Our Blue Boat Home: Earth as Sanctuary (Audio Available)

Sunday, December 9th, 2018
Rev. Diane Rollert with music by Sandra Hunt, Eleuthera Diconca-Lippert Shawn and Geneviève Dohring

“Help!” someone writes after the recent release of the world’s scientists’ report on climate change. The picture is worse, so much worse than we feared. Time is running out. Voices call out, “Talk to us about the earth! Tell us what to do!”

And I am caught, standing here, wondering where to even begin.

Do I start with my own love letter to the earth? (Carole did that so brilliantly in her poem earlier.) How many precious sanctuaries have we each known; how many sanctuaries has this earth given to us without asking for anything in return?  

The crook of a tree to rest in as a child. The feeling of our hands deep in the soil as we plant in the garden. The sifting of sand through our fingers, and the sound of waves against the shore. Salt marshes and barrachois. The scent of summer roses, musky and almost cinnamon. Vast expanses of forests and canyons. Quiet meadows transformed by each season. A downy woodpecker’s surprise appearance outside my window. The snow falling on Mount Royal, the revelation of nature on the urban landscape. The earth reaching out to gather in sunrises and sunsets that lift our spirits and fill us with longing. 

Or…

Do I begin with the inconsolable lament that’s constantly pulsing through me these days? The lament that makes me want to wail and scream, as if I were a mourner at my most beloved’s funeral. Who told you to believe that this beautiful gift you have been given could be taken so for granted? Who told you that everything could remain the same while you failed to protect your sacred Mother Earth? We’ve left this Earth unmoored, careening into an angry, violent sea. The perfect storm, rising up to devour us and our beautiful blue boat home, colossal wave after colossal wave, too big for us to fight.

Shall I list the many things that are going wrong, or could go wrong if we don’t act soon enough? Do I need to convince you of the science? Do you need facts and figures to convince someone else who won’t listen? You know that you can find all the information you need in the newspaper, at the library or on the Internet. What fools we humans can be when we refuse to believe the ship is sinking until everyone has drowned. 

(If you do need to convince someone who doubts climate change is real, watch this video together. The production values aren’t great, but the information is scientific and sobering: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2VkC4SnwY0.)

Hush, hush, don’t cry so. Remember the days when there was a hole in the ozone layer? Remember the dire predictions? The world succeeded in changing its habits and that great, gaping wound was healed. There are cities that are ignoring national governments, that are taking their own actions to be environmentally responsible. There were people marching in Montreal yesterday, protesting to let our provincial government know that the environment matters; that it needs to be a priority.

But what about the melting ice caps? What about the rising seas that have already begun to swallow the world’s lowest and most vulnerable lands? What about the climate refugees and the people who have already died from soaring, record-breaking global temperatures? What about the floods and fires that rage without warning as temperatures rise? What about the forests, the coral reefs and the thousands of species that are disappearing? What about all the beautiful, natural sanctuaries our grandchildren’s children will never see?

Do I need to say more?

“Take courage,” we say in our prayers. “You are not alone.”  

“But that’s the problem,” someone cries in response. “There are too many of us suffering together, and the anxiety is overwhelming.”

I ask around for answers. What’s one thing we can do right now — right now — that will make a difference?  

Slow down the carbon emissions. Follow through on a carbon tax. Draw down the greenhouse gasses already in the atmosphere. Stop eating meat (because the combination of everything involved in meat production is one of the top contributors to global warming). Eat less dairy, another industry that causes more problems than we realize. Save the forests so that they won’t be cut down for grazing lands, so that the trees can continue to breathe for us. Invest in green energy. Drive less. Fly less. Buy an electric car. Do it on a governmental level. Do it on an individual level.  

What else do I need to say? It’s all of the above and more, and it needs to happen yesterday.

 “This year was a game-changer,” say the organizers of The Climate Mobilization, one of the many groups out there working toward an emergency response. They write, “Historians will say that 2018 is when the Climate Emergency Movement began in earnest. 2019 will be the year that the movement breaks through and climate mobilization becomes the mainstream position.” 

But people are resisting, you say. Les gilets jaunes, the yellow vests, are up in arms in France, initially over proposed hikes in the taxes on diesel gas. The new government in Ontario is capitalizing on frustrations in order to roll back the carbon tax. There are world leaders who are still climate change deniers, who only see their own narrow self-interest. 

Who pays? Who sacrifices? Is the breakdown of the system a sign that change is coming, that the old ways are going to die? As a result, will we ultimately survive?

