Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reflection: "Send me!"

This past week the marchers from America's Journey for Justice stopped in Augusta for several nights of Teach-Ins open to the public. Several of our members participated and also marched during the day along the route.

I was honored to be asked to make these closing remarks on Sunday night, August 23rd:

This past week I have been reflecting on this verse from the Scriptures: "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I. Send me!' -Is. 6:8

One of my favorite hymns as a teenager was “Here I Am, Lord.” Its first verse is the voice of God saying
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?
Whom shall I send?
And the chorus is the voice of Isaiah, saying
“Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.”

A young Jesuit priest, Dan Schutte, wrote this song for a friend who was being ordained. He had “always loved this passage where God calls Isaiah to be his servant and messenger to the people”, and Isaiah responds with both hesitation and doubt, but also with a humble willingness to surrender to God. If it was going to work, it would have to be God's power and grace making it happen.”

You, the marchers of Journey for Justice, might have heard that voice calling you in the night. And you might also have had some doubt, some hesitation…but you have come this far, and your belief in what is right and just has kept you on the road. “I will go Lord, if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart.”

For sure you are holding your people in your heart, the people of these United States, who see you as voicing the call to protect every American’s right to a “fair criminal justice system, uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box, sustainable jobs with a living wage, and equitable public education”. (

If you read on in the book of Isaiah, you’ll find that “God is asking Isaiah to preach to his own country and that they will not even listen to him”. And some of you may feel that way tonight, that your country is not listening to your call for justice; but let me remind you of two men who answered the call for justice. The first, Rev. James Reeb, was a Unitarian Universalist minister who answered the call from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to come to Selma after the violent march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in the spring of 1965. He had a young family, he had rewarding work in his congregation in Massachusetts, but he heard the voice calling him to go. He died for that call, beaten on the streets of Selma by a group of white men with clubs. 

"Here I am, send me!"

Another man who, every day, answered the call for justice as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate, as a leader of the N.A.A.C.P. and the Southern Poverty Law Center, as a climate-change activist and an advocate for marriage equality, was Julian Bond, who died earlier this month.

In March of 1960, he helped draft an article called “An Appeal for Human Rights,” and it included this phrase: “Today’s youth will not sit by submissively while being denied all the rights and privileges and joys of life.” He was only 20 years old when he wrote that, and that same year he co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coördinating Committee. Five years later in 1965 he was elected to the Ga House of Representatives, but they refused to seat him until 1967 because of his opposition to the Vietnam War. (

So when you are marching in the days to come, and your feet are aching, and it’s hot and humid down here in the South, you might question that call that came to you to commit to this historic march. But turn your thoughts to those three men, the prophet Isaiah, Rev. James Reeb, and Julian Bond, centuries apart, civilizations apart, but each of whom held his people in his heart, each of whom answered the call to work for justice, for equality, each of whom said, “Here I am, send me!”

We pray today for the courage to step up to doing God’s work, in the name of all that is holy, Amen.

Rev. Dr. Gaye W. Ortiz, 8-23-2015

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Creation and the Origins of Life Captured on Celluloid

Creation and the Origins of Life Captured on Celluloid
Gaye Williams Ortiz
Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta
August 9, 2015

Some of you will have learned about the book of Genesis and its stories about the origins of life when you were little kids. I remember having a panic attack in Sunday School when I was in the 3rd grade the day the teacher explained the first 2 verses of Genesis Chapter 1:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.

What was freaking me out during that class and for hours, if not days, afterwards, was trying to imagine the earth without form, darkness on the face of the deep. That, once upon a time, there was nothing before there was something.

Well, Genesis has also provided hours of cinematic entertainment and education for many of us, but actually there are less films about the origins of life than there are about the end of the world; around the time of the millennium, there was a peak in popular film’s speculation on apocalypse and the end times. Filmmakers seem to still be more fascinated with the special effects potential of the end of life on earth and of the universe.

Last year Noah was released. It was the first big-budget (and live-action) Old Testament epic made for popular moviegoers since King David (dir. Bruce Beresford, 1985). It gives us the Great Flood in all its computer-generated glory, but it’s also an important story about starting over, the promise of new beginnings after God’s plan for Adam and Eve to live forever in Paradise was foiled by the serpent, and they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Noah, who survives the Great Flood with his family on the ark, witnesses God’s destructive power, as well as His covenant with humanity that he will never again wreak such vengeance on his creation.

