The Interfaith Power and Light Conference
Central Abbess Eijun Linda Cutts is a board member of Interfaith Power and Light, a group that identifies as the religious response to global warming. She traveled to Washington, DC to attend the annual conference.
On May 1, I flew to our nation’s capital to join with about 75 other people in attending the national conference of Interfaith Power and Light (IPL), an organization whose purpose is to actively engage faith communities – 18,000 congregations in 40 states, 680 of them in California alone – to respond to climate change. This is done primarily through education and promotion of renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency, and by engaging in public policy advocacy. IPL strongly makes the connection between one’s spiritual practice and the responsibility for protection of the earth and those most affected by climate change now and in the future. To balance the carbon emissions resulting from getting to our conference, a corresponding donation was made as a carbon offset, to plant trees and protect forests through IPL’s Carbon Covenant program.
IPL was founded 15 years ago by the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham, an Episcopal priest serving San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral as the environmental minister. Click here to see a short video about her work.
San Francisco Zen Center has been a member of the California chapter of IPL on whose steering committee I served for six years, and I now sit on the national board.
The opening ceremony of the conference included creating a sacred circle with stones brought by each participant from their own state which were placed in one of the four directions. There were statements, stories, prayers and a silent time. I brought a red igneous California rock, which I have carried from place to place for 40 years – I’ve been told that it’s the oldest rock on the planet.
Following the ceremony we launched into a full two days of workshops. These ranged from educating the groups about IPL National Programs, sharing best practices for advocacy work and community organizing, ideas on collaboration with other faith and environmental groups, how to create a web and social media presence, fundraising ,planning for climate actions in 2016-2017, a Paris Climate Summit report and next steps, working with the Catholic community after the Pope’s Encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, and many more
One of the break-out sessions addressed what can and cannot be done as a nonprofit group or religious group in terms of political activity. This is especially important in our election year when the issues of the environment and climate change are so critical, and the effects of not acting responsibly are so devastating. The importance of voting one’s conscience – and encouraging others to vote – keeping in view the centrality of climate change has never been more important, and the faith community has a huge role to play. Here is the Campaign Season Guide.
It was wonderful to meet with clergy from all over who share the importance of a religious response to climate change and who have the conviction that we can turn this around. Ministers and priests, rabbis, pastors and imams harmoniously listened and worked together with determination. We were blessed, one day over lunch, by an impromptu sermon given by the Rev. Gerald Durley, a Senior Baptist minister from Atlanta, who is intensely involved in climate change action and social justice. Rev. Durley marched and was jailed with Dr. Martin Luther King and brings to the climate challenge we are facing a religious conviction and zeal that is contagious. Rev. Durley has a lived understanding that we can turn things around – even what appears to be insurmountable obstacles – and that we must meet with spiritual power and consciousness the moral issue and social justice issue of our times. Click here to watch Rev. Durley speaking.
I was asked to do the closing reflection on the last day of the conference. We settled into silence and stillness and recited the Loving Kindness Meditation, and then I closed with a dedication:
On these first days of green, green May, at the time of the New Moon, we have gathered at our nation’s capital on the grounds of Gallaudet University. We have come together peacefully, with gratitude for the teachings and blessings of our life of faith, service, and commitment.
With full awareness and eyes of compassion we have mindfully recited the Loving Kindness Meditation – and offered our energy of generosity, creativity and wisdom.
Our time together has been harmonious and bright.
We have shared our meals, our stories, spoken our truths and listened to one another with open hearts.
We have educated ourselves, learned and reflected, in order to go forth throughout the land with renewed purpose.
May our voices and the voices of all those that stand with us be heard – especially the most vulnerable who may have not yet have a voice.
May we express our true understanding without holding to fixed views, may our diligent effort support all beings in the ten directions known and unknown, born or to be born.
And may the positive energy of our work here serve, benefit and encourage our communities, elected leaders, the Great Earth and all beings in the interconnected reality of all life.
May it be so.
The day after the conference ended, a smaller group went to Capitol Hill for a day of Public Advocacy. We had three issues to bring before our congresspeople: methane gas rules, the environmental effects of the Trans Pacific Partnership, and the Green Climate Fund. My team visited nine offices of our congressional representatives. The California experience was very positive since we lead the nation in climate change awareness and action; we were welcomed and had good conversations about the legislation coming up that would support the environment. Other people from other states had very different experiences as they visited offices of legislators who are climate-change deniers and hostile to the message. One team was not allowed to come into an office at all. The patient work of bringing before our lawmakers the importance of these issues is not always easy. I admire the devotion and relentless energy that so many people are bringing to the effort to save the great earth that we love, the air that we breathe, the animals and oceans, and to mitigate the devastation that is already occurring in so any places. Please join with others to do what you can.