Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Incarnation (December 16, 2012)

In the Christian Tradition, today is the 3rd Sunday of advent, a time of waiting for Christmas, or really, a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and to prepare for Jesus to come again.

What does Advent mean to UUs, some of whom are Christian and some of whom are not Christian? Christmas is, ultimately, about incarnation and so today, as part of this year’s sermon series on a “Language of reverence” I wanted to think a bit about this word that we UUs don’t use very often. “Incarnation” is word that comes to us from middle English meaning “made flesh” (that Latin root “Carn” means flesh). In the Christian tradition, Christmas is about God taking on flesh. This is special not only because it is miraculous, but also because it is a gesture of deep compassion. It is about God reaching out to humanity by taking on flesh like ours, being with us in the most intimate way. Experiencing our pain, in his nerves and sinews. In a theology where God and the world are separate, this represents a tremendous reaching out to be present with us in the world as we know and live it. When we sing “O Come O Come Immanuel” we are welcoming, beseeching God to be present among us here in the real, nitty gritty, imperfect world. Immanuel is a name coming from the Hebrew meaning “God is with us” [Sing]“O Come, you Day-spring come and cheer our spirits by your presence here.”

The Latin American liberation theologian, Ivone Gebara, is one of those Christian theologians who see a larger meaning of the word “incarnation”. She writes :
“I believe that to affirm the incarnation, or bodiliness of the divine does not necessarily require that Jesus have some unique metaphysical character. Jesus is also “our Sacred Body” For this reason, the incarnation, the presence of the greatest of mysteries in our flesh, is more than Jesus of Nazareth. In this sense, we could say that Jesus is for us a metaphor of the divine presence, the unfathomable mystery, the unutterable in the human flesh in which we are all included” [184]

This theology sings in harmony with words by UU Religious Educator Sophia Lyon Fahs -- indeed, words we will hear again at our Candle Light service on Friday “Each Night a Child is Born is a holy night”

Sally McFague, an Anglican Theologian, challenges us to expand even further what an incarnational theology might look like. She writes:

“An Incarnational Theology gives us permission to love the body of the world and through the world’s beauty to find intimations of God… What is this body that we are to praise and love? It is the universe, all matter/energy that has constituted physical reality since the Big Bang billions of years ago.  It is not any one body and certainly not the human body (the model is not anthropomorphic or apthropocentric.)  The body of God is all of creation, all of nature, all that “is,” all that exists. To imagine the world this way – as being in and of a God – and to imagine God this way --- as being the matrix of all that is – means that sharp lines between the world and God are erased.” 
So for McFague, we can understand God’s relationship to the world in an incarnational theology is that the world is God’s body or McFague offers another model for an incarnational theology “the world is in God as a baby is in the womb” [McFague p. 114-115]. That’s a pretty radical image—we are not used to hearing such an intimately female image of God in Christian Theology. Rebecca Parker, who holds dual fellowship as a minister in both the Methodist and UU traditions, challenges us in her beautiful advent poem, to remember that a time waiting for Jesus to be born is also a time when Mary was waiting to give birth to her very first child. I know of no other experience more really, nitty gritty and imperfect than giving birth to a child. Could the image of giving birth, with all it’s mess and pain and terror and exhaustion be a theological image for us?

I have mentioned here before that for me Universalism means that if any person is an incarnation of the divine, then God is present in all of us. God is, as Parker suggests, in the pregnant woman and in the child, in Joseph, in the animals, and even in Herod. God is incarnate in the lowly and the high, in the nitty gritty and in the sublime. “We are the dwelling place.” And, to spread Universalism out across the whole interdependent web of life of which we are a part, I believe that not only those animals in the stable that storied night, but every ant, every tree, every mountain  are part of the body of God as well. This is a theology that arose as a knowledge of systems theory has become part of our way of looking at the world. It is a theology that moves us from a theology of parts to a theology of the  

What would it mean to live knowing that the world is the body of God? Usually we think of the world as being kind of ordinary, not really very special, the word “mundane” comes from the Latin “mund” or “world.” Says McFague:

 “An incarnate God is exactly that; mundane. I think this God cares about entire species of animals becoming extinct because humans grab all the land; God cares about children who do not have fresh water to drink; … An incarnate religion demands an incarnate spirituality; one could call it a ‘spirituality of the body.’ Hence issues of global warming become religions issues: clean air and water, food and shelter, become ‘works of the spirit.’ When life is seen as intrinsically valuable and all life exists in networks of interrelationship and interdependence then there is no split between spirit and flesh, with religion concerned mainly with the spirit… the material condition of others is a spiritual matter.” [McFague p 155].

Today our hearts are heavy with reports of this massacre of children in an elementary school in Connecticut. It is unimaginably horrible. [pause for a moment of silence] moments like this have caused so many people in the twentieth century and today to turn away from the idea of God. It seems to me that the God we are turning away from is the God who is separate from us, the God whose unknowable will sometimes causes such suffering for our bodies, and the bodies of our children. But if we are all part of the Body of God, then this horrible event is a rending of our body, a wound to the body we all share, a wound to the Body of God. God is not separate from this event. God feels this event as we feel it. This is what incarnation means. To take on flesh means to take on the capacity to feel great pain, to be wounded. It also means, and this is the hardest part of an incarnational theology, that the capacity to wound, the capacity to do great harm is part of our body as well. It does not belong to “the other” who must be routed out and destroyed, but it is, in the largest sense, part of us.

