Holy Conversations: Nurturing Congregational “Biodiversity”

Back in January, I preached a sermon entitled “What Kind of UU Are You?” and used the metaphor of birdwatching. We explored the variety of UU birds in our midst.

In this month’s article, I want to expand the metaphor into its largest sense: that of “biodiversity.” Biodiversity is about the variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, and it is used as a key measure of health. History shows that monoculture (the lack of biodiversity) is a key factor behind illness and system instability. For example, The Irish potato blight of 1846, a major factor in the deaths of a million people and in the migration of another million, was the result of planting only two potato varieties, both of which were vulnerable to disease. Biodiversity means health and resilience, whereas monoculture means extinction.

But what causes monoculture? What tends to decrease biodiversity? One clear answer is the destruction of species habitats. A “habitat” is the natural environment that is fine- tuned to the needs of a given species population. The more habitats within an ecosystem, the greater the biodiversity. But when specific species populations no longer have unique places within the larger system to call home—when they no longer have sufficient resources to support their singular path through life—they die. In other words, if the larger environment is going to support flourishing variety, it must protect and preserve habitats that are fine-tuned for only single kinds of things. You can’t have biodiversity without habitats. There’s no such thing as “generic” biodiversity.

Now what does all this have to do with our congregation? Our shared Unitarian Universalist spiritual vision is that unity in diversity, and over the centuries we have employed many images and metaphors to evoke it. “We need not think alike to love alike.” “Democracy.” “The Welcome Table.” “Beloved Community.” “Spiritual, not Religious.” “Multicultural Community.” “The Interdependent Web of All Existence.” And on and on. “Biodiversity” is simply another way to evoke the same “unity in diversity” vision.

But what is particularly powerful about the biodiversity metaphor is the accompanying insight that we need to build and preserve habitats for the different kinds of UU birds among us. UUCA’s Cultural Mosaic Group is a wonderful example of one way in which this is happening among us. The group sponsors special events highlighting the importance of different cultural and ethnic groups at UUCA. But more than this, it’s a way of building a habitat in our midst for people of color to know themselves and each other, to articulate the gifts they have to bring to this place, and to energize and celebrate their vision. Without this precious habitat, our biodiversity is diminished, and so is our common strength.

My question now is: How are we doing with regard to our spiritual path habitats? Are we actively building and maintaining habitats in our midst that will support these? If you are a Pagan UU, for example, is there a habitat in our midst for you? A place where you can find people who are sympathetic to the Pagan UU vision and who want to practice its related spiritual disciplines? Or what if you are a UU Christian? A UU Metaphysical Mystic? And so on and so forth. What if you just have a positive interest, and you want to learn more and go deeper? The answer is this: you need a habitat within the larger UUCA ecosystem.

Make no mistake, we all have a stake in this. Monoculture weakens the entire system. We already know what happens when we plant only two varieties of potatoes and the blight comes. If you are a UU Buddhist, it is absolutely in your best interest to encourage the development and maintenance of a UU Christian habitat. If you are a UU Atheist, it absolutely strengthens you to affirm a UU Theist habitat. It doesn’t mean you have to be enthusiastic about (or even “get”) the ethos of a different habitat. Wood warblers are so very different from owls—and we need them both. We need the cuckoos and the kingfishers and the swallows and the crows. In the larger world, where habitat after habitat is being destroyed, we have “conservation biologists” working their tails off to prevent this. Here at UUCA, we ALL need to have the conservation biology mindset. Everyone needs to pull together, to help multiply our spiritual habitats at UUCA. It’s for the common good.

Some of our spiritual path habitats here at UUCA are strong. Just to name a few: the L’Chaim Jewish Celebrations and Awareness Group, or the Buddhist Meditation Group. But we need to see more. Many of you have spoken to me about this, and it’s time for us to do more. I’m looking for leaders, specifically people who want to work with me in increasing the number of spiritual habitats we have here at UUCA. Please email me if you are passionate about a specific spiritual path in Unitarian Universalism, and you want to help build a habitat in which it can flourish in our larger UUCA ecosystem.

Rev. Anthony David, Senior Minister