Reflection: The Great Turning

Florence Haas
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Palo Alto, CA

I have been keenly aware of climate issues for over 10 years, reading with deep concern the scientific reports of climate changes, and observing in private horror and anguish the public disclaiming of this huge problem. Like Y2K — the programmers knew in the 1960s that the year 2000 was coming, and there would be a problem, but they were not allowed to voice their concerns — then “all of a sudden” [as it were] we had a Y2K crisis, and it was OK to throw money at the problem and fix it. Well, Y2K came and went; the problem was solved. Computers are now ready for Y3K, but will humans be there to see it? In “World Prehistory: Two million years of Human life,” Peter Peregrine writes about our very long time on Earth. I often worry about the future of humanity. Our ecology problem is nowhere so easy or quick to fix as Y2K; some problems might take centuries to fix, if they can be fixed at all.

Today Rev. Kurt will discuss the stories we have lived by for several millennia — the ideas of “Empire” along with the concept of an almighty God, and rulers creating a power-over rather than co-operative society — people in community are more difficult to exploit so divisiveness has been encouraged. And these old stories, many scriptural, were formulated during the times when knowledge of science was very limited.

Many people, possibly including Jesus, considered “Dark Forces” to be the cause of evil, pain, sickness, and other troubles; and then “someday” the forces of “The Light” would rescue us, and peace and freedom will reign. A benevolent God wouldn’t do nasty things to people, so it must be Satan or Beelzebub or Darth Vader — and then “The Good God” or “The Force” will eventually overthrow them, and all will be well.

Personally, I do not believe in this idea. Every day babies are born and some grow up to be bullies. I think we will always have bullies — the “bully-gene” is in our gene pool; it also exists in Nature. There are harmful, invasive plants and animals, like the current Light Brown Apple Moth, which we must control. When one group of plants or animals goes unchecked, the ecological system suffers — we have recognized this problem and have worked with many groups devoted to saving the Bay, whales, redwoods, and other causes. So too we must rely on ourselves for checks and balances for human systems.

Along with nature and music, I love antiquities, so in April I visited Italy and Greece to see the ancient sites. The tour guides in the Aegean area told us there had been little rain and they were worried about the water supply for summer, especially with the large number of tourists they were expecting.

Then in August, severe fires burned in the Peloponnese Region in Southern Greece, probably made worse by the very dry weather conditions; also arson was suspected. The news said that ashes were falling on the Acropolis in Athens, and on Olympia, the home of the first Olympic Games. The photos on TV showed places I had visited. I had stood where the fire was approaching — this was personal now. Those sites were so beautiful in April, and now ashes rained on them. Ashes were falling on the birthplace of democracy. Considering current conditions, the symbolism was so powerful to me that my midnight muse created this poem:

Ashes on the Acropolis, ashes on Olympia
Ashes on Athens in lovely Southern Greece
Ashes on America, ashes on Iraq
Ashes on the empires built from our beliefs

What about our own story as Unitarian-Universalistists — has it changed? How many of us believe in One God? And how many of us believe we will be saved and go to heaven? The “Universalist” part of our name feels better to me because we’re all children of the Universe, and we’re all in this together. Now I’m not suggesting we change our name, because of the negative effect that would have on Garrison Keillor’s stories, giving Unitarians honorable mention. And on that theme — the Friday evening news carried a piece about the low water level and evaporation of Lake Superior in Minnesota, and captioned it “Lake Will-Be-Gone.”

So — [as they say in Minnesota] regarding our ecological quagmire, we won’t have messiahs, saviors, the current administration, or wizards from Hogwarts, to finish off the demons, dragons, and bullies. As in Hymn 121, “We’ll Build a Land” working together, making the world a better home for ourselves and our descendants. And like the dishes, this work will never be done. For new stories, or understanding of life, or operating philosophy for this “Eco-Zoic” Age, modern science is providing us with new concepts about life, ecology, and evolution.

We look forward to hearing from Rev. Kurt about the community-building ideas of Joanna Macy and David Korten. The upside here is that there will always be a need for UU Committees, and our activism!


Coming Back To Life, by Joanna Macy. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada, New Society Publishers, c1998.
The Great Turning: From Empire To Earth Community, by David Korten. San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, c2006.


Sermon: The Great Turning by Rev. Kurt Kuhwald



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