Yaira's blog

Will Work for Meaning

On a recent, overcast Thursday evening, I co-led a presentation in San Marcos, Texas, about creating a local, interfaith environmental network. I didn’t know what to expect; in retrospect, I guess I didn’t expect much. San Marcos is a small town compared to the other cities in which I’ve offered this presentation. I wondered whether enough people would even be interested.

We met in one of the basement classrooms of a campus ministry center, hosted by the local Unitarian Universalist church that rents space there. Fifteen people showed up, most of them Unitarian Universalists, members of the host church. One was Christian (Unity), one was Jewish, one was Baha’i. Two were religiously unaffiliated.

The Magic of Coming Together

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.

In Fort Worth, planning is underway for a formal October launch of the group. In addition, we strategized about how to respond as people of faith to a new proposal from the EPA to weaken and delay long-awaited emissions standards on cement kiln plants.

Today, I'm Learning about the Sikh Tradition

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.

According to The Handbook of Living Religions, the founder of the Sikhism, Guru Nanak (1469-1539), who lived in the Punjab region of northwest India, went one day to take his usual bath in the river—and disappeared for three days. During those three days, he was presumed dead. Neighbors searched the banks and dragged the river.

Thoughts on Siach & My First Trip to Israel

This was first published on State of Formation.

“One day, the king ordered that an elephant be brought into the palace, along with the five wisest sages from the outskirts of the city, who all happened to be blind. The king instructed each sage to stand at a different place around the elephant, each touching a different part of the animal. ‘You are each touching one thing,’ the king said to the sages, ‘Tell me: what is it?’

The first sage was touching the trunk of the elephant. ‘It is long, coarse, and flexible,’ he said. ‘It is a rope.’

Calling for Labeling of Genetically-Modified Ingredients

Last week, the Founder and Director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA), Judith McGeary, spoke on our February 2012 interfaith environmental conference call about GMO's, or "Genetically-Modified Organisms." She highlighted several concerns about the widespread and increasing use of GMOs in our food system, including social justice concerns for small farms and low-income farmers, environmental concerns about the use of pesticides on fields planted with genetically-modified "Round Up Ready" crops, and health concerns about the still-unknown long-term effects of eating foods that contain GMOs.

Meaning vs. Hope in Working for Justice

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?”

Here’s the truth, friends: I am done with hope. Hope hinges on outcome; it pursues a goal. Hope is illusory, transient, and insubstantial. In honestly facing life’s challenges—including the reality of human suffering, intolerance, and environmental degradation—I am likely to be disappointed if I put too much stock in hope.

To continue working for justice in a wounded world that cries out for healing, I need something more than hope. I need meaning.

Religious Wisdom the World Needs Now

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.

Touring the Ironbound: Environmental Justice Made Real

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.

About Sukkot and Our Work to Care for Creation

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!

My Testimony at Austin's Keystone XL Hearing

On Wednesday, September 28, 2011, I offered testimony at the U.S. State Department hearing in Austin in opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Although I had prepared my testimony in advance, I revised it during the hearing to address the very real concerns being expressed by our union brothers and sisters about their need for jobs. I'd love to hear your thoughts--about this testimony, about this issue, about your experience of the hearing... feel free to send me an e-mail.


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