Posted by: ARC | November 11, 2010

A year ago this week and we had all almost collapsed

A year ago this week, and everyone at ARC was in a state of both exhaustion and elation. We had just finished the biggest event in ARC’s history – Many Heavens, One Earth at Windsor Castle. Readers of this blog who attended will remember that it involved 31 traditions within nine major faiths worldwide launching long-term plans for environmental action. These commitments were made in the presence of Prince Philip, and Ban Ki-moon, who enjoyed a vegetarian banquet in the Castle (the first that Windsor Castle had ever hosted, and comedian Sandi Toksvig’s favourite story of the week).

I was working with two colleagues on the communications, and I remember that moment when I realised that the phone had not stopped ringing with requests for interviews, quotes and information from hundreds of journalists around the world. So many TV and radio interviews were going on that at one point we found ourselves locked out of our press room to allow the World Service to do an interview with a senior Muslim leader while I sat on a table in the corridor outside, answering that ringing phone. We probably needed six people, not three.

I also remember the real sense of energy and ideas as I joined different working groups – the ones I dropped in on were talking about pilgrim cities going green, about water issues in religious-run schools, about how faiths absolutely needed to improve their policies on ethical food – and I am scarcely surprised that each of those little gatherings looks has resulted in a major new scheme.

We’ve created a huge document, not for the faint-hearted, which includes some of the details of some of the stories and outcomes… but I’m aware as I write this that there is so much more we could have told you about – the emails coming in from Tanzania, extraordinary stories from Jerusalem and Dwarka and Amritsar. We won’t be able to do it all (we’re back to equivalent of one person plus a very nice intern on communications), but do keep tuning in and tell us what you are interested in. 

Posted by: ARC | November 10, 2010

How many organisms in an inch of soil?

Martin Palmer at the Sacred Soil conference

“The ecstatic skin of the Earth”- description of soil in William Hogan’s book Dirt!

One inch of ‘dirt’ contains more than a billion living organisms: healthy soil is literally the foundation of life, even though most of us don’t think of it very much.

The sacred connection between soil, life and faith was the theme of this year’s 15th annual Festival of Faiths at Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

A stellar line-up of speakers – including: Kentucky writer Wendell Berry, a founding parent of American spiritual ecology; the Soil Association’s Patrick Holden; ARC’s Martin Palmer, American food activist Will Allen; Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute – emphasised repeatedly over the seven-day festival that soil is key, both to our relationship with the land and to God.

William Hogan’s new book Dirt! was celebrated at the Sacred Soil Festival of Faiths, along with the film based on it, entitled, appropriately enough, Dirt! The Movie.

The meeting was also a welcome occasion for the second announcement of ARC’s Faith in Food programme after a very successful launch in New York with a workshop a couple of days before.. The website and more details will be announced soon. Link here for more details.

Posted by: ARC | July 28, 2010

Why is the river Jordan closed to pilgrims?

Babu Balbir Singh Seechewal holds up two bottles - the one that looks like cola is actually water from part of the Kali Bein river in the Punjab before cleanup started

By Martin Palmer

I remember the first time that, to quote the old spiritual, I “crossed over to the other side of Jordan”. I was going into Israel from the Kingdom of Jordan, via the Allenby bridge border crossing built by British soldiers in 1917 and never replaced.

I crossed the river Jordan in just a single stride. I should have expected it. I had spent the previous two days meeting with Jordanian environmentalists and they had been telling me about their country’s massive water problems. Not just those of the river that shared its name, but also the Dead Sea. But the shrunken state of the Jordan still shocked me, though news of the terrible pollution it suffers no longer does.

I have never had a desire to be baptised in the river Jordan. Tap water in a font many years ago was fine by me. But for many people this ancient river is deeply sacred. And not just for Christians.

There are two sites that vie for the title of place of Jesus’s baptism. In the West Bank, Qasar al-Yahud, near Jericho, stakes its claim. On the Jordanian side, there is Wadi Kharrar, which evidence from a 5th century mosaic map seems to suggest may be the actual site. The place is sacred not just to Christians but also to Jews and Muslims. It is also known as the Pools of Elijah after a major event in that prophet’s life as recounted in the Bible, and revered by Muslims for whom Jesus and Elijah are both prophets. Link here for the full story which was originally commissioned by The Guardian website.

