Stories from the Road — we are stronger together!

Learn about August’s Stories from the Road, see how our donation tree is growing and help us meet our $30,000 fundraising goal to lift and support our faith-grounded work toward climate justice. There are now 2 ways to double your donation!

“We’re regularly in the cathedral of God’s creation”

Sun shines and birds sing as PA IPL Board member Greg Williams takes us to Detwiler Park in Huntingdon, PA, one of the many locations where he has helped volunteers had made green spaces resistant to climate change through habitat restoration.

2018 and 2019 cyclists stopped there to remove invasive species and plant trees, adding to the 592 events, over 400 participants, and over 3500 person-hours of pruning, clearing, and planting nearly 2500 trees, three wildflower meadows, and over 1000 live stakes in Central Pennsylvania between November 2016 and June 2020! (You can see the live stakes in the video: they are live stick segments from ecosystem-appropriate shrubs stuck into the muck stream side, which then root and grow, protecting the banks!)

Listen to Greg’s story below, or catch his 10 minute sermon for University Mennonite Church’s zoom-based church gathering on Sunday, May 10, 2020 (the rest of the service is pretty great, too!)

Other voices from the road: Mark Smith

Mark Smith of Philadelphia drove a support car for the Philadelphia leg of the 2019 bike trip (that’s him in the little red car!). He leads the Germantown Tree Tenders, part of the work of the PA IPL – Philadelphia, and is also supported by Mark’s home church: the First United Methodist Church of Germantown. Planting and tending trees in the city of Philadelphia is a way to reduce urban heat islands, which are growing and intensifying with climate change. Read Mark’s reflections.

Two ways to DOUBLE your donation!

Feel free to mismatch your socks and your silverware, but get your donations matched while you can!

Supporters of PA IPL’s Stories from the Road Campaign have two ways to see their contributions matched. A group of generous donors has created a matching fund of up to $4,000, doubling the contribution impact of right-now givers during the August campaign.

Those who make a three-year pledge will have their first year of donation matched by an individual donor through our For the Long Haul campaign. We are immensely grateful for the generous people seeding our growing organization’s fundraising efforts.


Take Action: Make your local ecosystem climate change resistant

Here are Greg Williams’ top five ways to combat climate change through habitat restoration. Need more guidance or advice? Contact Greg to get connected to books, trees, and advice for setting up local habitat restoration projects.

1. Read one of these books on restoring native habitat by University of Delaware entomologist Douglas W. TallamyBringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants; Nature’s Best Hope; or The Living Landscape.   Or you can start with a listen to this Bringing Nature Home interview from 2013, or if you really want to get into the relationship between birds and insects and plants, try this Hope for the Wild zoo talk.

2.  Reduce the size of the lawn at your home or congregation and replace it with native trees, shrubs, wildflower meadows, or food gardens. Want to know what’s growing there already? The  iNaturalist app lets you submit photos of plants and animals for identification, and contribute to research on biodiversity. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has a helpful collection of online fact sheets and photos of invasive plants and how to remove them.

3. Host a series of earth tending parties for your worship community, youth group, neighbors, or budding PA IPL chapter. (Work, Eat, Pray is one example.)

Teach participants to identify and remove invasive species, see the fruits of their labor over time, and have a conversation on the effects of global warming on the natural spaces they love. This can be done on the property of your faith community, or in a local park (with permission from park authorities!) Contact a local naturalist or extension agent for help with plant identification and removal. 

4, Ask your local nursery if it sells native trees, shrubs, and flowers which support native pollinators as well as being feeding grounds for native insect larva.  These Pennsylvania nurseries do carry native trees, and should be able to help you choose one for your site.  The linked list is from our friends at Keystone 10 Million Trees.

5. Plant those trees! They trap and hold (sequester) a huge amount of the carbon dioxide that causes global warming, and they temper the immediate microclimates in the neighborhoods where they are planted. The Philadelphia chapter of PA IPL partners with the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s Tree Tenders program to plant trees in the Philadelphia region. Learn about their Zoom-based training in September. 

If you live near central Pennsylvania, Greg Williams, who lives in Williamsburg, is distributing trees from the Keystone 10 Million Trees initiative of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which aims to  plant 10 million trees in Pennsylvania by 2025. Contact him.  You can also watch a recording of the November 2019 webinar for PA IPL with Keystone 10 Million Trees.

Turn to prayer

Please hold PA IPL and all who are working toward climate justice in your prayers through the week.

In 2019, PA IPL supporters “paved the cyclists’ way with prayer,” submitting original prayers, poems and artwork to express the deep faith that underlies their commitment to climate justice and care. The cyclists shared a compilation of these prayers with elected officials in Washington, as part of their advocacy conversations. Each week we are featuring a different prayer from the collection.

This week’s prayer is excerpted from a poem written in 2019 by  Lynn Cashell of Congregation Beth Israel, Media PA:

God is an artist
Creating majestic mountains from molten lava and magma
Forming stoic woodlands and flowing grasslands;
Bursting through the earth’s crust in towering geysers;
Sliding down glaciers into rocky moraines.

God is a painter
Brushing long flat strokes of plains and prairies;
Dabbing puffy white clouds onto azure blue skies;
Cascading waterfalls from mountain springs;
Coloring rainbows from an unending palette of pigments.

God is a creator
Sending aloft soaring bald eagles and osprey;
Filling the grassland with bison, sheep and pronghorn deer,
Stocking the streams with cutthroat trout and dam building beavers;
Varying our sizes, shapes and colors like the landscapes that surround us;
Imagining all of us – together.

Save the date— Stories from the Road Live Celebration, Sept. 1

On Sep. 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, we’ll culminate our campaign with a live zoom-based Stories from the Road Celebration, featuring live music, prayer, storytelling, and a chance to share your own stories of climate work with people throughout the state. 

The event is free with a donation to PA IPL during the Stories from the Road campaign (June through August) Additional tickets can be purchased for $10. Seating is limited, so donate now!

Global Climate Strikes (Pennsylvania editions)

Pittsburgh Interfaith Service prior to the youth climate rally

Scores of locations joined the Global Climate Strikes on Friday, September 20, and Friday, September 27, 2019, and PA IPL folks supported the events in so many ways. Meditations and services prepared the ground for vibrant youth-led events; a pair of rallies were set on the same day —noon and five— to catch the most passers-by; A Wake/Awake! For the Climate invited people to step boldly into a positive future. PA IPL folks brought a faithful presence, and shared faith practices and words as part of their witness, and those over thirty helped center and lift up youth in so many places and spaces.

Thank you for sharing your words and photos. There are a photos here on this page, but it’s worth browsing this album, too. Share Pennsylvania strike photos that are inspiring to you with us, and we’ll add them to the photo album.

