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There is a magic that happens when we come together.
This week, it has been my privilege to meet with leaders of two of Texas Interfaith Power & Light’s local affiliates—in Fort Worth, Fort Worth Interfaith Power & Light; and in Austin, the Interfaith Environmental Network. The meetings were very different.
As my heart and prayers go out to the Sikh community following yesterday’s horrific shooting in Wisconsin, my resolve to work toward creating a community that is more accepting, more loving, and more whole grows even stronger. Because I know that the first step in building community is knowing about the people in that community, I am devoting some time today to learning more about the Sikh tradition. Today I write to share a little of what I’ve learned—and, as I like to do, I begin with a story.
This was first published on State of Formation.
The forecast for name-your-environmental-crisis-here often looks bleak. People who follow environmental issues know it, and sustained justice work can be a challenge. When I meet with religious groups about things like pervasive toxic chemicals, environmental justice, or global warming, someone invariably asks, “Where do we find hope?”
This was my first visit to the Zen Center. One of the Buddhist priests had invited me to encourage his students to engage in interfaith environmental work. I was a little nervous, but something about this group—their open spirit, perhaps, and honest questions—quickly put me at ease and helped me speak from the heart. At some point, I found myself saying, “The Buddhist tradition has beautiful teachings about how all life is interconnected, and the world desperately needs this wisdom! Please share it.”
Global warming is a huge behemoth of a problem. It challenges us to work together across the globe in new and unprecedented ways—ways we clearly haven’t figured out yet, as international climate talks repeatedly fail to produce significant agreements. Meanwhile, individual people are waking up to the climate crisis, struggling to make sense of it, and wondering how to respond.
I was on a chartered bus with about 40 other people—Christians, Jews, Muslims, Unitarian Universalists, one Buddhist, and one Wiccan priest. We were united in being people of faith, in being mostly white and middle class, and in touring part of Newark, New Jersey as part of the Environmental Justice retreat of GreenFaith’s Fellowship Program.
I already knew that low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation; if there are toxic emissions or pollution to be found in a community, it’s most likely on the “other side of the tracks,” where poverty and the legacy of racism and discrimination combine to form communities that have little leverage in the fight against larger corporate interests. And so it is in the Ironbound, a historically immigrant community in Newark, so-named because it is bounded on three sides by railroad tracks—and on the fourth side, by Newark Airport.
At the end of each month's interfaith environmental conference call, we close our time together with a prayer. Often, I'll ask a clergy-person to lead us. Today, though, the theme of this month's call--"greening" the holidays--had me thinking about the current Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which ends today at sundown. What follows are the words I offered at the close of today's call.
Today is the last day of the Jewish festival of Sukkot, during which we are commanded to go outside and sit in temporary dwellings, open to the elements. This act of moving outside for seven days is a reminder of our impermanence and fragility, our connection to the natural world, and our responsibility to be engaged with and active in the larger world, outside our comfort zone. All of that might sound pretty heavy.
But during this festival of Sukkot, we are also commanded to be happy and joyful!