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Empowering Beloved Community

Rev. Eileen Wiviott of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Evanston was the Keynote Speaker at our Annual Celebration and Fundraiser in the North & West Suburbs on November 13, 2018. She shared her reflections on why our mission to empower communities through Green Teams inspires her.



Rev. Eileen Wiviott gives the Keynote Address.
Rev. Eileen Wiviott gives the Keynote Address.

I am so honored, and more than a little bit humbled to be asked to be your Keynote Speaker. As I told Dan, I do not consider myself an expert in any sense of the word in terms of Environmental Advocacy or Science. I am a clergy person who delights in encouraging and providing spiritual support (I hope) to those more dedicated and educated in these matters than I am. Dan assured me that I didn’t need to be an environmental expert and so I agreed to be here with you. Thank you, again for the invitation.


I have been an admirer of the work of Faith in Place, since I learned about the organization in the early 2000’s from its founder, Clare Butterfield, when she preached about the work of Faith in Place at the Unitarian Church of Evanston where I serve and have been a member.


I truly believe in the mission of Faith in Place, which begins and ends with two of my favorite words: empowering communities. The mission of Faith in Place in full is: empowering Illinois people of all faiths to be leaders in caring for the Earth, providing resources to educate, connect, and advocate for healthier communities, but I really like the first and last words of that mission statement: empowering communities. Perhaps all of our efforts toward justice can be expressed in those two words. Empowering Community. I might add one word in between – Empowering Beloved Community.

Empowering leadership and community with our Eco-Ambassadors, Summer 2018
Empowering leadership and community with our Eco-Ambassadors, Summer 2018

I’ve been at two events in the last week about our failing democracy. Seems to be a topic on lots of people’s minds. One event was on Saturday at Countryside Church, Dr. Mike Hogue, professor of Meadville Lombard was introducing his book, American Immanence: Democracy for an Uncertain World. He spoke of the threats to our democracy, one of them being that complex problems lead to a quest for simple solutions, which makes way for the rise in power of those who would offer false and simple solutions.(1)


I hope you can agree that we are in complex times. It’s hard to think of a problem more complex than the global climate crisis. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that came out last month indicated that unless we make drastic, global changes in our emissions policies and practices we are on track to double the global temperature increase from 1°C to 2°C by 2061. This is a huge, complex problem that is and will continue to affect every person on this planet now and in the foreseeable future. I hear things like this and my mind instantly shuts down. I feel defeated before I even begin.


But Dr. Hogue did offer some antidotes, if not simple solutions:


You’ll have to buy the book for the full story, but he spoke of the need for revolution, as distinct from rebellion. Rebellion, according to activist/feminist Grace Lee Boggs, is opposition and resistance – important and certainly relevant for many of us right now. Revolution, however, is “evolutionary, affirmative, and resilient.”


Revolution starts with those who are most impacted, from where they are, building community across difference. Revolution is about building coalitions and solidarity across shared purposes.


Building community across difference at the Green Team Summit
Building community across difference at the Green Team Summit

Remaking our democracy in these uncertain times will require nothing short of a revolution, which means using our collective power to put pressure on our legislators to enact climate-affirming policies that reduce carbon emissions. Having a Democratic majority in the house does give us a possible way forward in terms of passing a carbon fee and dividend policy. To cease on this opportunity requires coordinated, grassroots-led, collective action. Revolution for collective liberation, can only be achieved through relationship – relationship to one another and relationship to the land. This is where Faith in Place comes in.


Empowering Beloved Community is what Faith in Place is all about, bringing folks together, people of faith who care for the Earth, who understand that we were not given the Earth to do with as we please, to use up and discard.


Connecting with the Earth by planting trees in Waukegan
Connecting with the Earth by planting trees in Waukegan

We are people who understand that we are of the Earth, connected to the Earth and through the Earth to one another. It is only through that connection that we can coalesce our power to enact change in our systems.


I am wary of false hope, friends. I’ve been reading thinkers such as Margaret Wheatly, who warns in her book Who Do We Choose To Be? that all civilizations collapse in predictable ways and ours is no different. In the midst of that collapse, it is important that we ask ourselves who we will be. She asks readers, “Are you willing to use whatever power and influence you have to create islands of sanity that evoke and rely on our best human qualities to create, produce, and persevere?”


Wen Stephenson’s book What We’re Fighting For Now is Each Other, makes a similar claim that it is already too late to reverse the damage we’ve done, but that does not mean we are to give up on each other.(2) Environmental Justice and Social Justice that centers the most marginalized and impacted communities is the only ethical and effective way to address the global climate crisis. It matters how we are with one another.