THOUGHT FOR CONTEMPLATION:
“People did not weave the web of life, they are merely a strand in it. Whatever they do to the web, they do to themselves”
(Chief Si’ahi, Seattle, leader of the Dkhw’Duw’Absh [Duwamish], First Nations People, adapted) ( * )
WELCOMING WORDS: Doug D.
CALL TO WORSHIP:
The time will soon be here when my grandchild will long for the cry of a loon, the flash of a salmon, the whisper of spruce needles, or the screech of an eagle. But he will not make friends with any of these creatures and when his heart aches with longing, he will curse me.
Have I done all to keep the air fresh?
Have I cared enough about the water?
Have I left the eagle to soar in freedom?
Have I done everything I could to earn my grandchild’s fondness?
(by Salish First Nations Chief Dan George, read by David B.)
INTROIT: “One Heart Beating” (Sue Kirkpatrick)
LIGHTING OF THE CHALICE: Daniel F., Atticus B.
Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest for truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve humankind in fellowship,
To the end that all souls
Shall grow into harmony with the Divine.
This is our great covenant,
One with another, and with our God.
SONG OF ASPIRATION:
From all that dwell below the skies,
Let songs of hope and faith arise,
Let peace, good-will on earth be sung,
Through every land, by every tongue.
SINGING CHILDREN TO THEIR CLASSES:
Go now in peace, go now in peace;
may the love of God surround you,
you may go.
CANDLES OF JOY AND SORROW
MEDITATION AND PRAYER
DIVERSITY TOPIC: GENDER:
“Why Gender Matters to Me” (Gretchen L)
Experiences in Togo.
I spent two and a half years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, West Africa in the mid-1980s. In part, I went for altruistic reasons, but admittedly also for the adventure, to challenge myself, to get out of Indiana and try something different. It was a transformational experience for me. I met my now-husband. And I met and lived and worked and celebrated and mourned with people about as unlike me as I could imagine at the time.
I worked in what here we would call an agricultural extension service office. My counterpart had a technical background in agriculture, but he was also a good “animateur” as they said in French – essentially, he was a good organizer and motivator. We worked with village-based farmers’ cooperatives.
Today, I want to share some thoughts on what I learned about how fragile rural people’s existence is, how connected it is to their environment, and how the biggest risks fall to women and children. These risks are only increasing with climate change.
The population of Togo has more than doubled since I was there 35 years ago, with the majority under age 25. Annual gross GDP is just $525 per capita. Nearly 60% of the population lives in poverty, less than one-quarter have electricity, only about half have reliable access to clean drinking water.
Adult literacy is 60 percent overall, but with a big gender divide: 74% of men are literate, but only 48% of women.
Women are largely responsible for securing food and fuel, in addition to caring for children. Where I lived, water was very scarce during the dry season from November to May. Very few people had running water at home, but many villages had covered wells with pumps in the village center. That was true where I lived. But those wells went dry when the water table dropped in the worst part of the dry season – during the last few, scorchingly hot months before the rains came. Right about now actually, in March and April.
The mothers and the older children in my village had to walk – often long distances – to get water from ponds or streams. The water often wasn’t clean, causing illness and sometimes death in those with fragile health. Getting wood for cooking was similarly challenging. Children sometimes missed school because so much of their day was spent getting water and wood. And just to pile on, food was expensive and harder to buy in those months, because the previous year’s harvest was nearly gone and the next year’s wouldn’t be planted until the rains came.
Today, average temperatures in Togo are rising, numbers of days of rainfall are falling. Projections of food insecurity and shortages of water far worse than what I saw are especially troubling to me.
The political leadership in Togo is not exactly enlightened, but I found some encouraging examples on the web of ways women are engaging in addressing climate change. A World Bank-supported project has helped create a network of about 60 women from across Togo who have weekly virtual meetings using “What’s App” to talk about strategies to reduce deforestation. That kind of blew my mind.
My guess is the women who participate may not be the average rural woman, and 60 women in a country of six million people is hardly a big number. But if such networks spill over to the broader population of rural women, they could show promise.
My experience in Togo enriched my life in many ways. I loved the time I spent with the families who lived near me – especially the children – kicking around a soccer ball or playing the card game, Uno. I kind of figured out my job and how to relate to my male colleagues. And I came to know women who showed me great kindness and generosity. I was very aware of the privilege I had there, but also the responsibility the experiences imbued in me. Responsibility for people who live far away, who are so different from me, but who experience the consequences of decisions I – we – make about how to treat our earth. I carry that with me still, 35 years later. I always will.
