagle, just robin beat-breast
pecking dirt to pluck a song with the worms.
Horace-Shelley-Rilke would be amazed,
poets are produced in masses these days.
What are they saying that’s worth repeating.
What’s it take to get volume up to speed,
To be stirred and shaken deep-down in the pot,
Down where this quatrain sows its ancient seed;
Where lines can rhyme if they tie a good knot.
Yes! Well-tied. . . forms the patterned work of lace,
dons home with strong nets of Amazing Grace.
Save face? Not lose our place? Not at this pace!
For peace’s sake, can’t we turn-up the choir?
Maybe! The work of the poet persists
if one’s really “to be a source of truth,”
be “a vehicle of world harmony,”
guided thus by Mandelstams and Heaneys;
even Hazlitt’s characterization fits:
that “poets are creatures of sympathy.”
All are laced in the grasp of Heineman’s
“respondeo, ergo sum” – I respond,
therefore I am: a poet’s stand profound,
free to choir and purl-a-purl one’s own sound:
life played one-on-one with no passing shots.
THE GLACIERS ARE M E L T I N G AWAY!
“Forgive them for they know not what they do,”
is a dead phrase today. They know they know!
The dun for what “they’ve” done’s our debt past due.
Respond! Redress! Dress-up for the role.
What the deuce! No robe to don – one’s not heard.
But you’ve The Robe-The Cloth-The Hood, PJ!
This “justice” appeal yells from multitudes.
Re-string this: How harmonize the tangles,
knit-knots, faults, and inter-net woven swerves?
Takes natural gut to accomplish credence;
new stanzas strung with true resilience
to clarify Earth’s new emergency,
to energize fresh our shared destiny,
to crescendo symphonic coherence.
World Choirs, tuned like intricacies of lace,
voices pitched in sound like Beethoven’s Ninth,
N E E D T O S I N G . . .
to redress-re-robe governing bodies.
So, PJ, help this bouncing-ball’s sing along.
We’ll all get along if we can sing along.
The multitudes are waiting for their song.
A mighty Chorus, PJ! You hear it?
BONG! SONG! GONG! – BELONG! BELONG!
THE GLACIERS ARE M E L T I N G AWAY!
Privileges of Hope, PJ. Set ‘em free.
Gads! All due respects, Your Honor!
Get your players off the bench and into the game!
Time for the service of aces, PJ.
Victory wants its glad past the daily sad.
Rhymes too much with Destiny.
Poetry needs to rhyme with Justice, PJ!
Earth’s lease needs to rhyme with peace, PJ!
No back room deals!
Face-up, line-up, all the cards as they lie.
Gavel to the anvil, PJ!
FLASHMOB! SMASHMOB! PLUMBBOB!
To the courtyards! The backyards! Line ‘em up.
Ode by ode! Bard by Bard! Go rhyme a line!
The Auctioneer has a gavel, too, PJ:
GOING! GOING! G O N E!
THE GLACIERS ARE M E L T I N G AWAY!
Time for la literature engagee!
Time for la resistance spirituelle!
Camus aced the absurd singing –WE ARE!
Time to cause a racket! A Happening!
You’re the grantor of poetic license!
You’re the judicium totus tuus!
Time to find your rhythm. Get a game-plan!
Get the real match-ups to fire-up their match.
A Stravinsky-Whitman-Gandhi Smash, PJ!
Fresh balls to Bloom, Berry, Bishop, and Bly.
Time to break the tie so the sparks can fly;
new augurs forged to shepherd-in the fold,
backhand-forehand: time’s a line not on hold.
THE GLACIERS ! THE G L A C I E R S!
THE SERVICE OF A C E S!
THE S I N G E R S! –– THE-SINGERS!!!
THEIR VOICES ARE CREEKING AND CRACKING!
THEY NEED A SONG LOUDER THAN FRACKING!
THEY DON’T KNOW THE NEW WORDS!
THEY CAN’T FIND THE CHOIR!
Clear the belfry! Time to re-rope the bells.