How then shall we live? An incarnational theology means that we must  go about the work of healing knowing it is our own body we heal. It also means we must strive to live lives that are compassionate and just, because harm is not just something other people do, the capacity to harm is in each one of us, and in the social, economic and ecological webs in which we are intimately bound.  This is familiar territory for UUs. For at least a hundred years we have known that tending the body of the world is holy work. In our chalice lighting this morning Jack reminded us that “Service is our prayer.” We know that washing the coffee mugs after service on Sunday morning is a prayer. We know that bringing food to the House of Hope for Thanksgiving is a prayer. We know that turning down the heat and turning off the water heater when we leave the church building is a prayer. When we care for the bodies of loved ones or strangers, when we care for the body of the earth as a mother would care for her child this is a spiritual act even when our intentions are very mundane.

What does it mean to celebrate Advent, if God is already incarnate, right now in every facet of our universe? Or what if, as  Parker writes:

The birth cry in the night
is your child,
falling into the dark,
and your arms holding her.

Perhaps instead of preparing ourselves for the divine to come from far away, from divine realms we are preparing ourselves to birth something brand new, something as holy as anything incarnate in this world can be.  Perhaps it is a time for us to unearth that deep true part of our self that sometimes gets covered over by business, by social convention, by habit. This is a time to allow our hearts to shine, our souls to shine, even knowing that at this time of year when the world is dark and cold our hearts are extra tender. We must be at our most compassionate with ourselves and with one another through the hard days of waiting  “to render every act a prayer.” Who knows, maybe despite the dark, the grief, the cold, even despair, something new and precious will be born in us this season.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Shale and the Precautionary Principle (Preached at UU Society of Oneonta)

In 1945 the first studies came out about the danger of cigarettes.  By 1954 we had data linking smoking to cancer, we knew that the more you smoke, the more your chance of getting cancer increases, but we didn’t know how it was that smoking caused cancer.  It wasn’t until the 1990s, when science figured out the mechanism by which smoking causes cancer, that we had enough science necessary to effect law.  45 years passed between the moment we had our first evidence that cigarettes probably were dangerous and the moment when science could prove it for sure.  In that time 2 generations of Americans got hooked on cigarettes, and too many died. 

This morning I want to discuss the radical idea that if you have early warning signs something might be dangerous, you should act with caution.  It sounds like something your grandmother might say, doesn’t it?  “Better Safe than sorry” or “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”   And, in fact, the concept we are going to discuss today had it’s origins in the 1930s among German home makers:  “Forecaring.” It was first used in environmental law in Germany in the 1970s when the Black Forest was dying, and folks were concerned it might be connected to acid rain caused by power plant emissions.  Germany subsequently developed environmental law and policy which helped prevent further sickening of the forests, and which encouraged development of new, safer alternatives.  This principle of forecaring (or as it came to be known in English, “The Precautionary Principle”) was came to be used in the legal code of many countries, including the European Union.

In 1998 the Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN) convened  a Wingspread conference to formalize the precautionary principle, and to imagine how it could be applied.  Their resulting statement of the principle is one that is widely used today: 

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically." 
"In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof."
This is crucial-   It’s not me that has to prove that the factory upstream from my house is emitting dangerous chemicals into the water table, it’s the “proponent of the activity,” say the company which produces the plastic toy or -- let's say Fracking fluid-- to prove that the products really are safe. That all sounds kind of like common sense, doesn’t it?  

So what is the context in which a principle like “better safe than sorry” is cutting edge environmental thinking?  Current environmental laws are set up with a “risk assessment” premise, which became standard practice in the United States in the mid-1980s and was institutionalized through the global trade agreements of the 1990s. Here’s how that works.  First a risk assessment estimates how much harm a product or process might cause.  “Next, policy makers attempt to decide how much harm is acceptable… but at no point in the risk assessment…are decision makers required to ask whether alternatives exist that would substantially reduce risk.” When the city of San Francisco was researching the Precautionary Principle, they wrote a white paper which explained it this way:

“For example, a risk assessment may attempt to define how many children will suffer developmental disorders or cancer after playing with a plastic toy that leaches chemicals of poorly understood toxicity. With this risk assessment in hand, policy makers may then attempt to define how many diseased children (one in 10,000? 100,000?) would be acceptable. This process provides no opportunity to examine an alternative option, in which toys are only made from materials known to be safe for children.”[iii]

The precautionary principle creates just that kind of opportunity to examine alternative options. 

 Throughout  this process, we need to make sure that all who are effected will be part of the conversation. So, if you want to build a toy factory in my neighborhood, following the precautionary principle my neighbors and I get to be involved in an open democratic process as the community determines the safest process for producing toys.

The precautionary approach seems more in line with our Unitarian Universalist values than the “Risk Assessment” model our policy makers use today.  As UUs, we like a good open, informed, democratic process, it’s right there in our 5th principle “use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” Unitarian Universalists who affirm and promote a “Free and responsible search for truth and meaning” will find resonance with a principle that asks us to examine a full range of alternatives before acting.  And of course UUs are united in our  “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.”  To truly respect the complexity and of our inexorable relationship to the web of life, the inescapable truth that anything we do will always impact the people, animals, trees, soil and air with whom and from whom we live, so naturally it follows that  “when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken.”