I heard a terrifying story that I can’t seem to let go of. It’s a true story. An academic is invited to deliver a keynote speech at a conference. The fee is astronomical: about half his annual salary as a university professor. When he arrives at the appointed place and time, he discovers that he’s been hired to speak to five billionaires — five men. They’re not interested in the program he’s prepared. They want to know what to do when “the event” (as they call it) happens and the earth’s temperature reaches the crisis level, the seas rise and massive migrations and famines begin. Where will they be safest? Should they go to Alaska or New Zealand? How will they control the armed guards for their compounds when money becomes worthless? The rich, says the academic, are planning to leave us all behind. (Source: https://medium.com/s/futurehuman/survival-of-the-richest-9ef6cddd0cc1)

The song we sang last Sunday, “Cuando el Pobre,” has been playing in my head all week.

When the poor ones, who have nothing, still are giving;
When the thirsty pass the cup, water to share;
When the wounded offer others strength and healing:
We see God, here by our side, walking our way;
We see God, here by our side, walking our way.
[1]          

If I were a different kind of minister, I’d tell you that God still has a plan for us. I’d tell you that we are here on this earth to do what our Unitarian ancestors so revered: to follow in the example of Jesus, to believe that the meek will inherit the earth.

 And maybe that’s still true. We are capable of solutions. We are evolved enough to fix what is wrong. But we still have a lot to learn about the meaning of justice. A change of heart could change everything. It could heal everything.

Remember last week, celebrating the tradition of Las Posadas? If you weren’t here, you missed something wonderful. For nine nights before Christmas, in Mexico and elsewhere, a couple dressed up as Mary and Joseph go knocking on door after door, as neighbours pretend to play the role of the people of Bethlehem turning them away. A final door is opened and everyone celebrates.

You know the story. A small corner is finally offered in a barn, and that babe, who is born in a manger, grows up to be a revolutionary. He’s a revolutionary who speaks in parables, who tells a crowd that it would be easier to thread a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Because, to enter the kingdom, Jesus says, you’ve got to give up your wealth and power; you’ve got to be willing to care for something beyond yourself — and I’ve always thought that he was talking about the kingdom here on earth. 

For years, within our own movement, there has been talk of rearranging our seven principles (we read then earlier this morning during our new-member ceremony). The first principle begins with the individual, that we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. But the seventh and last principle ends with our respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part.

The interdependent web of existence of which we are a part: We are but a strand in the web. We are not the web itself; we coexist with all of creation. What if we flipped the list? What if our very first principle were our commitment to respect the interdependent web of existence, while our last principle were the inherent worth and dignity of the individual? Still others ask, why not change the wording of the first principle to say that we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all beings. 

These changes may sound simply semantic, but the words we say to express our values can have a powerful effect on how we choose to live our lives. What if we taught our children to put the web of creation before themselves? What if, in each waking moment, we were able to shift our perspective, to say, “I begin with you, Gaia. I begin with my love for this beautiful blue boat home.”

Earth, if each day I affirmed my love for you, if I didn’t take you for granted, if I saw you and all your creatures as being first before me, would I do better? Could I shift my heart enough to make the changes I know I need to make in my own life? Could I shift my heart enough to rise up and take action alongside others who are fighting to save this planet?

I’ve walked up the mountain of age and now I’m walking down the other side. I’m wondering how my actions can count. This is precious time and we’ve got a lot of work to do. So how do I make the hours, days and years count? It would be easy, especially on these cold winter days, to retreat, to hibernate, to shut myself off from hearing bad news. But if I close my eyes and cover my ears, if I do nothing, there may be nothing left for the generations that come after me. I’m not willing to take that chance.

Would you get on a plane if you knew that it had a one in twenty chance of crashing? Of course not. Yet, right now, scientists are saying we have a 19 in 20 chance that catastrophe lies ahead if we don’t act now.

Please, I beg all of you, don’t give up. Don’t harden your heart. Wake up! Rise up! Do whatever you can. Use your personal and your political power. There is no separate sanctuary for us to brave this alone, no higher ground for us to claim for ourselves. This  planet’s future depends on us. It may feel as though all of humanity has taken a giant step backwards, but sometimes backing up is really the preparation you need to leap forward.  

The psalmist or the ancient poet might say, “Begin with your love letters to the Earth. Go ahead and mourn. Cry out your lament. Then sing with exaltation as you sail your ship forward, even through your fear.” 

 Amen. Blessed Be. Namasté.

[1]Cuando el Pobre: Original words in Spanish by José Antonio Oliver, translation by Martin A. Seltz.