I know You know! Don’t roll those eyes at me!
Focus on the politicky spin of the bouncing ball;
get set to judge returns and Courting’s call.
WE ARE AT THE POINT OF NO RETURN.
LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! Respondeo, ergo sum!
Natural guts strung in WhackO service time.
Break-point! Faults unallowed in this time line.
Time for Whacking Aces!
GREAT WHACKERS OF ACES
WITH AMAZING GRACES!!
(unafraid to rhyme in time)
Whack those of Aces in the Court of PJ
Scores that score at the point of no return.
[I first whacked this apostrophe at some pages over a year ago. A poetry professor threw it, I believe, in her wastebasket. Now it’s back and on its own. It’s to be hollered with some rigor-vigor in the Court of PJ. Editings and fine-tunings encouraged if they enhance the volume and response. It will be in my next book – as is, plus any enhancements.]
Michael D. O’Kelly (Newly enhanced on 5.28.14)
A Winter Blessing
Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, President, Starr King School for the Ministry, shared her new poem celebrating the Winter Solstice 2013.
In the shadowed quiet of winter's light
earth speaks softly
of her longing.
Because the wild places are in tears.
Come, she cries to us.
Kneel down here
on the frosty grass,
and feel the prayer buried in the ground.
Bend your ear to my heart
and listen hard.
Love this world, she whispers.
Distill peace from the snow
and water the cities
Weave wonder from the forest
and clothe grief
Rest in the rhythm of the turning year,
Trace the bending arc
Rounding the curve toward justice.
And vow anew to do no harm.
The winter trees stand watch
haloed in the last gleams of the slanting sun.
Glory sings here.
Heaven echoes the call:
Repeat the sounding joy.
Make your life an answer:
Need for Appreciation of Earth as the Giver of Life
By Tony Giordano, member of the UU Congregation of Monmouth County, NJ, an adjunct instructor and research consultant in social science, and a volunteer member of Citizens Climate Lobby.
If you look up the name of our home planet in most any dictionary, you will see the word “earth.” The fact that it’s not capitalized may seem trivial, but it’s symbolic of the overall way we tend to view our home planet. No respect. Ironically, the other planets are capitalized, as are names of countries, people, automobiles, and so on.
I find it very odd that appreciation for the Earth continues to be so lacking. Why is that? Should we not know better by now? Happily, Unitarian Universalists are much more likely than most to show the proper respect and appreciation.
Though we see people give endless praise and thanks to a creator, many fail to recognize the life-giving force that we walk on every day and from which we obtain food, shelter and the many resources that support our lavish lifestyles. The way we plunder and pillage its precious assets and decimate its delicate ecosystems, I wonder if anything dearer to life could ever be more taken-for-granted and abused. Fracking, mountaintop removal, toxic and leak-prone oil pipelines, the growing release of climate-changing greenhouse gases—the list goes on and on.
If there’s anything that is sacred and deserving of thanks and protection, is it not the Earth?
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on Earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
As we enter a new era in human history—which many scientists are beginning to call the anthropocene for the catastrophic, widespread damage man is doing to the Earth’s ecosystems, wildlife, and climate—it’s high time to fully recognize and protect this infinitely rare and spectacular planet of ours that gives and sustains life.
The natural world is not only beautiful and precious and inspiring, it’s essential to our own material existence. Let’s start acting that way, beginning with government policy toward the planet. There’s so much we need to do to ensure that the Earth can continue to sustain life well into the future.
Can we at least start writing, “Earth?”
Environmental Justice in Rubbertown
By Sarah Caine, former UUMFE Young Adult Board member and Starr King seminarian
Louisville is an honest and proud city. There are markers for historical events and places throughout the Downtown area, some marking moments of enlightenment, some marking darker parts of history such as a former slave auction site. I was in Louisville during the Final Four and the Championship NCAA games and everywhere I went people were sporting the bright red denoting their loyalty to the University of Louisville. When Louisville won the car horns could be heard all night long.
