Thursday, April 22, 2010

John Muir and Hudson Stuck

Preached at the 5:45 service.

Feast of Muir and Stuck
Luke 8:22-25

Happy Earth Day!

Today we honor John Muir
and Hudson Stuck, environmentalists.
One became a natural theologian;
the other an Episcopal priest.
Both sought adventure in wild places;
both fell in love with God’s creation in the mountains.

Muir was born in Scotland in 1838.
At age 11, he emigrated with his family
to a farm in Wisconsin.
His father was strictly religious.
One factor in their emigration
was to get away from the Church of Scotland;
it was too liberal for the elder Mr. Muir.
John and his brothers and sisters
were made to read the Bible daily in childhood.
He memorized most of the scriptures.

He took classes in geology and botany
at the University of Wisconsin,
but never graduated.
He went to Canada in 1864,
possibly to avoid the Civil War draft,
and returned to the US in 1866.
Muir worked as an industrial engineer in Indianapolis,
until an accident changed the course of his life.
A tool he was using slipped and struck him in the eye.
He was confined to a dark room for six weeks,
not knowing whether he would see again.
When he did, he saw the world,
and his purpose, as if for the first time.
Muir wrote of this resurrection experience,

“This affliction has driven me to the sweet fields. God has to nearly kill us sometimes, to teach us lessons.”

From that point on,
he determined to follow his own dream
of exploration and study of plants.

In September 1867,
Muir walked 1,000 miles from Indiana to Florida.
He had no specific itinerary,
except to go by the "wildest, leafiest, and least trodden way [he] could find."
After contracting malaria on the Gulf Coast,
he abandoned his plans to go to South America.
He set out for California instead.

Muir landed in San Francisco.
He visited Yosemite for a week,
and fell in love with it.
The mountains opened up a sacramental awareness in him.
He wrote,

“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite... The grandest of all special temples of Nature.”

When he returned,
he built a cabin over a stream,
so he could listen to the water.
He lived there for years.

Muir threw himself into the preservation of Yosemite Valley,
and fought for it to become a national park.
In 1903, Teddy Roosevelt accompanied him on a visit to Yosemite.
On the way there,
Muir told the president
about state mismanagement of the valley
and exploitation of the valley's resources.
Even before they arrived,
he was able to convince Roosevelt
that the best way to protect the valley
was through federal control.

Muir shed the restrictive practices of his father’s faith,
but his awareness of the love of God
grew to include all of nature.
He developed a core belief that "wild is superior."
He came to believe that God was always active
in the creation of life
and thereby kept the natural order of the world.
In Travels in Alaska, he wrote,

“Every particle of rock or water or air has God by its side leading it the way it should go; the clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness; in God's wildness is the hope of the world.”

During his lifetime John Muir published
over 300 articles and 12 books.
(He hated writing, but he made himself do it.)
He co-founded the Sierra Club,
which helped establish a number of national parks after he died,
and today has over 1.3 million members.
Muir has been called the “patron saint of the American wilderness”
and its "archetypal free spirit."

Hudson Stuck was a priest and environmentalist.
He was born in London in 1863,
and educated at King’s College.
In 1885, he tossed a coin:
heads for Australia; tails for Texas.
It came up tails,
and he went to work as a cowboy and a schoolteacher
before entering seminary at Sewanee in 1889.
He was ordained in 1892,
and after four years
became dean of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas.
There, he became a social reformer.

His sermons and newspaper articles
raised every conceivable issue
from lynching and gun control
to the need for recreational areas.
He founded a night school for millworkers,
a home for poor women,
and St. Matthew's Children’s Home.
Stuck was instrumental in having
one of Texas’ first child labor laws passed, in 1903.

He was happy in Dallas, but restless,
and he moved to Alaska in 1904.
As the archdeacon of the Yukon and the Arctic
he administered 250,000 square miles in the interior of Alaska.
Traveling by dogsled in winter and boat in summer,
Stuck ministered to miners and loggers,
and defended the rights of Native Alaskans.
In 1913, he organized and led
the first successful complete ascent of Mount McKinley.
He died of bronchial pneumonia at Fort Yukon, Alaska,
in 1920.

The gospel connections were hard for me to find,
at first reading.
It’s a lovely story:
Jesus is in a boat with his disciples;
a storm comes up and they get scared,
and he calms the storm for them.
But it would be easy to make the wrong interpretation.
This isn’t about controlling the weather.
It isn’t about being the boss of nature.
And it’s not saying that natural disasters won’t happen if you have faith.

What does Jesus have in common
with these two mountaineers?
What are all three of them doing?

Jesus is in a boat with his disciples.
A storm blows in.
The boat fills with water,
even as he sleeps through it.
The disciples panic, and they wake him up.
He speaks to the wind and the waves,
and the storm dissipates.

John Muir fell in love with nature.
He fought to get Yosemite Valley federally protected.
He lost the battle for Hetch Hetchy,
and grief over that nearly broke him.
He used the power of the written word
to communicate this love for the natural world.
And once you share in this love for creation,
you share in the work to protect it.

Hudson Stuck was a social reformer before he ever climbed a mountain.
He advocated for millworkers, women, and children
before moving to Alaska
and doing the same for the Inuit people.

They are all advocating.
They’re using the powers that they have,
to speak up for people and places
who can’t speak up for themselves.

“Storm, be still.”
“Mr. President, protect this valley.”
“State of Texas, stop exploiting your children.”

They are all working in love, for love.
This is God’s call to us.

Today is Earth Day. What can we do right now?

Recycle. Create less trash to begin with:
consider the amount of packaging when you buy things.
Join or start a community garden. Feed your own neighborhood.
Give what you don’t use, to a food bank.
Eat local food.
Reduce the amount of fuel consumed
in getting your vegetables to your table.
Take shorter showers. Save water.
Turn out the lights when you leave a room.
Walk, ride your bike or take public transit instead of driving.

Get involved with TREE,
Trinity Respecting Earth and Environment.
I asked Tina to tell me more about them,
because I really didn’t know.
She sent me last year’s annual report.
They got recycling going here.
They applied for and got a bike rack from the city.
They took environmental field trips.
They sold stainless steel water bottles and solar cookers,
like at last Sunday’s Earth Day fair.

TREE meets on the fourth Wednesday of the month,
at 6:30 pm in the upstairs conference room.
Go see what you can do for the earth.

I will close with a piece from John Muir, from My First Summer in the Sierra:

When we try to pick out anything by itself,
we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell,
and we feel like stopping to speak to the plants and animals
as friendly fellow-mountaineers.
Nature as a poet, an enthusiastic workingman,
becomes more and more visible
the farther and higher we go;
for the mountains are fountains—
beginning places,
however related to sources beyond mortal ken.

Amen.

1 comment:

Laura Toepfer said...

Lovely, lovely. Thanks for letting me know about this.