Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Honoring First People and the Land


                  The Church of Reconciliation Earth Care Committee’s 2018 study of the Doctrine of Discovery prompts us to recognize the Indigenous People who came before us on the lands we now inhabit in North Carolina. 

            The Doctrine of Discovery is a philosophical and legal framework dating to 15th century European papal decrees. This framework gave Christian governments a false moral rationale for invading and seizing indigenous land and people around the world. Its effects, including intergenerational trauma, still linger in our social and legal systems. 

                  We confess our complicity in this sinful doctrine, and we are grateful that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), by official apologies to Indigenous People harmed by colonization, has led the way to listening and to repentance. With the whole church, we intend to further nurture mutual relationships of loving care and respect.

                  We acknowledge that we live on land traditionally belonging to and cared for by Indigenous People now formally recognized as:

                                    Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation             Sappony
                                    Cohaire Intra-Tribal Council, Inc.                         Lumbee Tribe
                                    Eastern Band of Cherokee                                           Waccamaw-Siouan Tribe
                                    Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe                                       Meherrin Nation
                  They are our neighbors, those we are commanded to love as ourselves as we heed Christ’s call to the healing of people, of land, and all Creation.
Nancy Corson Carter, Facilitator,
                  Earth Care Committee 
Rev. J. Mark Davidson, Pastor,               
                  Church of Reconciliation   

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Stated Clerk Responds to UN Climate Study

October 17, 2018

Siblings in Christ,

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for God has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.—Psalm 24: 1-2 

According to a new report from the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change, God’s earth could be facing dire consequences sooner than we thought. This panel of 91 scientists from 40 countries has concluded that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, our atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels by 2040.

The results, according to the panel, would intensify the drought and poverty we are facing now. There would be food shortages, wildfires, and coral reefs would die-off at an alarming rate.

The 223rd General Assembly (2018) affirmed yet again how passionate Presbyterians are about caring for God’s creation, particularly about responding with faithful action in a time of climate change.

A policy called “The Earth Is the Lord’s” encourages “the whole church to raise a prophetic voice regarding the urgency of healing the climate of the earth, our home and God’s gift for the future of all life, human and nonhuman” as pastors take on the moral mantle of preaching and teaching while congregations and Presbyterians lead by our example of making energy choices with integrity (https://www.pc-biz.org/#/search/3000298).

Another policy that was approved by the assembly encouraged the church to “express its profound concern about the destructive effects of climate change on all God’s creation, including a disproportionate impact on those living in poverty and in the least developed countries” while advocating for the creation of carbon pricing that is fair and just especially for those in vulnerable populations (https://www.pc-biz.org/#/search/3000325).

The assembly, after much debate and consideration of divestment from fossil fuels, voted to maintain the current corporate engagement strategy of Mission Responsibility for Investment to continue engaging fossil fuel companies of which the PC(USA) holds shares on issues of climate change and environmental sustainability, while vetting those companies for selective divestment at the 224th General Assembly (2020) (https://www.pcbiz.org/#/search/3000263).

These, and the decades of General Assembly policies and Presbyterian action on climate, are especially crucial now.

Presbyterians believe that all people are beloved by God and deserving of a healthy, bright future. We want for our children to breathe clean air and drink clean water. We do not desire for lives and churches to be consistently disrupted by natural disasters caused by climate change. What Presbyterians in North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, California, New Jersey, and Louisiana have experienced are helping us to realize that the time is now for bold action, and that we can all take steps in the right direction—becoming energy efficient, purchasing renewable energy, lowering our carbon footprint, and advocating for safe environmental policies at all levels of government.


In the name of Christ we serve,
Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

PEC responds to powerful and devastating storms

 Presbyterians for Earth Care Responds to Powerful Storms Made More Devastating by Climate Change
by Bruce Gillette

In response to the news of broad devastation by Tropical Storm Florence in North Carolina and South Carolina, Super Typhon Mangkhut in the Philippines and China along with the continuing recovery in Puerto Rico and other areas by past hurricanes, the annual meeting of Presbyterians for Earth Care (PEC)’s Steering Committee took on a renewed sense of urgency.

