Public Witness, General Assembly 2015
General Assembly 2015 Event 444
Our climate is changing, yet we have hope. Our world is in crisis, yet we have faith. Together, we are building a new way.
In the face of the overwhelming reality and impacts of climate change and environmental destruction, we need each other. Together, we can celebrate life. Together, we can deepen our commitments to justice. Together, we can change the world.
Come be renewed in and by our interconnectedness.
Hear from American Indian and First Nations leaders at the frontlines, including Lummi Nation Councilman and treaty rights activist Jay Julius and Lummi Elder, international climate justice activist, and totem pole carver Jewell Praying Wolf James.
Climate change threatens the ecosystems and way of life of Original Peoples of the Western Hemisphere, and the Pacific Northwest has become a corridor for fossil fuels. The largest coal port in North America has been proposed for Puget Sound’s Cherry Point, or Xwe’chi’eXen, which would desecrate Lummi Nation sacred lands and waters.
Climate justice offers a new way: a way to dismantle the paradigm that treats marginalized people as expendable, non-human species as irrelevant, and our Earth as supply source and sewer rather than a single, beloved community of interdependent life. It offers a way to acknowledge the disproportionate impacts of injustice on frontline low-income and people of color communities and follow the leadership of those most impacted.
Come honor our connections to each other and to all of creation. Together we will move through an experiential, worshipful event that allows us to access the deep emotional core touched by climate change: grief, anger, despair, and, finally, hope. From that hope we will take action.
Together we will build a new way.
The following final draft script was completed before this event took place; actual words spoken may vary.
People, in Order of Appearance
- Rev. Leisa Huyck
- Chinook Vice Chairman Sam Robinson, Kate Elliott, and other Citizens of the Chinook Indian Nation of Oregon and Washington
- UUA President Rev. Peter Morales
- Lummi Nation Councilmember Jay Julius
- Lummi Nation Elder Jewell Praying Wolf James
- Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa
- Kate Elliott
- Singer/songwriter Dana Lyons
- Rev. Clyde Grubbs
- Aji Piper, President of Plant for the Planet and founder of Earth Guardians Seattle, and his brother Adonis Williams
- Theresa Soto
Rev. Leisa Huyck: We gather in the presence of all that is most holy: the sky above us, the bright sun, the moving river, the great mountain, the love that moves in and among us, the Great Spirit of Life that holds all. We gather to bear witness. We gather to offer up our commitments to our beloved planet Earth and all her beings. We gather to make real change.
As we light our chalice, let us receive three breaths together. Breathe in…breathe out. I am here. Breathe in…breathe out. You are there. Breathe in…breathe out. We are together.
Come, let us witness together.
Title: “The Changer (Chinook Jargon Song)”
Credit: Song Carrier: Subiyay
Performed by: Citizens of the Chinook Indian Nation of Oregon and Washington
UUA President Rev. Peter Morales
Thank you for sharing your powerful prayer. It is humbling to be in the presence of those whose ancestors have called the Pacific Northwest home for so many centuries and generations.
I am Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I first want to greet our partners who have joined us today: Vice Chairman Sam Robinson, Kate Elliott, and other citizens of the Chinook Indian Nation, who just offered us their prayer song, and Councilmember Jay Julius and Elder Jewell Praying Wolf James, of Lummi Nation. And I’d like to invite any other formal tribal representatives present today to stand so we may greet you.
I welcome you. You honor us with your presence.
I also want to recognize all those present who are Original Peoples—First Nations, American Indian, Native, and Indigenous—as well as those who consider yourselves white or multiracial yet have known Indigenous ancestry. Please stand, or raise your hand.
I welcome you. Thank you for being here.
Gathered here for our General Assembly, we Unitarian Universalists have crossed all manner of borders to come together to worship, learn, share, and witness.
We are here today to bear witness to injustice. We are here to bear witness to the injustice of climate change and environmental degradation. We are here to bear witness to the fact that those with the least power bear the greatest burdens, even as they contribute the least to the consumption of natural resources that has led us to this point.
From the early days told in their creation stories, the Original Peoples of this land have held spiritual and cultural values that honor interconnectedness and promote great care for each other, and for our home and its gifts. Yet Original Peoples have suffered greatly at the hands of those with different values.
Three years ago, at our General Assembly in Phoenix, we learned about the Doctrine of Discovery—a religious decree that for hundreds of years has been the basis of legal oppression of Indigenous peoples. We engaged with our responsibility as a faith community whose history is inextricably entwined with the history of oppression. We repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery and called on each other and our congregations to deepen our learning, build new relationships, and work with Indigenous communities for reconciliation and human rights.
