On my way to church last Sunday morning, I picked up the detritus of our McCulture, a plastic bottle, a can, and a discarded coffee cup, all likely thrown from car windows. I went into the building, recycled the waste, washed my hands, and went up into the sanctuary.
There my ears heard Pete Seeger's Turn, Turn, Turn, and my mood turned. The music was why I had come to church early. I knew we'd be singing Pete Seeger anthems, and I sought to fill my heart with his hopeful spirit. He had died a few days earlier, yet his spirit lives on in his songs.
The previous evening I had watched PBS's American Masters program about Pete Seeger's life. Against the odds of fascism, racism, political hypocrisy and environmental degradation, he fought using music and love. I came to church to sing together with the congregation and catch his spirit, catch the power of many voices calling for change and peace together.
Every day there are new inescapable stories about poisoned rivers and droughts, extreme weather and sea level rise. That morning I had read about the severe drought in California. Earlier in the week there had been stories about the decline of Monarch butterfly populations and the threat to bees from monoculture fields of GMO crops. There was a story about a report released by the State Department declaring that proceeding with the Keystone pipeline would not harm the environment.
Monday I gathered with others at the corner of routes 20 and 27, right in front of our church, to hold signs and protest the pipeline. I tried to bring Pete Seeger's positive attitude that things will change.
It is so hard to read story after story about what human industrialism is doing to the environment. Perhaps soon the weight of the stories along with more and more visible signs of climate change will lead far more people to take action. Attitudes, even those of our leaders, can change. After all Pete Seeger, who had been brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee and charged with contempt of Congress and blacklisted in the 1950s and 60s, received the Natioanal Medal of the Arts in 1994.
I attended a lecture late last month where the speaker Charles Eisenstein, an environmental economist, talked about a change in people's attitudes occurring quicker than we might anticipate. He supposed that for many, the change had already occurred. But few are ready to admit it and take action. He posited that already few people believe stories told to us by mainstream media, corporations, or even our government. When we drive among the ugly strip malls along the sides of our four lane streets, we are repulsed by the ugliness. Here I paraphrase Eisenstein who asked, How is it that 5000 years of architectural advancement could lead to this? Do we believe the slogan on the billboard? Do we believe the Congressmen denying scientific facts?
Do we really believe the repeated story of American exceptionalism? Are Americans citizens in a land of broadening democracy and opportunity or are we mere consumers? Last Sunday evening I spent time at a Superbowl party. Ads costing companies millions of dollars played. They didn't convince me that Coke is better than Pepsi or that I'll love McDonalds. Did they convince anyone? Yet a hundred million people watched this game absorbing its message of commercialism and conflict. I watched too, but the next day I stood with about 50 people holding signs to protest a pipeline that will further enable inefficient dirty energy to be pulled from the ground and its carbon dioxide to further pollute our air. I stood with those turning to a different story.