Religion and the Environment

Religion and the Environment: A Campaign to Raise Awareness of the Environment and Discover Common Ground in the Judeo-Christian and Buddhist Communities

Monday, May 08, 2006

my personal epilogue

I am not sure if this is the proper location for this post, but it feel it is appropriate that the administration, my 3 professors, and classmates hear what I have to say about this course.

When I initially was looking at classes for the spring, I had limited space in my schedule and wanted to load it with classes that met once a week. I stumbled upon the ELEA course, read the description, and thought to myself "maybe I can learn a think or two about the environment." Little did I know that I was in for the biggest shock of all time.

Being a political science and modern jewish studies major, I didn't think twice about this Environmental Ethics course connecting to anything that I had previosuly studied. In fact, I hated sciences in highschool and avoided them in college (except for the 2 astronomy courses I took to fulfill my barnard requirement). After my first meeting with Diane, I was instantly impressed with her enthusiasm for the course, her zest for life, and sincerity towards my contributions in the classroom. She found a way to engage my Jewish studies into the course by creating a project that explored religion and the environment. I left that meeting a bit aprehensive because I was not sure exactly was I was getting myself into. But I also felt ressured that with Diane's guidance, I would find the whole experience beneficial.

After the first day of class I felt overwhelmed with the requirements. Papers, power points, porgress reports, readings, class discussions: you name it, it was on the syllabus. But, I had an inkling that this class could turn out to be one of the most unique opportunities as a student at Barnard, and decided to stick it out (unlike some other students). I went home to read our first assignment which was Ishmael and returned to class with hesitency to discuss the reading. What if I interpreted it incorrectly? What if I do not understand the ecological situation discussed throughout the story like the other students do? Alas, my anxieties were put to rest when Diane opened the dsicussion to all different viewpoints. Having an academic religious background, I was able to apply my knowledge of that field to the book and soon found myself in enthralled in the classroom. 2 hours flew by and I could hardly believe that the first full day of the ELEA class had passed so quickly.

As the semester progressed, I continued to work on my project and became more aware of the world around me. I couldn't believe that a single class was having such an impact on how I looked at my Jewish texts, analyzed news reports that dealt with the environment, and the bonds that I was building with the members of my class. I found myself telling many friends and advisors about the amazing course that I was taking and how it empowered us to become environmental stweards in society.

The peek of my experience was when Diane set up our trip to the Garrison institute. I'm not going to lie, I was very busy and didn't feel like getting up early to ride a train (especially on St. Patricks Day), but I packed up my notebook, camera, good attitude and headed towards Grand Central. On the train, Jessies, Diane and I spent the hour conversing about the course, life, and commenting on the beautiful Hudson River scenery outside the window. Once we reached Garrison, a new feeling came over me. I stepped onto the platform and was amazed by the beauty that surrounded me. Going to school in the city had caused me to forget how astounding the environment can be. After spending so much time talking about nature, looking at pictures, and reading depictions of people's experiences, I was finally face to face with our subject matter. My earlier resistance to visit Garrison instantly subsided and a calm came over me. I began to flashback to my favorite places that had always brought me happiness. I had spent the past nine summers of my life in the Muskoka region of Ontario, which was equally as beautiful as the Hudson Valley (if not more, in my opinion). Summertime is when I am truly in my best mentality because I escape the congestion of the city and free myself into the most natural environment. Unknown to Jessie and Diane, I was in such a state of happiness that I almost cried. As wierd as that sounds, I often long for the days where there are no pressures of school work, meetings, classes, my peers, and technology. I knew that this visit was going to be beneficial not only for our project, but also to stabalize me to return to school with a more relaxed mindset.

The garrison trip proved to be worthwhile. Patricia could not have been more generous with her time and knowledge and Diane was a wonderful asset to keep us motivated and excited about this opportunity. After understanding the prgramming that the Garrison institute does and the mission statement of the institution, it became clear how connected all religions are with the environment. I found myself becoming educated beyond the limits of our project and it created a new open-mindedness.

