Environment

Flower Communion

Introduction

It's the Vernal Equinox, spring should have sprung by now, and nothing screams spring more than blooming flowers.  The UU ritual of Flower Communion is preserved here.  While the rituals before and after this, Blessing of the Seeds and Festival of the First Fruits, are about new life and fertility, the original flower communion is not really about that (although flowers are the plant's sex organs).  The way that I interpret the Flower Communion is that it is a celebration of diversity. And that serves as a nice balance to the Water Communion (six months later), which is about unity - the many flowing into one.


Personal

Depending on your culture, spring cleaning - a thorough cleaning of your home - would be done either before today or before the start of spring (about six-1/2 weeks prior). 

If you are not at the moment part of a UU community, you can perform a flower ritual by yourself.  Create a small bouquet of flowers, preferably from your own garden (but not necessary), making sure that there are enough flowers for each person you wish to honor.  Light your chalice or candle and say:

Nature loves diversity.
Although we are all one, we come in many shapes and sizes, colors and talents.
Just like these flowers, no two are alike yet all are beautiful.  All bring their unique gifts to augment the whole.
May I respect and cherish these different gifts. 

Then touch each flower thinking of the person it represents as you do.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask participants (beforehand) to bring a flower, one for each person participating, preferably from their own gardens.  (You might want to have some extra flowers on hand, perhaps available for a nominal fee, so that those who forget are not left out.) Have two vases on the altar table and invite participants to place their flowers in the vases.  (Or use the number of vases appropriate for the number of participants. Someone should be in charge of making sure that the number of flowes in each vase is balanced.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the Flower Communion.  Communion leader (or someone else) says:

Nature loves diversity.
Although we are all one, we come in many shapes and sizes, colors and talents.
Just like these flowers, no two are alike yet all are beautiful.  All bring their unique gifts to augment the whole.
May we respect and cherish these different gifts. 

Invite participants to line up to each take a flower that is different from the one they brought. (The nunber of lines should match the number of vases.)  Optional: Have smaller containers on hand in which participants can place their selected flowers to enjoy while they share the communion meal. But remind them to take their flowers home! 

Blessing of the Seeds

Author: 
Kat Liu
sprouting seeds, AndreusK via Getty Images

Introduction

There may or may not still be frost on the ground depending on where you live, but this is traditionally the time of year when we look forward to spring (hence the Groundhog Day ritual), and new beginnings. Chinese New Year is celebrated very near this time, where offerings are made to the gods for a prosperous year, including bountiful harvests.  In the Christian tradition of Candlemas, this is supposedly the day that Jesus was introduced at the Temple and such wisdom coming from someone so young impressed the old rabbis.  (In Catholic Ireland, this is the Feast of St. Brighid, a Gaelic fertility goddess.) Seeds planted at Tu B’Shevat become the "bitter herbs" eaten at Passover. In many agricultural cultures, this is the time when people start preparing for the spring planting.  The seeds of the past year and even agricultural tools are consecrated/blessed for the coming year. 


Personal

Depending on your culture, spring cleaning - a thorough cleaning of your home - would be done either before today or before the vernal equinox. 

If you are a gardener and depending on where you live, this may be the tme of year when you are starting your seeds - planting them in temporary small pots to let them sprout indoors before they are planted outside in the ground.  If you have a personal altar, do this in front of your altar.  But you need not have an altar to perform this simple ritual.  Light your chalice.  Take some a seed and some of the soil in a starter pot and hold them in your hands.

A seed is a new beginning.
A seed is new life from what has come before.
As I nurture and tend this seed in the coming seasons,
May it and all others reach their fullest potentials.

With that, plant the seed in the starter pot.  Now would be a good time to remind yourself of what you wish for the coming year (your resolutions from winter solstice).  If you are not a gardener and do not start seeds, you can still perform this ritual by lighting your chalice or a candle (remember Candlemas) and thinking of the seed figuratively.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring any seeds they may have saved from last year's harvest, labeled.  If they plan to exchange/share seeds afterwards, the seeds should be divvied up into small paper packets. (You might want to buy a few packets of seeds in case no one brings any.  Also bring some extra paper in which to fold seeds and a marking pen in case folks want to share and did not come prepared.)  Ask folks to place the seeds preferably below the icons of the ancestors but above the food.  (If that can't be done, then place them where it makes the most sense.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the blessing of the seeds.