I came to Louisville with the UU Ministry for Earth Board of Directors in order to meet the local activists and religious leaders in preparation for the upcoming General Assembly in June. The UUMFE and other social action branches of the UU community are coming together to offer a plethora of environmental justice centered workshops and a tour of the areas of Louisville disproportionately affected by environmental injustice. Once in Louisville the immediacy of the environmental inequity gets in your very lungs, though how much depends on where you are in the city.
This geographical variable is a textbook example of environmental inequity/racism/classism/injustice. How does environmental justice vary from environmentalism? Environmentalism was started by people of privilege and tends to focus on conservation and preservation of non-human animals and the non-animal world. Sometimes, at the oppression of native peoples or the oversight of communities of lower income's needs for survival. Environmental justice focuses on the needs of traditionally oppressed communities and the ways that immediate environmental concerns negatively effect them – for example, toxic dumping in lower income areas, traditionally communities of color. The EJ movement started back in the 60's with a sanitation workers strike and was picked up by the United Church of Christ as a social witness process. Ecological Justice is another movement that looks at the health of systems, including human, but often lumps humans into one group and misses the politics within the human community. I like to mix both EcoJustice and EJ for my own personal outlook and mission in this work. As part of this interdependent web (Principle Seven, one of my personal favorites!), I believe that when one part of the web is weakened we all feel it, and we must be able to examine the smaller and bigger details of such.
Back to Kentucky.
The air in Rubbertown (the area of Louisville next to the Ohio River that came to be an industrial and residential mix during WWII) is so heavy you can feel it as you inhale. On a clear day, like the one during which we took our Environmental Justice tour, it takes a little longer for you to notice. You have to start walking. Within a few feet your breathing is heavier than normal. This is thanks to the particulate and ash in the air from the plants that synthesize rubber--for PVC, for shoes, for tires, so much of our lives are wrapped in plastic. Rubbertown was created because rubber production needed to be faster than importation of the plant from Southeast Asia would allow. This “town” was built between the river and the freeway, houses built between the factories and the freeway.
At one point in the tour, we came to a pile of coal ash thirteen stories high. It’s packed beyond a publicly maintained cemetery, behind a screen meant to stop erosion from destroying riverbanks but not capable of keeping the toxic ash from blowing around and over it. This ash is toxic and has caused health problems for the community neighboring it. Local activists are working hard, against powerful opposition, to better contain the ash.
Near Rubbertown, there is a community called Lake Dreamland, which was originally built as a resort in the 1930s but is now a lower income area with an unlined dump hidden beneath the green of the area before the tree line. This community is right on the river, and the water table is being affected in unknown ways. The soil has who knows what in it, and the "lake" that was originally the center of the community is a sludgy looking pond with nasty in it.
Both of these communities have houses beyond the flood protection walls and levies, they are set up to be underwater if the river raises above its banks. What does that say about the "disposability" of some people? First, their communities are poisoned, and then their homes are ruined in floods. This is looking like injustice. Luckily, groups like Kentucky Interfaith Power and Light are working with the community councils of the area to try and bring help to these neighborhoods. It's trickier to address the issue of the coal powered plant across the river in Indiana, one that is only fired up during peak electricity months (like the upcoming Summer) and whose noxious fumes get blown over to Louisville from the eastward winds. The communities in closest proximity to the plant? … those of low-income, mostly people of color. Issues like these do not stop at borders. That interdependent web, it extends past neighborhoods.
We are all on one planet. The pollution in Indiana affects Kentucky. The pollution in China affects the US. Spreading it out doesn't change that it's still there. We need Eco and Environmental Justice.
Our first (“The inherent worth and dignity of every person”), second (“Justice, equity and compassion in human relations”), fifth (“The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large”), sixth (“The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all”), and seventh (“Respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part”) principles circle around justice work. Our faith is one of action. The people in Kentucky are connected to us, to the planet, and deserve justice and equity. As UUs, we are called to stand with the people fighting for their voices to be heard because we believe that all people have worth and dignity and should be able to participate in their own governance. Let’s join the struggle for Environmental and Ecological Justice!
