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Pray: May our eyes stay open.

Where to look when you can’t un-see.

Author Barbara Ballenger is a Board Member of PA Interfaith Power & Light, and Associate for Spiritual Formation and Care at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, Philadelphia. 

The recent march of white nationalists and KKK members upon the city of Charlottesville, and the accompanying terrorist attack upon counter demonstrators, has again placed racism in the public eye.

At the moment, there are some things we cannot un-see: a car driving directly into Black Lives Matter members, killing one and injuring 19. White nationalists armed more heavily than the police. Young polo-shirted men marching with swastikas and shields.

The racism that undergirds our national infrastructure, and the bigotry that keeps it in place, is not a simple thing to dismantle. Just removing the monuments that celebrate its architects and defenders brings out the torches.

photo: Jess Ballenger

But while our eyes are open, it’s important that white people engaged in justice work take a hard look at the racist infrastructure itself, not just at its staunchest defenders. Because those of us with white privilege also benefit from that architecture. It shapes white-normed organizational systems, including how they are led, and who tells the story about what the world is like. That’s why white supremacy, which is invisible to too many, often undermines the effectiveness of organizations’ best efforts, leaving many of us scratching our heads about why the movements aren’t more diverse and leading many to jump to the wrong conclusions about why more people of color aren’t involved in the efforts.

This is true for climate justice organizations, whose leadership and membership remain predominantly white.

“Given the environmental threats posed by a Trump administration, it’s more crucial than ever that Americans work together to fight climate change. And in order to achieve broad, collaborative action, the mainstream environmental movement will need to take a hard look at how its overwhelming whiteness has thus far hobbled its efforts,” four University of Oregon journalism professors write persuasively in an article for Quartz.

The authors further point out that people of color are very much concerned with, conversant about and active in addressing climate disruption. Yet large-scale climate justice efforts do not reflect their leadership or membership.

Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light has also struggled with being a far less diverse organization than we hope to be.  We have been noticing and naming the dominance of white voices leading and engaging our work—people of faith responding to climate disruption as an urgent moral issue. We know, too, that wrestling with the legacy of white domination and supremacy is also a growing priority for many of the congregations and denominations involved in our work. This is a key moment for climate justice and racial justice to meet at the crossroads and begin speaking to each other.

In both of these movements there is great urgency and imminent threat.  At the same time, there are no quick solutions to undoing the legacy of racial exclusion and distrust that white-dominated justice movements have inherited and perpetuate.

photo: Jess Ballenger

But there are some immediate actions that we need to take. The first is that white people in the environmental movement must make it a priority to explore how the white privilege and supremacy learned from infancy affect the ability to be racially competent in addressing a crisis that affects many people of color first and worst.  As a black colleague puts it: “When white people do their work, I am safer.”

When white people do racial work with mindfulness—listening more than talking, learning what it is to be an effective ally, making space for long-silenced voices and experience—our hope and prayer is that environmental justice work will be done differently: in ways that shift power dynamics, that amplify voices that typically go unheard and quiet those that dominate, and that make visible the experiences of climate disruption that have gone unnoticed and unnamed.

The evidence of things hoped for, substance of things unseen, is the very definition of faith. As an organization committed to bringing people of diverse religious traditions together in common cause around environmental justice, a shared faith in the dignity and gifts of one another may be just the thing to help us keep our eyes open in the days ahead.

 

Images from Philadelphia rally and vigil, August 2017; Rabbi Mordechai Liebling in the upper R was in Charlottesville with other clergy gathered to stand together in that space.

 

Making our Voices Heard— PA IPL’s Town Hall Toolkit

We recently introduced you to a new member of the PA IPL family: Chelsea Jackson.  Chelsea is with us for a short three months (August, September and October) to help make sure our elected officials hear loudly and clearly from communities and people of faith at congressional Town Halls about the importance of policies that protect public health.  

We want our Senators and Congressmen to know that protecting communities from the assaults on public health that would result from dismantling environmental safeguards —including the critical ‘Referees and Guardrails’ safeguards provided by the Environmental Protection Agency— is a moral imperative.  Chelsea is working with us as a Project Coordinator to provide messaging guidance and logistical support for members of faith communities to speak to decision makers.  Chelsea is well suited to her new role: she spent the past four years serving as an assistant pastor in a United Methodist Church, dedicated to service, social activism and environmental justice.

With Chelsea’s help and commitment, PA IPL has created a Town Hall Toolkit …  In addition, keep an eye out for emails from Chelsea that share important information about Town Halls in your neighborhood.  Or – don’t wait! Chelsea welcomes your questions and ideas, so feel free to reach out to her.

profile and sermon: Chelsea Jackson — Climate Change, Faith, Challenge, and Transformation

Chelsea Jacksonphoto credit- Nori TadanoWith this post we are pleased to introduce you to Chelsea Jackson, who has begun working with PA IPL as a short-term Project Coordinator, supporting constituents who are raising hopes and concerns about  clean energy, climate change and the health of our Common Home with their legislators at Town Halls during the August Congressional Recess.