Picking up and holding some of the seeds in your hand, say:

These seeds are a new beginning.
These seeds are new life from what has come before.
As we nurture and tend these seeds in the coming seasons,
May they and all others reach their fullest potentials.

After the ritual, people who have brought seeds can either retrieve them or exchange them with others who have brought seeds or give them away.  Now would be a good time to encourage folks who have been thinking of gardening to give it a go!  Let experienced garderners share tips over the communion meal.

Day of Resolutions

Introduction

Winter solstice is the shortest day/longest night of the year.  From this day forth until the summer solstice, light overtakes dark, the sun returns.  Hence, it is generally thought of as the beginning of the solar year.  The Jewish new year, while it occurs during a different season, is a time for atonement of past wrongs.  In the Chinese tradition, winter solstice is around when the Kitchen God ascends up to heaven to report the deeds of each family for the past year, for which an accounting must be made.  And of course there is the practice of New Years resolutions.  The word "resolution" means both the satisfactory end of a pre-existing condition and the firm determination to achieve a new one.  Winter solstice is also a time to celebrate as the sun and the light return.  The winter holidays are often marked by fire and light (Hanukkah, Christmas, Yule).


Personal

If at all possible, do not go into the new year with old wrongs that have not been made right.  Before the new year arrives, seek out those you have wronged, name the wrong, and apologize for it (but do not ask them to forgive you, as they may not be ready to do so).  Consider those who have wronged you, even if they have not apologized to you, and decide whether or not you can forgive them.  The fewer resentments you carry into the new year the lighter the load.  But it's ok if there are ones you of which you are not ready to let go.

Now think of the positive things you wish to accomplish this year.  The personal ritual is simple.  Light your chalice or candle. And say:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the nights are long, from this day on the light grows.
May my aspirations for the new year grow with it.

Hold in you mind what you wish to accomplish/grow for the coming year.  If you have several resolutions, feel free to light a candle for each one, naming them as you light them.


Communal

In addition to the basic communion ritual, ask folks (beforehand) to bring a small candle and holder, one for each person participating.  Do not use tea lights as they will not work well during the transfer.  (You might want to have some extra candles on hand, perhaps available for a nominal fee, so that those who forget are not left out.)  After the invocation of the ancestors but before the communion blessing, insert the following:

Communion leader (or someone else) says:

Once more around the sun.
Even though the nights are long, from this day on the light grows.
May our aspirations for the new year grow with it.

Have 2-4 people closest to the chalice (including yourself) light their candles from the chalice.  Have them light the candles of 2-4 people closest to them.  And so on, moving outwards. until every candle is lit.  As each person lights their candle and passes the flame to the next person, have them hold in their minds what they wish to accomplish/grow for the coming year.  If your congregation or group has a covenant or mission statement and it is not too long, now, while all the candles are lit, would be a good time to repeat and reaffirm the covenant/mission statement. If you do not have something specific to your congregation/group, then have the participants repeat the (adapted) words of John Murray:

Go out into the highways and byways of your land.
Give the people something of your new vision.
You may have but a small light, uncover it, let it shine.
Use it bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of people.
Give them not hell but hope and courage.
Do not push them deeper into their despair, but preach kindness and Love.

Let folks set their candles by where they will eat so that they light the communion meal.

Meditation on Energy

Author: 
Kat Liu

(This guided meditation was originally written for UUs observing Earth Hour, with the intent of adding a deeper, spiritual dimension to just turning off the lights for an hour.  It has been adapted here for Climate Justice Month.  In the U.S., nearly 50% of our electricity comes from burning coal.  That is why the meditation focuses on coal.)

 

We are the generation that stands
between the fires;
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
And from the burning of the Amazon forest;
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
the flame and the smoke that consume all Earth.

