Opening Words: Adapted from Rachel Carson’s breakthrough book, Silent Spring, First published in 1962
The Other Road
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling has, for many of us, been deceptively easy; a smooth superhighway on which our food travels from parts unknown, quickly emptying the earth of its precious resources. We progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one “less traveled by”—offers a simpler path, closer to home, celebrating what we have right here and what we can create in our own community. This path could be our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.
“The choice, after all, is ours to make. If, having at last asserted our “right to know,” and if, knowing, we realize that the industrial food model is contributing to the destruction of the planet, then we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us to maintain the status quo. We should look about and see what other course is open to us and realize that we can make a difference, and that we have the power to heal ourselves, to heal our communities and to heal our planet.”
The sermon title is adapted from a line by the poet Denise Levertov: “But we have only begun to love the earth…only begun to envision how it might be to live as siblings with beast and flower, not as oppressors.”
The theme, suggested by our Environmental Action Group, is ‘ethical eating.’
A new book by Michael Pollan, which he calls Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual, is dedicated to his mother: “For my mother who always knew that butter is better for you than margarine.”
In the introduction he says, “Eating in our time has gotten complicated – needlessly so, in my opinion.”
Ethics is about choice. If there’s not choice there’s no ethics. Driving on the right side of the road here in the USA is not an ethical decision; carrying a re-usable bag into the supermarket is.
Pollan’s book title, Food Rules, is one of those paradoxical assertions – it has to do with rules he’s suggesting regarding food; it also means that food holds the basic power in our lives; you can’t live without it.
Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Catalogue, uses a line from the book of Genesis – it’s a line spoken by the serpent to Adam and Eve when he’s tempting them to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…Eve says, “God told us that the day we eat of this fruit we shall die,” and the serpent replies, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be as Gods, knowing good and evil.”
In the Whole Earth Catalogue Brand wrote, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”
In his latest book, Whole Earth Discipline, he changed it: “We are as gods and have to get good at it.”
We’ve been digesting the knowledge of good and evil – it’s time to move from merely feeling guilty to becoming more responsible caretakers of the Garden, our shared home, Mother Earth.
Ethics and morals is about decisions and about basic values…about what’s important in life, what you worship, so to speak. Emerson said, “The gods we worship write their names on our faces and everyone worships something, have no mistake about that.”
We so, for example, that we love nature, that we love the earth, our mother, the source of Life.
So, what does it mean, really, to love the earth, or to ‘love Nature?’
Erich Fromm suggests that mature love requires four ingredients: knowledge, care, responsibility and respect. You can’t love what (or who) you don’t know
Our knowledge of Mother Earth is growing. She’s a big traveler – since last earth day she has traveled 1.6 million miles around the sun, which was her 4.6 billionth trip around.
The sun is an even bigger traveler, moving 13.5 million miles around the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. It is estimated that the sun will do this for another 5 billion years.
I’m reminded of Linus explaining this to Lucy, saying, “And the sun will burn out in another 5 billion years.” Lucy exclaims, “What? Five million years!” Linus says, “No, Lucy, five billion years,” to which Lucy responds, “Oh, thank God! I thought you said five million!”
We know that we’re using up our earth’s ability to sustain us at our present rate of consumption – forests are being eliminated, deserts are being created, and we’re burning our oil, coal and natural gas at alarming rates, filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide causing the earth to warm – the numbers are staggering, as Lucy’s distinction between 5 billion and 5 million years suggests.
The point is that we need to change our ways so that we and future generations can live sustainably.
We’re reminded of the interdependent web of life of which we are a part.
We’ve come a long way since the first Earth Day in 1970, forty years ago, initiated by Senator Gaylord Nelson. He started talking about environment issues in 1962, visiting President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, each of whom, Nelson said, was ‘very receptive.’ The seed of the idea was planted. Nelson was determined to put environmental issues on the national political agenda.
Interestingly the Vietnam protests, with ‘teach-ins’ on college campuses all across the country, gave Nelson the idea of doing something similar to raise concerns about what was happening with the environment.
He said, “The most remarkable thing about Earth Day is that it organized itself.”
We’ve only just begun to love the earth – to increase our knowledge, to become more responsible caretakers, and to respect the delicate balance of life on our planet, our shared home – remembering Fromm’s four basic ingredients to such love: knowledge, care, responsibility and respect.