I think the aspect of the Precautionary Principle that might be challenging for UUs is the idea that we can act (or choose not to act) before the science is conclusive.  We are skeptics who don’t automatically believe everything we hear or read.  When Chicken Little says “the sky is falling” we don’t want to be just another barnyard animal who follows her into Foxy Loxy’s lair.  After all, one of the sources of our living tradition is “the guidance of reason and the results of science” and here I am saying that “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” should have legal precedence over conclusive scientific data?  Clearly Chicken Little did not have enough data to justify his conclusion that the sky was falling.  But if those barnyard animals had taken seriously any misgivings about the safety of Foxy Loxy’s lair, their story would have ended much more happily. 

If you are going to leave your home and go live with Foxy Loxy because the sky is falling, you need to shore up some assumptions you are making about the sky falling and your assumptions about Foxy Loxy.  Misplaced certainty can be a dangerous thing.  A 2001 report written by the European Environment Agency recalled some of the worst examples of misplaced certainty about the safety of particular processes, a certainty which caused us to overlook early warning signs.  They included such examples as radiation, ozone depletion, asbestos, and Mad Cow disease, concluding that:  “Misplaced ‘certainty’ about the absence of harm played a key role in delaying preventive actions.” 

And why can’t we be more certain about the effects of such things?  Because “serious, evident effects such as endocrine disruption, climate change, cancer, and the disappearance of species can seldom be linked decisively to a single cause. Scientific standards of certainty may be impossible to attain when causes and outcomes are multiple; latent periods are long; timing of exposure is crucial; unexposed, “control” populations do not exist; or confounding factors are unidentified.”[iv] 

All our scientists would be unemployed if it weren’t for the reality that new things are learned and proven and dis-proven every day.  Theologically speaking, Unitarian Universalism is a tradition grounded in the belief that revelation is ongoing.  We believe new truth is constantly coming into human awareness, and that it will go on being revealed forever.  We believe deeply that we will never have truly ALL the data, will never unravel all the mysteries of existence, but will keep learning and discovering as long as there is life.  Any promise of certainty should make us skeptical.

So the precautionary principle doesn’t ask us to reject science, just acknowledges that the scientific process is time consuming and that (as was the case for cigarettes) complete proof may not be ready in time to prevent harm.  So let’s take grandma’s advice and be “better safe than sorry.”

Right now those of us who live above the Marcellus Shale are embarking on a great adventure- that of high volume horizontal Hydraulic.  When Cornell Engineering Professor Ingraffea, spoke to a gathering at my church, he said there is a misconception that “fracking is a 60 year old well-proven technology.” In fact, he says, this process of slickwater production on multi-well pads has only been used in the last 5 years. “What we are doing is truly un-tried”, he says.[v]

I don't have to tell you the risks of Fracking. This congregation just passed a statement that says "The practice [of hydraulic fracturing] has been linked to removal of vast amounts of water from the natural water cycle, contaminated drinking water, noise and air pollution, seismic activity, forest destruction, habitat fragmentation and serious human and wildlife illness." Many of these dangers were listed in the original 424-page EPA report on Hydraulic Fracturing [vi]  and yet, the report concludes that the process could safely proceed with very little oversight, which is kind of a head scratcher to me. I have to wonder… if we had applied the precautionary principle in response to that original EPA report would we hear horror stories from towns like Dimock Pennsylvania where in 2009 “gas ignited in a water well and blew apart its concrete cover?” [vii]    If we had sat down with all involved parties in an open democratic fashion and examined the full range of alternatives, I have to imagine that Dimock residents would not be using bottled water for cooking and drinking 3 years later, nor would they be mired in this agonizing triangle with Cabot and the DEP as they try to prove that the chemicals now in their drinking water are there as a result of hydro-fracking.

Or, for example, what about those earthquakes we keep hearing about in the Midwest? Perhaps potential geological impact of fracking is another reason for precaution despite the fact that the science is not yet conclusive. A study by the U.S. Geological Survey showed a pronounced increase of earthquakes in the Midwest in data taken before and after the introduction of fracking to the area.  To Dr. Ellsworth, who conducted the study, this does not seem like a purely natural phenomenon, but the causation has not yet been proven conclusively. "There are many things we don't understand," says Ellsworth. "We're in ambulance-chasing mode where we're coming in after the fact." He noted that in 2009 only 3 percent of the roughly 75,000 hydraulic fracturing pads in the United States were monitored seismically and recommends collecting such data as a good precautionary measure.[viii] Doesn’t that seem like common sense, to gather data about the seismic potential of proposed drilling sites?

Hydro-fracking is a complex process that will have many different impacts on the eco-systems and communities it inhabits.  The  Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) on the drilling says there is not sufficient information about “long term non-lethal and interlocking effects”.  Current environmental law says that if science can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that hydro-fracking has caused harm, they can use these processes until it is proven conclusively that people were harmed by the process.  50 years it took the cigarette industry.  We can’t afford to wait that long to safeguard our water, our air, our health.  “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Some of you who have been watching the New York State moratorium closely as the November 29 deadline approached are relieved to hear that the DEC applied for a 90 day extension (which I believe will include a public comment period) so that a review of health impacts can be finished. Though I live here in New York State,  I serve a congregation in Bradford County Pennsylvania, where Fracking has been underway for about 4 years now. In Bradford County we are, as Ellsworth said, “in ambulance chasing mode”. Things happen so fast that local residents feel unprepared and can hardly keep up with changes. City and County boards feel pressured to rush through things like the siting of wastewater  treatment center in a residential area [ix]. Here in New York we still have time, and it seems to me that if we apply the precautionary principle, waiting until the Health Commissioner completes a health impact review, and taking the time to make sure that review is transparent and uses solid science is just good common sense[x].

