Sunday, April 25, 2004

The changeover to a sustainable economy will be bigger than just changing the mechanics of the system; it will involve a major paradigm shift away from a worldview based on ever greater expansion and exploitation of the earth's resourses to one that reveres and husbands the earth and it's resources.

The beginnings of this paradigm shift can already be seen; in traditional religions:

The commitment to organic gardening is a project of Faith in Place, an interfaith organization that works with Chicago-area religious leaders on environmental issues.

The network consists of 85 congregations in Chicago and its suburbs and represents a broad spectrum of faiths, including Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Baha'i, Zoroastrian and Buddhist.

The Chicago-area projects are examples of a growing faith-based environmental movement nationwide.

"They really are starting to see that the application of faith requires that they live within the boundaries, the limitations of nature," said Rev. Clare Butterfield, director of Faith in Place. "Those are God's physical limits, as it were, as much as the moral limits. We have to be just in the way that we share resources."

The Unity Temple in Oak Park, where Butterfield is a minister, is among a handful of churches in the Chicago area that recently committed to the purchase of wind power.

The Unitarian Universalist congregation in January started paying an additional $25 per month on its electric bill for 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity from wind power produced by the Mendota Hills Wind Farm in Lee County, Illinois' first large wind farm.

The money pays for wind certificates that represent new wind power put into the local power grid on the congregation's behalf.

"By paying that slight premium, they're saying, We're going to replace a third of the electricity we draw from the grid with wind power," Butterfield said. "Those who purchase the certificates are ensuring that it is profitable for this wind farm to operate, so that the next one gets built."

Butterfield said other area congregations have followed suit, including Ebenezer Lutheran Church on the city's North Side, Unitarian Church of Hinsdale and Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oak Park.

The Chicago-area interfaith environmental effort extends to the Muslim community. Starting in Bridgeview, organizers are launching a pilot program involving small and medium-size Illinois farms to develop a branded product of meat that is humanely and naturally raised while being certified as halal, meaning it meets the dietary restrictions of the Islamic faith.

A faith-based environmental awakening is growing steadily, said Paul Gorman, director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.

"What is striking to me about it is the very profoundly religious dimension of it," Gorman said. "This is coming from people's deep faiths, beliefs and traditions" at a time when "the crisis of God's creation at the hand of God's children is so clearly a global challenge."

Leaders of many major religions in recent years have issued official theological declarations about environmental stewardship, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Patriarch Bartholomew, the "green patriarch" who is the leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians.

Gorman's group knows of about 2,000 congregations nationwide that have integrated programs addressing the environment, he said. Also, he said, interfaith global-warming and energy campaigns have been established in 21 states.

It can also be seen in the growth of a variety of earth religions coming out of a variety of traditions and viewpoints, from Native American, to pagan, Gaian, or Buddhist. A growing collections of books explores these themes;

Mother Earth Spirituality : Native American Paths to Healing Ourselves and Our World

Dharma Gaia: A Harvest of Essays in Buddhism and Ecology"

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight : Waking Up to Personal and Global Transformation

Gaia and God : An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing"

Sacred Gaia: Holistic Theology and Earth System Science


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