Dr. Arvind Vasavada, my guru and friend, my gentle, generous mentor from my seminary days, used to advise me and his analysands (counseling clients), “Be…
It seems paradoxical that here on Perihelion Day, when we’re the closest to the sun, we’re so cold. If we’re three million miles closer now than we are on July 4th, Aphelion Day, why aren’t we hotter now and colder then? It depends more on the angle of relationship than the distance. Our northern hemisphere gets a glancing-off short day of sunlight that also has to penetrate more atmosphere at that shallow angle. So, while we’re closer than ever, we’re coldest because of our angel of relationship with our sun, the source of all life and energy. Let this serve as a metaphor for this sermon celebrating our place and time in the cosmos, especially as we approach the inauguration of our next U.S. president, Barak Obama.
Most religions are interested in supernatural realities; I’m more interested in super natural realities. Most sermons will elaborate on scriptural passages; I build on scientific principles. Most preachers this day are more likely to talk about angels than angles. Let our angles evoke our angels. Let us make the perihelion paradox into the perihelion promise. This promise applies not just to solar energy and Obama’s presidency, but how we relate to our center, our source, as known in our sky, each other, and in ourselves.
It is because earth is tilted on its axis of rotation as it spins, traveling through the yearly seasons that we’re so cold even when we’re closest. Short days, long nights, thicker atmosphere, a glancing path for rays – all these leave us cold in winter. But sit in a sunny window on a clear day and you’ll be warmed. Merely face the sun with the proper attitude and relation and its gifts flow into our lives. All energies of all forms are originally derived from our current sun or the former one we’re all made of. Our earth, our bodies, the uranium we use in nuclear power plants and bombs – all these came from the re-condensed matter of a former sun collapsed into itself and exploded out into cold space. The oil we suck up and burn in our engines was former plant life powered by our current sun long ago. The food we eat and the way it gets to us is all solar derived. The sunny window that warms our back and room is using the ever-shining source directly. A house with windows and walls designed for space heating, and the rooftop for hot water and electricity production, merely relates to the sun in such a way as to stop warding off this incoming gift and instead welcome it with gratitude, ethics, and ingenuity.
How ethics? Because two houses sitting side by side can have massively different consequences on the larger environment, especially as multiplied by the thousands and millions. This is more than mere economics or style. How we get our energy and what we do with it is an ethical issue. One house wastes off the sun with conventional roofing and un-thoughtful window placement. It wards off the daily sun in order to replace that heat and energy with deplete-able and problematic sources. Coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, even hydro-electric, all exploit, deplete, or injure the single ecosystem we all share. It costs money to injure our planet to get our needs met. This first house is like mine. Let’s call it “Houses as They Used to Be” and let’s call the second house “Houses as They are Becoming.”
Snickering that the second house can’t avail itself of the sunlight at night ignores the value of that incoming daylight on the other side of our world, and it misses the newer issue: how is the first house relating to the sunlight when it is shining? The second house still has back-up heat and electricity supply, but whenever the sun is shining on it, it makes use of it. It uses the right angle or relationship to welcome a clean, free, renewable source for its needs before or instead of calling on the old polluting, wasteful ways. It doesn’t automatically squander the world’s dwindling energy supply or pollute the world’s ground, water, or air. If the blowing wind and the passing waves also contribute to its heat, light, and electronics, fine, for these too are solar energy intelligently welcomed.
Even though we have entered Peak Oil, where less and less oil will come economically from the ground and the profit makers will try to scare us into scarcity and strife, for both ethical and practical reasons, we will gradually improve our angle of relationship with sunlight, wind, waves, and many more arenas of supply from unethical, polluting, depleting, destabilizing sources to ethical, clean, renewing, democratizing ones. If we have the will, there will be the way. In housing, transportation, communication, food, clothing, community – all the things we humans need, – we will find the ethical and abundant way – if we have the will.
Great fright is upon us again, this time in the form of a world-wide depression. This follows a glut-fest of money going out to attack, invade and occupy an innocent country that happens to be in the middle of massive oil and gas areas. Great fright, supposed scarcity, and senseless stress will occupy our media and minds.
Given the wrong leadership, fear and hate could rule our higher nature, causing us to take and waste as if patriotic, excused by “God Bless America” stickers. But what if that cheap, selfish prayer were a sincere, selfless one? What if God were to bless America with a blossoming of ethics and ingenuity in such a way as not only to meet our needs cleanly and well, but help all people everywhere to have their lives simplified and improved? The same sunlight that warms your back in that favorite window is shining on the rest of that south-facing wall as well as the roof, and not just for your one house, but most of them up and down the street, and across the towns, and across the nations and around the world. Could innovation in how houses are conceived and designed lead to an automatic, ongoing reduction in our trade deficit? Could someone in Uzbekistan get some house heat and electricity and maybe even a hot shower straight from sunlight and other clean, decentralized, ever-coming sources? Yes. Heat, light, entertainment, communication, transportation, sustenance, security – all of these are available to the human community by altering the angle of relationship we use to meet our needs.