I heard a radio interview the other day with a frustrated representative of a New York landowner’s association. He was jealously describing at all the economic activity he sees just across the border in Pennsylvania. I wish he had sat with me last week at the community listening circle we held in our sanctuary for folks living in Bradford County, both leased and un-leased. They talked about the health problems friends are having- mostly headaches and dizziness. They talked about rents that have doubled and tripled leading to a housing crisis for the most vulnerable. They expressed their rage at being steamrolled into this process without democratic participation, their reticence to even talk about an issue that has pitted neighbor against neighbor, their fear about unknown environmental impacts, and their sadness about the loss of their country way of life as our quiet agricultural community becomes a noisy, crowded industrial center.

But here in New York, while our government gathers more data and the regulations are still being drafted, now is the time to participate in the public comment period, or to reach out to Governor Cuomo and to make your voice heard. Now is also the time to understand what plans your local towns and counties have in place for such a time when the moratorium may be lifted. I encourage all of you to mark your city or county council meetings on your calendar and make sure they are applying a little forecaring to what may be a long-term change in our communities.

Here in New York, there is still time to look before we leap.  We are just at the beginning of what is projected to be a 25-50 year process that will effect not only us here in New York and Pennsylvania, but people living above shale deposits in more than half the states in this country, and in countries around the world.  Now is the time for the Precautionary Principle. Now is the time for an ounce of prevention.  If we think there could be a risk of harm to the eco-system, to our drinking water, to our land, to our children, let’s slow down, bring together all the involved parties, and seek out the alternatives that will do the least harm.  Like mom always said, “better safe than sorry.”

[i] This example was used by Carolyn Raffensperger in her 2005 address to the Bioneers Plenary.

[ii] “Science & Environmental Health: Carolyn Raffensperger”

[iii] WHITE PAPER The Precautionary Principle and the City and County of San Francisco March 2003 p. 4

[iv] WHITE PAPER The Precautionary Principle and the City and County of San Francisco March 2003

[vi] Drill for Natural Gas, Pollute Water: The natural gas industry refuses to reveal what is in the mixture of chemicals used to drill for the fossil fuel By Abrahm Lustgarten and ProPublica

“Are leaking wells letting methane get into Dimock's water?” By Laura Legere (Staff Writer) Published: September 30, 2012
 [viii] “The Facts Behind the Frack: Scientists weigh in on the hydraulic fracturing debate” By Rachel Ehrenberg,  August 24, 2012


[x] Associated Press “NY agency to seek 90-day extension on frack regs"

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thanksgiving and the Doctrine of Discovery (November 18, 2012)

Sometimes I forget how radical Universalism really is. This idea that, as the song goes “God’s love embraces the whole human race” seems like common sense to me. But lately I have noticed that we also find in our public discourse the idea that some people are more valuable than others, even that some people do not have inherent worth and dignity. Universalism was radical hundreds of years ago when It proposed that we humans were not divided into the elect, and the rest of us doomed to an eternity of hellfire, but all were beloved by God. And though the language has changed, I have noticed that this duality is not just some historic notion from the days of Calvin, it is woven into our society, and into our laws even today.

The Doctrine of Discovery is a principle of international law dating from the late 15th century. It has its roots in a papal decree issued by Pope Nicholas V in 1452 that specifically sanctioned and promoted the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian territories and peoples:

... [W]e bestow suitable favors and special graces on those Catholic kings and princes, ... athletes and intrepid champions of the Christian faith ... to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens [an archaic term for Muslims] and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and ... to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate ... possessions, and goods, and to convert them to ... their use and profit …”[i]

After Columbus returned from America, the King and Queen of Spain went to the pope and asked for clarification about which lands could be claimed by Spain and which by Portugal.  Pope Alexander VI, responded with 3 papal bulls, including the  Inter caetera, which explains that

“ We have indeed learned that you, who for a long time had intended to seek out and discover certain islands and mainlands remote and unknown and not hitherto discovered by others, to the end that you might bring to the worship of our Redeemer and the profession of the Catholic faith their residents and inhabitants, …you, with the wish to fulfill your desire, chose our beloved son, Christopher Columbus, a man assuredly worthy …with divine aid and with the utmost diligence sailing in the ocean sea, discovered certain very remote islands and even mainlands that hitherto had not been discovered by others; wherein dwell very many peoples living in peace, and, as reported, going unclothed, and not eating flesh. …. In the islands and countries already discovered are found gold, spices, and very many other precious things of divers kinds and qualities. … you have purposed with the favor of divine clemency to bring under your sway the said mainlands and islands with their residents and inhabitants and to bring them to the Catholic faith."
and so he gives the Catholic kings of Spain claim to the entire New World to Spain and Africa and India to Portugal.