The words
You can watch video of Hadassa’s speech in Philadelphia. Dasi is the teenager who invited you all to join the strikes via our blog and newsletter. Her invitation was referenced and cited in the rich and inspiring Rosh Hashana 5780 sermon of Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, a member of the national Interfaith Power & Light Board, and a rabbi at Adat Shalom, a Maryland congregation that has taken huge steps to walk more lightly on the earth, and whose warm and generous welcome of our PA IPL cyclists is a trip highlight every year.

The silent meditation in Pittsburgh will have to speak for itself!

In Altoona, Greg Williams spoke about the ways in which his work with young children and becoming a grandfather have created a relationship with the future for him. He also spoke about the importance of gathering in community to do this hopeful work, and of finding others who are supported by a relationship with the Holy.

In Harrisburg, where youth gathered on the steps of the state Capitol, Behzad Zandieh spoke about the work in front of us, referencing Baha’i holy writing and principles.

In State College at noon, Revs. Ben Williams and Kate Heinzel used two voices to lead people into 1.5 minutes of silence in honor of the 1.5 degree celsius warming limit target. At 5:00 PM, Marali Kalra and Cricket Hunter did the same.

As you move forward from these events we invite you to meditate further on the roles of the generations. This piece from Grist Magazine invites each of our generations to be better ancestors, anchoring that idea in the author’s own experience of an heirloom. Might it ground an interesting conversation in your study group or community? Or perhaps around your Thanksgiving table?

Love Thy Nature

This sermon given by the Rev. Alison Cornish at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster on April 7, 2019. Readings precede the sermon below.

Time for All Ages: “The Agreement” by Barry Lopez

South Fork of the Salmon River ( source)

One time…before there were any people walking around this valley there were bear people. They had an agreement with the salmon people. The salmon would come upriver every fall and the bears would acknowledge this and take what they needed. This is the way it was with everything. Everyone lived by certain agreements and courtesies.

But the salmon people and the bear people had made no agreement with the river. It had been overlooked. No one thought it was even necessary. Well, it was. One fall the river pulled itself back into the shore trees and wouldn’t let the salmon enter from the ocean. Whenever they would try, the river would pull back and leave the salmon stranded on the beach.

There was a long argument, a lot of talk. Finally the river let the salmon enter. But when the salmon got up into the country where the bears lived the river began to run in two directions at once, north on one side, south on the other, roaring, heaving, white water, and rolling big boulders up on the banks.

Then the river was suddenly still. The salmon were afraid to move. The bears were standing behind the trees, looking out. The river said in the middle of all this silence that there had to be an agreement. No one could just do something, whatever they wanted. You couldn’t just take someone for granted.

So for several days they spoke about it. The salmon said who they were and where they came from, and the bears spoke about what they did, what powers they had been given, and the river spoke about its agreement with the rain and the wind and the crayfish and so on. Everybody said what they needed and what they would give away.

Then a very odd thing happened—the river said it loved the salmon. No one had ever said anything like this before. No one had taken this chance. It was an honesty that pleased everyone. It made for a very deep agreement among them. Well they were able to reach an understanding about their obligations to each other and everyone went (their) way. This remains unchanged. Time has nothing to do with this. This is not a story. When you feel the river shuddering against your legs, you are feeling the presence of all these agreements. 

— Barry Lopez “The Agreement”

Reading: “Earth Teach Me” from the Ute Indians

Earth teach me stillness
as the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach me suffering
as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility
as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring
as the mother who secures her young.
Earth teach me courage
as the tree which stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation
as the ant which crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom
as the eagle which soars in the sky.
Earth teach me resignation
as the leaves which die in the fall.
Earth teach me regeneration
as the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself
as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness
as dry fields weep with rain.

—from the Ute Indians

Meditation: “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

Blackwater Pond (image source)

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.

— Mary Oliver “In Blackwater Woods”

Reading: excerpts from “A Sand County Almanac,” Aldo Leopold, 1948

Image from the Aldo Leopold Foundation

On a land ethic
Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land.  Your true modern is separated from the land by many middlemen and by innumerable physical gadgets.  He has no vital relation to it; to him it is the space between cities on which crops grow.  Turn him loose for a day on the land, and if the spot does not happen to be a golf links or a “scenic” area, his is bored stiff.  If crops could be raised by hydroponics instead of farming, it would suit him very well.  Synthetic substitutes for wood, leather, wool, and other natural land products suit him better than the originals.  In short, land is something he has “outgrown.”

The case for a land ethic would appear hopeless but for the minority which is in obvious revolt against these “modern” trends.   The ‘key-log’ which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for an ethic is simply this: Quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem.  Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient.  A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

The evolution of a land ethic is an intellectual as well as emotional process.  Conservation is paved with good intentions which prove to be futile, or even dangerous, because they are devoid of critical understanding either of the land or of economic land-use.  I think it is a truism that as the ethical frontier advances from the individual to the community, its intellectual content increases.

The mechanism of operation is the same for any ethic:  social approbation for right actions; social disapproval for wrong actions.  By and large, our present problem is one of attitudes and implements.”

— Aldo Leopold, excerpted from “A Sand County Almanac,” 1948

Sermon: Love Thy Nature

The Rev. Alison M. Cornish
As I was meditating on the theme of today’s service, and the musical offerings and readings selected by the Green Sanctuary Committee, a vivid childhood experience came rushing back to me. 

I was perhaps 9 years old, visiting a zoo with my mother and some friends, and watching a dolphin cavorting in a deep pool; sleek and lithe, moving through the water the way I dreamed I, too, would love to – arcing up and slicing through the clear waves it was making for itself. 

Nearby, a zoo worker talked about the animals.  Looking down into the water, I noticed some pennies at the bottom of the pool – as is so common in fountains and ‘wishing pools.’ 

I dug a penny out of my pocket, and tossed it into the pool, watching it flutter down through the water.  Suddenly the zoo worker was yelling –at me – scolding me in front of everyone.

What a stupid, dangerous thing to do he shouted.  That dolphin thinks you just threw some food, and is likely to choke on what you just thoughtlessly threw in the water.  I felt myself turn red and hot. I was as embarrassed at being called out in front of others as for having done something wrong.  Others had done what I had – there were lots of pennies on the bottom of the pool, but I was the one who got caught.  I remember walking slowly away, tears brimming and cheeks burning, and – perhaps the worst feeling of all – unable to undo what I had done.

Fast forward a few years. Now I’m an adolescent, again on a family outing, this time at an aquarium.  Again, we stopped to watch the dolphins swimming about.  No zoo worker this time – instead, there was an interpretive panel mounted on the railing by the pool, showing a picture of one of the aquarium’s dolphins taken during an autopsy, its intestine filled with – pennies, made bright and shiny by the animal’s stomach acid. The grisly display was clearly intended to stop people – people like me – from throwing pennies into the dolphin’s pool.  As I looked at the picture, my heart sank, and my stomach twisted.  This wasn’t ‘my’ dolphin – I hadn’t thrown a penny into this particular pool – but … it could have been. It might have been. 