Our angle of relationship with wealth needs adjusting. Even as we desire money we know how excessive concentrations of it in the hands of the uncaring can be a danger to us all. We know the billionaire is not a thousand times happier and healthier than the mere millionaire. Crafting a society that uses technology and economy to create a few rich by making the many more poor doesn’t create wealth; it creates gluttony amidst scarcity fueled by slavery and usury. “You have been pre-approved!” is not really a gift to you. Wealth is having some time to relax in that sunny window breathing clean air having a cup of tea, knowing your family and loved ones are secure and satisfied. Wealth is knowing that cup of tea came from an agricultural and economic system built on sustainable abundance and economic fairness. We need and can help each other to have this latter form of wealth. We don’t need life-draining jobs making expendable stuff designed more for profitable exploitation than for ethical life-enhancing functions. We have valued the wrong kind of wealth and forsaken the world that could provide the right kind. But this needn’t continue. This economic downturn could provide the impetus to veer our technological, economic, and political habits from house one to house two. We can still have disparities of wealth. Important CEO’s could still make twenty times what the janitor makes, as was the ratio, scaled back from the egregious two hundred times we recently “enjoyed.”
Real wealth is needs met ethically and efficiently for the whole human community, not just the few who benefit from the scarcity and strife of the many. God bless that sort of America. God bless us as we are a blessing.
(And God damn us if we are not. If we continue to inflict our little selfish hells on the world, armies imposing corporate agendas, raining down fire to rack up profits, let God find the ways for revenge and justice to come home to us. Let not just massive bombs, but hideous diseases, wend their way here, indiscriminately injuring those who merely live here, just as we have flippantly excused “collateral damage” in Iraq, Vietnam, and Japan. I know I’m not supposed to say this in a sermon. It seems jarring and unpatriotic. So I won’t preach this part, and I actually don’t want any of this to happen. I just want us to get real about our place in history. Instead of yet another round of doomed empire, we could endeavor to dream and devise those technological, economic, political, social, and religious innovations that seek to let heaven bloom on earth for all. Then and only then is the “God Bless America” sticker suitable.)
In the daytime, when we’re spinning through the sun’s bright light, we tend to forget that our sun is a star and that in the daytime sky the stars are still shining. At night we get a view of our larger local place. All the stars we see on a clear, dark night, about a thousand, are our near neighbors in our own Milky Way Galaxy. We only see a few of the many more that are in our galaxy. If you put a telescope or even just some binoculars on the Milky Way above us, you’ll be looking in towards the center of our galaxy. You’ll see how many more stars there are in our galaxy than we humans ever knew until recently. If you know were to look you can see the faint glow of a nearby galaxy, Andromeda, our neighbor galaxy a mere two million light years away from us. If you took a long piece of string and wrapped it around our earth’s equator seven and half times and then stretched it out in space towards Andromeda, you’d cover one second’s worth of the two million year old light coming towards us. Our galaxy takes a hundred times two million years to turn once in its spin. The dinosaurs came and went and we mammals arose in this one galactic year. The scale of space and time that we have only recently discovered is at once astonishing and reassuring.
“Reassuring” because earth spins reliably. We tend to get so stressed out over quarterly statements and year-end summaries we easily forget and forsake what benefits we inherit and what responsibilities and opportunities we hold. Were we to have the right angle of relationship with not just our sun, but all the forces and wonders of nature and our cosmos, and not just physics, chemistry, botany, and ecology, but each other, and for that matter, our own inner self – what wonders we might yet discover and devise! Our earth will spin reliably not just for this next year or century, but for thousands of centuries to come. We could live rightly and well here.
I just included our inner self in this partial list of the sorts of things we could have a right angle of relationship with to segue into Barak Obama’s inauguration. Somehow, after eight years of a party which came to power on the philosophy that government is bad for us and then proceeded to demonstrate that, somehow, the American people saw through the sins of arrogant stupidity, greed and waste to elect an intelligent, humble, practical man. Somehow, after generations of racism we easily reach across the supposed divide to welcome a man of darker color. But better than his being half African is his being principled and practical without being pompous or preachy, a genuine man rather than a media package. We were closer to our own promise and possibilities than we knew. We needed to shift the angle of our relations. Ending the war we all feel guilty about and moving our economy to serve the ecosystem that ultimately houses us appeals to something inside. We weren’t totally bamboozled by the bamboozlers. They were good at what they did, but what they did wasn’t good. We saw it. Maybe all those God Bless America stickers started working. There was no chance of rescuing earth and humanity from that old-house sort of thinking. This new-house way might seem unusual at first, until it becomes the norm.
