Trees, Justice, and Faithful Learning

Bill Hemmerling, Friendship Trees

Our traditions refer to trees as rooted-and-reaching symbols, as wise teachers, or as important and respected resources. We have so much to learn from them.  In this post you will find several tree resources.  We’d like to do an additional post around our secular arbor day, so please share your favorite tree poems or stories (even if you’re sure we must have them!)

We begin with a poem we shared as the meditation at the end or our Sustained Advocacy call near Tu B’Shvat 2019, and continue with hands-on work PA IPL groups are leading, and two learning and worship resources.

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.
                                —Wendell Berry

In several collections including This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems

Tu B’Shvat is a minor Jewish holy day that, in Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s words, “celebrates the bare beginnings pf the reawakening  of trees in mid-winter, and was seen by the 16th-century Kabbalists as the rebirth of that Tree of Life that has its roots in Heaven and its fruit in the existence and creativity of us — the whole of life.”

The festival itself and its amazing Seder come at the full moon on the 15th day of the Jewish lunar “moonth” of Shvat, this year from Sunday evening January 20 through sundown Monday January 21. That means it falls this year on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday.

Consider registering for the Shalom Center’s Tu B’Shvat webinar (webinar on January 9, 2019; Tu B’Shvat begins the evening of January 20, and is January 21this year — there are also webinars preparing for earth-climate-justice rooted Passover celebrations as part of their Sacred Seasons for Sacred Earth series.  The webinars include tools for holding your own celebration.

image source

Martin Luther King’s birthday (and birthday-as-observed) are always close to Tu B’Shvat on the calendar, but in 2019, they fall together.  While we focus on the struggle for civil rights for people of all races in our celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King and his work, in fact, the larger trajectory of his work was justice.  In 2014, Rabbi Daniel Swartz, then a board member of PA IPL, wrote this piece about the connections between the two holidays.

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade left Pennsylvania when she took a job teaching at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky, but we remember her well, and are pleased to share this 8-week devotional connecting trees and faith “Healthy Trees, Healthy People, Healthy Faith”

intro   week 1   week 2   week 3   week 4
week 5  week 6  week 7  week 8

Each spring and fall, the Germantown Tree Tenders plant and tend urban trees in publicly-available space from sidewalks to houses of worship.  They do so in community, and often include opportunities to offer blessings and dedications (and sometimes chances for shared food together)

In Central Pennsylvania, under the energetic leadership of Greg Williams, groups of community members, the 3rd Way Collective from Penn State, congregants, and Central PA IPL regulars have been joining for work parties  to clear space for native trees and tender plants to thrive, adding diversity and resilience to our forest systems.  Much of this work has been removing invasive plants and staking out the beginnings of the native seedlings, but the have also done successful bareroot tree plantings, live staking (along the Juniata River), (over 600 trees in 2018!), as well as native wildflower meadow plantings.  Over time, inspired by a Joanna Macy practice called Honoring our Adversaries, they have challenged themselves to recognize and honor the tenacious and exuberant qualities of the very invasives they are working so hard to hold back so the diverse native plants can thrive.

We’ll close with this browsing link on tree writings over at Baha’i Teachings. 

LOWER TRAIL: invasives workparties

Greg Williams is taking advantage of the mild weather to get some invasives work done in Blair and Centre Counties.  Contact Greg to let him know you’re coming, and make sure you have his cell number (215-242-0854) to make it easier to find him when you get there.

Dress to get dirty and stay dry.  Greg has tools and gloves to share, but the more the merrier at a work party!

Sunday, January 6th 12:30-2:30, and Sunday June 13th 12:30 – 2:30
along the Lower Trail as it goes downriver – cutting back ailanthus, Norway Maple, bush honeysuckle and privet to make room for native plants.
We’ll meet at the Lower Trail parking lot at 1st and Liberty in Williamsburg and work our way downriver doing the same thing.

LOWER TRAIL invasives workparties

Greg Williams is taking advantage of the mild weather to get some invasives work done in Blair and Centre Counties.  Contact Greg to let him know you’re coming, and make sure you have his cell number to make it easier to find him when you get there.

Dress to get dirty and stay dry.  Greg has tools and gloves to share, but the more the merrier at a work party!

