This Good Earth

This Good Earth
April 10th, 2016        Rev. Fiona Heath

In 2008, a young man made a choice to make a difference.
Living his Unitarian principles Tim deChristopher took part in an act of civil disobedience.
An act of protest about the way land was being destroyed to extract oil.

Tim’s act of protest shone a spotlight on how the American government allowed private companies to use public land.

Tim, raised by liberal non-religious parents, had converted to Christianity as a teenager. He was looking for answers but eventually turned away from the certainty of belief.
He found his way to Unitarian Universalism, where the seven principles gave him a framework to guide his behaviour.
In 2008, Tim was in his mid-twenties working at a wilderness therapy program for troubled teens.

Early that year, Tim went to hear Terry Root speak.
Terry is a biologist who was part of an international panel on climate change.
Terry presented the panel’s conclusions.

In speaking with her afterwards, Tim noted that her graphs suggested carbon emissions would peak in the year 2030 and then begin to decline.
But, he said, the panel’s report said emissions had to begin coming back down in 2015 in order to prevent catastrophe.

Was he misunderstanding something?

Terry said no, he wasn’t misunderstanding.
She told him it was probably too late to avoid the worst case scenarios.
And she put her hand on Tim’s shoulder and said “I’m sorry my generation failed yours.”

This was shattering to Tim. Already too late?
Devestated, Tim felt his future had just been taken away from him.

What was the point of normal life if the coastal cities of the US were going to become swamps displacing millions of people?

But in destruction is also creation.
Tim, a passionate person, committed himself to activism.

Tim found out that Bureau of Land Management, a US federal government agency, was going to auction off oil and gas leases on millions of acres of public land.

Oil and gas leases allow private companies to drill on public lands, in this case in the fragile desert eco-system of Utah’s red rock country.

Tim went to the auction in December 2008 with the intent to disrupt it by making a speech.
Unitarians from his church and other environmentalists also went to protest.

When Tim entered the building, he was mistaken for an oil and gas industry guy. The woman at the sign up desk asked him if he was here to bid.

Tim stood there for a moment, and then said yes.
She gave him a paddle – he was Bidder 70.

Tim went and sat down and as the auction proceeded he became more and more outraged. All this land was going to be devastated in the name of oil.
Casually being sold to the highest bidder for low low prices.
He began to bid.

At first he just forced the price of the land up, so that the industry would pay more.
About half way through, Tim looked around the room.
At the back a friend, a fellow Unitarian was crying.
She was just as devastated as he was at how the land was so quickly and coolly being sold away from public protection.

Tim started bidding to win.

Bidder 70 successfully won 22,000 acres, leasing rights costing 1.8 million dollars.

Eventually, officials realized he was not an industry guy.
He was pulled aside and the auction was shut down.

Later the auction process was reviewed by the government and the leases sold that day were deemed illegal and cancelled.
The land remains under federal protection and has not been opened to drilling.

Tim was prosecuted for his actions, charged with two felonies: violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act by "scheming to disrupt to the auction," and for making false statements.

Tim discovered that the time between his arrest and jail time was not stressful but liberating.
He had found something – climate justice – that was worth fighting for. Tim didn’t feel he was sacrificing his freedom, becoming a martyr.

Instead he had found his freedom.
He wasn’t a helpless consumer but an empowered citizen.
Someone who could act to shape the course of his life, someone with the power to change the situation.

At a climate action rally Tim said “Edward Abbey used to say,
‘Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul’…
I would take that a little further, and say that principled action is the salvation of the soul.
I may have to go to prison, but every day since that auction, I walk a little taller, and I feel a little more free.”

Tim was found guilty and spent almost two years in prison, and was released in 2013.

Throughout his high profile trail and subsequent incarceration, Tim was supported by hundreds of people.
One friend noted:
“When you take a courageous action that is based in the heart… like Tim did, you will have people stand with you and beside you and follow in your footsteps.”

Tim continues to be a climate justice activist and is studying for Unitarian ministry in Boston.

Let’s pause now for a period of quiet contemplation.
We will take an extended period of three minutes of silence.

I invite you to take a deep breath and settle comfortably into your seats.

What would you go to prison for, what would you protect?
What principled action might save your soul?


The planet is changing.
The ice in the Arctic and Antarctic is melting more quickly than expected.
Sea levels are rising to the point that some Pacific islands - nations – will disappear under water.

Extreme weather is happening all over the place.
We had spring weather in February and winter weather in April.

Climate change is no longer a potential threat.
It is here, there and everywhere.

Terry Root, of the international panel on climate change, was right.
It is too late to avoid the worst case scenarios.

The melting ice at the poles is shifting the mass of the earth.
With the shifting mass, the way the earth wobbles on its axis has changed.

We truly are an interdependent part of the web of life.
What we do the earth, we do to ourselves.

Tim deChristopher took a stand because he was outraged at how oil extraction is still business as usual.
He believes that we can’t avoid the collapse of civilization as we know it.