Here is an article that quite aptly discusses the evolution and necessity of the EJ movement – James Cone's "Whose Earth is it Anyway?" from Sojourners Magazine 2007.
Congregations and Climate Change
By Rev. Robert F. Murphy, UU Fellowship of Falmouth
Brace yourself for another long, hot summer. At the end of May 2013, the Oklahoma tornado was a recent memory. Thunderstorms were firing up over the Middle West. Major storms were reported from New York and Pennsylvania to New England. Community leaders were studying the hurricane forecast developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A very difficult season is anticipated and the NOAA people usually get things right.
In past years, many congregations have waited for natural disasters to happen. This year, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth, Massachusetts, decided to take the initiative. The Falmouth fellowship is located on Cape Cod and coastal residents know that they live in harm's way. Cape Cod has a large population of senior citizens. Instead of waiting for tragedies to occur, why not encourage emergency preparations?
The Falmouth fellowship organized several events for the end of May and the start of June.
On May 24th, the congregation presented a community program on climate change and emergency preparations, with special attention given to congregations. All religious organizations in the area were invited to send representatives to a strategy session. The interfaith Falmouth Clergy Association and the Cape Cod Council of Churches provided support. More than forty people participated in the May 24th program. Special attention was given to pastoral care, emergency communications, environmental justice concerns, and cooperation with community agencies like the Red Cross.
On May 25th, the Falmouth fellowship hosted an emergency services training program for volunteers. The county health department provided the trainers and the local Sierra Club group provided refreshments and additional support. At the beginning of June, the Falmouth fellowship worked with the Cape Cod Council of Churches and other religious organizations to encourage all religious organizations to pause for a time of reflection at the start of hurricane season. The Unitarian Universalists emphasized the importance of "deeds not creeds." All religious organizations, in all religious traditions, have opportunities to support emergency services and reconstruction activities.
In an era of climate change, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth is developing new strategies for consciousness raising and community organizing. By responding to immediate problems, the Falmouth fellowship hopes to involve more people in long-term work for managing climate change. Congregation leaders say that they're working with the basics of Community Organizing 101.
Listen to people, build some trust, and try to be useful in the here and now. If climate change activists can't save their neighbors from today's storms – well, why and how will the activists be helpful during future emergencies?
Prayer for the Climate by Rev. Terry Ellen
Jan 17, 2013) Note: For media coverage of the Pray-In for the Climate, in front of the White House, see At a Climate Protest, Science and Religion in The New York Times (green blog) or Climate change activists turn to plans, persuasion, prayer in Obama’s second term in The Miami Herald. You can participate virtually by spending a few moments in prayer or reflection guided by this prayer written by UU minister Rev. Terry Ellen, one of the leaders of the Pray-In.
“Spirit of Life, called by so many names and yet beyond all names, known by each of us in our truest, most authentic minds, fullest, most compassionate hearts, and spontaneous thanksgiving for the exquisite majesty and beauty of this cosmos we have emerged from, embodying its whole history in ourselves, we know that this planet is in very serious trouble. We know that we are in a climate crisis of our own making, and that the elders among us are now breaking the age-old moral imperative to pass on to the young a better place than we found and that we who have profited most from the use of fossil fuels are visiting the direst consequences on those who have profited the least from them and who are the most vulnerable in the world. We did not intend to create this reality, but now we do know what the consequent greenhouse gases are doing. So we first pledge ourselves to do what we each individually can to live responsibly and sustainably.
But we also know that public policy on energy usage must change as well if we are to meet this crisis with anything near the effort it requires, and so we also pledge to act in accord with the urgent moral imperative upon us to change such policy. So today, gathered together in prayer with others of many faith traditions and many outside those traditions who know the preciousness of being alive upon this planet and our consequent moral responsibilities, we ask that our President use all of his powers to address this crisis with the urgency it deserves. This is a pivotal moment in the earth's history, in human history, and in our nation's history. We pray for leadership as courageous and dedicated as the time deserves, and we pray that we be more than equal to it.
