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The Sermon: June 9th, 2024

       A new book was recommended to me that addresses climate catastrophe.  The recommendation of this book was framed in the context of the very real and very acute anxiety young people are expressing in schools these days about the future.  Some school boards apparently are tackling this difficult challenge and providing resources for families and children.  They are looking to provide tools for students, families, and communities to move from full-blown anxiety to solutions.

Now, we’ve been in solutions mode for many years; there are e-cars and e-bikes, low-energy light bulbs, solar panels, wind farms, alternative sources of energy, less travel, less food waste, changing our diets from meat-rich to vegetarian, producing more local food, turning off appliances during key moments of the day, shorter showers; and many, many other solutions are already happening.  But we somehow haven’t mitigated the anxiety that many young people are experiencing, mostly because we keep hearing that our future is bleak.

The closest I came to anxiety when I was young was with respect to the Cold War and the nuclear threat.  By the time I was in school—many, many, many years ago, now!—the early days had us doing some nuclear bomb drills; I vaguely remember them.  They were soon abandoned because the experts said that if a nuclear bomb goes off in close proximity, you aren’t going to survive so hiding under a desk isn’t going to help much.  We were then taught emergency evacuation procedures and other things, but no more climbing under our desks.  At the same time, politicians and activists were working hard to end the Cold War and to ensure that there were treaties in place to reduce nuclear arsenals, or at least to put in far more effective safeguards.  In the late 70’s and 80’s, like many, I marched in protests demanding an end to the arms race and peace for our world.

Well, as we know, the Cold War ended, at least with the Soviet Union when the curtain came down.  The Cold War these days has changed players.  But we didn’t quite achieve the peace we were hoping for.

Would it surprise you to know that one of the single most effective ways to reduce gas greenhouse emissions, according to Paul Hawken’s book Drawdown, which was recommended to me, is the combination of the categories “Educating Girls” and “Family Planning.”  They were listed individually as 6 and 7 respectively in a list of top 100 solutions to the climate crisis; but together they make for the greatest impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

There has been a great deal of research that when women are educated around the world, child mortality rates drop, the number of children in families drops, sanitation improves, and the overall health of communities and countries is vastly improved.  And other measures.

Drawdown has received a fair bit of criticism for the way it speaks of world population and how to go about limiting population growth, but all experts are unanimous that the question needs to be answered head-on.

The book in general is meant to offer solutions and hope.  I haven’t read it, but I will soon.  The reviews are somewhat mixed when I looked online, but the general sense I had was that Paul Hawken is to be commended for trying to reduce the anxiety about the future and focus our attention, including young people’s attention, on achievable goals to ensure a viable and bright future—thereby increasing a sense of hope for the future.  If the book can do that, then I take my hat off to the project.  Paul Hawken has created a website called Project Drawdown and you can find the link on our church website once my sermon is posted.[1]

Later this afternoon, I’m preaching at the Rev. Dale Burkhart’s covenanting service in Grand Forks.  Dale had been retired but came out of retirement to serve the folks at St. John’s United Church in Grand Forks.  In part, what I’ve written in my sermon is that one of the most important contributions to society that the Church can make is to proclaim hope boldly and loudly, but it must be a hope that isn’t just empty, pie-in-the-sky sentiment, but is based on practical solutions.  It’s one of the things that we can share in our communities; helping people rediscover hope, reduce their anxiety, and focus on practical and achievable solutions—we can only do this together.

I think what also goes together with proclaiming HOPE, for that’s what Jesus was about, among other things, is to focus on practices that mitigate anxiety and despair, and focus attention and intention on HOPE, LOVE, JUSTICE, GRACE, COMPASSION, INCLUSION, COMMUNITY and NONJUDGMENT; these are the values that we want to cultivate to live more fully a hope-filled future.

In the little story we heard from Mark’s Gospel this morning, Jesus ends by drawing the circle wider than his immediate family.  One of the most radical things that Jesus did was to widen the sense of kinship beyond immediately familial relatsionships.  We hear the end of that story from Mark and often think that Jesus’ family must have been deeply upset when he said, “Who is my mother?  Who is my family.”  And then he went on to say that those with him were his new family.  What we miss, though, because we often read this story with our Western nuclear-family eyes, is that Jesus didn’t necessarily reject his family.  He simply widened the focus to include others who were not immediately related.  And even wider to include creatures and plants, and even wider still to include those people who weren’t even known.  It’s kind of like the indigenous teaching about planning to the 7th generation and that all are my relations.

This teaching of kinship that Jesus gave us is also akin to the Buddhist concept of mindfulness and the deep respect for all creatures and all beings.  There is a mindfulness meditation called “Metta Meditation” or “loving-kindness meditation” that prays for us and all beings, not just people, to be well, healthy, happy, and full of loving kindness.  And more generally in meditation, according to one of the websites that I follow, we are to begin each meditation session with an awareness that we are interconnected with all creation, and then we end with attributing the merit of our meditation, not to ourselves, but to the welfare of the whole earth.

Jesus taught us to pray and offered some practices for us to follow.  Therese DesCamps, a United Church minister in New Denver, in an article in Broadview last month, said that engaging in a meditation practice or other spiritual practice regularly helps lessen anxiety and begins to focus on solutions and making changes.

All of this leads up to thinking about graduates today, young and old; and as we celebrate graduates, we do well to remember spiritual practices and the importance they can play in addressing the climate crisis we are facing… or the violence crisis we’re facing… or, indeed, anxiety… or any of the crises we are facing now.  Engaging in these practices together as kin is even more powerful because of our collective energies directed towards hope.  And just like the family choir that we support and heard moments ago, singing is one of those vital practices!

And then we can live with the hope that animals we long believed to have gone will creep down from trees again… And then we’ll be reminded again of the colours of the earth.  Tracy Smith has offered this poem called An Old Story, a reminder that hope is what we’re about.

We were made to understand it would be

Terrible. Every small want, every niggling urge,

Every hate swollen to a kind of epic wind.

 

Livid, the land, and ravaged, like a rageful

Dream. The worst in us having taken over

And broken the rest utterly down.

 

A long age

Passed. When at last we knew how little

Would survive us—how little we had mended

 

Or built that was not now lost—something

Large and old awoke. And then our singing

Brought on a different manner of weather.

 

Then animals long believed gone crept down

From trees. We took new stock of one another.

We wept to be reminded of such colour.

  Tracy was poet laureate in the US in 2017 and teaches at Harvard University, where she is professor of English and African & African American studies.  Thanks for these words that inspire hope in us to be the change we want to see in the world.  And we sing boldly to bring about different weather, and HOPE.

       Amen.

 

 

[1] Go to https://drawdown.org/about and explore the various pull-down menus.

The world needs a million plus hugs every hour of every day. This world that is broken and troubled and struggling is a world that needs us to speak and do what we can as we can, including those seemingly small gestures. Those hugs! If we think about all the loving words and all the loving acts blended together is it not going to be bigger than what we can know? Perhaps the size and the effect are known only to God.

HUGS

 

We are the ones called to live the Way, the Truth, the Life. As scripture tells us we are saints. We are among those called to live love. As scripture points out we are sinners. We are among those who are forgiven and sent out to forgive and to love. For the living of these days we are disciples. We are the disciples of the One who goes ahead and comes back to get us to take us exactly where we need to be.​

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