Rick Ufford-Chase, Co-Director of Stony Point Center, met twice with the PEC Steering Committee and encouraged them to help Presbyterians become distinctive as a denomination known for its environmental work. The PEC Steering Committee dedicated their organization to work at encouraging “Every Church Green.”  

One way would be for every Presbyterian congregation to seek to use renewable energy sources like wind, solar and hydroelectric to avoid pollution that contributes to Climate Change. State chapters of Interfaith Power & Light can help congregations know local clean energy options. Other ideas can be found in the PCUSA’s Earth Care Congregation: A Guide to Greening Congregations (this very helpful guide is a free download from PCUSA web site). Presbyterians for Earth Care has many helpful resources and links to others on the PEC web site. PEC hopes to develop contacts in every Presbytery who can help their congregations in these efforts for “Every Church Green.”

“Caring for God’s creation” as a calling for all church members was added to the Book of Order by the 2016 General Assembly and the Presbyteries. The importance of churches and individual members caring for creation and countering Climate Change is evident in continuing news stories of scientific findings.

During the PEC leaders’ meeting, Science journal posted a new in-depth study that was reported in The Washington Post (September 27): “Harvey, Irma, Maria: These three monster hurricanes, all of which struck U.S. shores at Category 4 in 2017, probably attained such strength because of Atlantic Ocean waters that were abnormally warm, says a new study published in the journal Science on Thursday.  And, in future decades, as the ocean warms even more because of rising greenhouse gas concentrations from human activity, the study projects “even higher numbers of major hurricanes.”  Considering the toll of the 2017 hurricane season, which unleashed 10 hurricanes in 10 weeks, and three of the five costliest hurricanes on record in Harvey, Irma and Maria, it is difficult to fathom the implications of similar circumstances repeating with even greater frequency.”

Facing news reports of these devastating storms, PEC members worshipped together using the “Service after Natural Disaster" from the new (2018) PCUSA Book of Common Worship and sang Carolyn Winfrey Gillette’s hymn, "O God, We Prayed on Wind and Rain" from the PDA web site.

Beyond engaging times of prayer and strategizing, several PEC leaders helped to clear a field at Stony Point Center’s farm that helps supply fresh seasonal vegetables, fruits and eggs for the guests at this national church conference center. The farm uses organic methods in ways that are sustainable and just while the kitchen produces delicious meals that have a national reputation among church and business groups that come to the center.

The Rev. Dr. William P. Brown will be the keynote speaker for the Presbyterians for Earth Care’s "Peace for the Earth" Conference at Stony Point, August 6-9, 2019. The Rev. Dr. William P. Brown is an outstanding teacher, biblical scholar and activist. Dr. Brown is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. Among his many books is Seven Pillars of Creation: Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder (Oxford University). He has been active with Georgia Power & Light and Presbyterians for Earth Care. PEC leaders hope to double the attendance for this biennial conference because of Dr. Brown and other excellent speakers meeting at the popular Stony Point Center.

The Rev. Bruce Gillette is a PC(USA) teaching elder and vice-moderator of Presbyterians for Earth Care.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Food is the Common Thread

Food is the Common Thread
by Dennis Testerman

There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace. To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue. To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside. If one has cut, split, hauled, and piled his own good oak, and let his mind work the while, he will remember much about where heat comes from, and with a wealth of detail denied to those who spend the weekend in town astride a radiator.”
--Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalms 34:8a (NIV)

Fall has officially arrived in the northern hemisphere. This is the season of county and state fairs. And harvest festivals. Two out of every three of the 900+ CROP hunger walks held annually across the United States take place in the fall. The common thread that connects Indigenous Peoples Day (October 8), World Food Day (October 16), and Thanksgiving (November 22) is food.

I am a member of the first generation born off of an Appalachian mountain cove valley farm that has been in my family since 1789, when the settlement by European Americans of what was then the western frontier was taking place, often in violation of land treaties with First Peoples.

Just one generation separates my cousins and me from the annual rhythms of filling the cellar/smokehouse and woodshed to make it through the winter, at a time when there was no other choice.