I could go on forever about how this project has expanded my views on the environment and my personal Jewish religion, but I want to take a second to address why this course is so important. In a city that can seem so cold and a campus that is too busy to create sustainable relationships, this class has played an important role in my semester at Barnard. I have had my fair share of bad professors, maybe even too many. It becomes discouraging to sit class after class without knowing your professor, feeling like you understand the material covered, and just being another body in classroom. I was sick of being unappreciated as a student and thought that there was no hope for a class that could engage my personal strengths. I am not the strongest writer, I do not learn well from copying notes off a powerpoint, and easily become dsitracted if the subject matter is boring. Diane's class allowed me to engage my strengths of reading, discussion, presentation, and hands on learning which helped me succeed in and outside the classroom walls. Additonally, Diane's concern for my perosnal growth as a student and environmental stewerd was inspiring. Even during the most difficult moments of the semester (when my computer kept crashing, holiday confines, immense stress) Diane would shoot me and e-mail, call me, or talk to me after class to genuinely see how i was holding up. No other teacher has ever reahed out to me in such a fashion and I was touched by her kind gestures and words. I had always heard rave reviews about Diane, but this class confimed them. She is one of the most passionate, caring, and motivated professors I have seen and is out to accomplish a greater goal of invigorating students with the power to explore the world.

This course deserves more recognition than it has already gotten. I will be shocked and appalled if they do not allow it to run again next year. This is truly the epitome of the classroom experience that changes a student and allows them to discover a new side of themseleves that has always been in hiding. I have changed over the course of this semester. I now view Judaism from a different scope, can comment academically about environmental concerns, and can boast that I took a science class that I actually enjoyed.

In all, this class has been a pleasure to take. I know that my time with Diane, Professor Balmer, Laura, and classmates will help me out with future situations and interactions. On this note, I want to say thank you for an amazing semester. Without this course, I would be a different individual and would have missed out on the greatest opportunity that Barnard has to offer. "This too shall pass" but from it I will take my knowledge, skills, new mentality, and motivation to face the world as it continues to come at me.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

After thought

After writing our paper, Jessie asked if I would write an epilogue to add at the end. I sat down and thought about how this porject has affected our lives and what has been gained from this valuable experience. Below is the actual epulogue written and I know that this is only the beginning of study in this area:

When first approaching this project, we had vast knowledge about the Christian and Jewish faiths, minimal about Buddhism, but none about the incorporation of the environment. After spending a semester exploring texts, speaking with religious leaders, and getting hands on experience at locations such as the Garrison Institute, we can say that we have grown academically and spiritually from this assignment. Without even realizing, these religions rely heavily on the incorporation of nature to enhance the teachings and philosophies. Anywhere we visit, travel to, or dwell is surrounded by nature. From the smallest blade of grass on a lawn to the grand mountain ranges, our interaction with these objects holds the possibility to change our lives. Within these religions, a person can find a way to connect a theory to their surroundings and find some aspect of significance.

Religion is an interesting concept because while it might dictate certain laws regarding the way we dress and the behaviors we use, it primarily resides as a mindset that applies principles taught to become more knowledgeable and feel greater spiritual connection. When applying the lessons and morals learned from the sacred texts, we then enact our religious histories and become a part of it. In all of these religions, respect is a key concept utilized when interacting with nature. We are supposed to honor the creations of the Lord, and also respect the world around us because if we do not treat it well, then we are not treating ourselves well.

It can be difficult to feel that same connection when living in an urban location such as New York City. With minimal greenery, polluted streets, and an insensitive mentality possessed by much of society, it can become discouraging to find that spiritual connection. Luckily, there are places such as the Garrison Institute and other organizations that believe if you cannot have nature, bring nature to the individual. Our visit to the Garrison Institute became the inspirational moment when our research became internalized and applicable. Leaving the crowded and congested city for the spacious and beautiful countryside allowed us to understand the exquisiteness of creation and the need to protect it.

Usually a final paper signifies the conclusion of a semester long project. But in this case, we have only begun our assignment. We will continue to work with the Garrison Institute to attend lectures and hopefully become featured speakers. With their guidance, the lengthiest part of the project will be accomplished little by little; becoming well versed in the religious connection to nature. There is never an end to this part and we look forward to our continuous stewardship and someday leadership in this area.

