Book Review: Love God, Heal Earth by Rev. Sally Bingham

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The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham certainly knows a thing or two about how to connect environmental concern and spirituality. Founding the Interfaith Power and Light campaign a decade ago, which has grown in the past decade to include more than 4000 congregations, mosques and temples across the United States, her work has brought religious communities together, regardless of dogma, to engage both the ethical and practical aspects of climate change.

In her new book Love God, Heal Earth, published by St Lynn's Press, Bingham has collected a great series of inspirational essays from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders that address the the moral responsibility we all have to protect the Earth, prevent climate change, and ultimately create a new humanity which acknowledges the interconnectedness of all life: All in all many of the essays in the book read as some of the most compelling calls to environmental action I have heard from any quarter. Even if the idea of religion would normally send you running for the hills, it's all worth reading. Just substitute 'ethical' for 'moral' and insert 'Nature' for 'god' if that helps. Here are two short excerpts that I found particularly good.

Individual Action Essential, But Not Enough
The Rev. Fred Small, Senior Minister at First Church Unitarian in Littleton, Mass. writes in his essay "The Greater Sacrifice",

Individual acts of environmental responsibility—consuming less, recycling more, driving a fuel-efficient car—are necessary but not sufficient to meet challenge before us. Even if a vast simplicity movement succeeded in reducing demand for nonrenewable resources, without other intervention, reduced demand would drive down the price of these resources, stimulating the appetite of consumers still trapped in thrall of thingdom.

Personal responsibility is essential—but it is not sufficient. In and of itself it fails to challenge the entrenched interests of corporations and the governmental agencies which collude with them. Just as the individual acts of conscience by slaveholders who freed their own slaves would never alone have brought an end to slavery, our individual lifestyle choices will not alone solve our environmental problems. [...] Changing a lightbulb is good. Changing a member of Congress is better.

Climate Change is Not Just Inconvenient Truth, It's Transformational Truth
The Rev. Jim Deming, United Church of Christ, Nashville, Tenn. writes in his essay "From Southern Fried Guilt to Spiritual Responsibility",
...Many of us in the South grew up with the tradition of altar calls, where confessions were public and emotional. But it seemed the "back-sliders" were just as numerous, trundling down the aisle once again as they confessed that they had, as the Apostle Paul says, done that which they ought not to have done and not done that which they should have.

What then, are we asking folks to do when we ask them to change more than their light bulbs? Is there something I can learn from my "born again" tradition, born in the piney woods of East Texas and the rolling hills of middle Tennessee? What keeps us on the path of environmental righteousness and off the backslider's bench?

I believe that we much understand that we are asking people to change their basic values, not just their lightbulbs, and we go about asking will have a profound effect on the success and longevity of this change. I believe that values are changed when our experiences and observations don't meet our presuppositions, and someone we trust invites us to a new vision of what could be. In this important moment of history, what we are asking of people is deep, for the climate crisis is not just an inconvenient truth; it is a transformational truth based on a new set of values, a new way of looking at the world.

A Societal Transformation is Needed
I had a chance to speak with Rev. Bingham on the phone and asked her about what role religion, now that it has (at least to some degree) begun to engage with environmentalism as a moral issue, can play, will play in the green movement. Enthusiastically she replied that, "We're going to have a bigger effect on the change that has to happen; more than politicians, scientists, bringing the moral aspect into it."

She said that we really must redefine what it means to be human. When that transformation happens you naturally desire to have less of a detrimental impact. Seeing every single thing around you as interconnected, your mind considers the impact and consequences of your actions, on your neighbors and everything around you.

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