Tim says “we’re going to be living through the most rapid and intense period of change that humanity has ever faced.
And that’s certainly not hopeless. It means we’re going to have to build another world in the ashes of this one. And it could very easily be a better world.”

It’s certainly not hopeless.
We will have to live through some interesting times.

But there is hope.
The momentum for genuine lasting change is building.

The Paris climate agreement that was worked out last fall will be signed on Earth Day in two weeks.
While not legally binding on the countries who sign, its public profile and common goals provide incentive for countries to take seriously reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels.
It is a sign of hope.

The federal government is committed to meeting the carbon emission reduction targets in the treaty.
Trudeau has pledged to new environmental assessments for fossil fuel projects and to consult more with Canada’s indigenous people.

The Canadian Labour Congress wants to create one million jobs that would help turn Canada towards a low carbon economy.

My partner Marc is at the NDP convention in Edmonton this weekend. He is one of many asking the NDP to support the LEAP manifesto which calls for a Canada based on caring for the earth and one another.
I signed it last night.

Climate change is on the radar.

And if the political will is truly there, reducing carbon emissions is possible.
Renewable energy systems like wind and solar are becoming economically viable.

But changing our cities, our infrastructure, our way of life won’t be easy.
We have set our lives in concrete and asphalt.
These are not flexible, adaptive substances.
We will have to get creative!

And we live in a global system that is resistant to change.
It can be hard to even know where to start.

So its important to remember that our actions - big or small - matter.
Whether we choose to eat less meat or bid on land to prevent oil drilling, every positive choice helps us to choose a better future.

As people of the chalice, we can help one another.

Unitarian Universalists have founded Commit2Respond, a climate justice organization dedicated to climate justice –protecting the rights of oppressed and marginalized people most impacted by climate change.

Commit2Respond offers call to actions and worship resources, recognizing that a spiritual foundation is a stronger place to stand.

Tim deChristopher is becoming a UU minister because he believes spirituality has a role to play in creating a new way of being in the world.
Tim sees the dominant system as one which uses alienation and separation to maintain itself.
We accept wearing clothes made by child labour because they live half way around the world.
We accept gas fueled cars because a car is the only way to get to work.

Tim suggests that alienated people tend to focus on being a consumer – on the goods they own – because they aren’t part of a community, they don’t have other social roles.

We nurture community by coming together on Sundays.
Spiritual communities have an important role to play in re-connecting people to one another and the planet.
Healthy connections take time to develop and need space to grow.
Spirituality matters.
It helps people be people - not consumers.

The climate justice movement needs us, needs the chalice.
It needs UCM to be a place of restoration.
A place where people can come in despair and find a way back to hope.
A place where people can remember their values and find a way to hold fast to them.
A place where new stories can be told, stories of interdependence, of community, of love and justice.


UU Minister Marilyn Sewell says for true social change to happen, we must become radically relational. Radically relational is another way to state our national vision: a world of interdependence which calls us to love and justice.

We must learn what it means to truly live interdependently with one another and the planet.

Knowing that we are all connected in the web of life encourages us to take responsibility.
We can’t pretend our actions don’t have consequences.
We are all in this together.
We can choose competition or cooperation.
We can choose scarcity or abundance.

As UUs, it’s time to embrace our power, to claim our power for change.
As Tim deChristopher says “principled action is the salvation of the soul.”

Living our principles of respect and connection, following our vision of an interdependent world, means we need to be radically relational.

People in crisis, people who are afraid and insecure can do terrible things.
Glance at any decade in human history and you can see our cruelty is unbounded.

But people in crisis, people who take care of one another, can be wonderful.
Crisis can bring out the best in people.

Crisis as the saying goes is also opportunity.
Opportunity to reflect on what is important.
Opportunity to create new, healthier relationships.

People can choose to cooperate and care for one another, to act in solidarity.
People do it everyday.
And we can choose to act to for climate justice.

Canadian Unitarian Universalists know this.
Last year at the Annual Meeting in Ottawa we passed a resolution on fossil fuel divestment.

The Canadian Unitarian Council, our national organization, has already divested from the top Carbon producing companies and has pledged only to invest in these companies if it allows Canadian UUs to participate in shareholder activism for climate justice.

The Council invests in renewable and sustainable energy technologies.
All member congregations with investments are encouraged to do the same.

Part of the resolution noted that:
“We have a moral responsibility to Earth, to all beings and to future generations to do everything in our power to bring about a swift transition from fossil fuels to a sustainable energy economy.”

A moral responsibility to Earth, all beings and future generations.
That is radically relational.
That is interdependence.

Knowing that our choices don’t just impact ourselves but other creatures and the impacts extend through time to future generations.

This can feel pretty overwhelming.
Even paralyzing.
The good thing about being part of the web of life is that none of us is responsible for saving all of it.

As Clarissa Estes puts it “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”

What can you do to mend the world within your reach?
What can you do to shift the world to healthy interdependence?
What can you do to help the chalice flame blaze brightly for compassion, for radical relationships?
What can we do?

May we let this climate crisis be an opportunity for a better way of being for the planet and for ourselves.

May we all stretch out our hands to mend the world.

So Say We All.


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