About the Author
Rowan Van Ness

Reflections on Water

Puddle Picture
Puddle Picture by "raindog808"

Early on Saturday morning, I was rushing to pick up coffee for an event. Rain lightly drizzled, and I ran across the parking lot. A friend was with me, and I called him to stop. “Look at that puddle,” I said.

That puddle, like almost every puddle except on the cloudiest of days, reflected the trees and the shops around us. As we walked around it, we could see the reflections change. Nature. Buildings. Penny, candy wrapper, and dead leaves at the bottom of the puddle. The magic of reflection amazes me every time and noticing puddles has become a spiritual practice of mine.

How often do we stop and notice water? The puddles, the rivers, the ocean? The showers, the washing machines, the toilets, the sprinklers? In industrialized nations, we have largely forgotten just how dependent we are on water. In most places in the US, we can turn on a tap, at any time of any day, and have clean, potable water flow until we turn it off. That is amazing!

These past few years, with hurricanes like Katrina, natural disasters like the tsunamis in Asia, and anthropogenic disasters like the BP oil disaster, I have been reminded of waters abilities to both give life and to take life. I am reminded that we cannot survive without water, as I hear about the deaths of immigrants crossing the deserts in the Southwest. And I am astounded when I hear statistics about how in Boston, people of color are four times more likely to have their water shut off. I once lost water for a day, and I became quickly aware of what it meant to not be able to flush my toilet, to not be able to turn on the sink. I can’t even imagine what this must be like to be struggling AND to have my water turned off.

Unitarian Universalists (UUs) all over are thinking about water justice, from the UU Legislative Ministry of California’s campaign to pass legislation on the Human Right to Water to congregations in New York examining the impacts of natural gas hydraulic fracturing on watersheds. As UUs, we are called to respect the interdependent web of all existence and water is a common thread. For Earth Day 2011, UU Ministry for Earth (UUMFE) is asking congregations to celebrate the sacred waters that sustain us all and to commit to 40 days of actions that will make our world more just.

I am making a commitment to water for 40 days, to take some time to deepen my reflections on water. To see the holy in the every day. And to move my actions a little more closely in line with my values of justice for all.

This past year, I have held the BP oil disaster heavy in my heart. I understand that the three main industries along the Gulf Coast are oil drilling, seafood, and tourism–and all three were devastated by this disaster. People live off that water, more closely than I ever have, and likely ever will. And yet my own demands for oil, for transportation, for heating, for my plastic watch, my plastic pens, my plastic lunch container, my plastic toothbrush…produced in oil-using factories and transported by oil-using vehicles. How am I complicit in this disaster? How much oil do we really need?

For the 40/40 Earth Day Challenge, I am trying to avoid plastic as much as possible for 40 days. It’s certainly impossible in my life right now for me to avoid it all together, but I am starting with awakening to the pervasive presence of plastics in my life and am going to see what I can do to reduce my dependence on oil.

More Resources

Meeting with Monsanto

Last November, Rev. Nate Walker, the minister of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, wrote a sermon that was an open letter to Monsanto, voicing concerns based on his research about the company. He Fed-Exed a copy to Hugh Grant, the CEO of Monsanto, a multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation. What followed was a series of ongoing conversations and visits between Rev. Nate and Monsanto. Rev. Nate would like to see this company adopt an oath to “do no harm” and play a leadership role in getting the entire field of biotechnology to adopt a similar oath. This process led to a dialogue this past Thursday evening at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, between two senior directors of Monsanto, about a dozen leaders within the congregation and a few others like me, who are particularly interested in and knowledgeable about food issues and environmental justice. We came from a range of backgrounds, including an organic chemist and a ministerial candidate who focuses on issues of food justice.


Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in West Virginia

This past weekend, I joined a dozen members of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church in Charlottesville, Virginia on a trip to West Virginia to witness mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining.   On this trip, we visited Larry Gibson on Kayford Mountain and spent time with the UU Congregation of Charleston, WV. The stories we heard were incredibly moving and made me reflect more on the source of our energy and how disconnected we are from it. It is by the grace of coal that I am writing this blog entry right now.

