A graduate student volunteer with California Interfaith Power & Light reflects on her participation in last month’s Faith Against Coal Press Conference
We’ve come a long way
By Kia Jones
During the press conference, I spent my time behind the speakers holding up the banner. Not being able to see the faces of the speakers as they spoke did not dull the effect for me. It was what I had been waiting for, but I was not aware of that fact. For most of my life I have had a special connection with “nature.” For me this love of nature and the numinous experiences that I have there are essential to my Christianity. I know God through the Bible and through experience, but, I also know God through His creation.
I did not find my own feelings echoed in church or at home as I was growing up. I remember once I was crying in bed at night and my mother checked on me and asked me why I was crying. When I told her I was crying because of the whole in the ozone layer, she laughed. I don’t think she laughed to ridicule me, but because she did not have a way to process my love for the Earth.
Nor did I. I could not find a language for this in school, in church, or in the world. Nor could I find other voices like mine crying out for the Earth. For a long time, this kept me away from church. But, when I heard those men and women, all united there expressing their love and concern for people and the planet it wet the dry place inside of me that had never been watered. I felt myself to be a part of a community of people of faith, who understood the crying child inside of me whose tears had long since gone dry.
I called my mother afterwards and I could hear the pride and the joy in her voice. We’ve come a long way ya’ll, we’ve come a long way.
A Midwest native (Missouri and Oklahoma) and graduate of Mt. St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, Kia Jones is currently pursuing an MA in Philosophy and Religion from California Institute for Integral Studies with an emphasis in Ecology, Spirituality and Religion. She is volunteering this semester with CIPL and assisting primarily with the No Coal in Oakland campaign. As part of her work with CIPL, she created the Faith Against Coal banner using recycled materials and incorporated hand-prints from children of an Oakland CIPL member congregation. Click here for more on the No Coal in Oakland Campaign.
For Sylvia McLaughlin
By the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham
Given at Sylvia’s memorial service on February 2, 2016 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley, CA
I haven’t known her for nearly as long as many of you, but I admired her from a distance until about 20 years ago when I started my own career as a woman in the environmental movement. Since Sylvia lived here in the Bay Area and I had met her several times, I approached her to have lunch with me and that began our brief, but meaningful friendship. I had so many questions for her because I was fascinated by her ability to save San Francisco Bay without the use of the internet or any of the convenient technologies available to us today. She told me much the same thing that she said in the film describing how the Bay was saved from developers that was shown on KQED several times. Sylvia and her two friends accomplished their goal by writing letters and making phone calls. Imagine!!! ??? I knew that wasn’t what I would be doing, but I wanted some of Sylvia’s encouragement and to know that in the face of many challenges and people calling you names, if you believe in something, don’t give up! Some of her perseverance when facing resistance was what I was hoping to gain from just knowing her.
She had a quiet, but very strong will.
And she was physically strong too. A friend of mine and I met her for lunch one day at the Francisca Club in San Francisco. Not more than five years ago. My friend and I arrived and Sylvia was waiting in the lobby. Curious, I asked “How did you get here, Sylvia?” “I walked up the hill from Powell Street”. Wide eyed, I said Really? And before Powell street? I came on BART, took the cable car to Sutter and walked the rest of the way. Wider eyes. How old are you?? 94, she said and that broad wonderful smile appeared. After lunch I offered her a ride back to BART. That was the least I could do, but she took off down Sutter Street retracing her steps. I said to myself I want to be like that when I am in my 90s.
I mentioned earlier about her quiet, but strong will and you all know about the strong will, but do you know about the quiet part? I am bringing this up because it relates to today and our being here in this place with this liturgy. It is my personal experience and I share it because it means a great deal and demonstrates a side of Sylvia that some of you may not know.
Sylvia and I probably met about ten times in the last five years. We talked about environmental work, the failure of some legislation and the success of others. As much as I quizzed her on her background, I only knew that she grew up in Denver and moved to Berkeley when she married Don McLaughlin. She really didn’t share much else and it was only yesterday at her burial that I learned about her history with the Book of Common Prayer or Thomas Cranmer, who wrote it. (She is a direct descendent of Cranmer). It explained so much. I have admired Sylvia lovingly for years and our meetings were always a delight. But I assumed that I was (to her) just another admirer who wanted to learn from her. I never knew how she felt about me. I know she respected the work we were doing on climate, but my priesthood was never mentioned. I didn’t bring it up because I knew or thought I knew that she was one of the self described “spiritual, but not religious” . So when Jeanie called me and said my mother has written instructions that she wants you to do her service at St. Mark’s church, I was not just surprised, but truly honored. We had never discussed one word about this in any of our many meetings. But it told me something really important. Sylvia liked me, too.
