What Shall We Do About the Wolves in the Walls?

What Shall We Do About the Wolves in the Walls?


there are wolves in the walls, that’s
what young Lucy insists to her jam-making mother her tuba-playing
father and snarky brother, in a richly drawn not just children’s book that
vacillates between scary and funny, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated
by Dave McKean. Lucy hears noises hustling hustling scrambling and
rustling noises, howling and yowling and bumping and thumping noises. To Lucy that
can mean only one thing there are wolves living in the walls of her family’s big
old house. but her parents and brother are unconvinced. “it’s mice”, says her mother. “it’s rats”, says her father. “it’s bats”, says her brother, or maybe your bats he says in a
typical annoying brother fashion. but every one of them caps off their
alternative explanation with the ominous “you know what they say, if the wolves
come out of the walls, it’s all over.” what’s all over asks Lucy? who says that?
she queries. their replies are vague. you know, *IT*, everyone knows that. well as the
story goes on and in a complete reversal of the classic tale of the boy
who cried wolf, it turns out there *are* wolves in the walls, and they do come out,
and it is all over as the family hastily retreats to their back garden. they
watched their home being taken over by Jam eating, tuba playing, video
Gaming, people clothes wearing, partying wolves. Lucy’s parents and brother begin
scheming where they might live next. the Arctic Circle? the middle of the desert?
outer space? anywhere as long as it’s far far away from wolves. but Lucy wants to
live in her house. when Lucy realizes that her beloved pig puppet was left
behind in the house in the scramble of fleeing, she sneaks back into the house,
wiggles through the walls now vacated by the wolves, and retrieves her dear friend.
the next day the decamped family returns to their routines of school and work
though they continue to dream about where to move next. Lucy proposes that
they retake possession of their own house and that night, creeping through
the walls, the family reels at the Wolves bravado. my jam! my second-best
tuba! my video game high scores! my socks! they cry, and brandishing the legs of a
broken chair they found in the walls, the family comes out of the walls “The
people have come out of the walls!” shouts the fattest laziest wolf and when the
people come out of the walls, it’s all over off. Off dashed the wolves,
supposedly to a place far far away from humans. the family retakes their home and
restores order and returns to their daily pursuits, but in the final pages of
the book we sense the story is far from over as Lucy hears scratching and
squeezing and creaking and a noise like an elephant trying not to sneeze coming
from inside both walls. My abridged version of the wolves and the walls does
not do justice to its entertaining storyline or its nightmarish
illustrations. I highly recommend your taking the time to seek out the book
yourself, particularly those of you who have children or grandchildren who
delight in the scary funny, but my hope this morning is that the story of the
resourceful heroine Lucy, her “la la la I can’t hear you” family, and the wolves, and
perhaps other boisterous larger-than-life creatures, who live out
of plain sight though their presence is felt and heard, might help us explore the
challenging and uncomfortable subject of climate change. huh? I can hear you
thinking. you’ve completely lost me. well the wolves in the walls is a story
about truth-telling. Lucy in the words of Victoria Safford that we heard earlier,
is telling people what she is seeing and asking people what they see, but Lucy is
silenced and ignored by creatively concocted explanations. she’s given other
likely reasons: rats, mice, bats, “alternative facts” anyone?,
and yet her family also intones a refrain of the vague and ominous: if the
wolves come out of the walls it’s all over! so the family is aware of
a threat but they can’t offer any more concrete details, explain its meaning, nor
face up to and vanquish it and so the easiest thing to do is to go about life
as usual, making Jam, playing tubas, video gaming, leaving Lucy on her own until the
truth literally pounces upon them. Lucy was crying wolf, but she was right all
along, which is exactly what we’re finding out
now about climate change. the data keepers, the weather trackers, the
biologists and climatologist, the zoologists, the journalists, the Bill
McKibbens and James Hansens and Katharine Hayhoe
and Tim de Christophers, Naomi Klein’s… have not been crying wolf in the classic
way. they have heard and reported on the wolves in the walls, things known but not
necessarily plainly seen, and they are frighteningly right.Possibly all the
way to that ominous phrase “it’s all over”. and yet most of us are much like Lucy’s
family, unwilling or unable to hear the truth, never mind talk about it.