I tell you this not as a personal confession, or as a glimpse of me as a flawed human being capable of making egregious mistakes, although it is both.  This story rose into my consciousness – and my conscience – in contemplating today’s theme – Love Thy Nature, I think, for a couple of reasons.  The memory suggests to me a more apt name for today’s service is ‘Love Thy Nature’2 – that is, ‘Love Thy Nature Squared’ – because there are really two ‘natures’ we need to love – the nature seen in that glorious dolphin – as well as in the transient world Mary Oliver describes – and our own human nature – us, the often exasperatingly wrongheaded beings we are.  Love for these two ‘natures, are two different tasks; but, I believe both are necessary and critical to our survival, as well as the survival of those with whom we share this planet.  And the stakes are high – for if we fail, we stand to lose both ourselves, and this precious place we call Home.

This morning’s reading from Aldo Leopold, written in 1948, is but one plea from a long line of philosophers, conservationists, theologians, and yes, even musicians, who decry the separation between humans and the natural world – and the consequences of that separation. “Your true modern is separated from the land by many middlemen and by innumerable physical gadgets…

[they have] no vital relation to it …” Leopold laments.  “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot,” sings Joni Mitchell.  Barbara Kingsolver writes, “We have a habit of naming a new development for what we just cut down and bulldozed – ‘Hidden Valley Condominiums’ – Whispering Pines Resort.’”   I imagine you, like me, are sympathetic to their cries, and share their sadness of losing what we love – a hallowed place, a habitat teeming with life.  Most of us would like to see more open land preserved from development – most of us see real value in animal and plant species having unpolluted, undisturbed, land to call their own, to live unfettered and free lives.  And most of us are all too familiar with the forces set on pushing ‘nature’ further away, to the edges of our towns, and our consciousness.  And, most of us are not as connected to the world of nature as we could – or – should be.

Saltwater tidal creek, Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Gateway National Recreation Area; Gregory J. Edinger; source

Before moving to Philadelphia, my husband and I lived for 27 years on the east end of Long Island.  We were blessed to have a house fronting directly on a saltwater creek, which led out to a bay, bordered by a wildlife refuge, and a county park.  At this time of year, osprey would return from their winter homes in Florida, their distinctive chirp announcing their presence.  As the creek water warmed, so did the turtles, who floated to the surface from their winter quarters in the mud.  Geese hatched goslings in the reeds.  We were surrounded by the rhythms and cadences of nature because they were literally in our front yard.

Life in the city is an altogether different enterprise.  Nature exists in the interstices – between pavement and steel and the machinations of human invention.  Tree roots explode through concrete sidewalks. Birds nest in rowhouse gutters.  Cherry blossoms float down the river, swirling around plastic detritus. 

What I want to say is – while it was easy to be aware of the natural world when it was everywhere around us, it was also frighteningly easy to take it for granted, to become inured to its astonishing richness. Finding nature in the city is more like a scavenger hunt – there if you look for it, precious and remarkable in its tenacity.  But here’s an uncomfortable truth:  in either place – surrounded by close-by trees and water and marshland, or the carved-up gridded cityscape – to truly be in touch with nature, and to allow nature to touch us, requires acts of intentionality on our part.  Because whether we are habituated to its presence, or too busy to search out its slim existence, it has become entirely possible to live out the daily patterns of our human lives in ways that touch – us to nature, and nature to us – simply does not happen. 

image source

Think about it – reaching for the shrink-wrapped chicken or fish in the grocery store’s refrigerated case – do you remember it once breathed the same air we do? What about that carton of almond beverage squeezed from nuts fed by California’s water ‘borrowed’ from the future? 

Slipping on a pair of jeans, do we think about the fabric’s fibers spun from countless cotton bolls, grown and harvested under the relentless sun?  The metals in the battery that powers my smartphone – do I picture them mined in far-away Congo? 

from:World Wildlife Fund impact of cotton

This separation I’m describing may not look exactly like the mindlessness of my penny tossed into the dolphin’s pool all those years ago; but the consequences are similarly dire – though magnified by multitudes.  When we have eyes only for the human-made products of our world, it is so easy to simply not even see the rest of the world – the plants, animals, seeds, minerals; the rivers, salmon and bears; the insects, soil and compost for next year’s crops.  And what we don’t see, we can’t love. And what we don’t love, we can’t save.

Just as there has been a steady flow of those who call out our separation from nature, there has been another, more recent stream of thinking about the human species’ place in the world: that it’s just a matter of time before the conditions set in motion by the agricultural and industrial revolutions manifest a world that is simply impossible for us to live in – and, so goes this line of thought, the world will be better off without us.  Without human activity that pollutes and destroys, endangered species pushed to the edges of extinction will rebound, habitats will be restored, and the natural order will be returned, as enemy number one – us – fades away into history.

forest in recovery; image source

I cannot analyze how realistic this scenario is – or isn’t.  But I am sympathetic to those who are drawn to it, and hold it.  The condition of the world is grim, and the cause of that condition is us.  We drive the cars, cut down the trees, and build pipelines so oil and gas can snake across the countryside.  We destroy intentionally, and unintentionally.  We preference our own needs above the health of the air, water, and soil needed by all that lives. Even if we wish it were different, we are embedded in a system built on a foundation of ‘humans first,’ voraciously fed by resources taken for our own needs. 

I will admit, there are days when I wish, fervently, that I was other than human, just to separate myself from the species most responsible for this desecration and destruction. But we – humans, that is – are here.  And we have a purpose in being here.  To me, that purpose is not to find new and creative ways to exploit and plunder the gifts that surround us, and on which we and all life depend.  Our call now is to claim and use the unique gifts of our species – that which makes us special – to do what we can – and must – that which no other species can. 

A dear friend, John Andrews, wrote beautifully about this, ruminating on why humans are necessary:

We [humans] have subjective, conscious experience – the greenness of grass, the tinkle of bells, the smell of a rose, the pleasure of sex, the pain of torture, the joy of human bonding, the anguish of loss, the “aha” experience when we solve a difficult puzzle.  Equally special, we are able to pursue goals that go beyond mere self-preservation.
People may differ on whether there are other beings that share our gifts of consciousness and purpose.  …  Do some of our cousins among the animals qualify?  Perhaps dolphins create ballets and symphonies that we don’t yet appreciate… if there is any other class of purposeful, sentient beings you think might exist, [think now of] them …
Because the next thing I want you to do is imagine a universe in which there are no such beings.  Such a world would be empty of meaning – no joy, no awe, no hope, no love. 

In such a world – however vast, however complex, however charged with energy – nothing would matter.  It is we – perhaps together with other beings of similar or greater capacity – who lend importance to events.  We are indeed the measure of all things.  We can comprehend the awesomeness of the cosmos, the delightful intricacy of a flower.  We can transcend our selfish genes.  We can seek, we can approach, we can even, perhaps, sometimes attain the true, the beautiful, and the good.  Therein lies our dignity.

— John Andrews

John’s description of the role of humans carrying the consciousness of creation reminds me of the words of Annie Dillard found in our hymnal – “We are here to abet creation and to witness to it, to notice each other’s beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.” 

