Loud Machines and Climate Silence

The other day I read an article in the Guardian, The Great Climate Silence by Clive Hamilton.  I found it easy to agree–no one is really talking about or dealing with the coming catastrophe of climate change.  Having had these issues on my mind for a while, I moved on to other things that day.  But sometimes it is the little things that break through to our hearts.

This morning, I was planning to walk over to Evergreen Cemetery for the Warbler Walk sponsored by Maine Audubon, but though I searched everywhere, I couldn’t find my pair of binoculars. So I left the house feeling that sense of frustration I am sure we all feel when we can’t find something.  As I walked, I opted to forego the warblers, and go by Capisic Brook near the Hall School.  I wrote previously about the cutting of trees that is going on for construction of the new school.

Hall School Tree Cutting 1The big loud machines are still there, but today I was startled to see that they have also cut trees between the school and the brook, a whole section that I thought should be safe. The wide swath of trees that made for a little wilderness in the city, is being narrowed so that the sanctuary is no longer as much a sanctuary.

I am not in on any of the planning or decision-making, so I feel very helpless and sad and angry about all of this, wishing there were someone I could yell at, like, Really, you have to cut those trees too?  Isn’t it bad enough that you destroyed the trail on the other side of the school?  Meanwhile the big machines kept digging up the earth near the pathway, now widened to a road, that goes over the brook.  As I walked back over that pathway, I heard the plaintive chirps of a woodpecker that I have often seen in this little ecosystem.

On my way home, I thought about the article about climate silence.  But this time, my frustration and grief and anger were open, and I felt for the earth as a whole what I had been feeling for my little brook and its trees and birds and newly blooming trout lilies.  Why are we doing this?  Isn’t it bad enough that we’ve already caused extinctions, and destroyed so many ecosystems?  Why do we just keep on destroying more and more?  We’ve got to get out of our denial, face our grief, and break our silence.

And for some reason I also thought about the proposal to borrow money to re-build four of the other elementary schools in Portland.  Most progressives I know are in favor of that proposal, but when I think about climate change, I have misgivings.  It is not about particular trees or construction damage, or not wanting the best schools for our kids.  But just as Clive Hamilton suggests, no one takes into account the coming catastrophes as they go about making plans for the future.  The new Hall School is slated to be a “green building.” So yes, that is good.  But there are other issues, too.

The one that came to my heart today is debt.  I think about cities in Michigan that are under “emergency management” because they went bankrupt from debts they could not repay.  Those managers, with no democratic accountability, can close school districts, sell off common resources like parks and museums, and change public water systems, such that the children in Flint were poisoned by lead.  If we take into account the coming climate catastrophes, wouldn’t it be wise to get our cities and ourselves out of debt?  So that we can preserve local control when things get worse?  Do we really want the banks to be in charge when everything gets more chaotic and difficult?

Everything shifts when we include climate change and the earth ecosystem in our conversations about the future.  What questions might you start asking, that you haven’t been asking up until now?

Loud machine

[Forest City Trail sign, with big machine digging up the earth]

Colonization Stories

Broken Tree DSC01792The theme at my congregation for November is “What does it mean to be a community of story?” Of course, stories can be truth-telling, or truth-hiding. For example, I have mixed feelings about the Thanksgiving holiday. I am very much in favor of gratitude. But the stories American culture tells about the holiday have been used to hide the truth about a deep crack in the foundation of our nation, and have distorted and corrupted the high ideals many cherish as the basis of our American democracy.

I am speaking about the colonization of this continent, a destructive process unparalleled in history. Millions of Indigenous people were killed, or died from disease unknown to them. Land was stolen. Treaties were signed and then broken, and then never talked about again. Most of our senators and representatives in Washington know nothing about the legal responsibilities of our federal government to the Indigenous nations within our borders.

Why should we care?  Those of us whose ancestors were among the settlers of the continent?  We have benefited from this colonization, but we have also been harmed by it. Colonization is at the root of the many of the problems that all of us are facing now: the destruction of the natural world, climate change, oppression of one group by another, the overarching greed that has bankrupted our economy. (There is a longer list I could make.) I don’t believe we can fix any of those problems without revisiting our history.

Sadly, churches were/are a large contributor to colonization. I am part of a new project here in Maine, called “Decolonizing Faith.” A few clergy colleagues and I, under the auspices of the Wabanaki REACH program, are exploring the history of colonization, and the role of the churches in it. We recently spent a long weekend with a few partners from the Wabanaki people, having deeper conversations about the impacts of colonization on Wabanaki people, and building trust for future work together. We hope that we might begin to envision how people of faith could help in the process of de-colonization, non-Indigenous people joining together with Indigenous people for the benefit of all people.