Although a significant number of people today may not be acquainted with the basic biblical narratives, the film Noah still can appeal to those who enjoy films about mythology and ancient history, as well as to Christian audiences, who proved themselves an economic force to be reckoned with due to the unexpected success in 2003 of The Passion of the Christ (dir. Mel Gibson).

In fact, Noah’s director Darren Aronofsky reportedly had to reassure studio executives near to Noah’s release date that it would adhere to the Genesis story, after religious conservatives expressed a worry that the story would not be literal enough. It’s apparent from the portrayal of Noah by Russell Crowe that they had reason to worry. Noah is more like a modern-day superhero than a traditional biblical one, and Aronofsky admitted that he promised Crowe that his character would not be reduced to a stereotype, saying: “We wanted to smash expectations of who Noah is. The first thing I told Russell is, ‘I will never shoot you on a houseboat with two giraffes behind you.’…You’re going to see Russell Crowe as a superhero, a guy who has this incredibly difficult challenge put in front of him and has to overcome it” (Chitwood 2014).

Director Darren Aronofsky and actor Russell Crowe on the set of Noah.

[Adele Reinhartz says that] Biblical texts used in films are, of course, “filtered through the lens of Western culture”. Some scholars ask whether the “audience[‘s] knowledge of the Bible is essential, desirable, or even helpful when viewing these films” (Reinhartz 2003, 186). Just as Middle Earth is a foreign, far-away place for 21st-century moviegoers, audiences may not have much of a contextual framework for understanding the Near Eastern, Hellenistic, and Roman civilizations, which are the settings for biblical texts.

And although audiences might miss biblical allusions that are made in these films, filmmakers themselves, in making biblical epics, may lack grounding in the Bible.
Revisioning Genesis 1-2

Of the films with biblical themes, there are very few that portray a literal biblical description of creation. The 1953 film Sins of Jezebel (dir. Reginald Le Borg, US) is mainly concerned with the life of the prophet Elijah and his conflict with Queen Jezebel, but it begins with a reference to how the world came into being with an illustrated mural of Paradise, the image in Genesis of the Garden of Eden as environmental perfection (Gen 1:31) Then a male voice announces, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed.” (translation unknown) The camera draws back, and a robed narrator steps in front of the mural to intone that this is “the beginning of everything.”
Thirteen years later in 1966, John Huston made The Bible: In the Beginning. It actually only covers a portion of Genesis from creation to the life of Abraham, and it begins with a similar technique to Sins of Jezebel, a narrator (Huston) speaking the words of Genesis 1 over a four-minute creation montage; Huston’s choice of image was film of natural phenomena, accompanied by a modern experimental electronic music soundtrack. He sent photographer Ernst Haas to capture footage of primordial elements such as steaming gases, torrential waters, and molten lava, which was then compiled to convey the gradual emergence of life on earth.

It’s obvious that in adapting stories from the Bible for the screen, filmmakers may feel the need – in the face of possible objections from literalists – to attempt to fill the many gaps they perceive in biblical stories. The editorial and artistic license of these filmmakers prompts us to ask, is it not the case that the writers of Genesis also employed their own personal understandings of their own time and culture when they wrote about creation?
Aronofsky’s script contains Noah’s own retelling of the story of creation to his family, at the point in the film where the flood has begun in earnest. Noah’s explanation of how the world began closely follows the words of Genesis 1, but visuals take over as the story whizzes from the explosive Big Bang to Adam and Eve. The audience is treated to swirling galaxies and meteor showers, cell multiplication and division, and aquatic creatures swimming on ocean beds. Of course in biblical times, Noah would not have been able to experience or even comprehend these things. Clearly this is an imposition by Aronofsky (like that of Huston) of his interpretation of cosmology onto the visual style of the film.[1]

In addition to a familiarity with the original Hebrew scripture of Genesis, audiences watching Noah might benefit from knowing the ancient Hebrew cosmology, which is made up of Heaven, Earth, Sea, and Underworld. This schema will help audiences in understanding why the Flood is caused not just when the rains come, but also when “all the springs of the great deep burst forth ” – portrayed by Aronofsky as geysers shooting out of the ground into the sky.  
Noah watches as the waters rise