John called out human’s unique role in being conscious; I would add to the “specialness” of the human species – conscience.  Again, our knowledge may be limited, but as far as we know, we are the only species that has a sense of moral awareness about right and wrong, of understanding what is actually our responsibility, and the impulses that move us to act.  This, too, is a special charge and position of our species. 

Consciousness and conscience – these are the human endowments we must nurture and grow faster than any other unique human quality.  We know enough about the interdependent nature of the world to know the web is in tatters.  We have collected abundant information and developed plenty of technological expertise to solve the problems we face.  But without fully developing human consciousness and conscience, we lack the strength and fortitude to live up to our full humanness.  Consciousness, the direct experience of the awesomely beautiful and complex world in which we live, leads us to love nature.  Conscience, to enliven us so that we might act for good, leads us to love ourselves.  We need generous helpings of both – consciousness and conscience – to love our way into the times ahead.

The world is on the brink. We are facing the pressing reality of climate change, particularly the rising surface and ocean temperatures of our planet, Earth.  The cause of that warming is clear:  human activities, most especially the production and combustion of carbon-based fuels, as well as agricultural activities such as factory-farming of animals and clear-cutting of rainforests.  The changes wrought by rising temperatures pose a risk to humans and the multitude of ecosystems of which we are a part, and on which we depend.  Climate change is real. It is here, now – not someday ‘out there.’ The changes are now in motion.

What do we do?

And you know there are lots of pragmatic steps each and every one of us can – and do – take every day. We recycle. We walk or bike. We use less paper, drink tap water, pick up litter, and eat lower on the food chain. We bring our own bags, we take the train.  We know how to do these individual actions.

But there’s a whole lot of space between the aspiration of our 7th principle and the practical steps we take each day.  This is the space for growth for us, so we can face the hard tasks before us. 

This is the space where we must show up as the curious, creative, empathetic – and yes, flawed – humans we are, to ‘remember who we are, to remember how we can live.’  This is the space where the lessons ‘earth teaches us’ become our root tradition, our primary lessons upon which all else can be built.  This is the space where ethics are crystallized, where “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community, [and] it is wrong when it tends otherwise.”  This is the space where the astonishing beauty of nature can break our hearts, and disturb our consciences, so we may begin again, in love.

I will be honest: this work is not for the faint-hearted.  Nor can it be done alone.  It may be odd to close a sermon with the hope we each feel our hearts sink, our stomachs twist.  But this is how we will answer this clarion call of our times:

Come, be fully human. You are needed.

Benediction: Excerpts from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ Land Ethic

Whereas, we Adorers of the Blood of Christ believe creation is a revelation of God, we proclaim that:
As Adorers, we honor the sacredness of all creation; we cultivate a mystical consciousness
that connects us to the Holy in all of life…
As students of Earth, we listen intently to Earth’s wisdom; we respect our interconnectedness and oneness with creation and learn what Earth needs to support life…
As prophets, we reverence Earth as a sanctuary where all life is protected; we strive to establish justice and right relationships so that all creation might thrive…
As advocates of Earth, we choose simple lifestyles that avoid excessive or harmful use of natural resources; we work in solidarity with all creation for a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
As companions with creation, we enjoy and share its bounty gently and reverently; we seek collaborators to help implement land use policies and practices that are in harmony with our bioregions and ecosystems.
As co-creators, we participate in God’s dream for Earth; we offer new visions and vistas that expand consciousness and encourage creative expression…

— The Adorers of the Blood of Christ
The complete Land Ethic is downloadable here.
Image by Charles Mostoller for The Intercept

Holding space for gratitude and reconnection.

Sermon given at University Mennonite Church on Sunday, February 24, 2019 by Cricket Hunter

Confession and Assurance of Pardon
(from the UN Environmental Sabbath)

We have forgotten who we are.
We have alienated ourselves from the unfolding of the cosmos.
We have become estranged from the movements of the earth.
We have turned our backs on the cycles of life

We have forgotten who we are.
We have sought only our own security
We have exploited simply for our own ends
We have distorted our knowledge
We have abused our power.

We have forgotten who we are.
Now the land is barren
And the waters are poisoned
And the air is polluted.

We have forgotten who we are.
Now the forests are dying
And the creatures are disappearing
And humans are despairing.

We have forgotten who we are.
We ask forgiveness
We ask for the gift of remembering
We ask for the strength to change.

We have forgotten who we are.

Scripture readings: Genesis 1:29-2:2Matthew 13:31-34James 3:13-18

Cricket Eccleston Hunter, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light

Good morning.

We have forgotten who we are.
We have forgotten.
We do forget.
We are forgetting.

We are children of God.

Today I want to talk with you about our forgetting, but also about remembering.  About wisdom and practices that can lead us back, in hope and by hope, in faith and by faith, toward right relationship with ourselves, each other, and our world.  I want to talk with you about peacemaking, writ large.

The world, it seems, is not so interested in peacemaking. 

The world teaches us to value worldly power.  It values busy-ness —doing and producing.  The world teaches pride, and is full of hubris.  The world values independence, unruffled-ness, imperviousness.  The world seeks immediate results, large and visible impacts.   The world values the ability to get.

And the world tells us that without those qualities — without pride, independence, imperviousness— we must be insignificant: powerless, or naïve.  Yet if we hit pause, if we can stop the world’s messages for a moment, we all have experiences that point to something else undeniably real — experiences that show us the power not only in giving, but in receiving with grace and gratitude; the power in connection and interdependence; the power in patience, humility, and kindness.  As people of faith, we have those experiences.  So do others.  We are all given that wisdom.

But thank God for the ways that faith and religion can ground those experiences, and give them a toehold, and a community.  Thank God for the stories, and the wisdom-of-old that sings the chorus, the melody that can help our own verses, our own experiences rise into view.  Thank God for those not-worldly messages telling us that that quieter power is real and true and wise.  And thank God for the practices that help us return to it. 

It is not a new thing for the world to say one thing, and our hearts and souls and scriptures to say something else. 

We just heard James speak of selfish ambition in opposition to work done in a gentleness born of wisdom — first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 

Have you noticed, that those quieter, purer messages have never vanished?  While civilizations rise and fall, they weave an unbroken thread. In the midst of enormous changes fueled by discovery and invention they ripple by, whispering the same clear song.  They’re still around.  How powerful they must be.  How elemental.

Peace churches, I think, are in some ways more practiced in holding countercultural values and carrying them into the world.  They may hold a more readily-accessible library of stories about being in the world gently and powerfully choosing not to bow to all of the world’s ways. “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

But as we know, peacemaking is not simply not-warring.  Peacemaking is a creative and constant practice.  It is about being alert to hatred, injury and despair so that we might sow love, healing, and hope.  But the world will never put peacemaking on your to do list. 

And there is another challenge: there is so much pain in the world, and we are but a few people.  How can we be enough? 

