This past Thursday and Friday (June 22-23.2017) , The Shalom Center convened a gathering of 17 religious activists from across the country -- organizers, liturgists, and preachers -- to explore a new approach to the science, policy decisions, and religious practice of addressing the global scorching that has brought us into a climate crisis.
The gathering (held at Pendle Hill, a Quaker-sponsroed retreat center just outside Philadelphia) successfully laid out a plan of religiously rooted action. Just as important, we shaped the gathering so as to help those present see themselves as part of their own committed, covenanted community. I am writing to share it with you, and invite you to join in what will be a profoundly inspiring work to heal the Earth.
Moments of powerful imagination that we want to share and multiply: Matzah labeled “CO2-free.” A Palm Sunday march/procession from a church to a nearby “pyramid of power.” A weekly congregational blessing for healing for the Earth and the human beings wounded by famine, or typhoon, or drought, or formerly “tropical” diseases. Counting a tree in the Jewish minyan, the quorum for prayer. On Good Friday, mourning the crucifixion of the Earth.
Before I describe in more detail what the gathering undertook, let me note one approach that The Shalom Center intends to pursue: Gathering similar groups of clergy and engaged laity (perhaps including relevant scientists) in local or regional venues, rather than a national one.
Such local gatherings of about 18 people could be done in a single city or metropolitan area and so would cost little for travel and room and board. They could create and disseminate liturgical and sermonic materials – like the ones above -- with great effectiveness.
Please let me know if you would like to bring about such a gathering in your community. We can offer our people, our knowledge of the issues, our experience with the mixture of prayer, song, focused contemplation, and planful conversation that brought the group together.
All this began six weeks ago, when scientists/engineers sought out The Shalom Center, asking us to convene a new effort to infuse diverse religious communities with activist liturgical and sermonic aids in support of an unconventional vision:
Taking action not merely to barely survive the onslaught of global scorching, but to renew, heal, and restore the planet and its climate to be as life-giving for our children and grandchildren as it was for our parents and grandparents -- and to infuse that renewed healthy world with far more justice than was current in the world that many of our parents and grandparents knew.
- Scientifically, that would mean removing a trillion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.
- In political life, it would mean gathering the money and the sense of emergency and possibility that would make that enterprise do-able.
- Religiously, it would mean giving passion and covenanted commitment to making real the spiritual visions of the Promised Land and the Beloved Community. It would mean going deep into the innards of religious life and practice – going beyond mobilizing a march or moving endowments out of investments in fossil-fuel companies or lobbying Congress, into renewing and reshaping old patterns of prayer, song, ceremony, sacred text, and theology to empassion and empower the sleepy giant of American religious life to take action on climate.
This means developing and disseminating the liturgies and sermons and ceremonies for life-cycle events such as baptisms ,and b’nai mitzvah, for festivals such as Holy Week, Passover,and Eid al Fitr, or for weekly celebrations Jumat, Shabbat, or the Sabbath. It means urging congregants to adopt sacred daily practices –- for instance, gathering congregants in solar-energy co-ops, or gathering in groups before weekly prayer services to write letters to their legislators.
Approaching the renewal of a healthy Earth and climate in these ways could engage their congregants in a deep and persistent commitment to act to heal the Earth from the climate crisis.
With this as background and commitment, our gathering was a powerful start.
There were two major proposals put before the gathering for focus times in the year ahead, when religious action can matter in making sure this approach gets serious attention.
One aimed at making sure that Healthy Climate Restoration is on the agenda for the UN Climate conference in Bonn, Germany, in November. The other focused on the spring period (late March and early April) when Christian Holy Week, Passover, and the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King all come together and when it would be possible to create a wave of strong public religious action on behalf of renewing, healing, and restoring a healthy climate.
Taking these in chronological order:
Bonn preparation: In November 2017, about 10,000 people will join in exhibit rooms, side meetings, and official meetings for discussion, not policy-making. In July, scientists and engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will prepare for such meetings with discussions focused on their White Paper about climate restoration. What are the critical things they need to include? What other actions are needed? To stimulate the public to support restoration/ healing initiatives, a series of articles in the New York Times and Washington Post would help.
We are now facing a circular logic between scientists and policy makers, each waiting on the other to get things moving. A critical opportunity exists now for the religious community to call for more social/ climate justice. We need to prepare in August for September deliverables. August is important from MIT’s perspective.
To focus on Healthy Climate Restoration, we need a social narrative and a theological perspective to add to the mix by the July gathering at MIT. Paired scientists and religious people should write initial cross-disciplinary pieces for the general public. Several seminaries, journals like Sojourners and Tikkun, and blogs from The Shalom Center and similar bodies are potential venues for publication to reach wider audiences.
There was some discussion about how much energy to put into mobilizing those most endangered by climate chaos -- especially the poor and people of color, in the US and around the world -- and/or focusing on people with significant political and financial power who can more readily influence climate policy change. Most of those present felt there is a religious imperative to make sure front-line communities are an important part of the effort.
Several participants warned that many activists and many religious folk, including religious progressives, are very cautious about depending on the assertions of scientists and engineers that major engineering projects will always be beneficial. They suggested that great ethical and religious care would need to be taken to vet engineering proposals to make massive changes in the Earth's atmosphere. We are already undergoing geo-engineering planned only by the demand for corporate profits; we will need to make sure that proposals to correct these disasters will not make the results even worse, and we have to think about some structures and processes for careful review.
The other major focus-time proposal was making spring 2018 and 2019 into times of major religious action for the Earth. April 1, 2018, is Easter; Passover week starts the next night; April 4 2018 is the 50th anniversary of King’s death. We have an opportunity to begin in 2018 to awaken the religious community to the supernal importance of eco-social justice and the vision of a healthy climate with a Healthy & Just society.
Why choose this time? It is the most holy time of year for Jews and Christians, and it will be the peak time for religious awareness in the American public. Both Holy Week and Passover commemorate and sometimes inspire renewal of spiritually rooted challenges to illegitimate and immoral power -- Pharaoh or Caesar.
Indeed, Jesus clearly chose the date of the “Palm Sunday” protest march in Jerusalem because of its proximity to the anti-Imperial time of Passover. Would it be possible to connect Palm Sunday processions to vigils and protests at “pyramids of power,” especially eco-destructive corporate and governmental centers?
Could such Palm processions be followed by multireligious Seders for Healing the Earth, against modern Corporate Carbon Pharaohs and the Plagues they bring upon the Earth? Could we invoke the “Promised Land” as a planet of abundance, climate restored ?
Let me end by repeating that The Shalom Center would be glad to help you gather similar groups in your own local or regional community.
Please let us know if you would like to bring about such a gathering of about 18 people in your community. We can offer our knowledge, experience, and people to help. If you are interested, use the “Reply” function to write us. Please let us know your own personal role and relationship to the religious, scientific, and/or activist community and congregation.
We look forward to working with you.