Monday, April 7, 2014

Many Faiths, One World: Interfaith Earth Day

Written by Karin Frank
Outreach Coordinator for WAIPL






More than one billion people worldwide in 192 countries participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world. While it is a civic observance, in many ways Earth Day is the first interfaith holiday. April 22 is a day observed around the world by religious communities of all faiths through services and activities. Earth Day does not belong to any one religious or cultural tradition, but addresses something that is central to all faiths – our relationship with our planet and the ecosphere that we all exist within.

Jan Brueghel, Garden of Eden
In the Jewish and Christian traditions, this relationship forms the very basis of human existence. At the very beginning of our scriptures, as humankind is formed from the Earth, we are told that the meaning and purpose of human existence is to “till and to tend” – to live in, care for, and cultivate creation. In Islam, the created order is a sacred prayer to God and an ayat, a sign of the Creator that humans have been created as stewards of. In the dharmic traditions, interconnectedness means that we are a part of a larger web of existence in which we should strive to maintain balance and harmony. All of our faiths, in unique ways, challenge us to live out a healthy relationship with our larger world. Earth Day is an opportunity for people of many faiths to gather around something that is central to all faiths but proprietary to none.

All faiths have wisdom to share on the human relationship with nature, and they all have an obligation to do so. As Iranian-American philosopher and Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr argues, "the environmental crisis is fundamentally a crisis of values." Religions are accountable for the values of the cultures they inform and so they bear responsibility for the impacts of our cultures on the environment.

Learning how to coexist with one another as a global community of diverse cultures and traditions is inherently tied up in how we learn to coexist with the planet we share. Humans do not have a choice but to figure out how to coexist with one another in a way that is in accordance with the well-being of the larger world. Our shared humanity is inherently tied up in our shared residence on the Earth, and intercultural or interfaith work can ignore neither. It is for this very reason that Earth Day was originally envisioned as a day of not only environmentalism but also peace

This year, Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light and Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry, Interreligious Dialogue Initiative, and Campus Ministry are gathering people of many faiths to explore how each of our diverse traditions puts people in touch with the natural world. Speakers from five different communities - an Orthodox rabbi, Muslim community leader, Episcopal priest, Zen Buddhist, and Swinomish tribal elder – will be sharing what their faith teaches about the human relationship with nature. If you live in the Seattle area, we encourage you to join us, and over one billion people worldwide, on April 30, 2014, 4:30-6:00pm, at Seattle University, Student Center 160. For more information, click here.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Making My Daily Bread (Recipe Included!)


Written by Rev. Jenny Phillips
Minister for Environmental Stewardship and Advocacy 
for the PNW Conference of the United Methodist Church 

“Give us this day our daily bread…” this is the line in the Lord’s Prayer that I most take for granted. In my household, when there is a bread shortage, it is because someone forgot to pick it up at the grocery store. But despite my access to bread, I’m going to attempt to bake my own for the season of Lent.

It is easy to forget that the gift of daily bread is dependent on sustainable agriculture, abundant water, and healthy people. It takes an ecosystem to make bread. I trust that the sun will shine and the rain (and irrigation waters) will fall on the wheat fields that provide grain. I have unabiding faith in the industrial bakeries that produce thousands of loaves each day, and in the interstate highway and local road systems that ensure fresh bread as well as ingredients like flour, yeast, salt and oil will be delivered regularly to the grocery stores near my house. I expect to have the money I need to buy this staple. And I don’t have any of the allergies or medical conditions that can make wheat bread dangerous.

With all of this in mind, I’m taking up the practice of breadmaking for the next forty days. My intention is for the process of sourcing ingredients, kneading them together, trusting in the miracle of fermentation, and sharing the results to bring me closer to the Creator who breathes life into the earth that nourishes and sustains us.

Most days I expect I’ll make a basic recipe for whole wheat buns that requires a few minutes of kneading in the evening, a long rise overnight, and 20 minutes in the oven in the morning. Voila–breakfast! But I also plan to experiment with gluten-free breads, in the hopes of developing options for gluten-free communion bread that tastes good even to wheat-eaters.

I’m looking forward to this commitment. For me, kneading creates space for quiet reflection. It is a way to pray with my hands. But I’m also nervous. The idea of making this sort of Lenten commitment feels like a luxury I can hardly afford. My life (probably like yours) is generally busy and complicated. I worry that there will be times when I can’t pull this breadmaking off, but I still want to try. So I’m going to attempt to translate my worry into a deeper appreciation for the challenges of those for whom daily bread is not a given. I’m hoping that if I promise myself some grace at the front end of this season, that will make it easier for me to give grace to others in whatever situations I might face over the next six+ weeks.

I’m planning to post updates on my process along with some theological reflection every so often. If you’d like to bake along with me, let’s be in touch to encourage one another and to share recipes and insights. My starting recipe is below. I like this one because it is flexible–even if you don’t get it exactly right, it still usually turns out okay. Not a bad metaphor for life.