How can we trust that we are mustard seeds, that we will land on fertile ground?  How can we trust that the rain will come – just enough—and the sun will shine, and somehow, our tiny, roll-ly seed selves can grow into a shrub!  A shrub with flowers to brighten the landscape! a place big enough for birds to rest, and nest, and sing — to hatch new birds that will themselves fledge and scatter hymns and songs past the next fields and beyond, farther than we will ever go? 

These are important stories.  These are powerful stories. And it is important that we keep sharing them with each other, drawing courage, and seeking wisdom.

Many of you know that my work —my day job—focuses on climate change as a great moral challenge of our time.  Climate change is a problem of the world, an enormous and knotty problem caused by humans being profligate, and prodigal, a mess that seems to fold in on itself and cause more of the same.  It is not a surprise that many people are responding in the ways the world knows how to respond: in fear and anger, with imperatives and invectives, and by simply refusing to see pain so that we don’t have to feel it. 

But this disruption, this messiness, this pain are also invitations to be part of great change.

We have forgotten who we are. 

We are children of God, and we are being invited to remember. 

We are a part of the integral ecology of the word: the world and all who inhabit it. When we live in ways that cause harm, we suffer. 

We suffer through disconnection in our human community.  We suffer because of the ways imbalance and poor-use ripple, shake, and rend the fabric of which we are a part, this bejeweled and beautiful web of Creation.  

Do you know, we’ve been doing this for so long, consuming the world, discarding people and places that wise people have created new words for a pain that is not as easy to point to as a broken leg, or a diseased lung.

Solastalgia is the word that a Dutch philosopher Glenn Albrecht created in 2003 to describe the  disconnection and pain that leaves us feeling homesick for our own places and spaces while we are in our own places and spaces.

image source

The author Toni Morrisson created the word rememory, which her character in the novel Beloved uses to talk about traumas that are just beyond our graspable memories, but still very much with us and with our places. 

I believe we also have another capacity of rememory.  A rememory that can heal.  I believe we have rememories of connectedness, that those fleeting moments of recognition, glimpses of vibrant and insistent Life and Love in places the world teaches us we should not see them – I think those, too, are rememory – recognition and recollection that begins just beyond our own selves.  Memory of who we are when we are whole.

Climate change is a symptom of our diseases of greed and inattention.  The antidote is connection, courageous attention, and and love.  We must turn toward our rememories of the whole.  We must remember who we are.

This is why I am so excited about the Sabbath book study that some of you have begun.

Sabbath is bold and powerful. It holds space for the stories we need— the stories we crave — so that we can hear them above the ones amplified by money and consumptive culture. And it holds space for a spirit of Creation, where our rememories of wholeness may lead.

Do you suppose that God had the whole of Creation in mind at the start?  On the first day?  Before the first day?  I don’t know.  But we do know that God paused at the end of each day.  Each day!  and the story doesn’t suggest that it was just a quick pause, either, so God could throw in a load of laundry, or answer the phone.  No, in those pauses, God attended and appreciated the work of the day.  At the end of each and every day of big and generous creation, God stopped.  And God saw that it was good. 

Lagoon Nebula, image credit: NASA

You may have noticed that we didn’t read the whole Creation story.  We didn’t start with the dark and the void.  We didn’t read the whole story, because when we listen to the whole thing, we hear only the doing – and then God made this!  And that!  Then this!  And that and that and that!  Our ears are not attuned to all the rests, but they’re all there.  So today, we just read the sixth day, so we were less caught up in the doing, and we could hear the rest, listen to it.  God took 6 mini-sabbaths of attention and appreciation before the big one at the end.

And on the seventh day God rested.

I suspect  “rest” may not be so helpful a word these days.  A sabbath is not just a stoppage of work (though that is a rest). It is not a collapse (that, too, is a rest when we’ve been overdoing it).  A sabbath is not simply a time to pant our way through to breathing normally (though, if we’re being honest, many of us need a number of those pauses, too).

Yes, God set aside a day to delight in God’s own Creation, in the fullness thereof.

But God did not wait until the world was.  Each day, God saw that it was good.  Do you re-remember?

Can we do that, on a small scale?  Can we turn to Sabbaths big and small as a time to regard, with love? a time to attend? a time to look, and see and listen well, with open hearts. How glorious that could be.  How powerful.  How resonant. What a joyful discipline!

Let us remember: God created us in God’s own image.  Aren’t we, then, also creative beings, capable of awe and wonder, inspiration and appreciation? 

We have jobs and lists because people do need us, and we do need to do things.  That’s true (though probably not nearly as true as we think when we’re caught up in the middle of it all).   Sabbath invites us to step out of our worlds of task-y shoulds, out of doing-to-accomplish, doing-to-achieve, and into spaces where we can open ourselves to wisdom.  A Sabbath practice invites us to build those muscles so that we can do even our least-delightful tasks with our whole selves: with attention, and love, and openness.

We can make spaces to move out of human doing and into human being.

If you ever doubt that attention is a kind of prayer, think of the impact of a tiny kindness, a poetic notice, one time when something let you know that someone saw you, heard you. Those moments can be rare, but they are beautiful, and we carry them.  Attention and gratitude are like crystals that are not large, but can catch, reflect, and scatter the Light, painting rainbows in more places than we can find.

at the Omattiduium, Samuel Wilkinson and Beau Lotto, London

The words of the Bible often speak, as James did today of wisdom coming “down from above”  perhaps because daily life and its chores were already so connected to the land, and the vast sky offered a different vision, a different view.  In our time, though, so many of our lives skim over the surfaces, through the atmosphere at dizzying rates, pinging to and from satellites, that perhaps in our time we can seek God’s creative and creating voice, and find God’s fingerprints by looking down, listening inward, tapping into the other world wide web, the web of Creation, of which we are a part.  It remembers who we are.   

Did you know that if you plant a seed, no matter which way it lands, still the root grows down and the shoot grows up.  It remembers who it is.

It’s February on our hills.  Have the trees begun to blush with the redness of swelling buds?  Do you know?

If we make space, and give attention to those things that sometimes gift us with of rememories of wholeness, we till the ground.  If we nourish our souls not only with scripture, and song in community, but also by noticing with amazement and gratitude the ways that the world stubbornly continues to create, as it was taught by the Creator, then — perhaps then— we will hear whispered answers when we ask: and how can we be seeds?  How do we germinate, sprout, and grow? How do we host the birdsongs?

So, yes, please do reduce your food waste.  Use your dryer less.  Walk, bike, carpool.  Skip the single-use plastics.   Switch to renewable electricity.  Advocate for public policies that will help make bigger changes.  Those things are important, and they do matter.  Talk to people about the connections between climate change, our energy choices, and human displacement and migration, between climate disruption and war.  Those conversations are powerful.  But Sabbath, taken seriously, is revolutionary.  It says: we choose interconnection over destruction.  It says: the world is beautiful and amazing and enough. And we can see that it is good. 

