“We are the earth” is a compelling statement, but what does it mean and how can urban people of faith live it in reality?
Those were the primary talking points for a panel convened Sept. 25 at the Church of the Redeemer, Bloor Street in Toronto. The discussion was part of the church’s “Season of Creation,” a time to celebrate and give thanks to the Creator for the earth and to look at ways to safeguard it.
The three principal speakers were Bishop Mark Macdonald, national Indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo, minister of Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church and a former MPP, and the Very Rev. Dr. Bill Phipps, co-founder of Faith & the Common Good and a former moderator of the United Church of Canada.
Explaining the ancient beliefs of the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (North America), Bishop Macdonald stressed the fundamental principal of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all creation. “In the great Walk of Life, all life is responsible to the rest of life. We are all relatives,” he said.
In Indigenous culture, he said, that creational kinship lies at the very heart of life, whereas in Western society humanity has become increasingly alienated from the rest of creation, with the adverse consequences to the planet. “This fundamental kinship, sometimes known as Walking the Good Life, does exist in Christianity but it is not taught strongly enough in Christian teaching,” he said.
Dr. DiNovo agreed that the Western cult of individualism has increased humankind’s separateness from the planet, resulting in an existence that is not spiritual but rather cut off from spirit. She took the notion of kinship beyond earth to the galaxy, quoting Carl Sagan’s famous apothegm: “We are made of star stuff,” in that everything on earth was made in the interiors of collapsing stars.
“If we are not to be separate from earth, then our orders are to save the planet,” she said. “There is a prophetic call to do so.”
Dr. Phipps noted that the United Church has changed its creed to include a core commitment to “living with respect in creation.” And rather than being “given” that creation, he said, humankind is actually embedded in it along with all other forms of life and is not, as we arrogantly assume, its pinnacle. “The assault we see on Mother Earth is an assault on ourselves.” He called on society to celebrate and grieve publicly for the planet.
On a political level, Dr. DiNovo reminded the audience that people of faith must speak truth to power. “We have to remind government that we are the true owners of Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park and City Hall and the public servants there work for us. We must make sure they understand their responsibilities.”
Bishop Macdonald said urbanites must first abandon the urban-versus-rural mentality and humbly acknowledge the sacred land on which their cities are built. “This sacred location calls us to the highest moral standards in our relationships to the land and to each other,” he said.
A new truth and reconciliation initiative was suggested by Dr. Phipps, one that would unite people in the healing of the earth by listening to the autochthonous wisdom of Indigenous peoples, “a wisdom that has nurtured the human spirit on this land for thousands of years.”
In a question to the panel from the floor, one audience member expressed frustration with the bewildering number of organizations focused on climate change. She asked how we can consolidate the leadership to galvanize the thousands of voices needed to effect change.
In response, Dr. Phipps pointed to faith communities as the perfect organizing tools. “I want to see our local churches active in this,” he said. “If every church installed solar panels on its roof, that would send a huge message. Why don’t we in every faith community join up with congregations down the road and go down to Queen’s Park and demand action? And if we did that across Canada, things would change just like that.”