Of course, even Barak Obama, imbued with baraka, can’t alone rescue us from our own follies. We let our last good president, Bill Clinton, fend off the incessant attacks of the packs of the snarling dogs of his time. Having elected a decent man, we all need to step into our decency. The challenge in Obama’s lap and ours was big enough just with the war and global warming and thousands of other environmental and humanitarian challenges without this massive economic meltdown (or is it trickle down?) to contend with. Our klutzy human way of thinking tends to counter worldwide depressions with new wars bound to stimulate some parts of the economy. Do we have the ethics, vision and ingenuity to take this crisis as an opportunity to truly veer our direction? I think so. Change need not be radical and obvious to be effective. Just altering the angle of our relationship to our important sources will work wonders as we go.
On election night we felt a surge of comity in our community. Blacks, whites, natives, Asians, Latinos – we all smiled with neighborly gladness. We recently seemed decades or centuries from any real change from white men running things on behalf of vast corporate control. We seemed so far from any genuine inclusive democracy. Something shining in us beckoned us away from the fear and hate that seemed ever to rule and towards the hope and love we really are and want. The angle of our relationship shifted and the angels of our nature began to dance. The light, so dim and distant, suddenly flashes in our hearts and fires up our minds. We elected not just a man, but a symbol and leader of our own higher natures. The gladness in our hearts isn’t just about him; it is about us and the future.
If the higher angels of our nature are ever to dance on our pins or with us, we best tend to the angle of our relationship with all the sources of our being – solar, nature, each other, and the divine. Times now aren’t as tough as they can get. Remember the flu, the plague, the Inquisition, the hundred years of holy war, etc.? Beyond human follies, there are always potential asteroids and the shifting of the magnetic poles to contend with. No matter how dismal and dire, humans get through. With tenacity and talent, we learn and improve. We persevere. It’s going to take more than one charismatic man to sway the entrenched forces of lobbyists, greed, desperation, and dull-headedness as we spin our way around our own private star. Time is long. We are brief. How we relate – to our star and the stars and our human stars and the starlight shining on us and in us – makes all the difference.
Things change. The shakedown in money and oil that we could mismanage can lead to a renewal of community. That politics and politicians reached a low ebb was a dire and dangerous time. We will never be without some form of political organization, so let true public servants come to the fore with our support. But let us know that the political realm is limited. All realms need that right angle of relationship. Our economy can increasingly support stores like The Creative Alternative and institutions like the Farmer’s Market. Our schools can apply the best we know about the best humans can be to instill and elicit the talents, genius, and social graciousness of our growing generations. Our economic exchanges can move into mutual respect and fairness, each adding some synergy to the betterment of the All. Our technologies can favor local, decentralized energy and food production, promoting bounty, security, and time to enjoy life for all. Our everyday human connections can shift the angle of our relations from scarcity and suspicion to generosity and kindness.
No one is black. No one is white. Like our soon-to-be president, we’re all shades of brown. Finally, someone represents the inescapable and promising reality that we’re all in this together.
The early 21st Century seemed doomed to repeat all the tenacious mistakes of the 20th, or for that matter, more than 2,000 years of mistakes. But look larger than that. Look to the vast past free of armies and massive polluting industries. The life of the garden flourished in resplendent variety and inter-related health. We needn’t return to a primitive life to have a primary life. The wealth awaiting the human community needs only our wanting to achieve, spread, share, and improve it. Barak Obama can’t do this alone, but as our choice and leader, we can do this together. From the top of the political process to who you are and how you are, “Yes, we can.”
Yes, we can have a government that is us taking care of ourselves as best we can. Yes, we can shift technology’s benefits from serving the few to helping the all. Yes, we can find and forge the ways to live with ever-improving health, abundance, pleasures, and security for our whole colorful family. Yes, we can live and let live in ways that bring us all to full, free, fun lives. Yes, we can live with gratitude and ingenuity with the reliable forces of cosmos and natures. Yes, we can.
Our garden could blossom and fruit as never before. A thousand years from now we’ll still be spinning through sunlight. It isn’t the distance from our source or each other that matters; it is how we relate. How we relate to our sources – solar, social, and spiritual – will change the paradox of coldness in closeness to the promise of warmth despite distance. Let 2009 mark a deep and lasting change for not just America, but humanity and earth’s life. Only in this holy worldwide cause, may God bless America.
Reverend Brad Carrier
For the UU’s of Grants Pass
Grants Pass, Oregon
© January 4, 2009