Chelsea writes “For the past four years I have served as an assistant pastor at a United Methodist Church in New Jersey, where I worked diligently to center faith-rooted conversation about climate change, and encourage the congregation I was serving to help protect the environment.  Earth care inspired many of the sermons I wrote, trips I planned and the two community Eco-Art Shows I created and curated.  As a person of faith I believe there to be a direct connection to how people view God and how they treat all of Creation, and I continuously tried to help my congregation see and make those connections for themselves.  Therefore, to understand me as a person of faith who clings tightly to Earth care, it may be easiest for you to dive into one of my sermons.  Below are excerpts of a sermon I wrote for the 2015 Interfaith Power & Light Preach-In.  The sermon was met with both thankfulness and angry outbursts.  Still: the most important thing was that it felt like a spirit-gifted message that needed to be said.  Please enjoy:

It’s no secret the Christian and Jewish Scriptures begin with the creation of the world, this ordering of Chaos into water and earth, light and dark, human and non-human creatures, and it is this Creation as a collective whole, that God deems ‘very good.’

The early Genesis story, along with countless other Bible passages, reveals that God is in relationship with the Earth itself, and often cloaks God’s-self with the Earth when interacting with humans.  For example, we see God emerge in fire, in a windstorm, a burning bush, as light or at the top of a mountain.  In these instances, as in so many others, it’s as if the Earth is a form of God’s expression; like a piece of art, and we often look at art as a part of the artist who made it.  We understand a painting isn’t the actual artist, but is rather an extension of who they are.  An imprint of the artist is in the art s/he creates, that is part of what makes it so beautiful and powerful.

What if it was the same with God?  What if we looked at not only humans, but also the Earth, as made in the image of God, as an extension of God’s-self?  How would we treat the Earth differently?

Would it change how often I drive my car?  How I use energy in my house?  Would it change how I interact with politics or how I raise my children?

Would it change how I act as a consumer?  Where I buy from?  How much I buy?  I mean everything we buy was at one time part of the natural Earth in some way; part of the original artwork of God.  And though using the Earth for provision is indeed necessary for our survival, when does production or consumption become empty of purpose, empty of thoughtfulness or meaning?

Eco-Art show installed at (1)If we dig deeper, recognizing God’s imprint on Creation would influence how we eat.  The most intimate way we interact with the Earth is how we use it to nourish ourselves; how we partake in, and literally internalize its provision.  That’s why it is so important to learn where our food comes from, and how both our plant and animal based food is raised.  Is it done in a humane, safe way that recognizes God’s artistry, or is it disrespectful and even damaging to the original work of art?

One of my professors really brought this point home when she talked about Communion and asked what it meant to partake in the body and blood of Christ when the grain was grown with pesticides or the grapes were farmed by someone who did not receive a fair wage?  How does it change the meaning of this sacrament meant to be loving and liberating?

These are all important and very difficult questions.  And when faced with them we can respond in a variety of ways.

1. We can become defensive:
When faced with the reality of climate change and all the ways poor environmental practices permeate our lives, we can automatically list off reasons why we can’t change our interaction with the Earth, including: “changing the way we do things is too hard,” “it would mess up the economy,” “climate change isn’t that serious and won’t affect us much in the U.S.”

All of these claims are not only false, they also ignore the larger issues at hand.  The fact is that real change is not a luxury at this point, we must change if we want to ensure survival for even generations 100 years down the road.

But even if we don’t want to focus on the impact of climate change on the future, another problem remains; treating climate change as a non-pressing issue means denying the reality, humanity, dignity and worth of the individuals and communities being affected right now.   Continue reading

Eichah: The urgency of “How?!”

daniel swartz and marjorie bermanco-authored by Rabbis Marjorie Berman and Daniel Swartz

Judaism marks a number of minor fasts, but only two that run from one sunset to the next: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av, which commemorates the destruction of both the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, as well as later catastrophes. [artwork] (Tisha B’Av starts on the sunset of July 31st this year.) Yom Kippur gives individuals the opportunity to reflect on their actions over the past year so that they can do “t’shuvah,” that is, turning to their better selves in the coming year.

