Monday, September 3, 2007

Arizona Gets Green Religion

Although there is no Interfaith Power and Light chapter in Arizona (at least not yet), faith communities in that state have been getting into the environmental movement in a big way, according to this article from the online version of the Arizona Daily Star (see excerpt below):
"A river has a right not to be drained dry. The Earth has rights, and to care for the Earth we can't do it in the abstract," said the Rev. Stuart Taylor of St. Mark's Presbyterian Church in Midtown, who is rereading the Old and New Testaments from an environmental perspective.
Taylor will give a series of sermons this fall, which he is calling "The Green Bible," based on what he believes the Bible says about protecting the environment. Some environmentalists, for example, interpret the Bible as saying the Earth is God's body and that as humans we are assaulting our deity.
"We're looking at the Bible anew. The old interpretations have not served the Earth well," said Sylvia Thorson-Smith, a St. Mark's elder and a retired professor of sociology and religious studies. "Jesus was deeply rooted in the Earth."
Of a more practical nature, St. Mark's plans each week to give its 400 members "climate-change solutions" that they can do themselves. Those tips include replacing older heating and cooling systems with new, efficient models; cleaning the condenser coil on the refrigerator; turning off computers at night and putting them in a power-save mode; washing clothes in warm or cold water; and buying in bulk, which reduces packaging.
Other groups, including the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northwest Tucson, sell compact fluorescent light bulbs as a way of encouraging worshippers to replace their incandescent bulbs with ones that last longer and use less energy.
The church also is considering banning non-vegetarian food from its premises.
"Eating beef is a huge pollutant of the Earth," said the church's minister, Susan Manker-Seale, who posts the menu of the local vegan restaurant Lovin' Spoonfuls on her church's walls and has the restaurant cater events. "We're not trying to force people to do anything, but we do want to inspire them to learn."
Manker-Seale's congregation recently voted to become a Green Sanctuary, part of a program within the Unitarian Universalist denomination that requires congregations to complete steps, including a community "green" project.
Vegetarianism is one of the less popular ways of going green, but Manker-Seale believes more people should be paying attention to damaging effects of the meat industry. Animal-welfare groups have recently begun promoting a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report that says the livestock business generates more greenhouse-gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined.
Other congregations have held electric-car demonstrations, switched to china and silverware instead of disposable plates and utensils, sponsored alternative gift fairs that included sales of reusable water bottles, and adopted villages harmed by global warming.
St. Philip's in the Hills, Tucson's largest Episcopal church, recently put together a "green team" of people aiming to infuse the congregation with more awareness of environmental stewardship. The church is performing an audit of its own energy consumption, and this month will begin a series of events focused on being green.
"We'd consider the Earth as the ground of all our being. It supports and sustains us and is one binding need we all have. It feeds us and it fuels us," said Greg Foraker, director of adult formation at St. Philip's. "The Earth is really central to Christian tradition, but the news we've been hearing lately reminds us that we can't let go of that core faith."
One of the upcoming speakers at the St. Philip's events will be Susan Kaplan of Tucson's Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.
Kaplan publicly lectures anyone she sees drinking bottled water, explaining that most of the bottles end up in the landfill. Though she doesn't give faith-based reasons for her admonitions, she says the principles of her faith were a key motivator for her newfound passion.
She considers her environmentalism an extension of "tikkun olam" — a Jewish directive meaning "repair the world" — and has even written a rap song about her views that she performs to various Jewish groups.
"Remember those bad plagues we read about at Seder? Well today there are more, and they got greater and greater," the lyrics say. "Trash and rubbish, dirty air and dirty water. Waste and too much driving, The Earth is under slaughter."
Road cleanups, film screenings and education sessions about recycling are among activities that Kaplan's group sponsors.
Recently, the group helped the Tucson Hebrew Academy acquire a grant from Tucson Electric Power Co. to install solar panels on the school to generate electricity. Kaplan hopes to do more interfaith environmental projects in the future.

Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 22 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at

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