Monday, October 15, 2012

"The Planet is Calling" - Sermon

The Planet Is Calling

         “The Planet is Calling” As the title suggests, I intended to deliver to you today, yet another heavy-handed sermon about environmental responsibility. The planet is calling us to care, to live out our principles, to respond to the devastation. As usual I came up with this title well over a month ago, with a concept that our planet is calling us to respond. I do deeply believe that our planet is calling out to each one of us.
         But, as I started writing about that call, something very new came to my sights. Yes, indeed the planet is calling, to each one of us. But that call is surprisingly multidimensional. Sometimes we hear a call of joy and the beauty and splendor of nature. We see the persistence of life and know that we are a part of that magic. Other times when we read the news, or sometimes just looking around our world, we hear the earth call out in pain. Together we have inflicted tremendous destruction to our home. We are just now beginning to make a psychological and spiritual shift away from exploitation to gratitude. We know that the earth is suffering and we hear that call.
         For some the call of the planet is about a message of interconnectedness. For others, they find in the Earth calls us to a new sense of order. She can teach us the right ways if we are willing to open ourselves to her reason. The point I’m getting at is there is no one way the Earth calls, no one single message to be received. The messages in fact are many.
         I’m reminded of a movie I saw recently. I appreciated it exploring a Jewish theology’s complex understanding of God. The primary character in the film was having a crisis of faith. As she went into a fertility clinic to try artificial insemination she refused to pray. God had not followed through with her prayers so far, and she didn’t want to bring him in on this deeply held hope. But her agnostic friend, knowing how important prayer was to her, insisted that she pray. And she said, maybe God is complicated. Maybe sometimes he’s stubborn and we don’t understand. Maybe sometimes God is busy or just not paying attention. It could be.”
         And the woman’s response was magical. She said, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe God is complicated and unpredictable, like me.”
         My point is that maybe the messages that the Earth has to offer us are also complicated. Maybe there are a great many different things for us to listen for. Sometimes it’s hope, sometimes it’s warning, sometimes it’s nurturing, sometimes it’s destruction. The earth is in fact calling to us. And we have the great opportunity of learning and hearing from a teacher who is complicated, just like we are.

         The earth is calling us in many different ways. I want to talk about some of those calls in particular. The way that always comes to my mind is the way that our planet invites us to celebrate. Just this past weekend many of us were up in the San Bernadino Mountains at Camp DeBenneville Pines. We were there at the perfect time. Crisp cool mornings gave way to sun-filled afternoons. Many of us got to canoe on a pond and watch a bald eagle perch high above. There were aspen trees ablaze and the sweet vanilla scent of Jeffrey pine trees filled the air. It was an exhilarating time, impossible not to feel the celebration of Earth.
         This celebration is part of our Unitarian Universalist faith. It doesn’t take long to hear this kind of call, if you open yourself to it. You can see it in simple things like grass breaking through the pavement, or in the magic of the epic of evolution. Earth’s call to celebrate the beauty of life is all around us in a flood of senses. It is pleasure for our eyes, ears, tongue and skin. It’s a tremendous variety, a richness of color, a depth and lightness that human hands will never create.
         It is true, that these magnificent pieces of creation were not made for human pleasure. Geology is random; biology serves a purpose rooted in natural selection. This tremendous variety was not created for human consumption.
         Yet still its is there before us. To close our eyes and ears to that beautiful call would is an affront to the Earth itself and to all things sacred. And more than that, closing ourselves to the beauty of nature is an affront to ourselves, our own very human need for a rich experience of life, an affront to our own well-being.
         The Earth calls us to celebrate the beauty of life. And in what sometimes comes as a jarring and fickle turn, she reminds us of the tremendous pain and suffering we have inflicted.
         Earth’s call of pain comes in a few different forms. Sometimes we see it in littered areas. Sometimes we smell the smog-infested air. More and more we know that weather patterns are changing as the Earth struggles to keep up. But I think mostly it’s the scientific community that tries to explain the sort of hardship that our planet endures. Still, it is hard for us to grasp, because the impact of our actions is so delayed. But the momentum is building. That’s probably the most frightening piece of the picture, that the pain that we inflict on the Earth is in fact rapidly increasing.
         The momentum of climate change is like a freight train, make that ten thousand freight trains, running faster, and faster and faster with an accumulated impact that is really unknowable. Recent emissions of carbon dioxide already commit the planet to at least another half-century of rapid warming. Let me say that again, what is already in the air, commits us to another half-century of rapid global warming.  
         I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the planets painful call. This is after all what we hear when we open the paper or turn on the news. It’s the one we are reminded of day after day.

