The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church exists as a beacon of liberal religious thought and practice. Amid the challenges and changes of a chaotic world, we aspire to proclaim and embody the possibilities of meaning in human life, of freedom in human thought, and of peace and justice in human community.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sunday Service: Environmental Justice - October 19th, 2014

Environmental Justice
By Reverend Tom Capo
10 19 2014

The story of Jonah and the Very Big Fish is memorable.  When I was young all I remember is Jonah getting eaten by the whale and traveling around the sea.  But as you heard there is much more to this story.  Jonah didn’t want to help or warn the people of Nineveh because he didn’t feel they were worthy—they were wicked and an enemy of Israel.  Eventually he gave in and passed on the message and the people changed.  Now I am not Jonah nor are you.  But aren’t there times, when you feel like feel like a Jonah?  You try to tell others about the need to care for mother earth.  You do it over and over and again, until you just get tired.  You don’t think people are hearing you anyway, so why tell them one more time?  Like Jonah, you come to think of those people who refuse to listen as enemies.  People who aren’t helping mother earth, who are denying climate change, who aren’t going to listen to you anyway because they’re just, well, “wicked.”  You find no motivation within yourself to keep speaking truth to power, because power just doesn’t care.  So where can you find the motivation to continue working for environmental justice?

Will the ushers please pass out the leaves? (Editor's note:  in service the usher passed out fresh mint leaves) Now once you receive your leaf, I invite you to hold it in your hands and close your eyes.  I know you just closed your eyes, but bear with me.  Roll the leaf around in your hands; touch it lightly; use your sense of touch to get to know it.  Now smell the leaf.  

Now I invite you to put the leaf in your mouth and very slowly chew it.  Notice the various tastes and textures of your leaf.  Take your time chewing. You can open your eyes.  Notice any residue it has left on your skin.  

Now I invite you to turn to someone near you, someone you don’t know well, and talk about this experience.  In particular, how does this experience influence your desire to work for environmental justice?

You can continue these discussions after the service.  Here’s what I came away with:  I try to be mindful in many things that I do in my life.  Now by no means am I mindful all the time every day, but I do try at least every now and then to focus my attention on what is going on inside and around me.  This particular exercise is called conscious eating.  I learned it when I was working with people who had eating disorders.  When I do this exercise, and I do it from time to time, I am surprised at what I learn, particularly about my own sense of taste and about the world around me.  Most of all when I consciously eat, especially when I consciously eat fruit or raw vegetables, I feel more aware of my connection to mother earth.  I am surprised and am in awe of what mother earth and this universe we live in has been able to create.  I reconnect with creation: how this planet sustains me and the way aspects of creation affect me.  Did any of you notice a physical, emotional, or spiritual connection to this earth or the universe or some sort of creative loving force when you were attending to your mint leaf?  Raise your hands.

You can rediscover a reason to fight for justice for this planet and all the things that live on it, through a simple spiritual exercise like conscious eating.  I am more aware that I am as much a creation of mother earth as this little leaf.  And this little leaf reminds me of evolution.  The process of evolution still astonishes me.  I feel love for the planet that birthed me, and I want it to live and thrive.  And I believe you do, too.

So what do we do?  Well many of us are already doing some things—recycling, composting, planting in your back yard, walking in climate change rallys, planting milkweed for monarchs, etc.  I have something else that I invite you to try.  I want you to do some little things that don’t seem like they would make much difference.  

One thing you might do is work on changing the way you perceive things.  You might try to view your decisions and actions more holistically than linearly.  Linear thinking is a process of thought following known cycles or step-by-step progression where a response to a step must be elicited before another step is taken; it is focused on beginnings and endings—a project, like painting a house, mowing a lawn, eating a meal; you know the steps and know when you have begun and when it is ended.  Holistic thinking is trying to take into account the impact on people, animals, plants, the planet and perhaps even the universe, the whole enchilada, before you make a decision or take an action—this is holistic thinking.  I know you can’t do this all the time and you can’t take into account all the possible consequences of every behavior, but you can make some small effort to consider the holistic effects of some of the things you do.   One example might be consider the effect of leaving your lights on when you aren’t home—this might mean using up more of the limited energy resources of the earth—oil, natural gas, coal.  Or it might result in producing more nuclear rods and nuclear waste water that has to be contained to keep them from polluting the planet.  Or it might result in our children or our children’s children not having some of the natural resources we take for granted.  Increasing your awareness might seem like a little drop of water trying to put out the forest fire of consumption or pollution, but I believe it does make a difference.  And if we do nothing, it is certain that the consumption and pollution will get much, much worse.  Perhaps if others see us thinking before we act, even asking us why we are thinking before we act, perhaps they too will begin thinking before they act, and that will make even more of a difference.