A World War II-era victory farm certificate from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture hangs on the wall of our farmhouse which acknowledges our family farm’s contribution to the war effort by raising 75% or more of the food needed to feed our family.

“Peace for the Earth,” the theme for the 2019 Presbyterians for Earth Care biennial conference, serves as a reminder that peace is not possible where food, water and natural resources are not shared equitably and justly. The Native Americans who joined with European-Americans in harvest feasts that were the forerunners of our modern Thanksgiving Day holiday are credited with saving the lives of some of the first settlers.

There is enough food for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.

Dennis Testerman's ministry of environmental stewardship has spanned three decades of chaplaincy, global and student missions and public service. He currently serves as Moderator of Presbyterians for Earth Care 

Buddhist Perspective

Three Jewels: A Gateway to
Environmental Work as a Buddhist

by Irene Woodard

How does my religion inform my environmental work? We were given this question and it sat with me, for months. It is a chicken / egg type question, and perhaps that is why it took me so long to respond.
I went back to the very start of when I became a Buddhist, 1977, and that gave me a prompt to investigate: the Refuge Vow. The Refuge Vow is the vow one takes early on when one comes to understand that the Three Jewels, The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha are very precious in one’s life. Recognizing these three essentials, and sensing that they are keys to how one wants to approach one’s life, one takes refuge. There is a formal yet simple ceremony. Sort of like a wedding ceremony, one takes vows before the community, the sangha. There are witnesses! The very fact that there are witnesses to this out loud decision, this public display, makes it quite serious, as well as there is a celebration. One celebrates the moment.
From this moment on, I will live as a Buddhist. I will embody the three jewels. They provide a view, of how to live, of how to make decisions.
The first jewel, The Buddha. We are taking a vow to live as the Buddha did. The Buddha, someone, who actually lived, and breathed and walked on this earth. The example of the Buddha is someone who actually, lived a life, not harming himself or others, who was mindful in his actions. So as an example, we know this is possible. Someone else did it, so this is something we are able to do as well. We can make choices, of how and what we eat, wash our clothes in cold water. For me, I live an hour and a half from New York City. I can choose to drive my car, or go by bus. As the day progresses, even brushing my teeth, the water can run, or I can simply wet the toothbrush and turn it off. Depending on where we live, we have large and small decisions that we make, all day long. If we live mindfully we can choose actions, make purchases that are not harming this earth.
The second jewel is the Dharma, the teachings. By taking refuge in the Dharma, we are stating that the wise teachings are worthy of following. We acknowledge this precious human birth, is special and rare. That we will not squander our days. We acknowledge the laws of karma, cause and effect. If we sit with our car idling, we might be more comfortable, but it has an effect. If we don’t fix a leaky faucet, water will go down the drain. If we continue to drink out of plastic bottles, we are part of the throw away culture. Instead we might finally buy a water bottle, hang our clothes to dry, celebrate with a vegan birthday cake. If we don’t participate in these actions, we are in denial about climate change...we are not seeing that we are part of the interdependence of all beings.
Finally, the third jewel, is Sangha, community. The richness of the sangha is that we are part of a whole. We have the support of others as we travel on this path of sustainability. If we are joined with others towards the goal of living more in tune with the nature, we strengthen each other. These are companions, who are inspired by the life and actions of the Buddha, and trust the teachings, the Dharma of cause and effect. Together we can remind one another of how we would like to live. We might see a fellow traveler, plant a garden, put a solar roof up, or change to a vegan diet, and we are more willing to try it ourselves.
And so, this simple refuge formula, in the three jewels, taken to heart each day, provides me with a religious tool I can count on to guide, protect, and provide companionship on this path of green faith.
Irene Woodard, has been a student of the Shambhala Buddha Dharma for over forty years. A professional florist, she has had hands on experience with nature, and as a mother of a son and daughter she understands caring for what we love. She has held numerous roles in the Shambhala mandala, as teacher, Director of Practice Education and Board Member. As a GreenFaith Fellow and Board Member, she has joyously taken part in Interfaith environmental work in her home town of New Paltz, in the United States and globally. She writes haiku and loves to bake breads.