This might be the final page of this paper, but it is just the end of the first chapter of our new undertaking.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Mission Statement and Action Plan

Mission Statement

The primary goal of our project “Be-Leaf” in the course Environmental Literature, Ethics, and Action (ELEA) is to examine Buddhist, Jewish and Christian theology (or philosophy) and determine what it teaches us about human/environment interaction. Additionally we will examine efforts by Buddhists, Jews, and Christians who are working to protect the environment and evaluate how they integrate their faith into their efforts. At the end of the term our project will produce three pamphlets, one on each faith, describing how this tradition views the environment. The action component of our project is education, and we hope to educate the community by distributing our pamphlets to faith centers and religious schools in our neighborhood. We will also write a thirty page paper and present our project to the class with a PowerPoint presentation.

The ELEAblog is an integral part of our project. Because the pamphlets only allow limited space to present our findings we will use the blog to go into more detail on each tradition’s approach to environmental issues. Additionally the pamphlets will primarily highlight the positive aspects of each faith’s approach to environmental issues, and in our blog entries we will be able to examine the intersection of faith and the environment more critically. The blog will also provide a forum to list useful websites, articles, and books on religion and the environment. The blog address will be listed on our pamphlets and our hope is that when people read the pamphlet they will also look at the blog and comment on our entries.

The final component of our project is our collaboration with the Garrison Institute. The Institute “was founded in 2002 to apply the transformative wisdom of the world’s contemplative traditions to systemic challenges facing the human and natural environment.” During our first visit to the Institute, Patricia Ackerman provided us with resources on each tradition in addition to offering assistance with designing our brochures. The Garrison Institute will have the finished brochures available at their conversation series, “The Hudson River Project: Caring for Creation and the Common Good.” Because of our close collaboration with the Garrison Institute their mission has become part of our mission. Their Core Propositions are listed below.

1. All people have the innate capacity to grow and transform to higher orders of consciousness
2. Higher-order consciousness perceives the essential interdependence of all forms of life and between life and the inanimate environment
3. A worldwide community of individuals is emerging whose primary identification is as global citizens and whose primary allegiance is to the good of the planet as a whole
4. A genuine, rigorous, and fruitful intercourse between Western science and contemplative wisdom is now both possible and necessary
5. Contemplative practice empowers effective social engagement
6. The active ingredient in contemplative practice is direct personal experience that encompasses more than just rational, logical, or conceptual content
7. Self-care is the gateway to effective other-care
8. Each of the different social, environmental, and spiritual disciplines remains self-limiting until it has surrendered its claims to absoluteness, embraced its own incompleteness, and located itself within a continuously unfolding and interpenetrating spectrum of disciplines
9. Likewise for the various professional stances: respectful, committed, ongoing collaboration among leaders, activists, care providers, scientists and researchers is essential to the creation of wholesome culture

Action Plan

I. Passion
To say that our current environmental situation is a crisis is not an exaggeration, in fact crisis might be too mild a word. The world is plagued by the interrelated problems of pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, urban sprawl, and global warming, to name a few. Each book we read this semester calls for dramatic and immediate action if we hope to rescue ourselves from the catastrophe humans have created. To make real progress a comprehensive environmental movement must emerge that encompasses people from all races, classes, religions, and most importantly people who might not label themselves as environmentalists. Throughout American history religious groups have been a powerful force for social change. In the nineteenth century evangelical reformers fought for abolition and suffrage. More recently Christian ministers were leaders in the Civil Rights Movement with extensive help and support from the Jewish community. We believe religious communities should once again use their power to assist an important social cause—protecting the environment.
The destruction of the natural world is unethical and immoral. For many people their system of ethics and worldview are heavily influenced by their faith background. This makes religious centers an especially important place for changing people’s view of the environment. Unfortunately the Judeo-Christian worldview is often credited with creating our unhealthy relationship with our environment. In Genesis there are two creation accounts: one which gives man dominion over the natural world, and one which casts man as protector of the earth. Modern society is clearly based on the former view. We believe these three important faith traditions can help humans become protectors of our natural world.