None of the problems pointed to forty years ago have been solved, of course; they’re not really solvable in the usual sense; they are ongoing issues and concerns about which we need to be made aware, and to avoid contributing to the problems as much as we can, which is a kind of ‘solution.’
The pollution of our rivers, lakes and streams has been and is being attended to; the pollution of the air is a world-wide concern; the destruction of forests and tropical rainforests…the extinction of so many species…
One of the current concerns has to do with the transporting of food. Someone said that we have more oil in our refrigerators than we use in our cars, meaning that the transportation of the food we eat consumes more fossil fuel than we use in our family car.
That’s one of the reasons we started the CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, making a commitment to a local farm, Stone Gardens Farm in Shelton, where members buy a share in it and get a weekly box of seasonal vegetables.
It’s good for the farmer and good for the consumer and good for the environment and good for the soul.
Ethical eating involves decisions, not only about what to eat, and how much to eat, but becoming aware of issues like transportation of the food.
There’s an old story about the G.K. Chesterton, who was a man of significant physical stature, encountering G.B. Shaw one evening at the theater – Chesterton and Shaw had a friendly public feud. Chesterton looked at Shaw, the very thin vegetarian and said, “Shaw, to look at you you’d think there was a famine in England,” to which Shaw responded, “And to look at you you’d think you caused it!”
Food is an ethical issue – irresponsible eating could be the cause of famine. But ethical eating is not about feeling guilty, but it is about becoming more aware of all the issues around food and it’s distribution and consumption.
We’ve only just begun to love the earth, to know what our impact is, to care for it like one cares for a home, to be responsible as one treats the children of the earth, and to respect it like one respects one’s mother.
Our 7th Unitarian Universalist Principle says that we seek, “to Honor the Interdependent Web of All Existence.” How do we honor the web?
Our Green Sanctuary Committee, after 4 years of work, acquired Green Sanctuary status for our congregation in 2009. At that point the committee changed its name to the Environmental Action Group.
Some of our environmental successes include: establishment of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), this yearly Earth Day Service, signing up 105 families within the congregation for “clean energy”, an Inter-Religious Earth Day, active involvement in environmental justice legislation in Hartford and banning the use of plastic bags in Westport, and eliminating the use of paper and plastic dishes, cups, glasses, cutlery from our kitchen.
The committee has also organized events involving expert speakers, film showings, “healthy food” potluck dinners at the church, and environmental programming for our children in Religious Education.
We work with GVI (Green Village Initiative), the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network (Hartford), the Environmental Justice Coalition (Bridgeport), and other local and state-wide organizations.
This year we hope to create our own edible garden on the church grounds. This garden will be incorporated in the Religious Education program for children to learn about growing food, nurturing plants and sharing nature’s bounty.
In closing I want to thank Monique Bosch and the Social Justice Council, under David Vita’s leadership; thanks to those who participated in planning, preparing and participating in this service, and I want to thank Robert Frost for providing an appropriate poem to end my sermon, a poem he called A Girl’s Garden:
A neighbor of mine in the village
Likes to tell how one spring
When she was a girl on the farm, she did
A childlike thing.
One day she asked her father
To give her a garden plot
To plant and tend and reap herself,
And he said, “Why not?”
In casting about for a corner
He thought of an idle bit
Of walled-off ground where a shop had stood,
And he said, “Just it.”
And he said, “That ought to make you
An ideal one-girl farm,
And give you a chance to put some strength
On your slim-jim arm.”
It was not enough of a garden
Her father said, to plow;
So she had to work it all by hand,
But she don’t mind now.
She wheeled the dung in a wheelbarrow
Along a stretch of road;
But she always ran away and left
Her not-nice load,
And hid from anyone passing.
And then she begged the seed.
She says she thinks she planted one
Of all things but weed.
A hill each of potatoes,
Radishes, lettuce, peas,
Tomatoes, beets, beans, pumpkins, corn,
And even fruit trees.
And yes, she has long mistrusted
That a cider-apple
In bearing there today is hers,
Or at least may be.
Her crop was a miscellany
When all was said and done,
A little bit of everything,
A great deal of none.
Now when she sees in the village
How village things go,
Just when it seems to come in right,
She says, “I know!
“It’s as when I was a farmer…”
Oh never by way of advice!
And she never sins by telling the tale
To the same person twice.