Bristol Chapter House by heatheronhertravels

Does religion strengthen or undermine social cohesiveness? That was the intriguing subject of a lecture given last night by Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings under the lovely, vaulted ceiling of Bristol Cathedral’s 850-year-old Chapter House.

Dr Billings, former director of Lancaster University ’s Centre for Ethics and Religion and a faith adviser to Government, focussed on Britain in his talk. But his analysis of how societies adapt to our modern world of mobility – of people and ideas – could apply to any nation. Reflecting on how the UK had changed during his lifetime, Dr Billings said 1940s Britain was a “mono” nation: largely white and mostly Christian. Today, Britain is “multi” – multi-coloured, multi-ethic, multi-cultural and multi-religious, with more than more than 300 languages spoken in London alone. Such big and rapid changes have inevitably caused strains; now the government is increasingly interested in religion’s role in bringing communities together.

All religions promote characteristics needed for a healthy society, said Dr Billings, such as concern for your neighbours, hospitality, civility, truth telling and peace keeping. Religions bind people together, build strong networks and tend to outlast government projects. But religion can also create boundaries between groups and, in some cases, encourage people to feel justified in forcing their beliefs on others. “The key question for our time – locally, nationally and internationally – is whether religion commits believers to strive for uniformity of belief and action,” he said.

“I argue for pluralism. Pluralism is an act of humility; it’s saying I don’t know all the answers, I can’t look at the world from God’s perspective. What will determine whether religion is a positive or negative influence on social cohesion is whether believers learn to embrace pluralism, not as a threat to God’s plan for the world but as an essential element in it.”

Posted by: ARC | June 11, 2010

Tricolor means three colours, right?

The London Zoo this week organised a terrific event on how conservationists can work with faiths to protect nature. And for the first time, they provided a fully vegetarian meal for everyone. It was so delicious that there were surprisingly few dissenters. However the tricolour rice caused a few surprises. It was supposed to be lovely natural wild rice, red rice and brown rice, but the caterers interpreted it as regular ordinary white rice, with some lurid colours of food colouring… including blue!

We understand that the talks – with ARC’s Martin Palmer, IFEES’ Fazlun Khalid, the Durrell Institute’s Susannah Paisley, IUCN’s Simon Stuart and Stuart Harrop of DICE – were so successful that there’s a possibility of organising something on faith and conservation next year as well. Although perhaps not with the blue rice.

The first seedlings PHOTO: Tanzanian Lutheran Church

We’ve just received an email from Bishop Fredrick Shoo of the Evangelical Church of Tanzania, which created one of the long term environmental plans launched at Windsor Castle last year. It included the pledge to plant 8.5 million trees around the Kilimanjaro area.

“Almost every Sunday I visit parishes and explain our project,” Bishop Fredrick writes. “People are responding very positively, and I am so encouraged. The Ng’uni parish has allocated 20 acres for tree planting. Another parish, Nkweshoo, has already planted one acre, and they want more seedlings. Sufi parish members are ready to plant trees on church plot, and members have asked for seedlings to plant on private farms. My problem at present is to provide enough seedlings.”

Link here for the full seven year plan from the Evangelical Church of Tanzania. And if you can help financially, then please let us know at All the money will be passed on to the Tanzanian Church for its seedling activities.


The week after the Gulf Coast oil spill, Green Faith’s Fletcher Harper registered two kinds of responses. Industry experts observed that oil spills are unavoidable. (“Several have noted without irony that the US has it good because its environmental laws are so tough citing countries like Nigeria, which apparently has suffered an Exxon Valdez-equivalent spill every year since 1969. This kind of response is the pastoral equivalent of telling a family that’s just lost a loved one in a horrible accident that “stuff happens.” It doesn’t cut it.”)

The second type, Rev Harper recounts  is people wanting to take action. “NPR carried a story about the effectiveness of hair as an attractor for oil, and described hundreds of barber shops and salons shipping their trimmings to where volunteers are stuffing the hair into cloth tubes, creating hair-filled booms to skim the Gulf’s surface and to collect the oil.”

Rev Harper cites a report about the Sierra Club’s Executive Director, Michael Brune viewing the spill from a helicopter. ” The report noted that Mr. Brune was silent during the ride, and that he said very little after it. The report went on to relate several of Mr. Brune’s words — and I don’t remember even one of them. But I do remember being grateful for his relative silence, and for his allowing himself to be moved.” Link here for the full story, and here for a reaction from the Ecumenical “Green” Patriarch.