It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
but the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different,
all of us bearing
One Spark.

- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

 

 

Turn on a light. 

Picture the light that you have just turned on.
Picture it connected via wiring to the other light bulbs, electrical outlets, appliances… in your home.

Follow the wiring out of your home, along the utility line, to the power lines outside.

Feel the energy that is flowing, coursing, towards your home and your light, available with the flick of a switch.
Follow the transmission lines as they run for miles.
Realize that not all of the energy traveling in those lines makes it to your home, some of it lost in friction… heat.

Follow the transmission lines…. all the way back to the power plant.

See the smoke pouring from the smokestacks.

See that the smoke consists of: carbon dioxide which causes global warming, sulfur dioxide which causes acid rain, nitrogen oxide, which causes smog, mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous metals.

See the water used to cool the power plant – thousands of gallons gushing by - heated by the burning coal and then dumped back into the water supply.

Feel how the water by the plant is warmer than water elsewhere.

Think about how that affects the plants and animals.

See the coal sludge – solid waste suspended in water to make a toxic slurry – stored precariously behind artificial dams.

Remember that these dams have broken, burying the neighboring communities in toxic sludge.

Picture people living near the power plant – who lives there? What is in their drinking water?

What is in their air? In the ground that children play on? Maybe it’s your children.

Picture the coal being delivered to the power plant. Where does it come from?

Follow the trail in your mind to Appalachia.

Picture entire mountain ranges removed in order to extract the low-grade coal below.

Picture the debris that had been mountaintops being dumped into nearby streams.

See the heavy metals and other poisons leaching out into the water supply.

See what happens when it rains and there is no top soil and vegetation to hold the water.

Hear the sound of the explosives used to blast off the mountain tops.

Picture people living here. What is in their drinking water? What is in their air? What would it be like to live there? Maybe you do live here.

Think about the coal within the mountain – how long it’s been sitting there, and how it came to be there.

Think of the plants and animals that lived 300 million years ago, their bodies first becoming peat, and then over the millennia turning to sedimentary rock… the coal that now powers your home.

Bring your mind back to where you are now.

Know that all that you have seen and more is connected to the energy that will power the lights when you flip the switch in the room where you are sitting now.

Energy extracted from what used to be the lifeblood of animals living 300 million years ago.

Energy extracted from and refined in the neighborhoods of other humans living now.

Precious energy.


Closing Reading:


I have come to terms with the future.
From this day onward I will walk easy on the earth.
Plant trees.
Live in harmony with all creatures, including my sisters and brothers.
I will restore the earth where I am.
Use no more of its resources than I need.
And listen, listen to what it is telling me.
(adapted from M.J. Slim Hooey’s prayer, p. 109 in Earth Prayers from Around the World)

Meditation on Inter-Being

Author: 
Thich Nhat Hahn

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. "Interbeing" is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix "inter" with the verb "to be", we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger's father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here - time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements,” like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.

Ethical Eating: Produce

On Friday, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating. I had been practicing the principles, imperfectly, since it's inception. What I've learned is to remember that it is just that, a practice.

I live in a predominantly Latino and Black neighborhood in a medium sized city in Southern California. I just completed ny second seminary year which included field education. Before I took the internship (not UU), I did have a part-time office job. I was earning the same hourly wage that I did 15 years before, but with full benefits back then. To be clear, the last year and a half, I've been living on my spouse's death benefit, taking a full load in seminary, and only doing the internship once it became clear that I could not keep my grades up and work, as well.

As money becomes tighter and tighter, I anticipate the ethical eating part of my life to become more difficult. I do wonder if the resolution on ethical eating, coming from place of privilege, is irrelevant and elitist to a country in the grip of economic hardship and a class war that has a grossly unequal income distribution.

