“Taking Care”

I want to share a bit of a story with you today. I read it in YES! Magazine – this spring issue addressing the topic of, “What an Ecological Civilization Looks Like: 6 Rules for Humans Rejoining the Natural World.” It is a true story, in part, beginning in the ‘Before Times’ as we have come to call them, before the pandemic, speaking then to the present and speculating somewhat about the ‘After Times’ as we might imagine them to be. It is the story of real place, Hawley Hamlet, near Lincoln, Nebraska. You can Google it if you want to see pictures and, come to find out, they have their own Facebook page, too! The founder is a man named Tim Rinne. It is a story about community and sustainability and adaptation. As the story goes, some 10 or so years ago, the folks who lived on a city block in the Hawley Historic District existed in a fairly common urban setting with lawns and sidewalks, but no gardens, going about their business pretty anonymously. One day, someone on the block decided to dig up part of their lawn for a garden – an edible landscape. Most of the neighbors were unimpressed with this until the time of the COVID pandemic and its subsequent economic woes. It was then that more and more of the families on the block began thinking about gardens of their own. Eventually all this outdoors time created an atmosphere that was more neighborly, and the residents started to get to know one another. Gardening, it seems, was a great catalyst for developing relationships; a common denominator that could bring people together. Sheltering in place made “the hamlet” more a safe space, a city block with about 14 homes. Over time they managed to devote about four fifths of their combined two acres of land to horticulture. They planted fruit and nut trees and established 100 permanent vegetable beds, berry patches and pollinator gardens. They still had to shop for some things, but they grew a lot of what they needed also. And they learned about veganism from a few of the ‘Hamleteers.’ They got a lot of publicity, but were disappointed that others didn’t take up similar ventures, especially given the times. Still, they longed for what they remembered as normal, at least until the shortages started. It turns out that the scientists had been right in predicting the Dust Bowl conditions that were to be brought on by climate change. As the produce department’s supplies became scarcer and scarcer, even they struggled to maintain the lush and productive gardens they had begun. At some point there was a shift in consciousness as they realized the value of their gardens over the rest of their property. The gardens became their safety net and slowly almost any formerly grassy spot became edible landscape. And ultimately, they realized they would need to band together and share what they had if they were to survive. All the things that might have otherwise separated them fell away as the sense of community grew and grew along with their gratitude for their privilege. And things never did get back to the old normal, even after the virus passed; the nation falling into a depression and requiring a simpler existence. They stuck together, organized, tallied up their various skill sets, and looked for holes in their resources. The story ends with planting yet another attempt at beans, with a potluck baby shower to celebrate new life in the Hamlet and to pledge their help, each one, to the family and their child – a dedication of sorts. And perhaps they would begin to formalize their way of being in the world – create bylaws, select leadership and face, together, the uncertainty ahead. The line is blurry as to where the reality lets off and the fantasy starts with this story because it speaks to where we are now and where we could be in the not-too-distant future. But the folks in the hamlet seem to have embodied those six rules for rejoining the natural world. Listen for them here. 1. They valued diversity – in their abilities, their lifestyles and their gardens. 2. There was a balance between competition and cooperation. 3. The founder created an example for others and the hamlet did so for their surrounding communities, each part a piece of a larger whole. 4. They honored the life cycles of their environment, making the most of what they had and knowing when enough was enough. 5. The folks in the hamlet understood that the health of the least among them would affect the health of the community. And six, they knew the power of relationships that serve to benefit all the partners. Our Cape Cod home is struggling to survive in the wake of climate change. A recent update from the Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative supports a more localized effort toward renewable and clean energy resources over one focused on national infrastructure. Ultimately, they need to work together, but this ground-up approach speaks to me of our Unitarian Universalist Principles that honor both the individual and the whole. Last year twelve Cape towns passed Climate Emergency declarations that aim toward net-zero emissions as soon as it is feasible. We worry about warming and acidification in our ocean waters, about the level of plastics found in the water and in fish. At a local level we can take part in efforts to support things like appropriate ocean farming, setting apart sections of the ocean as “parks” like our national ones, carefully monitor ocean industry, protect biodiversity and the equitable sharing of resources. One rendition of our proposed mission statement includes a line about respect for our fragile environment. In a place like Chatham, our elbow of the Cape sitting right in our troubled oceans, could it be that concerns for our local ecosystem; giving voice to its needs, that these are a piece of why we must exist? Our reading this morning from Barry Lopez’s book Horizon suggests that we need to rethink our way into the 21st century, one fifth of which has already gone by. He invites us to make a distinction between sentimentality and survival. We can go on about our business with a focus on maintaining the status quo in our surroundings, but to do so ignores the imperative of climate change. Simply said, we can’t have it both ways any longer. We have reached an ecological tipping point. Somewhere along the way, the “Hamleteers” realized the imminent need in their midst and shifted their gaze, one by one, to solutions they would not have previously considered. What can we be doing differently today, as individuals and collectively, to answer the call of our earth home? Our church home? As Unitarian Universalists we lift up the interconnected web of all existence, acknowledging how integral the relationship between people and planet truly is; woven together in the warp and weft of a fine cloth; the strength of the fabric that is our existence coming from that cooperation in the over and under dance of the threads. Cooperation requires attunement – that heart and body sensing of another’s rhythm and experience to the end that the two become one in a reciprocal movement. Surely our planet is sensing what we really value. How attuned are we to it’s cries?

This week we celebrate Earth Day and it is a fine time to think about how we take care of our surroundings and to notice how blessed we are to have a place that in turn cares for us. My wish is that we don’t just do this once a year when the calendar prescribes it, but that we make it a regular practice in our lives. Mother Earth knows when we are paying lip service alone to our relationship! And somewhere deep inside of us, we know it, too. Taking care speaks to us of interconnectedness, of sustainability, and of adaptability. This is the time of year, too, when we think about taking care of our faith community, about it’s future, about how we might adapt in ways that are symbiotic with our times and location, benefiting the whole. My wish is that we don’t just do this once a year when the calendar prescribes it, but that we make it a regular practice in the life of our community. In the spring of the year we make a financial commitment to the Meeting House, but there are so many other ways to align ourselves with the journey of UUMH. And you know this, but it is important to name the voluntary efforts of so many in the workings of this place. We each bring our skills and ideas and energy to the dance! The Meeting House cries out also for our love and support all year long. If the walls could talk they would tell us how pleased they are to be celebrating 25 years together and they would invite us to be creative and attentive all year long in an interchange that results in 25 more and 25 more after that. Like the “Hamleteers” may we join as one body on a journey with our beloved Earth home and our beloved Meeting House both. May we honor and celebrate what we have and work side by side to ensure a healthy future. May we keep an eye on those six bywords that ground us in a natural ecology. And may it be, not just a seasonal thing, a response to a moment in time, but a way of being for all of our days. So may it be and Amen.