This sermon was preached at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington, NY on 9/21/14. It looks at the People’s Global Climate March, the nature of change and social justice work.
This week I spent 48 hours in Chicago consulting with our UU Seminary, Meadville Lombard, on a team worship crafting project. Come mid-January the seminary will send out the first of many annual “Sofia Fahs Sunday” packages to congregations, ministers and religious educators to be used for a multigenerational service on a Sunday of the congregations’ choice. It’ll also include some multigenerational preparatory activities for congregation’s to use ahead of the service, and likely some curricula to follow the service. It will be a collaboration between many UU voices in parish ministry, education, music and social justice work from across the continent. I really look forward to bringing it here in the Spring, and am grateful for the opportunity to work with all these wonderful people! You’re sure to hear more about it in the months to come.
On my way home, I flew out of O’Hare and into JFK. Although I have a fear of heights, pretty extreme in fact, I have almost no fear of flying. I can gleefully check out the landscape 30,000 feet above the ground, but I have a hard time looking over the railing on the second floor of a mall. One of the running theories is that fear of flying is about not being in control or not trusting someone else to be in control – in this case, the pilots. And fear of heights is not trusting in my own ability not to trip over my own two feet.
As we were about to land, looking out the window maybe 20 feet above the ground, I could see the swamps around us and was thinking how pretty they were. That was right before my stomach went into my throat. The plane quickly reversed direction as it began to rapidly shake. The big guy in the neighboring seat had had his eyes shut for the landing, and almost jumped out of his seat when he realized we were all of a sudden going up again. Now the brain can think about a remarkable number of tragedies in the two minutes between an aborted plane landing and the time it takes for the pilot to explain what just happened. The brain is a true gift that way. The plane is falling apart. The ground is not safe for whatever reason – terrorist, riots, zombies. (Well, maybe not zombies – but that would be our reptile brain at its finest.) We’re going to have to fly to another airport. We’ll run out of gas. The wheels have broken off.
Two minutes later the pilot announced that we had experienced wind shear. It’s apparently when the wind direction or pressure changes significantly over a short distance. It was the source of the 1985 crash of Delta Flight 191. Improved technology has reduced the risk caused by wind shear to one accident every 10 years, but in the 60’s through the 80’s caused 26 major traffic accidents and over 600 deaths. None of this was anything I had any idea about. In fact no one around me did either. You could hear the muttered questions of “wind shear?” all about.
It would be another 10 minutes before we could attempt the landing again. And I was once more reminded of one of Jesus’ teachings about worry. He admonishes his disciples not to worry. If the bad thing never happens, you put yourself through it once for no reason. If it does happen, you put yourself through it twice for no reason. Worry doesn’t change anything and it doesn’t add a day onto our lives. I often quote him when I advise people how to handle possibly very difficult news, and the waiting and not knowing becomes unbearable. I am glad to say that the teaching actually helped me to manage my stress in the face of the aborted landed. I remember thinking in the moment, “oh wow, this advice actually helps.” In case you were wondering. The second attempt at landing was smooth. We made it. I’m still alive.
Fear of flying is sometimes about not trusting the professional in the cockpit when you don’t have control yourself. Trust in others can sometimes insulate us from fear. Fear of heights is often about not trusting ourselves when we don’t feel in control. Trust, fear and control.
Changes in balance over short distances is central to the meaning behind the seasonal change to Autumn this weekend. The air becomes crisp. The humidity disappears. Some flowers bloom for a bit longer, others come into their height, and as it hits 55 degrees we’re faced with the existential crisis of Sweaters or Shorts. (One More Week Please!) I usually get a sinus cold as the temperature changes rapidly. 20 or more degrees in either direction will do that to me. With all the changes with our global climate, that head cold came three weeks early this year. where the north east has experienced a few years of record colds (both in the winter and the Summer), most of the rest of the entire planet has been experiencing record heat and droughts. It’s the difference between “local weather” and “global climate.”