MTR is just one method of mining coal, but it is the most devastating to the land. The land is exploded to make easier access to the coal, and the rubble and byproducts are pushed into valleys and stream beds as “valley fill.” Heavy metals, such as selenium, are exposed and get pushed into the watersheds, causing health issues for people near the mines and downstream. The concentrations are high enough that just downstream from the mountaintop removal mining on Kayford Mountain, fish have both eyes on one side of their heads.

Larry told us that they recently started adding tetrol to the mining explosives. This is a chemical that was banned back in WWII, but the US had stockpiles of it that needed to be depleted. Now, this is in the air and the water people rely on to live.

Who owns the land? How did they get ownership of the land? Why does mountaintop removal coal mining happen, when there are other ways of mining coal that aren’t as destructive to the land, to jobs, and to the health of the people? Why don’t more people know about this, if so much of the country is powered on coal, some of which comes from MTR practices?

I think part of the problem is our disconnection from our resources. Energy comes from so far away, that we don’t see the devastation or feel the effects nearly as strongly from a distance, if we feel them at all. Even so, we our destroying our country’s heritage and some of the oldest mountains in the country. Sacrificing the people of Appalachia to power the rest of the country. We’re seeing this acutely now with the Gulf Coast and oil as well.

I encourage you to read more about MTR. More information can be found on www.ilovemountains.org, which is maintained by Appalachian Voices. In 2006, UU congregations passed an Action of Immediate Witness to End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining. And before long, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church intends to take a show on the road to raise awareness about MTR and move toward action.

May we renew our connection with our planet and extend our idea of caring for our neighbors. May we reduce our energy consumption and raise our awareness about the sacrifices made to fuel our lives. May we move swiftly and as painlessly as possible to a clean energy economy. And may we celebrate and support life for all.

40/40/40 Campaign Ends

Meg: Cutting Out Cane Sugar
I made it!  I learned a lot about how I use sugar to overcome exhaustion–ironic because of course it wears me out!  Now the trick is to keep myself from reverting to old, bad habits.  Interesting that I don’t crave sugar now –I hope I can keep it that way!

Orelia: Local/Sustainable Meat
This weekend, even though the experiment was almost over, I was camping and succumbed to my meat cravings a couple of times.  I was pretty sure that this meat was not locally or sustainably raised.  I wasn’t wracked with guilt, but I was a little disappointed at my own lack of resolve and how easy it was for to justify the slip ups to myself.  I think there’s a lesson here about falling off the proverbial wagon.  I heard this lesson again in a yoga class I took while camping.  The teacher kept repeating, “It’s not how many times you stop, but how many times you start again.”  So at the moment, I’m just working on observing myself and my inclinations and desires, including my wish to live a life that is authentic and sustainable and satisfying.  I’m grateful for the start that 40/40/40 has given me, and I am looking forward to continually starting again.

Rob: Fair Trade Coffee
What stands out as I reflect on my 40/40/40 commitment is the “pregnant pause” that came after I asked a business or friend if their coffee was fair trade. In that brief moment, it felt like everyone (including me) was evaluating the extent to which my request was legitimate and the extent to which it was annoying. I will continue to reflect on this dynamic, and especially how asking for justice can often seem “impolite”. There’s a place for decorum, of course, but perhaps I need to be more comfortable with creating tension for the right reasons.

Rowan: Saying Grace
It was fascinating to see how this played out for me–the messaging I told myself, the time it takes, and the effects of eating with others, and the impact it had on my buying habits. When I focused on gratitude for everything that brought me the food, taking the time was much more enjoyable. It was hard to enjoy my food when I was outraged about everything that I don’t know about the growing methods and how the workers were treated, or the fact that my banana coming from South America cost less than my apple from New England. I found myself paying more close attention in the supermarket about my food choices and growing methods. Sometimes, in a rush, I would think a grace to myself while preparing my food or running around, and I sometimes found it more challenging than I would have expected. Saying grace was a practice I most appreciated when sharing food with friends–good food and good company. I’ve learned that it’s only as powerful as the mindfulness I bring to it.

