[Note- this reflection was present along with 2 given by lay-leaders in the congregation]
I suppose it began for me one spring day when I got home from shopping at the Target, and began unpacking my purchases. I couldn’t believe the volume of waste- the amount of packaging I pulled off everything from moisturizer to my son’s new toy was more than 3 times the volume of the products themselves- and I don’t mean the bottle the moisturizer was in, but the plastic shelf hanger that the bottle was in that the moisturizer was in. Or course this was something I had probably experienced many times before- but on this day it just made me feel bloated with waste. I felt guilty and impotent.
This was in the time right before we invaded Iraq. There were some massive marches in San Francisco, and I felt powerfully moved to participate. I taped anti-war signs to my son’s stroller and off we headed. He was completely overwhelmed, poor thing, by the energy of 40,000 people who were, frankly, full of righteous indignation. I had to carry my 2 year old in my arms for the whole march because he didn’t feel safe in his stroller. Thankfully I had found the UU contingent, and a friend pushed the stroller the whole way so I could carry Nick.
When I got to church the next day, a long time activist explained that organizers of that march often had kind of belligerent-feeling rallies, and that I might check out the upcoming march by the local peace center. It was there my son and I found a woman sitting on a quilt with a hand lettered sign “story time for peace” There she sat with a cluster of preschoolers around her as she read stories about peaceful conflict resolution. It slowly dawned that even though I was the mother of a toddler I could still find ways work for justice.
I craved my own sense of calling- a cause I felt passionate about, for which I had the means to respond. I remember standing in line at the Subway sandwiches and offering a inglorious plea to the universe “please help me find a calling of my own.”
It started with those plastic packages, and turned into canvas bags. I made a resolution that I was going to bring those darn canvas bags to the store every single time I went grocery shopping, and if I left them in the car, I would walk back and get them no matter how far away I parked. I joined the green sanctuary team just being formed at church. I chose for my sabbatical the University of Creation Spirituality, where I could study a theology that had sustainability and justice at it’s heart: I knew it would be hard to make the changes in my own life unless the work I was called to do would was grounded in my own sense of love for the earth, grounded in my own deep beliefs and values, and in the same sense of motherly protection I felt for my own son.
Bit by bit I noticed that the environmental movement was a good fit for me- because, for example, I like long-term thinking, and really there is no movement that thinks more long term than the environmentalists. Moreover, there were ways for me to take action while still being a good mom. I made a vow to stop buying individually wrapped cheese sticks and renounced bottled water. We instituted a monthly program at the church called “Cool deeds for kids” in which all our children and youth would spend their RE time together learning about an issue and then doing something to help with our own hands. That might be making bag lunches for the local homeless shelter, or making models of erosion and permafrost in baking tins, then writing letters to our senators to ask for funding to save the disappearing village of Shishmaref Alaska.
I heard Julia Butterfly Hill say once that really there is only one movement. The anti-war movement and the environmental movement are not 2 separate factions vying for our time. We prevent wars when everyone has clean water to drink, when we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. And war is incredibly destructive to the environment, destroying ecosystems and agricultural lands for generations. Nick and I kept attending our local peace marches as the war began, and when someone said “they are cutting down the boreal forest in Canada to print catalogs” I heard that call too. We held a “Cool Deeds” about reducing and recycling paper, we changed the paper policy through the church board, and I started a personal practice of writing letters to every mailing house that sent me a catalog to explain the issues and ask to be dropped from the their lists.
At the beginning, each time I heard the call it was like following a thread in a mystery as I looked for the work that was meant for me. Today my e-mail in-box is stuffed with calls to action every morning, and I have to pick and choose which call to answer. I feel bad that I can’t be at every lobby day, but I no longer feel guiltily and impotent. I have my work, and part of that work is leading a balance life with my family. I am proud to be part of of the Community Shale network, and that some of us will be headed to Syracuse on October 30 to present a picture of what it’s like in a county where drilling is a reality to folks in New York who are at a critical point in legislative decisions that will have ripples for many years. I still carry my canvas bags to the grocery store, and have switched to cloth napkins and locally laid eggs.
Rev. Rebecca Parker, one of my seminary professors, said in her childhood Methodist home she was taught that if there is work that needs to be done, and you can do that work, that this is your calling. I believe that this world needs each of us, that each of us is differently called, and that that calling changes over the course of our lives. Even in our busy complicated everyday lives, there are ways for each of us to act for justice if we listen closely for the call. I invite you to take a moment quietly to consider how you are uniquely called to help create a more just world.
[moment of silent meditation]