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Drawing on faiths' wisdom to address the environmental crisis

In this series of webinars on Developing your Faith Long-Term Plan, we have arrived at the topic of Wisdom.

Both faiths and many secular organisations recognise that the environmental crisis is a spiritual issue. How, through mindfulness, compassion and care, rooted in centuries of experience, can faiths address this spiritual issue?

This webinar explores training, crisis and adaption, practices of prayer and use of liturgies as well as the theology of nature from different faith perspectives. If you missed it, you can watch it by clicking below.

Introducing the webinar was FaithInvest’s interim CEO Martin Palmer. He began this session by reminding participants that: 'As faiths, we are among the biggest stakeholders on the planet. We are trusted more than governments, international agencies and NGOs because we have always been there. No other group has the reach that the faiths do.

'Part of our wisdom is understanding that things don’t change overnight. The faiths have a deep wisdom about human nature and this comes from our theological training and philosophical education, but also from liturgies, teachings, celebrations and songs.'

Martin raised the question of how we pass this wisdom on to the next generation, and said that: 'As faiths, we understand that we are servants of nature – it is not separate from us.'

Darin Lamar Jones – 'We have a God-given duty to preserve and protect nature'

our first speaker, Darin Lamar Jones, was Director of Operations at the Centre for Earth Ethics in the US, established in 2015.

The Centre for Earth Ethics is a non-profit organisation working to reimagine the world’s value systems and the way we determine worth, to create a more sustainable planet for all beings on the planet. For example, it is working with the UN to put on a series of webinars addressing what ethical supply chains and food systems look like, specifically after pandemic disruption.

Darin and the Centre for Earth Ethics works hard to convince climate change deniers in the US, particularly those who come from faith backgrounds. He said: 'We have a God-given duty to preserve and protect nature.'

The Centre champions environmental justice, which means actively working against harmful oil pipeline plans, to preserve the health and wellbeing of communities, and also elevating the voices of indigenous people in the Americas – the so-called 'original caretakers' of the earth, particularly in the United States.

As part of its eco-ministry programme, the centre trains faith practitioners and faith communities to promote nature through wisdom, preaching, Bible studies and songs. Darin said: 'We should view the fight around climate change not as a way to avoid damnation, but as a way to live life fully.

'In Genesis Chapter Two we have a snapshot of perfection, with God and man working in perfect harmony in the biodiversity of Eden. In Chapter Three we see the destruction of intimacy between man and the earth.

'The reason we should involve ourselves in ethical action is because we have a divine responsibility and role in allowing the world to engage in the harmony originally envisioned by God.'

Dekila Chungyalpa – 'The wilderness I loved and all the wildlife I felt connected to was being threatened'

Our next speaker was Dekila Chungyalpa, Director of Loka Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US. She comes from a Buddhist perspective, but as worked with every major faith group. Trained as a conservationist, Dekila started her career with WWF and is the daughter of a Tibetan Buddhist teacher.

She grew up in traditional Himalayan Tibetan culture, where she did not see a separation between the self and nature and there was a strong belief in interdependence and the laws of karma. She said: 'I became a professional environmentalist, but a privately practicing Tibetan Buddhist.

'I was basically having a crisis because I’d moved from community-based conservation in the Himalayas because I decided the field wasn’t big enough.'

Even on a larger scale, Dekila realised that the field still wasn’t big enough.

She asked: 'How do you stitch all these different pieces together while trying to promote community ownership and community leadership. The wilderness I loved and all the wildlife I felt connected to was being threatened. I ended up going to the main pilgrimage site for all Buddhists and I listened to a talk on vegetarianism and giving up meat as part of the Buddhist practice.'

A sea of hands went up and Dekila realised that this was behavioural change on a mass scale. She was then asked to create environmental guidelines for monasteries and nunneries, and saw that Buddhist monks and nuns had a hunger for science.

After running training sessions, the monks and nuns said ‘we want to do something’, leading to reforestation programmes, river clean-ups and community cleaning projects.

Rev Dr Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam – 'Creation is a love letter from God'

The Rev Dr Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam is the Coordinator of Ecology and Creation at the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in Italy. He spoke about joy, grief and hope as the three stages of environmental awarenss.

He said: 'We are part of this immense universe, and the moment of joy is a "wow" moment. We are so privileged to live on this special planet. We cannot afford to trample or destroy this land. Earth is God’s sacred book, and every creature, every tree, every bird is God’s own letters. Creation is a love letter from God.'

The moment of grief Fr Joshtrom describes through a quote from Lynn White: 'Surely no creature other than man has ever managed to foul its nest in such short order.'

He went on to say: 'We are destroying our own nest, our own home. If there is disharmony outside, it’s because of disharmony within. The ecological crisis is a profoundly spiritual crisis. If there is degradation outside, it just reflects the degradation inside.

'Sin is rupture of the relationships with God, with others and with ourselves.'

Fr Joshtrom gave the example of when Cain killed his brother Abel, after which the blood-soaked ground became barren and only thorns would grow.

He said: 'In the moment of hope, all is not lost. We can make a new start and together we can make a difference. We must act together.'

Linda Wong – 'Traditional Chinese faiths promote the harmonious natural order that exists between humans and nature'

Linda Wong from the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) was our final speaker. The CBCGDF was founded in 1985 and is a leading environmental NGO, promoting tradition and faith-based conservation in China.

Linda said religions were leading the charge for environmental change, adding: 'Traditional Chinese faiths promote the harmonious natural order that exists between humans and nature.'

One example given was that Daoist medicines and diets prohibit the use of endangered animals such as the pangolin. Every year, volunteers for the CBCGDF report on the illegal wildlife trade and commercialised mercy-release of species. The latter is a Buddhist practice of releasing animals into the wild in order to create good karma for the releasers. In reality, however, it often leads to the deaths or recapture of many animals.

CBCGDF has launched a number of environmental events and initiatives that educate young children to think about the environment and care for the environment.

Linda believes that Chinese and Western traditions have a lot in common, and she mentioned an ancient Chinese belief that 'different cultures can show mutual respect'.

CBCGDF has supported local communities to get involved in community conservation for highly biodiverse forests. Community conservation areas have been established to protect endangered animals including the Eastern Black-Crested Gibbons.

A revival of traditional culture in China is also helping to promote care for the environment. Traditional festivals are being set as legal holidays, and education around traditional culture that values the relationship between humans and nature is being improved in order to inspire a new generation of young people.


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