Susan: No Red Meat
My family gave up red meat for the 40-40-40 campaign. To tell you the truth I felt a bit guilty as I thought we were picking something very easy since we rarely eat it and even more rarely cook it at home. We were surprised to learn that the occasional times we have bacon with our eggs or decide to grab a steak sub rather than cook at all some nights were more frequent than we realized. The capper came when we were attending the local annual May Fair and decided not to get the Indian food we often get that contains red meat. Instead we went to the organic green food both and got falafel salads where we saw among posted factoids the statement that a vegetarian driving a hummer has a smaller carbon foot print than the meat-eating Prius driver. Well I went on the web to learn more about that and found out that particular fact is inaccurate but my research headed me towards a lot of other great perspectives. Here is one I’d like to share http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/energy/blogs/the-prius-driving-vegan-vs-the-meat-eating-bicyclist-who-is-the-better. My family can’t claim to be vegan bicyclists yet but the spiritual practice and mindfulness of participating in the 40-40-40 with other members of our congregation (First Parish Cambridge) led us to start being mindful in a lot of different ways about our environmental impact. We’re all biking even more and saying no thanks to the hamburgers!

40/40/40 Update – Day 22

Eric: Intentional Gardening
I’m off to a slow start to my 40/40/40 commitment because of some traveling. This past weekend was my actually my first chance to have some quality time in the garden. I was able to be in a good spiritual place when I entered and exited, feeling gratitude and hope. And, most of the time that I was digging, weeding and planting I felt “present”. In the couple days since then the seedlings have needed some care to avoid frost, and that felt spiritually nurturing. On the down-side, I’ve got some of the typical aches and pains that come from gardening and I’m trying to understand them in spiritual context. So, its just the beginning for me, but it feels like I’m off to a good start.

Rob: Fair Trade Coffee
Since none of the coffee shops closest to the office brew fair trade, I found myself asking: how far would I have to go? The good news is: not far. With help from the locator tool from Transfair, I discovered that the national chain Caribou Coffee (with a location two blocks away) will brew cups of fair trade. The somewhat significant catch is that it’s french press style (taking 8 minutes) and costs $3 for a large cup. Thus the award for the closest, cheapest cup of fair trade coffee goes to Bruegger’s Bagels, who offer fair trade (in French Roast and Peach varieties) as part of their regular line up. I’ve never heard of peach coffee, but sometime soon I’ll go have a cup on principle.

Meg: Eliminating Processed Refined Sugars
Halfway through and I’m learning a lot about myself. I had thought I might suffer physical withdrawal from sugar but in fact I’ve seen that it’s much more likely that I want sugar for emotional support, not because it’s a physical addiction. I have learned that alternative sugars (I don’t do the sorbitol route) like syrup or honey make products incredibly more expensive, and a lot of them don’t taste that good either. I’ve realized that making my own stuff is the best way to guarantee that I know what’s in them, so my old college-days health food cookbooks have been out a few times. It’s been fun to bake. Interesting to see the correlation between eating sugar and moving quickly and mindlessly, vs. cutting it out and being more conscious and slowing down.

The real question is: What about when the 40/40/40 challenge is over? Will I stay mindful? So far, I’m ambivalent! It really helps to know that so many other people are challenging themselves during these 40 days.

Orelia: Sustainably and Humanely Farmed Meats and Animal Products
As my venture into eating more sustainably and humanely farmed meats and animal products continues, I find myself often feeling ambivalent and opting to just eat vegetarian rather than expending the effort to get out to the farmers’ market. I really have no excuse. There are several markets throughout the week in the D.C. area, many of which are convenient for me to get to, but I still find it easier to eat and prepare vegetarian food. At the same time, if I’m around other people who are eating meat that doesn’t meet my criteria, I feel like I’m depriving myself and start craving it. I’ve only slipped once, at a communal meal that I was grateful I hadn’t needed to prepare anything for. I think I have a general apathy towards shopping and cooking lately. It doesn’t help that I injured my knee and ankle over the past couple of weeks, and it’s been hard just to get around on foot and bicycle like I usually do. I know I’ll feel better when I actively work to plan make meals that I’m excited about, and when I can get more exercise in general. I’m thinking a lot lately about how food, activity and mood are all connected for me and what really drives my inclinations to make sustainable and healthy choices, and how far I’m willing and able to go to support those choices. And this weekend will surely include one or more trips to a market somewhere in town.