For the least of these our sisters and brothers, for the voiceless of all species, for future generations and for ourselves we pray. Amen.”
An Off-grid, Off-road UU in Alaska
By Laura Emerson – email@example.com
One night, while preparing a labor-intensive risotto for dinner in our Houston high-rise, my husband ambled into the kitchen and asked, with studied casualness, “Honey, if I could buy a piece of undeveloped land in Alaska, under market value, would that be OK with you?” Who knew that five years later, we would be living full time in a two room log cabin with an outhouse, forty-two miles from the nearest road, having sold our high-rise and given away most of our belongings.
Obviously there are a number of “why?” and “how?” and “why?” again, questions raised by that paragraph, but for this Reflections piece, I'd like to focus on three things I appreciate more because of these changes. But first, the setting:
Since there are no roads, the only transport here is by floatplane, ski plane, or, in winter, a seven-hour snow machine (snowmobile) round trip commute to the nearest town. At this remove, we receive no community services whatsoever: no electricity, roads, or plumbing. Anything we need, we have to grow, make, or do without. Such a situation is like one of those lifeboat group dynamic exercises. What do you really need? What can you do without? The first thing my husband did after clearing space in the woods several years ago (while I sat down and cried, “What on earth are we doing here?”) was to build a 120 foot power tower for wind and solar power, a satellite system for Internet, and a phone booster. You see, we are not retired. He needed to first determine whether he could run his business from the middle of nowhere, with modern communications technology. (He can, and most clients don't know where he is.)
Over the course of the day, we seem to straddle several centuries. In the mornings, he reads the Internet and engages in long distance conversations about high finance. Meanwhile, I'm washing clothes in a bucket after melting snow on the wood stove, collecting eggs from cold-hardy chickens, and monitoring the fermentation of our beer, bread, and wine. Later, he goes out to chop wood while I sit down to a laptop to write business articles or future sermons. When things go smoothly, I feel a bit like Laura Ingalls Wilder (although their house looks cleaner). Other times, particularly for the first few years, I felt like somebody in a mistaken time warp scenario or Eva Gabor on Green Acres (without the high heels).
By shifting so completely from living in a city to living on our own out in the boonies, I am very appreciative of what I have but also of what I left behind. Here are three:
First, living on our own, every single item on Maslow's hierarchy, from water to heat to food to shelter depends on our own efforts. We had to climb a steep learning curve and drop a lot of expectations along the way. As a result, rather than demonize city life, I am immensely impressed by all the inventors, businesses, resources, and infrastructure that enable populations of 10,000 to 10 million people to live in close proximity to each other. Most rely on mysterious wires, pipes, materials, and delivery systems for both creature comforts and necessities without having to know how these things work. When I visit a city now, I love noticing on a restaurant menu all the items from remote longitudes and latitudes, like wine from Chile and lobster from Maine. I adore a bath with hot, running water. I'm amazed by how fast one can get from here to there thanks to highways through forests and bridges over rivers. Suggestion: be grateful next time you flip that switch or buy that strawberry.
Second, I love the silence here. Rather than wake up to a radio, I listen to the pulse inside my ears and feel the blood pump through my toes. It is a way of paying attention to that time-stamped battery in my chest. In the absence of “incoming” electronic entertainments, I spend more time with my thoughts and memories. As a result of our solitude and silence, I've processed some “woulda, coulda, shoulda” regrets that I had previously kept at bay with an array of city entertainments. This has brought some peace of mind. Suggestion: carve out extended periods of silence.