Hindu Perspectives

Hindu Perspectives on Caring for the Planet
by Gopal D. Patel

For Hindus, all life is sacred and interconnected. They believe in a natural order and balance in the universe, known as rta. Once this order is out of balance, there is disturbance in the world. Climate change is one such symptom of our planet being out of balance. Hinduism teaches 3 principles to uphold the natural order: dharmasattva and ahimsa.

Dharma means to uphold, or sustain. It is the closest word in Sanskrit to meaning ‘religion’. Hindus are taught to led dharmic lifestyles, which translates to leading lives that uphold and sustain the world.

Sattva is a way of acting that means ‘goodness’. Hindus are encouraged to perform good acts and lead good lives. In the Bhagavad-Gita a life based on sattva is broken down to include the kinds of food one eats to the types of activities one performs.

Ahimsa is the Hindu principle of non-harming. Hindus are encouraged to minimise the harm they cause to others and the planet. From this principle comes the practice of being vegetarian or vegan. In an age of climate crisis, it can be extended to ensure that our activities are not harmful to the planet.

The Hindu text Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.2.41) states, “Ether, air, fire, water, earth, planets, all creatures, directions, trees and plants, rivers and seas, they are all organs of God’s body. Remembering this a devotee respects all species.” Hindus therefore revere all life, human, non-human, plant, and animal. Hindus see rivers as goddesses and mountains as gods. The landscape as a whole is seen as being full of divinity. The planets and stars are physical objects, but they are also celestial beings, they and the space between them full of divinity. Hindus are taught that when they embody this, they can move beyond caring for fellow beings as stewards of a divine creation, but become servants of the Divine. That all of their actions, including those in protection of the world around us and all the beings therein, becoming acts of worship.

Gopal D. Patel was born and raised in England. Since 2010 he has served as Director of the Bhumi Project, a global Hindu environmental network based at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies that is a joint program of the Centre and GreenFaith. He has led the organisation to mobilise tens of thousands of people in India for environmental action, issue the 2015 Hindu Declaration on Climate Change and be a leading voice within the United Nations system on Hindu perspectives to sustainable development.

Walking Gently on Earth

Walking Gently on Earth
by Nana Firman

Today, our Sacred Earth is critically wounded, degraded, poisoned, and depleted by the activities of our human family. Colonialism, industrialism, consumerism, warfare and a lack of spiritual understanding are primary drivers of this growing, relentless assault on our beloved earth. Our ancestors have long understood and wisely shared, many times, that these destructive forces are, in turn, driven by greed, selfishness, ignorance, fear, and materialism. In recent decades, we have heard repeatedly, from the world’s scientific, educational, social and environmental institutions, that our collective human activity is increasingly threatening the future generations of our children and rapidly destroying our common home! We live in a time of tremendous challenges – the clash of immediate human needs with their long-term impacts on the planet’s capacity to support life.
I have always been passionate about environmental justice as my faith compels me to protect the earth. Prophet Muhammad said, “God has made the earth green and beautiful, and He has appointed you as stewards over it.” This Prophetic teaching urges Muslims to be the ambassadors of our earth and to do what it takes to protect it. The natural world is truly the gift that God has bestowed to the humankind. And there is no greater threat to our "green and beautiful" earth than the more frequent and intense droughts, floods, storms and wildfires brought by climate crisis. As an Indonesian-born Muslim currently living here in Southern California, I have seen first-hand the impacts of climate change, both in my native home, Indonesia, with its severe floods and sea-level rise, as well as in my adopted home, California, with its severe drought and massive wildfire.  
As the human race crosses a path, which we now call “progress” – it leaves in its wake a trail of destruction that threatens our own survival.  Until recently, approximately 200 years ago, the entire human race lived in the natural state and evolved traditions of their own for thousands of years and conducted their lives in harmony with their natural surroundings.  Unfortunately, these wonderful traditions have now been undermined.
The idea of conserving the environment as it is understood today is relatively new. It has come about because human behavior and activities were increasingly threatening the balance of the natural world. However, when we look at the Islamic teaching and tradition, it speaks neither of the environment nor of the conservation in the sense that we have come to understand these terms today.  In the Holy Qur’an, God calls us to “walk upon the earth gently,” meaning that we are bound by moral imperative to treat our shared common home with the care and respect it deserves. On the other hand, the reality of climate change not only has grave implications for the future of our planet but also represents one of the great moral and ethical issues of our time. Thus, in the spirit of welcoming the Islamic New Year of 1440 Hegira, let’s transform our habits and mindsets towards living sustainably!
Nana Firman is GreenFaith’s Muslim Outreach Director. An Indonesian, Nana directed WWF-Indonesia’s “Green Reconstruction” efforts during a post-tsunami period and developed an urban climate change adaptation and mitigation initiative. She was featured in Azizah Magazineas one of Muslim women active in the green revolution. She was named as a White House Champion of Change for Climate Faith Leader by President Obama. Currently, Nana also co-directs the Islamic Society of North America’s Green Initiative.

