A Greener Faith
The Rev. Jane Altman Page
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro
January 28, 2007
Not too long ago, I was the guest minister at another Unitarian Universalist church. During the Story for All Ages, I shared with them the story of the stars being our ancestors. Then I did the little ritual than I’ve done here before where I anoint the children and adults if they like – with some glittering stardust on the tops of their hands. This particular church had a scientist in the congregation who spoke up during our talkback segment. She said that although I was correct in indicating that the various elements that made up our bodies and other things on the earth were created by dying starts, she really didn’t like her science being mixed up with her religion. She preferred to keep them separate. She was concerned that using our scientific knowledge in the mythologies that we share with children and others at church would be confusing. I respect her opinion, but I do, indeed disagree. Our world desperately needs for science to inform our faith traditions and for our faith traditions to wake up and join together with others in saving our earth. Indeed we need greener faith traditions. In the words of Gary Gardner of the Worldwatch Institute, we need to “invoke the spirit” in our quest for a sustainable world.
Now for many years this did not happen, especially in conservative churches and faith traditions. Bill Moyers discussed this in an interview related to his faith based series entitled, “Is God Green.” He said,
The James Dobsons, the Pat Robertsons, the Jerry Falwells have demonized environmentalism as the work of Satan or Hollywood wackos or treehuggers. Orwell was right: you can change the language until you change behavior. By demonizing good, serious, sincere environmentalists, the political right and its religious allies were able to make it impossible for people in the pews, people in the churches, and people in the local congregations to hear environmentalists.
Perhaps this led to folks speaking out against efforts to minimize pollution. For example, our former Vice President, Dan Quayle said,
“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”
But regardless of the efforts of some religious fundamentalists who may have been encouraged by folks like Karl Rove, during the 1990’s interactions between environmental and religious groups increased in frequency and importance and they have continued to increase. Here are some examples on the global level.
In their 1990 statement at the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders, 32 globally renowned scientists appealed to the world religious community “ to commit in word and deed, and boldly as is required, to preserve the environment of the Earth.”
In 1994, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew began a series of shipboard symposia focusing on regional water-related environmental issues that included scientists, policymakers, journalists, and religious leaders.
In 1995, Prince Phillip hosted the leaders of nine world religions, along with secular leaders – to discuss implementation plans for religion based conservation projects. The conference resulted in the alliance for Religions and Conservation.
In 1998, under the leadership of the World Bank and the Archbishop of Canterbury, a collaborative initiative was undertaken between development institutions and nine world religions. The initiative incorporates a spiritual voice into shaping the policies and practices of human development organizations.
In 2000, more than 1000 religious leaders met at the United Nations and the environment was a major topic of discussion. At this meeting U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a new ethic of global stewardship.
And these worldwide efforts and voices have continued into this new millennium. BUT, worldwide statements have not led most folks in America to changing policies and lifestyles. And for the first part of this decade, our government seems to have led the way in retreating from environmental reform efforts. Religious conservatives initially followed their leaders in dismissing issues related to global warming and other matters. But something changed. Many became concerned about this – so much so they began to wrestle with the idea that they were supporting an administration with such a poor record. Here’s a quote from North Carolina pastor Joel Gillespie sharing his discomfort in 2004. “I went into the voting booth on Election Day, and I wanted to vote for George W. Bush because he’s right on abortion, family values, gay marriage. But I had trouble pulling the lever, because he has a horrendous environmental record.”
In the fall of 2006, many folks no longer believed what they were being told by some conservative leaders and they did make that known with their votes. Now while much of this change is attributed to their belief that they were duped into following blindly into a war, climate change and concerns related to energy needs have also gotten the attention of many Americans, including religious conservatives, especially in the aftermath of Katrina. So they are starting to come on board. And we, as Unitarian Universalists, should be ready to work in interfaith alliances with them in this effort. However, we may take a lesson from one of Jesus’ teachings regarding these efforts.
From the 7th chapter of Matthew – Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Recently our President Carol Simonson was helping me share about Unitarian Universalism at the Religious Awareness Fair at Georgia Southern. And Carol shared with one of the inquirers something that is very true about us as Unitarian Universalists. She said, “if you like to talk and have discussions, you will really enjoy being with us.” She’s right – we do like to talk and have good discussions. The old joke about this is that after you die you come to a fork in the road with one arrow pointing to heaven and another arrow pointing to a discussion group about heaven. The discussion group, of course, if filled with Unitarian Universalists. But we are less likely to be involved, as a congregation, with doing something about the concerns that we discuss.
Now that does not mean that we are not active as individuals and as households. Many in this congregation are environmentally conscious and take actions to minimize the harm they do to this earth. I asked our members and friends to share some of what they were doing with me and seven of you responded.
Bob Doloff shared that he had joined and supports the Sierra Club in their efforts. His sharing that with me has renewed my interest in the possibility of us having a chapter here in Statesboro. The Augusta chapter meets at the UU church and many of the UU members there are very active. It’s one way that the church can work across lines with a more secular organization. The Sierra Club has been willing to work with faith groups – even on a national and global level to pursue common goals.
Carol Simonson shared how she has leaves and other organic matter shredded and recycled into the land rather than being picked up. She also shared her recycling efforts with newspapers and items she takes with her to work to put in the recycling bins at Georgia Southern.
My partner, Greg Brock, is a daily inspiration to me as he uses the Bulloch County recycling centers in every way possible. He also walks or bikes to work at least one day a week, and uses online journals and newspapers rather than print editions if possible. He also constantly reminds me to switch on only the lights that I really need and I’m doing better about that.
