Nothing more than nothing

During lunch at PSU IPL’s  Positively Green event, Cricket Hunter read this story, which someone passed on to her many years ago.  If anyone recognizes it, please let us know so that we can properly attribute it.

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake” a coalmouse asked a wild dove.

“Nothing more than nothing” was the answer.

“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story” the coalmouse said.  “I sat on a fir branch close to the trunk when it began to snow; not heavily, not in a raging blizzard, no, just like in a dream, without any violence.  Since I didn’t have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch.  Their number was exactly 3,471,952.  When the next snowflake dropped onto the branch — nothing more than nothing — as you say — the branch broke off.”

Having said that, the coalmouse fled away.  

The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for a while and finally said to herself “Perhaps there is only one person’s prayer lacking for peace to come to the world.”

Cricket adds: the small choices I make daily and weekly to reduce my impact on the world are my prayers, my contributions to a healthier climate.  Today I hung the clothes on racks in my living room, and my family and I are using only cold water in the handwashing sink during Lent.  What were your snowflakes today?

A Baha’i Perspective

Bill Sharp generously shared these words with us at the Interfaith Convocation service, teaching us first a bit about Baha’is, and then sharing exerpts from texts with his thoughts.
Bahá’ís are followers of the nineteenth century Persian teacher Bahá’u’lláh who spent most of his life in exile and his last days in what is now northern Israel where the Bahá’í World Center is located.  Today a terrace of gardens ascends Mount Carmel at the place he designated for the seat of a council that guides a virtual global Bahá’í congregation.

The Bahá’í Faith has roots in Shi’a Islam and the Sufi tradition but is an independent world religion with members in most of the world’s countries.
Bahá’ís believe that Bahá’u’lláh’s spiritual role is to confirms the message found in Genesis (chp. 45) that God will never leave or forsake the human race.  We call this Progressive Revelation.  Bahá’u’lláh said that his mission was to provide teachings for the emergence and eventual spiritual transformation of the modern world.
We are here in an interfaith gathering.  Let me recite a passage from Bahá’u’lláh that speaks to the importance of such meetings: 
“… [C]onsort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship, to proclaim that which the Speaker on Sinai hath set forth, to observe fairness in all matters.
“They that are endued with sincerity and faithfulness should associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance, inasmuch as consort­ing with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord, which in turn are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world and to the regeneration of nations.  Blessed are such as hold fast to the cord of kindliness and tender mercy and are free from animosity and hatred.”
There is another reason I am privileged to be here tonight.  My belief is that we are meant to live well and prosper physically and spiritually in this world, and germane to this is a statement from Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablet of the World
In regards to “… that which is conducive to the advancement of mankind and to the reconstruction of the world:”

First:  “It is incumbent upon the minister of the House of Justice to promote the Lesser Peace ….  This matter is imperative and absolutely essential inasmuch as hostilities and conflict lie at the root of affliction and calamity.”

Second:  “Languages must be reduced to one common [auxiliary] language to be taught in all the schools of the world.”

Third:  “It behooveth man to adhere tenaciously unto that which will promote fellowship, kindliness and unity.”

Fourth:  “Everyone, whether man or woman, should hand over to a trusted person a portion of what he or she earneth through trade, agriculture or other occupations for training and education of children….”

Fifth:  “Special regard must be paid to agriculture.  Although it hath been mentioned in the fifth place, unquestionably it precedes the others.”
This fifth passage is relevant to me because my vocation is sustainability and because my attention increasingly turns to how we draw sustenance from God’s Good Earth. This sentiment was echoed by an American contemporary of Bahá’u’lláh’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said:  “Every man has an exceptional respect for tillage, and a feeling that this is the original calling of his race.”
At the heart of such passages is our respect for sustainability.  To Bahá’ís, how we live during our time on the Earth is as important to our spiritual development as the life in the womb is to our physical development.  
God created us to know and worship Him.  The Earth seems to have been created to support life as we know it for many millions of years to come.  Untold generations to be born will share our destiny of reverence to God and right living only if we fulfill our duty to God, and to them, to be good stewards. 
Emerson also wrote that fortunate is the man or woman who is awakened to worship by nature.  I believe that this worship is founded in the gratitude we each feel for God’s bounty of land and water and sun.  It is found in the work we do as well.  Bahá’u’lláh said that work performed in the spirit of service is worship.  Much of our work today, perhaps the most important work we have to do, is to preserve the bounty of the Earth.
I believe that we are meant to live well, to live in community, to live in peace and to prosper on the land, to draw from it, as Bahá’u’lláh said in a letter to physicians, not only our subsistence, but our health.  To do that we must learn to live sustainably, that is, to live within the means God has provided for our own well being and for that of all generations to come.  The future thus starts in the present moment.  It lies in our hands.