Another film with a creation sequence, this time in the opening credits, is Creation (dir. Jon Amiel, 2009, UK), a British film from 2009 about Charles Darwin’s struggle to complete his work On The Origin of Species (1859). It begins with “… a series of coalescent images: particles in space becoming subject to gravity, transitioning to cells colliding under a microscope, becoming fish swimming together in a bait ball” (Compson 2009). Images of the natural world then fade in and out, and we hear a child asking to be told a story “about everything.”
This request contrasts this film with the other creation sequences I’ve mentioned, where the text of Genesis is imposed upon the viewer and there is no need to ask for “the story.” But a bigger contrast to those films is the visual implication that forms of life on earth did not follow a heavenly command to appear day by day but, rather, they slogged their way through an epic experience of survival and adaptation.
Indeed, later in the film Creation, Darwin’s scientist friend Thomas Huxley makes clear the astonishing accomplishment of Darwin’s work when he tells him, “Clearly the Almighty can no longer claim to have authored every species in under a week; you’ve killed God, sir!”2 The negative reaction to Creation in this country – including the long time it took to find an American distributor – was said by some to be because it was too controversial for American audiences. A Gallup poll, carried out during the month Creation was released, found that only 39% of Americans believe in the theory of evolution (Singh 2009).

Origins of Life in Science Fiction

There are many science fiction films that explore the beginnings of life, going beyond a literal reading of Genesis. Science fiction is a genre uniquely suited  f  for dealing with questions of faith, such as “ the shape of ultimate reality, the meaning of life, and the place of human beings in the cosmos” (Stone 1998). Maybe that’s because writers and filmmakers of this genre find that it’s a safe space to ask “What if?” and to explore wildly utopian or dystopian scenarios.

2001: A Space Odyssey (  dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1968, US/UK) has been described as “an example of futuristic pessimism” (Hurley 1970, 162); maybe not surprising since it was made during the Cold War waged between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was released just the year before the successful landing of American astronauts on the moon, so there was interest in space travel and the popularity of the science fiction genre in general.

The emphasis on space is obvious, from the opening scene’s alignment of the Earth, Jupiter and the Sun, complete with Richard Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. In a segment about the “Dawn of Man” the film shows the problematic relationship that humanity has with technology. Nomadic apes in competing communal groups forage for vegetation, until something happens to change their lives and the future of life on the planet. They are visited unexpectedly by a black monolith, which comes to rest in their midst; curious, they begin to touch and explore it. It somehow imparts knowledge to them, and one ape grasps an animal bone from the ground and uses it as a tool to kill a boar for food, but then, to threaten the ape encroaching on his territory. The power of this violent act is shown in one of the film’s famous images of the bone being thrown up into the sky in slow motion and becoming, through the power of Kubrick’s edited cut, a spaceship where murder will take place. Just as Cain killing Abel in the Bible signifies the first act of murder among humans, so this image in Kubrick’s film captures the innate capacity of humans to destroy.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Cinematic questions about the origins of life also incorporate non-biblical creation myths, such as Prometheus, set in the late 21st century (dir. Ridley Scott, 2012, US/UK). Its title refers to the mythological Titan, who, in the ancient poem Theogony by Hesiod, created humanity out of clay and stole fire from the gods for the benefit of humankind. Like Genesis, this myth provides an explanation for how humanity gained divine knowledge. The deep space research spaceship bears the name Prometheus, and carries scientists on a quest to find ancient cultures that once visited Earth and left the DNA building blocks of human life. The questions that drive the human astronauts are: “Why are we here? Why were we created? And why did our creators leave us all alone?” (Roberts 2012). [Vaughn Roberts s uggests that] These may have been the exact questions that drove the author(s) of Genesis to attempt to provide a theological meaning to creation.  

Western culture has always had a fascination with these supernatural questions; Prometheus, with its archaeologists who discover ancient art and interpret it as evidence that creator gods visited the Earth, reminds me of speculation from Erich Von Däniken about alien visitors who left clues in Peru.

The end of Prometheus promises a direct link to the alien fossil found by the astronauts in the 1979 film Alien, so if there is another film following it, we may see whether the power wielded by this race of creator gods will end up being used to create or destroy human life. The film, like the book of Genesis, examines humanity’s own reckless power and its power to self-destruct.

