Fasting for Darfur

Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, is fasting on June 15 and 16 (today and tomorrow) to raise awareness about the dire conditions in Darfur. Her fast is part of the Darfur Fast for Life “fasting chain” – successive two-day blocks of fasting by activists, entertainers and political figures.

Messinger has invited AJWS members and others to join her in her fast.

“A person can suffer no greater indignity than not being able to feed his or her children or prevent dehydration that is often deadly,” Messinger said in a videotaped message.

I grew up with what seemed like nightly stories about famine in Africa — always broadcast on the evening news while my family was eating dinner. I was in 9th grade when “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are the World” were released. I’m sad to say that part of me has learned to accept this kind of human suffering as a simple fact of life.

However, scientists and other experts are warning that conditions like those found in Darfur may easily become more commonplace if global warming continues to escalate. Drought and famine may become a way of life for far too many of us — though, really, should it be a way of life for anyone?

Fasting is difficult. Hunger impacts our higher thinking and compromises learning and productivity. And, as Messinger points out, hunger has a demoralizing affect as well, deflating our hopes day after day for a better future.

Those like Messinger who are choosing to fast in a protest of compassionate solidarity with Darfur are hoping that the temporary hunger and discomfort of fasting will teach us to listen, and to act. I hope so — compassion and heart-felt action are too often lacking in this world. But such fasting may teach us something else — what life could be like for many, many more of us, if we don’t get our acts together and start working more effectively with the planet, rather than against it.

(If you don’t know where Darfur is, you’re likely not alone. Many Westerners struggle with African geography. Darfur is in Western Sudan — on the northeast coast of Africa. Sudan is a large country bounded by Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad and Libya.


Call for ideas: Green Judaism

I’m looking at beginning a new project this fall, centering around “Green Judaism.”

In preparation for this, I’m reading books and visiting websites about Jews and sustainability. I’m already savoring Rabbi Jamie Korngold‘s God in the Wilderness, and my rabbi has suggested I take a look at Hazon. I also hope to visit with and talk with local groups like Beit Kayam and Tuv Ha’aretz.

But I’m also open to your suggestions. If you wanted to learn more about the connections between environmental sustainability and Judaism, what books would you read? What leaders would you talk to? What websites would you mine for information?

Post a comment here, or send me an email with your ideas. I’m looking forward to hearing from you — thanks!

Not so obvious connections

The idea behind this blog is to connect spiritual and religious traditions with environmental concerns and action. While the link between these two is fundamental — in my opinion — the connections aren’t always so obvious.

Not quite ten years ago, I started volunteering with the WITNESS human rights organization as their webmaster. I had also done some work with my local chapter of Amnesty International, but they didn’t need me as much as WITNESS did. I was floored, honored and a little intimidated to find myself in a key position of the organization’s information flow. I worked with some wonderful people there — some of whom have gone on to other organizations like Just Vision and 1Sky. I volunteered with WITNESS for about two years.

About a year or two after I first moved to Portland, Oregon, I was attending a networking event for media professionals sponsored by MediaBistro, and I was talking with a young man about climate change. I described my quandary of not knowing quite where to put my volunteer energy, because there’s so much I care about — human rights, stopping animal abuse, literacy, civil liberties, clean water and air, etc.

He helped me see that environmentalism really does trump all the others. Not only is a healthy, thriving planet a basic human right, it’s also an absolute necessity. If you don’t have a place to live, all those other concerns disappear — there would be no humans whose rights needed protecting, no vulnerable animals in need of help.

So if I ever find myself vacillating like that again, I just remember that conversation. That doesn’t mean I don’t do other charitable work. Climate change is just my priority.

As a spiritual person — and a religious studies scholar and trained interfaith minister to boot — I find this to be a natural spiritual issue as well. Religion — often referred to as simply “organized spirituality” — is frequently concerned with seeking balance and meaning in life.

Seeking balance within and balance without has a perfect companion in environmental awareness, with the outer world reflecting back what’s going on inside. The external world is also a brilliant canvas showing us the consequences of our actions, thoughts and attitudes. If we’re seeking meaning in our lives, we must also find and be mindful of the meaning in our actions and intentions, and what impact we have on others and the world around us.

So I’m just trying to tie it all together, sometimes admittedly more successfully than others. Where I can, I tie these environmental thoughts to specific religious philosophies and practices — or link climate change action to holidays or faith traditions. This blog has a growing list of “faith categories” — including 12-Step, Humanism and even the Law of Attraction at this point — but sometimes these musing here don’t fit so tidily into one basket or another.

There’s a heavy emphasis on Judaism — because that’s my own path — and Neo-pagan traditions, because of the inherent Earthiness and reverence for the natural world found there. But I’m keeping my eyes, ears and heart open for any and all texts, traditions and wisdom that honor, respect and protect this planet we live on.

I’ll keep posting here, and I hope you’ll keep reading and commenting. I’d love to hear your ideas, and to learn more about what you’re learning and discovering on your own journey.