Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I Speak for the Trees - Earth Day Sermon

Several people asked me if I would post my sermon from this past Sunday online.  I post it with some reluctance, because I think it won't hold up on paper as well.  It's a performance piece -- part of what made it so well received, I believe, came from the surprise of it, and the novelty of having the entire sermon in verse.  Once you have a chance to think about the fact that rhymed "lightbulbs" with "entitled" -- a rhyme so slanted it falls over -- you might think twice about my poetic ability.  And the meter is certainly a bit forced in multiple locations.  Actually, it's just completely uneven throughout.  But it was great fun to do, and something I've been wanting to try for a long time.  It's hard work to write an entire sermon in verse, because it is such a long piece when written that way.  I found that I had to write much more than I usually write in prose, because the rhyme and meter keep me reading it at a pretty good clip.  What I'm pleased with, in the end, is that I managed to keep the structure of sermon clear in this poem.  It has a very clear structure if you look at it -- opening, thesis, supporting facts about climate change, bringing in the Lorax theme, personal actions people can take, societal actions, bringing it back to Unitarian Universalism, and conclusion.  I might have written something very similar on the subject in prose. 

“I Speak for the Trees” ~ Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Landrum

If you ask me what I’m passionate about
There’s a lot of topics, of that there’s no doubt.
There’s immigration, feminism, and gay rights
Dozens of issues on which I’ve fought fights
And while you’re thinking, you might say, "English grammar,"
And all the other topics on which I have hammered.
You could list science fiction and evolution
Each of you could make a contribution
This list of worthwhile subjects might go on forever:
Who knows what I’ll preach on?  It could be whatever!
Some critics might say, "Well, she once preached on the Force
From Star Wars, Monty Python, and Facebook.  Of course,
Who could forget zombies? I’m sure that sometime soon
It’ll be Hunger Games, or the video game Doom."

"But Earth Day," they say, "we don’t get every year,
Despite the fact our planet is decidedly dear.
Hey, for some UUs it’s a high Holy Day
And for some of us, if we got our way,
It’d be the topic for each season, each week!
More talk of environment, that’s what we seek.
Our planet is dying, while we guzzle up oil
For big SUVs, while the earth’s loamy soil
Is poisoned with lead, and the state of our seas
Is no home for the fish, and, if you please,
Consider the cutting down of our trees!
Deforestation to make palm oil for our food
Is no treat for the wildlife, beyond being rude.
Their habitats are dwindling, our list could go on
Of everything we’re doing to the earth that is wrong."

We’ll you’re right, gentle people, it’s quite sensible
That I speak more on our seventh principle.
The interdependent web of life needs attention.
And it’s very important, too, that I mention
This issue right now, for Earth Day,
And our forum raised issues that won’t go away
About recycling in Jackson, and about why
We still don’t have curbside (I say with a sigh).
And meanwhile the incinerator keeps on burning--
Burning our trash--and it keeps on churning
carcinogens, I’m sure, in our atmosphere
Affecting our health, possibly, we fear.

I know in the past that I’ve said nature I hate.
I know I’ve said that, but listen now--wait!
It’s allergies and asthma that are really the problem,
The springtime with pollen that drips from the blossom.
And unfortunately mosquitoes in summer quite love me,
And for that I still give no apology.
But I’ve nothing against winter; in fact I quite love it!
So I hope you won’t see this me as a hypocrite
When I speak for the trees, for the trees are important
And you think so to, or so I would warrant.
Our lack of green energy is warming our climate,
And for those who are not very short-sighted,
We can see that our winters will only get warmer.
Hey, I moved to the north, so I’m in this corner
Of wanting to halt global warming today,
So our wintery wonderland will continue to stay.

Do you want more details?  Well, here’s a go:
They say that on Mt. Kilimanjaro the snow
(That's Hemingway’s famous white peak)
Will soon be green.  Yes, I know it’s bleak.
The glaciers are thinning, the researchers have found.
There’s not much longer that they’ll be around.

More data?  More facts?  Is it still not clear?
I’m not saying the end of the world is near.
But I am saying there are some facts we need know.
Have you noticed that we don’t get as much snow?

Well, here’s just one more sign
That could be the canary in the coal mine
And when sea ice melts, the poor polar bears
Well, they are all caught unawares.
Because moms and their cubs swim out to hunt.
And let me now be perfectly blunt:
They now swim eight or nine miles to the ice.
Their future is grim; it’s really not nice.
The retreating ice and rougher seas
Are the warnings that science now foresees,
And believe me, they have the expertise
To know just how much ice will freeze
As our planet gets warmer.  So for poor polar bears,
Right now, let’s hold them in our prayers.