And so in just a few pages the Popes of European Christianity wiped out tens of thousands years of prior claim by native nations to this continent to the Catholic Kings of Spain.

The principles found in those papal bulls became enshrined in US law in the 1823 United States Supreme Court decision of Johnson v. McIntosh. In 1773 and 1775, Thomas Johnson, bought land from Piankeshaw Indian tribes. Then in 1818, William M'Intosh bought the same land from the United States Congress. When they realized this, Johnson's heirs sued M'Intosh in the United States District Court to recover the land. The District Court ruled for M'Intosh, reasoning that M'Intosh's title was valid since it was granted by Congress and that the Piankeshaw could not legally sell the land because they never “owned” it.

The Supreme Court upheld the finding for M'Intosh, ruling that individuals could not buy land directly from American Indians because the United States government had acquired ultimate title to Indian lands through the "doctrine of discovery." Chief Justice John Marshall's wrote in his opinion that European nations had assumed "ultimate dominion" over the lands of America under the Doctrine of Discovery, and that upon "discovery" the Indians lost "their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations," and retained only a right of "occupancy" in their lands. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story wrote, "As infidels, heathens, and savages, they (the Indians) were not allowed to possess the prerogatives belonging to absolute, sovereign and independent nations."  The Court concluded that European and U.S. practice treated American Indians "as an inferior race of people, without the privileges of citizens, and under the perpetual protection and pupilage of the government." [ii]Chief Oren Lyons says of the Johnson v M’Intosh decision “this is where they installed it in US Law”

There is no question this is one of the most disturbing parts of our history as a nation. It is so disturbing, in fact, that the mind rejects it. Or rationalizes it. Because everyone was doing it, right? During the period of history when Columbus “discovered” America, colonization was  a powerful phenomenon guiding international movement around the globe. And right at the beginning of this international land grab the pope himself gave it the religious stamp of approval. This idea that the highest authority in Christian religious institution would call on “intrepid champions of the Christian faith ... to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever” is, frankly, what gives Christianity a bad name. This is what Rebecca Parker was talking about when she said “The way the name of God has been so easily on the lips of those who bless acts of war is only the most recent example of people leaning on God to rationalize human actions that are fare from holy”

In Australia and other areas it was the legal concept of Terra Nullius or “empty land” which allowed European Nations to “Discover” those lands. The land was here to discover because there were no Christian people here, no REAL people, therefore the land was empty. In the words of  Oran Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle clan of the Onondaga Nation, all this rests on the notion that native people are “something less than people, they are not eligible for human rights” [iii]

There is hardly an atrocity that can be imagined that was not committed during this period of aggressive colonization and these acts cannot be undone. It will always be a part of the history of our country and of the human race that must be remembered so that it can never happen again. And yet we long to forget. We long to imagine that this is a historical anecdote that has nothing to do with us today. And yet most of the land we now inhabit in this country was land we took by force form other peoples.

Each year when we gather, as a people of faith, on this Sunday before thanksgiving, we have to choose what story we tell. For probably 60 years off and on this congregation has observed the tradition of donning period costumes and gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving dressed as pilgrims. We have a box of beautiful hand made hats and collars attesting to this fact. But the last time we gathered together in joyful thanksgiving in our hats and collars we knew something was not quite right. We know that the story of happy pilgrims and native Americans sharing their harvest bounty is  held within a larger story in which those pilgrims were part of  a systemic call  “to invade, search out, capture, vanquish.” And we know this story ends in a trail of tears. 

When we remember “what comes next” after the harvest celebration, we don’t really feel like celebrating any more.  As I was reading about the doctrine of discovery to prepare for this morning‘s service. I felt overwhelmed by grief, overwhelmed by the magnitude of what has happened, and overwhelmed by how we cannot change this story that is already written.  But our Unitarian heritage calls us to faithfulness to the truth. And if there is more than one version of a story to be told, our faith calls us to listen even to the hard stories, the difficult stories, because we believe in the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and we know we don’t get to pick and choose which truth we should include.

I found some circumspection in these words by the UU minister Alice Blair Wesley who wrote “It is terribly arrogant to suppose that because we can see, with hindsight, mistakes of the generations before us, it's okay to demonize them. Without demonizing them, we need to be as clear as we can be about their gifts to us and their mistakes, because the consequences of both still shape us.”

The problem is that in subtle and not so subtle ways we are still living out the legacy of the doctrine of discovery today. The 1832 decision has never been overturned, and has been referred to in legal decisions in Federal courts as recently as 2010[iv] Chief Oren Lyons  mentioned a case in 2007 of a land dispute in New York, and said that when the issue came before the supreme court the Doctrine of Discovery was a precedent cited in the very first footnote. 

Are the foreign policies toward “undeveloped nations” based on the premise that these undeveloped peoples are not sovereign? That they need to be “under the perpetual protection and pupillage of the government”? Is “undeveloped” just the modern way of saying “savages” The Doctrine of Discovery is still used to day to take mineral rights from native lands or expropriate their water resources. I know many of you who own land here in the County have wrestled with the decision about whether or not to lease the mineral rights to your land. The Native lands have no such right, because of this doctrine. How can we justify selling of someone else’s land, and stripping their mineral rights  against the will of the people who live there unless we believe that indigenous people occupying their ancestral lands have no sovereignty. And how did they lose their sovereignty? As Chief Justice John Marshall's said in his 1832 opinion stated that European nations had assumed "ultimate dominion" over the lands of America under the Doctrine of Discovery, and that upon "discovery" the Indians lost "their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations," and retained only a right of "occupancy" in their lands.

