Friday, October 24, 2014

Religions for the Earth

Written by Jessica Zimmerle
Earth Ministry Outreach Coordinator
Dear friends,

"A peacemaker takes on the causes, not just the consequences."
- The Rev. Jim Wallis

Climate change is a major ethical dilemma facing my generation. This challenge, and the resonating issues of environmental justice within faith traditions, is the passion to which I will devote my life’s energy. For further professional and personal development in this field, and thanks to a generous grant from the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship, I attended the Religions for the Earth Conference at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

The Religions for the Earth Conference was both captivating and inspiring. Interfaith representatives gathered from around the world, each bringing their own unique perspective with the goal of building a collective movement of people fueled by a spiritual essence to combat climate change.

I was in awe of the amount of wisdom shared by global faith and environment leaders, scribbling down notes frantically in an attempt to absorb the abounding knowledge they offered. One specific session I would like to share was the opening workshop that focused on what moves us. Faith traditions met to discuss what creation care means to their spiritual practice, afterwards sharing their main points with the large group.

Buddhism focused on the delusion of separation from the Earth; Islam invoked caring for creation as a form of worship; Indigenous traditions called for Mother Earth to be treated as a relative rather than a resource; Christianity honed in on revitalizing the tradition of stewardship within existing practices; Judaism spoke to the indivisibility of sustainability and justice; Secular Humanists desired connection as one people on one planet; and Indic traditions offered nature as an inspiration to change our own hearts. The collective message was fantastic, presenting unique gifts from each tradition and acknowledging that, although we are not one in the same, Earth is an equalizer and a foundation for interfaith collaboration.

Throughout the conference, I identified three major themes: contemplation, commitment, and action. A main focus of the contemplation aspect was the question of how can we stand in the center of this crisis with love? This question was addressed by acknowledging that love and experience generally proceed caring and action. Building off of this foundation, faith can, in the words of Al Gore, “become a wellspring of energy for transformation.”

Taking time for personal contemplation after each session was also incredibility beneficial. This self-reflection gave me space to personalize what I was learning and ponder further questions, contributing to a deeper understanding of my own beliefs and developing methods to move forward towards action.

Another strength of this conference was the level of commitment articulated by incredibly influential leaders. Terry Tempest Williams set a serious tone by saying that “the eyes of the future are looking back at us, and they are praying that we see beyond our time.” The intergenerational implication of our actions, and the severity of current climate disruption, resonates on a different level when placed within the framework of how our faith values call us to strive for justice in this world. With this motivation, we can breach the identity barriers that may otherwise divide us to strive for a stronger collective commitment.

Not only were commitments implied throughout our discourse, but they were solidified through a powerful ritual. At the closing multi-faith worship service, each speaker shared their personal commitment with the audience and set it in stone by placing a rock on the central alter. Everyone in attendance participated, building a mound of commitments to combat climate change. Personally, I vowed that I would commit my life to this movement and draw strength from this experience when I lack faith, courage, or hope.

The goal of the conference was not simply to engage with one another in conversation, but to prepare strategic ways to put our faith into action. For, as Larry Schweiger said, “it is one thing to know the truth, another to act on it.” The conference aligned with two major international gatherings, the UN Climate Summit meeting and the People’s Climate March, both of which were significant opportunities for faith leaders to show the world that climate change is a moral imperative.

I was one of the 400,000 that participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City. The entire march was historic and exhilarating, but it was especially outstanding to see the faith contingent, 12,000 individuals strong, demonstrate that we are serious about climate action. The collective spirit of the crowd was absolutely electric, providing a space for folks from all walks of life to share in a common vision of a more sustainable future. This global action certainly caught the world’s attention and was an excellent way to take what we discussed in the conference and enact it on the streets.

This experience definitely provided further clarity in my vocational calling for faith-based environmental justice. I left feeling renewed and empowered with hope that, as peacemakers, we can take on the root cause of climate change and strive towards a faith-based paradigm shift.

This experience was invaluable and I am incredibly grateful that I had to opportunity to attend the Religions for the Earth Conference and the People’s Climate March due to the generous support of the Krista Foundation and Earth Ministry. I am excited to continue onward towards a more cohesive global faith network, spreading the good news that religions are indeed for the earth.

In peace,

To read more about my experience at the People's Climate March, please click here.