Eden and the Loss of Innocence

Some mainstream films reflect a loss of innocence like that which happens in the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick, 2011, US) is a film that offers an extended meditation on this theme. This film also has a creation sequence – twenty elaborate minutes comprising the birth of stars, a meteor hitting the Earth, and other apocalyptic images; the Hubble telescope was the source for some of the shots in the sequence. The intent was to show the way in which the cycle of life and death is present from large-scale events of creation to our own lives. The Tree of Life (or Tree of the World, axis mundi) is a mythological image in cultures worldwide. In the Genesis account, the power of the Tree of Knowledge, from which the fruit is picked and eaten, is such that mortality results for all humanity.

What about “Genesis imagery in The Truman Show [dir. Peter Weir, 1998]?  The director of the show, Christof, ‘cues the sun,’ just like God, (Reinhartz 1999) in this comedy-drama with an elaborate artificial world and resulting levels of reality. It “not only draws upon Christian ideas pertaining to the Creation and Fall of the Book of Genesis but subverts them. The message of the film is that it’s theologically beneficial to accept change and disorder, rather than live in a sterile, Edenic paradise, in order for human beings to realize their potential and growth and to exercise their free will” (Deacy 2008, 13). Truman Burbank grows up and lives in a giant set filled with actors, oblivious to the fact that he is starring in the ultimate reality show and that millions of television viewers watch every moment of his life. The town of Seahaven in which he lives is built inside a giant dome, a safe, secure and controlled Garden of Eden. The producer/director makes sure that no flaws exist for Truman and nothing makes him suspect his life is anything but ordinary, until the day that one of the set lights falls from the sky and nearly hits him, followed by Truman hearing on his car radio the conversation of crew members who routinely follow him. What he does then is to weigh up the secure existence he has known against the desire to live in “true” freedom; as he steps through the “Exit” door, “Paradise Lost” becomes “Paradise Gained.”

The Truman Show

Pleasantville [dir. Gary Ross, 1998], likewise, features a wholesome town, in which two teenagers become trapped in a situation comedy show from the 1950s. They take on the roles of teenagers in the fictional family, but as they interact with other characters, the back-and-white Pleasantville begins to experience bursts of color and is changed. This film equates the Garden of Eden with the stereotypical 1950s American town[. Reinharz says that “[…]] and the 1950s represent perfection: family values, safe sex, everything pleasant, and everyone happy. All human needs are taken care of, as in the first creation story in which God gives everything to the first human beings” (Reinhartz 2003, 150). The knowledge that the teens possess of another world and another way of being and behaving is analogous to the knowledge Adam and Eve gain when they eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. They precipitate the “Fall” of Pleasantville, which is introduced through the changes to the townsfolk’s lifestyle from the 1950s to the 1990s, bringing, in Reinhartz’s words, “complexity, eventfulness, and, above all, color” (Reinhartz 2003, 158).

In the 1986 film The Mission (dir. Roland Joffé, 1986, UK) an innocent indigenous tribe living above the falls in the South American wilderness has its world changed by a Roman Catholic mission that brings “civilizing” religious and cultural practices. Once the mission is established the tribe members become political pawns and fodder for the slave trade. They are caught between the Church’s attempts to convert them and the slave trader’s attempts to capture them, and are subjected to a massacre, which only a few children survive. At the end of the film we see the young Guarani leaving the mission, taking with them what is arguably the only positive aspect of civilization introduced to them – musical instruments. Their Garden of Eden has been destroyed, not by their own disobedience to God, but by the conflict between individuals and institutions.

Stewardship and Care for the Planet

While there are films that take metaphorical approaches to the biblical theme of innocence lost, other films call for spiritual reconnection to creation through good stewardship of the environment. One of the earliest, in the experimental genre, is Koyaanisqatsi (dir. Geoffrey Reggio, 1982, US), which is a Hopi Indian term meaning "life out of balance." This film is part of a trilogy that immerses audiences in images of the destructive impact of technology upon the earth and its ancient cultures.

