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Call To Earth Community

Updated: May 31


The Call To Earth Community

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Nanaimo, April 19th, 2020

Thank you so much for welcoming me to your service today. It is a privilege to be here with the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo.

First I want to acknowledge how disruptive this is for all of us, and how many people are afraid and hurting. My heart goes out to all those who are suffering in these days of crisis that appear to be stretching out into a new normal.

I don’t know how you are reacting after a month of isolation. My fridge is full, yet still, I feel the disorientation. I can’t find my focus. I’m not sure what I should be doing. I seem to need time to think.

So I go walking every day (a new routine for me) and tree bathing when I can. Everyone I talk to is deriving spiritual inspiration from trees and water, from nature. It is as if you breathe in spirit along with the wonderful oxygen the trees produce. Breathe in spirit, breathe out peace. (Thank you Leah, for these words.)

As I sift through the good and the bad in social media right now this is what I see:

  • We know that our relationship with the earth is broken.

  • We know the signs and we know many of the causes:

  • Our failure to value the basic necessities of life – the earth, the air, and the water. We don’t include their value in the economic equations and we don’t hesitate to pollute them.

  • 250 years of burning fossil fuels

  • The huge scale of economic activity that destroys whole ecosystems in the name of efficiency.

  • The crisis of mass species extinction.

  • An economic system based on growth on a finite planet; one that concentrates wealth in a few private hands, leaving as much as 40% of people in North America one paycheck away from homelessness.

  • We know that things have to change, but we don’t know how to change them.

Maybe just stopping is a good thing.Maybe that’s just what we need.

It seems that our current leadership is too invested in the system as it is to initiate fundamental change.It may be that the leadership will have to come from the ground up.You and me.

We used to talk about thinking globally and acting locally. What the Covid-19 virus is teaching us is that to act locally, for example, by staying at home, is to act globally. It takes billions of people following the protocols all around the world to beat a little virus like this.

Will we learn the lessons of this crisis? Can we lay down our arms and learn to cooperate toward a common vision of a healthy planet for future generations?

In the 1970’s, The women’s movement was fond of saying “It’ll be a great day when daycare gets a billion dollars and the generals have to hold a bake sale to buy a bomb.”

Our study group on Thinking Resilience, facilitated by Deborah Goodman, pointed out how incredibly complicated it is to make change. We talked about systems thinking and I learned a new word – Panarchy. Not a simple hierarchy. Panarchy. A word to describe the many different interconnected systems all operating at once and each one influencing what is happening all around us in different ways, at different speeds:

The first system: Animals, insects, plants, minerals all dependent on the rays of the sun and clean water, the good earth, and the rich, clean air. Ecosystems.

Second system: The timeline of memory, reality, and imagination --past present future. Trees growing ring by ring, standing in one place, and providing benefits to birds, insects, animals and humans for hundreds of years. Rocks watching the eons go by. Humans measuring time in lifetimes, the stories and events of one generation impacting the ones to follow. An insect realizing its whole life span in a few minutes, hours or days.

Third system: Human systems – Political and economic, social systems for caring for each other, and moral, ethical, and legal systems. All interconnected and interwoven with each other yet each operating on their own set of rules and their own agenda and trying to influence human consciousness.

Fourth system: Human cultures, religions, mythic stories, each with a slightly different take on what is right and wrong, good and bad, and how we should interpret the meaning of this precious existence and consciousness, on this lonely planet spinning in a mysterious, still mostly unexplored universe.

Richard Heinberg, of the Post Carbon Institute, was inviting us to find the place in the panarchy where your action could make the biggest difference. When you look at the complexity, it seems impossible. How can one person ever see enough perspectives to make that choice?

Can I use my mind to see where we are in these systems and choose a starting point that will take us where we want to go? All my life I always thought I was supposed to be able to consciously choose the right path and go there. That was personal success: to make and achieve goals. Success would give me belonging and a place in society. I’ve struggled to learn to work in teams, let go of personal recognition, and watch a sense of belonging emerge through camaraderie and partnership. But surely that is what we need. We have to find the place in the panarchy together as a people. As a nation. As a world.

Can we learn to cooperate toward a common vision of a healthy planet for future generations? Breathe in spirit. Breathe out peace. Live in hope.

These are exciting times. It is a time when the world is entertaining new ways of thought. People are writing blogs, communicating across continents and oceans on every media looking for the point in the panarchy where change is most possible. I am glued to my computer, scanning the exchange of ideas. A consensus is forming among activists everywhere:

  • We have to rebuild our local economies and communities. The place for personal action is local. We have to grow more of our own food in a sustainable way. We have to build and support our own local businesses.