Third, because everything takes longer to do and is dependent on us, I have learned to enjoy the processes rather than rush through them. I've become a better cook. I've learned to staunch blood with yarrow leaves. I can distinguish the tracks of fox and coyote sniffing around our chicken coop. Being attentive and curious keeps me from getting bored. I think of the following anecdote: One time his followers asked the Buddha what to do until they gained enlightenment. He answered, “Tote water; chop wood.” And what, they asked, would they do after they achieved enlightenment? He answered, “Tote water, chop wood.” We do both every day. I'm certainly not enlightened, but I'm trying to become more aware. Oops, the fire has gone out and the cabin is getting cool. Enough navel-gazing – back to work.
For more information about Laura's life in the Alaska Bush, see: alaskauu1.blogspot.com.
A Prayer for the Gulf
Infinite Spirit of Life and Love, our hearts are heavy and our souls are troubled by the oil spill in the Gulf. All of us have felt a host of emotions these past weeks as we have watched the tragedy unfold over day after day. We have felt sorrow for those killed and injured and their families. We have felt heartache at the peril of the waters and wetlands, the beaches and marshes, and all the creatures of the Gulf. We have felt concern and compassion for all those whose livelihoods are dependent on the Gulf, many of whom are just now recovering from other disasters. We have felt anger that this happened and anger and frustration at the seeming inability to contain the spill and ameliorate the damage caused. We have felt helpless to do anything. And we have felt concern for those we know who work for BP, who are under such stress and scrutiny, who carry the weight of this tragedy more than we can know, and who feel all that we feel and more.
We pray for comfort and healing for those who are mourning losses and for those who are hurting. We pray for strength and resiliency, for ability and wisdom, for those working tirelessly to contain the spill and to protect the beaches, wetlands and marshes, to rescue the birds and other wildlife. We hold in our hearts all of this beautiful creation now despoiled.
And we pray also to acknowledge our complicity in this disaster. Though the threads be long and even obscure, we are all linked - all of us - in some way or another to this tragedy. We pray for all of us to find the wisdom and courage to live in ways that truly cherish our beautiful planet.
And we pray that, no matter our feelings of the moment, we will remember these feelings and use them to good ends - toward doing what we can to walk in right relationship with the earth, in right relationship with our fellow creatures, in right relationship with one another. As we are all linked with the earth, so all humanity is linked with one another.
Shalom. Blessed Be. Amen.
The Revs Becky and Mark Edmiston-Lange
For additional worship services and actions in response to the oil spill in the gulf, see Gulf Coast Supplement.
Earth, Our Deep-Home-Place
By Judy Moores, UU Church of Davis, California
We live in perilous times. The news from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change becomes increasingly dire with every scientific report that it issues. (1) Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already over 385 ppm and rising about 2 ppm per year. In June of 2008, Dr. James Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies predicted that unless global emissions are reduced to 350ppm soon that we can expect a sea level rise of at least two meters within a century. Millions around the world will be displaced and increasing numbers of animal and plant species will go extinct. (2) As Claudia Kern, of the UU Ministry for Earth, writes, “If we are to heal our suffering planet and respond justly and compassionately to the inevitable chaos that climate change is bringing, it seems very clear that we need a rapid evolutionary leap in consciousness.” (3) Such a leap requires that we rethink our relationship to Earth. We need to develop a sense of gratitude so deep that we are willing to consider our every action – large or small, every day – and make critical positive decisions for the health of our planet.
We need to understand our direct dependence on Earth. If we continue on our current path, Descartes’ words, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” take on profound implications for our continued presence as a species on earth. Van Jones suggests in his article, “In Need of A Good Word” in Orion Magazine (Jan-Feb, 2008) the words environment, ecology, sustainability, conservation and green, neither help us understand that our grandchildren are more important than the bottom line and our personal comfort nor include people of all political persuasions, ethnicities, and nationalities. He says we need a terminology that invites everyone into the effort to transform the way we live on the planet.”
To address these concerns, I would like to suggest that we begin to refer to our planet as “Earth, Our Deep-Home-Place” to mean the unique location in the Universe that is our ancestral home, our current home, and the only home that we will ever have – a place deserving of reverence, gratitude, wonder, love and care. Deep – home – place – all simple words that we have used for centuries and perhaps, millennia.