“Why Gender Matters to Me” (Laura E.)
I had my first “ah-ha” moment a couple of years ago when I started to study what it meant to be a business owner involving fashion. As a stay-at-home mom of 11 years and CEO of the family I decided it was time to take a leap and start my Style Consulting Business. During my research I began to listen to podcasts about fashion, brands, and female entrepreneurs. The podcast that resonated with me the most is called “Conscious Chatter”. It is a platform that educates and inspires listeners to the complex world of sustainable fashion, a transparent supply chain, fast fashion, and the human and environmental impact. After a few episodes, I realized there are so many layers of problems within the fashion industry, but one that really affected me was the human impact.
I would like to share with you some statistics so you can understand how grand this issue is. There are about 40 million people working in garment factories in the world, and 85% of them are women. These people are paid the lowest wages in the world and many are exposed to harmful chemicals and are working in poor conditions. There are no laws to protect them as employees, and no work standards. They are at the mercy of their employers and often get severe backlash if they speak their minds about their low wages.
For example, in Bangladesh, there are 4 million people working in garment factories. April 23rd marks the 5-year anniversary of the collapse of Rhana Plaza in Bangladesh killing 1122 garment workers and injuring hundreds more. These workers, complained about the building not being structurally sound before the accident. Learning about these garment workers
affected me deeply. Their wages are not enough to sustain themselves or their family. Between the toxic chemicals they breathe in to the rundown state of the factories, they are putting their lives in harm’s way to try to make money.
Hearing the impact of fast fashion, with its ferocious production and mass consumption while underpaying their garment workers, made me look at my clothing much differently, and the way I shop.
How can I justify spending $15 on a piece of clothing so I can feel momentarily good, and then know someone else is really paying for it? Since my own recognition of this ongoing issue, I have started to take small steps in my everyday life. While I am not perfect, I try to make better decisions on what I am adding to my closet and ask myself, “do I really need this?” If so, I will find a brand that aligns with my beliefs, having transparent practices, humane treatment of their employees, and pay a sustainable living wage. I also support brands that have a mission to empower their employees, giving them jobs that can sustain their family and help work their way out of poverty.
In many regions outside of the United States, women do not have a voice or the power to speak out; worse yet the ability to support themselves or their family in the production of our clothing, which keeps them in an endless cycle of poverty and abuse. While I alone may not change this, I can do my part to share the information and make conscious decisions by purchasing from brands that follow ethical and sustainable practices.
OFFERTORY: “The Swallow” (by Friedrich Burgmuller)
READING: “A Few Words From Rachel Carson” (read by Nancy F.)
ANTHEM: “Water Is Life” (Mni Wiconi) (by Sara Thomsen)
READING: “These Are Challenging Times” (by George Q. Daley, Dean of Harvard Medical School) (read by Phyllis C.)
HYMN: “Blue Boat Home” (# 1064)
Seeds of Change
Laura Wagner, Exec. Director of Mass UU Action (copyright)
“Every community owes its existence and vitality to generations from around the world who contributed their hopes, dreams, and energy to making the history that led to this moment. Some were brought here against their will, some were drawn to leave their distant homes in hope of a better life, and some have lived on this land for more generations than can be counted. Truth and acknowledgment are critical to building mutual respect and connection across all barriers of heritage and difference.
During each worship service and gathering we are called to honoring the truth, by acknowledging what has been buried. We are standing on the ancestral lands of the Massachuset and Wampanoag People.(1)
We pay respects to their elders past and present. Please take a moment to consider the many legacies of violence, displacement, migration, and settlement that bring us together here today. And please join me in uncovering such truths at any and all public gatherings.”(2)
What did you do once you knew? By: Drew Dellinger
It’s 3:23 in the morning, and I’m awake because
my great-great grandchildren won’t let me sleep.
My great-great grandchildren ask me in dreams.
What did you do while the planet was plundered?
What did you do when the earth was unraveling?
Surely you did something when the seasons
started failing, as the mammals, reptiles and birds were all dying?
Did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?
What did you do once you knew?”
Knowing is hard, isn’t it? I often struggle with the despair of knowing what we have done to our planet, as I’m sure many of you struggle with, as well.
