Homily And Invitation To Happiness Pledge

Building Our Audacious Future
Rev. Anthony David
April 19, 2009

One day a mother mouse was out taking her babies for a walk, and a cat came out of nowhere to surprise them. The mother bade her children run and hide, and as they did,  she positioned herself between them and the cat, who was peering at them with his big grey eyes. He slowly came nearer and nearer, and then, just when it seemed like he was about to pounce, the mother mouse said, “BOW WOW! BOW WOW!” It stunned the cat; he simply did not know how to take this. He ran away, confused; and when the coast was clear, the children came running to their mother. She turned to them and said, “Children, now do you see the benefits of learning a second language?”

As a congregation, we have been on a collective journey of learning the second language of sustainability. The journey began last fall, when, at our Ingathering Service in September, we declared interdependence. Then came our Stewardship Campaign with its theme of “Creating Spiritual Community … Working for Sustainability” during which, in various ways, we took the conversation deeper, culminating on October 19th when I asked you to let me and the Care of Earth Team know about the sustainability issues and dreams that were important for you. Out of this eventually grew the Happiness Challenges we heard about in worship from January to April of this year, as well as the Building Our Audacious Future Event last month, enabling us—given all the possibilities of all our various dreams—to arrive at four shared congregational sustainability goals, which people then voted on through their willingness to volunteer. When you think about it, this willingness to volunteer is really the only way of determining whether a goal has initial viability, or not. Given the volunteer results, we’ve got a green light for all four goals, and over the next three to six months, we’ll be getting four teams up and running, to champion the four goals. Just to get to this point is a great win for our congregation. Over the course of the entire year, one event led to the next, until today, Earth Day Sunday, we find ourselves in a place to begin the next phase of our Sustainable Living Initiative, when we actually get to work and start implementing goals. Declaring interdependence through more than just words.

All of it has been about learning and using the language of sustainability, and it IS a second language. It takes effort to figure out and to use correctly. Sustainability is not equivalent to recycling. Sustainability is not just about the environment. What it IS about is doing whatever it takes to build communities of every size—from world community to nations to cities to congregations to neighborhoods—that last. According to the Earth Charter—a key document developed between 1995 and 2000 through the international cooperation of scientists, scholars, and religious leaders—development that is truly sustainable and is good for future generations as much as for the present generation can’t emphasize just one interest to the neglect or detriment of other interests. We’ve got to look for win-win solutions. We’ve got to think bigger and more systemically. We’ve got to look for solutions that honor the environment even as they grow the economy, create a more just world, and strengthen our individual lives. Honor all four points of the sustainability compass simultaneously—nature, economy, society, and personal wellbeing—and you have found the way. Forget about one or more of them, and you’re lost. The cat in our story from a moment ago has just eaten your children and it has just eaten you.

Thus the need for a second language, a way of standing up against all the forces that the cat represents, and scaring them off. Fragmentation is one of these forces. In the environmentalism community, such fragmentation was named back in 2004 by an article entitled “The Death of Environmentalism.” The article acknowledged the irony of environmentalism being so popular in the world and yet not much concrete progress having been made in combating global climate change despite the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars over 15 years or more. Earnest environmental lobbyists crying out, “You’re talking to me about your job and I’m talking about saving the world!” but the message nevertheless falls on deaf ears. The message of “change or else” just not working. Thus the article’s main point: how people who love the earth and want to heal it can no longer afford to be standoffish and isolate environmental issues from other issues like poverty, jobs, health insurance, war, national security, education, or spirituality. From now on, if we want our work to go to the next level of effectiveness, we must see environmental issues as interconnected to everything else. To truly address a problem like climate change, we’ve got to talk about how fighting it can lead to job creation like we’ve never seen before. To address climate change, let’s talk about brokering an alliance with auto companies so that environmental lobbyists will work to lower the costs of health care for the auto industry in exchange for higher mileage standards. Nearly 100 years ago, Sierra Club founder John Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” An idea that is both beautiful and true. The point of the article was that modern environmentalism needs to hear the message as much as anyone else!

