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Green Faith
Sep 1, 2015

Dialogue is about authentic expression as to who I am, who we are. It is about listening to one another and learning from one another in a spirit of love, respect, and dialogue. This mission helps us achieve peace and harmony with one another as we discover and respect not only our differences, but also where we share common ground. The common ground is about coming to know and care for one another. In our day, it is also very much about our protection and care for the environment. We must live in a way where all life is cherished, protected, and improved.

Green faith means caring for God's creation from a faith perspective. My faith is Christian – the faith of my parents and my ancestors within the Roman Catholic tradition. From early childhood to the present, my experiences in life have led me to express my faith – my belief in a loving Creator God – in words and in actions that demonstrate love of God and neighbor, and respect for all creation.

We are all part of one human family. We are all brothers and sisters on this planet. In my tradition, we are all seen as children of God. My concern is that the home we share, planet Earth, is in perilous condition and we are facing an urgent crisis. This is difficult to face and to talk about. Facing truth can be hard and we all have our coping mechanisms to deal with difficult information. Who wants to hear bad news? Who wants to talk about bad news? For example, who likes to hear that the National Academy of Sciences in the United States reports that approximately 97 to 98 percent of the most prominent climate science experts believe that humans are causing global warming; that a climate crisis is unfolding, as evidenced by extreme weather events, receding glaciers, and rapid sea-level rise; that millions of people are today facing starvation because of the desertification of their lands, a fact attributed to soil erosion and climate change; that about half of Earth's tropical and temperate forests have already been destroyed and the loss of forests continues at a worrisome rate; that according to the World Water Council, more than 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water with 3.4 million people dying every year from preventable, water-related diseases; that coral reefs are disappearing and that we are facing a massive loss of biodiversity.

You may be saying to yourself that I know that there are problems and that I don't need to keep hearing about it. This is a challenge for me and perhaps for you as well. Do we avoid the facts? Do we engage in denial? Or do we face the facts and act in accordance with our faith teachings, thereby opening the door to hope for the future? In working together we tap the reservoir of our strengths, and we bring hope to our world. That is why I seek all of us, regardless of our faith and cultural backgrounds, regardless of our responsibilities in daily life, to work together and help one another to make a difference in our world through care for our home – planet Earth.

Each of us has a story that brings us to our own "green faith" – the ultimate source of meaning shared within one's faith community that provides the moral and ethical framework as to how we live on this earth. Let me share with you one of my stories.

When I started as principal at St. Anthony School I asked the teachers what their priority was for the next five years. The school had a very diverse population, with many kids from immigrant families – including refugees. A survey indicated that there were 42 languages spoken in the homes of our children. The teachers informed me that the school had a project based on the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Children, which includes a statement that children have a right to be heard on matters that concern them. Having listened to their students, they informed me that one the children's top priorities was to be able to sit under the shade of a tree in their schoolyard. The schoolyard was a wasteland, 100% asphalt. We entered the Ugliest Schoolyard Contest sponsored by Earth Day Ottawa and the Canadian Biodiversity institute. We won! That gave us funding. We planted many trees, and there is now a small forest on the schoolyard. The children were delighted.

If we look at God's creation as through the eyes of a child, we are not befuddled by political discourse. Rather, we are humbled and in awe. As stated in the scriptures, Mark 18, "At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, 'Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'"

In our humility we sense our responsibility to creation, to the poor, to our children, and to future generations. If we wait for the resolution of all scientific uncertainty, we risk harming the poor, our children, and future generations. Is it not the way of our faiths to be open to lifestyles that are consistent with our faith teachings? It is not so much about what I have, but who I am. It is about my relationship with God and neighbor. We act together now for the common good. In so doing, we share hope for the future.

Over the past six years I have served and continue to serve as Liaison for Environmental Stewardship within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa. I have served as the Ottawa representative of the interfaith network, Faith and the Common Good, and continue with this organization in a liaison capacity, supporting efforts in environmental stewardship among a variety of faith traditions. I am constantly reminded that our traditions share common moral and ethical principles with respect to caring for the Earth. Those values are expressed explicitly in words through scriptures, through the Qur'an, and through the sacred texts of all faiths and in their teachings. We share common ground.

I will take a moment to focus on Creation. For example, the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament and the Qur'an clearly identify God as Creator. How such readings are interpreted impact how we live. For example, in Genesis 1, it is written, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness... And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

As people created in God's image, how do we interpret exercising "dominion" in today's world of climate change, species extinction, and biodiversity loss? In Genesis 2, it is written, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it." In Hebrew the word used in this quote is "shomrah" which means to protect and safeguard. In the Qur'an it is also written that God made well everything he has created and commanded us to keep it that way. An English translation of the Qur'an states, "(God) made all things good which He created" (32:7) and "Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order" (7:56). Indeed, we are charged with a responsibility to care for the earth.

Where do we go from here? I would say that we must all act on the basis of our faith traditions and engage in actions that support care for all of creation. I am touched by scriptures, including a quote from James (2:18), "But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith."

What kinds of actions reflect the moral principles of faith? Increasingly we see the publication of ideas in resources provided by our respective faith traditions, including online resources. I have found it most helpful to access the resources from Faith and the Common Good. For example, Faith and the Common Good has developed a poster called the "Green Rule" with sayings from a number of the world's great religious and spiritual traditions, demonstrating that at their core all have an awareness of the sacredness of creation. This organization offers a practical program called Greening Sacred Spaces designed to assist faith communities in taking actions to create a more sustainable and energy efficient place of worship, and to educate members of the community about ecological issues (the resources are available electronically and without charge at Workshops are also provided. For example, recently the Greening Sacred Spaces program has received a grant from the Ottawa Sustainability Fund to carry out Green Audits and to organize workshops that support environmental stewardship. One of the events carried out was an eco-bus tour that brought participants to see the good work being done in a mosque, in churches, and at the Tucker House Renewal Centre. More workshops are to come. This builds interfaith engagement. This builds hope for the future as more and more faith communities make a difference.

Let us continue to support our intercultural and interfaith dialogues. We must respond to the developing environmental crisis with hope based on the expression of faith in action. We must listen to the children. We must listen to the cry of the poor. We must take seriously the call to convert to ways of living that support ecological justice. That is our responsibility regardless of our role in society. Let us continue to listen to one another so that we may come to truly know one another. Let us work towards a world of peace where the "richness of human and religious diversity is woven into the fabric of communal, civil and societal life."

With faith in action comes hope for the future of our planet. That is Green Faith.