Affinity for Trees
As I made my way down Independence Drive in Hyannis, heading toward Mary Dunn, I noticed a sign in the median at one of the stops along the road. Maroon with white lettering, I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it before now. I’ve driven that route many times since we came to the Cape. But there it was: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” These words from American author, philosopher, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist, Aldo Leopold, jumped out at me as I waited my turn to go. Leopold was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics and in the movement for wilderness conservation and it is no wonder given the many spheres in which he traveled. His ethics of nature and wildlife preservation had a profound impact on the environmental movement. With Earth Day coming up this week, I hope we can spend some time reflecting on our earth home and the ways we can sustain it. The commodification of our lives has been building over the decades, becoming more of a way of life over the span of my time here on earth. Commodities are goods and services that can be bought and sold. They assume one has ownership over something in order to offer it for sale and that one has means to purchase. There has been instilled in us a sense that everything is up for grabs; everything has a price. We are about the business of “getting,” of consuming in our culture. Leopold’s example of the land is just one that we face. He suggests that we have it backwards; that the land doesn’t actually belong to us – to anyone, but instead that we belong to this community; this space; this land, together. It is part of us and we of it and so it is to be loved and respected. The merchant in our reading this morning saw the tree of life as a commodity, but the villagers were stewards - people who look after others and the world around them – those who maybe bring you a meal or groceries if you can’t get them yourself, the ones who ensure your comfort and safety on the journey. To steward is to act in ways that keep order. In the bible we see it used to mean having oversight or to be charged with the scrupulous care of that which one has been entrusted. “Scrupulous care.” This is what Leopold is talking about; the stewardship of the land; this earth being entrusted to us in a sense as thinking, acting, presumably, or at least potentially, responsible beings. It is what Gardner was pointing to also in her story – the reciprocity of care that happened with the tree of life. Practicing stewardship here at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House of Chatham happens in so many ways that I have noticed in the short time I have been with you. When one of you in this community aligns their actions and resources with their values & loves, stewardship happens. In just the past couple of weeks Joe has completed repainting the meeting house windows and floor; Beth has seen to the creation of a beautiful banner that adorns the front of the building indicating that we will get through this together; Sue and Ralph have taken on the pledge drive from their home turned office; Marion called with a concern about another member that we could tend to. I am sure there are more, but these are a few that I am aware of! All of this adds up to meaning making in our lives; fills us with a sense of purpose as we enrich and shepherd life’s gifts from generation to generation. It is an orientation & practice more so than a role. 2 It suggests that we are in this together; this care for our spiritual home and well-being, and that we are working to bring things into alignment: our resources; our values; the things we love, as individual persons and as a people called to be bearers of this liberal religious tradition here on the Cape. It says that when we line these things up our lives will have more meaning and purpose and that makes sense because it sounds like we begin to operate from our most authentic place. This stewarding is likened to shepherding the gifts we bring personally, and as a whole, now, for the good of this generation, but also for generations to come. This is what Unitarian minister and theologian James Luther Adams was talking about when he said that the free church is not bound to the present – perhaps here I want to insert the idea that we are not bound to current ideology about commodity; but instead he says that we: “earn and create a tradition binding together past, present and future in a living tether, - a living tether - in a continuing covenant and identity, bringing forth treasures both new and old.” We are creating a legacy in Chatham with a history, traditions, symbols, stories, theologies and ancestors in this faith. Ours is to carry this forward; to build on its gifts and wisdom. When we bind ourselves to tradition it means that we strive for integrity between what was and what will be and that we are about this process of reconciling disconnections that we encounter along the way. Often it comes down to how we treat people. Do we relate to them with love and respect or do we consider others as a commodity also? And I can see that we do it all the time in our interactions with people in the course of our days. I speak with women mostly in my community ministry, but it is not unique to them, that an opportunity for affordable housing doesn’t exist for year round Cape Codders because a property owner can get more from a seasonal renter; that a living wage is hard to come by in this area; in this state really, as we slowly climb to the $15 per hour rate, which is not now and most certainly by the time it is the law won’t be sufficient. We buy cheaper, less healthy groceries instead of paying the higher, fairly-traded price; the actual cost of better options grown locally and more sustainably. We do it without even thinking about it. Stewardship is about this, too. Our orientation to life and relationships, including how we relate to money in the midst of those relationships. Vicki Robins, co-author of Your Money or Your Life, offers that part of discovering how to use it all is discovering how much is enough in order to be truly fulfilled, and then to consume only that. I have found myself in this time of distancing making fewer trips to the grocery store and making do with what is truly a bounty in my cabinets! And having this figured out, asks if we can think about how much would be enough for everyone not only to survive but to thrive, and then to find ways for them to have access to that. These questions move us to restraint and justice making; healing ourselves and our world. We wrestle with these choices every day because of who we are; what we value; how we believe life is meant to be lived juxtaposed with what our cultural norms tell us consumption and enough-ness are about. Sometimes there is a tension between what we value and what our culture says is important. It’s not easy to buck the status quo; to shift from the conventional thinking of modern society. It has never been easy to do the thing that is opposite of what the crowd is doing. Tack that on to our histories, the ways of being that are in our DNA as people and institutions and what we have been witness to as 3 simply ‘the way it is,’ and the idea of change becomes pretty scary, no matter how lively the rebel in our souls may be. There are risks in this line of thinking, though, this maintenance of the status quo, that might be more powerful if overcome, than any risks to change. We value this place and this ministry here in Chatham – our building – this community of beloveds – all the services offered – our music – our religious education program. So, I wonder what some of the things you value are and specifically, some of the things you value about this place; this church; this community. Let’s take a minute to share some of those ideas with one another. A couple of months ago – remember February? – I asked you to share with me some of your hopes for the UU Meeting House of Chatham and many of you raised your hands, offering heartfelt hopes for this community that were, no doubt, grounded in your values. Just like we do now with our joys and concerns, let’s type some of the things we value about this place into the chat box at the bottom of your screen and I will read them as they come up. This is not a time to be shy! Why is UUMH important to you? I hope when we go to virtual coffee hour together that you will talk some more about these things with one another – what UUMH means to you – why it is so valuable in your life. Often, we think about stewardship in terms of the “stewardship” or “pledge drive,” but I want to suggest that thinking about stewardship is more than just making a decision about a yearly pledge. Stewardship is an act of discernment wherein we really look at this place and our place in it in order to act from what we discover is important to us. If the work of this church is valuable to us, how do we act in response to that awareness? What adjustments do we need to make so that our actions are aligned with our intentions? There is a constant give and take in this process that involves a willingness to risk change on behalf of the good we hope is to come. Bart Frost, in his Blue Boat Home blog, writes that one of the best things about church is that it is an intentional community where you can live your values and suggests that unlike our commodified world, church has the potential to be a place where things operate differently. A church shares its services with you joyfully, and joyfully we give back. There is a mutual relationship between who we are and what we each bring and what this place is and can be, much like the tree of life story. In so many ways, over and over again, this congregation has responded to the call to make the UU Meeting House of Chatham a place that is set apart from the commodified conventions of our day; your deep caring for each other and our faith a guiding force in all you do. This is an invitation to discernment as we begin our pledge drive. It is an invitation to an alignment between our values and our actions that makes possible our hoped-for things and their coming to fruition. This is an invitation to risk altering the status quo in ways that have a domino effect for the good of this meeting house, this community, and the world around us. May it be so and blessed be.