Posted by: ARC | May 19, 2010

A whole new group of vegetarians

Karma Gyaltsen Sonam has a vegetarian meal in Ulaan Baatar

In Mongolia to prepare for the Second Compassion and Conservation Conference held by Mongolian Buddhists to talk about the environment, I had lunch yesterday with two delegates who had arrived as observers from the Karmapa’s environmental team in India . And I learned something wonderful.

The Karmapa – head of dozens of monasteries throughout the Himalayas and spiritual leader to more than a million Buddhists – has turned vegetarian. And so have all his monasteries and monks, and increasing numbers of his followers.

Tibetans and people of the high Himalayan plateau are traditionally huge meat eaters: at those altitudes, and with those barren landscapes, meat has always seemed the most obviously available food, especially in winter.

“At first when His Holiness said “Don’t eat meat” the monks thought “what do you mean?”, said 33-year-old monk Karma Gyaltsen Sonam, from Rumtek monastery, as he tucked into a cheese pizza at Millie’s Cafe. “But at the Kagyu Monlam he asked 1,000 monks how many of them wanted to take the vow, and they all said yes. It’s been three years now.”

There are plenty of ecological reasons for vegetarianism – and the Karmapa is one of the leading environmentalist religious leaders – but overwhelmingly it was because, as he has said on several occasions, every day Buddhists around the world say the same prayer, for all sentient beings, “only sometimes they forget that they are including all of them.”

The Karmapa, head of the Kagyupa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, first became interested in promoting the environment at the urging of the Dalai Lama, head of the Gelukpa sect, and his mentor.

Lama Gyaltsen today presented this as a potentially viable idea to some of Mongolia’s most senior monks who were gathered at Gandan Monastery in UB to discuss what they can do for their environment. We will see whether they take the idea seriously.

Visit the Khoryug website, or see ARC’s website for the latest news about Buddhists and the Environment.

Wet and Wilderness. PHOTO: ARC/Victoria Finlay

I just had an email from Father Chris Boles, a Jesuit priest in Scotland who is passionate about making more links between Catholicism and the environment. He told me about a reflection he led last month at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. And after a prompt, he sent me the text. It is beautiful and thought-provoking, and I wanted to share it with you here.


I suppose most of you here walk down the Canongate to get to Parliament, so you regularly pass by the fascinating wall of this building that contains quotations from various people and sources. Like this one from the poem ‘Inversnaid’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

“What would the world be, once bereft

Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,

O let them be left, wildness and wet;

Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

What you might not know is that Hopkins was, like me, a Jesuit priest, and he wrote ‘Inversnaid’ on a visit to Loch Lomond in 1881, while working in a parish in Glasgow. At the same time as Hopkins was writing, another of the authors on the Canongate Wall was himself living and loving the wet and wildness, not on Loch Lomond but in California. That’s John Muir and his quote on the wall is short and sweet:

“The battle for conservation will go on endlessly. It is part of the universal battle between right and wrong.”

How right he was. Hopkins and Muir were men ahead of their time. Both saw how impoverished our lives would be without wild places, and the chance to be in nature. These were also men of deep faith, and Muir in particular has important lessons to teach us about finding the sacred in nature, and our own place in the natural order. Nodding to another famous author on the Canongate Wall Muir reminds us that:

“From the dust of the earth, from the common elementary fund, the Creator has made Homo Sapiens. From the same material God has made every other creature, however noxious and insignificant to us. They are earth born companions, and our fellow mortals.”

Because we share a common creaturehood with all other species, we do well to tread carefully on habitats not our own. Besides, we benefit greatly when we enter the world of nature, as Muir, again, reminds us:

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

If it’s true that we all need beauty as well as bread, then you in particular, through the work of this Parliament, have the responsibility to ensure both are provided in good measure.  This you already do, and on behalf of all fellow mortals I encourage you in your efforts.

“Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

Time For Reflection April 21st 2010   –  Fr Chris Boles SJ  – Director of the Lauriston Jesuit Centre, Edinburgh

Posted by: ARC | April 16, 2010

Page views and volcanic ash

Cloud on the horizon

I should be heading towards Tangiers tonight, for a literary festival on the subject of searching for an environmental ethic – or indeed an ethos. But of course the flight has been cancelled. I’m hoping to go tomorrow, but today I have this lovely extra, unexpected time. It’s an interesting lesson. In order to tackle the carbon issue, the fuel crisis AND pollution we are going to have to make various choices to simplify our lifestyle. Instead of being afraid of those choices and what we might lose, perhaps we don’t realise how much there is to gain.

