The Vision to Demand That Which Is Good
Today we are celebrating Mother Earth, because for many of us Earth Day is something like a high holy day, but because of where it fell with Easter, the empty tomb took precedence.
I am guessing that many of you already know that the originator of what later became Mother’s Day, emerged from Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist, a feminist and a fierce advocate for justice. In 1870, long before Mother’s Day was declared an official U.S. holiday Julia issued what she called, the Mother’s Day Proclamation, where she wrote, “Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of tears!… We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” 1
Imagine if Hallmark featured such a Mother’s Day card, “From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm, Disarm!” Happy Mother’s Day!
Yet while it might be culturally forgotten, this is the heart of Mother’s Day, peace for all creation, peace for the earth and all of its children.
But we don’t have to look very far to find pain and struggle, war and walls. It doesn’t feel like a time of peace on earth. And when we pay attention, when we listen to those who are closest to the heartbeat of our planet, we hear that indeed the earth is crying out in places. Indeed, “From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own…”
You might have read the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report that came out last week. It reveals that due to human activity, “One million of the world’s species are now poised to vanish, some as soon as within the next few decades…The rate of global species extinctions is tens to hundreds of times faster than the average extinction rate was over the last 10 million years.” 2
We have been on this trajectory for a while so these latest revelations are not surprising. Human activity has been a devastation for creation.
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all…
And what have we done?
Destroyed habitat. Overfished the oceans. Infused waterways with plastic and chemicals…
In the words of Rachel Carson from 1962, “Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good?”
I believe that the answer for us as people of faith, as people of conscience, as people who care, the answer to this question must be no. We refuse to join others in the mesmerized state that accepts as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental. We have not lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good!
From the very beginning, from the start of the thread of our tradition, it is woven deeply into our sacred text, into our Psalms and songs, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God called forth light from the darkness and God said, it is good!”
But maybe the ancient poets should have added, “God said it is good and asked that all creation must protect what is good or it can be lost…”
I realize that many people don’t want to hear the truth about climate change, the loss of biodiversity or the reality of what it already happening as the temperature rises and as species die off. I understand this is not seen as a happy conversation topic. In fact this summer at a dinner party, I was told to stop talking about climate issues because it was too depressing. Carry on then…
I understand the impulse to silence what is hard to hear. But, I have this feeling that the natural world is literally calling us, bidding us to listen. This week as I ran along some muddy trails, I talked back to the croaking frogs and shouted out loud into the big, empty sky, I love you!!! But then I got in my gas powered Toyota Corolla and drove home.
It feels nearly impossible to get from where we are to where we need to go and yet I believe it is our call from the Universe to refuse to join others in the mesmerized state of denial that accepts as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental.
We have not lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good!
And here’s the incredibly, powerful, hopeful part…are you ready?
We have what we need to demand that which is good, to love creation and guard it. We have the map already to lead us out of the mess we have made. In spite of the fact that many parts of Western context teach us not to trust nature, Mother Earth offered the way all along.
Many of us thought change, that transformation requires knowing what, but nature tells us that lasting and meaningful movement toward something bigger is not about knowing the what, it is about the how. We can change how we relate to the planet, to places and to people even before we understand carbon sequestration. We don’t need to know what to work on the how…
Adrienne Maree Brown, emergent strategy thinker, invites us to look to fractals in nature for the answer. When we look at the fern or the cauliflower or the veins through our bodies and in broccoli, we see fractals, which are never-ending patterns that are infinitely complex and self-similar across scales. “They are created by repeating a simple process over and over again in an ongoing feedback loop.”
Fractals reveal a deeper truth: the tiny connections, the smaller patterns, create the bigger picture. It is not top down, it is bottom up. It is local, proximate, relational.
Brown goes on, “When we speak of systemic change, we need to be fractal…a way to speak of the patterns we see- move from the micro to the macro level. The spirals on sea shells can be found the shape of galaxies. We must create patterns that cycle upwards. We are microsystems.”
I think that part of what this means is accepting that our micro world does create the macro. Our small choices create the bigger pattern. A strategy for finding our way out now as Brown says is about this: “Transform yourself, to transform the world doesn’t mean to get lost in the self, but rather to see our own lives and work and relationships as a front line, a first place we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the planet.” 3 Changing how we relate to the immediate little world around us is the way we change the big world.
A few years ago climate activist Peter Kalmus realized that flying all over the world to speak about climate change wasn’t effective. He wasn’t changing the patters of the world, he was mirroring them. His carbon footprint was high and so was his internal dissonance. So he began working on his own life, seeing his daily choices as part of this work of saving the planet. He began meditating, tuning into the pulse of creation, building a car that runs on cooking oil and learning to travel slow. In his 2017 book Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, he wrote, “We could coin a word for this path of inner and outer change: becycling, …it entails restoring cyclical natural processes at a local scale. It requires getting busy instead of passively hoping that “they will think of something.” It means claiming our role, our power in how we relate to one another and to the dirt. We can’t all do what Peter did, but his story shows us that change is local, relational, fractal.
How we are here with one another in this part of Colorado patterns out.
It’s connectional and proximate, aimed to release the full power and potential of each part. This means it really does matter that we are planting a garden on our site and hatching plans for classes and workshops and more, collaborating toward a shared vision. It matters that Sarah Dawn rescues tons of stuff from landfills. It matters that Spense writes op-eds. This means it matters when we call our senators and take time to listen to the crickets and the crows. Each interaction is creating a pattern that builds out. Let us build on purpose.
And while it can feel nearly impossible to get from where we are to where we need to go, we know it is our call from the Universe to refuse to join others in the mesmerized state of denial that accepts as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental.
In the Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler wrote, “Belief initiates and guides action- Or it does nothing.” 4
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of tears!…From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm, Disarm!” 5
We have not lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good!
Take a moment to sit with this invitation….What does it mean for you? One small way to change how you eat? How you get around? How you listen to the frogs?
Rachel Carson reminds us, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” 6
O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all…
And what have we done? I invite you to join me in a spirit of confession and join in with the response when prompted with God, we pluck the strands…
Spirit of Life, we are a people of hope and action, of love and commitment, we confess we have not always been faithful to the call to be stewards of creation. God, we pluck the strands on the web of life and know not what we do. 7
We have often seen ourselves as above creation, instead of part of it. We have used it and abused it. God, we pluck the strands on the web of life and know not what we do.
Holy One, we know that there is more going on than we perceive and that there is more to be determined and we have hope. Let our faith find a voice and movement. Let us trust the web of life.
Let us look to the fractals. Let us live the small connection and hold the big vision to keep demanding that which is good! May it be so. Amen.
3 Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown. AK Press, 2017 p. 53
4 Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Talents: A Novel. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1998. Print.
6 Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1962.
7 Inspired by the Prayer of Confession at the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ, Congregations Alive Worship Service Friday February 8, 2019