Sunday, April 27, 2008

Earth Day Sermon

I'm sorry there haven't been more posts this month. April is one of the two busiest months of the year for me, together with August. Between working four part-time jobs, finishing the semester, getting the garden in and being sick I haven't had a lot of time for blogging.

This year the social justice committee at my church did the Earth Day service. The sermon was split between two of us on the committee. My half is posted below. Let me know what people think. I had a lot of people tell me they liked it, and I know I made at least two people angry.

For our topic today we picked reverence for the web of life. When we speak of environmentalism, of preserving nature, this is what we are really speaking of. But what does this mean, exactly? My dictionary defines reverence as a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe, and also the outward manifestation of such a feeling. It is not enough to feel this respect; one must also show it in action. This is a crucial point.

From a Pagan and Native American point of view, we are nature and nature is us. Whatever we do to the web of life we also do to ourselves, because we are part of the web. In these traditions, to revere the web of life is only natural, because to do so is to revere ourselves. Likewise, to rip or rend or disrespect the web of life is to do the same to ourselves.

Somewhere along the way there has been a fundamental disconnect between modern people and the natural world. Collectively, and often individually, we have set ourselves apart from nature and forgotten that we are a part of the web. We have forgotten that everything we do has an impact, and that it will eventually impact us. This disconnect has led us to where we are today, in a world facing multiple ecological and environmental crises: climate change, rising sea levels, dying oceans, overpopulation, declining water tables, food shortages, and the list goes on and on. We live in a world that is seriously ill and getting worse. There is a garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of the continental United States. Mothers in many parts of the world can no longer breast feed their babies because their milk has enough PCBs in it to be labeled toxic waste. Some of the ingredients in baby bottles may later render the adult infertile, or even cause cancer. Australia lost ninety percent of its harvest this year to a drought almost certainly induced by climate change. Sea level is rising at the rate of an inch a year. Even if this rate does not increase, by the time my generation retires New Orleans will be underwater. As will large portions of Florida and parts of the eastern seaboard. Every day now two hundred species go extinct. That’s two hundred species gone forever. Every single day.

I could go on, but that is enough to prove the point. This is what happens when we do not revere the web of life. This is what happens when we forget that we are in separately intertwined with the natural world, that what happens to it happens to us as well. But what does it mean to truly revere the web of life? And what can any one person truly do in the face of all this horror?
The natural reaction for many is to throw up their hands and say there is nothing I can do. Anything I do won’t make a difference. The problem is bigger than I am and will take laws and government. And lots and lots of money. Yet this is the wrong reaction. Yes, it will take some laws. But at its heart, as Michael Pollan pointed out recently, this is a crisis of lifestyle and of character. This crisis is the sum total of every one of our choices, and those choices made in our name. Everything we do, every choice we make, makes a difference –good, bad, or neutral. And when we throw up our hands and say nothing I do matters, I can’t make a difference, not only are we not helping to solve the problem, but we are also contributing to it.

So what does it mean to truly revere the web of life? First, we have to respect the natural world. We also must work to really understand that we are part of this web, and permanently intertwined with it. This is harder than it appears. For instance, many of us have no idea where our food comes from or what it takes to grow it. When I first started growing some of my own vegetables I thought I knew what it took to grow food. And intellectually I did. But I had no real idea that it takes a month to grow a radish! This little thing that is gone in two seconds takes a month to grow. You plant the seeds, you water, you weed, and you wait. A month later you pull it and in one bit its gone. That’s the kind of understanding I’m talking about.

What happens to the web of life will happen to us, and to our children. We have to make choices that will not do any more harm and will help to repair the harm that has all ready been done. We have to rethink our lifestyles, to make the changes that will allow us to stop contributing to this problem. Recycling and changing our lightbulbs is not enough. We also have to reduce the amount we consume, and change the sources of the things we use in our daily lives. These changes, these choices, while they may not be the most convenient or the most comfortable for each of us, are also the only way not to shift the price for our comfort and convenience onto our children and grandchildren. For it is they who will pay the highest price for how we treat the earth. As the ancient Native American proverb says, the earth does not belong to us; we merely borrow it from our children. And only when we have learned to walk more lightly on the earth will we truly come to revere the web of life. And ourselves.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Manufactured Landscapes

I watched a fascinating documentary called Manufactured Landscapes the other night. in this film, the filmmaker documents various manmade landscaped ranging from factories to mines. The opening sequence is an eight minute long walk through a Chinese factory, in which you never get to either end. While this is going on, the voiceover describes the purpose of the movie, which is to show how humanity has altered the landscape and created industrial landscapes, and to do this without judging or making any claims as to the good or ill of these developments.

The claim is patently ludicrous for anyone who cares about the planet. Ten minutes into this hour and an half long movie, I was ready to vomit. The scale of the destruction and harm shown just in this factory was unbelievable. Over the course of the movie, the filmmaker takes you to many other places: a shipbuilding yard in China and shipbreaking beach in Bangladesh, an open pit mine and an oil field. The places are incredible and unbelievable. They are horrifying and sickening, yet hold your interest all the same: just like watching a wreck occur. You might want to turn away, but somehow you just can’t.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone concerned about the status and the future of our planet. But be warned: it is not easy to watch.

It is available on Netflix.

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