If I get to that panel discussion on Sunday, then I think that’s exactly what I’ll talk about.

We’re a little astonished here. Our little soft-launched tester blog, with its 12 short posts, and almost no links from our own website let alone anyone else’s has gone up from 10 views a day (not including us) to about 350. The difference? We did a story about the United Church of Canada’s far-thinking climate change letter, and posted a stunning picture of Jasper, in Canada.  Something to bear that in mind when I’m selecting stories next time, although our blog about Chilean nuns – who already had an eco-water source and it ended up being the only one working in their area post the quake – has led to some really positive media interest and interviews, if not so many page views.

“NEWS FROM CONCEPCION. March 9. Drinking water is still not available. In front of our house there was a queue of 240 people with bottles and buckets with an average of 40 litres of water per person. We gave out 8,800 litres of water, which was provided with a simple hosepipe. I was helped by children who filled the bottles while I was busy at the gate, welcoming and listening….

Several years ago the Sisters of La Retraite community in Concepcion, Chile, made an ecologically sound decision to source the water for their vegetable garden from a spring that lay deep in the earth below their land.  In recent weeks that eco-thinking has paid off many times over, as the tiny community has proved to be the only place in the neighbourhood that could provide clean water to the local people after the Chile earthquake of February 27.

Hundreds of people queued for water at La Retraite

Our newest colleague Sister Mary Bellekom used to be part of that community, and reports that the four nuns who are living there now were involved in helping people come to terms with the calamity. But that it was also wonderful that not only could they offer the vital words of comfort that they needed, but that thanks to their ecological approach to their house they could also provide the real material assistance of water.

When the electricity went back on, the people found there was no water coming through the taps. But the water taps in the La Retraite garden were working.  As soon as the sisters realized this they diverted it to a hose, and shared their water with the local community.  Hundreds of people queued patiently to fill their bottles.“It is miraculous that this cheap pump worked non-stop for nine hours a day until the water came back,” wrote Sister Teresita from Concepcion.  Link to our site  for the rest of the story.

Posted by: ARC | February 11, 2010

Eco training by church in remote Papua New Guinea

He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.

We just received a letter from Pastor Simil Hondlwa in Mendi, Papua New Guinea about his recent visit to Kundugu Church in Hela Province to teach people about natural farming. Here’s an edited version of what he wrote:
“I left Nipa on Monday the 4th January and overnighted at Tari as it was too late to find a public motor vehicle. The next day, when I arrived at Hetamari, there were four people waiting to walk with me to Kundupu, over the Mt Tamila Hills. The track was wet and slippery. Cootatu birds swayed over the range and below us were the blue lakes of Mindiriya and Mindra. Fresh rainbow trout live there, which the locals catch on special seasons and which, like the lake itself have many myths associated with them. I wondered how the gas mining downstream might affect these lakes in the future.

We were welcomed by Pastor James Agiru and his congregation, and the next day started our first lesson, based on Proverbs 12:11. “He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment”. This was appropriate for the theme of the whole meeting, which was “Christians & Profitable Farming”. In the afternoon the 50 participants were divided into groups of five to discuss and present their findings including, for example, organic banana farming. The chalk boards were particularly helpful to the many who were illiterate.

On Thursday we studied organic farming theory and the next day the class went out on an excursion to identify the plants and learn how to use them organically in their farms. On Saturday we led the class to the church gardens. Using spades and bush knives, students learned to do round head sweet potato mounting as well as composting, mulching and water locks. They also came to understand the importance of worms and how to work with worms and micro-organisms to keep soil fertile and get a profitable harvest. On the Sunday about 100 people attended our service, and at the end of the meeting everyone made commitments: some to farm bananas organically, others sweet potatoes, while some wanted to try nurturing trees.”

Four things must happen to make training sessions work:

1. Several villages need to be involved.

2. Community leaders must be included.

3. Some crop seeds need to be distributed.

4. Many church leaders should be involved.

Christmas in Havana, Cuba. PHOTO: ARC/Victoria Finlay

Most of us recall the nativity scene – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, the stable… But while this is the popular image of Western Christianity there is a different version of the nativity story that comes from Orthodox Christianity, in which Mary gives birth in a cave…

Whilst in the West, the birth of Christ is seen as an external miracle for which human beings are present in order to bear witness to it, in the Orthodox tradition the incarnation of Jesus is only possible because every aspect of creation gives something to make it happen. The heavens offer a star; the angels their song; the earth, a mountain; the mountain a cave; the wilderness its grass for the manger; the cattle their warming breath; and humanity offers Mary’s womb.

