Category Archives: philosophy

The Road is Made by Walking

The COP21 talks began in Paris today, following last week’s worldwide climate marches. Here is a reflection I offered at the Unitarian Universalists of San Mateo on November 15,  as part of our climate justice service preceding these momentous talks. Prayers and social movements are both made with our feet, so I’m pleased to say that during this service 15 families signed the Paris Pledge, described below. Our pledges joined thousands of others, taken to Paris by Rev. Sally Bingham of Interfaith Power and Light, which has been leading on this issue for nearly 20 years.

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This year, a number of us have been on a journey toward greater awareness of the ecological impact of our choices, knowing that it is the cumulative impact of all these choices that creates the world our children will inherit.

It has been fun and energizing to walk this road together, hearing one Sunday that Pam is saving shower water for her garden plants and the next Sunday that Shawn and Karyn were so excited about their new electric car and the next that Barb is teaching people how to re-landscape for both drought tolerance and food production. We are building a new way here, holding hands and singing with stubborn gladness as we go.

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In two weeks, in Paris, 80 world leaders will gather to – we hope – sign binding carbon emissions targets that will set the world’s major economies on a new course, one that will begin to turn the barge of the global economy away from fossil fuels. It is exceptionally important that this agreement be signed. The nations failed to do so in 2009, but I feel the tide turning in the past year, and I am hopeful.

If our leaders fail us (as they have been known to do periodically in the past), we must continue to lead them – as in the suffrage movement, as in the civil rights movement, as in the gay rights movement – from right here, in these progressive, justice-making pews, until they wake up and join us!

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Of course, there is also much to grieve in the climate crisis, and later Emily will lead us through a ritual to acknowledge and feel these losses. Grief and joy both reside deep in the heart, and we know that our ability to feel sadness directly affects our access to joy. And with this joy comes the desire to act, the resolve to keep walking the path, come what may. Joy and resolve, these are our marching orders.

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In response to the urgency of this ecological moment, Interfaith Power and Light has created the Paris Pledge as a sign to world leaders that we take this seriously and they must do so, too. The Paris Pledge states this: “In an act of solidarity with global leaders and nations at the 2015 UN Climate Talks in Paris, I pledge to reduce my carbon pollution 50% by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2050.” Many faith leaders have taken this pledge as representatives of their faith communities, including many UU congregations.

This past spring, we voted unanimously that our congregation would “Commit2Respond” to the climate crisis, so Rev. Ben, too, has signed this pledge on our behalf, as an act of both faith and solidarity – faith in our congregation’s will and commitment to truly live out our mission in the world and solidarity with every living thing. Whatever we do next as a congregation, we can do it from within this commitment to ecological health, with the joy and resolve that we will not sit on the sidelines or wait for a better time, but rather be part of the solution.

The great news is that, from my research and conversations, I know that congregations who make improvements to “go green” end of saving heaps of money that they can use for programming instead of power bills. It also feels really good – really clean – to use less fossil fuel. My family bought an all-electric Nissan Leaf this year, and I can attest to how very much lighter I feel, knowing that I am driving a solar-powered car.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn your order of service, you will find a copy of the Paris Pledge. As we deepen into meditation, ask yourselves if you, too, can commit to the changes, both internal and external, needed to sign the pledge and reduce your personal emissions by half over the next 15 years. It is a challenging but very achievable goal, one that we can support each other in meeting as individuals and a community over the years to come. It is time to act.

If you do sign the pledge, please drop it in the offertory basket toward the end of the service. Making this pledge is another powerful step we can each take along the road.

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May it be so.

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Let’s Get Physical

I walked into a JMW Turner painting this morning. This one:

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Or maybe this one:

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It was wild outside last night — the rain woke me twice and the rainless wind once — and my morning walk was unusually warm and blustery. I rounded the corner to the Point, where I usually stop to survey the 5-mile arc of Half Moon Bay, when, in a singular moment, a long blast of warm wind hit me head on as the sun cracked the dark shell of the sky wide, and a slice of blue was revealed. It was a consuming, rapturous moment, and I leaned into the wind and let myself fly.

The Greeks called this phenomena physis, that overwhelming surge of energy and emotion we all experience from time to time, if we’re present in our lives. It’s easy to not be present — to focus on yesterday’s argument or tomorrow’s deadline — and I wonder how many such moments I miss when, for example, I’m sitting at this computer.

I’m fascinated with such moments, when something more Real seems to break through the humdrum of life. Some call this Romantic, as in the 18th and 19th century writers and painters (including Turner) who portrayed the grandeur and danger of nature (and, therefore, of God) in contrast to the tiny, quavering existence of man. But that’s not it, because that 200-year-old worldview assumes a creator and created, an I and Thou, a hierarchy of differentiated beings.

For me, these moments are rather a reminder of what I already know, but easily forget. That is, we are all aspects of one thing, one unitary substance which is unknowable and unnameable. This substance is both material (from elephants to atoms) and immaterial (from dreams to philosophies), and it is both uncreated and eternal. It’s more mystical than romantic, it has more to do with Rumi than Goethe. If you want to call this substance God, that’s fine by me, but you could equally call it Nature, and this would be a distinction without a difference.

The world is indeed physical, in the Greek sense. Which is to say, not reducible to constituent parts, but sometimes bigger than what we can know or perceive. Thank God for that.