Honor Thy Mother


Douglas Taylor

I’ve been a little under the weather the past few weeks and I still have a bit of a frog in my throat – so this ought to work just fine:

It’s not that easy being green

Having to spend each day the color of the leaves

When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold

Or something much more colorful like that

It’s not easy being green

It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things

And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re

Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water

Or stars in the sky

But green’s the color of Spring

And green can be cool and friendly-like

And green can be big like an ocean, or important

Like a mountain, or tall like a tree

When green is all there is to be

It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why

Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful

And I think it’s what I want to be

            ARTIST: Muppets, Kermit the Frog

            TITLE: It’s Not Easy Being Green

It is a pleasure to announce that this congregation is on the road to becoming green.  The board voted to move forward with the program, creating a committee to take the congregation through the process of learning just what it means to become a Green Sanctuary, what is involved, what are the implications, and all that sort of thing.  It is exciting because concern for the environment is growing as well as recognition that we are part of Nature and therefore a part of the solution to what ails our good Earth.  It has not always been so; religion has too often had an adversarial relationship with the Earth and things natural.

The cover of my most recent copy of The Christian Century, shows a statue of Mother Mary nursing the baby Jesus with the caption, “Nursing Virgin, How a symbol got lost.”  The article talks about the slavific image of God’s love as “mother’s milk.”  The article contends that for a while in the early church and again later during the Renaissance, there was a flurry of art depicting the Virgin Mary nursing the holy infant.  The image took on “new meaning and new urgency in mid-14th century Tuscany.  In communities under siege from plague, wars and malnutrition, the Virgin’s breast was a symbol of God’s loving provision of life, the nourishment and care that sustain life, and the salvation that promises eternal life.”  Unfortunately, the image of the Virgin’s breast was overtaken by a new image of God’s Love as depicted in the redemptive suffering of Jesus’ death on the cross.  Additionally, the image waned in religious popularity due to what the article’s author, Margaret Miles, calls “the secularization of the breast.” (Christian Century, Jan 29, 2008, “God’s love, mother’s milk” p 22)

Christianity seems to have long held a grudge against women as well as Nature.  The idea of the Earth as a feminine entity, Gaia, Terra Mater, Mother Earth is much older than Christianity.  And perhaps that is partly why Christianity throughout history has had such a problem caring for and about the earth.  The idea that we live off the earth, (as an infant lives off her or his mother’s breast milk,) is wholly appropriate and true.  And yet we seem to live by a false myth that says we are separate from nature, that we are above nature, that we have conquered and domesticated the Earth.

In his book, The Creation, E. O. Wilson talks about how we live in “cocoons of urban and suburban material life” as if such a life were “sufficient for human fulfillment” when in fact it is a betrayal against Nature. (p 12)  People lament that children today have no connection to the sources of their food.  How many of our children have ever spent time with a cow, let alone milked one?  There is a distance that is widening between those us of who live as civilized citizens and the nature world that has given us birth, that continues to sustain us and nourish us – though from a distance.  Indeed, it is not easy being green.

E. O. Wilson mentions what he calls the key discovery of green history, namely; “Civilization was purchased by the betrayal of Nature.” (p 11)  To be sure, the revolutionary step taken to move from hunter-gatherer nomadic life into an agriculturally based village life was phenomenal and a blessing.  But each step like that inched us farther from our felt connection to the Earth, from our Mother’s milk.  Down the centuries we have come to believe we can sustain ourselves on the handful of flora and fauna that we have domesticated.  Wilson points out that as a species our diet has become specialized to the point that we only “eat the seed of four kinds of grass – wheat, rice, corn, and millet.”  Try cooking for someone who can’t tolerate wheat and you will understand how poor we have become as a species!  Consider the possibility that one or more of these grasses should fail due to climate change or disease, will we still have access to the thousands of wild plant species that offer alternative food sources yet which currently face extinction.  “Even the most recalcitrant people,” Wilson suggests, “must come to view conservation as simple prudence in the management of Earth’s natural economy.  Yet few have begun to think that way at all.” (p11)  Dr. King once wrote in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”  To project that sentiment onto the environmental situation, I wonder if we are now hearing that demand from Mother Earth.

I’ve been reading dire predictions for humanity.  Some of the environmentalists sound almost like they are reading from the Book of Revelation.  “One of the most eminent scientists of our time says that global warming is irreversible – and that more than 6 billion people will perish by the end of the century.”  This attention grabbing piece is from an October edition of Rolling Stone magazine.  The eminent scientist is James Lovelock.  This is the man who “created a device that helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer.”  He helped “jump-start the environmental movement in the 1970’s.”  Lovelock “introduced the revolutionary theory known as Gaia – the idea that our entire planet is a kind of superorganism that is, in a sense, ‘alive.’”  So, when Lovelock suggests we’re in major trouble it is worth paying attention.  He has a very good track record.