Universalism is the radical notion that there are no inferior peoples, no superior people, just people, all of whom have inherent worth and dignity. We do not believe in a God who commands us to “invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and ... to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate ... possessions, and goods, and to convert them to ... [our] use and profit”

I have heard UU historians and theologians say that in a day when there is very little talk about hellfire and damnation in the mainstream media the importance of Universalism has faded. But I encourage you to keep your ears out from political decisions that effect the lives of millions of people that are based on the assumption that the lives of some folks are just worth more than the lives of other folks. The assumption that some folks should have sovereignty and others should be under the patronage of other peoples.

So we, as people of conscience, are in the difficult position of knowing this violent and exploitative past, and even more difficult, knowing that these principles are still at work in the world today. WE need something to put our hand to help us make sure we are on the right path for the future. At the Justice GA this past June in Phoenix where I represented this congregation, our local partners asked the UUA to pass a business resolution passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery and calling on all our fellow Unitarian Universalists to study the Doctrine and eliminate all vestiges from the current-day policies, programs, theologies, and structures of Unitarian Universalism.
"BE IT RESOLVED that we, the delegates of the 2012 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association, repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases having no place in the modern day treatment of indigenous peoples."
It says, among other things “Affirming that indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognizing the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such.” Said Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray: “Our partners, Tonatierra, who are a key partner with us in the Arizona Immigration Ministry as well as the work that the Unitarian Universalist Association did around SP1070 They made a specific request of the delegates at GA. And that was to educate ourselves on the Doctrine of Discovery and to pass a business resolution that would call on President Obama to fully implement, without exception, the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People.” Tupac Enrique noted that “The US is the last country on this planet that haven't stepped in to endorse, full endorsement and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples advocate for our government to fully implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” This treatise was an aspirational declaration (which means that it is not legally binding.) passed by the United Nations in 2007 and to which the United States became a signatory in 2010. President Obama’s signature on UNDRIP on December 16th, 2010 but it has endorsed without any implementation. If it were submitted as a treaty to the US Senate, it would give it the force of law.

2012 is the year The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (Eleventh Session), will address the Special Theme: "The Doctrine of Discovery: its enduring impact on indigenous peoples and the right to redress for past conquests [v] Could this be a moment of Turning for the status of Indigenous persons around the world? Chief Oren Lyons says questioning Doctrine of Discovery in international law “Really shakes the root… of colonization”[vi] Which must be why we have avoided public discussion of this Doctrine because so much is built on it. We have in fact built our very presence here on this legal precedent, these papal bulls in terms of who can claim land. This is huge.  It’s like when you realize that not only is your shower leaking, but that it’s been leaking for 400 years, and probably the wood underneath is not so stable any more. We have built hundreds of years of law on this Doctrine, It would send many things into ambiguity if this doctrine were re-examined.

When I was in Canada a few years back a colleague encouraged me to go visit the “women are persons” monument. The monument is a tableau of larger-than-life statues of the five Alberta women who fought a legal and political battle in the 1920s to have women recognized as persons.  Because of their efforts, in 1929 the Privy council ruled that the word “person” includes both men and women. It made quite an impression on me, standing among the statues of these activists, to remember there was a time when women were not considered persons. It hardly seems possible now, does it? Women like me who lived in New York State could not own property until the “Married Women‘s Property Act” of 1838. Imagine the upheaval such a great legal turning must have caused in the minds and hearts and realities of our women, of men, of nations was huge. And yet today this seems very ordinary and reasonable. As people of conscience we can not refuse to reconsider the structures of our society when the moral foundation they are built on is rotten. We cannot overlook the doctrine of discovery and the “entire framework of laws that rest on the Doctrine of Discovery”[vii] just because the implications of repudiating it would ripple so far and wide. 

Our religious heritage does not allow us to walk away from this issue, not only in spite of but perhaps because of the magnitude of what this could mean. Because we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Because we believe that “God’s love embraces the Whole Human Race”  and because we believe those things, we know that any legal question about the personhood of any human being on this planet has only one possible answer.

This week, as we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, I challenge us to do so with two stories in our mind. Not only the story of Indigenous peoples and recent immigrants to their land sitting down together in a feast of harvest gratitude, but also the story of peoples coming together right now in 2012 to in dialogue and understanding. It is time finally to not only proclaim, but to bind into law the worth and dignity of every person.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Great Turning (October 28, 2012)

In honor of the end of the Mayan long count calendar on the winter solstice 2012, I preached to you this summer about the apocalypse, and how it has captured our collective imagination. I bet we can all think of examples from the phenomenal success of book turned movie the Hunger Games to TV shows like “The Walking Dead” about a world ravaged by a zombie epidemic.

And whether you watch TV or not, I know you have heard the apocalyptic stories told by politicians and preachers. Both the right and the left have these stories. The story the right tells is about the rapture, wherein all good Christians will be raptured to heaven, and the rest will be left to experience the end of the earth. The story the left tells is about an environmental catastrophe which will be the results of global warming, or the end of fossil fuels, or the collapse of the global food market.

