Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Seventh Generation: Are We Loving Mother Earth?

The following sermon was delivered by Dr. Debra Greenwood at the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett in Lawrenceville, GA on July 13, 2008. It speaks for itself. It was so powerful to me that I ask Debra's permission to post it here. She has kindly agreed. You should also know that the service was planned by Lisa McLeod and she and her entire family enacted for us a version of the Native American story of the 7th Generation, attributed to both Iroquois and Cherokee peoples.

The Seventh Generation:

Are We Loving Mother Earth?

The Living Tradition we share draws from many sources: wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life. In the Hindu legend of the Mahabarada, the divine Krishna declared “this is the sum of duty, do nothing unto others which would cause pain if done to you.” In the Talmud of the Jewish tradition, the sage Hillel said, “what is hateful to you, do not do to others. This is the whole of the law. All the rest is commentary.” In the gospel of Matthew in the Christian scriptures, the messiah Jesus says, “whatever you wish the others would do to you, do so to them.” In the Buddhist text of the Udanavarga, the student is urged “hurt not others in ways that you, yourself would find hurtful.” In the Muslim hadee of Al Nawawi, the prophet Mohammed teaches “no one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” The Yoruba of West Africa say “whenever a person breaks a stick in the forest, let him consider what it would feel like if it were himself who was thus broken..” And the Oglala Lakota spiritual leader Black Elk wrote “All things are our relatives. What we do to everything, we do to ourselves.”

Our ancestors, the so-called primitive people knew. They knew of our inter-relatedness. They knew that for every action there is a reaction. There is a cause and there is an effect. They knew that we are all in this together. They knew that the actions they took upon the earth, affected the earth and would impact future generations. But somewhere along the way, we forgot this knowledge. We lost our way. We thought that we could treat our earth without regard to how we were abusing it. We had no regard for our impact on future generations.

“In every deliberation we must consider the impact on the seventh generation.” The concept of the seventh generation has been attributed to both the Iroquois and the Cherokee. The origin of the concept is less important than the core concept itself. This concept calls on us to imagine a world where clean air and clean water are protected for our children’s children’s children, seven generations from now... And if a generation can be defined as about 30 years, then we are asked to consider the impact of our lives - our carbon footprint - 210 years from now.

Van Jones, the 2008 Ware Lecturer at General Assembly this year, is an eco-activist. Many of the words and ideas that follow are his. The first stewards of these lands knew that these lands were precious and sacred. Tribal and indigenous people around the world, including Europe, knew that our land was precious. But a renegade minority came into power, based a brainstorm - these are not trees, this is lumber. That’s not a rabbit, that’s a pelt. I can sell it. I can sell everything. I can even sell those people over there. They went all over the world with this insanity and they met people who knew better. And they called those people savages, uncivilized, heathens. They did it in Africa. They called my great-great grandmother a savage because she said those rocks, that river, and those trees are sacred. Their response was, “You’re worshipping rocks and trees, we’re going to have to civilize you.” But they didn’t even start this madness in Africa. They started the madness in Europe. They met wise people who tried to fight back. These brave souls were called pagans and witches and they burned them at the stake, because these people knew about herbs, healing, were in sync with the seasons and were connected to Mother Earth.

This is not new knowledge. All of our great-great grandmothers knew about the ways of the earth. They’ve been waiting a long time for their wisdom to come back into existence. And those of you who have been walking in this path have been honoring our ancestors as we move forward. And now it’s time to bring this wisdom fully back.

As I look back on my life, I realize that I have been a budding environmentalist since childhood. As a child, I thought about things like, ‘where does the toilet water go?’ I wondered about what the garbage man did with all the trash he collected on our street and in our neighborhood. And although I appreciated Lady Bird Johnson’s ‘Beautify America’ campaign, I felt that beautification of America was less about planting flowers and more about making sure that we kept our streets clean and clear of litter. That was the way I saw that we could beautify America - pick up the trash! If everybody did his or her part, we could make a huge difference in our impact on the earth.

We are a part of the interdependent web of existence. In fact, we Americans are a significant part of this web - and not necessarily in a good way. We are 5% of the world’s population, but we use 30% of its resources. If everyone in the world used up resources the way we do, we would need 4 or 5 planets to handle the waste. But we only have one Mother Earth, and we are not loving her very much these days. And she is crying out for our love. We have created tens of thousands of leaky landfills throughout the country. Every time we dig a landfill, line it with a plastic liner that becomes brittle and leaky over the years, we slowly poison our mother with chemicals that leach out into the soil and sometimes get into the groundwater or nearby lakes and streams. Every time we fail to conserve water in our daily lives, water treatment facilities must use extra energy to treat our water that is then released into our mother’s tear ducts. I know that Mother Earth loves us, but sometimes I think she is very angry with us. Sometimes I wonder if the hurricanes are her fury at how we have mistreated her. The thunder her rage. The floods her tears of sadness at how we neglect each other as well as our Mother - our dear Mother - whom we all must learn to respect and love. Without our Mother, we have no life. Without our Mother, we have no life. Life cannot be sustained if we continue to abuse Mother Earth.

