The Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse that I’m familiar with were known for their steadfast devotion to the environment, and as followers of St. Francis, that only seemed fitting. For me, looking out over the ocean and listening to the steady ebb and flow of waves washing on shore feels like an open-air cathedral. Maybe it’s a walk in the woods or the view from your porch or even the wonder of a New York high-rise that leaves you awestruck. Whatever it is, I try to see the Creator’s hand at work in the beauty around us.
At the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, they’ve been hard at work considering questions about the environment. “Our church’s green team has a workshop series at the West Tisbury library,” wrote the church’s pastor, the Rev. Cathlin Baker. “We had 70 people come to our workshop on composting. Our green team is working on hosting a Cape and Islands symposium on the climate crisis, and inviting national speakers. Earlier this month, we brought together an ecumenical group from the Island for a webinar and discussion of climate change. Unfortunately, the webinar had technical difficulties, but we made progress on the symposium.”
So on Martha’s Vineyard, there are definitely folks working to address climate change and to educate themselves.
With that in mind, I asked Island clergy and faithful to respond to this question:
How does your belief system relate to climate change and the environment?
The Rev. Chip Seadale, rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church:
“In his wonderful, edifying little book, ‘The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings,’ John Philip Newell talks about various ways followers of Christ might reconnect and repair important relationships in order to birth a new Christianity. Of the eight chapters, his first (and clearly most critical, in his view) is ‘Reconnecting with the Earth.’
“Christianity provides, among other things, a way for living life most abundantly, as well as a worldview that helps followers to make sense of the chaos of our world. This world posits a God (or higher being) that has made everything we know — our universe, our lives, our earth — and thus we come into relationship with our Creator and depend upon our God for healing and nourishment as we live out our lives.
“We see life as sacred, and all that God has made as sacred. Both are gifts, and none of us ‘owns’ either. And after many thousands of years, the God we have come to know and to love (and the God whom we know loves us unconditionally) has asked us to care for each other, and God’s earth, as God cares for us. And the central, underlying force in our universe, is love.
“On the one hand, aside from one’s personal worldview (or theology), it makes absolutely no sense to disregard the wellbeing of an earth that serves as the basis, or substrate, for our life and survival. We ignore the warning signs, which are clearly and incontrovertibly evident even now, at our peril. But on a deeper level, our tendency to objectify each other, and all God’s sacred gifts — most notably, our earthly home — simply means we’ve fallen for the single greatest fallacy (an illness, really) that has plagued humankind from the very start: that somehow we are separate from God, that we are separate from each other, and that we are separate from our world.
“The truth is, we all need each other, and we need to be able to see our world, too, as a life — and life-giving force, as inextricably interrelated, and necessary for our common weal. Quoting the self-styled ‘geologian’ Thomas Berry (1914-2009), Newell wrote, ‘Thomas Berry said that we are living in a moment of grace. By that he meant that we are living in the midst of an awareness of earth’s oneness, the likes of which humanity has never known before. We are experiencing a way of seeing that is vital to the healing of the earth. The question is whether we will translate this seeing into action, whether we will apply this awareness to the holy work of transformation. But as Berry went on to say, moments of grace are transient. They are passing.
“In other words, will we meet this moment, or will we miss it?’”
The Rev. Sharon Eckhardt, retired Lutheran (ELCA) pastor:
“I am grateful to be part of a faith tradition that has taken our stewardship of the environment seriously for many years. In brief, our belief system teaches that the earth is a planet of beauty and abundance; the earth system is wonderfully intricate and incredibly complex.
“But today living creatures, and the air, soil, and water that support them, face unprecedented threats. Many threats are global; most stem directly from human activity. As Christians, we understand human beings as fundamentally responsible before God. With the reach of our contemporary human knowledge and the power we employ in new technologies, this responsibility in terms of caring for creation now includes the global future itself. Central to that question is the threat posed by global warming and climate change.
“We are called to working toward implementing comprehensive environmental principles, promoting healthy environments, and cooperation between the public and private sector regarding sustainability. It is an issue of justice and a cause for hope.”
Bruce Nevin, member of the Martha’s Vineyard Friends Meeting:
“The premise of the question is ambiguous. A spoken creed may express allegiance to a group or good intentions in the manner of a New Year’s resolution yet over time ‘come true’ as one’s inner grounding grows into it. As a deeply personal matter of inward guidance, a person’s belief-disbelief system is best discerned in their actions: ‘By their fruits you shall know them.’ By holding thoughts and words and actions in the light, we may even come to know ourselves more truly, and so become capable of change. The two meet, the inward light and the outward scaffolding, when we show the way by example; and that is what makes an answer possible.
“The substance of the question comes to stewardship. Actions of one person seem so tiny and so futile in the huge context of climate change, the enormous wheels within wheels of currents in ocean and air, the enormous wealth and power of corporations with their blinding requirement for profit. We hear in this churning complexity God’s response to Job: ‘Where are you, little Man, as I created all this.’ It makes all the difference to know that creation is ongoing and that our responsibility is to be available for its Author to act through us — each and all of us, in each action, in each relationship. And yes, even through that person. This recognition and humility is the heart of stewardship.
