Monday, April 8, 2013

Staying Strong for the Journey (Part 4)

And for the final, and possibly most important, piece of our presentation (see parts I, II, and III for more details about our presentation on the Climate Crisis, if you're just coming on to the scene), how do we not lose hope when we choose to let reality in?

Staying Strong for the Journey
Written and delivered by Katherine Jesch

So, now we know:  There are strategies that seem to show potential for slowing, and even reversing some of the worst of the impacts of the impending climate disaster, but they’re not the easy ones any more.  And simply taking our own small steps individually, while necessary, isn’t enough.  We must, in addition, join the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are working to change economic, social, and political systems that keep us stuck in the old ways.

To move forward, how do we bring our best selves to the effort and avoid the deepest despair and burnout?  What will keep us strong and motivated so our actions can be amplified to be most effective?

Fortunately, as UUs, we don’t come to this work empty handed.  Our Unitarian Universalist faith gives us the strength to sustain our commitments over the long haul.  I want to explore four of the gifts our faith teaches us that are critical to the work: commit to justice; practice gratitude; choose hope; nurture community.


Our religious ancestors had a history of demonstrating their faith through their work toward justice.  Our own congregation is a model for this way of being religious.  You know that the Alliance is the descendent of the Ladies Sewing Circle that started this church in 1862.  The original founders were activists in the Portland community with their eyes wide open.  They paid attention to what was going on around them and they took steps to improve conditions for education, public health, care of animals, among other issues.  I see that heritage in action today in our more than a dozen social justice groups, in the rich lifespan learning community for young and old and everyone in between.  And in our care for each other in so many beautiful ways.  

In more recent times, our environmental values have become a highly visible part of that faith.  We were the first denomination to adopt a theology and policy statement on climate change in 2006.  Now, as we approach the climate tipping point, we must step it up, taking our response to a whole new level.  The Community for Earth is providing some tools to help us do this.


Now while our faith calls us to action in a broken world, it also reminds us that this world is a beautiful place, and it is a gift to simply be alive in it.  To forget that fact, to separate ourselves from that beauty, is to open the floodgates of despair.  A critical antidote to this despair is the spiritual practice of gratitude.  I heard a Rabbi preach this message some years ago at a global warming conference.  He claimed that Americans suffer from “Gratitude Deficit Disorder” – We keep trying to make ourselves happy through more stuff, but of course it never works, so we have to grab for even more.  It’s a never ending escalation, this addiction to stuff.  We must break the cycle, remembering that happiness comes from relationships, community, and the satisfaction of worthwhile endeavors.  Gratitude allows us to let in that beauty.


One hundred years ago, Glacier Nat'l
Park in Montana had over
150 glaciers. 25 remain today...
It is true that facing a future on a much warmer planet is very scary.  Directly confronting the consequences takes more courage than most of us can muster except in very small doses.  The farmer-poet Wendell Berry is exactly right when he says, “It is the destruction of the world in our own lives that drives us half insane, and more than half.  To destroy that which we were given in trust: how will we bear it?”  It’s healthy to acknowledge the despair we feel, understanding that despair is a response “that arises from the depth of our caring, from the truth of our interconnectedness with all beings.  But despair without an alternative vision of where you want to be, and without companions to go there with you, is simply debilitating.

The great healer of despair is hope.  But hope can be tricky.  Many assume that hope is only possible if you’re really certain that in the end all will be well.  But this is a misinterpretation.

Frances Moore Lappe and her daughter Anna Lappe write this in their book Hope’s Edge:  “ . . . Hope does not come from convincing ourselves the good news is winning out over the bad.  Nor does it come from assessing what’s possible and going for that.  Since it’s not possible to know what’s possible . . . we find new energy in this very truth.  In the awareness of possibility itself – always unknowable – we are free to focus on creating the world we want.  Hope comes from a place deep within.  Hope is not what we find in evidence.  It is what we become in action.  We become hope because we are alive.  We become hope because our planet needs us to.  And our hope can spur us on to choose a healthy and sustainable future.”


So how do we move forward on that choice?  Tamara told us about what some activists are doing now, and what more we can do, so there are lots of ideas.  We could spend several hours on that topic alone.  But just as important is how we maintain momentum instead of giving up.

Campaigning for a carbon tax doesn’t give Tamara hope.  Her hope comes from the relationships and shared efforts they create in the Citizens Climate Lobby.  She then shares that hope with those of us here at First Church in the Community For Earth, and today, we share it with you.  As a community, we can help each other stay engaged and motivated, while together we find ways to celebrate the abundance of the earth.

Let us draw on our faith for sustenance.  With our passion for justice, gratitude for the beauty, hope for the future, and a community to share the journey, let us choose a healthy and sustainable future, today, and every day in this remaining window of opportunity – the 13 years Tamara told us is what remains for us to pull back from the brink of catastrophe.  Without a lamp, it’s awfully hard to find your way out of that place. Our faith is that lamp, and what keeps it burning are the precious and sustaining relationships nurtured in our congregations and the other communities of which we are a part.  Together, we must work toward that healthy and sustainable future as if our life depends on it.  Because, in fact, it does.


Thank you so much for being a part of our presentation, even if only from afar. I came away very inspired to share this message with as many people as possible, and am currently working to make that a reality--posting it here, being just a part of the journey. If you are aware of any audiences in the Portland Area that may be open to a presentation on Climate Change and how we might respond effectively, or perhaps with more detail on the Carbon Tax and or the science behind it all, please don't hesitate to let me know. And, of course, the more you can share and spread this information, the better off we all are, as a global community! We have quite a beautiful thing to protect for these children of ours, and theirs, not to mention for all those organisms who aren't able to protect it for themselves...

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