Changing Our Climate: an Op-Ed by Rabbi Daniel Swartz

Our climate is changing – both literally and figuratively.  The list of weather events that may be linked to changes in the global climate is already long, and it keeps growing longer with each passing season.  Droughts, floods, record-breaking heat waves, fires, even monster snow storms are all signs that climate change is part of our present, not just our future.

But the “climate” is changing in other ways as well. Many have been focusing on negative changes – the climate of acrimony and vitriol in political discourse, or the still sour economic climate.  But there are some positive “climactic” changes as well.  For me, one of the most significant is the growing involvement of faith communities around the globe in addressing environmental concerns, including global climate change.
How is something that seems intensely scientific, like the changing composition of our atmosphere, or intensely political, like global treaties dealing with use of fossil fuels, a faith issue?  Prayers don’t yield scientific data – but once science tells us what IS happening, our faith traditions can help us figure out what we OUGHT to do about it.  And while even a close reading of such traditions won’t reveal a detailed energy policy, certain basic guiding principles are shared by many faith communities.
For example, our world is good – one might even say “very good” – and we are supposed to help tend it and protect it.  It is simple wrong to think selfishly only of ourselves and to ignore the needs of generations to come.  Making money should not be the ultimate goal of humanity – we are meant to look after each other, particularly those who need the most protection – the “widow, the orphan and the stranger” or the “least of these.” Finally, one can find even in quite ancient sources an understanding that it is better to prevent harm than to try to repair damage after it has occurred. 
Taken together, such principles do at the least suggest a course of action to address climate change.  Solutions that especially benefit the poor, like increasing energy efficiency and thus reducing the disproportionate burden from high energy costs that those in economic straights face, should be a top priority.  Even in the present political climate, it should be possible to forge tax incentives and the like to make our homes and businesses more energy efficient.
We also should take the needs of future generations into account by promoting clean and sustainable energy sources – which, as was noted in the State of the Union, also can be a wise investment in the future of our economy.  Last but certainly not least, attempts to strip EPA of its power to address CO2 emissions and thus protect public health and the environment from the various ravages of climate change is not only short-sighted, but could be viewed as immoral.
But does thinking of climate change from a faith and moral perspective actually make a difference?  After all, you don’t have to be religious to think that fairness is a good thing.  A faith perspective, however, brings not only a sense of moral authority to an issue – it also can move us beyond paralysis.  Looking at the scientific and political difficulties facing any attempts to address global climate change, one can feel downright depressed and overwhelmed – and so there is a natural tendency to want to ignore or deny the whole thing, to remain stuck with our head in the sand.  But understanding that we can bring our faith to bear on this issue first of all fills us with the added strength of knowing we are doing the right thing.  And because faith has so often triumphed against great odds – worse odds by far than those facing a lasting and just solution to climate change – we can begin to replace depression with hope, paralysis with sustained action for the good. 
That is why this weekend (February 11-13th) Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light is joining with IPL affiliates across the country in sponsoring a “preach-in” on climate change.  I’ll be addressing these concerns from a Jewish standpoint at Temple Hesed this Friday, and others across the state and nation will be doing so from a wide variety of other faith traditions.  Because we already know that the climate is changing – and we know what type of solutions are needed. The only question that remains is – do we have enough faith to make it into a change for the better?

Help Keep the EPA Working to Protect our Environment

On January 2, 2011, for the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency began to regulate carbon emissions, having declared that they form a significant danger to human health and well-being. In the absence of comprehensive legislation on climate change, this is the only recourse the administration has for regulating carbon and thereby fulfilling our obligations under international law.

Now Congress wants to force the EPA to stop, and is even taking aim at the Clean Air Act, one of the most successful pieces of legislation ever. We need to let our senators know that climate change is a moral issue, and that we have an obligation to ourselves, our neighbors and to future generations to reduce carbon pollution. We just completed a successful letter-writing campaign, but we still urge you to call the senators (or your representative) and tell them to protect public health and defend the Clean Air Act.

