Mother Earth

Mother Earth Rev. Fred L Hammond April 18 2010 © Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Earth.  There are very different perspectives towards this orb that is whirling through space with the Milky Way Galaxy.

Western civilization has taken a dominion perspective based on one of the two creation stories found in the Hebrew Scriptures.  “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”  This is such a powerful command of domination over the earth that it is integral to the American way of life for 200 hundred plus years.

We, mostly for the pure sport of it, wiped out in a single generation the passenger pigeon. This beautiful bird had flocks in the billions that would darken the skies for days as they traveled north in their annual migration.  The last bird in the wild died at the hands of a young boy who saw the bird sitting on a fence in his yard and asked his mother for the shot gun.  But there was a time when newspaper’s boasted the number of birds killed with a single blast.   These birds were a hazard to progress.  They would land on telegraph poles and their collective weight would bring down the lines.  And so the corporations that ran the electric and telegraph lines sought out to destroy this bird once and for all. [1]

Fill the earth and subdue it.  Whether they are indeed the words of a god almighty or a words of a people who found that they are adaptable to the wiles of nature’s wrath; we have been seeking to tame the earth ever since these words were recorded.

In the last forty years there has begun a shift in our collective understanding of life on this planet earth.  This collective understanding is not new to us; humans around the world have held this understanding before.  But in the last forty years, this understanding has in western culture grown in strength.

We know this understanding as our seventh principle, “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”  Our western culture is ever so slowly beginning to grasp that when a species goes into extinction, the impact of that extinction ripples out across all of creation.

The passenger pigeon was not simply hunted to extinction.  This magnificent bird would not be around today even if steps were taken to protect it.  Its primary source of food was the American Chestnut and Oak.   These trees were once predominant in our forests.   The American Chestnut was prized for its lumber and was preferred for its endurance over the Oak.  However, a fungal blight was introduced through the import of an Asian Chestnut in the early 1900’s and by the 1940’s most of the American Chestnut was wiped out.   The bird would not have been able to withstand the loss of its primary food source.  But what if there was some other interconnection between this bird and the trees it used for food and nesting?   What if there was some sort of mutual benefit between the two species that when one was gone, the other subsequently suffered?

There is for instance the relationship between the sea otter, sea urchins, and kelp.   The sea otter uses the kelp forests as a hiding area from its predators.  In return for this protection, the sea otter eats sea urchins whose source of food is kelp.  Remove any one of these three and the other will suffer.  This was the case when the Southern Sea Otter was nearly hunted to extinction in the early 1900’s.  The sea urchins in turn decimated the kelp forest. [2]

Another example of interdependence between species was discovered regarding the number of coyotes and the diversity of song birds.  It was discovered that the diversity of song birds diminished when coyotes were hunted out of the canyons in southern California to make them safer for housing developments.[3] The reason for this is that coyotes acted as a control on the predators such as cats, fox, and rodents that ate the birds.

Caroline Fraser in her text, Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution writes: “Why do species matter? Why worry if some go missing? Part of the answer lies in the relationships coming to light between creatures like the canyon coyotes and the chaparral birds. After the nineteenth century’s great age of biological collecting, when collectors filled museums to bursting with stuffed birds and pinned beetles, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have proved to be an age of connecting. Biologists have begun to understand that nature is a chain of dominoes: If you pull one piece out, the whole thing falls down. Lose the animals, lose the ecosystems. Lose the ecosystems, game over.”[4]

What is beginning to be understood is that the earth is more intertwined together than a collection of individual independent parts.  The rainforest of the Amazon is a vital key to the amount of rainfall that other areas of the globe receive. This heavily dense forest holds moisture close to the surface so that it can be released easily back into the atmosphere preventing the formation of deserts.  Not to mention the vast number of life forms that will disappear forever as the forest is replaced with agricultural crops.    Life forms that may contain secrets to our very health.