Rowan: Saying Grace before Eating
Now that I’ve been doing this for three weeks, it has become much easier to remember to pause before I eat.  I’m finding that the more that I think about where my food comes from and everything that it took to get it to me, I am appreciating my food so much more and eating more slowly.  I find that when I’m in a rush and don’t think as much about it, I wolf down my food without the same gratitude.

As I’ve explored different topics for grace–the labor, the geographic source, and now the growing methods, I’m finding that like anything, the framing of my intentionality makes a huge difference.  When I expressed gratitude for all the people involved, I enjoy my food so much more than when I spend my moment wondering where my food came from and how it was grown.  The latter is pushing me to eat foods with simpler ingredients (less questions left unanswered!) and to go to the Farmers Market.   The fresh produce is inspiring my cooking once again.  I am reminded both of how little is easily known about most foods found in the grocery store–or a restaurant–and how much actually thinking about these questions regularly can help me align my behavior with my ideals, though it’s not always perfect.

Reflections on the Oil Spill from Rev. Melanie Morel-Ensminger

Written by Rev. Melanie Morel-Ensminger, minister of First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans, on May 5, 2010.  Cross-posted at http://nolarev.blogspot.com.

The explosion on the high-tech oil rig leased by BP nearly 50 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico happened April 20th. Immediate word was that there had been casualties, but some workers had been able to evacuate in time and were saved. Local news showed footage of the fire in the Gulf, and anxious relatives being ferried to a hotel near the airport to await their loved ones — or word that their beloveds were among the lost. More reports later focused on the funerals of the men (they were all men — for whatever reason, oil rigs are not known to be havens of gender-inclusivity).

Announcements were made on April 21st or 22nd (hard to remember now) that the oil well was being capped as it blew, so (the announcement, presumably from BP, said) there would be minimal leakage of oil into the waters of the Gulf. As I packed for my New York trip on April 23rd, the news seemed to be changing. There WAS a spill, but it wasn’t too bad. When I arrived in New York on the night of April 24th, the media was in full retreat from earlier stories. There WAS a spill, and it WAS bad, it was very bad indeed. It might even be the worst ever.

Storms in the Gulf not only dropped rain on Jazz Fest revelers, it sent the oil slick moving rapidly toward the ravaged Louisiana coast. By the second Jazz Fest weekend, April 29-May 2, some folks in Irish Bayou and even Slidell, claimed they could smell it on the wind. (It may or may not have been the reason that the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin gave to Jazz Fest officials about canceling her set, even though her tour bus was already in New Orleans, and nobody was claiming to be able to smell it from there.)

Folks at Jazz Fest lined up in record numbers to get raw oysters, joking sardonically that it could our last raw oysters for 5-10 years. (If the seedbeds of Louisiana oysters are disturbed, new seed oysters will have to be obtained after the beds are cleaned and then carefully nurtured. it would take between 5 and 10 years to be able to harvest from such new beds.) While they made remarks steeped in disaster-humor, their eyes were alternately angry and sad. Hearing that Halliburton contractors had been involved on the rig, one man said, “Let Cheney pay for the clean-up.” The lead singer for Pearl Jam, on stage at the Fest, suggested that the children of BP executives spend their summer breaks working on the clean-up. He was wildly cheered.

Whether you live here in poor belle NOLA or anywhere else around the country, I know that all of us have been deeply affected emotionally and spiritually from this disaster, and the slow pace and inadequate scope of clean up. I know that all of us, young and old, well-off and struggling, want to do something, but we don’t know what. We know something of what this disaster means in terms of our lives and livelihoods and delicious food and our beautiful marshlands and fragile coastal areas, and the strange and wonderful wild things that live in those places, but there is still a mystery in terms of what happens next, what might happen next.