Let us pay attention, each of us, and all of us, to the pulse of Gods beloveds, to the heartbeats of Gods world, and all who live in it.   Let us seek peace.


photo credit: Larry Weber

Responding prayer
by Sophie Churchill (reprinted in Sam Hamilton-Poore’s Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation

(People)We believe in one God, 
(Leader): who gave birth to the cosmos and to us,
creating out of nothing but God’s own will
a world of rocks, plants, and human longing;
whose eyes will not fail 
to cry for it all.

We believe in one God, 
who redeems the waste of all things good, 
weaving, from the griefs of our freedom, 
new and unhoped-for things;
whose mercy will not fail to heal it all.

We believe in one God, 
who lives among all people in all places
calling us from our despair and sleep 
to live out Easter in our generation;
whose love will not fail
to hold us all.

Benediction adapted from the Church of Scotland by Sam Hamilton-Poore,  Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation)

Go in the peace of God, 
in whom there is no darkness, 
but the night shines as the day. 
May God renew your heart with quietness, 
your body with untroubled sleep; 
and may God waken you to use the gift of life with faith and joy. 

Choosing Life – With, and For, Earth

This sermon was given by the Rev. Alison Cornish on July 22, 2018, at Summit Presbyterian Church, in Philadelphia.

Choosing Life – With, and For, Earth
Deuteronomy 30:9-14
Luke 10:25-37

Our scripture readings this morning are familiar; so familiar, in fact, that we might only half-listen to them, lulled into thinking ‘we’ve got this.’ The commandment to turn to, to love God with all your heart and all your soul, is ‘the big one,’ a basic tenet in both the Christian and Jewish faiths. And the story of the Good Samaritan embodies the other great commandment: to love one’s neighbor as oneself. But, not surprisingly when it comes to scripture, there’s more to these readings than meets the eye and ear. Both have compelling, and important, backstories that invite us to explore past what we think we know.

Our text from Deuteronomy comes from Moses’ farewell speech to the people of Israel. That alone should give us pause — the towering yet always human figure of Moses must find words to inspire his people to persevere knowing that he himself will not accompany them to the Promised Land. And, he must do so knowing what he does about these people who have been disobedient and faithless in the face of challenges, and may well act that way again. Their ravaged land lost, pushed into exile by political and economic upheaval, Moses calls them to a renewed spiritual obedience, reminding them ‘this is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away.’ A few sentences after our selection, in the ultimate appeal to any human in any age, Moses exhorts, ‘choose life, so that you and your descendants may live!’ Moses’ message, the one that reverberates through the ages is this: when times are difficult, the temptation to turn away from God can be overwhelming. Yet a new beginning is always possible – when past failures are acknowledged and accepted; when we recognize that hopelessness is a symptom of losing faith in God; and when we renew our commitments to our covenant with God and God’s commandments.

The parable of the Good Samaritan also has a backstory. At a gathering of Jesus’ followers and disciples, a lawyer challenged Jesus: if I want eternal life, what do I have to do? Jesus makes the lawyer answer his own question: to the familiar love of God the lawyer adds and expands the requirement to love ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘You’re right!’ says Jesus. But the lawyer isn’t satisfied. Hmmm … says the lawyer, and just who is my neighbor? Jesus responds with a vivid tale of a traveler who has been brutally beaten on the infamously dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The first two passersby – a priest and a Levite – ignore the man’s plight, perhaps adhering to laws of purity connected with their roles and religious identities. It is the third traveler, a Samaritan – who the ancient world viewed as an unclean outcast – who stops and tends to the injured man (whose position and religious or ethnic identity we never know). The message is clear: mercy trumps boundaries constructed by rules and conventions. The Samaritan is moved by virtue of the humanity they share, and responds with compassion, even when it costs him financially and possibly in other ways hidden to us.

I’ve taken some time to sketch the backstories to our readings because it’s where I see how connected, our lives are to our spiritual ancestors. Humanity – all of us on this planet – we, too, are at a critical juncture – as the people of Israel were. Earth’s systems – on which we depend for our very lives – have been ravaged – and not by the powerlessness of God, but by the actions – and inactions – of us, a people who have forgotten the moral order of life: to do no harm, to treat others as we ourselves would be treated. Indeed, we are living in times when despair and demoralization seem much closer to hand than the great commandment of loving God with all our heart and all our soul.

And, in the era of globalization, at a time when vast inequities exist between those who live side-by-side as well as between whole countries, the question of ‘who is my neighbor [and what is my ethical obligation to care for them]?’ is a very real question. When the massive carbon footprint of a citizen of the United States creates conditions that cause rising sea levels in Bangladesh, we must not only redefine ‘neighbor’ in terms of proximity, but in terms of the kind of actions required to tend neighbors in distress. All this in the face of the fact that we are just as human as those who chose not to offer care in the ancient parable – we are just as susceptible to our fears and the embedded stereotypes of our society.

What can easily be lost both in the historic texts and in our own times is the possibility that each individual – each of us – actually can impact circumstances that seem overwhelming in their enormity, or situations that call us to act selflessly in the face of danger. Stories and deeds that too often aren’t recorded, or recognized; yet every day, ordinary people, in the fullness of their humanity, make a difference. I am thinking here particularly of the countless individuals who rush to respond and tend to those affected by hurricanes, wildfires, floods, tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis – crises that destroy homes and habitat, end lives and steal away property. Literally thousands of ordinary people respond to those in need, regardless of traditional boundaries that typically keep us segregated. Neighbors and strangers feed one another, house each other, tend to bodies and spirits. Yes, we have also seen where this ethic has failed, in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans, Sandy in New York and New Jersey, Maria in Puerto Rico – where the underpinnings of racism, classism, and other ways of ‘othering’ have been revealed, along with a lessened sense of obligation, and mercy.

But having lived on Long Island when Superstorm Sandy hit, I saw firsthand how ordinary individuals responded, both in the immediate aftermath of the storm and during the long, drawn-out process of recovery that has taken literally years. Sometimes it was the smallest of gestures –as an example, in my own community – which sustained a much lighter blow than other areas – we discovered that emergency workers were being housed in tents even as nighttime temperatures plunged. After a supper of military meals-ready-to-eat, workers were sleeping in their trucks because they were warmer than the tents. Folks rallied to bring home-cooked meals and heaters for the tents to these workers far from their own homes who were working round the clock to restore power and rebuild our infrastructure. Such a small gesture, but one that grew understanding and connection, made the surreal real, tended to real people doing critical work.

I point to moments of crisis wrought by storms and fires because they are where the fundamental difference between two ways of being in this world – a world that is becoming more unstable in so many ways –make all the difference. We can either turn on one another, or toward each other. One leads us to more life; the other, more conflict and desolation.

I lift up stories of individuals responding to disasters because they are the embodiment of what we, at Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, see as the most important ways each of us can respond to the causes and effects of our changing climate: to join our individual voices and actions into a collective, strengthened and sustained by the hope we know through faith, and love – of God, and of one another.

