By Kwok Pui Lan
Today, the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care is convening a conference on “Scientific, Religious, and Cultural Implications of Global Warming” at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, DC.
Blessing of the Watertown Community Garden
on June 12, 2011.
This climate summit will bring together activists, scholars, scientists, and religious leaders to explore strategies to prevent the impacts of global warming. Renowned climatologist Dr. James Hansen, environmentalist Bill McKibben, Fr. Michael Oleksa of Alaska, and Brigadier General Steven Anderson, US Army (ret.) will be among the speakers.
The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, MDiv, EDS ’88, has been invited to speak about the Episcopal Church’s response to climate change. She is a long-time environmental activist and was the principal author of the Pastoral Letter, “To Serve Christ in All Creation,” issued by the Episcopal Bishops of New England in 2003. She has been a leader in Religious Witness for the Earth and is priest associate at Grace Church in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Christian theologians have increasingly paid attention to the challenges of climate change. Sallie McFague, an Episcopalian, is a leading figure in ecological theology. She has published A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming. In his review of the book, John B. Cobb, Jr. said, “[McFague] calls Christians to new feeling, new acting, and new thinking. Perhaps as the threat to our world that she describes so well presses more obviously upon us, the church will begin to listen.”
Anne Primavesi, an Irish theologian, has been in conversations with scientists such as James Lovelock for many years. She has introduced Lovelock’s Gaia Theory to the study of the Bible and theology. In her book Gaia and Climate Change, she challenges Christian communities to change their theological climate. Instead of subscribing to over-powering and imperialistic images of God, Primavesi offers a nonviolent theological model to understand our relations with human beings, with sacred earth, and with God.
Here at Episcopal Divinity School, I have taught the course “God and Creation” for many years and have introduced students to the works of these theologians who have written poignantly on climate change and environmental issues. My teaching and pedagogy have emphasized putting into practice what we have learned in embodied ways supporting African American cultural critic and theorist bell hooks’s views on education as practice of freedom.
In conjunction with my courses, I have brought students to an organic farm to learn about the close relation between the soil, water, climate, and plant cycles. After the visit, three people, including myself, started a vegetable garden in our backyards. In the past two summers, I have grown tomatoes, bell peppers, squash, cucumbers, onions, and different herbs. This new practice has deepened my understanding of the symbiotic relationship between human beings and our environment.
Last fall, I brought students to a community garden in Watertown, Massachusetts, started by the Rev. Louise Forrest, MDiv EDS ’80. The community garden enables children in the housing project to plant vegetables and tend to the garden. It provides fresh produce for several families. Some of the students who visited the garden want to introduce the idea of setting up a community garden at EDS and in their future ministries.
I am increasingly convinced that we cannot just talk about global warming and other environmental problems without changing how we live and practice our spirituality. In my spirituality of healing class, I introduce healthy eating and healthy living as important spiritual disciplines. I am very impressed by Primavesi’s concept that human beings and the environment are co-evolutionary. Without collective metanoia (repentance) and deep solidarity with the earth, we cannot avert the disasters that global warming will bring. (Last winter was the second warmest winter in Boston since records began in 1872.)
EDS has received a major grant from the Henry Luce Foundation of New York to help the school and faith communities learn about religious pluralism and engage in interreligious dialogue. Throughout the academic year, Professor Christopher Duraisingh has organized a series of interfaith table-talks. He has invited Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist practitioners to come to share with us their spiritual paths. The EDS community has also visited the Ramakrishna Vedanta Center in Boston. Swami Tyaganada of the Center has come to speak in the World Religions and the Search for Comminity course.
Many Asian religious traditions emphasize the close relation between human beings and nature. Conversations with people of other faiths allow the EDS community to learn from and network with other faith communities to address common concerns, such as environmental issues and climate change.
The Sustainability Task Force of the American Academy of Religion has invited me to serve on a panel to talk about creative pedagogies in teaching religion and environmental issues at the annual meeting in November. I will be able to share some of my insights in teaching environmental racism, climate change, and ecological debt with the academic community and share what EDS has done in changing the climate of theology and theological education.
Kwok Pui Lan is the William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at the Episcopal Divinity School and her most recent book is Globalization, Gender, and Peacebuilding: The Future of Interfaith Dialogue.