Science fiction films have been warning since the 1950s about the potential consequences should humans abdicate their responsibility as stewards. Soylent Green (dir. Richard Fleischer, 1973), The China Syndrome (dir. James Bridges, 1979), and The Day After Tomorrow (dir. Roland Emmerich, 2004) are American films that explore the consequences of human neglect and exploitation of the environment. Silent Running (dir. Douglas Trumbull, 1972, US) envisions a future where the earth’s forests are put into huge domes floating in outer space, tended by a renegade astronaut who is depicted as a St. Francis-like figure.

Bruce Dern in Silent Running

Coming back to Noah, its storyline provides the basis for the responsibility of humanity for stewardship of the earth. Given the recent popularity of Noah among evangelical Christians whose leaders deny ‘global warming’ and evolution, there is an irony coming from the preponderance of American-made films about the dangers of ignoring the covenant God made with humankind to take care of the created order.


It’s a hopeful sign that the glory of creation and dire warnings about our failure to protect it still play well in Hollywood. In addition, the eternal questions about where we came from, and our purpose for existing, seem likely to find a place in future film scripts for some time. 

This week President Obama and the EPA announced the Clean Power Plan, which may prove to be a historic and important step of real action on climate change in reducing carbon pollution from power plants. We can not only hope and pray that initiatives like this will slow down the destruction of our planet, but we must play our part in reducing our environmental footprint. Our congregation’s Green Sanctuary effort needs your support and involvement. 

We hope you’ll enjoy this afternoon’s film but we also hope that it will give you some cause for reflection. Godzilla and Noah are only film characters, and try as they might, they can’t save the planet for generations to come – only we can do that, in real life, at this time.

May we be the ones who make it so, Blessed be, Amen.


Alter, Robert. The World of Biblical Literature. London: HarperCollins, 1992.
Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation. W.W. Norton and Company, 2008.
Brooke, John Headley, “Wilberforce, Huxley, and Genesis.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible, edited by Michael Lieb, Emma Mason, Jonathan Roberts, 397-412. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Chattaway, Peter T. Ancient and modern cosmologies in Aronofsky’s Noah.” (December 13, 2013) Http://
Chitwood, Adam. “Paramount Relents to Darren Aronofsky’s Cut of Noah; Director Talks Bridging the Gap Between Religious and Non-Religious Audiences” (February 12, 2014) Http://
Deacy, Christopher and Gaye Williams Ortiz. Theology and Film. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.
Donaldson, Mara E. “Teaching Field of Dreams as Cosmogonic Myth,” in Journal of Religion and Film 2, no. 3 (December 1998),
Havrelock, Rachel. “Genesis.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Reception History of the Bible, edited by Michael Lieb, Emma Mason, Jonathan Roberts, 11-24. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Hurley, Neil P.  Toward a Film Humanism. New York: Delta, 1970.
Izod, John. Myth, Mind and the Screen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Pilch, John J.  A Cultural Handbook to the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012, Kindle edition.
Plate, S. Brent. Religion and Film. London: Wallflower Press, 2008.
Reinhartz, Adele. Scripture on the Silver Screen. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.
Reinhartz, Adele.  “Scripture on the Silver Screen.” Journal of Religion and Film 3, no. 1 (April 1999),
Roberts, Vaughn, “Between Eden and Armageddon: Institutions, Individuals, and Identification in The Mission, The Name of the Rose, and Priest.” In Explorations in Theology and Film, edited by Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz, 181-192. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.
Stone, Bryan P.  “Religious Faith and Science in Contact.” Journal of Religion and Film, 2, no. 2 (October 1998). Http://
Wall, James M.  “2001: A Space Odyssey and the Search for a Center.” In Image and Likeness, edited by John R. May, 39-46. New York: Paulist Press, 1992.