I share this because, it let me into another secret about Sylvia. She was a private person when it came to her own life. And there are certain things she just wasn’t comfortable talking about, yet she was very aware and sensitive to what was going on around her. A wise woman, who I will greatly miss.
Sylvia’s spirit will live on in all of us who loved her. We will see her when we look at the beautiful San Francisco Bay, we’ll remember her courage and persistence in getting things done . Her children and grand children will carry her heritage with them. She is not gone, we only cannot see her in the way we used. She is with the great unknown mystery that operates in the world and takes us all home when the time is right. At 99 years, the time was right for Sylvia, a beautiful and complete child of God.
The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham is President & Founder of Interfaith Power & Light
California Interfaith Power & Light is governed by a Steering Committee that is composed of individuals representing faith-based organizations throughout California. The Steering Committee provides general oversight and guidance to the staff and helps deliver CIPL’s mission of environmental stewardship throughout the state.
ClimateInsights regularly feature perspectives from these inspiring leaders.
by Mohammad Hoda, Energy Advisor, Shura Council of Southern California
Mirza Ghalib was a great 19th century poet who said “RangoN mein daurhte phirne ke hum nahi qayal, Jab aaNkh hee se na tapka to phir lahu kya hai.” This can be loosely translated as I don’t want to waste my blood (life) here by just letting it run in me, what is the purpose of it all if I am not bleeding it (through hard work/ revolution/creating change) and crying it (through compassion). Poetry like all things heavy loses its soul in translation. But what is not lost is the need for words, action and compassion for our fellow human without boundaries of race, religion, nationality, language, and gender. There is no us and them.
Ramadan is the month of sacrifice, charity and connecting back with the Almighty. It is the month of rejuvenation of faith and re-enforcement of our rope to carry us through the next year. “Hold fast, all of you, to the rope of Allah, and be not divided.” (Quran 3:103). This is the month where Muslims give up what is usually permissible for them from dawn to dusk. The idea is to practice self control. I can have a bite but I won’t. It’s hot this time around and I would really like that drink of water but I won’t. I won’t because, it is my training process to come closer to my inner selfless being and to come closer to my Creator. Ramadan is also synonymous with charity. Muslims are required to give away roughly about 2.5% of their annual asset in charity to those in need. Most give away this money in the month of Ramadan. It is also a time for mending ties, sharing meals at the end of the fast and giving gifts.
Pope Francis gave a precious gift to the world, when he released his encyclical on the first day of Ramadan. His encyclical is written for the common man and reiterates the need to address climate change and social justice. It not only gives guidance to Catholics around the world, it also resonates across religious lines. This very important document is a testament to the changing times and the importance of creating sustainable solutions to our environmental and social issues.
Ramadan is a time of reflection. It is time that we all reflected on the condition of our only planet, it is time that we reflected on our treatment of our fellow human and all this world holds. It is time to reflect on our similarities which outweigh our differences.
A very blessed Ramadan to you.
Mohammad Hoda, Energy Advisor, Shura Council of Southern California
Mohammad has a degree in Mechanical Engineering with focus on Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. He works as an Energy Engineer where he develops energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainability projects in greater Los Angeles region. Mohammad is also involved with the youth at the Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley, advises Islamic Shura Council of Southern California on energy initiatives for mosques and Islamic Centers and volunteers with Alzheimer’s Association.
Born in India, Mohammad has firsthand experience of what it is like to live in a society with scarce resources. He has seen major changes in the nature when over used and not protected/replenished. Apart from the strong technical understanding of energy and sustainability issues, he believes that preservation and sustainability work is an imperative religious duty. Mohammad is married to Mariam and has one son, Zachariah (Zach).
Recently, back from Rome, where he was invited to be part of Emerging Leaders Multi- Faith Convergence on Climate Change. He was part of the group that marched to St. Peter’s Square in support of Pope Frances focus on climate change and social justice in his recent encyclical.
