Our Earth – What We Can Do

In 1970, in 19 flaming 70 Alvin Toffler wrote a book called “Future Shock.”  Mr. Toffler didn’t coin the phrase “information overload” but he certainly popularized it.  And 1970 was pre-internet.  Today we have information overload by the bucket.

Just the past few days we’ve had murder motivated by bigotry labelled as terrorism when the murderer was Muslim, but simply murder by some nut when the murderer was a Christian White Supremacist.  There was the battle over repealing the Affordable Care Act.  There’s a Supreme Court nominee who is, shall we say: controversial.  There’s the extent of the Putin-Trump connection.  And, by the way, there’s widespread famine being predicted in parts of Africa and the Middle East.  Not to mention a multitude of wars and, oh yeah, the polar ice cap melting.  And that’s just the surface … this … past … week.

It seems to be flying at us from all sides.  So much, and so massively huge that we tend to fixate on what we can’t do.  There’s so much that we can’t do!  I mean, good grief the ice cap is melting!

I’ve watched some friends flame out by caring too deeply about too much.  I’ve watched other friends simply turnoff and tune out to protect themselves from going mad.  So much is wrong.  So much needs changing.  Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Baha’i, Secular Humanist, Sikh, Hindu … what’s our response?  What are we supposed to do?  Oh hell, maybe the ostrich is right!  Where’s a hole I can stick my head in? … Maybe not.

If you know me, you know that consistent with my Interfaither beliefs, I support remaining engaged without flaming out or tuning out.  I strongly concur with 1st century Rabbi Tarfon, who told us that our obligation is not to complete the work, but neither are we free to abstain from it.  Perhaps someday, after I’ve long departed, I’ll be remembered … by someone … as a proponent of the never-ending nibble approach.  Eat.  Sleep.  Work.  Play.  And nibble at what needs changing.  Whatever the problem is, keeping nibbling.  If it’s really, really dark, let us light a candle … and then keep nibbling.

Which brings us to our sermon topic today: Our Earth – What We Can Do.  The first thing to notice is that we are not asking “What can we do??”  That’s the question a person asks who’s on overload, ready either to burn out or tune out.  What can we do?  Instead we take the nibbler’s position.  Ok, big problem.  Here’s some things we can do – things we can do.  Right now.

Tonight there will be a worldwide honoring of Earth Hour, in support of action on Climate Change.  The Space Needle will go dark for an hour tonight, starting at 8:30.  Climate Change, Global Warming, is huge – literally earth-changing.  But again, let us not be distracted by “What Can We Do?”  Instead, we want to speak a little about what we can do.  Or, if you will, practical nibbling.  Maybe I’ll write that someday as a companion to Practical Interfaith.

Voting is, of course, critically important.  Politics is critically important.  I of course, I hope “of course,” encourage all of us to be informed and not only to vote wisely but first and foremost to vote!  But this is a spiritual gathering.  Let’s deal with matters spiritual and personal.  For aside from politics there remains much for each of us to nibble at.

First, let’s clear the spiritual air.  There’s a passage in Hebrew Scripture that must be addressed.  It’s Genesis 1:28.  “And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that creeps upon the earth.’”  Some have taken this as license for humanity to do whatever we want to the earth and all that dwell here.  Not unlike the spoiled child, the comment is, “Well God gave it to us.  We can do what we want.”  And we have acted as spoiled children.  This is not the time to go into a lengthy discussion of how Genesis was put together.  Instead, I’ll simply offer that, assuming for the moment there is a God and God said this.  Having dominion, it seems to me, carries some responsibilities.  And one of those responsibilities is to leave behind us when we exit a habitable, thriving world for all creatures great and small – not to mention for our children and grandchildren.

I rather like a teaching from Taoism.  “Both the horse and cow have four feet. That is Nature. Place a halter on the horse or a string through the cow’s nose and that is man. It is therefore said, ‘Let not man destroy Nature. Do not let cleverness destroy what should be.’ ”

Right now, much of humanity’s “cleverness” is threatening to destroy our home, our planet.  Or to put it in terms of Genesis, we are horrifically failing our responsibilities as the ones who have dominion over this Earth. The problem is huge.  We aren’t.  But that doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and cry, “What can we do?”  So let’s look at some things we can do.

