I have a confession. The other day I was working with one of our speakers when I suggested he add a small note about the common good to his talk. His response, “I don’t think people know what that means anymore,” sent me into a tailspin of despair. Somehow, that one comment cut through all my barriers and walls and numbness about the current state of the world. I was heartbroken.
I know that many of you are also broken-hearted. We watch as things we once held as bedrock foundations begin to crack. Our collective institutions all seem to be caught in a vicious wind of moral outrage and paranoia. We’re in a wild, stormy, post-truth and post-trust world, and it’s easy to get lost.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Parker Palmer, the wonderful Quaker philosopher and writer. He often tells a story about farmers on the Great Plains: At the first sign of a blizzard, they would run a rope from the back door out to the barn. The farmers all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death,
having lost sight of home in a whiteout, while still in their own backyards.
So here we are, in the wild, stormy, and chaotic blizzard of 2018. It’s a storm like we haven’t seen before.
Sometimes I worry that we may we have lost our way in a ferocious whiteout of fear and anger.
[How many of you can relate to this worry?]
I feel so lucky. Many times in the past year, I’ve reached out into the storm and found my rope to the barn.
You know what it is? It’s this group of people, this TED community, that saves me every time. It’s this remarkable assemblage of people (the speakers, yes, but also you in the audience) who have their eyes wide open to reality, but are still curious. The TED community, by its very nature, stays open to compassion and creativity. We delight in human flourishing.
So I’d like to offer you an invitation. Today’s talks hold insights from different disciplines,
but they all come together to help us understand each other, to make clear the lens through which we see the world, and to find the better angels of our nature.
Our speakers are weaving a rope that is a counternarrative to what is happening in our political sphere. They are casting a rope to the barn door of hope so we can find our way home again. You’ll find that our speakers each articulate the importance of developing an intentional approach. Weaving a rope of understanding and respect is a deliberate craft, and it requires curiosity, imagination, hospitality, and humility.
Above all, it requires trust, and trust in the common good.
Tonight we’ve seen that there are so many ways knowing - intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, relational… this wonderful diversity also means that there are many ways to speak to the elephant [Stephani, citing Jonathan Haidt's research on the intuitive mind).
Each of you have your own gift of connection, and it can express itself in many different forms. Regardless of how it manifests, when we lean in, open up, and listen deeply, we are intentionally creating a revolutionary act in today’s environment. We are willing to be curious.
Remember the barn and the blizzard from earlier this afternoon? Our throughline – our rope to the barn door – is us. It’s our connection and our courage. We weave the rope through our interactions, and in doing so, we create a little patch of common ground that’s built on empathy, accountability, and democracy. We are writing a dynamic story about how we connect to each other, even though the storm is pelting down from every imaginable direction.
Weaving this rope is not something we can do on our own. The power of self- deception is too great. We need community to find the courage to venture into the blizzards. So together, in this community, let’s start weaving. Let’s cast forth a solid, intentional, and playful line that will remind us of our better angels.
I’d like each you to consider what inspired you tonight, and come up with one thing that would move your inspiration into action. An outward and visible collective commitment to the common good. We are the change makers we’ve been waiting for.
Now let’s go out there and lean into some elephants.
Introduction of Earth Ministry
White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church, 2019
These notes were part of a series of public testimony introducing a new initiative at White Bear UU that gives voice to the spiritual foundation of the 7th principle of Unitarian Universalism: The interconnection of all beings.
We think of our work as root networks of an ancient tree. Just like grandmother trees in real life send messages of warning through mycorrhiza on their roots, or send notes of encouragement and healing in the form of extra nutrients to troubled trees, we send energy and reminders of hope and connectedness through the branches of our church’s work: stewardship, antiracism, global climate change.
These roots and branches are reminders of the ribbons of energy within and between species. These connections tell us that we are not alone on this earth, even though we may feel so in our darkest nights.
The interconnectedness of life flows between us all: cloud and flower, sapling and soil, warbler and whale.
It is our most noble and fundamental work to pay attention to this wild magic. To notice and cherish our bonds of connection, to see and name the systems in which we are embedded: food, water, mineral, energy, soil.
This work helps us remember the power of regeneration: the fundamental truth that the world is alive, and our relationship with the rest of life is one of participation, communion, and co-creation.
We are living in a unique moment where we are called to rise for all life and the lives of generations to come. We welcome your participation in the work of Earth Ministry, in whatever form it may appear. We imagine that your individual contributions may ebb and flow through time, but taken as a collective whole, the endeavor will pulse and hum with energy as we celebrate an essential truth: That life creates conditions conducive to life.