Mother Earth

“Love Your Mother,” Susan Ryder


Genesis 1:1, 31 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

James Baldwin For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have.

Don Henley – The Last Frontier – Eagles
Who will provide the grand design, what is yours and what is mine?
‘Cause there is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here
We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds
In the name of destiny and in the name of God.

Mother’s Day Proclamation, 1870 By Julia Ward Howe
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.” Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, But of God. In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

Though our relationships with them are varied, we all have them in common. Mothers. Some of us are grateful for the mothers who cared for us, or perhaps still care for us. Some of grieve mothers who have died, or grieve the mother they never had, the relationship longed for that never was. Some of you are mothers, in the midst of raising children or watching them raise children of their own. Whether you gave birth to them or adopted them, you worry about about your children, even after they are all grown up. Some dread the very mention of motherhood – due to struggles with infertility, or grief for the loss of a child. Maybe you’ve simply chosen not to have children, and wish our culture would not lift up parenthood as the only worthy ideal. Or perhaps there are two moms or two dads in your home, and you struggle with the gendered nature of Mother’s and Father’s Days.

This morning I want us to set that all aside and consider the original intent behind the observation of Mother’s Day in the US, which began first as a call to action to improve the lives of families. Ann Jarvis founded Mother’s Day in 1858 to promote sanitation in response to high infant mortality in the Appalachian community in which she lived. After two of her children died before the age of three, she asked doctors to teach her and other mothers how to prevent disease. On Mothers Work Day, and in Mothers Day Work Clubs, those mothers then taught others how to prepare food properly and clean their homes, etc., which all gradually improved the health of their families. A few years later, the Civil War began. Since she lived near a major battlefield between Union and Confederate armies, Ann declared Women’s Friendship Day, convincing local mothers to care for soldiers from both sides, treating the wounded and teaching them about sanitation and disinfection.

Inspired by Ann Jarvis, Julia Ward Howe joined the U.S. Sanitary Commission with her husband. More men were dying in the Civil War from disease in prisoner of war camps and their own army camps than then were dying in battle. The Sanitary Commission helped reduce those deaths. After the war, Julia wanted an end to war and equality for all people, regardless of race, religion, gender or nationality. So she wrote a Mothers Day Proclamation, calling mothers to leave their homes for one day a year and work for peace in their communities. In June 1872, the first Mother’s Peace Day was celebrated in Boston, Massachusetts, continuing across the country for the next 30 years.

What we observe all these years later has no connection whatsoever with its founding. The modern Mother’s Day, with its apolitical message, emerged in the early 20th century, with Jarvis and Howe’s original intentions largely erased from mainstream consciousness. Their visions of mothers being called to action were watered-down into an annual expression of sentimentality and profitable opportunities for florists and greeting card companies. Of course I don’t mean to besmirch mothers and their value in our lives, but perhaps it’s time a more political, action-oriented observance of Mother’s Day to make a comeback? If the January Women’s Marches around the world are any indication, we are certainly up to the task. And while there are so many issues of peace and justice to which we could turn our attention, this morning I invite us to consider the observance of Mother’s Day in light of the mother we all have in common – Mother Earth.

Mother Earth – Planet Earth – Gaia – whatever we call this blue and green sphere we ride on while orbiting around the sun, our care for her is more important than ever before. Don Henley’s lyrics, “There is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here. We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds in the name of destiny and in the name of God” have never been truer. And while the very important issues of healthcare and Russian interference in our elections have divided our attention in recent weeks, just listen to a summary of environmental issues that have been impacted by the new administration in just the past four months, which is being tracked by the National Geographic web site.

After just a few days in office in January, President Trump issues several memoranda aiming to hasten permits for the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines, and removed all references to climate change from the White House website.

In February ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was confirmed as Secretary of State. President Trump signed a joint resolution, later passed by Congress, revoking the U.S. Department of the Interior’s “Stream Protection Rule,” which placed stricter restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways. Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma Attorney General frequently sued the EPA over regulations, was appointed Director of the EPA. President Trump issued an executive order asking the EPA to review the “Waters of the United States” rule, an Obama-era rule meant to clarify which U.S. waters fall under federal Clean Water Act jurisdiction.

