Like many in this congregation, my life has been privileged. Just by sheer luck, I was born into a family with the right combination of race, class, and income to launch me into a solidly middle class life in a prosperous region of one of the most powerful countries on earth during one of the most economically successful periods in history. My experience of life has been one of abundance and security. Of course, there have been times of difficulty, challenges to be met, disappointments and even tragedy. But, when I got up this morning and looked out my window, the world looked fine, the flowers just beginning to burst into bloom, the trees swelling with buds, birds singing, deer browsing in the meadow. Compared to many in the world—indeed, many in this state—I live a charmed life. If I am hungry, I can go to the pantry and find plenty of good wholesome food; the kitchen tap delivers as much pure, delicious water as I could possibly use. With rare exceptions, the power company provides electricity so that we have light, heat, refrigeration, computer access, cell phones, and so on. I go to work, to school, to church, and to play in late model, efficient vehicles; I wear comfortable, affordable clothing; my work is rewarding and meaningful, and I have family and friends who support me and love me more than I deserve. I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful home on ten acres of wild land, surrounded by trees and fields, birds and wildlife. Yes, looking out my window, the world looks very, very good.
I only wish that it were really true. Because, if I look a little closer, beyond the day-to-day of work and family life, to focus on what is actually going on out there, just beyond my window, it begins to look like the world may not be quite so fine. I’m not talking about material inequality, though that is a huge concern, and of course there is a connection. What I see when I take the time to look at and listen to the natural world that I have always enjoyed, I can see—right out my window—that all is not well. Most of the ash trees on our property have died from an infestation of exotic ash borer beetles, and those remaining are going fast. Invasive autumn olive has taken over much of our meadow. We no longer see the indigo bunting at the bird feeder as we did just a few years ago. The spring peepers and chorus frogs don’t seem to make the same impossible din as they used, and the forsythia has failed to bloom for the last three or four years—though we do have high hopes this year!
Now, I am by nature a rational person, and I try hard to avoid jumping to conclusions based on anecdotal evidence. So, all these little occurrences don’t necessarily mean that the sky is falling. I am old enough to remember the natural world when it was quite different. The problem is, I wasn’t really paying much attention then, and I often don’t really pay attention even now. But I do have access to the broader world through books and articles, and through the internet, and through the experience of others. I have travelled enough to have seen the glaciers of the Alaskan mountains, and I have seen photos of those same mountains, taken only a few years later, with the glaciers in retreat as never before. So my personal experience of change in the natural world is confirmed and supported by others, who have made it their business to really pay attention.
Now each of us must interpret our experiences to come to our own understanding of how the world really is, and that conclusion is by its nature a matter of faith. I personally have faith in science as a way of understanding physical reality, and what science tells us about the breakdown of natural systems is confirmed by my own experience, looking out my window at this beautiful world that I claim to cherish. I am convinced that human activity, specifically the use of fossil fuels, exacerbated by over-population, is directly responsible for the ongoing destruction of the ecosphere. My privilege is founded on a system that has exploited the natural world without regard to consequences.
So what am I—what are we—to do? How can we learn to pay attention to what is really happening, and—more important—how can we learn to live in a way that cooperates with nature? The same science that has enabled us to change the course of natural history can also suggest courses of action that may be effective in preserving the web of life, because science provides facts about the physical world. But these are just “facts,” and “facts” don’t motivate us. We are motivated, instead, by our beliefs, which may or may not correspond to scientific “facts.” We act in accordance with our faith, whether we have faith in science, or in politics, or in god, or in our communities. Here at BUC, we claim to be part of the faith-based community. We are guided, not necessarily by facts, but by principles that we claim to believe in. Our Seventh principle, respect for the interdependent web of all existence, gives us the moral foundation for our response. It calls us to recognize that we are, after all, merely a part of the whole, but at the same time it reminds us that not only are we dependent on the web of life; it is also dependent on us. Thus, we are called to be advocates for the Earth, not just on Earth day but every day. I must admit that I have become increasingly cynical about the value of individual action; my little recycling efforts, my wearing a sweater instead of turning up the heat—these things aren’t going to save Western civilization. We humans, especially in the West, need to make a dramatic cultural shift.
As a member of the larger religious community, BUC is ideally positioned for this essential work, as this existential crisis is not primarily a battle of facts but of faith, requiring all of us to be courageous in demanding and embodying the political, economic, and cultural changes that must come if we are to survive. We must look forward, and move forward. Now is the time to enlist our formidable social, political, and economic strength, faithfully confident that we can indeed be the change that this world so desperately needs. We have been blessed, privileged, fortunate in so many ways, but with this good fortune comes responsibility. So I call on this beloved BUC community to embrace this responsibility. Let us lead by example, honoring our Seventh Principle in everything we do, every project we take on, every dollar we spend, and every prayer we offer.
Thanks for listening.