Karen Klussendorf, UU Worship Associate

Earth Day, April 26, 2015

I did NOT want to come up here and tell you how you can get involved in the Environmental Movement, or give you “new” ideas for recycling, reducing, reusing or even to give you statistics of how humans are ravaging our earthly home. Most of us have computers for that. This week’s Earth Day and the monthly theme of Redemption left the door wide open for some harping but…. I didn’t want to research bad news…and…anyhow….

I suspect you already know that consuming less is the fastest way to eco-redemption, that we can atone for our mistakes and those of others by picking up trash, using less water, and bringing our own cloth napkin to outings. Redemption, Restitution, Reparation – the act of making something better or more acceptable – is familiar, important…

But life is complex; bad people don’t always pay. Fear and bad news can hold us prisoner.

Hope can set us free. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that activists first need to deal with their own anger and fears – or they end up projecting them onto those they see at fault. That we should not talk in terms of what we should do, rather what we should NOT do for the sake of the future. We need to touch hearts, engage understanding and instill hope in order to “wake” folks up. (Read Thich Nhat Hanh’s Only love can save us from Climate Change.)

Fear and bad news can hold us prisoner.  Hope can set us free.

What interested me in preparing for this service was how people are inspired. And what we have to appreciate about this earth, sea and air…. and its residents. After all, this Ecological Movement is really quite new. It started in most of our lifetimes.

There is much to celebrate, much to be hopeful about.

The history of Earth Day

The first Earth Day in 1970 planned itself.
The first Earth Day in 1970 planned itself.

Most of you know we celebrated the 45th anniversary of the first Earth Day this week.
Gaylord Nelson was the founder… some say the “father” of Earth Day in 1970, after six years of activism. Gaylord was Wisconsin’s governor, a US senator, a Wilderness Society Counselor and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He ensured Wisconsin mandated that social and hard sciences included environmental education in grades 1-12. He recognized that environmental issues were “non-issues” in politics and wanted to bring attention to preserving and healing our environment. He tapped into the anti-war strategies, seeing how well grass roots activism worked there. His efforts to hold an environmental “teach in” created a spontaneous response at a grass roots level that ballooned into a day of 20 million demonstrators with thousands of schools and local communities participating. Not having government resources to mount a big attack, the first Earth Day basically “organized itself.”

Growing up to love nature

I was a youngster living in Wisconsin at that time – and my Dad was definitely an environmentalist. … so I heard a bit about Gaylord. Pop, my brother Kurt and I did lots of hiking, camping, boating, biking, swimming…. anything outdoors. We had two tree farms in Central Wisconsin – and we made regular visits to maintain the trees my parents planted before we were born. I knew the differences between the Eastern White Pine, Jack Pine, Northern, and Red Pines. Spruce, Sugar, Foxtail and Lodge Pole Pines. The Pitch Pine. Ponderosa Pine. Which were good for lumber, which for habitat or Christmas. My brother and I could earn a dollar a row for trimming the lumber trees, and loved the work – we had to, because the rows were really long… as was the saw pole.

Even more we loved the campfire, the songs and sounds of the forest. My father loved to bellow Church songs through the woods: For the “Beauty of the Earth,” “How Great thou Art.” He bellowed Patriotic songs, too: “America the Beautiful,” and Folk songs: “This Land is Your Land.” My Dad inspired me to love nature and activities in the outdoors. He loved Smokey the Bear, Litter Bug campaigns, and he even made needlepoint slogans like “Waste Not, Want Not” into car pillows for our Volkswagen bus. I grew to love what he loved.

Nature heroes and heroines

My brother was a naturalist as were many of our friends. UW Stevens Point was the Wisconsin mecca for environmental studies: Forestry, Soil Science, Biology, Tree Science, Resource Management. My brother was the Forestry major and I the PE/health education major. We were inspired by Gaylord Nelson, by John Klussendorf…… and Rachel Carson and Theodore Roosevelt who came before.

