Friday, April 5, 2013

Danger and Opportunity...Continues

To those of you who are following up specifically from my post yesterday, How do you say Climate Crisis in German, welcome back! I know that at least one of you out there felt like I left you hanging on a cliff, after not providing further information about how we might respond to this climate situation. Today, I'm going to share the second part of the presentation that Katherine and I gave to the Alliance, which is a group at the First Unitarian Church in Portland with "the purpose of  strengthening communication and support among members; nurturing spiritual growth; working for a society in which there is justice and equality for all; and discovering, preserving, and celebrating the history and contributions of Unitarian Universalists." So, while this second part of the presentation clearly wasn't written for all audiences, I share it because it provides a scaffolding, even for non-UUs I believe, to begin to respond to climate change in a way that can not only leave us with more hope, but can make a difference on a grander a scale--which is what we now need.

Before diving into the presentation, however, I thought I might briefly share the 7 Principles of the Unitarian faith, as Katherine uses those in her speech as somewhat of a backbone...

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:
  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
In addition, knowing the multiple sources of Unitarianism might give you a better reference point from which to process this part of the presentation...

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:
  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

So, without further ado, I now present you with Part II of "Danger and Opportunity:  A UU Response to the Climate Crisis", written and delivered by Katherine Jesch, a Unitarian Minister for Earth.
A Faith Based Response

            The science explains what’s going on, what exactly is happening around us.  But I think it’s our faith, our belief system that helps us figure out what to do with that knowledge.  

            Albert Einstein once said “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”  Most of you here today are already aware of the climate change problem at an intellectual level.  Maybe that’s why you came today.  But has that awareness sunk into your heart? Into your body?  

            Openness to that awareness begins with the type of reflection we started with here:  How do you respond to the feelings that arise from the mention of climate change?  I’m convinced that the need to move to this deeper awareness is precisely why we need to bring this conversation into our faith communities.  It isn’t enough to leave this business to secular organizations like, and the Citizens ClimateLobby, and the Sierra Club.  

            A different level of awareness – moral and spiritual awareness – is critical.  The necessary transformation in the way we live on this planet is not possible without it.  Our faith gives us the framework to think about the morality of the way we live.  This is about more than personal behaviors. It’s also about the social and economic structures we create to sustain our families and communities, providing justice  ---  or lack of justice, for all who live in the world.  Religions offer something beyond individualism and self-interest.  

            Our spiritual orientation shapes how we see ourselves in the world, how we relate to one another, and how we respond to the crises of our time. Our world view and moral values in turn, shape the way we participate in the social, economic, and political systems which we have helped to create. Our life-ways are embedded in those systems, defining where and how we live, what and how much we consume, and who controls distribution of benefits and costs.  

            For Unitarian Universalists, our seven principles serve as an ideal foundation for developing our unique, yet universal, perspective.  For example, our first principle calls us to honor and respect the worth and dignity of every person.  We’ve got that message when it relates to oppressed and marginalized people in our own communities, poor, people of color, gays and lesbians.  But we must also understand that so far, and in the near term, the worst impacts of climate disasters hit poor and marginalized people most seriously.  

            Sea level rise is already forcing mass migrations in the South Pacific and Bangladesh, among other coastal areas.  Native villages in Alaska are already in chaos from the melting permafrost that used to be their ground.  As agriculture is disrupted by drought and severe erosion, food scarcity will be a burden heaviest on the poor.  

            And with new awareness regarding our non-human neighbors, have you ever considered what it might mean to extend worth and dignity to every living being in creation, even to the micro-organisms in the ocean that make up the crucial base of ocean life systems?  We’re really going to have to stretch our thinking with that one.

            Our 3rd principle recognizes the importance of spiritual growth.  I know many UUs who find their spiritual path in a deep connection with nature.  We can explore the many traditions of human-Earth relationships through various spiritual practices, such as worship, study, and meditation, as well as through gardening, or hiking in the woods or on the beach.  Through these practices, we are nurtured in both our individual and communal spiritual lives.  

            Our 4th principle promotes a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, reminding us that truth unfolds only when we actively seek it – and let it in.  Our study of the science behind the changing climate certainly does involve a critical search for truth, and it calls us to a deeper reflection on what changes will be required in the way we live.  

            And finally, the 7th principle is the one that most of us think of as our environmental principle.  It reminds us that we’re part of something larger than ourselves, larger even, than just humanity.  It tells us that our religious life is not complete without acknowledging and celebrating the interconnected web of all existence, of which we are a part.  It gives us the basis for reflecting on our relationship with nature: how it nurtures and sustains us in our daily lives, and what our responsibility is for caring for it.  

            Our principles challenge us to learn to use our power and privilege in the service of liberation, not oppression.  If we take them seriously, this is no small task.  The natural response, the very human response to this challenge is to hold on to our comfortable lives, avoiding the truth of our predicament and resisting the necessary changes that would take away the privileges that make our lives worthwhile.  So of course we prefer to lull ourselves into believing that modest adjustments to the way we live are sufficient to the challenge, or that modest adjustments are all we are capable of achieving.  

            Well, I submit to you: we are capable of so much more!  Thank heavens the storms like Hurricane Sandy and the New England blizzard of 2013, didn’t bother us directly in the Northwest, at least not this year.  But there is a gathering storm of activists turning up the heat and light on the necessary changes before it’s too late.  Tell us, how is that working out, Tamara?  How much are we capable of?

And with that, I will return tomorrow, with Part III, to share some details on what's happening out there, and how that, in itself, can bring us hope...!

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