II. Problem
Our project aims to demonstrate that “the environment” is not an abstract concept but an integral part of our everyday lives. By using religious texts which already play an important role in peoples’ lives we hope to draw connections between an individual’s faith and their environment. The Judeo-Christian worldview is often credited with the environmental destruction we are experiencing today. In the section of the paper on Christianity we will explore this criticism. We will examine the views of scholars who disagree with this assertion, in addition to Christians who agree and see their efforts as beginning a new chapter in Christianity’s relationship with the environment.

III. Point-of-View
We will be examining the environment from the point-of-view of Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism. Recognizing the immense variety of beliefs within each tradition we will attempt to avoid generalizations, but also create a product which would be acceptable at a wide range of churches, synagogues, and temples.

IV. Perspective
There has been an extensive amount of literature produced on the environment and how various faith traditions respond to protecting it since the 1960s. A useful resource is the proceedings from the 1998 Harvard University conference on world religions and ecology. We have partnered with the Garrison Institute for our project. The Institute uses the world’s major contemplative traditions to address social issues. One of their focuses is the environment—and more specifically the Hudson River. Currently the Institute is conducting a series of public conversations which aim to unite faith communities along the Hudson to protect the common good. This project is partly inspired by a similar effort by Catholic bishops living in the Columbia River watershed in the Pacific Northwest. Evangelical Christians are becoming involved in protecting the environment as well. Several years ago liberal evangelicals sponsored a “What Would Jesus Drive” campaign to encourage more fuel efficient vehicles, and more notably a coalition of evangelicals released a statement in early 2006 encouraging government to address the global warming problem. Many people already use their church or synagogue as an avenue for charitable work so we believe doing outreach to these locations is good way to encourage taking action for the environment.

V. Purpose
It can be very difficult to encourage and motivate people to become active and aware about our environment. Yet, there are ways to grab their attention and educate them about the importance of preserving nature. When focusing on ways to reach out to the public, we had to think of a way to do so in which all people could be included. We realized that a driving force that influences and sometimes dictates people’s lives is religion. Most people around the world believe in some type of religion. While they do not share the same ideologies, they do set rules and provide enlightening ways of perceiving the world around them. By utilizing the beliefs of three world religions we believe we can make people of faith more aware of the environmental crisis. Over the course of the semester we have learned how each religion perceives nature and the importance of the environment within their teachings. We are in the process of creating pamphlets containing this information that will be distributed to schools, churches, synagogues, temples, and the Garrison Institute. Our hope is that people of faith will become inspired by the words of their own religion and then understand the importance of preserving the environment.

VI. Plan
Over the semester, our project transformed from an idea to an actuality. In the first few weeks we interviewed different professionals with backgrounds in the three faiths we chose to study (see people section for more detail). Additionally, using the resources at the Columbia, Union Theological Seminary, and Jewish Theological Seminary libraries, we will be able to attain many texts regarding our topic. Since the information we release through the pamphlets is limited, the ELEAblog allowed us to provide more detailed and complex information to those desiring to learn more. Pam studied Judaism, Jessie studied Christianity, and we collaborated on Buddhism. This provided a learning opportunity for both team members because each has an extensive knowledge about the religion there are researching and will be able to teach the other about the theories, ideologies and histories of their area of expertise.
A visit to the Garrison Institute during Spring Break solidified our collaboration with them. They will help with pamphlet design and will distribute them during their conversation series. On April 20th, Diane and Jessie attend the conversation, “The River Community and Global Ecosystems” and witnessed their effort to create an interfaith coalition to protect the Hudson.

VII. Product
The product of the project is one pamphlet about each religious tradition. Each is an eight panel brochure designed with the assistance of the Garrison Institute. One panel features quotes and passages from each traditions scripture and teachings. The two center panels have a basic summery of that religion’s outlook on the environment and how to preserve it. The front of the pamphlet features an image, the title, and an inspirational quote. One panel gives a brief summary of current actions by that religious tradition for the environment and another has useful web and print resources. Finally, one panel offers suggestions of “What You Can Do,” and the back gives information about ELEA, the blog, and the Garrison Institute. When the pamphlets are completed we hope to post them in PDF format on the ELEAblog.