“THEIR LAND” A Theocology of the Black Church by Rev. Dr. Ambrose Carroll, Sr., Senior Pastor of Church by the Side of the Road & co-founder of Green the Church
12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice.13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
– 2 Chronicles 7:12-14 English Standard Version (ESV)
I love this Hebrew Bible story of promise from God to this Hebrew Nation. It is both a warning and a promise from God. The warning is, “turn away from your wild and wicked ways”; the promise, “do this and God will heal the land.” “Their land,” the last two words of this text, speak to me in a profound and personal manner. It surfaces images of the turmoil in the Black Church generally and, more personally, it symbolically mirrors our nature based journey as the Black Church.
As I chronicle snippets of my family history and relate it to the above Bible verse, I am reminded of the power of the Word in providing inspiration, direction and hope. Long before Africans were enslaved in West Africa, the Bible forecast trouble in the land and long before this sin against humanity, the Lord laid out a plan and promise for regaining the land. When the first environmentalist began to speak in the new world, it was a reflection of the Lord speaking of the need to be good stewards of the land, “their land.” I share the following thoughts in this paper based on the faith of this Biblical verse and as evidence of how its power guided and sustained the Black Church over all these years.
Growing up in California, my parents would claim that we were from Hollywood and then they would of course throw in the punch line: “Holly,” Louisiana, down in the woods!!! (30 miles south of Shreveport and 10 miles north of Mansfield) It was here that a cadre of ex slaves purchased 100 acres of land near the train depot at Holly and planted, in the center of that acreage, the St. Mark Baptist Church in 1878.
These men and woman were farmers who heeded the call of men like Booker T. Washington to stay in the South and to become responsible participants in the American enterprise: to work hard, to do their part, to pay taxes and to vote. Years later, despite their hard work and faithful belief that America could be America, most of the family enterprises were brazenly taken by a combination of ruthless racists and the calamities of the stock market crash of 1929. The brutality of these two powerful forces pushed the family from land ownership to a new status of sharecroppers. However, even as sharecroppers, their faith in God, love of family and will to prosper could not be deterred. Looking to the future, they learned better ways to take care of the land from men like George Washington Carver, who was an agricultural scientist at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In learning these lessons they learned that if they stuck together, took care of the land, and had faith in God, God and the land would take care of them. Through it all, .two things held the family and this small community together: the church and “their land”!
When money was scarce, they traded crops with one another formally or informally. When ministers came to preach revivals they would be paid not in currency, but in pounds: a pound of beans, a pound of flour, a pound of greens, etc. These same people looked beyond family needs and gave what they had to the common good. They contributed to the uplift of the race in both dollars and time for the improvement of health and wellness at the local, state and national levels. Beyond this, they knew that education was the key to a better life, so they contributed to building local schools and to the development of historically black colleges. They contributed to mission work abroad through agencies like the Lot Carey Missionary Society and the American Baptist Church. These people, my people, who had so little, gave so much to so many to build a future for their people in “their land.” Truly, they were models of what it means to be stewards of God’s creation. They forged a legacy of love, courage and hope in the most difficult of times. They reused, recycled, reinvented, and revived everything that was in their natural environment.
While this legacy can be traced to the first Africans setting foot on American soil, I remember it most through my parents and extended family. My parents were in perhaps the final wave of the great migration leaving the South in the 1970s. They moved away from the south, away from oppression and away from the land they knew so well, “their land.” They entered the urban environment, and like many others kept up with the growing seasons, they adopted their new environment and made it “their land.” But in time, with the growth of many new technologies, they, like others, grew further and further away from “their land.”
My mother studied education at Grambling State University and my father studied agriculture at Southern University. They both were the youngest children in their families. My father worked for the Department of Agriculture for a season, but subsequently felt a call to go into the ministry. As far as the homestead goes, sharecropping became even less lucrative due in part to the Nixon Administration and the creation of food-like substances, high fructose corn syrup, and microwavable everything. The 1970s brought their generation into the cities, into a world of supermarkets, corner stores, fast food chains and the erosion of a culture that sustained us. Now in cities like Detroit, Michigan, and Oakland, California—which were reportedly this year the first and second most dangerous cities in the nation—the sons and daughters of ex-slaves, the descendants of farmers and sharecroppers from Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia now live in areas that are considered food deserts. The descendants of a people whose hearts and souls were nurtured by land and by their faith now cannot find fresh food because Safeway, Albertsons, King Soopers, and Piggly Wiggly have moved out of their community.
