Monday, February 1, 2016

Until It's Disproved

When Rev. CJ asked me if I could be here today, he told me that the subject of the sermon was Truth, and asked if I could relate it to climate change. Well, yes!

Then he sent me this quote as the basis of the sermon:

John Lennon said: “I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind. Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now?”

Dreams and nightmares may inspire or frighten us. They may make us lose sleep. They may make us more fearful, or make us feel a sense of euphoria, but we do not expect to subject our dreams and nightmares to the rigor of peer review, or to the scientific method of the physical sciences or to statistical analysis that proves the significance of an event within prescribed confidence intervals.

Until it is disproved:  I choose, like Margaret Meade, to believe that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  I also believe that in order for that small group of citizens to change the world, they must have a shared belief in many of the same fairies, myths and dragons. By that I mean that their fairies (or joyous aspirations), their myths (or stories that define them); and their dragons (or fears), combine to create a worldview that defines their common shared personal truth. Religions, interest groups, and political parties are made of people who have aligned their personal truths. Their common truth, their shared dream, or their worldview, exists only in their minds until they act on it, to bring it into being.

I grew up in Houston, Texas and attended the Unitarian Fellowship of Houston on Wirt Road. Our religious education classes were held in a Quonset hut that was a Montessori School during the week, called “School of the Woods.” My Sunday classes were taught by cultural Jews. I just heard yesterday of the term “Jewnitarians.” I had never heard of that, but those were my teachers. Every Sunday, I was taught by cultural Jews for whom the Holocaust was still a very personal and very real memory; and who fiercely rejected creedalism in any form. They taught using the Socratic method. They never told us what to think. Rather, they asked us what we thought, and with slow and careful questions requiring our responses, taught us how to find and express our personal truths. This really frustrated me as a kid. I didn’t understand why these adults expected kids to have answers to THE BIG QUESTIONS, or why we had to express OUR personal theologies. Some days, during the civil rights movement they would just bring in a newspaper article and have us read it. Then we would discuss it in the slow questioning Socratic method. Sometimes we would be split into teams and argue different sides of the issue. My Catholic friends just had to memorize stuff. I could memorize their stuff just by helping them study for Sunday school. Why couldn’t my Sunday school teachers just tell me what to think?

I now understand that my teachers knew what it was to live in a society that had a common truth, a common dream or world view: an Ayrian dream that proved fatal for their loved ones and for their families. It was the goal of my teachers in that Quonset hut, because that is where they found themselves,  to raise a generation of Unitarian thinkers who would know how to form and articulate their own truth, and to recognize when the realities of the world are being distorted by the dreams of others. They prepared us to move into the world as people of conscience; prepared to carry forward their dream of peace and to recognize threats to that peace. They prepared us to recognize when truth was distorted by an unjust dream held by a powerful group of people, and to respond.


These people have a dream of denial: A dream that denies climate science; A dream that denies structural racial injustice; and a dream that declares that America is #1 in any comparison.   

Measurements of greenhouse gases and sea levels, taken with instruments of science, and recorded by scientists in our government agencies (NOAA, NASA, the EPA, the US Geological Survey, US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Defense) are spoken of in political discourse as dreams that are to believed or disbelieved, as though there were no consequences for action or inaction.

The instrumentation and expertise assembled in our government agencies to advise elected officials, who have no expertise; and purchased with our tax dollars to protect our safety are dismissed as OUR widely held dream of fools; in spite of the proof that exists.

I believe in gravity. I believe in the self-correcting mechanism of the scientific method and peer review. I believe in a Gallilean Solar System. I believe that if I cut myself I bleed. I believe that if I count two objects then there ARE two objects, due to a one to one correspondence between the objects and the integers assigned to them. I believe that sea level satellite data is observed fact captured by instrumentation engineered and calibrated for accuracy, and confirmed by data collected by instrumentation capturing tidal data on buoys in the ocean. I believe the time lapse photography of calving glaciers; the saltwater I see with my own eyes bubbling up through storm drains in Delray Beach and South Miami Beach and that Judy Kraft puts up with in Briny Breezes; the time lapse photography of the rapidly melting Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheet; and the atmospheric sampling and measurement of greenhouse gases are all real. And they are my nightmares, and I must respond.

There is no widely held dream of denial that can “trump” peer-reviewed science and the rising costs of sea level rise infrastructure maintenance. But the widely held dream of denial can kill people if it prevents action.

Dreams of denial of climate change and dreams of denial of structural racial injustice cost lives.

What does it look like when there is structural racism inherent in climate injustice?  It looks like Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

What does it look like when there is structural racial injustice inherent in environmental injustice? It looks like Flint, Michigan.