Our next plan is to create and hold day-long workshops for people in faith communities to explore these questions together. But we realized this topic is so huge, that perhaps we should start by encouraging people to attend the Ally workshops that are already being offered here in Maine by Wabanaki REACH. These workshops look at the history of U.S. Government relationships with Native people, explore the dynamics of systemic racism, and ask what non-native people can do as allies. Once people have this basic foundation, they will be better prepared for looking at how churches were involved in the problems, and how we can be part of the solutions.

I would encourage folks in Maine to sign up for the ally trainings–you can find out more at the Wabanaki REACH events page.   These trainings will be a prerequisite for the first Decolonizing Faith workshops we hope to offer this winter or spring.

Solar Energy

Solar Energy LeavesToday, as I walked in the woods, I was suddenly seeing all the leaves budding open as if they were little solar energy panels for the plants and trees–only much more beautiful and efficient than the solar energy panels we humans are able to make.  We are in those weeks when the plants are waking up and starting their solar production once more.  And our own celebration is to make a decision about solar energy, so that panels can be put on our roof as soon as possible.

Last week, we had a roofing company come to replace all the worn shingles, so the roof would be ready.  Then we read solar proposals and asked questions, and tried to decide between some great local companies who are installing solar panels in our area.  That was the toughest part of the decision.  We also took into consideration the total life cycle environmental impact of the panels themselves, and that helped us to choose SolarWorld panels which are made in the United States, and score high on all measures of environmental accountability and worker treatment.  Who knew there were so many factors to consider?

Meanwhile, my time has been very busy with church work, and I am sorry to have neglected this blogging.  Yesterday, I preached on a topic related to Faith Climate Action Week, and found this quote by Gus Speth, a U.S. advisor on climate change:

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

It is good to be serving a congregation that is interested in such a cultural and spiritual transformation!  They support the changes Margy and I are making, and many other families are also asking how they can lower their carbon footprint.  We give each other hope and strength.

Twelve Days of Climate Prayer

Reflected Sky

Today the climate talks begin in Paris, and I am joining with many others to pray, to meditate, to pay attention, to lend our individual energies to this most important project of humankind. Can we act together to shift our way of life from planet destruction to planet healing?

On each of the twelve days of the talks, I intend to pray at sunrise, to ask for help from all of our siblings on this planet–the animals, the trees, the birds, the plants, the winds, the moon.  Help us to learn to live in mutually beneficial ways with all life on Earth!

I don’t put my hope in the goals or plans of the participants in the climate talks.  I have heard that the goals are so modest, they won’t create enough change to save us from devastating global warming.  But I do feel inspired by the ordinary people around the world who have more ambitious goals. We want a planet that is full of life for human beings and all other beings!

I am hopeful because there are so many others who are praying, meditating, paying attention, protesting, changing our own habits, changing our investments, changing what we buy, changing what we grow, changing how we think and how we live.

What do you love about this Earth? Please join in a twelve-day global focus on transformation! If you pray, pray for this. If you don’t pray, take some other action each day on behalf of the Earth. Find hope in the energies of hundreds, thousands, millions, billions who love the Earth, and love life, who are joining in this powerful intention.

The Hope that Springs from Uncertainty

This week there have been no new houses to look at, but that is just as well because we are waiting to see what loan amount the bank will approve for us. I have also shifted from sabbatical time to a week of study and preparation for fall worship and return to full-time ministry. Today I’ve been reading books on Life Coaching, to learn strategies that coaches use to help people achieve their goals. I’ve thought that perhaps the tools of coaching might be useful for leadership in my congregation, and also useful personally to achieve our goal of finding greener housing, and living in ways that unite us with the living Earth.

I completed one book, whose author describes the most important tools for achieving coaching results as: motivation, positive frames of thinking, and confidence. I am going to be snarky for a moment and say it sounds a little like the worst of new age thinking–“just believe it and you can make it happen.” I do believe that we can access resourcefulness in ways that help us to achieve our goals. I like the tools that enable us to do that. But I don’t buy how everything seems to hinge on positivity and rejection of the possibility of failure. (I have two more books to explore, so perhaps I will discover that this one isn’t the best representation of the coaching philosophy.)

