“EcoAdventures”: Day one

Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine
Religious Education Conference

Once again, I’m at the annual religious education conference at Ferry Beach, the Universalist conference center in Saco, Maine. This year, I’m leading a 15-hour workshop called “EcoAdventures.” Group participants range in age from seniors in high school up to age forty or so. The workshop is on ecojustice.

Today was the first session. We spent the first half hour or so introducing ourselves and getting to know each other’s names. We played a variation of a well-known name game (sometimes called “The Grocery Store Game”), with a twist that ties it in to the local ecosystem (complete session plan is after the “Read more” link below). We also lined up by age, but we did it without speaking. I introduced my vision of the workshop, ending by saying: “If I had to sum all this up, I’d say this:– I think it’s time to really shake up Unitarian Universalism. Too many of our churches act as if it’s still the 1950’s. Too many of our churches are filled with white upper middle class Baby Boomers. It’s time for our churches to welcome all ages, and enter into the 21st century.”

Participants then had a chance to say their hopes and expectations, which ranged from “Have fun” to “I want to do something in ecojustice as a career and am looking for ideas.” Other hopes were to deepen knowledge of Unitarian Universalist faith, and to find activities and curriculum to bring back to a local congregation.

After the introductory bits, we went outdoors and found a tree. We lay at the base of a tree and looked up in the branches. What creatures might live up there? “Birds.” “Spiders.” “Squirrels.” “A mouse might run up the tree.” Do you see any creatures up there right now? “I see a spider’s web.” “I hear birds.” Then we turned over on our stomachs to look at the base of the tree. What creatures might live there? “I see a slug.” “There’s a hole here!” “Beetles.” “Ants.” “A weasel could live here.” Now imagine that you can see through the ground, and see all the roots of the tree. The roots go down almost as far as the branches go up. What creatures might live in among the roots? “Worms.” “Moles.” “Ants.”

We went back inside and drew a six-foot high picture of our tree. Abby drew a line half-way up the paper for the ground, and someone drew a blue line to show where the sky was. We drew the tree, and started drawing in all the creatures we had seen and imagined living on the tree. It was hard to get all 18 of us around the table, so we had to cycle in and out from drawing.

When the drawing was pretty well filled in, we hung it up, and all looked at it. We talked about how all the creatures associated with the tree are interconnected. We’ve drawn lots of creatures in this, but where are the human creatures? Lots of good conversation about this, and the final conclusion was that humans communities are interconnected with Nature, and with other human communities — in fact, it’s impossible to separate human creatures from Nature; there is no separation. “It’s arrogant to think that we humans are somehow separate from Nature.”

I summed up by saying that ecojustice is a concept, a tool, to build connections between human communities, and to help human creatures become aware with their connections with all living things.

Session plan follows.

SUNDAY: Introduction and “Tree Home”
Objectives for this session:
(1) Time to get to know each other.
(2) Do some sensory awareness.
(3) Introduce concept of ecojustice.

I/ Introduction
II/ Hopes and Expectations
III/ “Ecosystem name” name game
IV/ “Tree Home” KCS: We all have a home on Earth, and Earth is our shared home.
V/ Closing Circle

Activity — Time for activity [elapsed time]

I/ Introduction — 15 minutes [15]
Opening words (poem by Wendell Berry).
Go around circle, say name, and where you’re from, and favorite animal.
Show sign-up sheet for openings and closings.

II/ Hopes and expectations — 15 minutes [30]

“So here we are. I suspect we are all here for very different reasons. I’m going to start by telling you what my reasons are for wanting to lead this workshop — not that my reasons are the best reasons, not that you should care about my reasons, but I’m actually pretty excited about what we’re going to do, and I’d like to tell you about it. I want to do five things in this workshop:

“(1) Since we’re at Ferry Beach, obviously we’re going to spend time outdoors. And since this is Ferry Beach, my plan is for having fun. We’re also going to get to know one another in unusual ways so we can build connections between people.

“(2) I’m going to present one or two outdoor-based spiritual practices drawn from our own Unitarian Universalist tradition.

“(3) I’m going to introduce you to the concept of ecojustice, which is a way of creating human justice through environmental justice.

“(4) I’m going to try to prove to you that ecojustice is the critical Unitarian Universalist value for our times.

“Finally, (5) I’m going to try to show you that ecojustice can build bridges between older white UUs, and marginalized UUs such as youth and young adult UUs, UUs of color, non-Anglophone UUs; and I’m going to try to show you that our white Baby Boomer denomination can use ecojustice to build bridges to non-UU Gen X and Gen Y communities, non-UU communities of color, and non-UU non-Anglophone communities.

“If I had to sum all this up, I’d say this:– I think it’s time to really shake up Unitarian Universalism. Too many of our churches act as if it’s still the 1950’s. Too many of our churches are filled with white upper middle class Baby Boomers. It’s time for our churches to welcome all ages, and enter into the 21st century.”

Go around circle, participants give their hopes and expectations.

III/ “Ecosystem name” name game — 10 minutes [40]

Each participant picks a plant or animal that lives/grows around Ferry Beach — name of creature must begin with the same sound (or same letter) as their first name, e.g. Dan Dogwood.

Go around circle, everyone says their ecosystem name (for groups with more than ten people, do this several times).

