Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains

Earth Day, April 22, 2018

Sights and Sounds for Entering this Time 

– slideshow of nature photography with nature sounds


Songs for Gathering    

#21 For the Beauty of the Earth 

#1066 O Brother Sun


Welcome      Gail Johnson Vaughan


Prelude     Ancient Mother   UUCM Family Choir and Congregation


Invocation/Lighting of the Chalice Greetings and Thanks to the Natural World 

(A daily Thanksgiving inspired by the Onondaga Nation, Haudenosaunee)


Time for All Ages   Different Questions, Different Answers      Susan Sanford

(The different kinds of answers one receives asking “What’s that?” vs. asking “Who are you?” when getting to know something.)


Singing the Children on Their Way


Pebbles of Joy & Sorrow (with nature elements placed in water and/or sand)


Song    Mother Moon   


Reading       from Nature Needs a New Pronoun by Robin Kimmerer        Susan Sanford



Meditation   (nature slides from UUCM members and friends, with nature sounds)


Reflection      Earth Too: The Rights of Nature       Rev. Kevin Tarsa


In 1960, when the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association were sorting out the practical details of merging and consolidating the two denominations, they drafted a statement of six purposes. Those of you who are familiar with Unitarian Universalism will know that we now have seven Principles that UU congregations promise to affirm and promote.  The changes came in 1984-85, after women led the effort for a number of years to find more inclusive language than the original references to “the dignity of man” and “ideals of Brotherhood” and “men of good will.”


While those male-centered references were broadened, the general concepts from the original principles remained the same in the new set of principles except for an addition, a 7th principle and commitment that broadened our Principles in another way, naming our “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”.


The UUA’s Seven Principles begin by naming the inherent worth and dignity of every individual and end by naming our utter interdependence. In fact, the various principles move gradually from a focus on the individual, toward a recognition of our complete interconnectedness. UU ministers Barbara Wells and and Jaco ten Hove suggested that the two bookends of our principles, the 1st and the 7th principles, are the foundational pillars upon which all the other principles rest.


When sociologist Robert Bellah spoke to us Unitarian Universalists at our General Assembly in 1998, he suggested to us that we were wearing our principles backwards. Bellah is the sociologist who wrote Bowling Alone and who studied what he saw as an increasingly problematic individualism in the United States.


As a deep core value in America, he said, “the sacredness of the conscience of every single individual” has “enormous power for good. But . . . it [also] opens the door to the worst in our culture. It easily leads to the idea that humans are nothing but self-interest maximizers. . . . I don’t think we can challenge that . . . until we come to see that the sacredness of the individual depends ultimately on our solidarity with all being…”


Then he challenged us Unitarian Universalists to reverse our focus, to make respect for the interdependent web of all existence “the first of [our] Principles, and not the last.”




On this 48th annual celebration of Earth Day, his challenge to us remains: to make it not all about “me,” but first about “we, ” to make respect for the interdependent web of all existence, the first of our Principles, not the last.

The beautiful photographs this morning, and the sounds to go with, celebrate the extraordinary beauty, awesomeness, and grandeur of our world, and the beauty also of the eyes, ears and other senses that behold it. How can we not be inspired with a tremendous sense of wonder and amazement and gratitude –even love.  As Robin Wall Kimmerer put it:   “Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate.”  (Braiding Sweetgrass 124)


The photos shown before the service and the meditation photos we just saw all came from UUCM members and friends, assembled and prepared by Gail. Thank you! Clearly, here are people who love the earth. The sounds during the meditation slide show came from Lincoln Meadow at Yuba pass, a recording shared by Susan Sanford, made on a spring morning in 1988 by Bernie Krauss. Again, clearly people who love the earth.


I am assuming that I do not need to tell you about or convince you that our human treatment of our environment and the life within it is often dangerously shortsighted and damaging, and that human behaviors and activity put the well-being of the earth and its inhabitants in increasing jeopardy, so I will not take time for that this morning. Besides, I’m reluctant to use fear as a primary motivator, though I realize it can be expedient and effective.


Environmental advocates have learned to appeal to human self-interest, helping people see how their own wellbeing – and perhaps their financial bottom line – is impoverished or jeopardized when our treatment of the earth is not respectful.  As someone said to me…”compassion doesn’t change policy, it’s self interest.”


Remaining pragmatic and human-centric, environmental advocates have also been promoting the idea that all humans have a legal right to a healthy environment. Spain, France, Portugal and Finland have already recognized such human rights to a healthy environment.