Recently, I read these words offered by Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen, Strategic Advisor with Side with Love. She said,
“I went to an herbalism clinic this month for the first time to explore what plants could offer me and to learn more about the ways of healing we didn’t really talk about in my house growing up. There was a beautiful wooden plaque in the middle of the tinctures and bottles and plants. It read, “There is only the hard way.”
The friendly herbalist assured me that it wasn’t that they wanted things to be hard – no – it was just that we are often seduced by the idea in our heads that there is an easy way. And if we could just find that one, easy way, all would be well.”
I think we are seduced by the idea that there is an easy way when it comes to confronting climate disruption. It’s easy to believe,
If we only we could educate people enough,
If only we could pass the right bill,
If only people would make the right decisions in their lives
Then, the problem would be solved.
But it’s not that easy. There must be a fundamental shift in understanding our relationship with the world. I think the roots of this problem go much deeper than the energy choices we make. Rather, we need to shift our perception of humanity’s relationship with our planet.
For too many people, humans are perceived as consumers of the planet’s resources who are in a position of dominance. We instead, need to understand ourselves as stewards of our planet who are accountable both to each other now, and to generations yet to be born.
It is difficult to unravel this culture of dominance and dominion over the planet. Mainly, it is difficult because western culture does not acknowledge its past. We are a people whose roots reach all the way back to the Doctrine of Discovery.
Steve Newcomb, author of “500 Years of Injustice” offers this insight about the Doctrine of Discovery:
“When Christopher Columbus first set foot on the white sands of Guanahani island, he performed a ceremony to “take possession” of the land for the king and queen of Spain, acting under the international laws of Western Christendom. Although the story of Columbus’ “discovery” has taken on mythological proportions in most of the Western world, few people are aware that his act of “possession” was based on a religious doctrine now known in history as the Doctrine of Discovery. Even fewer people realize that today – five centuries later – the United States government still uses this archaic Judeo-Christian doctrine to deny the rights of Native American Indians.”
The Doctrine of Discovery was specifically designed for “sanctioning and promoting the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian nations and their territories.”
From the very beginning, those in power believed themselves to be superior to the people they deemed “unworthy.” The people, their land and all of their possessions were there for the taking and this was justified as a “Divine right, bestowed by God.” (3)
We see the legacy of oppression enabled by the Doctrine of Discovery. It has been used as the justification for oppression in all its many forms – oppression of people, certainly, but also in the form of exploitation of our planet’s resources. When we struggle with confronting climate disruption we must also struggle with how to dismantle white supremacy culture and our nation’s history of violence and oppression.
Our relationship with each other is woven tightly together with our relationship with the planet. There is no easy way out of this mess. And certainly, there is no way out unless we are all working together.
That grounding in understanding the reality of this problem from a systemic perspective is crucial. Without it, we risk isolating ourselves with our own sense of exceptionalism. It is not enough for an individual to drive a fuel efficient or electric car, install solar panels on a single family home or eat an organic, locally-sourced plant-based diet. What’s needed is to dismantle our fossil fuel-based economy that holds many of our elected officials and decision makers in a stranglehold that’s powered by fear. Fear that often limits people into thinking that there is no other way to power our communities.
Another beautiful pearl of wisdom shared by Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen is that the antidote to fear is family. This is why individual exceptionalism will not solve our energy crisis – but a sense of family will. When we think of ourselves in the collective as “we” and as family, we begin to think systemically. And, it’s a systemic shift that’s needed – one that excludes no one, not urban dwellers, not rural residents, not poor communities – no one can be left behind if we want change to take root.
When I speak of systemic change, I am not solely focused on energy needs. Our shared culture, our way of life, needs a major overhaul. We are all called to understand how we each need to be held accountable.
In 2014 I traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico. The trip was with Witness for Peace and was intended to explore the roots of migration from Oaxaca to the US. I was encouraged to learn that in each community I visited the efforts to stop the migration of their youth and young adults were rooted in climate action.
My group traveled to Nochixtlan (no-chick-lan) in the Mixteca region of South Western Mexico. There, we met with the leaders of CEDICAM (Center for Integral Small Farmer Development in Mixteca). The people who live in this region are mostly indigenous and still speak their native language. The history from their website states, “Spanish colonizers mostly deforested the region 400 years ago which set up a domino effect of land degradation, erosion and desertification.”