lalalalalalala I can’t hear you. did you know that only seven in ten Americans
correctly say that the world is warming up. as the temperature rise – as the
temperatures rise – so slowly does the number of Americans who agree this
change will harm plants and animals and future generations. other recent survey
results are more discouraging. although 97% of climate
scientists agree humans are causing global warming and have for years, only
49% of Americans surveyed say that most scientists think global warming is
happening so just shy of 50% of us accept the consensus of science. the
truth behind climate change. but here’s the statistic I find most troubling, most
like Lucy and her family: an answer to the question “do you ever talk about
climate change?” 2/3 of Americans answered “never”. not sometimes or only to my close
friends or just to my Pig puppet. “never” my friend just Ballinger who first
introduced me to the wolves in the walls and how it might speak to predicaments
about climate change, wrote “the barrier to this conversation hasn’t been a lack
of information or understanding about global about global warming but an
inability or unwillingness to fully accept and focus on the dilemmas it
poses.” more than anything else climate change is an issue that has been
characterized by denial. now when I say denial I don’t mean the
anti science kind of denial that claims the continued existence of winter proves
that it’s all a hoax. there are other much more insidious forms of denial.
there’s the denial that this has anything to do with our daily lives.
climate change can seem so abstract, so far away, we can tell ourselves it’s only
impacting other people, other places, and there always seems to be something more
immediate and important to think about. isn’t there? there’s the denial that
assumes we really don’t have to worry about this because science and
technology are bound to come to the rescue.
they always do, don’t they? and for people of faith there is the most profound form
of denial, the refusal to believe that this has anything to do with our
spiritual lives, that it has anything to do with our faith communities, or our
profound interest in the care of creation, and a commitment to justice and
service towards the most vulnerable people of the world. so what I’ve learned
from Jess and others, and taking a cue from the wolves and the walls, is that in
order to have an effective meaningful conversation about climate change, we
must engage both the truth and the human talent for denial. let’s start with the
truth. climate change, the rising surface temperature of our planet Earth, is
happening. the source of this truth: scientific observations and
documentation. the facts behind that truth: human activities, most especially
the combustion of fossil based fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas, which
release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. other significant
contributors: agricultural activities such as factory farming of animals and
clear-cutting of rainforests. the conclusion we can draw from this truth:
rising temperatures pose a risk to humans and to the multitude of
ecosystems of which we are a part and on which we depend. we are already seeing
these risks play out in real time as the temperature warms, ice melts. as ice melts
seas rise. higher sea levels mean more coastal flooding and greater storm
surges, as we are seeing in Louisiana today. warm air holds more moisture like
the rain that’s dropping on Louisiana today. as more of the Earth’s water is
retained in the atmosphere there’s more extreme weather and weather driven
phenomenon. that includes droughts, wildfires, severe storms, infestations, and
migrations of species. these types of impacts will increasingly force people
to move from their homes, and much further than their back gardens. the most
vulnerable people in the world are feeling the effects of climate change
first, and will suffer the most. and one of the most painful ironies: though the
impacts are much greater on the poor the affluent contribute much more to the
problem. and finally this question what do we do with this truth? my humble
suggestion: we accept it. and we begin working in earnest on our well-honed
denials. I say denials plural because like Lucy’s rats, bats, mice, explaining
family, there is not just one way of denying the existence of all those
wolves. every one of us crafts our own unique version. I quoted a few from my
friend Jess and there are many more. we are indeed a creative species, and I
offer these in the spirit of “knowing thyself helps in healing oneself” and in
healing ourselves we may well be moved to act. to heal our beloved home. the
social capital project published a major study of Americans added
foods and worldviews, especially as related to the environment and climate
change. that’s actually how I feel about climate change, so thank you for that cry.