Because Tisha B’Av seems on the surface to be centered on mourning ancient losses, many people fail to recognize that it too is about T’shuvah.  But in the case of Tisha B’Av, the turning we need to accomplish is not individual but societal.  The Book of Lamentations, traditionally read on Tisha B’Av, begins with a question, “Eichah?”  How?  “How can it be that she sits alone, the city that was once great with people?” (Lamentations 1:1)  And this question implies others:  How did this come about? In what ways are we responsible?  What can we do differently to prevent such tragedies from recurring?How does the city sit alone? LM_PAFA_Panel_05

According to traditional Jewish understanding, one of the root causes of the destruction of the First Temple was that people turned from worshipping the God of all creation and instead worshipped gold and silver, power and wealth.  By the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, the problem was no longer idolatry but sinat chinam, baseless hatred.

But the early sages do not stop there.  They take the Jewish historical experience of the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and universalize it in both time and scope.   For them, the holy Temple in Jerusalem also served as a reflection of the broader holiness of the whole earth.  And as for that cry of Eichah, we read in Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 19:9 (a homiletical commentary on the Book of Genesis) that the first Eichah was actually addressed to Adam and Eve, when they violated the Garden of Eden: “You transgressed My commands. I decreed exile and I lamented: ‘Eichah?’ How?” (The sages are using wordplay here – the text in Genesis literally says that God calls out Ayekka – where are you – but the spelling in biblical consonantal Hebrew is identical to Eichah)

The sages of Bereishit Rabbah are using this pun to make a point: the experience of destruction and exile is not just about the Temple in Jerusalem.  It has been with us since the Garden, that is, since the beginning of civilization.  And, just as in the days of the Temple, we too cause destruction through the worship of riches and power and through baseless hatred.

Today, humanity as a whole is violating the Garden that is our beautiful, blessed world.  We are quite literally giving rise to fires of destruction through greed and casual disregard of others.   Through the wasteful and unsustainable burning of fossil fuels, we threaten the very future of civilization and of countless species all across the global Garden.  And if we do not turn away from this behavior, the havoc that climate change will wreak will give rise to howls of Eichah far more desolate than any that have ever been uttered.

But Tisha B’Av teaches us that when we remember and listen to the lessons of history, when we mourn that reality, we can be inspired to change.  The second to last sentence in the Book of Lamentations reads:  “Return us to You, Eternal, and we will turn.  Renew our days as of yore.”  In other words, if we really take in the urgency of “how,” if we truly face up to what we have done, we can change.  We can shape a future with justice for everyone and sustainability for countless generations to come. We can make our world into a new Eden, a sacred Temple once again.

(Authors’ Note: the ideas of this essay have grown out of more than 20 years of conversation about Tisha B’Av with Rabbi Arthur Waskow.  We are deeply indebted to his teachings.)

see – judge – act

On July 10, several Pennsylvania religious leaders traveled to Washington DC to offer in-person testimony to the EPA regarding delay of implementation of New Source Performance Standards for Methane emissions from oil and gas operations.  EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505Doug Hunt EPA

Good afternoon. I am Rev. Douglas Hunt, Vice President of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light. I am here today representing the Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Action Network. I completed my Master of Divinity degree at Howard University and was ordained in the United Church of Christ, and a member of Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon, PA.
My passion for justice moves me to action and a framework for justice decision making used widely — called see – judge – act. A simple rubric which helps us to stop, stand back from a situation and reflect on it before we take action. I also have degrees in Physics & Engineering.

In Pennsylvania, fossil fuel industries provided decades of employment, sustaining families and communities, . . . .  as well as the state treasury. Now, however, our science and our medicine show that in addition to the everyday stress and danger of working in this industry, our families and communities Continue reading

Proverbs 22:3 Are we simpletons?

On July 10, several Pennsylvania religious leaders traveled to Washington DC to offer in-person testimony to the EPA regarding delay of implementation of New Source Performance Standards for Methane emissions from oil and gas operations.  EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505Daniel Swartz at EPA

Good afternoon.  I am Rabbi Daniel Swartz of Temple Hesed of Scranton.  I’m also Board President of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, which works with congregations and people of faith across Pennsylvania to address the moral dimensions of climate change.  In addition, I have a background in children’s environmental health, including serving for several years on EPA’s Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee.

The Book of Proverbs gives us blunt advice about how to distinguish between wise and foolish decisions.  In Proverbs 22:3, we read: “the prudent see danger and take cover, but the simpleton keeps going and pays the penalty.”  In the case of the new source rule we are discussing today, we know that there is danger.  We know the solution, one that has already been applied under multiple state-level standards and has been shown to be both practical and affordable. To simply keep going, to put off taking cover by delaying the implementation of this rule, is, by this biblical standard, clearly foolish.

And worse than foolish.  EPA has officially stated that the health and safety risk posed by any delay “may have a disproportionate effect on children.”  To recognize that and yet still call for delay is not just foolish but immoral.

Since 1995, all of EPA regulations and rules are supposed to take into account that children aren’t just little adults when it comes to environmental health and safety.  Their developing Continue reading