“Problems,” Albert Einstein once said, “cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” Sustainability is fundamentally an effort to resist a fragmented view of life and to see how old problems that look like they have nothing to do with each other are actually related at a deep level. That’s why here at UUCA our sustainable living initiative incorporates more than just the zero footprint goal. It also includes a service goal, a story goal, and a happiness goal. We need them all. All together represent our commitment to building our audacious future. If you’d like to volunteer for one of these goals, please visit the Care of Earth table in the social hall after services.

At this point, I want to say a few words about our happiness goal. Earlier, you heard Manette talk about the service goal, Tom talk about the zero footprint goal, and Dana talk about the story goal. The happiness goal is basically this: we seek to celebrate and strengthen individual efforts to live sustainably. It can happen in all sorts of different ways: eating that is more mindful; sustainable living in the home; stronger neighborhoods and communities; increased physical health and wellbeing; better habits around money and shopping; healthier relationships; or an increased commitment to spirituality. Do one or all of these, and happiness of a higher sort grows in your life and in the larger world. Thus our happiness goal as a congregation: we’re going to find ways of encouraging and supporting each other in this.

Please take a look at the yellow insert in your order of service. For a while now, I’ve been asking you to think about what your year-long happiness pledge might be. It was inspiring to hear Kimberly describe hers, and in a moment, I’ll share mine. But first let’s see how the pledge sheet works.

Turn to where it says, at the top of the page, “My Personal Happiness Pledge is….” This is the main side of the sheet I want you to look at. In the box at the top, you’ll write down your basic pledge in one or two lines. Let us know who you are and your contact information. We’d also like to post people’s pledges on the UUCA website, so let us know if we have your permission to do so—see where you can check off yes or no?

When you are done, carefully tear off your pledge sheet along the dotted line, and you’ll turn it in when the baskets come around.

Now take a look at the information under the dotted line. There, you have some example possible pledges, related to several broad categories. For example, look at the category “mindful eating”: beside it you’ll see five different possible pledges…. Each one represents something you could focus on doing all year long. “Preparing and eating food with others,” for example, could turn into a monthly practice of dinner with friends, where you develop your friendships even as you experiment with some healthier food recipes. And so on. It all depends on the kind of new direction you’d like to take in your life right now.

Underneath, see the box where it says “A copy of my happiness pledge”? Be sure to write down your happiness pledge here too, so you’ll remember it and take it home with you.

Two things to say at this point:

1. What if you don’t want to make a year-long happiness pledge? You don’t wanna…. No problem—this is only a friendly invitation. These pledges are meant to encourage and support people in their lives. For some people, pledges like this give them focus and commitment, and they work.

2. What if you want to make a year-long happiness pledge, but you aren’t ready? You need more time to think about it, or you’d like to talk to someone first? If this is the case, after services today and also next week, the Care of Earth Team will have a table in the social hall, and you can talk with someone there, as well as turn your pledge in. Beyond next week, you can turn your pledge in to the UUCA office.

As for my own year-long happiness pledge. It has to do with “retiring” a certain jersey of mine. Here it is: [a t-shirt that says, “I love bacon.”) In other words, I’m going to go without meat and poultry for the next year. I just feel ready for this, right now in my life. I’m still going to eat fish, so I guess that means you can call me a “pescetarian.” As with Kimberly, the reasons touch on all four points of the sustainability compass. Not eating meat or poultry is better for the environment; it represents a refusal to go along with the injustices of animal agriculture on a mass scale; it’s easier on the checkbook; and I just want to get healthier and lose weight—especially if I’m going to get back to competing in skating. I’m retiring my jersey. I’ve already gone two weeks without meat and poultry, and I’m feeling great.

Now it’s your turn. When you hear the sound of the happiness challenge, begin filling out your pledge form, tear it off the larger sheet, and in a couple of minutes, the ushers will begin picking them up.