September 15, 2019: “Choose Life”


From Greta Thunberg’s speeches, read by Ellie F.

My name is Greta Thunberg and I am 16 years old. I speak on behalf of future generations.

In the year 2030 I will be 26 years old. That is a great age, we have been told. When you have all of your life ahead of you. But I am not so sure it will be that great for us.

Because our future was sold . . . sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money. It was stolen from us every time you said that the sky was the limit, and that you only live once.

You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. And the saddest thing is that most children are not even aware of the fate that awaits us.

Is my microphone on? Can you hear me?

Around the year 2030, 10 years and 100 days from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it.

That is unless in that time, permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of CO2 emissions by at least 50%.

These are estimations. That means that these “points of no return” may occur a bit sooner or later than 2030. But these projections are backed up by scientific facts, concluded by all nations through the IPCC.

Did you hear what I just said? Is the microphone on? Because I’m beginning to wonder.

During the last year I have travelled around Europe for hundreds of hours in trains, electric cars and buses, repeating these life-changing words over and over again. But no one seems to be talking about it, and nothing has changed. In fact, the emissions are still rising.

The climate crisis is both the easiest and the hardest issue humans have ever faced. The easiest because we know what we must do. We must stop the emissions of greenhouse gases. The hardest because our current economics are still totally dependent on burning fossil fuels, and thereby destroying ecosystems, in order to create everlasting economic growth.

The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility.

Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.

I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.

I hope my microphone was on. I hope you could all hear me.

SERMON         “Choose Life”    Copyright Rev. Dr. Susanne Intriligator

Did you know that I can fly? It’s true. Let me tell you the story.

In 2003, when James and I first moved to Wales, we got so lucky. We found the only decent house to rent in the whole town. It was up high on a hill overlooking Bangor, the little college town in a valley, where James got his first professor gig. It was a lovely old house, with a great view— and the steepest driveway I had ever driven up.

Seriously, the first time we went there, to check it and meet the landlord, I happened to be the one driving. And when we turned into the hidden driveway and I saw that four-story incline going straight up, I just panicked. I didn’t think the car would make it. I thought the car would give out and we’d roll backward and crash into a fireball.

But, it was already too late. I couldn’t back, and we were already halfway there, so I kept going. And we parked and went inside.

The house was nice, and there was literally nothing else in town for rent, so we took it and then a few weeks later we bought a better used car, a small minivan. Like most European cars, the minivan was a stick shift, with an old-fashioned hand brake right between the front seats.

Our kids were little then. Eli was 3 and a half, blond and sweet, and Lily was a lively eight-month-old. I was home with them, and alone in a strange country, the stay-at-home-mom thing was sometimes grueling.

I remember one afternoon I had just brought them home from shopping or a Mommy group or something, and Eli had fallen asleep in his car seat. Grateful for the quiet, I parked at the top of the driveway, with the car facing out, looking over on the whole town, and I carried Lily into the house and I began to cook dinner.

Some time later, when I remembered, I glanced out the window at the car, to check if little Eli was still sleeping inside. I saw that he was.

And then slowly, almost imperceptibly, almost in slo-mo, I saw the car move. The wheels were turning . . . somehow it was rolling, faster now and faster . . . toward that four-story drop, straight down.

Well, I flew. I think I actually flew.

Down the hall, grabbed my keys, out the door, and toward the car. I flung open the door, threw my body over the seat, and pulled up on that hand brake. As hard as I possibly could.

When I could breathe again, sweat was pouring down my face. And my heart was beating in my ears. The adrenalin was flooding my senses.

It took me hours to calm down that day. When I think of what could have happened. If I hadn’t looked out the window just at that moment, if I hadn’t got to the brake just in time.

Has something like that ever happened to you? I bet it has.

When our children are born, I think, they come with a promise, our promise. When we spend all those hours feeding them and rocking them and holding them, we are also whispering to them, out loud or inside, “I promise. I promise to protect you, to keep you safe, to give you all I have, to make sure you are okay, absolutely as long as I live.”

Because we have to. Because that’s what parenting is. It’s that love pouring out of us, beyond our control. It’s our promise to the future. A promise that you will do anything for your kids. Including actually flying, if you have to.

And I know this isn’t just about parenting. I know it’s also possible to love other things just that much. To love your partner, to love your pet, to love a student or a nephew or a grandchild, or a tree. There is so much in this world to love. To love with your whole self, until it feels like your heart is breaking. That’s the gift of being alive, truly alive.

And that is why the Climate Crisis hurts so much. Because we know, we all already know, but we don’t like to talk about it, that the whole world is at stake.

Every every every last little person and animal and tree that we love. All of it.

And to face the truth . . . we have to feel the grief. About what we’ve already lost, already damaged, already set in motion.

And that grief feels just overwhelming.

I mean, who isn’t scared of death?

So we hide. We overeat, watch TV, drink too much, take opioids, go shopping. We hide and run away as much as we can.

We’ve built a whole culture out of hiding from our grief . . . our grief about the culture that we’ve built to hide from our grief.

Greta won’t have it. She won’t let you hide. She is here to wake you up. She is unstoppable. And thank God.

10 years. 10 years and 100 days until 2030. We have to cut our emissions by 50% by 2030, in order to avoid cataclysmic events, a chain reaction we can’t stop. 10 years.

I want to admit to you I was in denial about this, pretty much. I was trying to ignore it, until last spring, when I went to our annual UUA general assembly, and someone gave a sermon that laid it all out for me. And I couldn’t deny it any more. I had to wake up.