VIII. People
The role of outside individuals was very important during the weeks when we collected data for out project. Pam conducted interviews with two professors at the Jewish Theological Seminary, one in the bible department (Dr. Sharon Keller) and another in the area of philosophy (Rabbi Neil Gillman). With their insight, Pam was able to collect many viewpoints from different texts and philosophers to create her pamphlet on Judaism. Patricia Ackerman at the Garrison Institute provided guidance on resources and the production of the pamphlets. James Kowalski Dean of Cathedral of St. John the Divine provided an excellent mainline Protestant perspective on the role religion can play in the environmental crisis.

IX. Partnerships
Our primary partnership was with the Garrison Institute, a partnership which will hopefully continue within the environmental science department. They provided invaluable help in locating resources, designing our pamphlet, and most importantly providing a location to distribute our pamphlet where there are people interested in the intersection of religion and the environment. Other partnerships were formed with the people we interviewed (see above section) and the Museum of Art and Design where Jessie attended an open house. Additional locations where we will distribute the brochures include: Union Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary, Columbia/Barnard Hillel, and Earl Hall. Additionally we hope to locate a Buddhist center on the Upper West Side to display the pamphlet.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Spiritual Environmentalism

While reading "The Death of Environmentalism" I was intrigued by the suggestion that environmentalists need to focus less on legislation and more on ideology. The authors argue that a problem as enormous as climate change requires a dramatic solution - reducing carbon emissions 70% - and that this can only occur with a large shift in our the American collective conscious. This alternative paradigm for environmentalism is even more overwhelming than the thought of trying to pass meaningful environmental legislation under our current administration. Despite the enormous scale of changes the authors suggest, I was persuaded and encouraged by their argument because they offered the work of conservatives over the past 40 years as proof that dramatically shifting the national mindset is possible.

The authors encourage environmentalists to focus less on specific initiatives (like fuel efficiency standards) and more on a "set of core beliefs, principles, or values." (32) In an attempt to articulate an environmental American dream the authors joined with progressive and labor organizations to create the Apollo Alliance. In their conclusion they write, "Environmentalists need to tap into the creative world of myth-making, even religion, figure out who we are and who we need to be." (34) I found their use of the phrase "even religion" to be reflective of the general discomfort of progressives when discussing religion. Despite setting up an argument throughout their paper that demonstrates that a successful environmental movement will focus broadly on principles and values, the authors are somewhat reluctant to suggest the involvement of religion. Many people's value systems are rooted in their faith, so from my perspective it seems like a natural alliance--not something that needs to be approached reluctantly.

I visited the Apollo Alliance website and while I found their plan innovative and inspirational, I was discouraged that their list of community partners that supposedly included faith centers, did not in fact, have a single faith center listed. I do not know if this is because they were unable to find a national religious partner or because they did not pursue this avenue strongly enough. After doing research on religion and the environment I am inclined to think the later, because there seems to be a lot of interest among religious communities to work on environmental causes.

After reading George Lakoff's "Don't Think of an Elephant" I am more convinced than ever that for progressives to win national victories they need to embrace religion. Of course I am not advocating an alliance with a specific religious tradition, as the Republicans have formed with conservative Christians, but simply more comfort discussing the values which transcend tradition. Many of us are moved by the facts describing our current environmental crisis; to reach an audience beyond those who consider themselves environmentalists, however, we need to focus on the moral catastrophe in addition to statistics on carbon emissions.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Garrison and the Environment

Last we were were given the opportunity to travel up the Hudson to the Garrison Institute in Garrison, New York. Diane was kind enough to accompany and help us set up the visit. For those of you who have never been to the institute, try to go. Right when you step off the train there is a breath taking view of the hudson, and the surrounding woods. It is quite the difference from city aesthetics and much more relaxing.

Patricia Ackerman met us at the train station and took us a mile up the road to a magnificent building that overlooks acres upon acres of land (noting that Barnard rests on 4 acres of land, this was a magnificent sight). My partner Jessie has described much of the visit, so I will attempt to discuss it in a different light.