But some environmental advocates are arguing that this isn’t enough, that in order to make real change, we need to recognize the inherent rights of nature herself – or maybe it’s nature ki-self – to see nature ki-self as a rights-bearing entity. If corporations can be guaranteed rights, like a person, why not nature?


Last October, “the Colorado River filed a . . . lawsuit against the state of Colorado, . . . demanding [the river’s] right to evolve, flourish and be restored in the wake of human interference be recognized in the court of law. Well, sort of,” wrote Mike Ludwig, who was reporting on it. “[It was a human] lawyer [who] filed the legal complaint at a federal district court in Denver, naming the river as a plaintiff and calling on the court to recognize its ecosystems as a ‘person’ under the law.”


(“Nature Has Rights” Activists Call for a Legal Transformation” published in Truthout: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/42565-nature-has-rights-activists-call-for-a-legal-transformation)


Just this month, Colombia’s Supreme Court [ruled that] the entire Amazon region is now subject to rights…as a citizen would be,…and that the Presidency and regional entities must act urgently to protect it from deforestation.


And back in 2008 Ecuador actually enshrined rights for nature in its constitution:

Article. 71. Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. . . .


I name the “rights of nature” effort this morning because it is such a profound and provocative turn toward perceiving the earth and nature as a who rather than a what or an it, as an entity with whom we are in mutual relationship rather than an object whose utility we are continually measuring and discerning.


As early as 1867 John Muir proposed respect for “the rights of all the rest of creation,” (Yesterday was Muir’s 180th birthday) but to make the claim in court that nature has inherent legal rights is new territory in contemporary western cultures.


Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that people without property, black persons, women and indigenous people were finally granted the right to vote in the U.S! The Equal Rights Amendment that would, in our federal constitution, guarantee rights regardless of sex, still hasn’t been ratified. The federal Animal Welfare Act stretches some people’s sense of the use of law.


Recognizing the inherent rights of plants, rivers, regions, nature? That is way out there.


Plus, understanding nature as a rights-bearing entity entails not just a legal shift, but a significant emotional and spiritual shift away from seeing humanity as the center of the universe, and human well-being as the measure for all decision making. At root it de-centers humanity, no less than Galileo’s insistence that the Earth moved around the Sun and not vice-versa.  It’s the expanded version of putting the 7th Principle first – “respect for the interdependent web” rather than the 1st Principle.


This is a challenging move, even for those of us who think of ourselves as evolved and environmentally aware and committed. Easy to imagine when far away and as a way to curb corporate pollution and harm, but probably more difficult to face if our backyard were to sue us, or the tree outside the sanctuary to file a complaint, or the land on which this building or our home rests were suddenly to demand freedom.


I know, up close it is difficult to imagine it as more than a mental exercise, but the mental/spiritual/emotional exercise has value, I think.  Robin Wall Kimmerer shares the teachings of her elders who say that “the purpose of ceremony is to remember to remember (Braiding Sweetgrass).” Here too, I would say, the purpose of the exercise is to remember to remember.


We are asked to consider our right relationship with nature, other animals, plants, trees, mountains, all living beings, and Mother Earth not as relationships of I and it, but of I and you. To de-center ourselves and relate as I and ki, I and kin.


Ecologist John Seed wrote that

“when [we] human beings [can] see through [our] layers of [human-focused) self-cherishing, a most profound change in consciousness begins to take place. Alienation subsides. [You are] no longer an outsider apart. Your humanness is then recognized as merely the most recent stage of your existence, and . . . you start to get in touch with yourself as mammal, as vertebrate, as a species only recently emerged from the rainforest.


As the fog of amnesia disperses, there is a transformation in your relationship to other species, and in your commitment to them.  . . . ‘I am protecting the rainforest’ develops to “I am part of the rainforest protecting myself. I am part of the rainforest recently emerged into thinking”


What a relief then! The thousands of years of imagined separation are over and we begin to recall our true nature.”


(from Beyond Anthropocentrism by John Seed



“Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate.  But when you feel that the earth loves in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.”     – Robin Wall Kimmerer


So to celebrate this Earth Day, this Earth year, yes, by all means please reduce your use of plastics, and recycle, and plant a tree, and pick up litter along the roadside, and conserve water and demonstrate on behalf of the Bear River, but first consider taking time – no matter how silly it might feel to you – to ask a cedar tree, or a gosling, or a blackberry bramble or a boulder or the Yuba river, “Who are you?”


And then be open to their answer,

which just might change your sense of who you are.


So may we be.



Closing Hymn    #1064 Blue Boat Home 

Closing Words   

Community Benediction / Extinguishing of the Chalice