As my parent’s generation moved out of “the country,” away from “their land,” we all became more and more disconnected from the land. Though my parents moved us north, there was always a connection to the South, to the people and “their land.” We would always go “home” for the holidays. As a child of the 1970s, I did not appreciate this “going home” as I do now. I actually was ashamed of this “country living”. With each trip “home,” my resentment grew. I remember the three-room shacks, the absence of running water and the fresh lush taste of well water. Although with each trip there were the enhancements and the addition of this or that creature comfort, I began to feel more and more ashamed of the history and of the state of being and what it meant to be from “the country.” Even some cousins and family members who lived in close urban environments spoke negatively about “the country” and spent less and less time at the homestead, less and less time in the natural environment so close to the elements. What I am keenly aware of today is that in the midst of that poverty was an abundance of wealth, an abundance of health and abundance of collective wisdom that ran back to the West Coast of Africa to the Highlands of Ireland, and to the plains of Texas. There was a wealth of life and love that could only be tapped into at the intersection of the tangible and the intangible, of flesh and blood, of body and soul, of land and sea, of dust and breath. They did not have much, but they had the land and they had each other and they had the church.
Today that land, “their land,” is being pillaged by Big Oil. One of the largest deposits of natural gas in history has been found under “their land.” The trees are being leveled and scores of trucks move over the soil and mammoth equipment is stationed all throughout the county. Fracking and the pollution it brings to well water are the order of the day. The air is filled with the skunk smell of gas and the devastation of our environment is rampant in “their land.”
When I think of the collective wisdom of Interfaith Power and Light, when I think about all of the indigenous people of the world and all of the experiences of humanity, I understand today that we are all at a crossroads of scarcity and abundance. We all must learn to live in balance with one another and in balance with the created order. I believe intently that climate change is the singular issue of our day and that the Black Church, the African American Church will come to the table with every other faith community in order to be a part of the solution. The world is in danger of ecological catastrophe. California is in the midst of a five year drought, our food supply is in jeopardy, and our winters are becoming longer. Yet there is hope. There is hope because I believe that the scripture is still true today, not only for the sons and daughters of Israel but still true for all of humanity. “
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
The Reverend Doctor Ambrose Carroll, Sr. is one of the nation’s premiere Practical Theologians. After graduating from Oakland High School in 1987, Ambrose went on to do his undergraduate work at Florida Memorial College in Miami, Fl and received a Master’s of Divinity from Morehouse School of Religion in Atlanta GA, a Doctor of Divinity from United Theological Seminary in Dayton Ohio, and a Master’s of Business Administration from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, CA. Dr. Carroll combines theology with ecology and challenges the church universal to embrace its mantle of creation care. At present Dr. Carroll and his family are expanding their work to the Bay Area and creating a national campaign to “Green the Church”. His non-profit, Renewal, is poised to educate the Black Church and lead in the creation of sustainable programs to under-gird the work of creating green and efficient Church buildings.
Learning from Shmita by Rabbi Marvin Goodman, Executive Director, Northern California Board of Rabbis
In the Jewish cycle of time, we’re now in the midst of what is known as the Shmita year, the Sabbatical year. According to the Torah, every seven years we are required to allow the land to have a rest, a Sabbatical. Additionally, during this year, most debts are supposed to be forgiven. While the laws of Shmita are applicable only to those who live and work on the land in Israel, there are many who have been reflecting on how the meaning of the Shmita year can relate to us, Jew and non-Jew alike living in the rest of the world.
One particular organization, Hazon, has been contemplating during the last several years, how Shmita might be able to touch people like you and me. In one of their publications about Shmita, Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith an environmental psychologist and activist, and director of the Jewish Greening Fellowship of Hazon, wrote, “Shmita also teaches that every 7 years, we can change the rules. The way things are is not the way they have to be. We can have a world in which everyone benefits from the blessing of abundant energy and no one suffers for it. Let’s start to make that world a reality this year.”
When I read that statement, I wondered to myself, what is it that I can learn from this year’s Shmita that will help me and others move the world in which we live, from the way things are to the way things might be able to become?
The concept of Shmita reminds me that we human beings need to remember that our earth needs its moments to recover and renew. Just as the weekly Sabbath is a time for human beings to restore themselves after a week of work, so Shmita becomes the opportunity for the earth to be allowed to restore itself after being used and sometimes abused by its inhabitants. Imagine for a moment the impact on our world, if ALL people would collectively and seriously reflect for some period of time, about the true impact they were having on the earth.
