August 9, 2010
By Mallory McDuff
This summer I've been waiting for the opening of the movie Eat, Pray, Love with an anticipation that is a bit different from my hope that Congress would find effective strategies to address climate change. The difference? I don't think I'll be disappointed with the movie's ending.
I'm a Christian, an environmentalist, an academic and a pop-culture junkie. And I think the three verbs in the movie's title — eat, pray, love — might provide direction for the thousands of believers from diverse faith traditions who advocated for a religious response to global warming in three stories that unfolded this summer.
Despite sincere prayer and informed lobbying, people of faith have watched: (1) the Senate's inability to tackle the real problem of climate change, (2) the lack of progress at the United Nations Climate Change Conference and (3) the failure of the oil spill along the Gulf Coast to create a national demand for alternative energy sources.
Given that the United States imports 68% of its oil, couldn't this disaster propel a call for more sustainable policies and practices? And if not, what are the next steps for people of faith whose religious beliefs motivate their environmental actions?
In an essay titled "Jesus and the Climate Bill," the Rev. Peter Sawtell, executive director of Eco-Justice Ministries, describes the Senate's failure to provide leadership around climate change as "genuinely sinful." In the face of his own frustration, Sawtell turns to Scripture.
In Luke 17:3, Jesus calls us to rebuke the offender (hold legislators accountable) and if there is repentance, forgive. In Mark 6:11, Jesus says that if any place refuses to hear you, "shake off the dust that is on your feet" and, essentially, go elsewhere.
And this is where Julia Roberts comes in. In the movie, she goes elsewhere. She leaves the frustrations of her personal life and a divisive marriage (read Congress) for an epic spiritual journey.
Congregations across the country are living these three verbs — eat, pray, love — without traveling to Italy, India, or Indonesia. They are creating bold acts of redemption to address global warming in ways their parishioners can understand: how climate change affects the people and places they love. Their examples provide signposts for how our collective acts in the trenches can generate a momentum that transcends the actions of individuals or inaction of legislative bodies.
Congregations literally feed people with bread and serve millions of meals to people in need each week. The metaphor of eating also calls us to ask what feeds and sustains us as believers. At All People's Church in inner-city Milwaukee, the back of the sanctuary becomes a free farmer's market each Sunday, with organic vegetables grown by youth of the church. Across the country, St. John's United Lutheran Church in Seattle has integrated care of creation into a church garden, energy-efficient buildings, sermons and the Sunday school curriculum. People of faith can practice sustainable eating in community and integrate place into a life of prayer.
Prayer provides stillness that can connect us with God's creation. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico precipitated a groundswell of prayer vigils from Pensacola, Fla., to Newark, N.J. In its climate justice tours, North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light integrates prayer into educational journeys for congregations to learn about the relationship between energy production and climate change. Congregations can use contemplation as a strategy that inspires reflection and action to reduce our carbon footprint.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves stirs believers to care for creation. The organization GreenFaith focuses on environmental actions such as promoting energy-efficiency in low-income homes, green jobs and solar panels on sanctuaries. In Washington state, Earth Ministry is bringing interfaith religious leaders and legislators together in a campaign to transition the state from coal to clean energy by 2015. Communities of the faithful can model this belief in love and justice by protecting healthy environments for all.
These local, state and regional efforts could be one practical alternative to our reality of stalled federal leadership and international agreement on effective approaches to reduce global carbon emissions. Global warming has created common ground for Jews, Evangelicals, Muslims, Lutherans, Baptists and Roman Catholics. Our diverse religious traditions provide the structure of intentional community, a shared moral imperative, forgiveness and redemption, and most important, hope in things not seen.
In the trailer for the movie, Julia Roberts tells her boss she is leaving her job for a journey: "I want to go where I can marvel at something." The end to our own story can inspire awe, rather than disappointment. Follow the conversion of congregations across the country to address climate change. Eat. Pray. Love.
Mallory McDuff is the author of Natural Saints: How People of Faith are Working to Save God's Earth. She teaches at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C.