“The kinship that children feel for animals and their ongoing disappearance from us literally brought me to my knees that night, on a sidewalk in my own village. It was love that got me back up. It was love that brought me to this jail cell.” Sandra Steingraber
Today is Earth Day. Yesterday the film “How the Kids Saved the Parks” brought me to tears. It tells the story of how a group of children from Grass Valley Charter School worked to prevent the closure of the South Yuba River State Park, one of the parks that California had planned to close in 2011 due to budget cuts. In watching the movie, I was amazed at how articulate the children were in expressing their passionate feelings about this issue.
Those of us who live here really love the river. This “park” is a patchwork of accessible areas stretching 20 miles along the river. It includes miles of hiking trails, four historic bridges, and the nation’s only wheelchair-accessible wilderness trail, the Independence Trail.
Several of my grandchildren gathered signatures for this effort. Wonderful teachers helped them organize. Community support was high. Local nonprofit South Yuba River Citizens’ League (SYRCL) activated their network of volunteers. We were all thrilled when the “parks” were saved from closure.
by: Stephen Phelps on April 16th, 2013 | Comments Off
The poet who wrote the lyric for that hymn, Rev. Thomas Troeger, teaches at Yale Divinity School, my alma mater. When I attend a conference there, Tom Troeger is often addressing the assembly, so I have developed a feeling for his sharp mind and great heart. For that reason, when I see how long ago Troeger penned these words – almost thirty years – I can’t help but imagine that he would be the first to say that his verse has suffered a reverse at the hands of climate change. God did not mark a line and tell the sea anything, or else the sea wasn’t listening. Ask Sandy. Ask Irene. Ask Katrina. Surf’s up, people, in the worst way. Either God never had a word with the sea . . . or God’s order is out of order.
Today, we are going to think hard about what Christian faith has to do with caring for the earth. We are going to return to the question next week, and the week after, April 28th, when Bill McKibben, the world’s foremost earth care activist, will bring our morning sermon. Now, our preaching, including Mr. McKibben’s, will certainly be preaching. Proclaiming the good news of the gospel is the heart of our message. But we are not going to change the subject.
by: Ruth Broyde Sharone on April 4th, 2013 | 1 Comment »
“Will the planet die before I do, Mommy?”
Stunned silence followed when nine year-old Grace’s innocent question was repeated by her mother during a working session of a Peace Summit held in San Jose, Costa Rica, last December.
Young Grace’s pungent question of global survival hung in the air in the University of Peace meeting hall. Susana Marley Cunningham, a leader from the Miskito people of Nicaragua – known as Mama Grande for her girth and her powerful presence – rose to her feet. Asking the group of twenty-five to form a large prayer circle, Mama Grande brought Grace’s parents into the middle. She took their hands and prayed fervently that the evil spirits who planted that negative question in young Grace’s mind be cast out forever and destroyed.
by: Levi Bridges on April 1st, 2013 | 1 Comment »
Time after time, Pedro Santez has moved away from his native village of Coyutla to pursue a new career.
Each time, after spending years away, Santez returns home and finds that his four children are older and more of his neighbors are gone, seeking opportunity elsewhere. Santez tries to start a new life in his home town, but he always leaves again.
And the pattern repeats.
by: Rabbi Elisheva Brenner on March 22nd, 2013 | 3 Comments »
Vajravarahi Mandala, Tibet, late eighteenth century. From the David Shapiro collection. (Leidy and Thurman, number 33)
In the Torah “holiness” is part of an idiosyncratic way of understanding how the cosmos came into being, our place in it (cosmogony) and the nature of reality (epistemology). To our ancient ancestors, the cosmos, the physical world as we experience it, all life was brought about by “the word of G-d.” Today we would regard “the word of God” as a metaphor for the energies, forces, karma, particles, and waves, plus the energy of human consciousness that concentrates, compresses, expands, and contracts into what we experience as the physical and spiritual world. When the energies of life are in properly balanced, albeit dynamic, homeostasis, the life system has achieved a state of sustainability. In Torah-speak, that homeostasis, that sustainability, is called “Holiness.” The parts of the system as well as the objects, actions and time intervals used to maintain and correct the system are called “Holy.”
Let me be clear: my dog doesn’t care about the new pope. He’s not Roman Catholic (he’s labradoodle) and he has no political interest whatsoever beyond when we will next go for a walk and how he can steal other dogs’ squeaky toys. So I haven’t tried to convince him of why the election of Pope Francis matters, and if you share his indifference to the world beyond your immediate senses, then for you there is no reason either to care about any politics, papal or otherwise. Just sit back, hope for good weather, and watch the oceans continue to rise.