In March, the EPA withdrew an Obama request for more detailed information on oil and natural gas facilities to better track the industry’s methane and volatile organic compound emissions, and the EPA’s Office of Science and Technology removed the word “science” from its mission statement. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said that carbon dioxide’s role in the Earth’s changing climate remains unclear, while the White House released its first preliminary budget, with deep cuts to U.S. science and environmental agencies — notably the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — and a vast array of social programs, in an effort to increase defense spending by $54 billion. The State Department granted a permit for the construction of the Keystone pipeline, and the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline began to pump oil into the pipeline underneath North Dakota’s Lake Oahe. President Trump signed an executive order to dismantle much of the work on climate change enacted by the Obama administration. Most notably, the executive order began the process of rescinding the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.

In April, the Dakota Access Pipeline suffered its first leak, spilling 84 gallons of crude oil at a South Dakota pump station. Although state officials said the leak was contained and quickly cleaned, critics of the project said the spill, which occurred as the pipeline is in the final stages of preparing to transport oil, raises fresh concerns about potential hazards. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt says that he’s personally opposed to the Paris Agreement, the international pact to fight climate change negotiated in 2015, and an Interior Department official updated their climate change website by deleting much of its content. In a sweeping executive order, President Trump instructed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review as many as 40 national monuments created since 1996, targeting monuments at least 100,000 acres in size including Utah’s 1.7 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and key Trump advisers and Cabinet officials met to discuss whether the U.S. should stay in the Paris Agreement. President Trump signed an executive order to review Obama-era bans on offshore oil and gas drilling in parts of the Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans.

So far in May, the EPA dismissed several members of the Board of Scientific Counselors in order to consider a more diverse pool of applicants, including industry representatives.

I understand that it’s all very overwhelming – there is so much happening that goes against the very fiber of our being – from Russia to healthcare to gun control to women’s rights and how we treat immigrants to name just a few of the things on our radar right now. It all seems like too much to handle. And perhaps that was the plan all along – to throw so much at us all at once, we wouldn’t be able to fight back, to resist effectively. We’d have to pick and choose our battles. But we cannot ignore the assault on climate change science and our environment that has happened during these early months of the Trump Administration. His environmental policies are having and will have devastating consequences, and we need to be paying as much attention to them as we do to everything else – otherwise we will be leaving a devastated planet for future generations.

Mother Earth is all we’ve got. Hollywood notions of space travel or life on Mars – we must set those aside. “Everyone has to shut up about Mars and how cool it would be to live there,” Bill Maher said during his April 21 segment of “New Rules,” pointing to “The Martian” movie with Matt Damon, the space dreams of Elon Musk and Richard Branson, and President Donald Trump’s call for a manned mission to the red planet by 2033. “If we’re going to overhaul a planet,” Maher said of Trump’s $450 billion proposal, “let’s overhaul this one.” He condemned the “fantasy of a reasonable planetary back-up” as a “dangerous idea that our culture is already too taken with – so much so that we keep on trashing Earth.” Maher said, “You want to explore something cold and hard? How about facts – facts that confirm climate change is killing us but completely do-able policies could reverse it. Stop looking for the Goldilocks planet, this is it,” he said, ending the segment by swiping from – and at – Donald Trump. “Let’s make Earth great again,” he said.

How do we do that? Well for starters, I suggest you spend some time with your Mother Earth today. It’s a gorgeous day, so go for a walk and pick up some trash along the way, or ride your bike wherever you have to go; open your windows, turn off lights, adjust your thermostat, don’t let water run; change your light bulbs to more energy efficient ones, make sure you recycle and reuse. Leave flowering weeds alone – they are pretty and nourish our disappearing bees. Plant butterfly bushes, feed the birds, keep chemicals off your lawns or only use non-toxic ones. Shop at Farmer’s Markets and the new Green Top Grocery for local products to reduce carbon footprints. On a larger scale – call your Senators and Representatives. I’ve been doing that a lot lately – making calls about healthcare, and for a special prosecutor. My calls tomorrow will be for Mother Earth – urging support of the Paris Agreement, the reality of climate change, and in support of public lands and national monuments. Get a hybrid car and an energy efficient fridge. We will be needing a new roof on our house in the next year or so – maybe we can find a way to afford a Solar Roof – a new technology that complements your home’s architecture while turning sunlight into electricity.

The most important thing we can do is to continue to believe it is possible to preserve Mother Earth for future generations. It is not inevitable that we take the planet to the brink of destruction – it is still possible to make earth great again. Nearly 150 years later, Julia Ward Howe is still calling us to her great unanswered plea –“Arise all who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears! Say firmly: we will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: disarm, disarm! Let us take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can finally live in peace.”

May we make it so. Amen.