Beans and rice are staples of the poor, and I grew up on them. I do love vegetables. When I was very young, there were pitched and protracted battles regarding vegetables vs. meat, fish and poultry. One particularly memorable battle was over having an artichoke to myself and the expense of said artichoke. That said, here are some thoughts, just on produce:

In my neighborhood there are two major grocery stores, two ethnic grocery stores, and several small ethnic markets. Before my spouse died, we wanted to buy a share in a farm. We just never had enough money to invest up front into a season or more of organic vegetables. The stores in my neighborhood are overflowing with inexpensive, plentiful produce. The first time I met a new dean at school, she asked which Pasadena neighborhood I lived in. She proceeded to enthuse over the cheap produce at one of the ethnic grocery stores.

My theory is that the produce are loss leaders, and every thing that is processed is overpriced. The people that shop there walk, ride bicycles or take the bus. The store has a shuttle to take people home. The cyclists are of the variety that ride the wrong way down the street or on sidewalks, not the pannier, helmeted set. The clientele at the particular store do not speak a lot of English. Beer and sodas are incredibly expensive, as are virtually all other brand name and processed foods. Before a ill-planned condominium complex was built across the street, small items from deodorant to razors were locked behind glass, and cost more than the big name grocery stores. This is the reality in poor neighborhoods. How would we begin to address the inequalities of access, before the pesticide laden produce?

Most of the ethnic grocery shoppers do not have the choice to buy local or sustainable, nor the education to desire or request change. I use the store when I'm not feeling flush, but I have begun to have anxiety over doing the "right" thing since so many issues come into play. When buying, my first thought is food miles. Where did most of these inexpensive vegetables come from? In this neighborhood, they come from Mexico, and further South. With the unfortunate exception of my attachment to bananas, I am intentional about buying produce from California, staying within the season. (By the way, when in the world did garlic begin to be imported from China? I thought the garlic capital is in Northern California.)

The people who bring food to the table have such appalling working conditions. They have been documented not to be given breaks, shade, decent living conditions, fresh water, subject to wage theft, exposed to herbicides and pesticides. Yet, when grocery stores charge more for "organic" produce, I wonder just how much of that extra money is passed on to the farmers and the migrant workers.

About eight years ago, there was a grocery store strike in which the workers lost badly over healthcare and wages. I refused to walk into one of the big name chains until a couple of years ago. I will only go for the very few things that can not be found in Trader Joes, or the store fondly known as Whole Paycheck. I was appalled at the price of produce when I did return. According to Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA), a strike is imminent. We UU's passed an Action of Immediate Witness, but how will that support the workers once they go on strike? Trader joes pays fairer wages, but Whole Foods is anti-organizing and their produce is ridiculously high. However, they have some organic things not found elsewhere. Reconciling these choices is difficult.

At Trader Joes, food miles and packaging come into play, as well. Not only do they sell out of season produce from Mexico and Chile, the produce comes prepackaged in plastic, in a family size. Trader Joes has begun to improve based on consumer pressure, but as soon as one item is sold individually, different prepackaged items arrive. I limited my produce to the staples, organic: carrots, celery, in season lemons, onions and tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower. Squash is plentiful, inexpensive, good and relatively safe in the grand scheme of things not organic.

This leaves the small family owned markets and the farmers markets. This is where I have to be most intentional. I will admit to being exceedingly blessed when it comes to farmers markets in the area. There are several going on each day of the week during the day, with some in the evening. It takes planning to go. There is a small health foods market that is in the next town to the North straight uphill. The farmers market that is in my neighborhood is held on Tuesday mornings, but there are numerous other in the area. As much as I want to support the mom and pop shops, knowing where the produce comes from is more important.

So, the anxiety continues. I have stopped eating quite as large of a variety of vegetables for fear of pesticide residues, perpetuating unfair unhealthy working conditions for those who pick and package produce, environmental impact and the impact on migrant workers of herbicides and pesticides, economic justice for grocery store workers, supporting small business, lack of time to shop at farmers markets being a student, and my own economic well-being. Fortunately, by putting together this post, I found a CSA that was not available before, which allows payment on a week to week basis.

