Thursday, June 28, 2012

First Moderated Chat Room of the Summer! Religion and the Environment

Thank you to everyone who participated in last night's chat on Religion and the Environment! We explored how people of faith can respond to climate change and other environmental challenges in their own lives and in their congregations, and what beliefs about humans' relationship to the earth motivate these actions.  

Joelle Novey: logs in on 6/27/2012 7:18 pm (et). 
azipl said: logs in on 6/27/2012 7:20 pm (et). 
Hengist said: logs in on 6/27/2012 7:20 pm (et). 

Moderator: Welcome to IFC’s Moderated Chat Room! This is Elora from InterFaith Conference (IFC) and I will be your moderator this evening. As this is still new, let me explain how this will work. On the right you should see a video. Please click the play button (the sideways triangle) to begin playing the video and to get our conversation going. If you have a comment and/or question, type your message in the box in the bottom left hand corner of the screen and click the "submit to moderator" button. This will send the message on to me for approval, and then I will post it to everyone where you will see it appear in the chat room. 
Moderator: As always I would like to remind you of the rules of our engagement. This is a respectful place where we try to understand what experiences others have, what things others believe, and how they try to live out what seems spiritual truth to them. Whether you agree of disagree, we welcome your comments and questions in a respectful manner. Please no profane or offensive remarks, they will not be posted. Try to refrain from stereotyping and remember that values and practices are not the same and that they have different levels of importance to each group. Additionally, it is important to remember that national and cultural differences may not always be the same as religious differences. I am here to make this a pleasant and educational experience for all, so enjoy and remember there are no stupid questions, but there can be hostile ones! 
Moderator: Tonight our topic is religion and the environment. How can people of faith respond to climate change and other environmental challenges in their own lives and in their congregations? What beliefs about human's relationship to the earth motivate these actions? Our quest this evening to guide us in exploring these questions is Joelle Novey, director of Interfaith Power and Light. 
Moderator: You can now begin posting and viewing the beginning comments on the right. As you participate please feel free to send your questions and comments (We Want Your Comments!!!) Also, the video will remain within the sidebar, so feel free to return to it as you wish. Our chat window automatically refreshes to keep the flow going, but if you wish to view the whole of the conversation just hit the archive button at the bottom of the page. Let the dialogue begin! 
Hengist said: Every religion tries to get people to extend their area of concern from Me, here and now, to other people in more distant places and times. Another teaching is to show respect for God by respecting the gifts we have been given, including this planet. 
Joelle Novey: Absolutely. Climate change challenges us to see the ways we are connected to other people and to the natural world, and that is something that our religious traditions can help us do.  
guest 234 said: logs in on 6/27/2012 7:34 pm (et). 
guest 234 said: How can we increase the importance of being respectful to the environment in the religious sphere? It seems as if it is always other aspects that are being stressed. 
Hengist said: Religion should also encourage taking a longer view, since we are (hopefully) more responsible for the needs of our children and grandchildren. 

