Restoring Our Relationship With Earth

Black and white hands holding a globe

A fable entitled “‘Round in Circles,” by Rabbi Edwin Friedman:

Late one afternoon a moth emerged from its cocoon and chanced upon a fly buzzing about a window. With no particular purpose of its own, the moth was fascinated by the industry and vigorous intent of the other insect. Over and over, the fly would land on the pane, stay motionless for an indefinite time, and then suddenly, without any signal, retreat into the air, only to land inches away, after a short flight to nowhere in particular.

“I really don’t mean to be impolite,” said the moth, “but I notice how you keep taking off and landing. Yet you don’t seem to be getting anywhere.”

“Well it won’t help any talking to you,” said the fly.

“Time’s a wasting,” he added, and elevated himself quickly, this time coming down at the top of the window.

“The window’s closed,” said the moth.

“I know that!” replied the fly in a “don’t be stupid” sort of way.

“I don’t see any cracks or holes either,” said the moth.

“Tell me something new,” the fly said sarcastically and took off.

“How long will you continue?” asked the moth.

“Till I succeed.”

“Suppose you cover every inch and still don’t succeed?”

“I’ve already done that.”

“You have? Then why don’t you go to another window?”

“I might have missed something.”

“At least,” said the moth, “you might try another approach.”

“I’ve considered that. I have decided to try harder.” And as soon as he had announced his commitment, the fly rocketed away and began taking off and landing so frequently that he appeared to be bouncing off the surface.

By now it had become dusk, and from somewhere far off, a light source began to radiate. Then, as if by some secret command, the moth fluttered and took wing in the direction of the glow, where it crackled itself to a crisp on an electric lamp.

It’s not a stretch to say that we as a species are not in right relationship with our planet. 99.9% of the scientific community affirms that we are causing long-term harm to our ecosphere, and that we have imperiled our future in the process. The question is no longer whether climate change represents an existential threat to humanity, but rather what to do about that threat. It’s fair to say that we haven’t found the ideal solution yet. We need to stop emitting carbon into the atmosphere, but the path to that goal remains elusive. We who would reform our society’s climatological impact are stuck in the same mode as the fly in our fable; we seem determined to keep trying what we know, and when it doesn’t work, to dedicate ourselves to trying harder.

One is hard-pressed to find a community as dedicated and hard-working when it comes to the environment as Northwest. There’s our Green Sanctuary certification, preservation of this verdant, wooded land we are on, religious education for all ages that prioritizes a love and appreciation of nature and our responsibility in caring for it, and our collaboration with numerous local and national environmental groups. I cannot help but be impressed and grateful for these efforts. AND… being at 100% maximum effort all the time can make experimentation and creative approaches a bit of a sticky wicket. It can impede our ability to grow and find new strategies. And if we don’t find new, less-harmful ways to be in relationship with our planet, we’re all toast.

As an interim minister, one of my duties is to accept as many resignations as are offered, and to help long-term projects come to a dignified end, if such is appropriate during a given interim period. With my interim hat on, let me say that the culture of Northwest, has not easily yielded to such possibilities. This is for the best of reasons: folks are lovingly dedicated to important, long-term efforts. But, like the fly in the story, our increased energies are not letting us through the window.

I would venture that while no one has cracked the code on environmental justice, there are some principles and strategies we can draw on to help point the way. I try and be consistent in encouraging folks to keep your volunteer commitments to a manageable level. That’s not just because I care about your stress levels. I encourage it also because if each of us is running at 100% of our capacity all the time, then even the most fascinating and promising new ideas won’t be able to take hold. No one will be able to lead or join such efforts because we’re already at full capacity elsewhere. As your minister, I want each of you to have time in your lives for rest, relaxation, and goofing off. *Hold up rubber chicken* As your co-conspirator in building a sustainable and global beloved community, I want you to have that goofing off time in your schedule. It means you’re more ready for the new experiments and initiatives that climate justice is asking of us.

Here I want to give a shout out to Dave Zenner for helping to reform our Ministry Team Leader structure in a way that will streamline some of our efforts. Next year, the plan is to have a “Justice Ministry Team Leader” position that will replace the Social Justice and Earth Ministry Team leader positions. That won’t exactly cut the workload for those roles in half, but it will save us some otherwise duplicated or triplicated efforts.

More importantly, this new structure represents a vision for integrated justice work at Northwest, a vision that Dave articulated this week in an email to the Ministry Team Leaders. He shared three quotes that will guide the integrated justice efforts going forward at Northwest.

From Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter: ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME: “Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually… Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth…”

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Finally, a recent Unitarian Universalist Association statement highlights that “Our justice efforts are grounded in … our call to break down divisions, heal isolation, and honor the interconnectedness of all life and all justice issues.”

I personally would add to these the following quote from the Indigenous community of Australia that is often attributed to Lilla Watson: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Climate change scares the bejesus out of me. It also represents an opportunity for humanity to collaborate globally in a way we never have before. Training ourselves for that collaboration is the key to connecting our environmental justice efforts with our social justice efforts.

When we practice one, we improve at both. We become stronger practitioners of both. It’s OK to go into a meeting about immigration reform or prison abolition and say to folks “I’m here because climate change imperils the future of our planet, and I cannot fight that battle alone. So I am here to get better at collaboration and to begin building a relationship that I hope will strengthen our collective ability to protect our home planet.” It might or might not be the best thing to say out loud, I’ll let y’all use your best judgment. But it’s absolutely a reasonable thing to think to oneself, and you’ll be surprised by how often it comes true.

But what is not acceptable is to say I’m not gonna help with your thing, because it’s not as important as my thing. There is no “your thing” and “my thing,” it’s all one thing. Either we all get free together, or we die trying. The systems of domination and oppression that we live and participate in have shown time and again that they can’t last, and that eventually they crumble into chaos. The difference now is that we might render the planet uninhabitable by higher life forms before the current systems collapse. Unless we actually bind ourselves in practice to a global community based in justice, equity, and compassion in human relations, our continued existence will be at risk. This probably sounds impossible right now. It’s going to keep sounding impossible until right before it becomes a reality; that’s how these things tend to work. So yes, let us please work on both saving and savoring the environment, because it does so much for us and without it we are nothing. But let’s also see what else and who else out there we can work with and learn from. We don’t know it all and we can’t do it alone. We are where we are right now, and that’s fine. We can get better, and we will get better, but that’s not going to happen on it’s own. We need to make it happen. In order to change and grow, we need to have room in our lives and in our communities to say “yes” to new projects and new relationships. That’s why I am glad we are streamlining our Justice Ministry efforts, and why I hope we will continue to find other areas where we can do less of the same-old same-old, and more of the experimental and unfamiliar. Now is no time to fall back into old patterns; we need to figure out a new way to be together within and among our communities. And honestly, we need to find it soon. The clock is ticking on my generation and future generations having a habitable, much less enjoyable, planet.

We are stronger in this work together, we need partners, and we need to be able to signal to our partners that we are ready and willing to learn. That we take everyone and their grandchildren’s survival as seriously as we do our own and our grandchildren’s survival, because we recognize we do not have separate fates. That what happens to everyone’s grandchildren is going to be what happens to our grandchildren because the planetary perils of the 21st century will affect everyone on Earth. The good news is we have a theology that illuminates the way forward. It’s up to us to link arms and walk that path together.

With that, if you’ll excuse me, I see an electric lamp that I feel irresistibly drawn to.

May it be so, and may we be the ones to make it so.

Delivered at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation

April 28, 2019

© Rev. Jonathan Rogers