One of the things I could do was go to Standing Rock to support our Sioux brothers and sisters opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.  A month ago, when I wanted to go back, my health wasn’t good enough.  Ok. So I couldn’t go back to Standing Rock and march, but I could organize a march here in Lynnwood.  So I did.  I was joined by thirty-five other concerned citizens and we not only marched to City Hall but presented the City of Lynnwood with a letter of petition and a proposed resolution of Support – so the City of Lynnwood could go on record supporting the right of our Sioux brothers and sisters.  That resolution is now scheduled to come to a vote on Monday, April 10th.  These were things I could do.  Each of us, according to our own lives and abilities have things we can do.  You may be able to do things that I couldn’t and can’t.  But what I would like to propose now are a few things we can all do.  And we can do them today.  Right now.  It’s nibbling at the problem.  I know that.  But I also know that the more of us who nibble, the more we can accomplish.

Nibble number one.  I think most of us are aware that our use of plastics has gone way overboard.  We have a throwaway society and we throw away mountains of plastic – plastic that will not decompose, plastic that kills and pollutes.  Like most of us, my recycle bin is fuller every week than my trash bin.  If I don’t have a bag with me when I shop, if I’m asked “paper or plastic” I choose paper.  But most of the time I bring a bag.  We don’t need plastic bags.  You may have noticed that we have plastic utensils that we use during the social hour.  We don’t throw that plastic out.  We take the plastic home, wash it and bring it back.  That’s one thing, along with recycling in our homes, we are already doing.

But speaking of recycling, did you know that computer plastics, of all things, are now being recycled into pens.  There is no longer any excuse to have pens that aren’t made from reused plastic.  In fact, I have brought three boxes of recycled plastic pens with me so that everyone here can try a pen out.  And there’s enough so anyone who wishes may take a second pen home for a significant other to try.  Every nibble counts!

And what about electricity?  I think we are all aware of the effect our oil-driven culture has had on Global Warming.  Some of us are in a position to do more than others.  But there is at least one thing we can all do today to reduce our consumption of electricity and thus our reliance on oil and gas, even as we turn more and more to renewable sources of energy.  We can transition not only from incandescent light bulbs but also compact fluorescent bulbs.  We have here today ten boxes of LED light bulbs.  Two bulbs to a box.  Everyone is welcome and indeed encouraged to take a box home.  And if there are boxes left over, please feel free to take two boxes.  I’ve transitioned from a house with fluorescent lighting to LED light.  It has worked beautifully for me … and yes, my energy use has gone down.

These first two were pretty easy.  This last one is more difficult.  It will take real intention and persistence.  We can start today, but it’s only a start.  It’s changing how we shop.  I’ll warn you, it takes time.  I’m still working at it.  It takes time because from the moment we were born it was drummed into our heads to seek “bargains.”  Whether it’s food, or clothes or appliances or anything else we shop for, we have been taught to search out the “best deal.”  Yet we’ve been taught to seek the best deal with one crucial element missing.  The best deal for whom?  Well for us, of course.  What else matters?  It’s thinking like that that is the primary force behind Global Warming and Climate Change.

But what if we change our worldview and decide that if a bargain for me means someone else lives in slavery or is paid poverty wages, it’s a false bargain.  If a bargain for me means that the production of the appliance I’m buying contributes to the destruction of the planet, it’s a false bargain.

So how do we navigate these false bargains?

There’s a book that can really help.  It was introduced to me some ten years ago by our own Rebecca Alder.  And I know I’ve introduced several of us to it over the years.  So I only have four copies with me here to hand out to anyone who may not yet know about “The Better World Shopping Guide.”  In short, the book rates products and companies A to F – not according to how little something costs, or even how good it tastes or works or how long it lasts.  The products and companies are rated A to F on how good or toxic they are for our planet.  I use it almost every day.  I know some of you keep it in your cars so it’s handy.  It’s purposely a small book, so that you can keep it in your pocket or purse.

And so we are back to thinking about what we can do.  These are things we can do … today.  And I hope we will share the knowledge.  If you feel like passing this forward, perhaps consider having a “Things We Can Do” party and invite some friends.  Pass out some light bulbs and some pens made of recycled plastic.  Talk about recycling in general, or suggest some other earth-friendly things that we can do that I haven’t mentioned.  And you might have your own copy of “The Better World Shopping Guide,” available for people to thumb through.

Let us stay active.  Let us stay engaged.  Let us not wonder “What can we do?” but instead commit ourselves to what we can do.  And let us relentlessly nibble!  Maybe not today, but in the near future, many of us can replace throw-away batteries in our homes with rechargeable batteries.  When we shop, we can seek out packaging that uses minimal or no plastic.  This is a way to keep our spirit whole.

Let us not let the enormity of our task dispirit or discourage us.  In celebrating our Earth and in committing ourselves to reclaiming the garden that it can be, let us remember to nibble and, when chance gives us the opportunity, encourage others to nibble as well.

Amen.

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