But I believe that what happens in the world is worth paying attention to. Maybe it’s an inherited gene: European Jews who, unlike my parents, didn’t pay attention to politics in the 1930s tended to have fewer children. While you are alive, paying attention to the political weather helps you to stay alive. Perhaps sadly, it is not sufficient in the long run, but it really does help in the short term.
by: Gary Smith on March 19th, 2013 | 4 Comments »
Veder Plate, a vegan Passover seder plate. Credit: Gene Blalock
This year will be the third year my Jewish vegan friends and I celebrate “veder,” our version of a vegan Passover seder. All of the traditional dishes are served – matzah brie, brisket, gefilte fish, potato latkes, matzah ball soup, kugel and macaroons – in veganized versions without meat, dairy or eggs. Though not all the dishes are appropriate for Passover, the meaning of the holiday and the traditional foods serve to reconnect us to our Jewish roots. Not only is all the food vegan, we incorporate nonhuman animals into our service.
Vegan matzo Ball soup. Credit: Gene Blalock.
Holidays like Passover are a difficult time for Jewish vegans and animal activists, a time of mixed emotions. As much as we love and find relevance in the meaning of the holiday, it’s difficult to be confronted by a table full of the body parts of animals that we love and fight for daily. Some vegans forgo Passover entirely, and some who celebrate with their families feel pressured to defend their ethical choices. Some are no longer invited to their family’s tables at all.
The Passover seder celebrates the Jewish people’s freedom from the Pharaoh and the larger issue of the immorality of slavery. As Jews, we have a long history filled with suffering, oppression and slavery, which has informed our choices as a community to work with other groups to help their own oppression. Jews have played roles in the civil rights movement, women’s movement, gay rights movement and feel a deep connection to suffering of others.
The environmental crisis is the no. 1 spiritual challenge facing the human race in the 21st century.
Spiritual Progressives should provide leadership in this struggle. We understand the dimensions of the issue, understand that we cannot save the planet without defeating the globalization of materialism and selfishness which provides the engine for unlimited exploitation of the earth without regard to the future consequences, and understand that a serious environmental movement would not only be involved in the day-to-day challenging of the worst offenses (as will happen at the demonstrations this weekend) but would ALSO be seeking to change the fundamental underlying assumptions about what is rational, productive and efficient in our economy, politics, and daily life. That is what we do with our “New Bottom Line” which is at the center of our Spiritual Covenant with America, and with our proposed ESRA–the Environmental and Social Responsiblity Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
No wonder then, that the Network of Spiritual Progressives has joined with over one hundred other organizations to support the Forward on Climate Rallies this Sunday, not only in the big rally in D.C. but also in the many other rallies around the country. Below is a list of locations we just received. If you can, bring copies of the ESRA to the rally, and signs indicating that you are one of the many Spiritual Progressives involved in this struggle (because doing so will encourage other spiritual progressives to feel safe to come out of the closet despite the religiophobia many people report experiencing in some liberal, progressive and/or environmental circles–and it will help alert secular demonstrators that they have spiritual progressive allies in this struggle to save the earth).
Hope to see you there this Sunday at one of the many sites!
I’ve changed my faith or religion or spiritual practice a lot over the years. I was born to parents of Jewish ancestry, but they were Unitarians, or Jewnitarians, as their friends joked. I was born to hybrids.
When I was twelve, we moved to Israel, largely because my Dad felt guilty for not teaching us kids about our Jewish history. It seemed to me to be too much too late. It was an alien country and faith to me. I felt terrible about the holocaust, and I understood Nazis would kill me whether or not I felt Jewish, but I still didn’t feel like kissing the ground when we landed in Israel.
At thirteen, I went to Quaker boarding school in the mountains of North Carolina. As students, we didn’t go to Meeting much, but we spent our days and nights outside in nature. You might say it was in the mountains I found God. I came home to myself and fell in love with the streams, rhododendron, sandy mica paths, and black mountaintops. I loved sliding down rocks in the South Toe river, sliding down mountain sides in the snow, skating and swimming in natural ponds, resting in wild grasses and staring at the stars on windy nights. My house parents had to drag me inside to go to bed at night.
by: Sharon Delgado on February 13th, 2013 | Comments Off
An Ash Wednesday Reflection
"Spirit of the River," Yuba River near Nevada City, California
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In Christian tradition, on this day ashes are used to symbolize two things: repentance and mortality.
As we consider the destruction of the earth and the suffering of our fellow creatures, both human and nonhuman, repentance and humble acceptance of our own mortality seem appropriate. In Ash Wednesday services the imposition of ashes is a way to show our repentance, our intention to turn away from harmful actions and to turn back toward God. As we consider harm to the earth we are called to repent of our own violence, greed, and over-consumption, our participation in ecological destruction and human misery, our complicity in the harm caused by the institutions and systems of which we are a part.