Additionally, because debts are forgiven during Shmita, I find myself imagining a world, inspired by Shmita, in which a different sense of ownership might prevail. Perhaps we’d find ourselves living in a world in which there would be a different perspective on concepts like equality, human dignity, etc. We’d have a chance to view each other, not as competitors for the limited resources in our world, but rather as partners trying to build a more just and peaceful world.
Finally, for me, Shmita is also a reminder of the interconnectiveness of all inhabitants of our earth. As Wendell Berry says in an essay The Unsettling of America, “We have given up the understanding – dropped it out of our language and so out of our thought – that we and our country create one another, depend on one another, are literally part of one another; that our land passes in and out of our bodies just as our bodies pass in and out of our land; that as we and our land are part of one another, so all who are living as neighbors here, human and plant and animal, are part of one another, and so cannot possibly flourish alone…”
And so, Shmita, a law from the Torah that without context could seem to be irrelevant to us who live in this land of plenty, a land too often mistreated, is far from irrelevant. As Dr. Goldsmith, quoted above reminds us, “Shmita teaches us that caring for the earth and caring for people are inseparable.
In a world inspired by Shmita there will be no early deaths from filthy air, no oil spills, no devastated mountains and collapsing coal mines, no toxic wastewater from fracking, no contaminated nuclear plants, no oil-fueled wars, and no climate change.
Shmita also teaches that every 7 years, we can change the rules. The way things are is not the way they have to be. We can have a world in which everyone benefits from the blessing of abundant energy and no one suffers for it.”
Let’s help make this happen now, during our time on our planet earth.
Rabbi Marvin Goodman, Executive Director, Northern California Board of Rabbis was ordained as a rabbi by the Jewish Theological of America in 1975. He studied at the seminary after having earned his BA from Indiana University in 1970. From 1975-1988 he was the Executive Director of the Northern California Region of the United Synagogue of America as well as the Regional United Synagogue Youth Director. During that time, he was very instrumental in the development of Camp Arazim. From 1988-2007, he was the rabbi of Peninsula Sinai Congregation, a Conservative Congregation in Foster City, California. Since 2007 he has been the Rabbi in Residence at the San Francisco based Jewish Community Federation and the Executive Director of the Northern CA Board of Rabbis. Marvin is married to Deborah Kelman and has two daughters, Rena and Naomi.
Steering Committee member Eijun Linda Ruth Cutts of the San Francisco Zen Center invited Qayyum Johnson to offer his perspective on the climate crisis. Eijun Linda writes, “Qayyum Johnson is a passionate, articulate organic farmer and meditation practitioner, who has a wide, compassionate and inclusive view of climate change. We at Green Gulch are blessed to work with him and join with him in his great energy and commitment. ”
Climate Change Is The Mother of All Practice Opportunities by Qayyum Johnson, Green Gulch Farm Zen Center
For all those ailing in the world,
Until their every sickness has been healed,
May I myself become for them
The doctor, nurse, the medicine itself.
-Shantideva, 8th c. Indian Buddhist
The disorienting reality of our time doesn’t make for explicitly relaxing or beatific contemplation, but it does offer a profound opportunity for spiritual praxis.
Human-caused catastrophic climate change, historic planet-scale environmental degradation, species extinction on par with the cosmic collision that took out the dinosaurs and extraordinarily cruel inequalities in human society all add up to a heavy-hearted lens through which to engage in the necessary activities of living on earth these days.
And it doesn’t look like we’re collectively wising up to this reality.
I can appreciate how difficult change can sometimes be, even when we know it’s necessary, healthy, and will make us feel better. I can also see how challenging even the simplest communication can become when it is clouded by passion, self-interest and fear. Yet I feel absolutely committed to the often-awkward work of agitating for greater awareness of the severe crisis our species has wrought upon the planet, much the same as I am committed to acknowledging my own mistakes and confusions.
In our American Zen tradition we have a euphemism for these kinds of potentially-productive conflicts in worldview. We call them “practice opportunities”. Such situations provide us with fertile ground for further commitment to our vows to remain flexible, resilient, gentle, patient, enthusiastic in turning ever-toward the hardship-at-hand, and also to keep ever-present in our consciousness (call it heart or mind or faith) the ideal toward which we are striving: mutual benefit. They draw us out through paradox: the strength of flexibility, we endeavor to soften and open while also remaining true to our sense of things.
Even the collective unconscious feels as if it has swallowed the rhetoric of “efficiency” to such a degree that many of us don’t realize that we are approaching our inner life as if spiritual practice ought to yield quick and obvious returns on our investment.