And so the message of a children’s book
Deserves us taking another look.
The Lorax was written in 1971.
To some it seemed like childish fun.
But Dr. Seuss, it was clear, had other another reason
(Though to many industries it seemed like treason).
His children’s books often had meanings--
War, political issues, and more gleanings.
The Sneetches tells of discrimination and race.
But the Cat and the Hat?  Well, on the face
Of that work there’s nothing deep to be found.
But then the Lorax, it came ‘round,
And this one really was quite new
More overt, more direct, for children who
Loved the truffula trees, and the little bears
And could easily see the that, really, who cares
About thneeds, and the smog was so clearly wrong
When it drowned out the beautiful bird’s sweet song.

Can you believe it’s been 41 years since first told?
The children who first heard it now have grown old.
I’m telling it now to my own little tot,
But yet the situation it's not gotten better--it’s not!

So we have to take action, it’s become very clear.
And it needs to be soon, because we do fear
That the time is coming when it will be too late
To turn back climate change, and then our fate
Will be a world that has become so warm
That ice caps will melt.  And then the swarm
of the Biblical plagues will seem like a treat,
When we live in a world with nothing to eat.

One concrete thing I can propose,
If I can be so bold, I suppose,
Is that we look into green sanctuary
(A UU program – no need to be wary)
Or a local effort to make ourselves green
Called Waste Watchers, which is more that it seems.
We can work on our own certification.
And hope that we see multiplication
On the local scene as our efforts grow,
And then we’ll really have something to show,
Some ground to stand on when we lobby
Our politicians to make this their hobby.

Personal actions are really quite helpful. 
And most of the things are really not dreadful
To do in your home, like change all your lightbulbs
Or just change your notion of what you’re entitled.
Compost your waste, and find ways to recycle.
Most of the actions are only a trifle,
And most won’t take you out of your way.
Once you have started you really can say
That you feel better about your consumption.
So start right away, if you have the gumption.

The problem here, though, is that we need a combination
Of personal action, and laws in our nation
Which prohibit industries from those greenhouse gasses.
But to make this take place, we must remove rosy glasses
From politicians who believe that the world is a garden
Given by God, and so their thoughts harden
Against science and facts that combat this worldview.
And also we need to convince persons who,
For reasons I cannot personally understand,
Believe pseudo-science which ought to be banned
For the falsehoods it tells which deny the real truth
Meanwhile people are saying, “I need more proof,”
When proofs have been given; scientists all agree
(Except perhaps one, or at most maybe three.
And they have motivation I question.
If you don’t mind me making that suggestion).

The other thing, it has to be said,
Which really does make me see red
Is the way we embrace the capitalist doctrine.
It really is quite a severe problem.
Corporations are not people, my friends,
And treating them so has brought us bad ends.
When we care more about their ability to make money
Than our health or our planet, it’s really not funny.
We need to be able to hold them accountable,
And I really don’t know if this problem’s surmountable,
Unless we really face the harsh reality
That our politicians are less concerned with morality
Than they are with their own financial status--
Something I tell you with great sadness.

Do you know which candidate believes in climate change?
Once you find out, you might want to arrange
To vote for that man, or even to campaign,
And if he wins, then toast with champagne!
Recent works have told us that the conservative brain,
Is not changed with facts, and I know that’s a strain,
To believe when the facts are really so clear.
But it’s the truth, and so as the time’s drawing near.
It’s important to know who stands there and who here--
Who’s grounded in science, and who’s grounded in fear.
(And not fear for our planet, but fearful of change.
"When it’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange."
To quote the Brady Bunch, though you might wish I wouldn’t.
There are better quotes, but rhyme them I couldn’t.)

Anyway, my point is that the lines have been drawn.
And, to some politicians, we are nothing but pawns.
They don’t care how many are dying of cancer.
They don’t care if they have the wrong answer.
They don’t care if islands are going underwater,
As long as they have money for their daughter
And son to live on high ground, though it’s silly.
This is their planet too.  Yes it is, really.

At the end of this sermon, I hope something’s clear:
A poet I’m not, but the meaning is here:
That in Unitarian Universalism, we believe
The web of life is the gift we receive.
We are one strand, and it’s our responsibility
To do whatever we can, to our ability,
To preserve this earth for future generations,
Through our own actions, and lobbying our nation.

Dr. Seuss told us that the trees have no voice,
And so please raise yours –there’s really no choice.
We have only one earth, and it is all of our home,
And so raise your voice, whatever the tone,
And call for some changes nationally to be made.
This is more important than even Medicaid.
(Or how much you or I are underpaid.)
Before it’s too late we must stop this charade.

If you think my poetry is painful,
I invite you not to be disdainful,
But take that pain and create action!
If we can change our course just a fraction,
And provide over the earth’s wounds a suture,
Then there’s hope for the children’s future.

And so I end these words from me,
As I often do: So may it be.