“As William Penn wrote in 1693, ‘It would go a long way to caution and direct people in their use of the world, that they were better studied and knowing in the Creation of it. For how could [they] find the confidence to abuse it, while they should see the great Creator stare them in the face, in all and every part of it?’”
The Rev. Cynthia P. Hubbard, priest associate, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church:
“According to the story in Genesis, ‘In the beginning, God created … and God saw that it was good.’ Is there really anything else to say! If all of God’s creation is good, then we as human creatures and part of that creation have a responsibility — even more than a responsibility, a mandate — to care for that creation in a way that is responsible, committed, and leading to wholeness. If we love God, then we love what God has created, pure and simple.
“Unfortunately, over the years, some saw the phrase ‘God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth’ as a license to destroy or plunder this beautiful earth we have been blessed with. “Personally, I have always interpreted this as we are given stewardship over the earth. The implications of stewardship are far different. According to the story, God told Adam to name the animals. When we name something, or someone, as we do our children, aren’t we taking on responsibility for those creatures that we so name? So also as good stewards, we take on responsibility for the environment. We are part of this created world that God saw was very, very good. Anything that degrades the environment, degrades us as its caretakers and stewards. Anything that pollutes or damages or threatens or diminishes God’s created world then must also pollute, damage, threaten or diminish us.
“Furthermore, again according to the story, God rested on the seventh day. We all know that creation is ongoing, that the six-day story is a metaphor for an unfolding process in which we are co-creators with God. Let us be one with God, with one another and with all the world, and the environment can only be the better for it. How can we live otherwise in this world?”
Rabbi Lori Shaller, community rabbi:
“When we want to know how the Jewish tradition relates to anything, we always begin with the Bible. In Genesis 1:28, God tells the first human to ‘be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and to subdue it.’ So it would seem that the Bible instructs us humans to treat the land as if we owned it, implying that the earth and all that inhabits it are here for us to do with as we choose. “Elsewhere in the very same Bible, God reminds us in Leviticus 25:23 that ‘the land must not be sold for perpetuity, for the land is Mine [God’s]; you are but strangers resident with Me.’ This verse comes amid instructions that provide for sabbatical years from growing crops, or giving the land a rest from cultivation every seven years.
“A key to understanding humans’ relationship to the earth and all that is on, in, and around it is in the name given to the first human: Adam. In one of the two Biblical creation stories, human is made by God from the earth: adamah. Thus we hold a unique place in the universe. Having been created in God’s and the celestial beings’ ‘image’ — created from stardust, if you will — we were also created from the earth, with God breathing life into us. Ancient and medieval Jewish sources share this view, which suggests that our human relationship to the earth and all that inhabits it should emulate God’s relationship to creation. We should be treating every living being with honor and respect, encouraging and protecting its existence. We should understand and preserve the interconnectedness of all of creation.
“This understanding has led to a Jewish environmental movement, which promotes sustainable agriculture, local and global advocacy for the environment, and the promotion of eco-Kashrut, humane and just food production.”
The Rev. Susan Waldrop, interfaith minister at large:
“Being careful of the environment is part of Christianity, and certainly of the Native American belief systems.
“We are given the earth for our sustenance and to fill our senses with beauty and a hint at the unity of all things. Einstein would agree with his famous equation, E = mc². It is my experience as well.
“We are not separate beings from each other or the earth. I think climate change is happening. We only have to look at the rise in sea levels and the projected loss of low-lying coastal areas posted for the Island at the Steamship Authority Building in Vineyard Haven.
“So we must come to grips with our indiscriminate and wasteful practices which hurt the earth. We can no longer have a ‘me first’ or greed motive drive a blind eye to the damage we do around us. A blind eye will come to haunt us and our children in ways we will be very sorry for. Individually and corporately we must each do our part — we cannot wait for the ‘other guy’ to start it first.
“This passage from the Hebrew Scriptures says it all, Numbers 35:33-34: ‘You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.’
“God help us reverse the damage we have done.”
Thank you all for weighing in on this incredibly important topic.
The Federated Church in Edgartown honors Black History Month by inviting guest speaker
Dr. Walter Collier, D.P.A., following the Feb. 24 Sunday service. Collier is a longtime Island resident whose recent book, “Why Racism Persists: An Uncomfortable Truth,” will be the basis of his presentation. Collier did an earlier presentation this month at the Oak Bluffs library, sponsored by the M.V. chapter of NAACP, League of Women Voters, and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
A press release from the church tells us, “Why Racism Persists: An Uncomfortable Truth” is a book that ventures into some unchartered territory. Mental illness, white privilege, spiritual evilness, political instigation, and the power of money are among the several reasons Collier points to as being responsible for the stubborn persistence of racism. He also proposes some practical solutions, but ones that require honest self-reflection on the part of white Americans.
After the church service, coffee will be served in the Meetinghouse narthex, followed by the talk by Collier, and then time afterward for questions and answers. The Meetinghouse is located at 45 South Summer St. in Edgartown. Following the program, all are welcome to join the congregation for its free community lasagna luncheon, served in the Parish House from 12:30 to 2 pm.
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