From Your Minister
by Meg Riley, Senior Minister, Church Of The Larger Fellowship
Recently I ran into someone who said, “You changed my life! After you told me that you liked pedicures, I had one myself, and I liked it so much I began having them weekly. They’re now my favorite luxurious treat for myself. But if you hadn’t said you liked them, I never would have started.”
I gaped at her in astonishment. I have had one pedicure in my life, because a friend dragged me there twelve or fifteen years ago. I must have run into this woman right afterwards and said it was more fun than I expected. I never even considered having another one.
I think we change each other all the time, in ways just this unpredictable and surprising.
As a minister I have been told that something I said or did changed someone’s life. Of course I live for this! However, what people say in this context is often as mysterious and surprising as the pedicures. People quote lines to me that I don’t remember speaking, and then share what they have gone on to make or do because of my words.
I have certainly made some pretty major decisions of my own inspired by a scrap of poetry or the random words of a hitch-hiker. I am a highly intuitive person and, for better or worse, navigate my life in ways that completely baffle more rational souls. But, as mysterious as the ways our lives touch and affect each other might be, I want to use my precious days consciously creating more life and being in contact with others who are doing the same. I want more love, more vitality, more health for me and for the world—those I affect directly through the ripples I send out, and those inhabiting some section of the interdependent web that I’ll never even know about.
Last summer I was in Ely, Minnesota, a small town at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, millions of acres of wild land. I was in the combination sporting goods/book store. Standing in line, I could see a sign that said something like, “We think this book is so important that we are selling it at our cost. We won’t make a cent on it. But we think you need to read it.” Blocked by the other shoppers, I couldn’t see the book that went with those words. I wondered, would it be a safety book for canoeists? A primer on Scientology? A book of poetry by the shop owner’s spouse? I decided I would buy it and read it no matter what, if someone cared that much about it.
The book is Eaarth, by Bill McKibben. At first I felt relieved. I already knew and respected McKibben’s work as an environmentalist and as a writer. But the concepts in Eaarth are so big, so revolutionary, that almost anything else would have been less difficult to read. McKibben’s premise, convincingly documented in chapter after chapter, is, that, “global warming is no longer a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It’s our reality…. We need now to understand the world we’ve created and consider—urgently—how we want to live on it.” He says that the planet is so changed it needs a new name: hence the title, Eaarth.
Reading the book is terrifying. I have been reading it slowly. Over and over I have longed to put it down, so I don’t have to know what he is telling me. But when I put it down, I see reflected back to me everything he is saying. I see it in the weather I experience locally, and in media about the extreme weather around the globe.
As McKibben puts it , “We’re on an uphill planet. We need to change.”
I am sitting with exactly how much change I want to make now, voluntarily. I spent a great deal of time in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. I know what involuntary change looks like. At the time of Katrina, lots of voices said, “Those people should have known this was coming and have left before it did!” Now, as I sit with McKibben’s information about politics, economics, and global ecology, I think that we’re all “those people.” Where are we supposed to go?
Our only real hope is to create new ways of being wherever we are. Not just to use less and consume less, but to think about food, housing, heat, transportation, and community in new ways as a culture, to shape new ways of being. McKibben’s last chapters, which I’m still exploring, are dedicated to people who are doing exactly that. What they are doing feels small and insignificant next to the magnitude of the problem he has laid out. But there is also hope, and beauty. As McKibbon says, “Reality always comes with beauty. But hope has to be real.”
How does this information transform how we are with each other as spiritual people? What does Eaarth-centered religion look like? How do we stay centered in love for our planet and each other, rather than running around like Chicken Little spreading terror about death and suffering?
These are the questions I’ll be living into as I continue to explore my identity as an Eaarthling. I am glad to be doing this in community with you. I believe that we are the people who can, literally, save the planet. No superheroes, no magic solutions, no miracle chants. Just us, all of us, touching each others’ lives in ways mysterious and organized,
Each month we dive deeply into a spiritual theme.