Saturday, January 5th 12:30-2:00
along the Lower Trail as it goes downriver – cutting back ailanthus, Norway Maple, bush honeysuckle and privet to make room for native plants. We’ll start at the playground at Riverside Dr. and High St. southwest of the bridge at 12:30 and work our way downstream until 2:30 p.m.  The photo shows what the playground looked like when the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River overflowed its banks last fall.

Sunday, January 6th 12:30-2:30, and Sunday June 13th 12:30 – 2:30
We’ll meet at the Lower Trail parking lot at 1st and Liberty in Williamsburg
and work our way downriver doing the same thing.

Work, Eat, Pray

Several locations benefit from regular Habitat Restoration care by dedicated groups of willing hands — most led by PA IPL Board President Greg Williams.  Look for “work party” offerings on our Events Calendar, or email to get on Greg’s lists (he turns out events faster than the deskbound can keep up during the growing season!) — or to learn from him about how to organize something like this in your community, or near your house of worship.  

Recently three Episcopal Churches in Blair and Huntingdon counties joined together to create a workparty to remove invasive plants and encourage resilient natives along a nearby rail trail, — and to also shared meal, and share an evening prayer service.  We got a great report from Greg, and learned that one participant referred to the event in her next-Sunday sermon.  Enjoy the report, below!  

Members of St. Luke’s, Altoona,  Holy Trinity, Hollidaysburg,  and St. John’s, Huntingdon,  all Episcopal Churches from Blair and Huntingdon counties met on Thursday August 16, from 4-7:30 p.m.,  with several goals in mind:

  • To give these parishes a chance to work together and better get to know each other,
  • To make a public statement that the Episcopal Church cares about climate change and our churches are making a long term commitment to do something about it,
  • To WORK for a couple hours removing  non-native invasive plants from the Mt. Etna station area on the Lower Trail with the goal of returning next Spring and planting native plants that will better support insects, the base of a healthy ecosystem. This healthier ecosystem protects the river, feeds toads (like this one who showed up to encourage us), cleans our air, and takes carbon from our atmosphere thus nudging us away from global warming,
  • To EAT, (as is appropriate at any church event) a delicious potluck picnic, chat, and build community,
  • To PRAY Evening Prayer, at dusk, as the storm clouds which had been building but not raining on our event, called an end to the event.

We had 11 joyous participants ranging from 7 to 70 who rode bikes, clipped privet from the safety of the trail, waded in behind the stinging nettle to open up new areas for planting native trees next Spring, or scooped up the clippings and laid them back in the forest to decompose and feed the soil.

There was talk that we may do it again, as early as October, perhaps with the addition of a VIP! Stay tuned for details. For more information, to sign up your faith community for a similar work party, or to get on our mailing list for future events, contact  Greg Williams, organizer of the event and member of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light.

Philadelphia Water Department working with houses of worship

This blog post features a recent project and grants initiative from the Philadelphia Water Department, but stormwater is an issue across the state, particularly as rainfall events become more intense.  Many of our cities have combined sewer outflow.  Torrential rain events lead to boil water advisories in Pittsburgh many times each year, and they also have green infrastructure plans.  Ask your local water department about stormwater abatement, click through to some how-tos below, and check out this LWV newsletter about several projects, including at member congregation Grace Lutheran Church in State College.  Document your changes so you can tell the story in your congregation, share it with us, and even submit it to the national IPL Cool Congregations Challenge (for activity completed in one calendar year), or get certified through the National Wildlife Federation under their Sacred Grounds certification program. 

As the world gets warmer, cities will increasingly suffer from extreme heat events. The hard construction materials used to build cities soak up heat, causing an “urban heat-island effect.” Building new green spaces is one of the best ways to fight the worsening heat in cities.

The Philadelphia Water Department’s Green City, Clean Waters plan is a 25-year effort to manage stormwater in the city by building new green “tools” around the city. These tools include specially engineered trees, rain gardens, and planters. While the first priority of Green City, Clean Waters is to manage stormwater, new urban green spaces have a heat-reduction effect. Keep reading to learn about a church Continue reading Philadelphia Water Department working with houses of worship