What's the outcome that you hope to see from focusing on and exploring that relationship (between faith and sustainability)? Personally?
Recently Hope for Creation communications assistant Tanai Dawson sat down with Cybelle Shattuck, WMU faculty and author of Faith, Hope, and Sustainability: The Greening of US Faith Communities, to learn more about her story. Cybelle is an Associate Professor with a joint position in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Department of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University. We'll share segments of her interview over the next few days, in anticipation of her talk on February 18.
When I went back to grad school to get a master's in environmental studies, I was only going to do the MS degree. The idea was, I would leave academia and go do something more practical. And yet, here I am again, back in an academic job where I do research on the intersection of religion and environmental behavior. Hopefully, the findings of that research will increase awareness about the earth-care work that some faith communities are undertaking and even encourage more faith groups to take action.
Personally, there's two sides. One is: Can I, as a member of a faith community, work with other people to make a difference in my own community? But also, I know that I need structures and resources to help sustain me in this work, because it's emotionally hard work, right? People like Donald Trump get elected, and suddenly you despair, all the work is for nothing because now he's going to take us out of the climate accord. Having some spiritual practices and things that ground me, that help me manage my own life are important to do the environmental work.
I think that, at bottom, the way we live in relation to our natural environment today is broken. It's broken because our cultural values are wrong in the way we look at nature. Trees are “resources,” fish are resources, water is resources. We will restore a forest to improve the water filtration into the soil so that we have drinking water. But we forget to appreciate that the forest is beautiful! It's a habitat for wildlife. Our lives are impoverished without that forest in ways that we don't think are important culturally. We don't set a priority on that non-resource side of it. I think that bringing back that sense that nature is a place of awe and wonder, the sense that we have a relationship with it that includes reciprocity and ethics, is important. Religions are a vehicle through which to express those codes, where humans express their highest cultural values. If our religions can start reconnecting us to those higher values and say that the value of nature is not just in the ecosystem services, but also in the spiritual and in the ethical codes by which we live, that must happen if we're really going to not just make a transition away from fossil fuels, but actually create a healthy society. A society where people can live good lives, meaningful lives.
Find out more from Cybelle Shattuck in her compelling interview on faith and sustainability daily in anticipation for her event on February 18th!