Here are some concrete ideas for things that can be done, right now, right away, to have a positive effect on the spill clean-up. And if there are those of you who read this who know of other things we can do, please do let me know so I can help spread the word.

#1 It is well-known that the containment booms for oil spills are filled with waste materials like hair, fur, and old nylons. (Check-out the YouTube video clip entitled “Hair Soaks Up Oil Spills“.) Collections of hair clippings from barbers and salons and fur clippings from pet groomers would be of tremendous assistance. A local hotel is working with a local environmental organization, Matter of Trust, to coordinate donations of old hosiery, pantyhose, stockings, clipped hair, and fur from pet groomers; that is the Ritz Carlton Hotel, 921 Canal St., NOLA 70130, 504-670-2817. Packages must be clearly labeled, such as “PANTYHOSE” or “HAIR CLIPPINGS”. If you live in New Orleans, you can drop off labeled packages of your old stockings right at the valet entrance of the hotel. You can also call your hair salon and dog groomer and request that they save all hair and fur for this important cause.

#2 If you are financially able, you can contribute to help the people who are hurt most. A fund has been set up by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund, to collect money to benefit local communities (in Plaquemines, St. Bernard, and lower Jefferson parishes) most adversely affected by the disaster, who are mostly poor/economically marginal, Islenos, Vietnamese, or African American). Donations can be made online, and more information gathered, at www.gnof.org.

#3 If you are able and willing to, you can volunteer to help.  In-person volunteers can register with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, or through the Sierra Club. Recovery from this, as from Katrina, will be a marathon, not a sprint. We will need a lot of help for quite some time to come.

#4 If you live or visit near the Louisiana-Mississippi coast, and need to report damaged wild life or shoreline, these are the numbers to call: for oiled wildlife 866-557-1401; for damaged coastal areas 800-440-0858.

#5 Write and call your elected officials at the federal level. Demand clear procedures for emergencies in the Gulf. Demand accountability for when inevitable accidents happen. Demand immediate federal aid for the coast line, the wild life, and the human communities affected by such disasters.

Finally, we can all pray/meditate/send good thoughts when gathered in our faith communities. We can support and comfort each other in our rage and grief over this new disaster. We can use the work of our hands and the power of our minds to make this better and prevent its recurrence.

To all of you out there standing in solidarity with us in South Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

40/40/40 Update – Day 8

We’re just over a week into our 40-day focus on Ethical Eating.  Many of us have picked specific actions to take for these forty days.  Here are some of our reflections:

Rob: Drinking Fair Trade Coffee
At the bagel shop this morning–which did not have fair trade coffee–I was thankful that I had already drank a cup of fair trade joe before I left home. I need to keep that in mind for the future if i’m going to eat somewhere else for breakfast. Fair trade coffee: don’t leave home without it!

Rowan: Saying Grace/Taking time to reflect on where my food comes from
The first couple days were really challenging for me. Five bites into eating, or worse–after I finished, I’d realize that I had forgotten to stop and gratefully reflect. I’d put down my fork and try and think about my food and where it came from. Though I’m passionate about food and food issues and could talk to you for an hour about bananas, the urgency of the moment made it difficult to think of anything meaningful. I decided to pick weekly themes to help me focus on different aspects of Ethical Eating, starting with a focus on labor.

I’ve gotten better at remembering to stop before I start eating, and the theme is really helping me focus. I can’t believe how many people it took to get me my breakfast cereal! All the people involved in saving and planting the seeds, growing/harvesting/storing the crops, processing/packaging/marketing the cereal, shipping/storage/selling the product, and not to mention all the people involved in making the packaging, logging the trees, designing the font, mining the materials to make the machinery, the fuel, etc. I’m done with my bowl of cereal before I could possibly think of everyone it took to get me this cereal (and the bowl, milk, and spoon). For their work, I am grateful. This increased awareness is pushing me toward buying simpler ingredients, in which I can know more about each step of the process.