Alien series (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979, 1986, 1992,1997)
An Inconvenient Truth (dir. Davis Guggenheim, 2006)
Avatar (dir. James Cameron, 2009)
The Bible: In the Beginning (dir. John Huston, 1966)
Chasing Ice (dir. Jeff Orlowski, 2012)
The China Syndrome (dir. James Bridges, 1979)
Creation (dir. Jon Amiel, 2009)
The Day After Tomorrow (dir. Roland Emmerich, 2004)
The 11th Hour (dir. Leila Conners and Nadia Conners, 2007)
Field of Dreams (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1989)
The Great Gatsby (dir. Baz Luhrmann, 2013)
Koyaanisqatsi (dir. Geoffrey Reggio, 1982)
Man of Steel (dir. Zack Snyder, 2012)
The Mission (dir. Roland Joffé, 1986)
Noah (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2014)
Prometheus (dir. Ridley Scott, 2012)
Revenge of the Electric Car,(dir. Chris Paine, 2009)
Rivers and Tides (dir. Thomas Reidelsheimer, 2001)
Silent Running (dir. Douglas Trumbull, 1972)
Sins of Jezebel (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1953)
Soylent Green (dir. Richard Fleischer, 1973)
Them! (dir. Gordon M. Douglas, 1954)
The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick, 2011)
2001: A Space Odyssey (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
Who Killed The Electric Car (dir. Chris Paine, 2006)
Winged Migration (dir. Jacques Perrin, 2001)

[1] Aronofksy also draws upon the Book of Enoch, a non-canonical Jewish writing that begins with the fall of the Watchers, the angels who fathered giants known as the Nephilim.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Green Sanctuary and the Seventh Principle

Green Sanctuary and the Seventh Principle
Rev. Dr. Gaye Williams Ortiz
Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta
August 2, 2015

“We are the generation fated to live in the most interesting of times, for we are now the weather makers, and the future of biodiversity and civilization hangs on our actions.” (P306) That’s what the author of The Weather Makers, Tim Flannery, says. (New York: Grove Press, 2005) And what a heavy responsibility it is to live in these “interesting” times!
Sometimes when I’m asked to explain what Unitarian Universalism is, I only half-jokingly say, “We believe in life before death.” But I would venture to label Unitarian Universalists as people who care about the here and now, but also care about the future.

Take, as evidence, the time described by the Rev. Scott Alexander in his sermon for Earth Day in 2004 at River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda, Maryland: 
Back … when the Unitarian Universalist Association labored for several years to revise our statement of religious principles that would take us into this next century, we added A NEW SEVENTH PRINCIPLE. In addition to all our long standing HUMANITY CENTERED PRINCIPLES (about justice and equality, respect and compassion)” ...this 7th principle “promises the world and one another that we will  "Respect...the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."
The Rev James Ford writes about this occasion on June 25th, 1984, when Unitarian Universalists from across the United States and Canada gathered at the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, for the eleventh General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

If any of you have been to General Assembly you’ll know that we meet in a massive convention center hall where thousands of us do the business of the Association in long sessions of discussion and debate.

On this instance, Ford reports, “the Reverend Paul L’Herrou made his way to the microphones… he was lanky and bearded, and stood at the microphone with the ease of an experienced pulpit minister. He looked around, briefly stroked his beard and then addressed the proposed seventh principle, which was a call to “respect for the Earth and the interdependence of its living systems.” Ford writes, “In my mind’s eye, as Paul stood there, the hall fell to a hushed silence. I think, I’m pretty sure the world outside grew quiet, as well. Perhaps one or two stars broke through the Ohio daylight, shooting beams in the general direction of Columbus.

Out of that silence Paul pointed out how that wording fell far short of what it could be, and he proposed new wording for the seventh principle: a call to respect “the interdependent web of existence, of which we are all a part.”

Ford writes, “I’m pretty sure, although I have to admit there’s no hard record of it, that with those words the ceiling blew off the convention center and a host of angels and many other celestial beings from all the world’s religions, past, present and future, descended from the heavens, some playing instruments of astonishing beauty, while others sang a Gloria that reached out to the farthest corners of the universe. Even the stars danced in joy at the revelation of this great secret of the universe within a gathering of Unitarian Universalists in Columbus, Ohio, in the United States, on the North American continent of a tiny planet circling a middling star at the edge of one of a hundred thousand million galaxies. The call: to know that interdependent web of existence, of which we are all a part.”

“And then,” Ford goes on, “it was over. The ceiling resealed, the beings were gone, only a hint of their song remaining in the hearts of the assembled, who then voted. They accepted that proposed change, and with that our little band found itself marked with an astonishing charism, a particular channel of divine blessing aimed at healing this poor, broken world. I suggest in that hour our future was articulated with as much authority as if it were from the tongue of an ancient prophet.”