  • We have to protect our air and our water, and the natural ecosystems all around us, habitat for our siblings in the animal and plant world, and develop reverence for life.

  • First Nations and Indigenous people around the world will lead. This is their time.

  • We have to stop basing our lives on fossil fuels. We need a fast, planned transition to renewable energy that will create many new kinds of jobs. Renewable energy will be more distributed, and more locally controlled. It will be different. It will change us.

  • We won’t be able to have so much stuff. We’ll have to conserve more. Reduce, repair, reuse, repurpose, recycle. We’ll have to share more. To do that we have to know each other. We need trust, and shared values.

  • The survival strategy is cooperation, not competition.

Guy Dauncey, a local futurist, ecologist and author, puts it this way:

“What we need now is far more than reformed capitalism. We need to move beyond the Enlightenment, beyond the Industrial Age, beyond capitalism, and build for ourselves a New Ecological Civilization, premised on the centrality not of money, but of Nature, based on the assumption that most people are not greedy, but rather loving and kind. It is time to move beyond Capitalism to the era of World Cooperation, where nobody will be left behind.”

I have been walking this week in downtown Nanaimo. The only people on the streets are the homeless. It breaks my heart to see so many of them trying to keep their social distance and protect themselves, and that this is now a normal part of the system, homelessness. Nanaimo’s response is to put in more sanitation stations downtown so that they can wash their hands. A good gesture, but not a solution. To change this would require a change of attitude. A change of heart. Covid-19 is showing us how many more people could be in that situation. People who will lose their livelihoods because of floods or fires or pandemics or technological change. We are entering a major shift and there will be displacement. It won’t be anybody’s fault. What will be the values behind the systems we build to take care of people?

Rev. Debra has called this a liminal moment. A space in time between one era and another when we don’t know where we are going and can’t see ahead. I personally have never lived in such a time when the whole world is living in the liminal moment at the same time. What an opportunity for real change!

Our governments have stepped in to do things we thought governments couldn’t do any more. The private sector, based on greed and hoarding, is not structured to solve problems like this at all. George Monbiot, a columnist for the Guardian, has declared neoliberalism dead. (It reminds me of many years ago when Time Magazine declared “God is Dead!”) If we hold our shaken and battered society up to the light we can see the cracks. We can see the holes in our economic approach, in our industrial and cultural and social and ecological systems.

Covid-19 is giving us a warning.It is giving us a chance to stop, as a whole world, and reflect on what changes we need to make to build in more resilience.Resilience is the capacity to bounce back, to recover from any particular catastrophe.My husband, Ron Wilson, will tell you.He learned resilience when as a boy he watched his home burn down as he sat in his pyjamas on a snow bank during a Northern Ontario winter.His parents demonstrated resilience by starting again from scratch. But they didn’t do it alone.They had supports. They went back to family.Our human world is stretched to the limit.We are not prepared for the changes to come.

We are moving quickly toward the Ecological Revolution. A new healthier relationship (I hope) between humans and nature designed for both to thrive. A new era requires a new vision based on new values that the whole world agrees on.

Nature builds resilience through biodiversity. Life evolves to take advantage of the features of a particular time and place. The plants and animals are interdependent. The more diversity the more the ecosystem as a whole thrives. Our new world requires a relationship based on reverence for life. In the Village workshop I took this year Kathi Camilleri taught us:

Everything happens in ceremony.Everything is done with respect.Ask permission to borrow someone’s work.Get to know who someone really is.Learn to work together.Have each other’s back.Everything is about relationship with each other and our mother earth.

The work before us is to build community resilience. That is our job. We want to get to know our neighbours and to help one another. We need to educate our politicians on the changes we want and expect them to lead. We should engage with business and industry leaders and those we disagree with. Listen for understanding. We can encourage study and learning as we face situations we didn’t expect and are unprepared for. To influence this change we will work together, promoting our positive vision for a sustainable community on a sustainable planet, in wider and wider networks.

Because, as Milton Freedman - one of the architects of the neoliberal economy - once said, “Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. . . . Our basic function is to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available, until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”

And, Naomi Klein added, “The future will be determined by whoever is willing to fight harder, for the ideas they have lying around.” (She, of course, is talking about the Green new Deal)

Can we learn to cooperate toward a common vision of a healthy planet for future generations? Breathe in spirit. Breathe out peace. Live in hope. Act in Faith that your thoughts and actions will make a difference.

All Our Relations


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