Until two weeks ago, I was unaware of the importance that the Hudson plays in the Hudson River Valley. To me, it has always been that body of water that runs alongside of Morningside Park and seperates New Jersey from New York. I often look at it from my window, enjoy the way the water appears during a beautiful sunset, and never think twice about how vital it is to the environment that srrounds it. At the Garrison Institute, Patricia was explaining her passion about the conservation and need to preserve the Hudson. It was inspiring to see someone who is determined in everyway possible to alert the community about this issue. But, the way in which she is trying to appraoch the issue is that most interesting part. Patricia oversees The Hudson River Project: Caring for Creation and the Common Good. It is a project which incorporates the use of religious as a means of awareness towards the environment, and in this case the Hudson and water preservation.

In relation to our project, The Hudson River Project sevres as an example of religion being put to use to grab the attention of society about environmental issues. Because religion is such a major force in many idividuals lives, it only makes sense that by utilizing that aspect groups such as the Garrison Institute can focus in on more specific topics such as the Hudson River. They have made it a multi-religious issue which allows for more discussion, research and areas to work in to enhance the importance of this need. They are bringing in speakers, musicians, artisits, dancers, and other types of medium to attract different venues of people. Patricia said that too many people think of the Hudson as just a river that runs through New York. Instead, she believes that it is more of a bio-region that affects life to a greater degree.

I was in awe with all of the knowledge she presented us with and even more so by the building. Included are photographs of the Garrison Institute and the surrounding area.

take some time to look at the meditation hall. You will notice the large statue of Buddah in the center. There are 4 other curtained panels that surround it and they are currently trying to find statues representing other religions to fit those areas. You are asked to remove your shoes before entering the hall as a sign of repsect, and it is breath taking to see the large space when the sun trickles in from the windows. Also, the artwork that Jessie mentioned in her posting (the well) is also included. The other photographs are of the view from the Garrison Institute onto to Hudson, the building itself, artwork and tapestry inside of the bulding, and Myself, Diane, Jessie, and Patricia.

Jessie and I have also changed the name of our project from Greenfaith to Be-leaf. Greenfaith is actually an organization that sets out to unite peoples spiritual sides with nature, and their information and site will be very helpful for our project.

One exciting part of the visit was the discussion of our pamphlets. Patricia loved the idea and said that she could publish them for us for free. This is an amazing opportunity and we are very grateful for their assistance. Also, she would love both Jessie and I to come back to speak at some point this summer during a seminar about our project which is an incredible opportunity. It is nice to know that this project will extrend beyond the classroom walls.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Religion in Refuge

Throughout the semester my examination of religion and the environment has mostly looked at what Christian scriptures and church doctrine teaches us about religion. It was nice that this week's reading, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, by Terry Tempest Williams offered a glimpse of how an individual's personal religious beliefs can affect their connection with the environment. Her connection with the Utah landscape, and especially The Great Salt Lake, was influenced by a number of factors including her study of ornithology, her grandmother, Native American history and beliefs, and her Mormon upbringing.

Williams identifies her family as fifth generation Utah Mormons. Today the majority of Mormons do not live in Utah, they don't even live in the United States, but the LDS Church is still strongly tied to Utah. The church headquarters are located in Salt Lake City, but the connection goes much deeper than an administrative center. When Brigham Young and the settlers who had traveled from Missouri settled in Utah it was declared the Mormon Zion (for Church history see LDS webpage). Williams addresses the importance of history and genealogy for Utah Mormons. Throughout her story her detailed knowledge of her family history plays an important role in her understanding of her family's history with cancer, and it also connects her to the land as far back as 1850.

I do not think Williams' Mormon faith was the most important influence in her life, and she spoke of the Church in ways which were sometimes unflattering. However, I found her selective use of the Mormon story, and her ability to challenge aspects of LDS belief which she disagreed with really inspiring for our project. In my attempt to formulate what Christianity "says" about the environment I have been frustrated by the lack of direct references in the New Testament. Williams' narrative demonstrated that it's not necessarily so important what a religion "says" about an issue as how the religious beliefs are interpreted by individuals.