Rev. Scott Alexander explained the 7th Principle to his congregation in similar praiseworthy terms, that “in part, this new affirmation arose out of our RATIONAL SCIENTIFIC AWARENESS of how endangered our planet's ecology truly is. But our 7th UU principle also arose out of a growing SPIRITUAL AWARENESS in our religious movement (and, mercifully many other faith traditions as well) of THE SACRED AND HOLY INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF ALL LIFE FORMS ON THIS PLANET.
By promising to respect the interdependent web of which we are a part, we are saying that humanity must cultivate and deepen OUR SENSE OF KINSHIP...WISE AND COMPASSIONATE AND CARING KINSHIP with this incredibly holy web of life into which we were so miraculously born. We must learn that we are… bound up in a FAMILY OF LIFE AND LIVING THINGS that demands and deserves our CARE, our RESPECT, our LOVE and steady, trustworthy PROTECTION. “
Rev. Alexander declared that as a Unitarian Universalist, he is “passionately convinced that if he spiritually opens himself to the mystery, beauty and glory that is this LIVING SYSTEM THAT SINGS WITHIN AND AROUND him, then he will find the wisdom, along with others of wisdom and good will, to preserve and protect our living planet earth.”
He stated that “we all owe it to ourselves (and to future human generations) to read (and respond appropriately to) what the ecologists and earth scientists are straightforwardly telling us about the environmental dangers our planet is facing. There is so much we can do to ensure the future of our planet just by heeding the facts of our world and doing what we can.”
And many of us do try, some by “driving earth-friendly hybrid cars, by recycling or living with voluntary simplicity. Some of us work to persuade neighbors that they can make a difference in local environments, and some of us try to make sure that our governmental leaders adopt the right environmental policies and programs.”
But Alexander says, “we must also truly open our hearts to the wondrous, living world around us. If we are to truly develop an EMPOWERING KINSHIP with natural life around us, we must TAKE THE TIME TO GET OUTDOORS in this stunningly beautiful world of ours and QUIET ourselves...and OPEN ourselves...and LISTEN to the RHYTHMS [of life] that sing out from every rock, river and tree...from every bird, bug and branch.
We hope there is still time for us human beings to collectively change our relationship with our Mother Earth to ensure Her health and survival, and our salvation as a species will depend both on: 1) GOOD SCIENCE and 2) DEEP SPIRITUALITY. Both HEAD and HEART will be required of us in the days ahead.”
For Unitarian Universalists, climate change is not only something that we are concerned about because of our seventh principle, but because it is a social justice issue.  Our Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations recognized this in a statement in 2012 on Climate Change:

“Environmental justice is the recognition that environmental degradation disproportionately harms those who are poor and marginalized, even while they derive less benefit and have less control over how our resources are used. These concerns are especially true with climate change. As weather patterns change, causing drought in some areas and flooding in others, poorer peoples lack the resources to respond to these disasters and bear the brunt of suffering when they happen.

Our Unitarian Universalist (UU) spiritual values call us to act on the personal, local, and national levels to adopt practices that will reverse climate change, and to do so in ways that are just and equitable.” (UU Guide to 2012 Preach-In)

            This statement draws attention to the levels of connection to one another in this society and this world, as well as our common life together. Valerie Freseman writes that this weekend we can see the ancient holiday of Lugnasadh as symbolizing “many connections to harvest and so many opportunities, both expected and unexpected, to draw strength from community. Every time the wheel turns we have more than just the customs of the seasons to get excited about, we have their intrinsic lessons and values to think of as well.”

Let us continue to value good science, deep spirituality, and THE INTERDEPENDENT WEB OF ALL EXISTENCE OF WHICH WE ARE A PART.

Blessed be, Amen.

"RESPECT FOR THE INTERDEPENDENT WEB OF ALL EXISTENCE OF WHICH WE ARE A PART", Rev. Scott W. Alexander, River Road Unitarian Church, Sunday, April 25, 2004
A sermon in an occasional series: The Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism.
For Earth Day, 2004

“TRYING RELIGION: EMBRACING THE NEW UNIVERSALISM” (A Meditation on the First & Seventh Principles of Unitarian Universalism as a Saving Message, Together With a Buddhist Midrash), James Ford June 28, 2014