A while ago, I preached a sermon entitled “What Kind of UU Are You?” and I used the metaphor of birdwatching. We explored all the variety of UU birds in our midst.
Here, I want to expand the metaphor into its largest sense: that of “biodiversity.”
Biodiversity is about the variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, and it is used as a key measure of health. History shows that monoculture (the lack of biodiversity) is a key factor behind illness and system instability. For example, The Irish potato blight of 1846, a major factor in the deaths of a million people and migration of another million, was the result of planting only two potato varieties, both of which were vulnerable to disease. Biodiversity means health and resilience, whereas monoculture means extinction.
But what causes monoculture? What tends to decrease biodiversity? One clear answer is the destruction of species habitats. A “habitat” is the natural environment that is fine-tuned to the needs of a given species population. The more habitats within an ecosystem, the greater the biodiversity. But when specific species populations no longer have unique places within the larger system to call home—when they no longer have sufficient resources to support their singular path through life—they die. In other words, if the larger environment is going to support the flourishment of variety, it must protect and preserve habitats which are fine-tuned for only single kinds of things. You can’t have biodiversity without habitats. No such thing as “generic” biodiversity.
Now what does all this have to do with Unitarian Universalist congregations? Well, our shared Unitarian Universalist spiritual vision is that of unity-in-diversity, and over the centuries we have employed many images and metaphors to evoke it. “We need not think alike to love alike.” “Democracy.” “The Welcome Table.” “Beloved Community.” “Spiritual, not Religious.” “Multicultural Community.” “The Interdependent Web of All Existence.” And on and on. “Biodiversity” is simply another way to evoke the same “unity-in-diversity” vision.
But what is particularly powerful about the biodiversity metaphor is the accompanying insight that we need to build and preserve habitats for the different kinds of UU birds among us. UUCA’s Cultural Mosaic Group is a wonderful example of one way in which this is happening among us. The group sponsors special events highlighting the importance of different cultural and ethnic groups at UUCA. But more than this, it’s a way of building a habitat in our midst for people of color to know themselves and each other, to articulate the gifts they have to bring to this place, and to energize and celebrate their vision. Without this precious habitat, our biodiversity is diminished, and so is our common strength.
My question now is: How are we doing with regard to our spiritual path habitats? Are we actively building and maintaining habitats in our midst that will support these? If you are a Pagan UU, for example, is there a habitat in our midst for you? A place where you can find people who are sympathetic to the Pagan UU vision and who want to practice its related spiritual disciplines? Or, what if you are a UU Christian? A UU Metaphysical Mystic? And so on and so forth? Or, what if you just have a positive interest, and you want to learn more, you want to go deeper? The answer is this: you need a habitat within the larger UUCA ecosystem to dwell in.
Make no mistake, we all have a stake in this. Monoculture weakens the entire system. We already know what happens when we plant only two varieties of potatoes, and the blight comes. If you are a UU Buddhist, it is absolutely in your best interest to encourage the development and maintenance of a UU Christian habitat. If you are a UU Atheist, it absolutely strengthens you to affirm a UU Theist habitat. Doesn’t mean you have to be enthusiastic about (or even “get”) the ethos of a different habitat. Hawks are so very different from owls–and we need them both. We need the coockoos and the kingfishers and the swallows and the crows. In the larger world, where habitat after habitat is being destroyed, we have “conservation biologists” working their tails off to prevent this. Here at UUCA, we ALL need to have the conservation biology mindset. Everyone needs to pull together, to help multiply our spiritual habitats at UUCA. It’s for the common good.
See a similar call to spiritual biodiversity in a sermon given by Rev. Scotty McLennan, where he says:
(As an aside, there’s a problem I think we Unitarian Universalists get into sometimes with a kind of potpourri, grocery store, pick-and-choose religion that isn’t well grounded in any historical tradition. I, for example, affirm myself as a Christian Unitarian Universalist, in communion with historical Christianity through the ages, but I love being in a religious movement where I can rub shoulders with and learn from Jewish UU’s, Buddhist UU’s, pagan UU’s, humanist UU’s and so on. My hope for each of our UU churches is that they provide meaningful help and support to people seriously following specific spiritual traditions which have lasted for millennia and had billions of followers — as well as to people bushwhacking alone. My problem with our movement comes when there isn’t significant encouragement, resources and respect provided to people trying to follow particular, historically developed, richly nurtured paths up the spiritual mountain. I cringe at the joke about crossing Jehovah’s Witnesses and UU’s — They ring your doorbell, but when you open the door, they have nothing to say).