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'Cool congregations': The Interfaith Power & Light story, part 1

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In a special Earth Day, 2000, edition of Time Magazine, I came across an article on the Rev. Sally Bingham, an Episcopal priest serving Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. She, in partnership with Steve MacAusland, had founded Episcopal Power & Light. Episcopal Power & Light represented a coalition of Episcopal congregations that had purchased green power. Episcopal Power & Light soon became California Interfaith Power & Light with the participation in the collaborative of congregations from other Christian denominations and Jewish synagogues. The Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) movement has spread across the country where now 38 states and the District of Columbia have recognized IPLs.

'Preach the truth as if you had a million voices' -- a Protestant's encounter with Catherine of Siena

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“Preach the truth as if you had a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.”

Catherine of Siena spoke these words of advice to her 14th century contemporaries who were weary of the violence and cruelty going on around them. Hundreds of years later, the “bad times” scenario continues on every front. But environmentalists, peacemakers and social justice advocates cannot afford to cave in to despair, as tempting as that might be. We need to be those millions of voices now more than ever.

One of those voices is Tim Ahrens. This past week, Ahrens, a Protestant minister from Columbus, Ohio, reminded us of Catherine’s timeless words in an article he wrote on the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good’s web site. Ahrens, senior minister at the First Congregational Church here, and an active member of BREAD, a social justice advocacy group made up of 52 local churches, synagogues and mosques, recently made a two-year commitment as a Dominican Associate with the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The sisters’ motherhouse is located in Columbus.

Green pioneers, organized by a Dominican sister, transform a town

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Nearly 1,000 households in the rural community of Springfield, Kentucky, have become earth healers. And they want the world passing by their doorsteps to know what they’re up to.

So they’ve decorated their mailboxes with vibrantly colored decals announcing that “we are proud to be a Green Pioneer Home.”

Green Pioneers have pledged to incorporate eight simple, doable, sustainable living practices into their lives. The working list, which they sign onto, from a Web site, has 17 activities to choose from. People can recycle, use compact fluorescent bulbs and reusable shopping bags. They can grow some of their own food, use natural cleaning products, give their car a Sabbath day off once a week and stop buying bottled water. They can incorporate a prayer practice such as mindfulness, silent time, and meatless meals into their lives.

'Subdued by what we conquered': Pope Benedict's understanding of nature disappointingly inert

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By David DeCosse
David DeCosse is director of campus ethics programs at Santa Clara University in California.

The whale flashed its bulk, like an island in the brilliant sun. The wind whipped away the spray from the spout in a steady gust. I watched in joy and awe from the bluff trail as the majestic, shimmering creature — no more than a half-mile offshore — pushed north through the white froth in submerged, half-hidden power.

I treasure that recent moment on the Central Coast of California because it points to what the American writer Wallace Stegner has called nature’s capacity for bringing “spiritual renewal, the recognition of identity, the birth of awe.” I also recall that moment because it points to a profound flaw in the green theology of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

In short, there’s too little room for the dynamic power of the whale in the contemplative sea that is Benedict’s view of nature.

Richard Rohr and the 12 Steps: Going out to 'the inner room'

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BREATHING UNDER WATER
SPIRITUALITY AND THE TWELVE STEPS
By Richard Rohr
Published by St. Anthony Messenger Press, $15.99

A quarter century ago, Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr gave a series of talks in Cincinnati that linked the wisdom of the Twelve Steps Program to what St. Francis called “the marrow of the gospel.” “I was amazed at how obvious and easy a task it was,” he said.

Now he’s updated those talks in his new book. Breathing Under Water.

He reflects about his earliest experiences with such programs, when "the people dealing with their addictions in the church basement thought they had left the church for the Wednesay night meetings in the basement, while many upstairs in the sanctuary presumed that their ‘higher’ concerns were something different from ‘those people with problems’ down below."

The reality, he says, was that we were dealing with a common inspiration from the Holy Spirit and from the collective unconscious of the human race.

