"Deep Ecumenism" faces Endangered Earth

The Pope, the Rabbis, the Imams Speak Out

This coming Thursday, June 18, Pope Francis will send forth to the world an encyclical he is naming “Laudato Sii: Sulla Cura Della Casa Comune – Praised Be the ONE: Concerning the Care of our Common Home.”  The first two words are a quotation from a famous prayer created by St. Francis of Assisi – – the prayer in which he praises the Creator for Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and all the other beings on Earth and in the universe.

Laudato sii and parallel teachings from other religious leaders and communities have been an extraordinary action-experiment in going beyond “interfaith dialogue” to “deep ecumenism.”

What is the difference?

“Interfaith dialogue” has usually been focused on an intellectual understanding of the differences between different traditions, with the intent of preventing misunderstanding and hatred.

The newer approach, called by some “deep ecumenism,” aims at uncovering the profound wisdom that many traditions share with each other, each explaining them through metaphors, symbols, rituals, festivals, and practices different from the other traditions.

Moreover, “deep ecumenism” may seek not only intellectual understanding of these shared truths but also the wisdom to join in parallel or concerted action --  creating  a new kind of community to address a shared problem.

In that light, The Shalom Center pursued something beyond “interfaith dialogue” when we learned in late February that Pope Francis was planning to issue this encyclical to the Church and the world.

We began to talk with several eminent rabbis around the country: Would it make sense to create a kind of Jewish analogue to the encyclical? Seven of us agreed to draft and refine a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis..

By early May, we were ready to circulate the Letter to a broad spectrum  of American rabbis in all the streams of Jewish religious community. By now, as we prepare to receive the encyclical at noon Roman time on Thursday (6 AM EDT) , more than 340 rabbis have signed. They come from every stream of Judaism – for example, Rabbis Irving (Yitz) Greenberg and Shmuly Yanklowitz,  Nina Beth Cardin and Elliot Dorff, Peter Knobel and Susan Talve, Deborah Waxman and Mordechai Liebling, Arthur Green and Ellen Bernstein, David Ingber and Diane Elliot.

The full text of the Rabbinic Letter and a list of signers is at <https://theshalomcenter.org/torah-pope-crisis-inspire-300-rabbis-call-vigorous-climate-action>

The press and media coverage of the Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis has been amazing. On-line editions of major Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim magazines have carried articles. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a major story, deliberately connecting it with a report on the papal encyclical. The Interfaith Alliance arranged a nationally distributed radio interview about the Rabbinic Letter, back to back with a report on the history of Catholic eco-social thought. The Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology put the entire text of the Rabbinic Letter on line.

We don’t think this would be happening if there were not a deep hunger to stand together facing a danger that all human cultures and all life-forms face, as well as an opportunity for joyful transformation that beckons us to surface the oft-hidden wisdoms of each of our traditions.

Even in the timing of the encyclical there is a hint – only a hint – of a deeply ecumenical leaning within the Pope. This Thursday, June 18, is the first day of Ramadan. Did the Pope deliberately choose this day? Given his desire to emulate Francis of Asissi in St. Francis’ love of the poor and of the Earth, we might note one other important strand of St. Francis’ life that the Pope certainly is aware of:

In 1219 CE, St. Francis, during the midst of the Crusades, visited Egypt and met with the Sultan. His intentions are still debated  -- was he trying peacefully to convert the sultan to Christianity, or to make peace with Islam? Was he trying to learn how Muslim mystics – Sufis – prayed, so as to deepen his own Christian prayer? Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, when in 2002 he was still a leading Cardinal, spoke of St. Francis as having lifted up the light of peace between Islam and Christianity. In any of these possible modes, he seems to have rejected the Crusades as a way of life – an attitude that in that era teetered on the edge of both heresy and treason.

Did Pope Francis choose the first day of Ramadan to publish his deeply Franciscan address to the world precisely to point toward the need for all religious traditions, even those long hostile to each other like Islam and Christianity, to work together to heal the Earth – “our common home” --  from global scorching and climate disaster?

If so, within parts of the Muslim world a similar dynamic was already operating.

Leading American Muslim organizations and teachers have this year called for “Green Ramadan,” focusing on the spiritual meaning of Ramadan and its fast that turns away from material obsessions, by acting with care for all Creation. For information on Green Ramadan, see <http://muslimmatters.org/2014/07/02/getting-green-during-ramadan/>

What now?

We recommend that this coming weekend, synagogues, churches, mosques, and temples lift up Pope Francis’ teachings in Laudato Sii, the teachings of the Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis., and teachings focused on Green Ramadan. This Thursday, once Laudato Sii is public, The Shalom Report will send you the most relevant passages from all these sources. Your sermons and dialogues could quote from these and invite congregational discussion as the beginning, not the end, of learning. As the great rabbi Akiba said, “Which is greater, study or action? Study if it leads to action.”

My life-partner Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I will be leading a course at the Ruach HaAretz [“Breathing-spirit of the Earth”}  gathering near Philadelphia the week of July 5.  Along with addressing other aspects of Deep Ecumenism, our course will take the rise of Earth-focus in several different religious communities as a powerful example and model for going beyond  “interfaith” to “deep ecumenism.” We welcome adherents of all traditions to our course. Get more information and register by clicking to https://aleph.org/ruach

During the past two weeks, we at The Shalom Center have been devotedly engaged, day and night, in bringing the Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis  to the world. We have so far succeeded, but there is much left to do, especially to turn these learnings into action.   Please help us do this urgent sacred work by making a tax-deductible) gift to The Shalom Center.  See the "Donate" button on the left margin.

Thanks!

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