Religion, nature develop connections

November 21, 2010
By Gina Farthing
News Virginian

Americans are discovering a connection between their religion and the environment -- so said a documentary film called “Renewal,” produced by filmmakers Marty Ostrow and Terry Kay Rockefeller, who have created films for PBS. The movie was presented Thursday evening by Staunton Green 2020 and Transition Staunton at the Mockingbird restaurant in Staunton.

“Renewal” portrays the diversity among American religious environmental activists, which include Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Christians by presenting a series of eight mini-stories.

Following the movie, the audience of around 20 to 25 people, were treated to a question and answer session moderated by Eric Curren and members of three local religious groups: the Rev. Paul Nancarrow, of Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton; Jeremy Bacheller, of Harrisonburg’s Islamic Center of the Shenandoah Valley; and Rabbi Joe Blair, of Temple House of Israel, in Staunton.

All three religious leaders were impressed with how “Renewal” showed many various groups of environmentalists approaching the problem from a central religious idea.

“It was interesting,” said Bacheller, “There were a lot of good projects going on,” even though he found some of the groups unusual and unorthodox in their combinations of religions.

Groups portrayed were Christian evangelicals fighting mountaintop removal in Kentucky, a New Jersey interfaith group promoting green utilities and recycling to different churches, an Islamic center in Chicago that promotes ethical and sustainable raising of livestock and produce, a Jewish workshop for children that teaches about where food actually comes from (rather than the supermarket) and the decomposition of “psolet” or garbage, American Buddhists that wrap trees as ordained monks to ward off loggers and more.

One man from the audience asked the panel about what he perceived as a “huge” disconnect between people and Congressional leadership on environmental issues and how they thought it might have come to be.

The Rev. Nancarrow explained that although evangelicals were new to the environmental movement, “Without being critical, the general thought presented was that the material world was given to them by God to be used and that with being powerful in government, the attitude persisted, cemented and contributed to the disconnect. It is very reassuring that they are moving towards the [environmental] movement.”

Another audience member asked each of the representatives what they, themselves, were doing to encourage change among their congregations.

“We’re beginning to get the people to think about these things,” said Rabbi Blair. “We’re getting out pamphlets or boxes to collect things, such as old cell phones for recycling or to those who might need it for 9-1-1 services.”

Blair said with only about 45 households in the Staunton area and 65 in the Harrisonburg area, it was a small community. “Our psolet bucket is not that big.”

Bacheller said that for Muslims, the Koran says that they will be judged on how they treat the Earth.

“It’s not separate, if we’re not doing what we’re supposed to, it’s a sin against God,” he said. “We aren’t as involved with other groups, because they don’t wish to have ties with us, except the ones who want to, but we try.”

At two previous parish picnics, the Rev. Nancarrow said, “We started using washable items. We went from five big bags of garbage down to just a half a bag.” His church is also doing an energy audit of its facilities and sharing with the congregation things they can do at home.

Sacred Circle book store owner, Carey McCallum, asked the panel if they thought that the Sabbath would help with sustainability. All three religious leaders agreed that taking time to stop, consider one’s actions and how one was living and resetting was always a good route to take, though Bacheller said that Sabbath was not a part of the Islamic way of life.

McCallum thought it was a good idea to have a day set aside as a way to slow down, “To reflect on our relationships with the land, God and get back in rhythm with Nature.”

The Rev. Nancarrow thought it would give people a chance to step back from the daily wasting of things.

“It’s about being in concert with the Earth,” said Rabbi Blair. “There are pieces inserted among texts that tell us what to do.”

For Muslims, Bacheller said it had to do with a person being responsible for what was underneath him.

“There are rules for living,” he said, “Nursing animals, slaughtering animals. You’re responsible for how it lives. If an animal sees the knife blade he is to be slaughtered with and freaks, you’ve just wasted an animal, because now it will get to live.”

Nancarrow agreed. “It’s about honoring your neighbor, which the word in Latin for neighborhood is environment.”