We – and all aspects of creation – need to participate for the miraculous to occur. And this can perhaps be a lesson for us in addressing climate change. So far many of us have tried the Western view of how the world can be saved. It is as if at Copenhagen COP we were awaiting some external force – international agencies, national governments – to produce a miracle. And they didn’t. We relied on others to make the world better and they haven’t.

Read More…

Most visitors to our website come from a direct link – but I’ve just found out that, for those who are googling in, an overwhelming majority come because they want to know what Sikhs believe in. Not very closely followed by people who want to know what Buddhists, and then Daoists believe… On our new website, we’ll have even more answers to those questions… But meanwhile, do search our site, or watch the video below. It’s a bit handmade, but it gives a nice 2 minute overview of what Sikhs believe about the environment.

1 Alliance of Religions and Conservation 727
2 what do sikhs believe 658
3 arcworld 384
4 what do buddhists believe 367
5 daoist beliefs 298
6 arc 273
7 daoists 205
8 walsingham pilgrimage 200
9 what do sikhs believe in 192
10 daoist 183
Posted by: ARC | December 3, 2009

Ecological Buddhist ritual on Mongolia’s Mt Hustai

Mongolian monks venerating an ovoo - from the ARC World Bank Mongolian Handbook, 2009

A newsletter from the IUCN-WCPA this month describes an environmental Buddhist ceremony on the sacred Hustai (Birch) mountain in Mongolia, some 60 miles south of the capital of Ulaan Baatar. As the magazine’s correspondent Bas Verschuuren of UNESCO explains, the 50,000 hectare region was a hunting reserve of the last ruling Khan. In 1998 it became a National Park, and four years later a Biosphere Reserve, with the reintroduction of the rare Przewalski horse one of the key ecological aims. Mt Hustai has for a long time been venerated by local people, and is a ceremonial site for Buddhists.

“After travelling by jeep (loaded with offerings) and on foot for the final ascent, they came to an immense ovoo [sacred pile of stones] surrounded by a colourful crowd of people and horses. Prayer flags and scarves and gifts of food covered the ovoo. Most people were in traditional dress, including park rangers, local government officials plus five visiting lamas from Ulan Bataar and local lamas in their orange robes. Mantras were chanted and readings from scrolls. Then everyone shared in the food and drink (including vodka) that had been brought as offerings. After walking clockwise around the ovoo three times to pay respects to the mountain (and making a wish), all descended the mountain. Surrounded by mounted Mongolian horsemen, Bas was transported back in time to when their ancestors conquered most of Asia and the Euro-Asiatic plains.”

LINK  HERE for the full newsletter.

LINK HERE for the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) website, with more details of sacred sites in Mongolia.

JEFF YOUNG: Why is it that a religious messenger might be a better one on this issue than a scientist?

MARTIN PALMER, ARC: Because people trust them. It’s as simple as that. Scientists are, on the whole, not very good communicators. There are one or two exceptions. They are not very good at telling stories, and one of the points that came out time and time again in our work in developing for this is that nobody was ever moved to change the way they live by a pie chart, but they are moved by a story. And in a sense, the environmental world has relied on science and facts for the past 40 years and the end result is we’re in a worse case than we were 40 years ago. Nobody actually changes what they do unless they are inspired, touched, given hope. And to some degree, what has happened has been that the environmental movement has tried to mimic the power of religion, and it has stolen from religion certain aspects. So, it’s stolen the notion of sin: if you get up in the morning and you put on the radio, no doubt to listen to this program, you make a cup of tea – or rather being in America you make a cup of coffee because, sadly, you don’t know how to make tea – you then drive to work and you switch on your computer. You committed, according to environmentalists, four sins.

YOUNG: Hmmm, carbon sinners.

PALMER: Carbon sinners. They are very good at making us feel guilty they’re very good at fear. The trouble is they’re not very good at hope, salvation, liberation, redemption, and they’re appallingly bad at celebrating.

Listen to or read the full interview on Living On Earth.