Whereas I am blithely unconcerned about zombies taking over the world,  I am concerned about the ways we are caring for one another and for the earth who supports us all. When 2500 scientists from 130 countries confirm that man-made climate change is threatening the earth in the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change,  I worry. When Unemployment rates barely sink below 10% for years at a time I worry. When last-summer’s drought threatens not only the livelihood of our farmers but the subsequent increase in the price of corn creates a crisis for livestock farmers, I worry. When the Food Bank do the Southern tier says 46 percent increase in people receiving emergency food each year through the nation’s network of food banks since 2006,[i] I worry.I have a good life. I know I am very blessed. But I know there are more folks falling into poverty every day, more species becoming extinct, more carbon building up in the atmosphere. I cannot take for granted that the things I count on to keep my life as it is now, and I cannot look away while others suffer. Something has to change.
As a person of faith, I believe we cannot give in to despair; it is our responsibility always to create together a vision of hope. While all these stories of impending doom crowd our imagination, we must that among those stories is a more hopeful dream, one where we turn away from societal collapse, and create something new together. And we are not alone in this. A group of folks have dared to pear over the edge of the abyss, at peak oil, at global climate change, and the rising gap between rich and poor, and have asked themselves “given the economic, scientific and political realities of our world today, what more can we imagine? As people who honor the evolution of life on this planet over millennia, we know that massive change is possible, and that life strives, clings, fights for life. Joanna Macy, Buddhist teacher, and activist once remarked “Evolutionary pressures want us to survive.” Evolution is the transformation of species and eco-system to increase the odds that life in all it’s abundance and variety can survive. And  sometimes it can be radical change, change as radical as the first plants who photosynthesized light into food, as radical as learning to breathe air, as radical as holding the first tool. The survival of life counts on our capacity to change, to evolve as the world itself changes and evolves. A change of this magnitude is not the same as changing your shirt, or coming about in the little sunfish I used to sail when I was young, but more like turning a great ocean liner.

Teachers such as Joanna Macy and economist David Korten believe that such a turning has already begun. They point to all the people working for change in our communities- the compassionate outpouring of the “it get’s better” response to GLBTQ teens who are bullied, or the growth of the local food movement and the resurgence of local farmer’s markets, the expansion of recycling programs 
[here the congregation paused to share a few other examples]

And I think it is encouraging, when thinking of the massive change that would be needed to steer society in a new direction, to realize that this is something we don’t need  begin from a dead stop, but that we can build on change already in progress.

The change that is required is so big, one could easily get discouraged. Unlike an ocean liner that has one captain who can set in motion the turning of even the largest ship, we humans are more like a powerful river and all its tributaries, careening in our creek and river beds. So often the thought that the work is too big for us causes us to throw up our hands and resign ourselves to the path that we are already tumbling down, it’s all we can do for look out for the rocks ahead as we go over the rapids. One way we get stuck in this thinking is by imagining that the work the Bradford County Human Society is doing to protect animals is different from the work that ProjectGrow is doing to create an empowered citizenry in this food shed, is different than the work Tioga Outreach is doing to feed hungry folks, is different from the work the New Hope Center does to protect  victims of abuse. This “separate” kind of thinking that puts the owl’s need for habitat against the lumberjack’s need for jobs. Or let’s think about hydrofracking. It often seems that the need of this depressed economy for economic input, and the need for energy independence is pitted against the need to protect clean drinking water and air. Instead why don’t we imagine together one future where economic needs, energy needs and environmental needs are all interwoven? Because anything less I believe is a catastrophic failure  of imagination. As Julia Butterfly hill said in our opening reading this is all one movement.

Moreover within this great turning, we don’t need just ship captains or engineers, there are hundreds of thousands of local and personal ways for us to put our hands to shaping the future we dream. I was so lucky to have the chance to study with Buddhist teacher and activist Joanna Macy while on my sabbatical. She is one of the folks on the leading edge of thinking about how to create not just specific legislative changes, but a cultural shift that would take us in a sustainable direction. She enumerates 3 dimension of the great turning.

The first is “Actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings.” This includes the things we usually think of as activism, ranging from direct action like Julia Butterfly Hill who lived in a tree for 738 days to protest against the clear-cutting of the last remaining trees in the ancient redwood forest,  to legislative work like those volunteers for UUPlan who make sure there is a safety net for Pennsylvanians who are most at risk, but also includes everyday folks who reduce, reuse, recycle or folks who attend city council meetings in their own towns, or  citizen scientists who monitor their local streams.  These actions are important- each ton of carbon they keep out of the atmosphere, each endangered species they protect, the children they keep from hunger, they make a difference. But these actions in and of themselves are not enough to create a sustainable world.

Therefore the second path of the Great Turning is “Analysis of structural causes and the creation of structural alternatives.” We have learned the hard way that you can’t just say “pollution is bad” and expect the world to change. We all know that clean air and water are better than dirty air and water, I’ve never heard a politician campaign on the “polluted water is good because it has extra nutrients” platform. The question is what systems are in place now that create toxic water, and how do we change those systems? Everyone knows that not only do cars pollute the air and use up non-renewable fossil fuels but how else would a person get, say from Ithaca to Athens without a car? We need people who are doing really good science, really good systems thinking so that when we create solutions to one problem we are not creating another. And we need folks to try creating those systems in the real world to see if and how they are practical.