         Coupled with that call of pain, is a call to more deeply understand our interconnections. Some of us take that call of doom and devastation and we are reminded of the generations that will come after us. We are reminded that in our rapidly shrinking global ecology. Strange to say, the environmental devastation is forcing all of us to take seriously the concept of Universalism. In fact our salvation, our fate is tied with the fate of everyone else. No one escapes the world that we create. No one gets a free pass.
         Universalism teaches us that our salvation is wrapped up together. That may come in theological terms, it may come in terms of personal fulfillment and meaning, it may come in terms of creating peace an justice, but it most certainly is true for the environmental reality of our fate. The earth is calling, reminding us that what befalls one of us, will befall the rest. We are all in this together.

         But the Earth’s call isn’t all about doom and gloom. It’s also about a deep rootedness, a profound truth that I feel, and I know many of you have felt in nature.  Feeling that connection in with nature is the most common experience of spirituality that I have heard shared among Unitarian Universalists. It’s not about facts and figures, it’s not a textbook on ecology, it’s just a feeling that is available to us. I guess the earth is calling to our natural animal intuition. Many of us hear a call from the earth that is about interconnection. That interconnection is one of the deepest and strongest threads of Unitarian and Universalist theology.
         I’ve preached so many sermons about Emerson and Thoreau’s appreciation for nature, and the sense of connection that grows out of it. I often think of them as sages, walking in the woods and writing great essays. But they did more than feel the connection. They answered the Earth’s call to connection by sharing the news with other people
         Sensing a fundamental connection with all of humanity, Thoreau spoke out against the exploitation of Irish immigrants who had fled their own country to escape starvation.  He was indignant about the American Indians, who had been driven even farther west into territory that nobody wanted. And perhaps Thoreau’s most eloquent writings were in he rejection of slavery. Time and time again Throeau stood on the right side of the debate. He stood on the side that recognized all people of the Earth as his brothers and sisters.
         The Earth led Throeau and subsequently many other great leaders to understand that there is a higher law. It’s a law that may not be reflected in science, and certainly not in economics. There is a higher law that we cannot escape, no matter how much we try to delude ourselves.
         The earth has a way of calling us into order. I guess it is tough love, but nature is telling us that what we have assumed to be right for so long, the logic of amassing more goods is not a recipe for mutual success.  
         The call of our planet has, with great skill, begun to strip back a misguided theory of what human thriving looks like. She is telling us not just about the environment, but about ourselves. The earth is calling out to help us better understand our relationship with each other.   
         Thanks to her call, we are coming to realize that We have created a materialistic system we can’t control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its salves and victims. For most of us who want to have a house, a car, a refrigerator, a television, and so on, we must sacrifice our time and our lives in exchange. We are constantly under the pressure of time. So that rather than enjoying a cup of tea with another person, we must turn our mind, and our heart to acquiring another object.
         The earth is calling us to live up to a different future, not just for the sake of the planet, but for the sake of our sanity. The earth is calling to let us know that the way we have organized ourselves, logical though we though it might have seemed, simply isn’t working. The earth is calling us to find another way.

         Before we finish our time together, I want to talk a little bit about our responsibility to respond to Earth’s call. Rather than giving a laundry list of things you shouldn’t do and things you should let go of, I want to offer you in invitation to build a deeper relationship with the Earth.
         I deeply believe that the Earth calls us to recognize and celebrate what is good, what is beautiful, what is life affirming, what keeps us connected to our home. I have three suggestions to think about. Live with the seasons. Stay close to the ground. Honor the earth. (From “Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril”)
         After the weather this week, it’s a great time to remember to live with the seasons. There is a time for every purpose under heaven. A time for strawberries and melons, a time for acorn squash. A time for basking in the sun, a time for cuddling up in a blanket. A time for rain and a time for drought. Live with these seasons, plant for the, celebrate them, and anticipate what each will bring. Yes, they are harder to recognize here in Southern California, but they do exist in a powerful way. Let each season be what it will, and celebrate with the variety of experience that each season brings.
         And the second suggestion, stay close to the ground. Walk where you are going, and go where you can walk. Refuse to fly. Move close to your family. Sit on the steps or the curb, or a fallen log. Dig potatoes. Pick up trash when you see it. Get to know your neighbors and plant food where you can. Lie on you back and watch the stars or the clouds. Connection with the earth, both metaphorical and actual gives us life and grounds our joys. Stay close to the ground.
         And finally, honor the earth. If you have forgotten how, then think of how you honor your grandmother, a wizened woman in the nursing home. You honor her by visiting her, spending time holding her hand, singing her songs of the season, telling her stories of how she cared for you, bringing small gifts, stroking her arm, listening to her, making sure her hair is clean and people are kind to her. The Earth is equally beloved and holy.

         Live with the seasons. Stay close to the ground. Honor the earth. The planet is calling with a voice that can change our lives, if we are willing to let it. The planet is calling, let us answer that call with our lives.


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