Today we are here to bear witness to the story, the struggle, and the wisdom of our partners from Lummi Nation, located in the northwest corner of Washington State. They are at the front lines of the global crisis of climate change. The coastal ecosystem they depend on is already changing drastically due to this climate change. Worse, the fossil fuels industry seeks to turn the Pacific Northwest into a toxic corridor. Lummi Nation is fighting to keep the largest coal port in North America from being built on their sacred lands. This injustice must not be stopped.
Bearing witness means listening to and sitting with injustice, with another person’s struggle. It means opening our hearts and connecting on a soul-deep level, knowing that we are all interconnected. Today we are invited to listen to what Councilmember Julius and Elder James offer, and to bear witness to those truths. We will then engage in a collective ritual of honoring our Earth, connecting with our moral charge as people of faith and conscience, and making a spiritual commitment to new action.
And now, please welcome Lummi Nation Councilmember and treaty rights activist Jay Julius, and Lummi Nation Elder, international climate justice activist, and totem pole carver Jewell Praying Wolf James.
Jay Julius, Lummi Nation Councilmember
See recording above for Councilmember Julius's extemporaneous remarks.
“This Is My Life” by Shamania James
Jewell Praying Wolf James, Lummi Nation Elder
See recording above for Elder James's extemporaneous remarks.
Ceremony of Sending Blessings
Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa: Councilmember Julius and Elder James, thank you for the gift of your words to us. Let us please take a moment of silence to honor the gift we have received and hold all that has been spoken in gratitude.
[moment of silence]
Like Lummi Nation, Unitarian Universalists care deeply for the Earth and for all the life that dwells here. Part of our sacred covenant is respect for the interdependent web of life. For decades we have been engaged in many struggles from that deeply spiritual place. Yet we can—and must—do more.
This past September 1,500 of us marched in the People’s Climate March in New York City, and at the same time we launched a new initiative, a collaboration of UU organizations across our entire movement. This new initiative, Commit2Repond, is grounded in the knowledge that as people of faith we need to be leaders in this moral struggle, and that the solutions we work for must be grounded in partnership with front lines communities like Lummi Nation, and their leadership. For too long our movement has looked only at a single piece of the larger puzzle, instead of grounding ourselves in the intersections of environmental degradation with racism, classism, ableism, and more.
Today, we commit to respond in new ways. Today we make new commitments to our Earth, to solidarity, and to collective action.
Kate Elliott: Let us form a sacred circle, in which we will express our feelings for the Earth and make commitments to action. In this hall there are four special designated seating sections where people have elected to sit so they can play a special role in our ceremony. We will form our sacred circle by sending these four groups outside, one to bless each of the four directions and elements.
At the request of our Lummi partners, the ritual created for this event is authentic to Unitarian Universalism; it draws inspiration from the spiritual work of Joanna Macy; from pagan traditions, one of the many sources of our faith; and also incorporates additional elements suggested by our Lummi siblings.
Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa: We begin by sending a group to bless the direction of East, and the element of Air. Those who have volunteered to carry the blessings of our gathered body to the East by sitting in that designated section of this hall, please go forth from this place, carrying our gratitude for the Earth and its gifts with you.
While they process, everyone else, please turn to the person next to you. You are invited to express your love and gratitude for the Earth by completing the phrase “my heart sings when…” Take just a minute each to share “my heart sings when…”
[East group processes out and everyone else talks amongst themselves.]
Thank you. Please hold all of these words of gratitude in your heart.
Title: The Green and Blue
Written and performed by: Dana Lyons, Cows with Guns: The Music of Dana Lyons
Credit: Copyright 2008 Lyons Brothers Music, BMI
Rev. Clyde Grubbs: Now let us send forth the group to bless the direction of South, and the element of Fire. Those who will carry our blessings to the South, please go forth, carrying our grief and pain for what is happening to life on Earth.
Everyone else, turn again to your partner and this time express your grief and pain by completing the phrase, “My heart breaks when…” Please share: “my heart breaks when…”
[South group processes out and everyone else talks amongst themselves.]
Thank you. Please hold all of these words of grief and pain in your heart.
Theresa Soto: Now we will send forth the group to bless the direction of West, and the element of Water. Those who will carry our blessings to the West, please go forth, carrying our deep interconnectedness.
Everyone else, please express your sense of interconnectedness by turning to your partner and completing the phrase, “What moves me to take action is…” Please share: “What moves me to take action is…”
[West group processes out and everyone else talks amongst themselves.]
Thank you. Please hold all of these words of motivation and calling in your heart.
