Monthly Archives: April 2017

Earth Day

Having spent several months planning the local Earth Day Celebration, I was hit hard yesterday by an article that appeared in the New Republic: “Earth Day is Too White and Out of Touch with Reality,” by Emily Atkin. I had been feeling pretty good about our event on Saturday. We had lots of people come through. There was a “Walk for all Species,” with people, children mostly, either in costume or carrying a puppet, parading a short distance. There were workshops on composting, recycling, solar energy, and food sustainability. There was music, food, and, yes, face painting. At the Interfaith Climate Action table, people could make a prayer flag expressing their hopes for the earth. At other tables, children found the seeds in spruce cones and planted them, made dye from flowers, and made things from recycled cardboard. All this was fun and good, enjoyed by many people. But I hadn’t realized how white the crowd was. What were we missing?

Atkins cited Anthony Rogers-Wright, the organizing director at Environmental Action, who says “Earth Day is mainly a white person thing. . . While there are programs this Saturday for vulnerable communities, they’re just not getting an equitable level of transmission. And that’s been the story for many years in the environmental so-called movement. The nation’s leading environmental groups too often neglect environmental justice communities. Earth Day is a manifestation of that disconnect—an event that, like much of the environmental world, focuses too much on making white people feel good about recycling and driving Pruises (sic) than helping those suffering from environmental injustice.”

Besides this article, there were a few comments on Facebook noting that the March for Science on Saturday was also a largely white crowd. That doesn’t make it bad, just as the Earth Day Celebration wasn’t bad. The question in my mind is, how can we work to make our messaging more relevant and be more inclusive? For us in Alaska, I believe, that means being more intentional about climate justice. Yes, we all need to modify our lifestyles to reduce, recycle, and convert as much as possible to renewable energy. But we also need to be more conscious of the fact that people around the world, including coastal Alaska, are suffering disproportionately from the effects of climate change. They are losing their homes and their livelihoods. Their water is being poisoned by oil leaks and industrial action. Can we stand with the people of Flint, Michigan, who must drink bottled water because the water pipes are corroded? Can we stand with the Standing Rock Sioux people whose ancestral lands have been violated? Can we stand with the people of New Tok, Alaska, who are seeking funding to move their village further from the coast? Can we support the Gwich’in people who seek to protect the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd?

Last year our Earth Day celebration included statements from many different faith communities (Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and more). regarding their response to climate change. Most of them offered words similar to those of Pope Francis regarding our responsibility as stewards of the earth to care for the most vulnerable among us. This is the work I feel called to. I stayed with the group planning Earth Day this year even though the focus was on recycling rather than on this interfaith work. The article I read made me realize that while this year’s event was successful in many ways, it may have distracted me from the ongoing work for climate justice.

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Unentitled

I recently had a conversation with a friend who claimed he didn’t believe in God. He said he believed in the human spirit, (or would that be Human Spirit?). We didn’t pursue it any further at the time, but this morning I woke up with a “And then I should have said” realization.

In what contexts do we find the term “human spirit?” In times where people have come together for good. For example, a couple of weeks ago I visited the 9/11 memorial in Manhattan. The stories of how people helped each other through that horrific experience spoke to the triumph of the “human spirit” in times of crisis. I also saw the Broadway show, “Come From Away,” based on the stories of how people in Gander, Newfoundland, came together to care for the airline passengers stranded after the attacks on 9/11. Basic human goodness.

Do we ever use the term in relation to bad things? The men who planned and carried out the attacks were human. Do we speak of what they did as examples of the human spirit? Ah, yes. A fundamentalist Christian will tell you that the Adam/human spirit is fallen, sinful. And that’s why we need to be redeemed from our sinful selves. Without God, or specifically, Jesus, they say, we are doomed.
But I doubt if my friend would accept that argument. Nor do I, without some heavy translating.

So what I would say to my friend if I were to continue the conversation today, is that I believe that the essence of the Human Spirit is beyond our individuality. It is also beyond humankind and is in all living things. Humans are basically good because the universal spirit that undergirds us all is love. Bad things can happen when we ignore or reject that love. I can call that spirit “God,” or “Yahweh”, or “WHTVR.” I reject labels such as “theist,” “atheist,”or “non-theist.” My favorite one, if one is needed, is “panentheist,” or God in all things.

So, dear friend, wherever you are today, please know that I love you and would love to hear more about this God you don’t believe in. Perhaps we can both learn from that conversation.