Senator Casey’s phone numbers:
Washington, Toll Free: (866) 802-2833
Harrisburg, (717) 231-7540
Philadelphia, (215) 405-9660
Pittsburgh, (412) 803-7370
Scranton, (570) 941-0930
Erie, (814) 874-5080
Bellefonte, (814) 357-0314
Allentown, (610) 782-9470

Senator Toomey’s phone numbers:
Washington, (202) 224-4254
Harrisburg, (717) 782-3951
Philadelphia, (215) 597-7200
Erie, (814) 453-3010
Allentown, (610) 434-1444

Calling takes only a minute (you simply need to give your name, hometown, and a very brief message), but it makes a big difference.



And the children shall lead us…

Alana, a fifth grader in Scranton, PA, and an active member of dad Rabbi Daniel’s congregation, wrote the following essay for the 2010 national writing contest sponsored by the PTA.  This year’s theme for the “Reflections” contest was “Together We Can.”  I’ll let her challenge you to think about how you can reach out with others so that… together we can survive.

If you’re interested in learning more about global warming and the impact of warmer, more acidic waters on reefs and fisheries, you can start with the National Wildlife Federation or Science Daily.  Please also consider asking your faith leaders to join others in Pennsylvania and across the country to speak about global warming during the national Preach-in.  Faith- and denomination-specific resources are available on the website, but please be aware that Pennsylvania has its own letter.

Hi – I’m a coral reef.  I’d like to tell you some information about the reef and the animals that surround and live in me.  Many people don’t know that a coral reef and its animals work together.  I’m going to tell you how in coral reefs, different species benefit each other almost all the time.  Without the plants and animals working together, I can’t survive, nor can they survive either. Coral reefs do many important things.

The reef even helps you too.  Without me, the population of people would be smaller.  You ask me how this is possible? I help you find medicines for people that are ill.  In fact, hundreds and hundreds of cures come from me! Another way that I help humankind is that I give you fish.  Over a billion people get some or even all their food (seafood) from reefs like me.  Also coral reefs protect almost all tropical coasts from dangerous waves and storms at sea. Coral reefs also give people happiness and jewels. Coral reefs make people wonder what the world was like long ago, and I give them some answers. Scientists visit me to find clues of the past, like fossils bones or shipwrecks.

Did you know that coral reefs have been going strong for over 60 million years?  That’s because of our cooperation together. Slowly the coral grows. Each of the thousands of little coral animals that make up the reef build a bit more of their hard coral home. Then more fish come.  Layers and layers of coral, animals and plants build up and finally together, we can all become a beautiful, giant healthy reef! That’s how I’m formed, though that’s not all of the cooperation that goes on around here.

A reef is not a reef without all the other animals and plants. Did you know that I give homes to most of the fish and animals, and in return, they protect me from harm? One example of how reefs work together with the animals is when I work with fish called convict tangs, which are vegetarians.  They nibble away seaweeds that will hurt me.  They get tasty food and I get protected. My most important partners are microscopic algae, tiny plants that live inside the tissues of each little coral animal. The algae use sunlight to produce sugar, and that sugar is one of my main food sources.

Now I’ll tell you how the other animals and fish work together. Did you know that gobies often share their coral reef homes with bulldozer shrimp? The shrimps are nearly blind, so whenever the bulldozer shrimp ventures out of its burrow, it keeps at least one antennae on the goby. The goby helps the bulldozer shrimp with just a wave of its tail. The goby alerts the shrimp of approaching predators.  Because of this warning, the shrimp can hide in time, before it gets eaten.  In a way, the shrimp gets a bodyguard, and in return, the goby gets a neat, hygienic home without lifting a fin.

Another way that fish work together is when it’s time for a dentist appointment. I know what you’re thinking – fish don’t get dentist appointments!  But in this case, they do.  A cleaner wrasse swims right into the customers (fish’s) mouth to feed on the parasites stuck on the fish’s teeth or gums. The “customer” gets rids of the parasites, and the cleaner wrasse gets a delicious meal, at least in the cleaner wrasse’s opinion. Stuff like this takes a lot of trust!  When was the last time you swam into another person’s mouth to get food?

You know how earlier I was talking about the convict tangs?  If too many are fished out, I can’t survive.  That’s why it’s very important not to overfish.  Almost all the time, you can’t tell which animals you truly need until it is too late. Same thing with the algae – without it, I would not be able to survive.  And without me, the fish that live in and around me would also not be able to live.  It’s like life in the reef is a big chain, all connected together.  All the time someone depends on someone else’s help.  Break the chain, and many species won’t be able to survive.