Joelle Novey: Right. Politicians and businesspeople make their decisions on a very short timeframe. Religion is used to taking the long view. 
Joelle Novey: As for how we can increase the importance of environmental concerns in religious communities, that's the question we're asking every day at Interfaith Power & Light. 
Hengist said: It is point of view, in a nutshell. Religion is not religion unless it forces us to adapt our point of view. 
Joelle Novey: I think when these changes are happening in religious communities, it's because a person or people in the congregation took on the long, patient work of doing education and proposing changes in the community. 
Joelle Novey: And we try to be a resource for those congregational green leaders. 
Joelle Novey: I'm guessing most folks have had a chance to watch the video now. Any thoughts or reactions? What in that was most striking to you? 
Joelle Novey: Or, are there any on the chat that have had successes or challenges in engaging your own religious communities in environmental action? 
Hengist said: I like connecting to the Bible. We have to recognize that back then, consumption was not developed to (modern) levels. Still, a material versus a spiritual outlook. 
weekendwarriorlogs in on 6/27/2012 7:47 pm (et). 
Joelle Novey: Yes, I think our scriptures are a resource in confronting climate change. BUT -- nothing like this has ever happened before. 
Hengist said: Is what we need to see in our current situation. 
Joelle Novey: And we have to acknowledge that those scriptures were written by people who could not imaginge a world in which human beings had become the driving force behind the world's climate. 
Joelle Novey: I sometimes say, the Noah story can help. But who are we in that story? 
Joelle Novey: We are both Noah and the flood. 
Joelle Novey: So we can use our spiritual resources but we have to acknowledge where they leave us off short. 
Hengist said: Or the amount of resources that 7 billion people can consume. Still, both Judaism and Islam have their desert historical background, where resource control and development are critical. 
Hengist said: There is a recognition that trees make the difference between desert and habitable land. 
Joelle Novey: Yes. The people who originated Judaism and Islam were very very aware of their dependence on a predictable cycle of seasons. Of rain at the right times, for example. 
Joelle Novey: There's a lot of richness when religious communities go back and encounter the engagement with the natural world in their own holy texts! 
Joelle Novey: That can be the beginning of a community starting to understand that they have to engage with environmental issues if they want to live out their own faith tradition most fully. 
LynnK said: Do you know of any examples of stories or teachings from other traditions or holy texts? 
Joelle Novey: Well, there is a beautiful story about the prophet Muhammad (from the Muslim tradition) 
Joelle Novey: that he used to preach outdoors, using a tree as his podium 
Joelle Novey: and then his followers built him a sanctuary so that he could preach indoors 
Joelle Novey: and the tree wept -- it missed hearing the holy words 
parvez said: logs in on 6/27/2012 7:56 pm (et). 
Joelle Novey: I think that kind of story can help a community think about the ways we've become disconnected from the natural world. 
Hengist said: We learn to recognize that, past and present, we have an obligation to respond to the needs of the 'season', the time for every purpose. 
Joelle Novey: Yes. In the Jewish legal tradition, there is a principle that you have to put a "parapet" on your roof ... 
Joelle Novey: a little guardrail so that no one will fall off and hurt themselves 
Joelle Novey: it's a teaching to take precautions against possible danger 
Joelle Novey: and to take responsibility for the ways someone might get hurt because of your actions 
Joelle Novey: Lots of parrallels to the climate problem. 
Joelle Novey: I know some of those in Christian traditions talk about Jesus as the "Master Gardener" 
Joelle Novey: and how many of his teachings take place outdoors, in nature 
Joelle Novey: But Lynn, I really do believe that every religious tradition has ways to connect to this issue, because ALL of our ancestors were more deeply rooted in the natural world than many of us have become. 
Joelle Novey: It's very much about the religious communities *returning* to something very ancient, rather than striking out into something newfangled and untraditional. 
Hengist said: There are also traditions that speak of the prophets of God as being the trees that mark the difference between the settled and the wilderness of danger where people are not to go. 
Joelle Novey: Can you tell us more about that? What traditions? 
LynnK said: I often think that our world has become too consumed with the forces that are quantifiable and those that are more qualitative have lost their value in society...and this has disconnected us from the natural forces of nature that are equally as important 
Joelle Novey: Well, I think religious communities (when they're working) are countercultural, in reminding us that what's most important is spiritual rather than material. 
HalJordan logs in on 6/27/2012 8:04 pm (et). 
Hengist said: I understand that the tree at the end of the road is a metaphor for the Prophet in Islam and has continued into the Baha'i tradition. It was the custom to plant a tree on the road going out of a town to mark the city limits. Implied is that we have to accept limits to our activity. 

Joelle Novey: That's lovely. 
Joelle Novey: In Judaism, the Torah is described as a "tree of life." 
Joelle Novey: Do any of the folks on the chat have any experiences or challenges with engaging your religious communities in green actions or activities? 
LynnK said: I haven't but I am curious, has Interfaith Power & Light faced any difficulties in influencing the political sphere given the U.S.'s tradition of separation of church and state? 
Hengist said: In my experience, no matter what size the community, there is always something that can be done to emphasize our responsibility for our environment. Even something relatively trivial like returning shopping carts to their respective markets to make the neighborhood a little less trashed. 

