Our various faiths relate us to the environment

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2007

Every religious tradition I know of offers wisdom about what it means to be human, as well as how we may best relate to one another and to the environment. Many religions - certainly today's most noisy and dominant ones - add theology to this mix, with decidedly mixed results. But regardless of whether a particular religion has a theology or not, every religion has a story to tell that relates us to the world in which we live.

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As a Christian, my story of the world is shared with another religious tradition, namely Judaism. Together we share the creation stories found in the Old Testament book of Genesis. Genesis teaches us to call god "Creator," and lumps everything else, human or otherwise, under the single heading of "Creation." Out of this creator/creation division has grown an understanding of human beings as stewards and pilgrims, temporary residents in a world that God owns, and we just pass through.

However our various faiths relate us to the world, the importance of understanding that relationship is increasing as the environment we all share gradually becomes a wasteland. Though we may continue to want to distinguish ourselves from one another by our various traditions, we can no longer afford to ignore our mutual dependence on the environment. Without a healthy environment, there is little hope of maintaining the choices and diversities we currently enjoy.

There is encouraging news. Amidst the warnings we hear of global warming, deforestation and the poisoning of our environment, we're also hearing of people around the globe uniting in a common concern for our common environment. It once was a truism that "no single drop of water thinks it bears responsibility for a flood." Thankfully, the consciousness of us "drops" seems to be expanding.

This new consciousness gives new hope, as we learn to accept our individual responsibilities for living in harmony with this planet. Opportunities to exercise our responsibilities abound, and they are increasing. Toward recycling, just check out www.juneau.org/pubworks/r-rec.php for the growing list of opportunities we enjoy here in Juneau (did you know you can recycle fishing line at Western Auto? that the Baranof Hotel and the Alaska Biofuels Alliance will accept household cooking oils? that CBJ has a drop-off point for used paint and oil?). Some opportunities even pay. Take your own bags to our local grocery stores and you will be charged less at the checkout.

Other opportunities to honor the environment call for increasing degrees of thoughtfulness and commitment. We can choose to walk, bicycle, carpool, or simply plan ahead to avoid burning petrofuels; we can turn down the thermostat, reduce the amount of "stuff" we think we need to purchase, and share more items like tools and vehicles. Caring for our environment is a practice that complements anyone's faith.

There are many challenges to the Earth's health that really make an individual feel like the proverbial "drop" in the bottomless bucket of need. There's corporate greed, that chews up the planet multiplies toxic wastes as fast as technology allows; there's wars, that render efforts to recycle irrelevant to their victims; and there's poverty, that forces poorer nations to ignore pollution standards just to survive. Finally, there is the rather recent historical development of nationalism, which divvy's up what our various wisdom traditions see as one. Nationalism's loyalty to a part rather than the whole makes us believe in things like "American soil," "Iranian waters," and the like, and conflicts with all our spiritual traditions. However, even these powers rest ultimately on the faith of the individuals who give them life.

Whatever our religious traditions, or lack thereof, we all share in the responsibility of living in harmony with the Earth. Fortunately, for more and more of the citizens of this planet, tending to this responsibility is becoming a pleasure we wouldn't want to live without.

• Jesse R. Perry is the pastor at Northern Light United Church.

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