Another little thing you might do is suggested in Jonathan F. P. Rose’s article “Repairing the Fabric of the World”:  “If we want to shift our environmental behaviors, we will not get there by proposing changes that lead to increased suffering.  Environmental solutions will be accepted if they lead to increased pleasure and increased quality of life.  What we are seeing is that when cities and communities create bike lanes and great safe sidewalks planted with trees, when the train stations have winterized parking lots for bikes, when the system is designed to encourage people to have healthy behaviors, they eagerly do it.”  In other words, how can we create more opportunities for healthy behavior in our lives and in our community, in particular behaviors that are pleasant, enjoyable, and also connect us in some way with the planet; if we can do this, we will make a difference.  People are more likely, you are more likely, to do things for the environment if you find a way to make them fun or pleasurable.  For instance, we can choose biking or walking instead of driving, we can choose gardening, buying and eating local foods, or picking apples in the fall instead of going to the local grocery store and buying food from other countries—fun things that, if you make time, you would eagerly do. And these things do make a difference to our planet.

And one more thing, we have to stop focusing on “me” and focus more on “us.”  Again from Jonathan Rose: “the ‘me map’ is the self-preservation model, single issue, single response, very linear.  If a bear jumps out of the woods, you fight or you flee.  The ‘me’ issues…are either fear or desire based issues.  We have a world that has increasingly been designed around stimulating that...the language of politics has been based on fear and encouraging consumption…But we are highly evolved for altruism…You need to collaborate, to concede, to compromise, and to lead, and you need to balance those all the time…this system is very good for dealing with [the] complexity [on our planet]…As individuals, we can put our fingers on the scale of collective good—which is not the opposite of the individual good because everything we use and rely on comes from so many sources that the collective good is the individual good.”  

Now this sounds easy and reasonable, but most people don’t do it.  I try to do this in small ways, like sometimes using my Facebook page for issues of collective importance.  Some of these issues are ecological in nature, others more social in nature—all focus on the collective good.  I put petitions and articles on issues like where chocolate comes from—most chocolate comes from places that use child labor to get the cocoa beans—and like to woman’s right to decide whether to have a child.  This has helped me be more conscious of the collective good, and to share these issues with anyone who friends me.  It is a little thing, but I believe it makes a difference.  One of the petitions that I signed and shared on my Facebook page did get the American Legislative Exchange Council to stop promoting Stand Your Ground Gun laws.  

Little things.  That is what I want you to consider doing.  I invite you to look at the world more holistically, make a pledge to do healthier and pleasurable activities, and think altruistically.  Little things.  There are certainly other little things you can do.  But in doing these little things, you might find your motivation to do some big things enhanced.  That’s what happened for me; I feel more motivated, more willing to take an extra step to help fight for justice for our planet.  Keep doing what you are doing to save our planet, and just add one more little thing; don’t make it that hard or uncomfortable to do.  Don’t listen to those around you or even your own negative thoughts that tell you that you aren’t making a difference.  You are.  You make more of a difference than you may ever know.

Remember your mint leaf.  Remember how it touched you.  This is what we are trying to save.  

I offer these words to take you on this journey of earth justice, and invite you to respond to each statement I make with “Teach us, and show us the way.” 
We call upon the earth, our planet home, with its beautiful depths and soaring heights, its vitality and abundance of life, and together we ask that it:
Teach us, and show us the way.
We call upon the mountains, the Cascades and the Rockies, the high green valleys and meadows filled with wild flowers, the summits of intense silence, and we ask that they:
Teach us, and show us the way.
We call upon the waters that rim the earth, horizon to horizon, that flow in our rivers and streams, that fall upon our gardens and fields, and we ask that they:
Teach us, and show us the way.
We call upon the forests, the great trees reaching strongly to the sky with earth in their roots and the heavens in their branches, the fir and the pine and the cedar, and we ask them to:
Teach us, and show us the way.
We call upon the creatures of the fields and forests and the seas, our brothers and sisters the wolves and deer, the eagle and dove, the great whales and the dolphin, the beautiful Orca and salmon who share our home, and we ask them to:
Teach us, and show us the way.

Mother earth teach us, and show us the way – Blessed Be.

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