While there, I learned that beginning in the 1940’s American companies convinced Mexican farmers to rely on chemical fertilizers to grow their crops. This period of time was known as the “Green Revolution” and, while the chemical fertilizers did produce higher crops yields, they also stripped the soil of its nutrients and made the farmers dependent on chemical products. Their website goes on to say,
“The Mixteca is now one of the poorest regions in Mexico. Between 1960-1983 an estimated 35% of arable land was lost in the Mixteca. It is categorized as a red zone in terms of environmental degradation, and classified as one of the principal areas of desertification in the world. The land’s decreasing viability combined with neoliberal trade policies has caused a migration of 5% of youth a year to become agricultural laborers in Northern Mexico and Southern United States (Carranza, Boege, 2009).(4)”
This is an example of how the issues of injustice that we are called to confront intersect. War and forced migration in Syria was triggered by a prolonged drought. African desertification is happening at an estimated 20,000 hectares per year. The loss of arable land in Africa has already forced thousands to migrate, and this will only get worse. We cannot care about what’s happening to our planet while ignoring the plight of its people.
There is definitely cause for hope, however. While in Mixteca, the people of CEDICAM shared their work with us. We learned that they are resurrecting their ancestral farming methods. They have preserved heirloom seeds that are drought resistant. It took 50 years, but they are replenishing the soil and no longer using chemical fertilizers. Yes, the plants and yields are smaller, but they recognize that these changes mean that they are reclaiming their heritage and leaving a viable legacy for their descendants. They are learning to live in harmony with the land again and creating economies that allow their young people to remain at home.
Another story that I’d like to share with you is from my visit to Capulalpam de Mendez, Mexico. There, I met with a community committed to alternatives to migration and indigenous resistance. In Mexico, the people in many regions collectively own their land, but the federal government owns whatever is beneath the soil. This means that the state can sell mining rights, right from underneath where the people live. This often results in the cratering of whole communities and poisoned water sources.
In Capulalpam, the people fought a Canadian gold mining company for many years. Eventually, the women of this community had enough and blew up the bridges that led to their mountain. This stopped the Canadian mining company! Now, the people have created a viable economy based on sustainable forestry and eco-tourism. They also have effectively stopped migration to the US and all their residents are able to remain in the community.
I was so encouraged by this story and the people of Capulalpam. But, I also had to grapple with my role in their struggle. Mining companies are active throughout Mexico, Central and South America. They go in search of tantalum (used in cellphones, DVD players, laptops, hard drives, and gaming devices), tungsten, tin, and gold.
It’s easy to condemn the evil mining companies, but they are pursuing these minerals because of the high demand for electronics. I own a cell phone, two laptops and several TV’s. My consumer practices contribute to the demand for the minerals that often result in the exploitation of communities such as Capulalpam. Until I traveled to this part of the world, I had not really thought about where the raw materials for the electronics I enjoy came from.
These stories of oppression, exploitation and resistance are far too common. I was fortunate to travel to Nicaragua in 2016 with the UU College of Social Justice. There, we met the Guardians of Yaoska River in northern Nicaragua, not far from the border with Honduras in an area called Rancho Grande. They, too, have fought off a Canadian mining company for many years. The people depend on the water of the Yaoska and have worked hard to protect this river from the inevitable damage that will occur if the mining project is allowed to happen.
Systemic change means that we all need to understand how everything fits together. It also means that creating meaningful change requires accountability. Developed nations such as the US, have significantly contributed to increased levels of carbon and methane in our atmosphere. Our consumer demands drive companies to produce the raw materials needed to manufacture the products we demand. Some parts of the world are paying a much higher price than other regions as a result of the impact of climate disruption.
Some regions are facing desertification while coastal regions and low-lying atolls face being swallowed by the rising seas. Inhabitants of the Marshall Islands are right now grappling with the question of, not if they have to leave, but when. Generations have been raised on those islands. Their ancestors are buried there and now, they are faced with having to abandon their cultural and their way of life.
As these conditions intensify, more people are going to be forced to migrate. Increased migration means increased economic and political insecurity. Over the past 40 years the US has been responding to economic, public health, and community challenges with mass incarceration. Mass incarceration draws an enormous amount of resources away from public investment. I’m pleased to announce that after 10 years of dedicated grassroots activism, the Governor signed the Comprehensive Criminal Law Reform bill on Friday April 13th. This is definitely an event worth celebrating and a reminder of the power we the people, do possess.