It’s why many of our members are not here today. Several of us are in NYC taking part in the largest climate march in history as the UN gathers to meet and decide global initiative. I’m glad that many of our members, and many UU’s across the country, have traveled to NYC for this purpose. When 97% of scientists agree that we’re experiencing a global climate crisis, choosing to do nothing is tantamount to sticking our fingers in our ears. And we no longer have that luxury as a species.
In some earth-based religious traditions, the Autumnal Equinox has a religious counterpart to it – the holiday of Mabon. For some, it’s an opportunity to focus on how we have balanced our lives. Work, hobbies, attitudes, and learnings. For others it’s a holiday celebrating the second harvest where the gifts of our garden are shared with the wider community. From our place of bounty, we return the favor – we pay it forward. I hope the energy that comes from the climate march I’ve been speaking about will reignite change for the better. Maybe our members who went on that religious pilgrimage will return renewed for the work ahead, and share their gifts and lessons with all of us.
When we talk about sharing what we have extra of, we often think in materialistic terms. We’re raised in a culture that tends to focus on consumption and production, and we think of gratitude in those terms. What if we thought of justice work in terms of bounty and sharing? What if our lessons in building the beloved community on earth were seen as the tremendous gift they are toward finding a life of wholeness, and from that place of justice-centered abundance, we gave it forward as the gift it is. When we’re exhausted from the work – whether you’re one of our members who have been struggling to get more affordable housing built in our area for 30 years – as many of you have – or you’re a conservationist that remembers we’ve been able to save animals from extinction and close up the Ozone layer when it was riddled with holes in the 80 – but exhausted by the enormity of what we must now accomplish – remember that your lifetime of learning what makes the world a more just, a more balanced place – can be a source of nourishment, not despair from inertia.
The seasons will come and go. Gardens will be planted every spring, and need to be cared for over and over before seed will bear fruit. And once it’s grown, it’s gone. We need to return again and again. We can be worn down by the effort required, or find grounding in the practice itself. What if the practice of justice work was as renewing a spiritual discipline as tending to our gardens are for some, or meditation is for others? As Unitarian Universalists, I find this to be possible if we can learn to relate to it in the same way we relate to other spiritual disciplines.
It’s also very necessary. A friend of mine recently pointed out to me how in so many ways, each generation learns from the advancements of past generations. (The discussion came about from an article he had read and misplaced the name so I’m sorry I can’t give it worthy credit.) Technology improves at a radical rate thanks to the bedrock of past insights. The same is true for specializations in medicine, transportation and a whole host of science-related progress. However, it’s not necessarily true for social progress. Each generation seems to need to have to relearn the lessons of past generations. I’ve heard many of you recently lament having to protest issues that you thought were resolved in the 60’s or the 70’s. That’s largely due to the fact that it’s not easy to collate and quantify a book or guide that can clearly and scientifically list out what’s socially right or moral since it’s inherently based upon opinion and values. How we define freedom or empowerment or equality will differ from person to person all the while each individual may be espousing what they’re saying or doing lifts up freedom or empowerment or equality. Sometimes we’re rehashing old struggles because the other viewpoint never gave up, or never died out, or simply believes they’re fighting the good moral fight and if you’re on the side of morality – never say never. I’m sure that as religious progressives, we’re each guilty of this from time to time, and are each the targets of this from time to time. It doesn’t mean we throw our hands in the air and give up; but it does mean that we need to approach our justice work with a sense of awareness and humility lest we ever be guilty of what so often frustrates us ourselves.
But since each social progress lesson needs to be relearned every generation, instead of feeling despair or exhaustion from it, we can view it as the seasonal work of the spirit. Gardening for a new yield. As Unitarian Universalists it’s just the work we do. Every heart that’s turned; every sorrow that’s mended; every turn toward wholeness in our society, is a gift of the work of our spirit, if we let our hands and our hearts lead with compassion – generation after generation. It’s something worthy of being renewed by – not exhausted from.