And so all summer I’ve been painfully awake, actively grieving. And it sucks.

I’ve been thinking about climate change and what I can do and talking about it and bringing it into just about every conversation, every family reunion and gathering with friends. And it sucks. But it’s better than being numb. Trust me on that.

In California, in the back yard of the house where my husband grew up, under a bright red sunset, I said to my brother-in-law, “I think this is it for me, I think this is my last trip here. So quietly in my head, I’m saying good-bye to California, to these trees and beaches and sunsets.”

“What? What do you mean?” he asked. Like I was nuts.

“Well, I think it’s time, way past time actually, that I give up flying. I don’t need it for work, and in fact my work demands the opposite. I’m supposed to be living according to my values, or at least trying to. And this is something, giving up flying, that I can do, and so I will.”

If my hero Greta Thunberg can do it, I can do it too.

Like a lot of middle-class people, I used to think I somehow needed to see Nepal and Alaska and everywhere else. But maybe, actually, I don’t. It’s time to think about letting that go. And telling people why.

In our house, I’m working on it. We’ve cut way down on meat, and it’s been a year since we’ve used the dryer. We hang our clothes up to dry, every load.

And I’m thinking about trading in my car, switching to a hybrid and cutting down on driving. And yes, we know we need to ditch our too-big house out in the burbs for good. I’m working out a five-year plan.

And I’m so grateful to work in a church that already gets it, where our Green Sanctuary Committee has been educating us — and greening us — for years. A full half of all the electricity we use here in church comes from the solar panels on our roof, and the other half comes from renewable sources. Our heating still comes from gas, however, and they’re working on that. GS is also composting our church food waste and coffee cups and working to make all our events carbon neutral.

In addition, GS is cooking up speaker events and films and actions and nature walks for the whole year, including the cleanup of Ell Pond and a hawk watch on Mt. Watchusett. And yes, they’re hoping you’ll join us this Friday in the Global Climate Strike, when millions around the world will demand action now. If you sign up today, you can even get one of our new church T shirts in time to wear it to the march.

Feel your grief, my friends. But don’t get stuck there. There is so much we can do! And good friends to help along the way!

Little blond Eli is 19 now. Much much taller, and not really blond any more. He finished up his gap year in the spring, and just a couple weeks ago I moved him into his dorm room, for his first year at Tufts. I’m thrilled for him, and yet, I must admit over the summer I had a wobble.

At one point, I wondered, out loud, to him and his Dad: Is paying this enormous tuition really a smart investment for us? I persevered, “Maybe it’s a better idea, in this current reality,” I said. “to buy Eli a good plot of land, in rural Canada, and some lessons in sustainable farming.”

Eli looked at me, stunned, in silence, and just let that sit there.

All of us are facing these choices these days, even if we’re not talking about it out loud. We are thinking it. or stewing about it.

Maybe we’re quietly day-dreaming about emigrating, or we’re secretly stockpiling food or weapons, or we’re frozen, binge-watching dark, apocalyptic movies — which really have nothing to do with our fears about the end of the world, right?

And yet we all know that none of these are real answers, right answers.

Individualistic, fear-based, divide and conquer, me-first attitudes are what got us into this mess in the first place. They will not get us out.

They will not save enough of us in time to actually save any of us.

People around the world are talking now about something else, something they are calling the Great Turning, a global movement not just to fix our technologies but to transform our economies.

To move away from a capitalism based on endless growth, constant exploitation, hoarding and violence, and militarism and to move toward something brand new, economies built on cooperation and shared thriving and actual universal human dignity and worth.

Now I know what you’re thinking. We’ve been trained to believe that cooperative societies can’t work, they are unrealistic and untenable and even the pathway to authoritarianism, or so we’ve been told.

But cooperative societies exist all around us. Witness AA and the global recovery community — millions of people reaching toward health together, with no profit involved. Or witness the many other global networks now connected via the internet. Or witness, in times of crisis, the first responders and people everywhere working together, risking their own lives to help others. Or witness this church. You are sitting right now inside a functioning cooperative society.

At our core, humans everywhere know how to come together. We can behave differently. We can build a new economy.

And anyway, aren’t we already on a path toward authoritarianism? Aren’t we already on a path controlled by the one percent, aimed to strip us of our power and our hope and all that we love?

Why NOT have faith that another way is possible? What have we got to lose?

Why NOT have faith that there’s alternative we haven’t yet tried, a way with actual justice at its core, a Great Turning that will honor life itself over profit?

We are life, you and I.

In our very cells, we know what life both demands and provides — clean air and clean water and clean earth.

In our very cells, we know what we must do, for ourselves and for those to come.

In this moment, in this crucial, historic, once in an epoch moment, we must all choose.

We must choose life,

We must build faith, faith in our young leaders, like Greta and the Parkland kids, and faith in ourselves, faith that we can and we will stand up for what’s right, faith that we can and will change, faith that we can and will let go of what is killing us, faith that we can and will dare to create a new world.

We must choose life, build faith, Step into our Power and act. We must make the Great Turning Turn.

When I close my eyes, I still see a car on the top of a hill, with my baby inside it.

Except now it’s all our babies, every last one. And everything we love. All of it. Every last thing.

And the wheels are starting to roll, they are picking up speed.

It’s time now, my friends, for us, all of us, to learn how to fly.

You can do it. We can do it, all together, in one great body of hope and spirit and life. Let us fly!

Amen. I love you.

Closing Hymn: ” The Tide is Rising and So are we “