Meg: Eliminating Cane Sugar
I’m doing it. The hardest was being at a long conference where all snacks involved sugar—luckily there was usually fruit, too. I’m proud of myself! It feels positive to do something with others. And I just made rhubarb with maple syrup—yum!

Nicole: Eating locally in Boston, MA
So, in that Murphy’s Law kind of way, I’ve found my first week difficult, but not unsuccessful overall. One issue has been that the official farmer’s market season doesn’t start till mid-May here in Boston; my first shipment of Boston Organics arrives only today, and I opted for the “Dogma Box,” which promises at least 8 locally-grown items in it (excitement!). But in the meantime it’s been hummus (local), some more fiddlehead ferns (not sure if I love or loathe them), locally made bread, eggs, butter, and locally grown tomatoes. And accidentally, some food at a restaurant that was not local (I’m becoming such a pain in the butt to my friends).

The other (personal-life issue) has been that I’ve been bumbling around with a herniated disc for almost week, making cooking, shopping, standing, and often-times consciousness kind of a bummer. I think I’ve had Ben & Jerry’s every single day since it started (it’s from Vermont, that’s within my challenge constraints at least).

Life on the go and/or life temporarily impaired/immobilized, makes it really tough to have convenience, variety, and locally produced foodstuffs in this challenge; can’t have it all, I suppose. Lugging around bags of food like a hermit crab (because they lug around bags of food, of course) is also a tough one. I’m seeing that my lifestyle choices (some by necessity, though) definitely impact the way I eat, and make this challenge all the more…challenging. At least it has me thinking (constantly).

Orelia: Humane & Sustainably-raised Meat
My resolution was to only eat meat that is locally produced and sustainably farmed. I got some great sausage at the farmers’ market last week, and I found myself talking to the vendors more than I would have otherwise about their animals and their farms. I’m privileged to live in an area where there are many farmers’ markets, and when I want to buy meat and can afford it, I have a lot of options.

I’m finding that in social situations, when I’m eating at an event or potluck, it feels uncomfortable to ask people where they got the meat that they used to prepare their dishes. In these situations, I will probably just tell people that I’m a vegetarian and deal with their confusion if and when they ever see me eating meat. Sometimes it works to share my resolution with people, and sometimes it feels less awkward if I keep it to myself. I know that I’m not doing this so that I can shout it from the mountaintops, I’m doing it because I think it’s a way that I can live sustainably that makes sense for me. My decision might not work for someone else whose geographic, health or economic situation differs from mine. After the past week, I feel more aware of the fact that others might have their own ways of living sustainably that are equally valid and meaningful for them.

Alida: Saying Grace
At the dinner table we now follow our routine moment of silence with spoken observations about the sources of our food, the workers who helped bring it to our table and the animals whose lives have been sacrificed for us. Last night we observed the cultural influences in the particular foods. Our 9 year old son is way into it. We give thanks for the “efforts and sacrifices that have made this food available for us”. It has really made us more aware and grateful. Good new practice!

For Heaven’s Sake–and Ours–STOP GLOBAL WARMING!

mailing a postcard
Joelle "mails" a postcard to her Senator.

Yesterday was the Earth Day Climate Rally in honor of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day.  I worked with the Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light to organize a multi-faith contingency at the rally, bringing together six different faith traditions to celebrate Earth and to cry out together for the need for climate change action.  It was great to hear the dialogue between different congregations and faiths about climate change, how we can be more involved as people of faith, and what’s working/not working for congregations.  I’m inspired to see congregations work together toward real climate solutions.  I was really glad we’d brought postcards and address labels for people to write “and mail” messages to the Senators right at the rally, so that our faith community could send a clear message that climate change is a priority to us and that we want to see legislative action now.