How Christian and secular ecologists have moved from criticism to common ground

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Fr. Bud Grant's regular column on the National Catholic Rural Life Network Web site discusses the relationship between Christian and secular ecologists over the last half century.

"Secular ecologists," he writes, "have long been suspicious of Christianity. It is worth explaining why people of faith have been mistrusted by environmentalists and from there to locate the common ground that can be used to overcome that wariness for the sake of advancing our common objectives.... The most famous accusation made against Christianity was thrown by historian Lynn White Jr. in 1967 with a bombshell article in Science Magazine. He makes a succinct charge: The 'subdue and dominate' language of Genesis 1:27 'established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.' Christian focus on the spiritual world means we insist on 'transcendence of and mastery over nature.' 'Christianity,' he adds, 'bears a huge burden of guilt.' Ouch."

Read Fr. Grant's entire article on the Web site. It's a very interesting discussion on important issues in religion and ecology.

A more supple notion of who God is

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As a kid raised in a large family with what he calls “healthy neglect,” the late Passionist Fr. Thomas Berry roamed the woods and fields around his home in Greensboro, N.C. At the age of 11, he said, his sense of “the natural world in its numinous presence” came to him when he discovered a new meadow on the edge of town.

“The field was covered with white lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something that seems to explain my thinking at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember.”

It was not only the lilies, he said. “It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in the clear sky. … This early experience has remained with me ever since as the basic determinant of my sense of reality and values. Whatever fosters this meadow is good. What does harm to this meadow is not good.”

By extension, he said, “a good economic, or political, or educational system is one that would preserve that meadow and a good religion would reveal the deeper experience of that meadow and how it came into being.”

The world's only living paper mills

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I Am Mr. Ellie Pooh, The World’s Only Living Paper Mill is a cheery, orange-colored children’s book which I discovered during a recent visit to The Global Gallery, a small,funky, charming Fair Trade shop in Columbus. Ohio. The illustrated story was displayed next to a refrigerator, decorated with a busy variety of endearing elephant magnets in different colors.

What was this corner patch of pachederms all about?

Mr. Ellie Pooh explained. Instead of viewing the gray giants as crop-gobbling farming pests needing to be killed, some Sri Lankans are welcoming them instead --- as equal partners in a paper making business venture. And guess what the paper is made from? Elephant dung. There is plenty of this raw material to transform into story books, scrapbooking materials, greeting cards, eco-friendly envelopes, picture frames, business cards, notebooks and other children’s educational materials.

School Sisters of Notre Dame present eco-education in the Milwaukee area

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We are in the midst of a massive up-welling of human potential, creativity, anger, and frustration." -- Barbara Marx Hubbard, futurist

You know about rising food and gas prices, eccentric weather and a global food emergency. You may even know about debt, corporate scandals and the increase of asthma cases. What seemed to work before in an industrialized economy, now seems, in part, to be backfiring with pollution, toxic chemicals, lessening resources, global warming.

It is time to create new perspectives in relationship to our planetary home. This is where Sunseed Eco-Education Ministries comes into the picture.

Nestled originally in the farming village of Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, Sunseed Eco-Education Ministries was created by the School Sisters of Notre Dame of the Milwaukee province who knew in 2007 that the future was calling forth their well-honed education skills to help raise planetary consciousness.

Lament, hurrah, call to action: An historic gathering of Christian ecologists -- Part 2

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At an evening prayer service toward the end of the conference, many of those attending circled around a bonfire out in the dark to pray. For an hour or more, petitions were voiced, reflections were made, thanksgivings were given.

One person prayed, “Oh Father and Mother God, send us all your strength. We must not fail.”

Sparks from the fire ascended briskly up through the outspreading oak branches into the soft velvet of the skies. Slowly the circle dispersed back to the dormitories and tents through the dew-washed grass. In the distance the sad, faraway call of a screech owl could be heard.

Almost immediately it became apparent that there were two points of view present and active in the gathered conference-goers.

The first was the stewardship view, which proposes that humanity is charged by God to take care of the natural world but that we humans are in significant ways separate from it and superior to it.

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