For Example, one of the problems folks see in our communities is that we don’t function as well in local communities as we used to. And instead of living in extended families, we tend to live only with our nuclear families. As families have fewer children, which we all agree is a net gain in our overpopulated world, families have to work harder to create social opportunities for their kids This creates a whole bunch of problems- when I was living in CA I had to drive 20 minutes one way just to get to my nearest friend’s house, and many of my friends lived an hour a way. Nick's grandparents all lived from 700 miles to 3000 miles away. This created several problem- first the carbon footprint of all that travel, second the social isolation that has been written about in books like “bowling alone.”  When nick started kindergarten I was chatting with some of the other parents as we chaperoned together a class field trip and I would ask where they lived. They all lived within 3 blocks of my house with children my son’s age, but I had never met a one of them. 

This same cluster of concerns led a bunch of folks to sit down together over many years to figure out what causes these problems, and then not only to propose solutions but to build them and live them in communities like Eco-Village. Eco-village now exists as a pedestrian community where families share common space and even common meals on certain nights of the week. Our own member, who raised her kids there, has tons of stories about her children running with a pack of multi-aged kids in a community where she knew the other families, and knew they would watch out for her kids as she watched out for hers. No long drives to friends houses, just a “be back in time for dinner” as her boys ran out the door to see their friends. This is a great example of the second facet of cultural turning -- analyzing the structural causes and creating structural solutions.

The third and final path is working toward a Shift in Consciousness. And really this is where we come in as a people of faith. When I had my first environmental awakening, surrounded by a mountain of plastic packaging after a shopping trip to the Target, I was motivated to start buying products that were low in packaging, and to bring my own canvas bags to the stores when I shopped. But it seemed like one more chore, that I could easily forget to do. The reason I did my first sabbatical at the Universality of Creation Spirituality was because I wanted to understand in a deeper way the importance of those actions. Think about how our consciousness has changed about smoking. There are movies and TV shows from a generation or 2 ago where we see pregnant women chain smoking, adults bouncing a baby on their knee with a cigarette or cigar in the other hand, and no one thought the better of it. Imagine the gasp of horror now if someone holding a baby lit a cigarette? That’s because we know what the effects are of second hand smoke on children, so as a society we have tried to limit their exposure.

Says David Korten: “To change the future, change the story… Fundamental social change begins with a discussion of unrealized possibility. Fortunately, that conversation is already underway in localities all over the world, spreading the good news that the world we must now create to secure the human future is the same as the world most all the world's people want."  If the story we live inside of is that there will always be a few people who have most of the world’s resources, or that people are really only driven by greed, or that the earth is ours to use and even to use up, then our daily choices and actions will instinctively follow those stories. When Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, he created in the minds of millions of Americans the story of a new future of racial equality. WE all know that there are still times when people are judged by the color of their skin rather than by the content of their character, but without that dream he held up before us, Could we even have imagined the tremendous changes we saw in the 20th century? “ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

If we want a different future we must tell that story instead. A future where we live more simply so that our resources are more widely shared among the people of the earth is a story that needs to be told. A future where we better understand and respect eco-systems so that our actions as humans are sustainable not only for ourselves but on all the other beings linked to us in the interdependent web of life of which we are all a part, that is a story we need to tell. A future where we are resilient even in the face of disaster through our fore-siteful preparations, through learning and teaching one another practices like seed saving and bio-intensive farming, through teaching our children the skills useful in all ages like sewing and building fires and cooking.

Carpooling, recycling, lobbying your senator, creating a community garden, all these things seem less like chores and  more like an organic response to deeply held beliefs if our consciousness has shifted so that we  feel deeply the interconnected web of life of which we are all a part. The other night a group of us got together to talk about the history of our principles and purposes. We noticed that when the U and U first merged in 1961 there was no mention of the environment, but by the time the revised principles were proposed in 1981, there was a widespread cry in our movement for some acknowledgement of the environmental consciousness of our movement. And from that grew the 7th principle project, dedicated to living out the seventh principle in our lives and congregations. This evolved into the UU Ministry for earth, and the Green Sanctuary program we are part of today. And in 1995 it was added to our list of sources of our living tradition. Acknowledging and inspiring the inclusion of earth centered wisdom in our own religious education, worship, and spiritual lives. Be believe that universalism, the belief in universal salvation, can no longer be just the story of the saving of human souls, but that our salvation as a species is profoundly tied in to all the species and beings of our planet. Our salvation depends on the salvation of the eco-systems of which we are a part. So we can see a shift of consciousness, a turning, in our own movement. Says Macy: ”The realizations we make in the third dimension of the Great Turning save us from succumbing to either panic or paralysis. They help us resist the temptation to stick our heads in the sand, or to turn on each other, for scapegoats on whom to vent our fear and rage.”

The first turning that has to happen first is the turning in our own hearts and minds. We must write there a new story of our own lives. Most of us don’t believe the story that true end in life is to be the star of our own reality show. Most of us don’t believe the story that the one who dies with the most toys wins. So our job as people of faith is to shape a new story- maybe a story where each person is part of beloved community, and over time our capacity see our connections to one another grows stronger and brighter, so that we can see that we are never truly alone, and the everything we do effects a whole web of life. And in this new story, when it comes time to choose, when it comes time to act, we put our oar in the water with millions of others to turn our collective path towards life.