For instance, Williams' took great pleasure from the fact that Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the LDS faith, was involved in magical practices before he found the golden plates which he translated into The Book of Mormon. These practices included astrology, the use of divining rods and seer stones. Joseph Smith's ties to occult practice are not celebrated by the church, and have frequently been used by critics to attack the LDS Faith. For Williams, however, it "renders [her] religion human." (195) Williams' explains that she grew up in a faith which believes in personal revelation. She then describes how her mother survived breast cancer when the doctors declared she only had a 20% chance. Shortly after her diagnosis one of the twelve apostles received a revelation that Diane Tempest would be well for many years and her name was entered among those to be healed in the Temple. The Williams family was instructed to join in prayer that Thursday at home where Terry "felt the presence of angels." (196-7) Williams' clearly disagrees with certain aspects of church doctrine, but Mormon spirituality plays an important role in her life.

When we visited Patty Ackerman at the Garrison Institute I asked her how she responds to people who say the Judeo-Christian worldview is responsible for the environmental crisis we now face. She responded, much to my surprise, that she agrees that historically the Judeo-Christian worldview has affected the environment negatively, but through efforts such as the Hudson River Project religious individuals are attempting to interpret and use their religion in a new way. I felt Williams' had a similar philosophy toward her Mormon faith and her Utah upbringing. She used it selectively to make connections with the land and help her cope with the illness in her family.

The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is interwoven throughout her narrative. Initially it is threatened by the rising water levels in the Great Salt Lake and eventually it is submerged. In the book someone estimates that the marsh will take 10 years before it will be a viable habitat again, and 20 years for it to clear its system of salt. When I read that I was encouraged by how a natural system could repair itself, but I worried that without the birds would the area would not be adequately protected. I was very pleased to read on their website that by 2000 the refuge was providing habitat for over a million birds and last year an education center opened.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Hudson River Project and our Garrison Institute visit

On Friday morning Pam, Diane, and I took the train to the Garrison Institute. Patricia Ackerman, a staff member at the Garrison, had generously offered to help us with our project (see previous post. The Institute is a nonsectarian organization that studies how the world's contemplative traditions can lead to social change. Currently they have four program areas: service & society, education, peace & reconcilliation, and the environment. Patricia, who is an Episcopal priest and activist, is the staff member in charge of the environmental programming.

The Institute's current environmental project is "The Hudson River Project: Caring for Creation and the Common Good". The project has three parts: (1) create a network among the religious communities along the river (during her work Patricia has identified 150 faith communities along the Hudson), (2) draft a statement of shared values, and (3) bring environmental education and projects into these faith communities. Currently the Institue is hosting monthly conversations which bring together faith leaders from a variety of communities to discuss how to protect the Hudson River Watershed. In addition to being interfaith the discussions are also interdisciplenary, bringing together scientists, activists, and theologians. The series began in September with a discussion on "Seeking Common Values" and the most recent conversation occurred last week and was on "Working with Nature." The next conversation, "The River Community and the Global Ecosystem: Promoting Public Understanding," is April 20th and I will attend. In addition to hearing the conversation which will feature speakers from The Nature Conservancy, GreenFaith, and Muslim Peace Fellowship, I will get a chance to present our project.

During our visit with Patricia she provided us with a list of resources to aid in our research. A major component of our project is making three brochures (Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism) which summarize each faith's philosophy on environmental issues, provide relevant scriptural passages, list helpful websites and books, and suggest ways you can get involved. Patricia offered the help of their graphic designer in creating the brochures and the Garrison Institute will also cover printing costs. The brochures will then be available at their conversation series. Pam and I were both very excited about this development.

Finally the Museum of Art and Design is currently showing an exhibit called "Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art" and is holding an open house for regional environmental groups on Saturday April 8th from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. The Garrison Institute was invited to participate and I will be going to represent the Institute at the open house.

The trip on Friday was a rewarding experience. It was a gorgeous day, and the Institute and the town of Garrison were both beautiful. Patricia provided us with tons of information which will be invaluable for our research and creating the pamphlets. Finally, having a discussion with someone whose job is to meld religion and the environment really brought our project to life and provided inspiration for the work ahead.

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