Doug Bland, the pastor at theTempeCommunity Christian Churchhas started something he callsecofessionals.He wears a cardboard box,spray-painted mahogany brown, and invites people to confess their ecological sins.
Some of his congregation members claim they fly too often on planes. Some admit to eating too much meat. Others feel they don’t appreciate the natural world enough.
He responds to ecological “Penances: Turn off lights. Install solar panel. Drive less.
Bland is also the executivedirector of Arizona InterfaithPower and Light, which works to bring a spiritual solution to the climate crisis. It is one of 40 chapters across the country calling for faith leaders to take action on the issue.
They have been a part of the group for 12 years and regularly attend rallies for climate justice. Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Kelly and others helped pass the president’s Build Back Better bill. On Environment Day at the Arizona Legislature they usually lead a spirit circle.
The Arizona Republics met with members of Arizona Interfaith Power and Light this holiday season to find out more about their motivations and to ask them: What do their faith traditions tell us about the environment?
The loss of connection to the natural environment
Bland grew up camping and hiking with his family. Bland believes he feels most at peace when he’s outside with his family.
Bland has been a pastor for many years and asked his congregation what they feel most close to God.
He said, “And not once did they ever say Pastor, I feel closest with God during your sermons. Instead, they say “on top of the mountain”, “at the ocean”, or “camping by a creek” or “hiking in desert,” or whatever.
He hascalledthe climate crisis a symptom ofa largerproblem:Therecent disconnect with nature.
Broken relationships between humans and nature are the real problem, he said. It’s only recently, in the last 150 year, that we have been so disconnected from the earth. Urban people didn’t notice the phases of the moon.
AhmadShqeirat was formerly the imam of Islamic Community Center of Tempe. He wrote a paper on environmental ethics in Islam. He states that the earth is a sign God’s greatness in the paper.
The Quran uses the entire universe and the earth as evidence of God’s existence. He wrote in the paper, citingverse88.17.
The Forest Service was supposed protect:Instead, water users drain untold numbers
This land isn’t our land
Many people of different faith traditions spoke out about how the earth belongs the divine.
Nona Siegel, a Jewish member of ArizonaInterfaithPower and Light,grew up in Montana, where shebecame aware ofseveral mining projects.One ofJudaisms corebeliefs is that the land belongs to the divineand she often wondered how humanity could justify mining and other processes that alter the earth.
I was horrified to see the land being raped by someone. Siegel said that the land belongs the the greater, the divine. However, you can define the boundaries of the land and you do not have any right to alter it fundamentally.
Abrahamic religions consider humans stewards. They have a unique responsibility to take care of the planet.
Shqeirattalked to Shqeirattal about the unique responsibility and burden humanity has to maintain the Earth.
People have the ability and the skills to lead and to fix (the world),to maintain it,or to destroy it.And God commanded us to set a good example,Shqeiratsaid. People are responsible and in charge because they have the free will either to do good or do wrong.
Other faith traditions, like Buddhism, Hinduismand many Indigenoustraditions,believe that while people still need to take care of the planet, they dont possess a unique responsibility, but arejust one part of the larger ecosystem.
Vasu Bandhu is a Zen Buddhist who stressed the importance interconnectedness in Buddhism. He said that Buddhists believe that all beings are equal.
He said that we think in terms interconnectedness. It means that all beings, not just humans, have dignity. In some Buddhist communities, we may pray for other beings. We pray for dogs and cats who have died. We pray for them because we believe that we are equal to all beings.
A deeper connection
According to SoumyaParthasarathy (a systems analyst), Hinduism has many gods who take the form of animals.
She said that elephants remind her of Ganesha, a godin Hinduism who has an elephanthead.
Parthasarathy also spoke of mantras or prayers that encourage worshippers be mindful of the natural world and show appreciation.
We say “Earth, you are my mother” as soon as we get up. Then, we touch the ground and say “Earth,” before we go to sleep. So I’m sorry for that, but thank you,’Parthasarathysaid. It is a feeling that builds within me when I say these words. It’s a reminder that I have to care for the planet.
