“When I change, the world changes.” Those words were written by Ma Theresa Gustilo Gallardo. She knows a little bit about change. She is the first lesbian Unitarian Universalist minister in the Philippines. She serves the UU church near Manila. She says that “we are here to deepen our understanding of ourselves” and “to feel our personal power and our capacity to affect the lives of other people.” Her declaration that “When I change, the world changes” is a powerful statement. It is not a statement of hubris or control. It is an expression of the interconnected nature of life. Our seventh UU principle affirms and promotes this interconnectedness, this web of existence of which we are all a part.
That interdependence assures us, reminds us, and warns us that what any one of us does individually has consequences for all of us collectively. What one individual does or becomes can have a great impact on the whole. In his prayer, “Love Beyond God,” Adam Lawrence Dyer writes of this connection as
the love that reaches beyond,that holds one to anotherand every other to one.No matter the colorOr where we’re from.This is now.This is we.This is Love.
You may have heard the idea of our interdependence referred to as “the butterfly effect.” The idea of the butterfly effect emerged from the work of MIT meteorology professor Edward Lorenz. He was using a computer program to simulate weather patterns. He was using variables like temperature and wind speed. One day he rounded off one of the numbers being entered in the computer program. That very minute change led to radically different results. That small change transformed the whole pattern that the program produced. One of Lorenz’s conclusions was that the flap of a butterfly’s wings could ultimately cause a tornado. He described it by saying that “the extreme sensitivity to initial conditions meant that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings over the Amazon could influence the weather in China.” This is what became known as the “butterfly effect.” (multiple online sources)
We know that not everyone has the same opportunities and choices. Those with more financial resources or access have more options than others. The disparity is especially unjust when it comes to basic needs for food, water, shelter, health care, and education. This disparity means the choices we make are that much more crucial. Many years ago I boycotted Gap for their exploitative sweatshop practices. A few years ago, some people boycotted Chick fil A for their anti-GLBTQ position. I would have joined in the boycott, but I don’t eat chicken and have never been to Chick fil A. Movie buffs are having to decide whether to watch movies that have been produced by Harvey Weinstein who has been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Navigating the many decisions—even deciding whether boycotts are effective—is a worthy and complicated undertaking. The thing is, we are all consumers in one way or another. That is the nature of our society. So the problem isn’t that we consume. I’m not even suggesting that from time to time we won’t want to consume some junk food, literally and metaphorically speaking. What interests me is how to become better consumers of what will nourish us individually and sustain the planet. What interests me is how we can embrace our personal power and our ability to affect the lives of others in positive ways.
In the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar we see how a steady diet of junk food makes the caterpillar unwell. But one juicy green leaf provides just the nourishment needed. One juicy green leaf equips the caterpillar to build a cocoon and ultimately transform into a stunning butterfly. One juicy leaf offers a powerful antidote. What is your juicy green leaf? What kind of fuel will help you to become who you want to be, to become your best self, to be a happier and more engaged human being?
There probably isn’t just one thing. There is more than one for me. But one of the things that nourishes me and impacts my capacity to affect others is education. I am a few weeks away from graduating with a Doctor of Ministry Degree. I have been fortunate—privileged even—in my life to have been able to engage my love of academic education in literary studies and also in ministry.
There are sacrifices I have made to do that study. The time and money spent on course work and degrees could have been devoted to other projects, to spending more time with friends and family, or even to getting more rest and recreation. But being in the academic environment nourishes and inspires me. It is part of what makes me who I am. And those experiences have been key to my ongoing growth and development. Learning in that environment changes and empowers me. It improves my awareness and concentration. It has broadened and deepened my love and appreciation for diversity. I have had the benefit of studying in racially diverse groups where whiteness was de-centered.
I have also had opportunities to be in religiously diverse groups where Unitarian Universalism was on the margins. I find I spend a great deal of my time in Unitarian Universalist circles in which there are common understandings. Being in settings where neither white culture nor liberal religion are at the center has been uncomfortable and challenging. And a continuing growing edge.
Academia has pushed me to read books and authors with whom I disagree. I had a very heated disagreement with one seminary professor while studying for my Master of Divinity degree. Ironically, he was among the more religiously liberal of my teachers. One assignment entailed reading a book by a climate change denier. The book was so new that my only option was to purchase it, which I did not want to do. That was about 17 years ago and I am still mad about it. And angrier still that climate change deniers are still taken seriously.
Education has improved my critical thinking skills, but of course it hasn’t made me perfect. I can still become quite impatient and angry with perspectives that are antithetical to my own. Perhaps as much as anything, education has helped me reach out in love—to share my gifts as a writer, as a minister—to do my part to care for this planet.
At a recent event Carol Lytch, the president of Lancaster Theological Seminary, offered introductory remarks. In those remarks, she said that one of the ways we love God is with our minds. Another way to say that is that one of the ways we love life is with our minds. In other words, I think for the sake of loving. I study for the sake of loving—of loving myself and this world.
There’s a wise teaching attributed to the Cherokee. A grandfather is talking to his granddaughter about life. He tells her this:
There’s a fight going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.
The other wolf is good—that wolf is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person too. The granddaughter thinks about this for a few minutes. Then she asks her grandfather: “which wolf will win?” The grandfather tells her “The wolf that wins is the one you feed.”
Which wolf will we feed? What will we feed it? This month, I invite you into reflection about which wolf you are feeding—and what you are feeding it. What do you need to nourish your own growth and embrace your power? Is it study, theater, experience, travel, friendship, parenting, spiritual practice, sports and physical activity, religious community, or something else? As Rev. Gallardo says,
We are here to win our power back over our areas of powerlessness.I am here to see that my singular life is a gateway to countless possibilities.
One juicy green leaf can win back that power. One life can be a gateway to countless possibilities. A small change can make it possible to become more fully who we want to be and to be better equipped to create the world we long for.