Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

(A homily delivered as part of a shared sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula on March 10th 2013.)

If you’re familiar with our typical Order of Service, you may have noticed that the Offering was not in its usual place this morning.  And if you’re not suffering too much from the effects of losing an hour of sleep last night, you’ll know that this is a second Sunday, which means that we’ll be sharing the offering with the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.  And you may also have noticed that the Sierra Club is the subject of our service this morning, in which case that’s all too much to simply be a coincidence.

I actually credit the Sierra Club — and its state chapters and its local groups — for the fact that I’m not only a Unitarian Universalist but also a minister.  Right out of graduate school and starting what I thought was going to be my career as a research scientist, I shared a house with five other vegetarians, all of whom knew a lot more about environmental issues than I did.  Wanting to learn more, the Sierra Club was one of the first environmental organizations I joined, and the one I’ve been a part of the longest by far.  (I became a life member in 2001.)

Moving to California not long after that, I connected with the Sierra Club’s chapter in San Diego, going to the talks they held — in one of the meeting rooms at the San Diego Zoo — and going on the hikes they led — in the gorgeous mountains and deserts further inland.  It was thanks to that chapter of the Sierra Club, in fact, that I first visited a Unitarian Universalist congregation, given their publicity for a workshop on Voluntary Simplicity that was taking place at the First UU Church of San Diego.

Back on the East Coast a few years later, my involvement with both the Unitarian Society of Hartford and the Greater Hartford Group of the Sierra Club developed in parallel.  When I was asked to be responsible for hospitality at the Sierra Club’s monthly meetings, for instance, I agreed if we could switch to the Fair Trade coffee, tea and hot chocolate that, thanks to the UU Service Committee’s partnership with Equal Exchange, I was already providing for social hour after services at the Meeting House.

It seemed to me that there were other opportunities for synergy, too.  I witnessed the effectiveness of a local interfaith group when it came to tackling environmental justice issues such as the hours-long idling of buses that filled school yards — and the lungs of the small children playing in them — with diesel fumes.  And I realized that if we were to truly solve environmental problems from local pollution all the way up to global climate change, then we needed to motivate people to change themselves and their society not out of fear of doomsday scenarios or personal guilt — both of which actually result in paralysis rather than action — but by cultivating both individual morality and social ethics, areas where religion — for good or for ill — has always had great power.  Carl Pope’s essay on building bridges between environmentalists and religious communities had a lot of influence on my thinking in that regard.

So I’m very pleased that sharing the pulpit with me this morning are Glen Besa and Tyla Matteson from the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, which is one of our Share-the-Basket partners this year.  Glen has a degree in law and a long history of leadership with the Sierra Club in the mid-Atlantic states.  He is currently the Director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.  Tyla has a strong background in peace work and political activism.  She is curently one of the chapter’s Environmental Action Chairs as well as the chair of the Sierra Club’s local York River Group.

[Tyla and Glen spoke about the origins of the Sierra Club and the work of the state chapter and local group.  Glen referred to his column about energy policy, published the day before in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.]

Thank you, Glen and Tyla, for being with us this morning.  I hope you’ll take the opportunity to talk with them after the service, particularly about ways that you might get involved with the work of the Virginia Chapter or the York River Group.  But we also have an opportunity to get more involved as a congregation, and that’s because this Fellowship is in the process of becoming a Green Sanctuary.

Following services today, there’ll be a workshop here in the Sanctuary where we’ll put together the action plan that we need to become a Green Sanctuary.  That action plan needs to consist of twelve projects in areas such as worship and celebration, religious education, environmental justice and sustainable living.  And at lease one of the environmental justice projects must be “a major, on-going collaboration with another organization” that “actively promotes justice for those affected by environmental problems” — I think it would be great if that other organization could be the Sierra Club: one such environmental justice issue, as Glen described, is the disproportionate impact of Global Climate Change on those people who have contributed to the problem the least.

All of our Share-the-Basket partners this year were selected not only because they are worthy causes that actively promote what we recognize as Unitarian Universalist values, but because they offer opportunities for participation and hands-on involvement by members of the Fellowship and by the Fellowship as a whole.  The money from the offering that we share with the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club each month is a vital part of supporting their mission to “to build healthy, livable communities, and to conserve and restore our natural environment” by thinking globally and acting locally.  I hope you will take this opportunity to find out how you can offer your mind and heart and hands to play a part in that work, too.

So may it be.

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