Apr 25, 2021

Reflection by Reverend Rebecca Bryan

An analysis published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy in June 2020 documents how the “sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating” as seen by the astounding and alarming number of animals and plants becoming extinct each year. Forty percent of individual plants and animals that were on the earth in my lifetime, or since 1970, are now extinct.[1] Kathleen Dean Moore, in her book Great Tide Rising, writes about this sixth extinction:

We are dwelling in a period of mass extinction and climate change. Loss is all around us. We are engulfed by it, and at the same time we are nearly blind to it. Yet we feel in our bones some kind of unspeakable angst that will not leave us in the depths of night or even at daybreak when the birds greet the sunlight again. This crushing feeling of unstoppable destruction is holding us back from acknowledging our grief.[2]

Buddhist scholar and environmental activist Joanna Macy describes this time and what is needed as the turning from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. Kathleen Moore says that we need to evolve from the Cenozoic Era, or Age of Mammals, which began some 66 million years ago, to the Ecozioc Era, which is ours to create. To be sustainable, the Ecozoic Era will be a world view wherein humans are an inextricable part of the universe, but not the center or the top of it. Moore says it is a shift from anthropocentric, people-centered consequentialism to a bio-centric, Earth-centered consequentialism[3], something Indigenous People knew and have been calling for over hundreds of years.

Global warming, climate change, and climate destruction are realities scientists no longer debate. Some focus on the inequities of its impact falling onto the most disadvantaged of us, economically, racially, geographically. And though this is true, it is only a matter of time before climate destruction catches up with the artificial hierarchies we have created as people.

There are so many good and real reasons to save the world, as Moore puts it. She lists thirteen. I know you have your own to add. I’ll share just a few of hers.

We must do what we can to protect what remains and create the Ecozoic Era for the sake of human life and thriving and for the sake of the children. We must do what we can to honor our duties as stewards of divine creation and to meet our commitment to justice. We must do this because we are compassionate, we feel the beauty of the world, and we say we are people of integrity.

People who care, people like us, can feel discouraged with our limited individual power to affect change. We can get angry at the economic, political, and corporate structures that are driving so much of this and that want us to feel guilty, so that we are overwhelmed and filled with shame.

What do we do? Well, we don’t look away, give up, or point fingers. Our blaming isn’t going to change people’s minds, when in fact it’s their hearts that need changing anyway. Not doing anything only makes us feel worse.

My answer to the question “What do we do as a church?” is threefold.

First, we ground what we do in what we love. What is that for you–a place, an animal, a plant, your children or grandchildren, the cosmos. Know that grounding. Love that grounding, feel that grounding, and return to it often. That is what will spur us on, keep us going, and make us remember.

Create and nurture what Moore calls refugia, defined as “places of safety where life endures.”[4] Examples are community gardens or a bush in your yard where the birds can find respite and food. Another example might be conversations that welcome ideas, youth, and all our emotions that give birth to life. We can create these spaces, and we also need to. We can restore them, protect them, and live interdependently with them. Imagine our church yard as a little refugia, a sanctuary, with wild, native flowers and bushes, where bees or butterflies could live, and children could walk barefoot. Saying that that vision is too small is giving in to capitalism and the old view of the world.

Next, we keep doing what we’re doing and more as it evolves. As a spiritual community, a church, we are doing a lot. And I am proud of that work and grateful for the people leading it: John Harwood’s dream, the Climate Action Group’s commitment and perseverance in this work, our congregational support and vote for a climate justice policy, and our youth leading climate cafés, speaking up, including in our church, and going to marches.

We honor the commitments we’ve made as a congregation—support CAP, create that place of worship connected to nature, the Green Chapel, imagine and create a refurbished Parish Hall that not only is built sustainably but meets the needs of our congregation and the community. When it comes to climate change, perhaps, for example, we’re a warming or cooling station open to all.

And above all, let’s live as a “We,” the we of this community that works together, loves together, and responds together.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Moore, Kathleen Dean, Great Tide Rising, Counterpoint, Berkley, CA, 2016, pg. 128.

[2] Ibid. pg. 2

[3] Ibid. pg. 104

[4] Ibid.

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