When someone (who doesn’t already know that I’m a rabbi) asks me, “What religion are you,” chances are they want insight into information like, “What denomination or church do you attend,” or “What holidays you celebrate,” or “What do you believe happens to you after you die?” In other words, when Americans think of “religion,” they typically first think of matters of ritual, prayer and belief. For someone not personally engaged in a particular faith tradition, it makes sense that those are the things their intention is drawn to first.
But “prayer, ritual and belief” is a very narrow picture of what an engaged, authentic religious life is like. For people of faith across the planet, acts including visiting the sick, giving charity, comforting mourners, loving all people, upholding the integrity of scientific truth and expanding access to health care for the poor are deeply religious acts.
And increasingly, we can add “protecting the planet” to that list of religious commitments.
For some, religious environmentalism is about cherishing God’s creation. For others, it’s about protecting the poor who are already disproportionately impacted by droughts, extreme weather events and rising sea levels driven by climate change. But whatever the underlying theology, increasing numbers of mainstream, American religious denominations are issuing environmental statements and engaging in political advocacy around climate change policy, clean energy, sustainability and more.
Many Austin congregations now have Green Teams that work to maximize their congregation’s sustainability and minimize its environmental footprint. For some, like my own Congregation Beth Israel, a commitment to sustainability has included “going solar” for a portion of our electricity needs.
Austin’s Interfaith Environmental Network has been working since 2009 to create community around the intersection of religion and environmental stewardship. Through a mix of advocacy, education and hands-on service, Austinites of diverse backgrounds join in helping to heal our injured world – all while having fun and forging new friendships.
One highlight of IEN’s program is our annual Clergy Climate Preach-Off. We invite a very diverse, interfaith group of local clergy to deliver sermons of no more than 5 minutes each on a theme connected to their particular tradition. A distinguished panel of “judges” rates each sermon. It’s thought-provoking, fun and inspiring.
This year’s theme is “Water Is Life.” Our speakers will explore the deep resonance that water holds in their religious traditions and how that resonance can direct our energies toward a future where water remains clean, plentiful and life-sustaining for all living things.
As W.H. Auden once said, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” Whether or not you consider yourself “religious” in any conventional way, we’d love to see you there.
Interfaith Environmental Network Annual Clergy Climate Preach-Off
Food and fellowship to follow.
When: 4-7 p.m. March 26
Where: Servant Church, 1605 E. 38 1/2 St.