Joelle Novey: Great question, Lynn. 
Joelle Novey: We invite people in congregations to get involved in environmental advocacy, and to cite the religious reasons why they are doing so. 
Joelle Novey: But it's not any kind of challenge to the separation of church and state. 
Joelle Novey: For example, the Environmental Protection Agency recently issued the first ever limits on industrial carbon pollution from power plants. 
Joelle Novey: And gave a period of time when they would accept comments from the public about their proposal. 
Joelle Novey: So we organized congregations all over our area to collect postcards after services ... 
Joelle Novey: saying, "as a religious person, I am concerned about climate change and support limiting industrial carbon pollution." 
Hengist said: Our power is to motivate the people. When the people are motivated, the leaders will catch on. Trying to involve leaders can involve political ramifications that can obstruct progress. 
Joelle Novey: Those were only a few of 2.2 MILLION comments from Americans in support of those new limits. 
Joelle Novey: So we see our role as engaging and empowering those who already attend religious communities to weigh in and participate. 
Joelle Novey: There's no pressure on anyone who is not religious or not part of a congregation to participate in that way. And there's no expectation that the government itself will be explicitly religious. 
Joelle Novey: We're just engaging this segment of our population to find their voice on this issue. Does that make sense? 
LynnK said: Yes it does, thank you! 
Hengist said: Some people can find they voice mor easily if they have connected the issue to their core beliefs. Joelle Novey: Absolutely, Hengist. I believe that having a conversation about climate change in a congregation is one of the best places in the world to have that conversation. 
Joelle Novey: People listen differently in church (or their religious community). 
Joelle Novey: They listen with their "moral ears." 
LynnK said: That is true, everyone is motivated and inspired differently and for some religion is the way they connect with things most 
Hengist said: And they are prepared for a different viewpoint than they might have in their normal day by day activities. 
Joelle Novey: Right, in their congregations they are hear environmental problems as a matter of right and wrong, and doing right by their neighbors and living in a holy way. 
Joelle Novey: And, people are used to their congregations challenging them to believe they can change. 
Joelle Novey: And taking climate seriously means having to consider needing to change. 
Joelle Novey: Likewise, people already greive and celebrate in their congregations. And sometimes the hard emotions that come along with taking climate change seriously go unacknowledged in other settings. 
Joelle Novey: But in a religious setting, it's okay for people to say: I'm scared. or I'm sad. 
Hengist said: In a religious venue, people are ready to contemplate the extreme consequences of wrong action or inaction. 
Joelle Novey: Yes, and they *hear* the climate problem as a matter of moral responsibility. In this country, the climate problem has become incredibly politicized. 
Joelle Novey: So working in religious communities is a way of re-framing the conversation about right and wrong and human responsibility. 
Hengist said: That may be our biggest challenge, depoliticizing the climate problem. 
Joelle Novey: Absolutely. I think the more people are introduced to this topic through their congregations, the more we help to address that. 
LynnK said: I know in Brazil there is a landless peasant movement that sites the law influenced by Catholic tradition that people who own land must use it for production and they use this to gain some land redistribution from those holding large spaces of to smaller plots for small scale farming. I think this is a positive example of religion giving people a voice for a positive environmental action politically. 
Joelle Novey: Yes. I think there are resources in our traditions for responding to the problems we face. 
Hengist said: Could we instill the value of restoring the planet to something like the condition in which we received it? There are parables about handling trusts in the new testament. 
Moderator: We are just about out of time! I will give Joelle a chance to
respond to this final question. 

Joelle Novey: Well, I think leaving the world in the same condition we found it in is a good thing to aspire to; but that's probably not possible anymore. 
Joelle Novey: But I think being mindful of limiting the damage, and helping each other and future generations adapt and cope, are all worthwhile. 
Joelle Novey: It's been a pleasure to chat with everyone! If you don't already, please email to be added to our mailing list. 
Joelle Novey: You can also follow us on twitter @gwipl, and like us on facebook/gwipl 
Hengist said: Thank you! 
Joelle Novey: Thank you! 
Moderator: Yes, thank you everyone for your participation in this first chat of the summer! I encourage you to spread the impact of this dialogue by sharing the knowledge you have gained with those around you! 
Moderator: If you would like to be added to the listserv for further information about upcoming chats, please email me at Also, I am committed to making these chats the best that they can be so please send me any comments on what worked, what didn’t work, and what I could do to make the chats better.
One final announcement: Because next Wednesday is the fourth of July, the chat will be taking place on Thursday at 7:30pm. The topic has not been decided but follow IFC on Facebook and Twitter or check our website for further updates!
Have a good night and we will ‘see’ you next week! 

Some basic conclusions we came to were:

Religious congregations are a good place to start in addressing climate change because it is a setting that has historically challenged people to change their perspectives and actions and has typically taken the long-term view. 

Change often comes through the dedication of one person or group, who then educate the community, who then inform our leaders of what they want to see done.  Interfaith Power and Light is looking to provide resources for these congregations that are trying to inform our leaders.

Nearly all religious traditions offer some way to connect to the environmental issue because ALL of our ancestors were more deeply connected to nature than we have become today.

Looking back at holy texts and what they tell us about connecting to the environment can help us understand how living an environmentally conscious lifestyle can help us live out our faith more fully. 

Our ancestors and holy texts can only offer us so much, however, because they never could have imagined a world where humans have such significant control over the earth.


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