Basic Bread for Lent
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ¼-½ teaspoon active dry yeast (I use less if I can let the bread rise for 4 hours or more, and more if I only have an hour or two)
  • 2 cups flour (I use a mix of King Arthur white bread flour and locally-grown wheat flour. All-purpose flour works too. This particular recipe works best with at least 50% white or white whole wheat flour)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
In a mixing bowl, stir one cup warm water with one tablespoon honey. (If you have an instant-read thermometer, go for around 110-degrees. If you don’t have one, just go for warm.)

Sprinkle the yeast over the honey water.

While yeast becomes active, measure the flour.

Stir the olive oil, salt, and half the flour into the honey-yeast water.

Work in the remaining flour with a spoon, and later, with your hands.

Add more flour as needed. The dough should feel soft, springy, and not too sticky.

Knead for several minutes.

Allow the dough to rise in a bowl covered with a towel, at least one hour or up to 12 hours. The longer the rise, the better the flavor.

Punch down the dough. Form rolls or a loaf. Let it rise again while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake rolls for about 20 minutes, a loaf for about 45 minutes. The top will be brown and the internal temperature will be around 200 degrees (but you don’t have to check it unless you’re fussy like that.)

Eat warm with lots of butter. Share with someone who is hungry for food and/or love.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why You Should Be an Activist (of Faith)

Written by Karin Frank
Outreach Coordinator for WAIPL





1. Make big change
Switching out our old school light bulbs for CFLs, biking or busing instead of driving, and eating less meat – individual lifestyle changes – are critical. But they only go so far. When we work together to change the systems we live in - switching out our old school coal fired power plants for renewable energy sources, investing in equitable and sustainable transportation systems, and creating food systems that encourage local, green growing and eating – we vastly magnify our impacts. And like changing light bulbs, all that is needed is for each of us to make our own small effort.

2. Activism is easy
 It can take just a five minute phone call to the Washington State legislative hotline (1.800.562.6000), or look for the toll free number in your own state, to tell your legislator that renewable energy is important to you or that you are concerned about toxic chemicals in household products. You don’t need to be an expert. You don’t need to know who your legislators are; you only need to give the hotline your address. You don’t even need to speak about a specific piece of legislation, although it can be helpful. You can spend a day in your state capitol for a literature drop or an advocacy day (such as Interfaith Advocacy Day in Olympia) with an organization that can guide you through the process. Make sure you are on the Earth Ministry/WAIPL mailing list and we can keep you informed of when opportunities come up.


People of faith meet with Rep. Brady Walkinshaw
at Interfaith Advocacy Day 2014
3. Lawmakers want to hear from you
They want to hear from the real, regular people that make up their constituency. Legislators tell us this every time we are in Olympia. They tell us when they’ve been getting phone calls and emails about a specific issue. They love visitors. Lawmakers are real, regular people themselves, especially at the local level. They don’t care if you are an expert on the issues, and chances are they aren’t either. They want to hear your story. They want to know what you care about and why you care about it.

4. Politics is about values
In a political system where too often the focus is the bottom line, our faiths tell stories of a world where people matter more than profits. When we bring our faith language to political action we bring a moral framework that can inspire and motivate citizens and political leaders. Our faiths provide language for us to tell stories about the type of world we want to live in and leave for our children and the type of society we want to be.

5. Faith unites people
…from all over the political spectrum, from across economic divides, regional divides, and racial divides. People who might otherwise see themselves as having very different interests can come together around shared stories and values to work together on issues we all care about.

6. People of faith represent wider communities
People of faith can lift their voices louder by speaking as a community. When you speak as a person of faith, you can act as a spokesperson for a larger community of people who share your values.

7. Your faith tells you to
Our faiths call us to live out our values in the world. They teach us that it is our responsibility to speak out against injustice and for care for all of creation. Our faiths tell us how to live our lives, both as individuals but in particular as communities and societies. Because the political process is how we live in our communities and structure our societies, our faiths demand our engagement.

8. It works
People often bemoan the corruption and inefficiency of the political system that at times listens more to money than to people. However broken it may be, our government is still run and elected by us, and our voices affect real changes every day. Recently, a lawmaker told me that he introduced amendments to a piece of legislation because a single constituent called him with some good suggestions. 

Governor Gregoire signing Senate Bill 5769 in 2011 - 
Earth Ministry's LeeAnne Beres is on the far right!

In 2011 Earth Ministry/WAIPL, in partnership with the other members of the Power Past Coal campaign, succeeded in passing legislation to close the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Washington State, the TransAlta Centralia coal-fired power plant, by 2025.

Just this fall, thousands of citizens testified at hearings opposing the Longview coal export terminal, citing health, environmental, and climate concerns and submitted more than 215,000 comments. The Washington Department of Ecology listened and recently announced that they will be protecting the people of the northwest by taking into account all of the impacts of the coal export process, including the impacts of greenhouse gases and global warming and looking at the entire export process from rail transportation to the burning of the coal abroad. There are thousands of victories, small and large, happening around the world every day because regular people decide to get involved.