In Zen Buddhism there is a long tradition of explicitly blunting this urge toward quick results and the metrics of spiritual materialism. It is no accident that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the Tibetan teacher who perhaps most radically challenged the American Orientalist fascination with Eastern spiritual traditions and coined the term “spiritual materialism”, felt such a resonance with Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, the Japanese founder of San Francisco Zen Center (my home community).
The two were iconoclastic emissaries from their respective cultures who waded into the 60’s triumphalism of the United States and challenged anti-war activists and dropouts from mainstream America to deepen their practice beyond simple opposition to the propulsive forces of industrialization, modern market economies, resource extraction and cultural/racial/sexual homogeneity. Both articulated a vision of enlightened society that begins with individuals adopting a radically altruistic worldview, the perspective of the bodhisattva.
A bodhisattva, according to Mahayana Buddhist tradition, is a human being who aspires to live their life for the benefit of other living beings. To Buddhists of these traditions, the true expression and potential of humanity comes from putting other lives before our own. In the context of climate change, I vow to honor the dynamic inter-relationships and countless ways I am supported by the entirety of the known & unknown universe. I wish to honor them and ‘pay it forward’ by doing all I can to manifest sustainable joyous alternatives to the systems that have brought us to this dire place.
I turned 40 last year and have been a practicing Buddhist for a baker’s dozen of years. The world scene has only grown darker since beginning to practice (more war, inequality, loss of diversity, carbon in the atmosphere), but my feeling of being an intimate part of beautiful, constructive, healthy things has only increased. My fervent wish to see change in the theater of global climate consciousness and the myriad attendant political, social and intra-personal transformations remains, but has now been attenuated by much more humility and patience than when I was younger.
Responding to climate change is not limited to responding to climate change—it demands a wholesale renunciation of narrow vision and individualist thinking. For all of us alive now (or thinking about bringing more humans into the world) it presents an enormous “practice opportunity” to identify our core values and move from that grounded, compassionate space.
Buddhist practice deeply supports my activism, mostly by constantly reminding me that there is no “other” or enemy out there. That we are all in this together. Mindfulness draws me out of narrow places and invites me to bear witness to a larger vision of sanity: a landscape where living beings are upright and take responsibility for their actions and seek to redress the error of their ways.
This is the part where it gets radical in my mind. I have put away the metrics of self-aggrandizement, renounced purely egotistical activities (and set a watchman of mindfulness to alert me when my sense of my own agenda gets outsized and inflated), and envisioned a social world where fearlessness reigns, where the love of agape recognizes an indigenous non-dual equality of holy and mundane which has a filial echo in traditions that underscore the awe in the miraculous interdependence of creative life. Now we are all in this thing together; across traditions, language, gender, sexual orientation…all the markers of difference convened under the banner of communal harmony: namely, a natural world capable of supporting a sustainable human culture defined by diversity.
Qayyum Johnson was born in an upstate New York barn to American Sufi parents who were active in the anti-nuclear movement. He began practicing Buddhism with Garchen Rinpoche, a Tibetan teacher in the Drikung Kagyu lineage, in 2001. He came to practice Zen in residence at Green Gulch Farm in 2006; he’s now lay ordained and currently serving as Farm Manager at GGF where he organizes community-run gleanings with Marin Organic to provide fresh free food to local food pantries. Qayyum also serves on the Leadership Council of the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy which serves the homeless community of the county. He will be honored with the role of “head student” during the Spring 2015 practice retreat.
Catholic Resources for Thinking About Creation Care
By The Rev. John Coleman, S.J. St. Ignatius Parish, USF
I have been asked by Rev. Will Scott from California Interfaith Power and Light to write a post on the topic of Catholic resources for thinking about creation care. Let me be quite clear, however, that I am aware of and honor Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and secular resources also for thinking about the issue. My own conversion on issues of ecology, climate change and care for creation dates from 2003. I was editing a book, along with my co-editor William Ryan S.J., on issues of globalization and their relation to Catholic Social Teaching ( Globalization and Catholic Social Thought: Present Crisis, Future Hope Orbis Press, 2005). In a conference preparing for the book, I met and listened to Mary Evelyn Tucker who presented an excellent chapter on “Globalization and the Environment”. Tucker, the founder with her husband, John Grim, of The Forum on Religion and Ecology and the key figures in bringing about a distinguished series of Harvard University Press books dealing with particular religious tradition’s ( e.g. Jainism or Buddhism etc.) resources on ecology, did a review of the reality and short-comings of Catholic treatments of ecology and global warming.
