By David Gordon, Associate Editor
Transforming human spirituality to focus on becoming “more friendly to the earth” was a key theme during a 90-minute forum Monday evening at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Eau Claire.
Among the 15 people in the room, there was unanimous agreement on the need for that transformation but very few ideas for making it happen emerged from the discussion. The forum was focused on the two-year study of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and human ecology, conducted by JONAH’s Eco-Spirituality Work Group headed by Rev. Dean Simpson, pastor at Grace Lutheran Church.
JONAH (Joining Our Neighbors, Advancing Hope) is a local faith-based organization concerned with social justice issues, including those affecting the environment.
Simpson provided an overview of the two-year study effort, which aimed at understanding the material in the Pope’s encyclical and exploring ways to put some of its ideas into practice. He said that religious communities need to take the lead in helping people see the environment as a key part of their lives rather than as just a backdrop.
Often, he said, “we’re so stuck in our dogma that we can’t open our mouths” about climate change.
“There’s a big shift in human consciousness that needs to occur,” Simpson said. “We might begin to talk about God in different ways that would link us to the earth.”
Mike Huggins, who was active in the early stages of the work group, noted that there seems to be a disconnect between individual values and taking action in regard to the environment. He said he knows of people with deep spiritual values, from a variety of sources, who are nonetheless not engaged.
Huggins added that most people don’t see the close relationship between traditional spiritual values and the need for environmental preservation, and said this relationship is ignored too often in worship services.
“How do we talk about justice, mercy and walking humbly with our God – however that’s defined – without doing that every week where we worship?,” he asked.
Huggins suggested more discussions that would bring different groups together. Sharing viewpoints can be a more powerful tool for change than just reading materials on one’s own, he said.
Larry Metzenbauer, who has been a key member of the work group, noted that most of Monday’s attendees had white hair. He said this older generation needs to make sure its religious values are understood by younger people, particularly with reference to the environment. Many in those younger generations are concerned about environmental issues, but without the driving force of religious values to energize their concerns, he said.
“How much are we relating to these younger people who are going to inherit this mess?”, he asked.
Simpson said there are many examples of people with widely differing approaches to religion working together on environmental issues. He cited a situation where one person embraced “cre-atheism” and the other preferred “crea-theism” but both agreed on the need for action in regard to the environment.
Simpson suggested that people join the Citizens Climate Lobby and urge their neighbors to do the same. Those concerned with the environment should “grow the Citizens Climate Lobby until it’s a force to be reckoned with” on the political scene, he said.
He added that there is a need to “learn about the spiritual tradition and all the different ways it addresses this problem.” One of the few action steps that the group agreed to take, however, was simply to keep in touch with each other.
Note: Mike Huggins and Dean Simpson are members of the CVPost‘s board of directors.