The UUA banner attracted people from near and far!  UUs from at least 10 different congregations came by, from as far away as Portland, Oregon and Littleton, Massachusetts, and from several of the more local congregations in the District, Maryland, and Virginia.  UU banner at rallySeveral more folks came by our banner, saying that they had grown up UU and recently moved to the area and were wondering about how to get involved.  People seemed to appreciate us being there, showing that as Unitarian Universalists, we are called to care for our planet and get legislation passed that makes Earth more livable for all people, both now and into the future.  So all-in-all, we had a good presence at the rally and I’d like to thank everyone who came out for it!

I was frustrated to hear that the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill, scheduled to be unveiled today, has been postponed indefinitely.  Senator Graham announced that he will abandon climate legislation if it isn’t moved ahead of immigration on the Senate calendar.  writing postcards to SenatorsI am particularly concerned that according to a Washington Post article, Senators aren’t hearing that climate change legislation is a priority for their constituents.  Let us make sure they know that climate change is not only a priority for Unitarian Universalists, but it is a moral and ethical imperative that action is taken on climate change.  We are polluting the very planet that sustains us and allows us to live, and the first people to experience the impacts are often the poor and people of color.  Farmers, for example, rely directly on the weather and the earth for growing their crops, and a changing climate impacts their livelihood.  While the changes we can make in our own lives are important,  legislation must be passed to enable the institutional changes necessary to tackle climate change.  Please call your Senators NOW and tell them we need strong and just climate legislation now!

40/40/40 for the Earth!

Unitarian Universalists across the continent are expanding Earth Day’s 40th anniversary on April 22, 2010 to last 40 days.  They are committing to small and large daily actions over the 40 days for the sake of the Earth and all who live here.  We eat every day, giving us a new opportunity, time and time again, both to shape the lives of the those who grow, process, and transport our food and to determine how the world’s natural resources are used.  Our personal choices affect many aspects of global environmental justice.

Several of us at from Advocacy and Witness and the Washington Center have decided to take on the challenge and will report back throughout the 40 days about our experiences.

Please join us! Write your comments at the end of this post with your own commitments, or log into Facebook and search for the “40/40/40 For the Earth!” group “40/40/40 For the Earth!” group.  Learn more information about the 40/40/40 Campaign.

Meg Riley
I’ve decided (gulp!) to give up refined sugar for 40 days.  First of all, because it doesn’t benefit me in any way.  But, more importantly, I’ve read enough about the conditions of sugarcane workers to know that neither they, nor the land where sugars are mass produced, are getting a bit of sweetness from its production.  I’m going to blog about this as I go, and I’ll share more with you as I learn more.

Orelia Busch
For the next forty days, and hopefully for the rest of my life, I will only eat meat that comes from farms with sustainable and humane practices, preferably located near where I live.  I want to know exactly where my meat is coming from and be assured that the animals I’m eating have not been pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals or lived under the conditions of factory farming, which is inhumane not only to the animals but also the workers involved.  Sometime during or after the forty days, I will probably expand these criteria to all animal products that I consume, but for now, I’ll start with meat.

Rowan Van Ness
I’m going to say grace before each meal and be more mindful about and grateful for my food and the journey it takes from field to the table. I’m curious to see how taking a few moments each day to recognize all of the people; the sun, rain, and soil; the spirit of life—all involved in getting me the food I eat every day—changes my relationship with food and decisions around what I eat.

Eric Cherry
My Earth Day commitment is to 40 days of “intentional gardening”.  Every year in mid-April, like many people, I’m excited to be getting my hands dirty in the soil that will nurture the most delicious food I’ll eat this summer.  But, every year after the initial excitement has worn off… caring for the plants and seedlings often starts to feel like a chore.  Over the next 40 days I’m committing to only entering the garden prayerfully and with joy and not leaving the garden until I’m centered and at peace (to some degree).  I hope that this will have a positive impact on my relationship to the food I eat.

Rob Keithan
I am going to only drinking fair trade coffee.  I think that will be challenging but not too challenging!

Nicole McConvery
I’m taking on the challenge of eating only local food, defining “local” as food grown in MA, VT, NH, and RI. Rather than eating food imported from elsewhere (realizing all the energy – human, chemical – involved), I want to subsist on food that essentially has a lower carbon footprint, when traveling from the field to my mouth. I want to see how challenging it is to eat only food I can buy at farmer’s markets and local grocers and am interested in the impact on: my health and eating decisions, my relationship with my community, and the effect on regional industry.