We can address all these issues if we approach the problems of our time collectively.
We first need a commitment to grow the green economy. People in the most economically depressed regions need support and training to qualify for these jobs. Individuals need to understand their impact on the world and be willing to examine their consumer behaviors.
In Massachusetts, our Governor has spoken about the need to create a climate readiness plan and yet he also sees no problem with investing in fracked gas infrastructure. This will not work. We cannot remain silent while our State Government continues to invest in infrastructure that condemns our shared future.
Yes, our challenges are great. Climate disruption is happening at a rapid pace. There is a lot of money and powerful corporations that want not only to keep the status quo, but to continue to invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure. This challenge can seem daunting at times, but we must remember that our greatest resource is each other. We have people power!
I find hope in 50 Massachusetts communities which include Salem, Cambridge, Framingham, Lowell, and Beverly, that have set a date to become 100% renewable communities and are working towards this goal.
I find hope in grass roots organizations, such as MA Power Forward, of which UU Mass Action is a member, that collaborate with community leaders from cities and towns that have bared the burden of toxic environments and are working toward climate justice solutions.
And I find hope in the countless activists who gather to find solutions that center the voices of local community leaders while also understanding the global context.
We are demanding the changes that need to happen. We are demanding changes that create a viable future for our descendants and we are not willing to leave behind or sacrifice anyone.
I want to share two last stories of hope with you today.
In 2016 the people of Western MA led by organizations such as Climate Action Now, Sugar Shack Alliance and Mothers Out Front worked tirelessly to successfully stop the Tennessee Gas Pipeline from bringing fracked gas across Massachusetts for export.
In West Roxbury, for the better part of a year, hundreds of people mobilized to stop the West Roxbury Lateral Pipeline project. This project built an unnecessary reserve pipeline as well as a high compression station across from a blasting quarry. Over the course of a year, people mobilized to stop it – over 200 people engaged in NVCD (non-violent civil disobedience), but in the end, the station was built. Thirteen defendants which included Tim DeChristopher, and Karenna Gore, planned to go to trial and plead the necessity defense. The follow statement from the Climate Disobedience Center describes the outcome:
“Yesterday (March 27) 13 defendants went into the west Roxbury District courthouse to answer charges related to their arrests protesting the West Roxbury (Mass) Lateral Pipeline. We expected to have charges against them reduced to civil infractions – the equivalent of a parking ticket. While finding no grounds to deny that motion from the prosecution, the judge chose to let each defendant testify briefly on the necessity of their actions. The defendants collectively presented a powerful and comprehensive argument for why they had a necessity to engage in civil disobedience to stop the imminent local and global harms of this fracked gas pipeline. Following their testimony, the judge acquitted ALL the defendants by reason of necessity.
While defendants were still denied a jury trial and the possibility of a full necessity defense, this was the first time (that we know of to date) that defendants were acquitted based on climate necessity.” (5)
This was a huge outcome! Yes, the compression station was built but the success came in the mobilization of so many people – many who had never before risked arrest.
These stories are the seeds of change we need to sow. This is the collective action and sacrifice that’s needed to confront the power of the fossil fuel companies.
This is the shift in perception we need – one where we will someday turn away from corporations being people and instead give legal protection to mountains and rivers and forests.
I will leave you with these final seeds of hope found in this recent legal decision made in Bogata Columbia
“Bogota-based rights group Dejusticia, which supported the plaintiffs’ case, said the verdict meant it was the first time a lawsuit of this kind had been ruled upon favorably in Latin America…In its ruling, the court recognized Colombia’s Amazon as an ‘entity subject of rights.’ which means that the rainforest has been granted the same legal rights as a human being.
“…The court ordered the government – both at the local and national level – along with the environment and agriculture ministries and environmental authorities to come up with action plans within 4 months to combat deforestation in the Amazon…The Amazon’s destruction leads to ‘imminent and serious’ damage to children and adults for both present and future generations, the judges said.” (6)
May it be so everywhere. Blessed be.
CLOSING HYMN: “Turn The World Around” (# 1074) ( * )
EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE (read by the congregation):
We extinguish the flame but not the light of truth,
the warmth of community,
or the fire of commitment.
These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.
May the long time sun shine upon you,
all love surround you,
and the pure light within you
guide you all the way home.
( * ) Indicates a person of color
(2) Honor Native Land Guide PDF