The author and activist Paul Hawken, editor of Drawdown,[1] writes:

Individuals cannot prevent the torching of Indonesia rainforests by corrupt palm oil corporations, or put an end to the bleaching and coral die-off of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. … Individuals cannot prevent the deliberate suppression and demonization of climate science and scientists by anonymous wealthy donors.

What individuals can do is become a movement … Movements change how we think and how we see the world, creating more evolved social norms. What was once accepted and thought to be normal – becomes unthinkable. What was marginalized or derided – becomes honored and respected. What was suppressed becomes recognized as a principle… Movements are dreams with feet and hands, hearts and voices.

What I hear in Hawken’s words is no less than ‘remaking the narrative’ —into a world where the action of a Samaritan is recognized as the norm, not the exception. Where despair of the future is countered by the turning of each of us toward a vision of hope — a hope grounded in a love of life.

All of this is possible not because we are required to be some kind of demigod or superhuman – but because we are called to enter into the fullness of our humanity. Hawken concludes:

We become human beings by working together and helping one another…

What it takes to reverse global warming is one person after another remembering who we truly are.

What we are is sometimes disheartened and lost. Who we are is sometimes the product of our cultures and times. What we also are is capable of enormous compassion and tenderness. Who we are is also brave and loving; and ready to choose life. The choice … is ours. The reward … is the beloved community of which we dream.

—Rev. Alison Cornish
July 22, 2018
Summit Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia

[1] Paul Hawken, ed., Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (New York: Penguin. 2018) pgs. 216-217.

Sermon: Our Transforming Climate

This sermon was given by Rev. Alison Cornish on Earth Day 2018, at the Unitarian Society of Germantown in Philadelphia.

Readings  — two poems      

The Peace of Wild Things  by Wendell Berry   audio link
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Try to Praise the Mutilated World   by  Adam Zagajewski  text link
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Sermon: Our Transforming Climate        Rev. Alison Cornish

Thank you for your kind invitation to be with you this morning. When I visit faith communities in my role as Executive Director of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, I am often the only Unitarian Universalist in the room. So, it’s good to be ‘home.’ And to take advantage of being with fellow Unitarian Universalists, which gives a particular shape to a conversation about Care of our Common Home – as Pope Francis has spoken of it – and the challenges that come with climate change. There is a uniqueness, I believe, both in what Unitarian Universalists bring to the topic, and what the planetary challenge brings to Unitarian Universalism. In the end, perhaps there is an opportunity for transformation for all … for I know that is indeed a key aspect of our faith’s mission – to transform lives – ours, and those with whom we are in relationship.

I want to open my reflection this morning with a short reading. I’ll tell you who wrote it – and when it was written – after I read it! It’s from a sermon titled ‘Lessons from the Sierra Nevada’ –

I believe that if, on every Sunday morning before going to church, we could be lifted to a mountain-peak and see a horizon line of six hundred miles enfolding the copious splendor of the light on such a varied expanse; or if we could look upon a square mile of flowers representing all the species with which the Creative Spirit embroiders a zone; or if we could be made to realize the distance of the earth from the sun, the light of which travels every morning 12 millions of miles a minute to feed and bless us, and which the force of gravitation pervades without intermission to hold our globe calmly in its orbit and on its poise; if we could fairly perceive, through our outward senses, one or two features of the constant order and glory of nature, …our materialistic dullness would be broken, surprise and joy would be awakened, we should feel that we live amid the play of Infinite thought; and the devout spirit would be stimulated so potently that our hearts would naturally mount in praise and prayer.

OK, the fact that an entire paragraph is one sentence … as well as some of the word choices … should clue you in to the fact this wasn’t written recently. It’s an excerpt from an 1863 sermon written by Thomas Starr King – who was a minister in both the Unitarian and Universalist traditions long before our denominational merger.

What I hear King saying is that opening ourselves to the awesomeness and mystery and the teachings of this extraordinary planet on which we live – and upon which we depend – has the power to transform us. ‘…our materialistic dullness would be broken, surprise and joy would be awakened.’ To turn our heads and hearts so significantly that we will live in new and different ways.


What a different view of transformation this offers than what we’re fed as a daily diet by the ‘usual sources’ – a steady drumbeat of information, statistics, numbers, facts (fake and not) —not that I’m arguing against sketching reality as it really is. We need to face the facts, to know the reality of the state of our planetary home in a time of climate change. We need to understand the links to human activities: specifically that the combustion of fossil fuels for energy production, transportation and agriculture is causing the Earth’s atmosphere to heat up at a rapid rate, disrupting the planetary systems upon which we all depend for our very lives, and outstripping our —and other species’— ability to adapt.

But what’s as clear as these facts is that more, and more finely detailed, information has not, to date at least, led to a transformation of human behavior. In the words of Shirdi Sai Baba, an Indian yogic master, ‘You seek too much information and not enough transformation.’ Indeed, too much information can actually work against us – in powerful ways.

A few years ago, the Social Capital Project published a major study of American’s attitudes and worldviews, especially as related to the environment and climate change. Their report sought to go beyond the dualities of ‘believe/not believe’ and the polarities of liberal/conservative/
Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/Green. It was an investigation of values and demographics.

Perhaps at another time, we can try unpacking what language speaks best to whom when it comes to these issues. But tucked into a corner of the report, I found a too-brief section on the obstacles each of us face – no matter our demographic markers –in making our way to a path of mobilization and action – indeed, transformation – of taking on the very real crisis of climate change. See where you might land in these descriptions:

Environmental ‘fatalism’ – ‘It’s just too little, too late …’ Though we value – and take in – accurate information, you and I know that the news is not good. It’s extraordinary that so much information from far-flung parts of the world is so accessible to us – so we can watch ice melting in Antarctica, Indonesian rainforests burning, soaring temperatures in Phoenix, all in the flick of a TV remote. But to what end? Does it transform us … or shut us down?

And if all that news does manage to motivate rather than discourage, it’s easy to succumb to another kind of environmental ‘overload’ – the challenge is just too big and overwhelming.

What’s the most important thing to do? ‘Tell me again, switching light bulbs will help the planet … how?’

The authors of the study name other ways we resist transformation … and as I read these, I thought they are perhaps felt particularly keenly by folks most likely to be found in UU congregations.

There’s the specter of environmental ‘sainthood’ that haunts — a worry that, no matter what we do, ‘We’ll never be green enough.’ And then something the authors dub “environmental ‘cognition’” —it’s just plain too hard to wrap our minds around climate change because it isn’t a simple cause-and-effect problem. Environmentalism came of age in the era of pollution.

Then, something could be identified, targeted, and cleaned up — but how do you ‘clean up’ carbon?

And finally, the study points to “environmental ‘elitism.’” ‘Working on these issues is fine for those with money and time – or who are urban, or white, or professional … ’ But what about everyone who is facing the immediate and pressing problems of merely staying safe, employed, fed, insured, housed?

So, do any of these feel familiar?

