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Why Become a Green Sanctuary?
Most of us are aware of the enormous environmental challenges our world faces today. Global climate change, resource depletion, pollution, and species extinction are just a few of the concerns that trouble us, both as individuals and as Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations. We may feel overwhelmed by the enormity of these problems, which are so difficult to understand, let alone solve.
Yet none of us is called to solve the world’s problems on our own. We are called simply to do our part, through small steps carried out consistently, with faith in their power to make a difference. Religious leaders from most of the world’s faith traditions have claimed that these environmental crises may be the greatest moral challenge facing humankind in the twenty-first century. Some suggest that religions may be the only human institutions still able to respond to the challenge.
Native American wisdom reminds us to look ahead in time to the impacts of our actions seven generations hence. Especially for environmental issues, we can consider the long-term impact of our individual and communal practices and behavior. Together we can imagine the “Earth Community” we wish to build for our children and grandchildren and theirs, seven generations into the future. We can make choices that will lead to a sustainable future for every being on this planet.
“We seem to have lost the wisdom of the indigenous people, which dictated that in any major decision, the first consideration was ‘How will this decision we’re making today affect our people in the future?’ These days decisions are made based on the bottom line.”
Green Sanctuary is a journey toward this ideal. We start with one step. As we move toward our vision of Earth Community, we gain from our experiences and build confidence that we can, in fact, create the world we see in our dreams.
Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” For this reason, we need to bring conversation about our relationship with and our responsibilities toward Earth into the heart of our faith communities. A different level of awareness-a spiritual awareness-is critical.
Unitarian Universalists across the country gather in congregations to find meaning, support, and sustenance in community with others. At their best, our congregations inspire, educate, advocate, and celebrate. In a world in which people are too often isolated, congregations provide a place in which to care for and help one another. The environmentalists in our midst remind us that that there is a need, also, to care for other creatures and for the ecosystems that support life.
For many Unitarian Universalists, our relationship with Earth is a core element in our spiritual quest. Nature is where many of us find one of the six sources of Unitarian Universalism: “Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life.” Another source of our faith is the Earth-centered traditions that “instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.” And a sense of oneness with the natural world is at the heart of our seventh Principle, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
We are also a faith community with a historic and deep commitment to the quest for justice. This commitment is reflected in our second Principle, “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations.” Increasingly, we understand that caring for the Earth and all of its inhabitants is a critical ingredient in building true justice. We are asking ourselves the ethical questions that are so important in both environmental and religious contexts: “Who are my neighbors?” “How shall we live together?” “What, if anything, do we owe to each other and to this land?” “What does social justice require?”
As religious pluralists, one of the best things we can do is to encourage people of all faiths and philosophies- Christians and Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, Wiccans and Native American traditionalists, freethinking humanists, agnostics, atheists, and others-to work together. All of these groups, in their own ways, recognize and celebrate the interdependent web. “Ecology theology” starts with an appreciation of this religious and cultural diversity. We can then search for common ground, with the understanding that interfaith and intercultural cooperation is needed to solve global problems.
Thus, fulfilling our responsibility to care for our planetary home is an overarching commitment that crosses the spectrum of environmental and social concerns. Although UUs sometimes disagree on specific environmental issues, most now accept that the call to ecological awareness and action stems from our seven Principles.
In addition to calling us to live our Principles, our spiritual orientation shapes how we see ourselves in the world, how we relate to one another, and how we respond to the interdependent web of existence. Our world view and moral values offer us the opportunity to reshape our participation in the social, economic, and political systems we have helped to create. We are called to reexamine our daily patterns of living: how we live, what and how much we consume, and who controls the distribution of costs and benefits in our society.
The quest for justice and the healing of Earth-rolling up our sleeves to work for a better life for ourselves, our families, and the larger world-is one part of a life of faith. But we also remind one another that a healthy spiritual life balances action with reflection. In our faith community we can turn to liturgy and worship, celebration, study, reflection, prayer, and meditation to find the courage, strength, motivation, and patience to keep up the quest for a just and sustainable future for all beings.
The Green Sanctuary program offers a way to join our efforts, both symbolically and explicitly, with thousands of other Unitarian Universalists in congregations across the country. Green Sanctuary is designed to help congregations like yours develop and work toward a vision of healthier, more sustainable future.