Eco-Journey is the blog of the Environmental Ministries Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It includes a wide array of environmental topics: upcoming environmental events, links to interesting articles and studies, information on environmental advocacy, eco-theology topics, and success stories from churches that are going “green.”
Author Rebecca Barnes is the Associate for Environmental Ministries at the PC(USA). She is a graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary with an MDiv and Master of Arts in Religion (MAR) dual degree.
I was grateful for the opportunity to learn from Buddhist and Jewish colleagues about their faith stories and traditions that undergird their care of the earth at the early March Louisville-area "Ground for Hope" event co-sponsored by GreenFaith.
I was appreciative of the Buddhist silent meditation we did and the encouragement to be mindful. It is so easy to be overcome by unimportant things, to have our senses bombarded with stimuli, that we forget our interrelatedness. In any setting, we can be aware of the connection to one another and to all the world. I enjoyed the idea that the assumed Western boundaries between "me" and "you" is not as firm as I think and that we all indeed are part of one another. Even what seems to separate me from an inanimate part of the earth is a very dissolvable boundary. Stacey Kenneally, who has completed training at Pine Wind Zen Community, shared her tradition's belief that because we are all one ("interbeing" as talked about by Thich Nhat Han), our care for the other and the earth and our care for ourselves cannot be distinguished. How can a table be separated, even be considered a separate thing, from the wood, soil, microbes, human carpenter, minerals of the nails, that made it? Understanding how great an impact the reintroduction of one species (wolves) into one ecosystem (Yellowstone National Park) made-- changing other animal behavior and eventually even the course of rivers--we can see how every decision affects every other decision, how every movement shapes another.
When Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport then walked us through a modern midrash that shows how Hebrew words for human, earth, and God's name are all connected, I was again moved by this interfaith sharing of how each of our own traditions has its own unique and compelling engagement with caring for the earth. I learned that from the Torah text (Deuteronomy 20:19-20) there developed an understanding of the Jewish ethic of "not wasting." This value of not wasting (bal tashchit) thus encourages simplicity across the board, from simple funerals to simplifying consumption to more. The ethical mandate of reducing, reusing, and recycling thus could be seen as a legal requirement or moral obligation of faith.
I valued the intellectual learning of other faith traditions and ethics and I just as much (if not more) valued the sharing of lived faith by the leaders themselves. In our culture and society, interfaith dialogue and relationship is often not a central place at the table. For those gathered at this interfaith environmental event, we each came from a place of faith and had a chance to share this vulnerable, key piece of who we are and why we care. To learn from one another, to respectfully hear and value other traditions, and to join across traditions in a common value shared, was a powerful experience and one worth seeking out.
I hope to continue to engage these interfaith opportunities and also hope that Presbyterian churches continue to engage in interfaith partnerships for caring for God's world, as an inspiring, meaningful, and helpful way of finding hope and courage within our own Christian tradition as we tackle creation care.