Surya namaskara is another example, which is a vinyasa sequence performed during yoga.
It has 12 asanas, 12 postures, and each pose has a one-line mantra to appreciate the sun. So you are my friend, youaremy brother, you aretheonewhobringslight on the planet.
Bandhusaid considers cooking a form meditation, as he contemplates all the steps involved in creating food.
He said that we appreciate the food we eat and that everything around us needs to be done in a balanced way so that we can live. You can find in my specific tradition, that we meditatewhilecooking. That is how we appreciate food and the movement of the surrounding environment.
Parthasarathysaidthat reincarnation, a key concept in Hinduism that says humans and other beings are reborn, is a key driver for her to compost.
A banana peel may become food for earthworms, and other creatures. They will reproduce if they are able to survive.
But I don’t know where I’ll be next in life. When I think about sustainability, we have the cradle-to-cradle cycle for resources. It’s the recycling symbol. This is basically my reincarnation.
Because of the importance of rebirth, she tried to make every Hindu festival, zero waste, including Navaratri, Diwali, and Navaratri.
The rights of animals & plants
Blandand’s wife, Blandand, accompanied theAkimel Oodhamtribe on their trip to Organ Pipe National Monument. They also harvested saguaro.
After the fruit is removed from the tree, the tribe crushes it and makes wine. Afterward, they perform a ceremony, called “singing down the rain,” which thetribehopeswillusher inrain.
They believe that the saguaro, while a plant, is also a member of the family. Bland stated that the saguaro should have the same rights as humans. The legal system we have today has people and then it has property. Property is property if you are not people. Property is yours to do as you please. However, there are religious traditions that say rivers, air, and saguaros all should have rights. Not just for people.
He said that the United Church of Christ has recently issued a resolution declaring that nature should be treated equally with human beings.
Bland stated that Bland believes it’s an idea we’ve forgotten. ButIndigenouspeople are trying to teach us about what is sacred. We have become so materialistic that money is all that is sacred.
Other religions recognize specific rights that animals are entitled to.
The Quran forbids hunting for sport. Muslims believe animals and the planet will testify against them on the day for judgment.
The absolute 100% decision with no distinction in the Quran is justice,Shqeiratsaid. Two verses make this very, very clear. This justice should be toward other humans and towards other creatures.
Two men were reportedly admonished by Prophet Muhammad for takingchicks from a red squirrel. As the sparrow flapped its wings, the Prophet said, “Who has devastated this (bird), by takingher children?” Return her children.”
In Judaism kosher laws aim to protect the future species.
According to the kosher laws milk and meat should not be eaten together. Siegel stated that if you cookbeef and milk together, it is possible to harm the future of a species.
Future generations have a responsibility
Siegel explained that l’dor Vdor, which literally means from generation to generation in Judaism, is a revered expression.
Every thing we do, the idea of planting tree saplings, everything you do in your daily life is for your children’s benefit. She stated that it is important to think about the future of at least two generations. I don’t think it gets applied as consistently, but it is a way for older generations to engage. They have to ensure that there is a place for their grandchildren and great grandchildren.
She also mentioned the Jewish idea of “tikkunolam,” meaning healing the world.
She said that a short message is not the most powerful message. It’s the belief that we have the ability to heal the world. We were given the intellectual gifts and the cognitive capacity to make a positive difference in the world. It is our responsibility to continue that legacy for future generations.
Tikkunola advocates positive action and urges people not to despair.
She said that to see a need but not address it is the worst kind of action. It’s one thing to be unsure, but it’s another thing to know. If you do know, and you refuse change, then that is complicit.
Zayna Sayed is an environmental reporter with The Arizona Republic/azcentral. Follow her reporting on Twitter at@zaynasyed_and send tips or other information about stories [email protected].
The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust has provided funding to support environmental coverage on azcentral.com. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team atenvironment.azcentral.comand@azcenvironment onFacebook,TwitterandInstagram.