I am remembering Joanna Macy‘s advice to honor our pain for the world, to honor all the so-called “negative” emotions as well as the positive. Our pain is not just a hindrance to achieving our goals, but also a resource for compassion: our pain for the world comes from our deep interconnection with all of life.

Joanna speaks about the three stories of our time–the ways we understand what is happening in our world. The first is “business as usual” in the industrial growth society, believing we can just go on as we have been doing, and everything will sort itself out. But the industrial growth society is actually on a suicidal path because it is built upon destroying the natural world. The second story is called the “Great Unraveling,” a story of the destruction of our society, the mass extinction of species, climate disasters, and nightmarish post-apocalyptic scenarios in which people fend for themselves and turn on each other. The third story is called the “Great Turning,” in which human beings make a profound shift toward a life-affirming society, through major changes in our energy consumption, our social and economic structures, and especially in growing to understand that all beings are a part of one living Earth.

My desire for greener housing springs from my hope to be a part of a Great Turning. But Joanna points out that we have no assurance of success in our work to transform the world toward a life-affirming society. We could just as easily fail in our efforts, and witness the downfall of humanity and the extinction of our species along with so many others. Yet that very uncertainty can be the source of our hope and of our motivation.

Bald Eagle, photographer unknown

Bald Eagle, photographer unknown

I went for a swim at Winslow beach today, and as I floated on the ocean waters, I saw a beautiful bald eagle flying overhead. A small bird was chasing it at first, but then it soared on a long straight path towards the western sky.

As I ponder the concepts of motivation and hope, I realize that I don’t find my own motivation through messages of assured success and positivity.  I feel more resonance with the hope that springs from uncertainty.

There is no guarantee that Margy and I will find greener housing, and no guarantee that human beings can turn our society around toward a way of living in harmony with the earth. But for that very reason, we must give it our passion and our dedication and our best efforts. We must put our whole energy into the story that offers Life.

Why find greener housing, anyway?

Oil furnace DSC01553We have to wean ourselves away from our dependence on fossil fuels. Think about petroleum. The industrial economy treats oil as a resource free for the taking, with a price based only on the cost of extraction and delivery. It shaped a world which became completely dependent on cheap oil. But we have passed the time when oil can be easily extracted, and now riskier and dirtier methods are required. Deep sea drilling like that which caused the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Tar sands mining in Alberta Canada that destroys the forest, and devastates the health of the people and animals of the region. Arctic Sea drilling. Burning oil for fuel will increase greenhouse gasses and bring our climate closer to disastrous changes.

I know we have to stop burning oil. But when I look at my own life I see how big a challenge that will be. Our home is heated by oil. I drive a car than runs on gasoline made from oil, to buy food and other needed items, and also to go back and forth to the congregation I serve. It would take several hours to walk to these destinations from my house, and there is no public transportation nearby. The whole structure of suburban life is dependent upon oil. My congregation is a suburban congregation, and almost every person who comes to worship drives there in an automobile. Without oil, it is likely the church, and my house, would not have been built in these locations. The whole geographic structure of our society has been shaped by oil.

And not only that—many material goods in our lives are also fabricated from oil. Plastics are made from petroleum, and there is plastic in every room in our houses. I write on a computer with plastic components. Alarm clocks, toothbrushes, synthetic fabrics, telephones, televisions—all from oil. Modern agriculture is dependent on fertilizer made from oil, and machines that use oil, and a transportation system that uses oil. The asphalt on our roads is made from oil. If oil disappeared tomorrow, the whole system would collapse. And eventually, oil will run out. That is one of the realities we are learning in our time.

None of us have the ability to undo our dependence on oil individually. It is too entrenched, too societally enmeshed. But we can begin to imagine some partial solutions—in fact, the technology to live without oil already exists. I was inspired when I learned about “zero-carbon” houses that actually generate more energy than they use. We may not be able to fully achieve such a goal, but why not try to get closer to that ideal?

I know that even if we succeed beyond our wildest dream—even if we create a zero-carbon home from which we could walk to most functions of our lives, even if we could afford an electric vehicle that we charge from solar panels for other transportation—oil companies will still be breaking open the earth in Alberta, and spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The children living near refineries will still be getting asthma. The ice of the arctic will still be melting, and thousands of species will go extinct each year. We need not only individual change, but a social will to transform our relationship to the earth. But I believe that each change we pursue as individuals also works its magic on that larger transformative process in ways that we can’t fully understand. And so we take the one step we are able to take.

In the Talmud it says, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”