A Few Drops in the Ocean

"You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."
-Mahatma Gandhi

This was one of my favorite quotes. A year ago, it took on a particularly poignant significance when the Deep Water Horizon well exploded and the earth began to hemorrhage crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. With the Pacific garbage patch, mercury laden fish, and now Japan releasing exceedingly radioactive water, I wonder just much longer this quote will be relevant. Or, it it already a relic from a time just over a century past?

Spring is here fulfilling its promise of renewed life. What other new metaphors can we use to restore a belief in humanity, especially in the face of a tiny minority (Not Japan but the top 1%) who is in a race to exploit, sell and use up our beloved earth’s gifts.

My Symphony

To live content with small means.
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion.
To be worthy not respectable,
and wealthy not rich.
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently,
act frankly, to listen to stars, birds, babes,
and sages with open heart, to bear all cheerfully,
do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual,
unbidden and unconscious,
grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.

-Wiliam Henry Channing

For Earth Day...

Tip #1 on saving the world:

Stop buying bottled water.

First of all, there's the plastic bottles that the water comes in.  Don't let the idea that it's recyclable lull you into thinking it's environmentally friendly.  Only bottles labeled #1 and #2 have any chance of being recycled, and the production of new plastic still outpaces recycling several times over.  Most of it still ends up in landfills.  Not to mention the fact that both the production and recycling of plastic produces toxic fumes containg such carcinogens as benzine and vinyl chloride, which impact those living around the plants.

Secondly, there's the absurdity of paying for what in most cases is filtered tap water.  Aqua fina, put out by Pepsi and Dasani, put out by Coca-cola, are nothing more than filtered bottled tap water with pretty names on them, and a heck of a lot of marketing behind them.  Why pay beaucoup bucks for something that comes out of your own kitchen faucet?

But if one wanted to do something as absurd as pay money for tap water, that would be ok if it weren't for the fact that it's contributing to the privitization of water.  World wide, companies such as Pepsi and Coca-cola set up bottling plants in an area, draining the natural water resources and damaging the eco-systems, all while getting paid massive subsidies to do so.  In southern India, when a Coca-cola bottling plant opened, tapping into the underground aquifer and using up to 1 million litres of water a day, the local wells went dry.  Coke claimed it was a "coincidence" but "out of the goodness of their hearts" trucked in bottled water.  That's nice, except that it's destroyed the local farming industry and people who used to able to get their daily needs of water from wells are now dependent upon Coke. 

In the U.S. too, facing money issues, municipalities are increasingly privatizing their water systems.  Imagine being cut off from water because of the inability to pay.  As water is necessary for life, the right to water is a fundamental human right.

Stop buying bottled water.

If you are concerned about the safety of your tap water, and in some areas there is good reason to be, use a water filter. A quality filter can be bought for around $40 and will give you water at least as good as the water you get in bottles. You will save money in the long run. You will reduce the use of plastic. And most importantly, you will be resisting the privatization of water, which is making it into a commodity available only to those who can pay.

For more information:

Thou Shalt Not Pollute

Coming fresh off the Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference, where I participated in the eco-justice track and was surrounded by Christians working for environmental justice, I am further heartened by the following two news items, both announced today.

First, the Vatican spoke to the faithful this weekend about the "new sins" of our times. In addition to the area of bioethics (where I disagree with Rome on stem cell research), Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican's number two man, also listed "ecological" offenses. Indeed, Pope Benedict has recently said more than once that climate change is an important concern for the entire human race. The Vatican has hosted a scientific conference in the past to discuss the ramifications of global warming/climate change.

Second, the New York Times reported today that 44 Southern Baptist leaders are backing a declaration calling for more action on climate change, saying their previous position had been "too timid." Their 2007 position was more skeptical about climate change. Guess they've seen the light. :) The signatories include the current and past two presidents of the Convention, so these are no rogue "liberals." They reiterated the biblical mandate for humanity to be stewards of the earth, and called on Baptist ministers to preach on the topic.

Between the Catholics and the Southern Baptists, we are talking about the two largest religious groups in the country. And at least for the Southern Baptists, we are talking about a traditionally conservative group. The fact that they are both now talking about the need to action on climate change is wonderful.

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