Interfaith speakers discuss beliefs on sustainability
Speakers in an interfaith workshop on stewarding the earth as part of the recent Earth and Spirit Festival told about how their faiths' teachings call believers to care for the earth.
They were Gayle Haeger of Valley Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Gurmehak Khahera a first year college student from the Sikh Community; Cheloye Penwell of the Valley Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and Kimberly Bibee and Michael Collum of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist community.
Gayle said Seventh-Day Adventists believe the Creator God created the planet, placed plants, creatures and humans on it, and said it was good. On the seventh day, people are to rest, worship and enjoy the beauty of creation.
"One way we care for the world is to advocate for a plant-based diet that helps people live an average of seven years longer," she said.
"The average American consumes 270 pounds of meat a year. The average person in India eats 10 pounds a year," Gayle said, concerned that fewer, bigger factory farms treat animals cruelly and that use of antibiotics increases resistance to antibiotics humans need to treat infections.
Gayle expects meat-based diets will be unsustainable by 2050 because they require more land, water and pesticides to produce than the equivalent amount of plant-based protein.
She said Adventists promote gardening and community gardens. Upper Columbia Academy near Spangle has started an agricultural program.
Adventists promote a stewardship—harmony with nature—not a domination theology that leads people to exploit creation. She said God expects caring stewardship from followers for both economic and social justice reasons.
Gurmehak said Sikhism, a monotheistic faith that began in 1469, believes it is important for people to realize "we are responsible for the environment" and "we are to be custodians of the earth to benefit all people.
"We seek to become selfless for the good of all. Concern for nature is part of loving life. To become one with the divine life, we are to live in harmony with all creation," she said. "All is holy. God is manifest through all creation. When we destroy nature, we disrespect the divine."
On Sikh Environment Day March 14, Sikhs plant hundreds of thousands of trees and flowers.
Gurmehak said some Gurudwaras—worship centers—are going green. One in San Jose uses solar energy and composts. EcoSikh uses Sikh values, which shape behaviors to sustain the future.
Cheloye, who has been in the Latter-day Saints church from an early age, said stewardship permeates teachings, as part of responsibility to care for "our bodies, friends, associations, communities and the earth."
"We are taught to respect," she said. "The earth is an awe-inspiring, resilient gift that has all we need to sustain ourselves. We cannot destroy it, but we can make it unpleasant. Everyone answers for selfish, thoughtless, improper, sinful misuse of the earth.
In the mid 1800s, LDS pioneers left the East to settle in the Salt Lake Valley and made it a fertile paradise where people shared abundance.
"As farmers, we see the land as a source of sustainable bounty with enough to sustain us all, including those in need," Cheloye said, noting the church helps in disaster relief and humanitarian aid.
During a famine in the 1990s in Ethiopia, the LDS produced atmit, a nutritious gruel mixed with water. For someone near starvation, it builds strength and immunity until other resources come, she said. For clean water, LDS aid workers and community members drilled wells so communities could maintain them.
"The earth has wondrous bounty we are to share," Cheloye repeated. "God works to move people from selfishness to care for life now and in future generations.
"Pollution is the result of selfishness," she said. "The state of the human soul and the environment are interconnected. If we each reduce a little human suffering then people move on to solve big issues of hate, discontent and intolerance of different beliefs.
"Families are central. We are saved as families. We have a tradition of family gardens and canning," she said.
"When we live in harmony with the environment, strife and challenges today solve themselves," she said. "We need to keep up pressure to protect our shared environment to pass to our children."
Kimberly said Soha Gakkai International (SGI) is about love and peace, changing the individual to change the destiny of the nation.
"Buddhism began 2,500 years ago with the Buddha's quest for the meaning of life and enlightenment. We are to protect the environment and humanity because of the oneness of life," she said. "If I harm the land, plants or you, I harm myself. We are a microcosm and macrocosm. We are to guard the ecological system."
SGI's founder emphasized three levels—local grassroots, intermediate community and citizens of the earth.
"At home, individuals can eat healthful foods. Living in community is about how we treat others and the earth. Globally, I link with everything on the planet," she said. "We need a global vision of the oneness between self and the environment. We can make changes by changing our lives and how we perceive the world."
Michael said the more each person learns of the complexity of issues, the more powerless they may feel, but SGI members empower each other by promoting peace, culture and compassion, through the United Nations.
Michael said SGI believe "we are the change we want to see."
The SGI Seeds of Change Exhibit and Earth Charter Initiative introduce sustainable development.
A film, "A Quiet Revolution" says one person can make a difference—as villagers creating a way to capture rain water in a drought or women rallying to plant trees to counter deforestation.
Michael said a recent SGI "Lions of Justice Festival" gathered young people of many backgrounds to stand for the dignity of all in the midst of the polarized society, domestic violence, school shootings, racial discrimination and the nuclear threat.
"The roots of evil are greed, anger and ignorance, but one person at a time can change things for himself/herself. That change affects other people and the environment," Michael said.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November, 2018