Now one person, “It,” is in middle. Everyone else holds out one hand. One of the adult leaders starts the game by saying something like “Dan Dogwood loves Lisa Lichen” (where Lisa Lichen is someone else’s ecosystem name). “It” tries to tag the outstretched hand of Lisa Loon before she can say, “Lisa Lichen loves Sally Sassafras [or whomever].” If “It” tags her hand before she can get the whole phrase out, or if Lisa Lichen flinches and withdraws her hand, then Lisa Lichen is in the middle instead of “It.” Otherwise, game play continues until someone else has to go in the middle instead of “It.”

~~ Ecosystem name examples: ~~

A = Apple tree, Ant, Algae, (Sea) Anemone
B = Beachgrass, Butterfly, Beaver, Birch
C = Caterpillar, Coyote, Chickadee, Crab
D = Dandelion, Deer, Dove, Duckweed
E = Egret, Earthworm, Elm tree, Eel
F = Fox, Falcon, Fern Frog
G = Grass, Goose, Garter Snake
H = Hemlock, Hawk, Honeybee, Hornet
I = Ivy, Ibis, Indian Pipe
J = Junco, Jay, Juniper
K = Killdeer, Quahog, Kelp
L = Loon, Linden tree, Lobster, Lily pad
M = Maple, Mouse, Mosquito, Moss, Moose
N = Nuthatch, No See Um, Newt
O = Oak tree, Owl, Opossum
P = Pine tree, Piping Plover, Pigeon
Q = Queen Anne’s Lace
R = Raccoon, Robin, Rabbit
S = Seal, Seaweed, Shelf Fungus, Sand Dollar
T = Tupelo, Toad, Turkey, Thrush
U = (Sea) Urchin
V = Vireo, Violet, Venus Flytrap, Vole
W = Warbler, Weasel, Willow, Wasp
X = xerophyte *
Y = Yellowthroat
Z = Zinnia, Zucchini

* a general term for a plant adapted to dry conditions, like a cactus

IV/ Tree Home
A/ Sensory immersion experience of a tree — 10 minutes [50]

KCS [Key Concept Statement]: We all have a home on Earth, and Earth is our shared home.

Find a big, full-size tree to “adopt.”

Have everyone lie on the ground looking up with their heads in by the trunk of the tree (the leader may not wish lie down because then his/her voice will not be heard by those on the other side of the tree trunk). “We’re going to look very carefully up into the tree. Start by looking as far up into the tree as you can — see if you can see the topmost branches from where you are lying. If you can’t see the topmost branches, look for the farthest-away leaf that you can see. Now look for the twig that leaf is attached to, and then follow that twig back to a branch, and then to a larger branch. If you were a squirrel, you could walk on all the branches and twigs. Take a moment and pretend you’re a squirrel walking from branch to branch….”

Next: what other animals live up in a tree? Can you see any of them?

Now life on bellies around the tree, and pretend that you can look through the earth: how far down do the roots go? What animals live among the roots of the tree?

Sit in a circle around the tree, facing outwards. Listen to the tree — what do you hear? Can you hear any animals that live in or around the tree?

Rainy day possibilities:

Do the above as a guided meditation, after first looking out the window for a tree.

Leader brings in part of the tree (branches, twigs, leaves/needles, cones/seeds, roots, dirt, etc.) to smell/touch/see.

B/ Tree mural — 15 minutes [65]

Based on the sensory immersion activity above, make a tree mural, showing branches above ground and roots below ground. (Leader can lightly draw in the basic outline of the tree, and perhaps the sun and energy flow.) Draw tree denizens on the tree mural. Questions to ask:

— brainstorm what lives in a tree:– below ground worms, above ground birds, what else?
— showing where homes might be on the tree mural
— research who lives in the actual tree we’ve adopted:– go back to visit the adopted tree

C/ Didactic and conversation — 10 minutes [75]
KCS: We all have a home on Earth, and Earth is our shared home.

“By now it’s obvious that our adopted tree is home to many creatures. And by doing this goofy drawing, it’s obvious that all these creatures share their tree home — even though the worm that lives among the roots of the tree probably knows nothing about the bird nesting in the top branches of the tree, they’re still sharing the same tree home.

“And so the bigger concept that I’m trying to get across should now be really obvious: that we all have a home on the Earth and Earth is our shared home. Even though I know next to nothing about those strange creatures that live in the deep ocean trenches, six miles below sea level, we are sharing the same Earth home.

“What this exercise does is take us from a very specific, hands-on experience — on to a broader concept.

“Given all that, I have a question for you:

“Where do human beings fit in our picture of the tree home?”

Conversation — keep asking where human beings fit into the picture, including human beings who may not be privileged to take summer vacations in ferry Beach, Maine.

Possible leader summary: “We hit on some basic concepts of ecojustice: that every creature has a home, or habitat; that all habitats are interconnected; that we share our Earth home with many creatures. We also started understanding one of the ways that ecojustice works, which is to keep asking: Where do human creatures fit into the ecosystem?

“Before the end of this week, I hope to convince you that ecojustice is a powerful tool to unite people of different ages, different races, different economic status. It’s a way that we Unitarian Universalists can live out our religious values in a way that’s going to make other people with our values think we are pretty damned cool, and want to hang out with us.”

V/ Closing circle — 5 minutes [80]

Stand in a circle holding hands. (Tips for holding hands: ask everyone to point their thumbs left, so they will have one palm out and one palm in. If cultural norms do not support holding hands, ask everyone to touch toes.

“So what did we do today?” Ask group to reconstruct what we did together. Volunteer reads closing words.

“Tomorrow: BRING DIGITAL CAMERAS and CAMCORDERS, if you have ’em.”

Continue with Day Two.