But he predicts the Sahara will be moving into Europe within a generation, London will flood, Beijing will become desert, Miami will be under the ocean, and the rise in temperature by the end of this century will call Canada, Iceland, and Scandinavia to become the new temperate zone of our globe.  Lovelock effectively doubles the likely predictions made by the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change.  According to Lovelock, changing to fluorescent light bulbs won’t help, switching to solar and wind energy won’t help, and reducing green-house emissions is too little, too late.  The outcome, 6.6 billion human population reduced to half a million by the end of the century, is inevitable.  Gaia’s subtle network of positive and negative feedbacks that keep the superorganism in balance are at or past their tipping points.  It is already too late.  And it is very hard to be green.

It is hard not to think about the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse when faced with statistics like this.  The Four Horsemen from the Book of Revelation are War, Pestilence, Famine and Death.  Other than natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, that pretty much covers the potential disasters awaiting us if these worst case climate change predictions are true.  Whether it was the in the mind of the writer of the Book of Revelation or not, War, Pestilence, Famine and Death are four of the five basic ways that nature controls overpopulation in a community.

If a herd of antelope become too large they are in danger of starvation or famine if they over graze their habitat.  They become overly susceptible to diseases and pestilence which spread quickly when there are too many antelope living in close proximity.  Predators find it much easier to get a meal when the herd is overly large.  And Death, of course, could refer to the outcome of any of these situations, but also natural death by old age is another regular, albeit slow, means of keeping a herd within reasonable and sustainable numbers.

Humans today are working very hard to feed everyone: we can do it – the problem is distribution not supply (which could also be said to be the case for our antelope herd!)  Humans have made remarkable strides in dealing with diseases and in prolonging the average lifespan, although malaria still kills an amazingly large number of people, as do other nasty diseases.  As for predators, we are at the top of our food chain so the only predator we have is ourselves which translates to ‘War.’  Ergo, the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse are synonymous with the subtle techniques Mother Nature has of dealing with overpopulation.  And we have developed civilized ways of keeping them at bay – not entirely, but to significant affect all the same.  When we tinker with the balance so drastically perhaps natural disaster, the fifth technique, is dramatically added to the mix to bring the other four back into regular play.

But all that is very gloomy and hopeless.  There isn’t much to do with predictions like Lovelock’s except to buy land near the Arctic Circle and wait for the land to thaw.  But I don’t think such a response is really any better than the response of people who claim Global Warming to be an elaborate hoax.  Denial is a waste of the precious possibility of hope as is being overwhelmed into paralysis.  We can, instead, choose to act and make changes toward improving our situation with the assumption that it will work.  We can choose hope.  It is a waste to give up and do nothing.  We need to work to reduce our carbon footprint with the goal of making a difference.

But what about Lovelock’s predictions, you might ask.  What about the Miami being underwater?  What about 6 billion dead?  What about the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse and the antelope herd?  Well, for starters, we’re not talking about facts with any of that, we talking predictions of future possibilities that may or may not come to pass.  I don’t think Lovelock is right.  The question I have for Lovelock is: have we really read the subtle signs correctly to know that we have crossed the tipping points?   Are there perhaps more subtle connections that work to maintain balance that haven’t been figured into the dire predictions?

Or consider it a version of Pasqual’s Wager: might as well work to save the world assuming it will help because if you are right then it’s wonderful and if you’re wrong and find you’ve put all this work in and things never get that bad then you eat a little crow in your very fuel-efficient, energy-saving, home.  Choose hope.  That’s where we are headed, as a people of faith.  We are moving toward becoming a Green Sanctuary.  Our different beliefs here in this sanctuary unite in our care for the creation.  As UU pagans connected with the earth itself as holy; as UU Christians who hear the positives calls to care for, to steward the earth; as theists of other stripes; as humanists who heed the learnings of science that show us a world on the edge; as people of various beliefs we unite in our care for the earth. We have decided to care; we have chosen to have hope in the face of the growing trouble because we recognize, among other things, that we are kindred with all of creation.  So stop buying bottled water, stock up on fluorescent light bulbs, look into better insulating your home, or buy a more energy efficient hot water heater.  Forget about both paper and plastic and get some reusable canvass grocery bags.  And those are just some of the ideas for you: think about the names they will call us when we start pushing for significant changes in our city, our state, and even our nation.  We can make a difference, we have to.

Starhawk writes, “We are not separate from nature but in fact are nature.”  Michael Dowd says “We grew out of the earth the way peaches grow out of a peach tree.”  Carl Sagan wrote “We are the local embodiment of a cosmos grown to self-awareness.  We have begun to contemplate our origins: star stuff pondering the stars.”  And I tell you we are kindred with all of creation.  Let us honor and give thanks to all that has given us birth and do our part to be green.

It’s not that easy being green

But green can be big like an mountain, or important

Like a river, or tall like a tree

I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful

And I think it’s what I want to be

In a world without end,

May it be so.