Saturday, July 8, 2023

Celebrating Earth Day as a form of Resistance by Reverend Tom Capo preached on 4/23/2023


You heard the story of a young Albert Schweitzer.  Did you know that later in his life he coined the term “reverence for life” and used that concept as a foundation for how he chose to live in the world?  Schweitzer wrote: “…Reverence for life contains within itself the rationale of the commandment to love, and it calls for compassion for all … life.”  He goes on: “I must interpret the life [around] me as I interpret the life that is my own.  My life is full of meaning to me.  The life around me must be full of significance to itself.  If I am to expect others to respect my life, then I must respect the other life I see, however strange it may be to mine.  And not only other human life, but all kinds of life: life above mine, if there be such a life; life below mine, as I know it to exist…We need a boundless ethics which will include [all living things].”  His view of “reverence for life” led Schweitzer to believe that to cut a flower needlessly was a violation of this fundamental ethical principle.  The flower, he believed, has the same right that we have to fulfill its natural life cycle.  He let it grow wherever it was, not to adorn his home, but to fulfill its potential.  This view of “reverence for life” also led Schweitzer to write about and eventually to suggest to President Kennedy that there should be an international agreement to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons through international inspection.  His work eventually led to a nonproliferation treaty with Russia. 

Schweitzer also wrote: “Reverence for life means being seized by the unfathomable, forward-moving will which is inherent in all Being.  It raises us above the perception of the world of objects—[for our use]-- and makes us into the tree—[among other trees, interconnected by our roots and branches]-- that is safe from drought because it is planted by the water.”  I think that's an interesting image and has the potential to be a deeply effective passage to reflect on as a personal meditation.  We might also imagine ourselves as a humming bird flitting before a trumpet creeper, drinking in the rich nectar from the bright red flowers.   Such a reverence for life connects us with something ineffable and sustainable. This holy connection to all life is intangible, yet even so it can tangibly affect our behavior by making us stop and affirm with reverence each form of life as we come into contact with it, as we choose to we bring it somehow into our lives.  This reverence offers us an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices of other forms of life for our sustenance. 

Whether you affirm a more humanist view the natural life cycle or a sense of a holy “reverence for life”, how we treat each other and all other life, including mother earth, is something we, as Unitarian Universalists, are called to reflect on.   As Unitarian Universalists we can celebrate the beauty and wonder of life on this Earth Day, but we can, should, affirm that we resist through our thoughts, words and deeds treating any form of life, including this planet, as object simply existing for our use. 

It is easy to treat our food just as an object to be consumed.  What changes in our thoughts, words and deeds when we experience food as once-living organisms that had to give up their lives for our sustenance, for our existence?  What changes when we reflect on how the production of food impacts the climate?  What changes when we hear how the trash that we have put in the recycle bin, is being buried in trash heaps, not actually recycled?  Which by the way is what I have learned from Steve Synder, our Sexton, when he was talking about our recycling to the company that picks up our trash. 

Perhaps Earth Day could be a time of resistance looks like not giving into the societal pressure—on TV and social media, in grocery stores or from our peers—to ignore how our food comes to us or how we deal with our trash.  Maybe resistance is taking a look at our attitudes about other living things, whether we think their values higher or lower than our own value.  When I heard that the Florida Senate gave final approval to a bill that would prohibit investment strategies that Gov. Ron DeSantis has deemed “woke,” sending the issue to his desk—in other words investment is just for economic gain without consideration of its impact on people and other living things or this planet—I got angry.  I will resist this law.  I can’t just be complacent because I know the UUA invests my retirement fund in ethical ways, I want to intentionally invest in ways that will reflect my values and my reverence for the planet.  I will back up my word with my action.  Maybe that’s not an option for you, but there are other ways you can act. 

As we reflect on Earth Day resistance, one way you can take action is through the UU Ministry of the Earth, the Unitarian Universalist Association Office at the United Nations, and the Unitarian Universalist Association Green Sanctuary Program, who have come together to launch the Create Climate Justice initiative.  Create Climate Justice Net was created to give UU climate and environmental justice activists and coalition partners a valuable tool for education, collaboration, and organizing.  Right now, their three current priority focus areas are:

    Strengthening Unitarian Universalist communications and mutual support networks for Climate Justice

    Mobilizing UUs in solidarity with Indigenous front-line communities

    Supporting the Just Transition to an ecological civilization through partnerships and civic engagement

        One way you can express your resistance in support of Earth Day is by joining the Create Climate Justice initiative.  I joined.  I want to be more educated, and more aware of witness opportunities, and so I can find ways to support the “Just Transition to an ecological civilization.”

        So I urge you the spirit of love which is the foundation of our faith, to celebrate and Resist this Earth Day.  Unitarian Universalist Reverend Julie Taylor reflects on what love might mean to UUs in this time of resistance:

Love is patient

Love is kind

It does not envy

It is not proud

Love bears all things

We know these words, use these words when we refer to one person loving another.

Love looks different when we relate to systems.

Love looks different in the face of injustice.

[Love looks different when we decide to treat all life forms with respect because each life form has worth and dignity.]

It is then that

Love is resistant

Love is defiant

It is not backing down

It is staying in the streets

Love is holding each other and ourselves accountable.

Love is challenging — because none of us is free until all of us are free.

Love is protest

Protest is love

Love bears all things

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