Many Faiths, One Planet

Many Faiths, One Planet
by Rev. Fletcher Harper

We are, many of us, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Universalist, or one of any number of other beautiful faith or spiritual traditions. If we’re not closely connected to these traditions, their history and heritage still shape our sense of reality and of right and wrong. For those more deeply involved, they teach us about love, compassion, equity, and dignity while offering us wisdom in the face of life’s unfathomable mysteries. They provide us with communities within which we experience life’s unique passages. They are fundamental to our being. 
Today there is another identity that we all share, an identity so fundamental that it is easy to take it for granted, to discount its significance. Today, this identity demands our attention.
We are human beings living on one precious planet.
Alongside any religious identity we hold, this identity presents itself to us with an uncompromised urgency. Our planetary context now challenges our religious identities to grow in the deepest of ways.
Today, we face an undeniable, urgent, extraordinarily dangerous environmental crisis. Many of its worst impacts are unavoidable and underway. Globally, we face the very real prospect of runaway climate change, with incalculable levels of harm to communities and ecosystems. We are degrading clean water supplies. Destroying tropical forests and their irreplaceable biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Lacing water, soil and air with highly toxic chemicals. The list, a long and frightening list, goes on.
This crisis is not new; scientists and activists have spoken to it clearly for over a half century. The delayed response to these threats, and their worsening and acceleration, reflects the capture of governments globally by powerful interests, such as the fossil fuel industry, responsible for climate and environmental destruction. These dangers reflect humanity’s newfound ability to throw every major ecosystem on the planet out of balance, and the sheer newness of our needing to restrain and refashion our human appetites and consumption habits at a deep, sustained and substantial level.
The impacts from environmental degradation are becoming more and more evident.  Just this past week, two massive storms struck the Philippines and the Carolinas at the same time. Images from space showed climate change’s planetary scale.  Images on the ground reminded us that climate change’s ultimate impacts are displacement, widespread destruction of life, property and community, and the radical expansion of misery. In the best of times, such natural disasters inflict painful damage on those in harm’s way. At their new level of frequency and intensity, these disasters spawn terror and suffering, loss and grief at a level that threatens human civilization.
In the face of these environmental challenges, alliances among people of diverse faiths and spiritualities must be central to our response. Our environmental context demands an ethos that celebrates a diversity of cultures and a shared commitment to protecting life on Earth. Interfaith alliances are one of the best ways to generate this ethos. Such alliances engage us with others and their beliefs, empowering people of all faiths to clarify their own values in relation to the environment. By reaching across traditional boundaries, these alliances model the same kind of boundary-crossing behavior that is needed to create environmental change. Multi-faith alliances are engines of necessary moral innovation for an ecological age. They are an irreplaceable way to act upon the new, unavoidable reality which we all must embrace:  we are human beings living on one precious planet.
Fletcher Harper, an Episcopal priest, directs GreenFaith, an international interfaith environmental organization.  In the past four years, he coordinated the 2015 OurVoices campaign, which mobilized religious support for COP 21, organized of faith communities for the People’s Climate Marches in NYC and Washington DC, helped lead the faith-based fossil fuel divestment movement, supported the launch of the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative, and co-founded Shine, a campaign to end energy poverty with renewable energy.  He’s now focused on creating multi-faith GreenFaith Circles in local communities globally.