This week, I'm looking at Chapter 8: Pamela Sparr’s essay, "Transforming Unitarian Universalist Culture: Stepping Out of Our Silos and Selves.” Sparr relates that when she taught about climate justice at a summer institute, she had been warned that participants didn’t want to be “bummed out.” Anyone who speaks about environmental issues faces that question: how to be inspiring rather than paralyzing or depressing. This is what I have said and firmly believe: reality is never depressing. Depression comes from attempts to block out reality. When those attempts fail and awareness seeps in, mixing and conflicting with our desire for denial, depression is the result. Embrace of reality – with no desire to deny any of it – is many things: fascinating, challenging, invigorating, even oddly peaceful. Reality may be beautiful, dangerous, or both. But reality can never be depressing. It's denial that's depressing.
Still, embracing reality is no easy thing. I’m not always great at that myself. But when I’m bummed out or just bored, I ask myself, “what is the reality here that I’m resisting rather than embracing?”
Sparr’s approach is to call for:
(1) a bolder prophetic imagination. We need to speak, among ourselves and to others, in visionary ways, showing humanity a better version of itself, offering moral clarity, and an unflinching insistence on justice.
(2) the courage and capacity to talk religiously. UUs are disproportionately involved in environmental organizations, yet when we show up for this work, our UUism is often invisible. “Our challenge is to move out of our secular skin and to wear our UU skin all the time” (83) – to claim our identity and authority as religious persons. Grounded in our faith, a moral language of hope and justice takes the center – and proposed technical solutions move to the periphery. This means UUs must get comfortable and articulate in about our profound sense of the sacredness of all life, the dignity and worth of every person and every threatened species, our wonder and awe and the interconnected mystery of existence. Faith-rooted solidarity is based on knowing that “my well-being is totally and irrevocably tied up with yours. My liberation is dependent on yours” (84). Acting religiously means that the opposition is never demonized, never “othered,” always loved.
(3) getting out of our silos. Racial injustice, climate change, sexual harassment and abuse, LGBTQ discrimination, environmental degradation and species extinction are all interconnected and all have the same solution: building a world of justice and equality. We can’t let ourselves get into a “single issue” silo.
(4) radical relationship building. “We are going to have to stretch ourselves to befriend and collaborate with many different types of people and movements, including those with whom some of us may feel theologically uncomfortable” (90).
(5) becoming more countercultural. Current culture is characterized by a disconnect from nature and a casual acceptance of power hierarchies (and thus of the injustice and inequality that necessarily inheres in institutionalized hierarchy). Our denomination must transform itself into one that is thoroughly counter to these characteristics.
Sounds to me like a five-fold approach for embracing reality.
Do you know how to go about doing any of these five? Which ones? How?
For my reflection/summary on previous chapters, click the title:
- Jennifer Nordstrom, "Intersectionality, Faith, and Environmental Justice"
- Paula Cole Jones, "The Formation of the Environmental Justice Movement"
- Sheri Prud'homme, "Ecotheology"
- Sofia Betancourt, "Ethical Implications of Environmental Justice"
- Adam Robersmith, "Cherishing Our World: Avoiding Despair in Environmental Justice Work"
- Peggy Clarke, Matthew McHale, "Becoming Resilient: Community Life for a New Age”
- Kathleen McTigue, "Drawing on the Deep Waters: Contemplative Practice in Justice-Making”