Many reefs around the world are dying from ocean warming and pollution.  When the ocean gets too warm, the algae in me dies, and if it doesn’t come back quickly, I will starve to death.  I will become a ghostly white. Oceans are getting warmer because people are burning fossil fuels, producing carbon dioxide, which warms the whole planet.  Some reefs are being choked by plastic trash that collects in ocean currents. Did you know that if people don’t stop polluting the world so much that in about in 30 years there will be barely any reefs left? That means that many species in the whole world will be extinct. Some people will lose their jobs and then a whole depression could start all over again. Another problem that could happen is some of the birds that eat the reef’s fish may not survive either. It would disrupt the whole ecosystem.

  But there are many things you and your friends can do together to help make me healthier again – like not wasting energy and making sure to use less plastic and to recycle it more. Together we can make a difference — the information I told you, together with your actions, could stop all these problems — and the other reefs and I can be restored.

This is the end of my small essay of information on the coral reef.  These were just a few of the many examples of how a coral reef works together.  Because together we can survive.

Litany of Common Action

At the close of our Interfaith Convocation service Bill Thwing, an ordained United Church of Christ pastor (and a certified Energy Auditor!) led us in the rousing litany printed here.  A litany is a leader-congregation call and response common to many Christian services.  You will also detect a nod to the fact that our kickoff was held in State College on a football weekend.

As we pause this week in Thanksgiving for all that we have, may this litany remind us that we ought not allow our own experience of bounty to come at the expense of another’s “enough.”  We must respond to the bounty in our own lives by acting as faithful stewards of all we have been given, that we and our neighbors might be sustained.  As Bill led us in September, we give thanks, and we ask for guidance…. We are Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light!
Thank you, Bill.

We are Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light. We are a part of Interfaith Power and Light, a movement by people of faith who are putting aside their differences and choosing to stand together against a common enemy – the Changing Climate. I invite you now to stand and join in the Litany of Common Action by responding: We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the huge task ahead of us, one that will require  Men, Women, children, families,  couples, individuals, faith community  Leaders,  faithful followers, Christians, Jews, Muslems, Hindi, Buddhists, Bahai,  Native Spiritualists, other members of unnamed faith traditions working together.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the mission ahead of us that can be daunting, potentially paralyzing, seemingly overwhelming in its magnitude and complexity, but that we must somehow accomplish to insure the continuity of civilization, nationhood, family line, Biodiversity, life itself. 
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the strength to face the changing Climate.  Change which is going to affect each of us – Our children, our grandchildren and countless generations into the future – equally.  Change which will cause all to suffer together if we simply do nothing and simply sit on our hands and wait for the worst.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For fellowship. We cannot solve this gargantuan problem by ourselves.  We must do it together.  We must put aside our fears, doubts and misunderstandings of each other and we must learn to stand together as One against this common enemy – our Changing Climate – which,  like  the Mighty Glaciers only a few  thousand earth years ago buried much of our civilization under mountains of ice,  and which, now threatens Global Scorching which is already driving the most vulnerable species into extinction and which if left unanswered could result in the kind of Mass Extinction which unseated the Dinosaurs and almost all life only 65 million earth years ago.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the beauty of the created order – majestic Mountains, crashing oceans, placid lakes, swirling rivers, gently winding streams, giant Oaks offering their shade, sweet scented roses & violets, the robin who gathers food for her young in our yards and the Grizzly bear who shuns human contact, blazing sunsets that reveals Your glory and the gentle rains that waters Your earth;… for the infinite variety of life – human and biodiverse – that breathe the sweet oxygen laden air You have provided; ..for swarming fish, soaring birds, clouds of insects and billions of microbes with whom we share this common existence.  For all these, and a thousand more unnamed blessings which You have entrusted into our care.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For men and women, children, parents and grandparents, families, couples and individuals of faith who honor their particular faith tradition with  worship, study, prayer, devotion, sacrifice, service and the common good within their families, communities and world;.. for the love, hope, wisdom, faith, trust, patience, endurance, generosity which they struggle to attain and
demonstrate to their communities and the world around them;…for their willingness to stand up, speak out, care, inspire, sacrifice, teach, enable, and learn in order to a be a force for good…For all these things we hold hands with one another and say:
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
If you believe that this is the work ahead of us, please join your voices and say:  Amen…so be it.
Amen…so be it.

We are… Pennsylvania  Interfaith Power and Light…Would you please say that with me?
We are… Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light.
Again, please
We are…Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light!
We Are Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light!
Thank you