Tucker raised questions about an overly anthropocentric view in the ordinary Christian understanding of ‘ stewardship’. To be sure, humans are made in the image of God, perhaps in a unique way. But all of creation also bears the stamp and imprint of the image of God as well. Tucker suggests a concept of ‘ creation care’ rather than stewardship. She also faulted a tendency for Catholic statements on ecology to be separated from the wider Catholic Social Teaching (CST) about economics, politics, culture and solidarity. As she states it: “ we need to expand CST to include the environment as a primary context for sustaining life on the planet” My co-editor, William Ryan S.J., a distinguished economist, also faulted the tendency by economists to see the ecological effects of the economy as mere ‘ externalities’. As he put it in his chapter for our book: “ Personally, I believe that the environment can no longer be simply listed or given more space in CST. Its urgency calls for a recasting of social teaching from a cosmological point of view in which a biblical, scientific and historical framework becomes the framework for CST… The earth’s ecological systems cannot be integrated into one of its subsystems—that is, the economy. The environment is, itself, the comprehensive framework for all creation.”
Starting around that time I began to write, lecture and organize conferences on issues of Catholic resources for creation care. To cite just three recent such writings: cf. John Coleman S.J., “ Global Warming: A Case Study in Structure, Agency and Accountability’ in Daniel Finn, ed., Distant Markets, Distant Harms: Economic Complicity and Christian Ethics Oxford Press, 2014 ( pp. 89-112) and an essay, “ Environmental Ethics” in the forthcoming volume, Erin Brigham, ed., Guadium et Spes: The Church in the Modern World Fifty Years After ( Lexington Books, spring, 2015). I took up the key notion from the Vatican II document, “ The Church in The Modern World” about the need to ‘ read’ and ‘ respond to’ the signs of the times and noted that ,fifty-years on, a reworking of that reading of the signs of the times would address, squarely, the topic of ecological crisis and global warming. In a blog for America magazine, March 28, 2014 entitled “ What to Hope for in Pope Francis’ First Encyclical?”, I gave further thought to Catholic resources for ecology.
Those resources include statements by Pope Paul VI to the First U.N. conference on Climate in Stockholm in 1972; two remarkable World Day of Peace statements on the environment ( 1990; 2000) by Pope John Paul II; the best attempt to put environment squarely inside CST in Pope Benedict XVI’s social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate . In his own World Day of Peace statement in 2012, Benedict said the following: “ There is a growing crisis which it would be irresponsible not to take seriously. Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers?” Can we remain indifferent “ to the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the de-forestation of equatorial and tropical regions ? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of ‘environmental’ refugees?—All these are issues with profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development.”
Pope Francis in his first homily as pope raised the same issue: “ Let us protect Christ in our lives so we can protect others; so that we can protect creation. The vocation of being a protector, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone. It also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world as the Book of Genesis and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection… I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life and all men and women of goodwill, let us be ‘ protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature. Let us not allow omens of destruction of earth to accompany the advance of all mankind.”
The American bishops have also spoken out on ecology cf. Drew Christensen and Walter Grazer, eds., And God Saw it Was Good: Catholic Theology and the Environment ( U.S. Catholic Conference, 1996). There is an important U.S. Catholic group working on environment: The Catholic Climate Coalition ( with rich on-line resources) and its parish –based Francis covenant. We need to take these concerns at parish levels to our prayers of the faithful, our homilies, our social justice groups. Finally, I would highly recommend a book on how to take these issues to contemplative prayer: Douglas Christie, The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology ( Oxford University Press, 2013). Ultimately we need to see creation in profoundly new ways, if we are to protect it from the ecological destruction around us. This sacred season is one that offers hope and opportunities to renew our reverence for the gift of Creation.
Fr. John A. Coleman S.J. is associate pastor at Saint Ignatius Church, San Francisco. He holds his PhD in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley. He was the Charles Casassa Professor of Social Values at Loyola Marymount University from 1997 to 2009.. From 1974-1997 he was a professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkely. Among his most recent books are: John Coleman and William Ryan, eds., Globalization and Catholic Social Thought ( Orbis Press, 2005) and Christian Political Ethics ( Princeton University Press, 2007). For the past several years, Coleman has been lecturing and writing on environmental topics. He keeps a blog at the popular national Catholic magazine “America.”