“wah!” is an appropriate response as the authors of this study say there are
obstacles that keep Americans, even some with the strongest environmental values,
from getting involved. so I ask you, which of these speaks back to you as you look
into your mirror? it’s just too little too late.
the news is not good: we watch the melting ice of Antarctica, the burning of
the Indonesian rainforest, the soaring temperatures in Europe, all in the flick
of a TV remote, but to what end? does it all transform us or does it shut us down?
the challenge is just too big and overwhelming. what’s the most important
thing to do? tell me again. switching light bulbs will help the planet how?
it’s really easy to tune out or perhaps it’s just plain too hard to wrap our minds around climate change because it’s not a
simple cause-and-effect problem. environmentalism, as we know it, came of
age in the era of pollution messes that can be identified and targeted and
cleaned up. but how do you clean up carbon? restoring the climate the way a
Superfund site can be mitigated and maybe even brought back? and what about
this? working on these issues is fine for those with money and time or who are
urban or white or professional, but what about everyone who is facing the
immediate and pressing problems of merely staying safe and employed and fed
and insured and housed? here’s another one that edges a little more towards
cynicism: big money controls the game and the game is fixed. my puny efforts are
nothing compared to the momentum of a government in retrograde or the power of
corporations who seem to control it. here’s just a couple more: we might
accept the truth and be discomforted by it, but if no one else is
talking about it when we learn something disturbing, but see most people acting as
if it’s no big deal, then it’s easier to believe the problem
can’t be that serious. perhaps we think they have it right and
we have it wrong. Or it’s not my job to do anything about this, other people know
a lot more about it. and perhaps the grandmother of all denials, the most
emotionally honest and the most heartbreaking: we can’t bear what this
means for us individually or collectively. the potential loss and
scale of change is simply too enormous to contemplate. we are in the first stage
of grief which we all know is denial. what are we to do? we have a choice to
make. it’s a choice between accepting the mysteriously proffered: “it’s all over” or
to follow the rockier path to Victoria Saffords piece of ground from which we
see both the world as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it
will be. we get there and I am presuming that that’s where we collectively want
to go. we get there by following Lucy. Lucy speaks truth to power, to her
parents. and to ignorance too, to her brother.
Lucy stands her ground. she’s firmly rooted in resistance and
defiance. she knows what she knows. Lucy asks questions. she’s not ready to
accept what everyone says when it doesn’t really explain anything.
Lucy Braves danger to rescue what she loves: her Pig puppet. Lucy wants to live
in her home, not in the Arctic or the desert or godforsaken outer space. Lucy
leaves her family to reclaim what belongs to them because no one else
steps in to lead, and Lucy stays vigilant. everyone else might be going back to
making jam or playing the tuba or video gaming but Lucy has an ear cocked to those
walls and what might well be stirring within. each and every one of us is
called some would say are tasked with speaking truth to power. there’s a lot
not right about our country right now, but that right and responsibility of
democracy is encoded in our US Constitution and in our Unitarian
Universalist principles as a free and responsible search for truth and meaning,
and the right of conscience. we shy away from these our own peril. our Unitarian
Universalist forebears use the twin spiritual practices of resistance and
defiance to very good effect, advancing abolition, women’s suffrage, the civil
rights movement, equity for LGBTQ plus people. what? I would ask you, is holding
us back now? as 21st century Unitarian Universalist we pledge
to side with love, to harness love’s power to stop oppression. couldn’t the subject
of that oppression be our beloved earth? don’t we love and want to reclaim this
home and in so doing banish the fantasy that there is another home awaiting us
someplace out there? friends there isn’t. to see the world both as it is: “the
wolves are here.” and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be, as in the words
of the prophet Isaiah, where the wolf shall lie down with the lamb and the
leopard shall lie down with a kid and the calf and the lion and the fatling
together and a little child, maybe named Lucy, shall lead them. let’s pick
ourselves up folks, and follow Lucy through the gates of hope.. Amen. thank you.

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