An Interfaith Plea to End the 'Global Scorching'

Philadelphia Jewish Exponent
October 12, 2006 - Rachel Silverman

[Photo] "Sacred Seasons, Sacred Earth: An Interfaith Call to Reflect and Act" attendees join hands for peace outside the Arch Street Friends Meeting House

At times, the headlines are dominated by images of inter-religious strife. The pope vs. the Muslims. Jews against Arabs. The religion-based tenor of the war on terror.

But on Sunday afternoon, leaders of various faith communities gathered in Philadelphia to say in one voice: "We must repair the world."

Drawing a diverse crowd to the Arch Street Friends Meeting House, "Sacred Seasons, Sacred Earth: An Interfaith Call to Reflect and Act," offered a daylong inter-religious program on halting environmental degradation and other forms of "global scorching."

The event was held during a busy holiday season for all faiths. In recent weeks, Jews have celebrated Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot; Muslims have commemorated Ramadan; Christians have participated in the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi and World Communion Day; and Hindus have memorialized the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. Each of these celebrations was woven into the event.

Similar programs have been planned in other states, including Maryland, Washington, California and Florida, thanks to an undertaking by the Tent of Abraham, Hagar & Sarah, a national network of Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Philadelphia's event was cosponsored by a trio of local organizations: the Shalom Center, Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation, and the Arch Street Friends Meeting House.

A Call to Arms 
Speakers throughout the afternoon -- including a rabbi, a reverend and an imam -- sounded an environmental call to arms.

"The human race has to rise to a higher level of responsibility than has certainly been the case in the past," said Temple University professor Khalid Blankinship.

Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and a former Pennsylvania congressman, picked up on this theme and extended it.

[Photo} Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, shakes the lulav with Mohammed Almashhadani during a prayer service in the sukkah.

"How silent have we been about the issue of stewardship of this planet?" asked Edgar. He went on to cite a speech by Martin Luther King Jr., in which the reverend noted that "procrastination is still the thief of time."

All of the speakers traced the need for environmental accountability back to religious texts.

Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, director of the Pennsylvania Union for Reform Judaism, said that Jewish tradition views humankind's place in creation with love and awe, and dictates that individuals cannot live carelessly. She also said that the concept of Shabbat -- the weekly day of rest on the Jewish calendar -- applies to the environment as well.

"Make a sabbatical for the earth" by being conscientious consumers, urged Elwell.

Joy Bergey, project director for the Pennsylvania Interfaith Climate Change Campaign, said that Pennsylvania has "particular culpability" in the war against the environment. Pennsylvania produces more greenhouse gases than all states except Texas and California, according to Bergey, and more than 105 developing countries combined. She said that switching to renewable energy sources, using less hot water, readying a home for winter and carpooling are all individual steps one could take to reduce the climate crisis.

But environmental degradation wasn't the only kind of "global scorching" discussed Sunday. Several speakers made reference to the need for interfaith coexistence.

"In the past, people have been too divided into their own little bailiwicks of religion or nationality or nationalism or ethnicity or whatever," began Blankinship. "But there's not any room anymore for classical conflict ... all they need to do is to become more receptive to the existence of the other."

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, reiterated this call for peace.

"It's absolutely crucial for the world's great religious traditions to connect with each other," he said. "By creating the connection, we create seeds that are going beyond the collisions, the wars, the violence."


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