What does it look like when there is structural racial injustice in Southeast Florida inherent in climate injustice in Southeast Florida? It looks like a room full of white people identified as “stakeholders” meeting during work hours on weekdays to provide input into adaptation planning when the African Americans and Haitians (whose neighborhoods have standing water for 3 days after heavy rains due to sea level rise and saltwater intrusion) have to work.

I am fortunate enough to be able to stand on the shoulders of those who came before me in my faith tradition as a Unitarian Universalist. I have dreams that are fueled by Statements of Conscience and Actions of Immediate Witness; crafted through the democratic Social Witness process of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I have dreams that are fueled by statements crafted by ministries affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association that are based on our Statements of Conscience and Actions of Immediate Witness. So, I share the dream that the group of citizens that has signed up with Commit2Respond, an unprecedented cooperative effort of 8 UU ministries, can change the world. Because until it is disproved, I believe that a small group of committed citizens can change the world.

My nightmare is already real in the world. Their dream of denial is creating my very real nightmare. The nightmare that injustice causes the least among us to suffer the most from climate change, while wealthy patriarchal Americans laugh about it in denial in political discourse on television, and I see it over and over as it is Facebooked, Tweeted, and used to distract from serious productive discussion.

My dream is that by working in relationship and partnership, and by always seeking out community-based solutions that challenge the status quo, we will change the world.

In my congregation, at UUFBR, our Green Sanctuary Team and our Healing Justice Group are partnering with two minority communities to train residents to be effective climate communicators in English, in Creole or in Spanish. We are preparing a Tri-lingual Adaptation Toolkit that will be online; a PowerPoint that explains it; and a brochure with magnet (so it can go on the refrigerator) with phone numbers and links that are important to residents where there is frequent standing water, the risk of a boil water order, or floodwater. A few residents in each of the two communities will be trained to explain the public health risks in their communities from climate change and sea level rise to their neighbors in a neighborhood canvass.

The climate communicators trained in this project will be empowered to educate their neighbors, and to report at a community meeting so they are held up as community public health experts on health risks related to climate change impacts. Ties within the minority communities: between the English speaking African-American residents and the Creole-speaking and Hispanic-speaking immigrants, who are their new neighbors, will be strengthened so they can increase their ability to work together in the event of a hurricane or another hazard. This will increase their climate resilience.

Climate vulnerability is not just geo-spatial, with maps that show inundation. Social scientists have found that vulnerability is created at the intersection of race, class and gender. The community we are partnering with in the historic Pearl City of Boca Raton was platted for “Negroes only” when Flagler brought laborers to work on building the railroad. They built houses and schools, but were not allowed to go west of I-95. Many of the elders of that community are uncomfortable coming to our Fellowship that is west of I-95. We go there. As the members of the community moved away, many rented their homes to others, so now the community has Creole and Spanish speaking residents. Neighbors do not speak the same language, which increases vulnerability because of the difficulty of communicating in the event of a hurricane or other disaster. We are hoping to find the people in the community who can be the bi-lingual or tri-lingual bridges among neighbors to decrease this vulnerability.

When we did the HighWaterLine project associated with our Florida Earth Festival last year, our Green Sanctuary Team did oral histories in south Delray Beach. They have saltwater intrusion pushing the freshwater up through the porous limestone. When we did our oral histories we found out that on several streets there is standing water for several days after a few inches of rain. Standing water is a health hazard.

We will make mistakes, and we will learn. In the process of learning, we will strengthen cooperation in our congregation between our Green Sanctuary Team and our Healing Justice group to combat the structural racism inherent in climate injustice. We will strengthen the bridges between our Fellowship and the African-American and Haitian communities in our midst. Our project is funded by an EPA Environmental Justice Small Project Grant. This is the first grant cycle from the EPA made available to faith-based groups to partner with vulnerable communities to educate about the public health impacts of climate change. In this sense, we are participating in the pioneering efforts to conceptualize a new climate change outreach framework.

My dream is that when my daughter is a grandmother (if she chooses to have children), she and all the people of this world will have air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat; and that neither she nor her children will remain silent when TRUTH IS BEING DISTORTED BY A DANGEROUS AND UNJUST DREAM SHARED BY A GROUP OF POWERFUL PEOPLE, AND SHE WILL RESPOND. And because of all of our efforts to build bridges and to work with people of different races and cultures, that my daughter and her children will be living in the beloved community we hold as our collective dream.

So, Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now?”
Anyone who will stand with me in the fight for climate justice.
Anyone who will Commit2Respond.

Until It's Disproved, a sermon delivered by UUFBR's Jan Booher at 1stUUPB on Jan 31, 2016.

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