Title: The Great Salish Sea
Written and performed by: Dana Lyons, The Music of Dana Lyons: Cows with Guns
Credit: Copyright 2014
Kate Elliott: Now let us send forth our last group, to bless the direction of North, and the element of Earth. Will the group for North please process out, carrying with you our commitment to action?
Dana Lyons plays a short song.
Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa: Each of the groups that has carried our blessings to one of the four directions will also bless a sapling tree and ask it to bear witness to our commitment. On behalf of our collective whole, the groups are promising to the sapling trees to do all we can to help them grow strong and tall on a healthy Earth. These four trees will be planted in the four quarters of the Portland cluster of UU congregations. There they will grow as symbols of our love for the Earth, our solidarity with the First Nations whose stories we have heard here, and our commitment to respond.
Kate Elliott: So what is it that we can do to make a healthy life possible for a young tree, or for that matter, a young fish, a young bird, a young person? Systems that support life, systems based in reverence, systems that support justice and mutual respect.
Rev. Clyde Grubbs: At the center of it all is climate justice. This struggle is not just about one coal port on sacred lands, it is a global struggle to save all life on Earth. As people of faith we are called to lead this struggle, we are called to commit ourselves completely to a revolution in values, and it will take all of us to do it.
Theresa Soto: But the task seems impossible sometimes, doesn’t it? There are so many things wrong and they are wrong at such a HUGE magnitude. How can any of us possibly make a difference? Sometimes our pain and grief and fear are so great that we can’t face them, so we turn away, and lose hope, and give up.
Kate Elliott: But what if we are not alone in this? What if we are all together, facing our pain together, committing to making change together? What if we find that sharing our grief makes it manageable? What if we realize that each of us has some small thread of healing we can bring to the web, and we can weave together all of our little threads, and we see that somehow we have healed a whole big part of the web of life?
Rev. Maria Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa: Let’s try it.
I invite you to take the ribbon you were given earlier and place it between your two hands, like this.
I invite you to repeat after me:
We acknowledge the odds we are facing. [We acknowledge the odds we are facing.]
We acknowledge our grief and pain. [We acknowledge our grief and pain.]
Let this ribbon hold our own, unique pain. [Let this ribbon hold our own, unique pain.]
We acknowledge our deep love of Earth and the whole web of life. [We acknowledge our deep love of Earth and the whole web of life.]
Let this ribbon hold our love. [Let this ribbon hold our love.]
We want to heal Earth. We want to heal the web of life. [We want to heal Earth. We want to heal the web of life.]
Each of us can do something, no matter how small. [Each of us can do something, no matter how small.]
Today, we commit ourselves to climate justice. [Today, we commit ourselves to climate justice.]
Let this ribbon hold our commitment. [Let this ribbon hold our commitment.]
We commit to respond. [We commit to respond.]
Blessed be. [Blessed be.]
Theresa Soto: After you leave this place, you are invited to tie your ribbon on one of the strings at the four places outside where the directions were blessed. One ribbon is small, but together, our ribbons represent the magnitude of our collective pain, love, and commitment together. Together. We are in this together.
Rev. Clyde Grubbs: After you leave this place, you are also invited to take action. Take your own individual commitment and our huge collective commitment home, when we return to the four directions we came here from. Visit commit2respond.org for specific ways you can take action to support Lummi Nation and take the next steps toward true justice.
Rev. Leisa Huyck: Will you pray with me?
Spirit of Life, you who rise greening in our hearts as well as in the sapling tree,
Help us know you as a love so large that it holds all of our grief, all of our anger, all of our fear. In all of our pain, we are ever safely held.
Help us know you as the connections between us and every other being in this world.
Help us know you as that which calls us into right relationship with every other being, beckoning us always toward love and compassion, sharing and justice.
Help us remember the commitment we have made together today. Help us keep it.
Help us serve you in all we think, all we say, and all we do,
today, and all the days of our lives.
Title: Salmon Song
Written and performed by: Dana Lyons
Credit: Copyright 2013
Closing Words and Benediction
Rev. Leisa Huyck: In a moment we will leave this space. We will go out and add our ribbons—symbols of our gratitude, grief, motivation, and commitment—to the ribbons already waving at the four directions. We will carry our spiritual commitment with us back to wherever we call home, and we will take action, starting with the actions at commit2respond.org.
As is our spiritual practice, we invite anyone who needs more time and space to exit this hall first, including people who use assistive devices and their companions. If this isn’t you, please wait a few minutes before you leave—and as you exit, pay attention to the kindred souls around you.
People of this beloved community: As we extinguish our chalice, let us take hands and pass a pulse among us to signify that we are all in this together. Together, we will make climate justice.
Together. Go Shining. Amen.