Alida DeCoster
We usually begin our family dinner with a moment of silence.  For the 40 days we will verbalize our gratitude and name the sources of our food and give thanks for the efforts and sacrifices that have brought it to our table.

Taquiena Boston
I commit to not eating a meal in front of a TV or computer monitor in the room for 40 days so that I can pay more attention to the food.

Earth Day Updates!

As congregations have been registering their Earth Day events, I have become totally inspired by the great work Unitarian Universalists are doing right now!

Plans for lifting up and celebrating Ethical Eating this Earth Day are underway in at least 14 states.  The Second Unitarian Church of Omaha in Nebraska will have a booth at a community Earth Day event, giving away shopping and gardening tips, seed packets with church info on them, and are selling fair trade coffee and teas.  The UU Congregation at Rock Tavern in New York will clean up trash in local wetlands, including a portion which flows through one of the few remaining dairy farms in the region which produces and sells milk locally.   The Accotink UU Church in Virginia will follow their Earth Day Service with tastings from the “Cooking—All Things Considered” class and plan to kick off the 40/40/40 Campaign, getting 40 members to commit to an Ethical Eating action for 40 days in honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.  See a list of events planned (PDF), as of March 30th.

Join the movement!
Information and suggestions on issues ranging from the field to the table, with links to congregational stories, worship materials, ideas for actions in your own community are available on the UUMFE Earth Day website.  Go a step further by participating in the 40/40/40 Campaign, and get 40 people from your congregation (or 40%) to commit to take action.  Register your Earth Day event to be included in a national press release and the final count of participating UU congregations, and check out resources on media and messaging to share your message beyond church walls.  If you register your congregation’s event, you will be entered in a raffle to win a $50 gift certificate to the UUA Bookstore.  Share the story of your event afterward to be entered a second time!

A Salad Bar of Worship Ideas
Here are a number of activities you can do in a smaller group worship setting, whether it’s an RE class, a covenant group, a circle worship, or for a group meeting specifically for the event.  Feel free to pick and choose from these resources.

For additional resources around faith and ethical eating, please check out the Ethical Eating Supplemental Worship Resources page:

  • Select some quotes related to ethical eating.  Pick quotes from a variety of sources, such as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, the Bible, and Thich Nhat Hanh.  Have people select a quote that appeals to them.  Go around the circle and have people read the quotes aloud and share their reactions to the quotes.
  • Lead a ritual to wash away the things that are preventing us for eating more ethically.  Have each person silently think of something that is blocking them from focusing on their faith or from making mindful decisions around food.  Have them write it on a dish with a washable marker.  Provide a pitcher and bowl for people to silently wash away these barriers to action.
  • Lead a guided meditation on tangerines (or some other food).  Thich Nhat Hanh has a short essay on this in his book, Peace in Every Step, which discusses this more.  Have people think about the origins of the fruit and all the people and natural resources involved in getting the tangerine to them.  Engage each of the senses in the fruit, one at a time.  Finish each bite before starting the next.  Truly focus on the fruit and be aware of the gift it is to us.
  • Have people write down what they ate in a recent meal.  Pose questions for people to think about, as they reflect on that meal.  Ask them to take notes, and to especially note questions to which they don’t know the answers.  Some examples of questions might be: Where did the food come from?  Were pesticides and fertilizers used in the production of the foods?  Were the workers paid fair wages?  How far away did it come from? Discuss the answers.  How might we move forward from here? Can we turn any of the “I don’t knows” into things we are aware of?  Being aware of how our food is produced reduces the chances that living beings are being exploited.
  • Give people an opportunity to meditate and consider what they’ve learned about ethical eating and food justice.  Have little containers filled with soil and seeds and let people plant seeds as they share a commitment to one change, big or small, they’d like to make in their lives, on their journey toward ethical eating.