A vast number of pharmaceuticals have been derived from plants, animals, and microbes.  What most of us might consider as creatures of insignificance could be the key to cures of cancer or HIV/AIDS.  The cone snail, for example, injects a toxin into its prey numbing and paralyzing it.  This toxin is being investigated as a possible pain reduction substitute for opiates.   The Horseshoe crab has within its blood antimicrobials that destroy bacteria.  This finding could be vital in developing a new anti-bacterial medication for the now pandemic resistant strains of bacteria.

We are all connected to this planet in a myriad ways.  If we truly ponder this interconnection it could prove to be mind boggling.  Thomas Starr King, Unitarian Minister wrote to a friend Randolph Ryer about a lecture he heard Emerson give in 1849: “Emerson gave us last Monday evening the most brilliant lecture I ever listened to from any mortal. It was on the identity of the laws of the mind with the laws of nature. He proved conclusively that man is only a higher kind of corn, that he is a squirrel gone up into the first class, that he is a liberated oyster fully educated, that he is a spiritualized pumpkin, a thinking squash, a graduated sun-flower, and inspired turnip. Such imagery, such wit, such quaint things said in a tone solemn and sublime! I have the most profound respect henceforth for every melon-vine as my ancestor (melancholic thought). I look upon every turtle as of kin. Tonight he lectures again. I fear I may lose it.” **

I fear I may lose it.  The reality is we may indeed lose it all, if we humans do not begin to claim our rightful place in fellowship with our companions on this wonderful mother of us all, called Earth.

So what can we do?  We heard this morning a challenge being presented to us by our social Justice chair.  To celebrate Earth Day’s fortieth anniversary we are being asked to do forty things over forty days.  These forty things taken one day at a time can be the beginning of making a difference in our treatment of Mother Earth.

Some examples might be to fast from fast food for 40 days.  This means for the next forty days no McDonalds, no Taco Casa, No Wendy’s, No Quiznos, No Subway, No Cici’s, no KFC, no… well you get the point.  Or maybe you start a vegetable garden which you tend to for the next 40 days and beyond reaping a harvest of fresh tomatoes, squash, etc.  Or maybe you decide to shop at local farmers markets.  Purchase fair trade products where by the middle person is taken out of the equation enabling farmers to make a living.  We could even begin to sell fair trade products here to our members and friends-we already serve fair trade coffee on Sundays.  Say no to water in plastic bottles for 40 days saving our landfills from plastic that does not decompose.  Reduce packaging by purchasing your rice, grains, and cereals in bulk.  Have a book discussion on ethical eating or environmental issues.  Decide to eat lower on the food chain by eating more vegetables x number of times a week.  Eat as you always do but keep and measure the volume of packaging used and document and share your findings with the congregation and with the UUA’s blog on 40/40/40.[5] Meet with other members and friends and discuss your discoveries as you proceed in doing 40 things over the next 40 days.

These seemingly small gestures of choosing foods that are not processed beyond recognition or are packaged in biodegradable containers will ripple out to make a larger change in the environment.  We are connected in more ways than we might imagine.  We share common strands of DNA with all life on this planet.  It is not humans vs nature… We humans are a part of nature.  We are interdependent with the vast array of life on this planet.  We depend on the diversity of plants and animals to survive.  If any one species become extinct it ripples out and causes other species to become extinct.  Eventually, humanity will face the consequences of its indiscriminate treatment of the planet which gave it life.   Be good to your mother.

Blessed Be.


[1] Some of this information is from Clive Ponting's 'A Green History of the World', Penguin Books, 1992

[2] http://www.1hope.org/intdpndt.htm

[3] REWILDING THE WORLD: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution by Caroline Fraser. Copyright (c) 2009 by Caroline Fraser.  Published: January 21, 2010  New York Times

[4] Adapted from the book REWILDING THE WORLD: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution by Caroline Fraser. Copyright (c) 2009 by Caroline Fraser.  Published: January 21, 2010  New York Times

**Found the archives of the Graduate Theological Union’s library in Berkeley, CA

[5] ideas found at http://www.uua.org/socialjustice/issues/environmentaljustice/159611.shtml

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Published in: on April 18, 2010 at 11:00 pm  Comments Off on Mother Earth  
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