Great Danger, Great Hope, Great Spirit: Earth, Action, God

"Weve got the Whole World in our Hands": James Hansen at Cimate Pray-in at the White House, Feb 15, 2013

Theology & Practice of Climate Action


During the year ahead, our strongest efforts will continue to address the climate crisis. Let me share our reasons:

We try to focus our work on the basis of three factors:
§  What are great dangers to the human race and the planetary web of life?  
§  What are resources of wisdom in Torah that might address these dangers?
§  What best invokes and embodies the Presence of the Spirit?

Applying these three measures:

 §  At this historical moment, the deepest danger to our planetary web of life, including human civilization, is the climate crisis. Already we are experiencing climate-caused disasters like Superstorm Sandy, the corn-belt drought in the USA, droughts and rampant fires in Russia and Australia, huge floods in Pakistan. These extreme weather events will multiply and worsen. If we do not act now, famines, floods, the spread of hidden “tropical” diseases into heavily-populated areas are likely to create huge numbers of “climate refugees,” political turmoil, war. If we do act now, we can bring our new ecological knowledge and our ancient spiritual insights together, into creating a planetary Beloved Community.

§  Torah encodes a profound understanding of right relationship between adam and adamah – human earthlings and the earth.  This is especially true of biblical Judaism, in which shepherds and farmers lived as an indigenous people, close to the Earth, and encoded this sacred relationship in their sacred texts. The Jewish people at its best and wisest can preserve the insights of an indigenous people while at the same time being a “world people” – an extremely unusual convergence.

 § By understanding the “YHWH” Name of God as ruach ha’olam, a Breath, indeed the Interbreathing of all life  – ruach ha’kodesh, the Holy Breathing Spirit –  we can experience the climate crisis as a crisis in the Spirit’s own Self, a crisis in the very Name of God.

For the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is the result of the Interbreathing of animals and plants. What we breathe in is what the trees breathe out; what the trees breathe in is what we breathe out.  We breathe each other into life, and this is one meaning of God.

In our generation, the human race has distorted this Interbreathing so much as to heat and scorch the Earth.  Torah sometimes speaks of God responding to human misdeeds with a Face turned purple in hot rage. We can lay aside the quasi-human metaphor of the angry father for the knowledge that if we choke and distort the planet’s breathing, the face of Earth turns hot and scorching. Spirit appears within us wounded, gasping.

The Shalom Center will seek through action and reflection to heal and renew the Spirit.  To  calm the planet’s face.

So we believe that the three crucial factors for our planning –  danger, wisdom, and Spirit — cohere to call us to pour much of our work into healing the Earth.

 Working partly on our own, partly with the Green Hevra of eco-Jewish organizations,  and partly with Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC), we will especially hope to connect festival celebrations –  Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – with action to heal the Earth and prevent climate disaster.

 We will focus on the festivals partly because some of them are rooted in the ecological dance of Earth, Moon, and Sun, and partly because for many people awareness of the Spirit is greater during these celebrations.

 Together with IMAC, we are co-sponsoring the first of these efforts – coming during the time this Spring when Passover and the Holy Week of Western Christianity overlap. (The dates of Holy Week in Eastern Orthodoxy are different.)

 March 24 is Palm Sunday. The first night of Passover is Monday, March 25. We are recommending that on March 27 – the Wednesday afternoon/ evening of Passover/ Holy Week – grass-roots multireligious communities undertake two pro-Earth actions: 

§  Carry out Palm Branch Processions to vigil at one or more Pyramids of Power that are bringing on modern plagues, as the original Palm Sunday challenged the Roman Empire.  (Today’s Caesars/ Pharaohs /Abu Jamals may be an Exxon HQ, or a bank that invests in destroying West Virginia mountains to mine more destructive coal, etc.)

§  Hold an Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth that (like the traditional Seder) addresses Ten Plagues – the ones brought on by our modern Pharaohs –  and (in a new and positive approach) celebrates as well Ten Healings of the Earth, actions that we can undertake.

Grass-roots groups around the country might choose in these vigils and Seders to urge divestment / reinvestment of funds by religious bodies, universities, and public funds from investing in Big Carbon, to investing instead in renewable and sustainable sources of energy and in energy-conserving buildings, homes, and transport.

In concert with the Green Hevra and probably IMAC as well, we will also be working on plans for Tu B’Shvat (the midwinter festival that celebrates the “ReBirthDay of the Trees”) a year from now. We hope to do this in a new way:  involving local, state, and national policy-makers in Tu B’Shvat seders in such a way as to move them to work with the Seder organizers toward vigorous earth-healing action.

In all this work, we will address not only “the plagues” of today but “the Pharaohs” of today –-  that is, the top-down, unaccountable power of some arrogant corporations: Big Coal, Big Oil, Unnatural Gas, and Big Banking. We will seek ways for them to serve life, not disaster.  And we will seek ways to go beyond these concentrations of top-down power toward empowering grass-roots communities.

Indeed, in all this work we will address not only danger but also hope: action for positive change toward the Beloved Community.

 There are three other areas where we expect The Shalom Center to devote serious attention, but not at the “climate crisis” level. These are:

1.  Rampant violence in American society, including gun violence, the hyper-swollen  Pentagon budget, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, heavily armed forces “guarding” the Mexican border, and endemic violence against women and children.

2. Oppressive actions of some religious bodies toward women and toward gay people.

3. Behavior of the Israeli government that often threatens to poison the bloodstream of Torah – the long-range values of the Jewish people – by wrecking the lives of Palestinians and for that matter damaging the lives of many Israelis.

And of course we keep in our awareness that at the Burning Bush, the Voice told Moses that God’s true Name is “I Will Be Who I Will Be –  I Am Always Becoming.” So we will remain awake to the winds and currents of the Breathing Spirit of the world, perhaps calling us to address some questions we had not planned for.

One thing we do know – the Spirit and the Body are utterly intermingled. For The Shalom Center, that means these plans need your support in “body” as well as heart and mind: “body” in the form of money. Please donate by clicking here:

You will be able to choose delicious words and music as thank-you gifts in response to your donation.


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