Environment

Reflections on the 7th Principle

I was asked to give some spiritual/theological reflections to my congregation on Earth Day.  Here goes.

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As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.

Personally I think its funny that we felt the need to add that last bit – "of which we are a part."  If there is an interdependent web of all existence then of course we are a part of it, right?  But the need to add that last bit underscores our feeling of separateness.  We humans as separate from the rest of creation, from Earth.  We as individuals separate from each other. 

As a culture, we celebrate our independence instead of our interdependence.

Our 7th principle came to us late, being adopted in 1985, two dozen years after what in essence were the first 6 principles, and it’s the only one that mentions anything other than human beings. Yet it is much beloved and much cited amongst UUs.  Pagan UUs see in it a reverence for the earth.  Humanist UUs see in it a recognition of the theories of ecology – no living thing exists in isolation from its environment.  And given my Buddhist leanings, I see in it the concept of patrika samaipata – interdependent co-arising.  The idea that all existence is interdependent and mutually give rise to each other.

Our seventh principle calls us to recognize this inherent mutuality.  Separateness is an illusion.   Our existing separate from the world is an illusion.  Our existing separate from our effects on the world is an illusion.  That means we affect the world with everything we do, all of time.  Every time.

Our seventh principle calls us to recognize this inherent mutuality and equality.  There is no hierarchy.  It is not right that some of us can make decisions that affect others and they have no say in it.  Not only are all people equal.  But also, all existence is equal.  Just as we should not use another human to suit our needs, we should not us the rest of existence simply to suit our needs.  We are called to live in ways that are mutually beneficial to all.

Separateness from each other is an illusion.  I said that our 7th principle came to us late, but this idea has been with Unitarian Universalism since our beginning.  It was inherent in the Universalist concept of universal salvation.  Everyone is saved.  In other words, no one is saved unless everyone is saved.  In a religion that calls us to engage in this world, not some future world, there can be no “salvation” – however one defines salvation – unless it is for all of us.  Ultimately, there can be no clean air and water here for those of us who can afford it if there is no clean air and water there for everyone else.  We can try to compartmentalize it, we can try to build "gated communities", but ultimately that’s futile.    We are all in this together.

Lastly, there is one more illusion of separation that we must overcome.  Some of us tend to view spirituality as separate from justice.  We do our meditation or we contemplate a pristine vista and we consider that "spiritual."  And then we come back to the grimy city in order to do "justice."  We need to understand that doing the work of justice is spiritual work. The two are interdependent.

The word "religion" comes from the Latin, religare, to bind together.  Religion, and in particular our religion of Unitarian Universalism calls us to live whole, integrated lives.  On this Earth Day and every day.

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