In my work with PA IPL over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve become convinced that the only way to overcome these obstacles is to start with oneself —because, as we know from countless sources, the only thing we can truly change is our own attitudes, behaviors, and actions.

Mindfulness is somewhat of a buzzword these days – but what I like about it in relation to working on climate change is that it offers us a way forward that we actually have control over.

Mindfulness is not some wimpy, weak response. Mindfulness is a discipline and also a call.

Here are words from Thich Nhat Hahn (2008):

The bells of mindfulness are calling out to us, trying to wake us up, reminding us to look deeply at our impact on the planet. The bells of mindfulness are sounding. All over the Earth, we are experiencing floods, droughts, and massive wildfires. Sea ice is melting in the Artic and hurricanes and heat waves are killing thousands. The forests are fast disappearing, the deserts are growing, species are becoming extinct every day, and yet we continue to consume, ignoring the ringing bells. All of us know that our beautiful green planet is in danger. Our way of walking on the Earth has a great influence on animals and plants. Yet we act as if our daily lives have nothing to do with the condition of the world.

We are like sleepwalkers, not knowing what we are doing or where we are heading.

Whether we can wake up or not depends on whether we can walk mindfully on our Mother Earth. The future of all life, including our own, depends on our mindful steps.

So let us pause. Let us listen. May we hear the bells of mindfulness that are sounding all across our planet.

How do we ‘hear the bells of mindfulness’ —how do we wake up, and stay awake? The words of Thich Nhat Hahn call us to practices where we might ‘walk mindfully on the Earth.’ We are called to heal ourselves, and thus, our connection with Earth and all that live upon it.

Mindfulnessis an antidote to barriers to action, and we are badly in need of that!

In her essay The Sacredness of Earth Day, Gail Straub writes

Each conscious Earth-friendly act — composting, reusing, recycling, repairing, carpooling, eco-wise shopping, and conserving water and energy — is also an act of spiritual mindfulness. It is the degree of mindfulness that we bring to our most ordinary daily acts of sustainability that determines the sacredness of life. Indeed, it is mindfulness that transforms the mundane into the sacred. The recycling bins become daily rounds of Earth awareness, the water and energy saved prayers of gratitude, and the rides shared a collective offering to clean, fresh air… As an antidote to the addiction of consumerism, [mindful] stewardship heals the spiritual emptiness at the core of much of modern life. Ultimately, skillful stewardship is a blending of reverence with responsibility…

A blend of reverence with responsibility … as I UU, I say —where do I sign up?

How do we begin this shift, to see habits or hobbies or chores or must-dos or should-dos as acts of spiritual mindfulness?

Here’s my recipe for Individuals Who Want to Engage Climate Change on a Daily Basis as a Spiritual Practice of Mindfulness.

First, choose a practice. Choice is important!  We are more likely to stick with something we choose than having it thrust upon us. Will it be conserving water?  Composting?  Picking up litter?  Using public transit?  Walking?  Try it out — is it a good fit for you?  Will you face it with grumbling and resentment, or engagement and curiosity?  Can you do it with intention, as a routine (not just when you feel like it)?  Does it hold the potential for new insights, learnings, ah ha moments?  Is it joyful?

Now, think of ways you can spread your practice. How is it shareable, teachable, bloggable?  Get the word out about what you’re doing, invite others along, or even help them find their own practices.

Most important (and do not skip this!): articulate —for yourself, and those around you, how your practice connects to climate change. What story can you tell about making — if not a dent, at least a nick — in your carbon footprint?  What’s your personal role in making change happen by managing carbon in your own life?

Even as we engage in spiritual practices of mindfulness, we still need collective action through policy change, community efforts, and political will. But I am convinced those efforts are more likely to succeed if they emerge from personal commitments to practices. Why?

Practices … allow us to stay in touch with the challenge of climate change on a tangible, daily basis – so it doesn’t get abstract, or something we read about in the paper in far-off places, or times. It’s here. It’s now. It’s real. Just like our practice.

Practices … keeps us honest; because we are taking personal responsibility for the immense carbon footprint those of us in the U.S. have, using a huge percentage of the planet’s carbon budget.

Practices … empower us to speak authentically to policy makers and politicians —we can say ‘I’m doing what I can … I’m asking you to do what you can, too.’

Practices … build social values and norms. To take on a spiritual practice that connects us to Earth and its care and see it as just ‘what we do,’ not something unusual, has the potential to change the conversation with others who are casting about for what they can do.

Practices … wake us up, keep us aware, noticing the world around us, in all its glory and brokenness.

Ultimately, practices … inspire us to take on more, bigger, changes. Because as essential as they are, individual practices simply aren’t enough. They matter, they help — but in order to truly make a difference, we need to work together — as communities, and I would say particularly as communities of faith. Here I borrow some language of one of our own, Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams. In his book Transforming Liberalism, Adams spoke of several different themes of liberal religion —and in them, I find the grounding for congregations’ work on climate — and perhaps for Unitarian Universalists in particular.

Adams wrote that to be religious means having a particular world view that draws on certain root metaphors. For Unitarian Universalists, our worldview is embedded in our seventh principle,  “we are a part of an interdependent web of all existence.”  A part — not the whole — intimately and intricately connected to all of life. When we recognize this, we can become reflectors, and amplifiers, of this amazing Earth. We offer praise and thanksgiving for its beauty, as well as lament to address our distress at its desecration. To lift up the glory of the world as we have experienced, yes loved it, with joy and hope, this is no small thing, and desperately, hungrily needed. Gail Straub concludes her essay for Earth Day with these words:

Understanding that our destiny is forever linked with the fate of the Earth, that the health of our souls is inextricably related to the health of our planet, is at the heart of stewardship as a spiritual practice… Walking the path of stewardship, we take it one day at a time, just as we do with our spiritual practice. We aspire toward a fresh beginner’s mind as we compost, plant trees, shop with green values, conserve, recycle, reuse and repair… Gently, inexorably, both our spiritual practice and our stewardship are changing us, and changing the world.

May this moment in time — urgent, precious —
grant us an opening for transformation —
of ourselves, of one another, of Earth.

Closing Words         

In the Midst of a World  by Rebecca Parker  text link
In the midst of a world
marked by tragedy and beauty
there must be those
who bear witness
against unnecessary destruction
and who, with faith,
rise and lead
in freedom,
with grace and power.

There must be those who
speak honestly
and do not avoid seeing
what must be seen
of sorrow and outrage,
or tenderness,
and wonder.

There must be those whose
grief troubles the water
while their voices sing
and speak
refreshed worlds.

There must be those
whose exuberance
rises with lovely energy
that articulates
earth’s joys.

There must be those who
are restless for
respectful and loving
companionship among human beings,
whose presence invites people
to be themselves without fear.

There must be those
who gather with the congregation
of remembrance and compassion
draw water from
old wells,
and walk the simple path
of love for neighbor.

There must be communities of people
who seek to do justice

love kindness and walk humbly with God,who call on the strength of
to heal,
and bless life.
There must be
religious witness.