Giving and Throwing Away
By Katelyn Roedner Sutter, Environmental Justice Program Director, Catholic Charities – Diocese of Stockton
“Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of money and consumption. That some homeless people freeze to death on the street, that is not news. On the other hand, a drop of 10 points in the stock markets of some cities is a tragedy. That is how people are thrown away. We, people, are thrown away, as if we were trash.”
Pope Francis, June 5 2013
Ah, the “Season of Giving” is upon us. We shop, bake, wrap, eat…and repeat. As a society, we consume an immense amount of stuff and resources. Last year Americans spent $2.5 billion on wrapping paper – just wrapping paper! Consider the trees consumed and the garbage generated. The resources that go into supporting this kind of consumption, including workers’ time, water, and energy, are astounding. Not to mention the trash that consumes our land, contaminates our water, and releases carbon into our air. This pattern of consuming and throwing away is fueling climate change.
Pope Francis warns us about this rampant consumption, and not only what it does to our planet but to each other. He calls it a “throwaway culture.” We throw away our resources and our environment, we throw away food in record amounts (40% of food is wasted annually in the US!) and we wind up throwing away our neighbors both near and far. Our shopping decisions have a direct impact on our environment and people around the world who are poor and vulnerable.
But, if you’re like me, you still love to buy Christmas presents. Maybe a new-to-me dress is just as good as “brand new” for holiday parties, and wrapping in repurposed and recycled paper is a no-brainer, but I still want to give my family gifts. I’ve realized though, I don’t always give according to the values of my faith, or even the values I advocate and defend each day at work. I need to examine how my giving – and throwing away – reflects my commitment to protect Creation and all of us who depend on it for life.
There are a couple of ways to shift this pattern of consumption. Perhaps the easiest place to start is to shop local. Support your local bookstore, clothing store, chocolatier, etc. Yes, you may wind up spending a little bit more – so buy less, or only buy what your family needs. For your holiday meals, buy food that is produced locally. Not only can you better guarantee the quality and ethical sourcing of your food, but the energy consumption of transportation is dramatically less, and you support people who are – quite literally – your neighbors. For your decorations, buy greens, trees, and flowers that are locally grown, not flown in from thousands of miles away. Again, it reduces your carbon footprint and supports your own community.
An even better option is to give more time and fewer things. Is your co-worker passionate about a cause or charity? Volunteer at an event they host. Or, invite her and her family over for dinner to spend time together outside the office. Have a skill your friend has wanted to learn? Take a weekend and teach him to garden or grill – of just relax and enjoy the outdoors for a day.
And there are ideas even if you’re short on time! Many organizations have a giving program during the holidays. My personal favorite is Alternative Christmas at Global Ministries – a joint mission of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciple of Christ). Is your brother a teacher? Give to a girls’ school Angola in his name so young women can get an education. Is your sister a banker? Support a micro-credit program in her honor in Columbia so women can start their own businesses. Is your cousin a plumber? Put his name on a donation to dig wells in rural China so families have access to clean water. The choices go on (http://www.globalministries.org/alternative-christmas.html ) but they’re all working to prevent people and our planet being thrown away.
These are a few examples that make sense for Christmas giving in our home this year, but the possibilities are many. Shop local, buy only what you need, give of your time, or support programs special to those you love. As we enter this Season of Giving, consider how your consumption is throwing away our resources and the people of our global community.
Katelyn Roedner Sutter is the leader of the nine-year-old Environmental Justice Project in the Stockton Diocese. She is focusing on clean air and water, as well as sustainable and equitable growth and development in the San Joaquin Valley. The Project also works to educate parishioners and the wider community about caring for Creation. Katelyn is a Maine native and a lifelong member of the United Church of Christ. She graduated from George Washington University in Washington, DC with a BA in international affairs with an economic focus, and a minor in religion. She also spent time in Europe, working and studying the European Union economy. Katelyn then taught high school in New Orleans with Teach for America before moving to California. She received her MA in ethics from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley where she wrote about human flourishing and sustainable international development. Katelyn believes that all these aspects of social justice – economy, education, environment, and more – are inherently linked, and one cannot do justice without considering each of them. Katelyn now lives in Ripon with her husband and two greyhounds. She enjoys cooking, gardening, traveling, and volunteering with elders living with dementia. Katelyn serves on the Board of Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ, as well as the Board of the Save Downtown Stockton Foundation.