One of our new friends, Tracey Adams, is passionate about environmentalism. Tracey has a child in diapers – cloth diapers – with environmentally friendly flushable inserts. These are special cloth diapers she orders via the internet that don’t take as much water to wash. Her family also does all the traditional recycling efforts mentioned by others as well as composting and buying organic foods.
One of our members, Cynthia Frost, sent me a list that’s too long to share in its entirety. I think Cynthia got a head start on all of this. My sources tell me that Cynthia was a genuine hippie in her youth – and she’s continued the more positive aspects of hippiedom and added other environmentally friendly behaviors. Here are a few of these: hanging laundry out to dry and just fluffing it in the dryer, using canvass bags for shopping, keeping her thermostat adjusted to 78 in the summer and 68 in the winter, walking to work, shopping at 2ndhand stores, composting, and of course recycling – which she’s done for 30 years. She also reports that she doesn’t use her oven in the summer – but instead uses a toaster oven on her back porch. Well, Cynthia – I rarely use my oven in any season – but I have to admit, it’s not because I’m being environmentally aware.
Now Shari Barr was not a genuine hippie. She was just a weekend hippie I believe! Nevertheless, she certainly has tried to live her life in an environmentally friendly manner and she’s been an inspiration to me and others. In addition to doing many of the things already mentioned, Shari shared ways that she keeps her older car running with less pollution – although she tries to use it less altogether by combining errands, etc. She has also become more concerned for her fellow creatures. She and Rick are trying to create a yard that is a friendlier habitat for bugs, birds, and squirrels and she keeps a small bag of dog food in the trunk of her car to feed to hungry strays she encounters. Shari also tries to pass down these values to her grandchildren. For example, John Paul and Gracie have a water bottle with their name on it in the refrigerator and use this when they are thirsty rather than every cup in the house.
And then there’s Relinda Walker – what an inspiration she has been and continues to be to all of us. Relinda not only does many of the things that I’ve mentioned, she’s really given her life to this. She is not only an organic farmer, she teaches others how to transform their farming efforts. And she’s helping our congregation in our efforts to buy and eat in ways that will make both us and our earth healthier.
I’m sure there are others here today who could add to this list. Indeed we can inspire each other.
Now, I’ve been told that Unitarian Universalism is supposed to be a “guilt free” church. So I’m not sharing what these folks are doing to make you or I feel guilty. We are all at different points on this path and it’s not a race. In fact, this is one area where we must cooperate – not compete. If we fail to help each other and others in this world with these efforts, we all lose –especially our children, grandchildren, and future generations.
Sometimes some of these things seem difficult. But the more we do them, the easier it becomes – and the more joyful it becomes. I’m preaching to myself here. I’ll give you an example. This past week I was with my four year old grandson Thomas in the grocery store. Thomas is a beautiful child with beautiful smile that just captures your heart. So in the grocery store – Thomas sees this display with all these little small plastic non-reusable bottles of colored sugar water. And he says – Look Nana Jane – my favorite! And they are on sale. And he says they are his favorite. And Nana Jane – inspired (not guilted) by you all – says, “No Thomas. All those bottles create a lot of waste and the drink in them is not that good for you anyway.” He had that sad little look on his face for a few seconds – but it went away.
Yes, indeed, many folks in this congregation are continuing to try to “do right” in this area. And we should be inspired when we come here to our faith community. I believe we can do a better job as a congregation in these efforts. And that’s why I’m bringing this message to you today with a proposal – because just talking about it without any structure for change, probably will not make that big of a difference.
The folks at our national association realized this and have provided what I believe is a very good program to help congregations in their quest. It’s called the Green Sanctuary Program. The Green Sanctuary Program provides a framework for congregational study and reflection, plus individual and collective action for responding to that call. It’s based on a process of theological reflection and spiritual growth, — of ongoing education and social activism. Integrating all of these process steps into our programs can help us to insure success, not only in obtaining UUA’s Green Sanctuary certification, but also in maintaining an on-going commitment as a “lifetime” Green Sanctuary. Shouldn’t the house where we worship be leading us in the right direction here. Fortunately, when this building was built, you all were careful about considering environmental implications. And those who work with the grounds have also been very considerate. So we have a head start on this. There is already much that we can “check off” because we are doing the right thing. But having this program can help us reach to a higher potential as a congregation. For example, we don’t use fair trade coffee at our break time. That’s something that you would expect at most UU churches. I brought this up once before and someone said, — well – it’s hard to find and you have to order it. So, I’ve ordered the first case and it’s on the way. And it wasn’t that hard to do. Similarly, it’s hard to find paper coffee cups that we would like to use for large functions. But they can be ordered as well.
Following the Green Sanctuary Program can also prepare us as a congregation to work with others in interfaith efforts to make differences in our own community. For example, I can envision a coalition of congregations pushing for the City of Statesboro to provide pickup for recycling. Many cities our size have that service and it greatly increases the numbers of folks who recycle.
If you have an interest in joining a group of folks to explore this “Green Sanctuary” program, email me or sign up on the sheet I have on the back table. And you can stay after the break and discuss this at talkback. But let’s make this discussion more the “talking” that we UU’s are known for. Let us invoke the spirit within each of us and in this congregation in our quest for a sustainable world.
Indeed, we need to see the earth as sacred and holy and live our lives in response to that.
When Moses encountered the holy in the burning bush, he heard the voice of God saying – Moses, you are on Holy Ground. Take off your shoes. Today we stand on holy ground, Let us take off our shoes of destruction and walk lightly on this sacred earth.
Amen and Blessed Be.
Copyright Jane Altman Page, 2007