Rachel Carson, a marine biologist, conservationist and writer, is considered the founder of the contemporary environmental movement. Her book Silent Spring, though imperfect, ignited the environmental movement and challenged practices of agricultural scientists and government for changes in the way humankind viewed the natural world. She was inspired by the love of nature and the living world that her mother bequeathed her, and she was inspired by the 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt.

In his presidential term, Theodore Roosevelt launched programs that protected more than 230 million acres of US land. His love of earth extended to signing the endangered species and pure food and drug acts. He was McGiver-ish in his thinking when he wrote “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”… one of my Pop’s favorite quotes. The “Teddy Bear” was coined when in 1902 Roosevelt refused to shoot a captured bear. He was a hunter, not a killer.

Teddy said, “Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to humankind”. He was indeed a man of action….. and appreciation who also said, “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”

Who is it that brought YOU to love our earth, our blue boat home?

I am hopeful; I am inspired. Take a moment, consider… who is it that brought YOU to love our earth, our blue boat home? What was a turning moment in your life? When did you become aware of your part in the web of life?

We’ve heard poems from Wendell Berry this month. Inspiring. And we have others who fill us with hope and beauty. Open a Mary Oliver Book and you’ll find much to celebrate in nature indeed. Hope can set us free.

When we are joyful, our addiction to material goods and a hectic lifestyle eases up.  Thich Nhat Hahn

Learning from wise masters

Thich Nhat Hanh doesn’t talk about ecological redemption, but of embracing the present moment, healing ourselves first, being mindful and looking beyond fear. Fearlessness as not only possible but as the ultimate joy. When we are joyful, our addiction to material goods and a hectic lifestyle eases up. Thich Nhat Hanh insists that activists must first deal with their own anger and fears, and he reminds us that when we are grateful, we are happy. Perhaps our human neighbors who seem to have no regard for resources never truly learned to love our earth.

Using less energy is a good idea for the future, because it’s a good idea for today.  Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry seems to be on the same page when he espouses, “If using less energy, consuming less, traveling less, burning less fuel is a good idea for the future, that is because it is a good idea.” He encourages us not to think so much about the future…. we can’t live there. We can be daily critics of history so as to prevent the evils of yesterday from infecting today, but we must live in today. We must appreciate this day itself, and all the good in this day. All we can do to prepare rightly for tomorrow is to do the right thing today. Perhaps we can give up saving the world and start to live savingly in it. Using less energy is a good idea for the future, because it’s a good idea for today. (Read more of Wendell Berry’s thoughts in Climate Change: To Save the Future, Live in the Present.)

We are called to be faithful to what we love.

The movements that persevere are those which find a form of hope, even in dark times. Activist and seminary student Tim de Christopher suggests as religious leaders, we are not called to be optimistic; we are called to be faithful to what we love. As much as we need to fully recognize the harsh truth of the nature of our challenge, we must just as fully affirm with gratitude the goodness and beauty that we love in this world. (Read Tim deChristopher’s thoughts on faith leadership and Standing on Solid Rock.)

We can’t all be activists, but we can all act. Ethical and moral living is not just a good idea, but our responsibility.

The time is now. It is what we have, where we live. What can we commit to doing now… because it’s a good idea now? How can we be inspired? Who can we inspire? Our religious communities are working together to provide inspiration, leadership and faith. We can’t all be activists, but we can all act. Ethical and moral living is not just a good idea, but our responsibility. For tomorrow.. .for today. Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to humankind. What are your actions saying to you? to others?

We care for what we love

Margaret Thatcher said; “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are…. You’re probably not.” Perhaps being an activist is like being a lady…. I’m not talking activism in the grand sense, but in simple actions like picking up someone else’s litter – even when no one is looking – activism. Celebrate our joyful planet. Teach appreciation by modeling. We care most deeply for what we love. There’s your redemption.

Even after all this time the Sun never says to the Earth, “You owe me.” Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.