Since 1960, there has been a steep rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, largely due to the combustion of fossil fuels. In fact, CO2 is responsible for more than 90% of greenhouse gas

emissions that contribute to global warming, threaten to elevate our sea levels and decrease our biodiversity. You do realize that fossil fuels are death. Fossil fuels are the decayed remains of dinosaurs and old forests that are pulled from the ground and unceremoniously dumped into the engines of our cars, trucks and airplanes. Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources. We are depleting them at a rapid rate, and they are not being replenished. It takes many thousands of years to replenish them. And these fossil fuels are wreaking havoc on our planet – we are destroying the ozone layer - and we are changing our climate.

We can’t drill our way out of this crisis. There aren’t enough fossil fuels to save us. But the climate crisis isn’t confined to just our use of fossil fuels. We have a government that is in bed with big business. We have a government that has forgotten its charge to look out for its people - to be of the people, by the people and for the people. Annie Leonard, on the web site storyofstuff.com, lays it out very clearly. Our government has allowed industries to produce and pollute toxic products at nauseating rates. Corporations have gone overseas in search of resources to supply our thirst for more oil, more products, more stuff. These corporations have abused the lands of third world countries, sending the people who lived on those lands looking for a better way of life in other countries. And with the flight of these companies overseas, our own workforce faces fewer and fewer options for gainful employment.

Our country is facing very tough economic times right now. Economists now admit that we are in a recession. We are facing record-breaking home foreclosures, bank and financial institution failures, rising unemployment, accompanied by the rising cost of fuel, that drives the rising cost of our food, transportation, postage stamps and consumer goods. We are dangerously moving not into a deeper recession, but to stagflation. Stagflation occurs when unemployment rises along with the cost of goods and services. Stagflation is hard on everybody, but it is particularly hardest on the poor. And people of color remain those most likely to be poor.

So we have these competing forces - depletion of fossil fuels, the moving of industry into new markets where they can reduce the cost of production of the goods and services we Americans crave. There is a resultant loss of jobs in America, and a poisoning of our environment, again driven by our insatiable need for more and more stuff. And these forces are all competing to see which one can most quickly drive our economy into the ground.

But there is a way out of this apparently hopeless situation. We have to reduce our greenhouse emissions, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, as well as create new jobs for those who have been locked out of full participation in our economy. We have to reconnect with our Mother. We have to go back to the earth – the source of all that is sacred and the source of all that sustains us.

It’s time to let our Mother know that we were engaged in adolescent rebellion. We were talking back. We weren’t listening. We thought we knew what we were doing, but we didn’t. We’re sorry Mother. We’re back. And she’ll forgive us, too. We must apologize to the indigenous people of the world. It’s their wisdom we need now. We can heal the earth.

We have to create a green economy. There are millions of homes and buildings in the United States that would benefit from being made more energy efficient. Solar panels can be installed, roofs can be painted white, insulation installed, leaks sealed, water recycling systems installed and more. We can attack both sides of the problem – climate change and unemployment by creating a green economy that moves us back into harmony with Mother Earth. We can train Rashaad, Tyrone, Maria and Mike to become experts at greening our buildings and homes. And we can start the process of reclaiming our earth from the renegades we have almost allowed to destroy it. And let us start that greening process in our most blighted areas. We won’t have eco-apartheid, where the people who do the work can’t afford to have the work done on their own homes. Right now, we’d rather spend hundreds of thousands of dollars incarcerating people, caring for their children in foster care, rather than spend the amount it would take to train these same people to become gainfully employed. It’s insane. We look at the upfront costs, when we should be looking at what we will save over the long haul. Not only will we save our economy, save mother earth, and save energy, we’ll save Rashaad, Tyrone, Maria and Mike. And we’ll save their children. And we’ll save our children. We would have made a significant difference that positively impacts the earth and those seven generations yet to come. By putting them to work, by greening every single building in America, by building up green mass transportation, by retooling the automobile industry, by mandating higher fuel efficiency, we will not only save the planet, we will save the people who live on the planet. We’ll have true justice and equality for all as we embrace wind energy, solar energy, and reduce, recycle and reuse.

Creating a green economy is not just about construction. It’s also about looking at the food choices we make. We feed our school children pizza, potato chips, and provide junk food vending machines. Then we wonder why there is an epidemic of Type II diabetes among our children. We then spend tons of money medically managing these children. We need to provide our children with fresh, nutritious organic foods that promote health and well-being. Yes, the upfront costs are more, but once again, we have to have the long view – that 7th generation view, that considers what we will save by investing in our children. We will save money on expensive health care and medications. But most importantly, we will save our children.

The challenges are many because the insanity is deep. We’re going to have some difficult days ahead. But there is a way out. We can get in alignment with our mother. We can get in alignment with our fellow human beings who share this planet with us. We can show Mother Earth that we not only love her, but by our actions, show that we love our fellow human beings as well. And at some point in the year 2218, our descendants will thank us for taking the actions we took to ensure their survival. May we love our Mother like we have never loved her before.

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