Posted by: ARC | November 29, 2009

United Church of Canada’s climate change letter

Politicians, scientists, and environmental activists will gather next week in Copenhagen as world leaders try to hammer out a new climate deal. Joining them will be Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, all the Norwegian Bishops, the Moderator of The United Church of Canada and many others. Why are religious leaders attending these highly technical talks? The United Church of Canada’s Moderator Mardi Tindal and former MP David MacDonald posted an open letter to explain.

“Science tells us what is and, given certain parameters, what will come to be. Spiritual values teach us what ought to be. Only the two, working together, can see us safely through this perilous time.

For example, scientific estimates tell us that by 2050 as many as 200 million people may become permanently displaced by rising sea levels and other effects of climate change. How we respond to this will be determined by our values as human beings and by the kind of future we decide to shape. These are spiritual questions….

“Our climate change discussions so far have tended to be dominated by economic and political considerations. These are important, but they are not sufficient. It is vital that people of faith participate to ensure future-shaping decisions are not determined only by short-term considerations, such as what is least costly or most expedient…

“Canada is in a unique situation,” they conclude. “While we are no longer a leader in climate change policies, we do have an enormous stake in the results. As the country with the largest land mass and the longest shoreline on three oceans, how the nations of the planet determine an agreement in Copenhagen is crucial to our future. Canada needs to take on targets in Copenhagen to minimize the impacts of climate change on communities here and abroad.”


Prince Philip and Ban Ki-moon honour the EcoSikh action plan

A Grand Mufti, a Rabbi, an Archbishop, a Daoist Master, and a Shinto priest went into a bar . . . This may read like the start to a bad joke, but it happened last week in Windsor, England (though let’s be clear that the bar was serving only hot drinks and chocolate cookies). It was all part of the “Many Heavens, One Planet” Celebration organized by ARC and UNDP, at which all the major faith traditions launched “Long Term Commitment Plans for Protecting the Living Planet.” They were honored at a special ceremony in Windsor Castle, hosted and attended by both HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and United Nations Secretary-General HE Ban Ki-moon, writes the World Bank’s Tony Whitten in his guest blog.

“That such august people would give time to this is because they understand that the faiths represent the oldest, most enduring, and largest institutions on the planet and that each – with their hundreds of millions of adherents – can mobilize significant action…The fact that environmentalists and faith adherents are increasingly discovering the commonalities in their concerns brings into play a vast array of potential and partnerships. For some six years I had managed the World Bank’s ‘faith and environment’ initiative and I had seen a great deal of that potential released and encouraged….”


Posted by: ARC | September 1, 2009

Guest Post from Award-winning broadcaster Mary Colwell

Two weeks ago I was a guest on a BBC Radio Bristol programme that asks people to chose four dinner guests.  Anyone is allowed; fact, fiction, dead or alive, as long as they have in someway influenced your life.  One of my honoured guests was a cave woman, which caused comment, amusement and bemusement amongst friends, relatives and the presenter himself.

For me however it was an obvious choice.  I have spent many hours wondering what it was like to live in an ice age. And what was it like to fundamentally recognise and understand that we are an integral part of the natural world.  Everything those people would have done would have some way involved a deep understanding of nature and our place in it, from finding food to expressing their spiritual beliefs.

I don’t believe in the “noble savage” and I have no doubt life would have been harsh for many, but I would love to talk to someone who truly knew the meaning of interconnectedness. This is a word that has become so well used in the last few years, yet I wonder how many of us understand the depth of its meaning.  But it is important that we do consider it, because without a re-assessment of what it is to be human in the 21st Century people may find the future increasingly difficult to handle.

ARC: is the only organisation I know of that aims to be a bridge between what we now view as two separate worlds – religion and conservation.  I know my cavewoman dinner guest would have found that a strange idea.  She would forcibly have told us that this divide is artificial; a manifestation of our modern and growing disconnect with the natural world around us.  She would have told us, I think, that we can’t consider ourselves separate from plants, animals, rocks and water because we are an integral part of the functioning of this earth.

We are a piece of the pattern, a thread of the web that binds all things to each other; but somehow, somewhere along our short history, we have become to regard ourselves as different and apart. And somehow our spiritual beliefs have separated from nature too, leaving us to think of God in buildings and inner spirituality and not so much in nature and the world around us.

ARC is helping to bring these worlds together again, to help all major faiths rediscover their wonderful and wise teachings on our relationship to nature.

This blog is an edited version of an article written by Mary Colwell  for the UK Methodist Women’s Network as they prepare their own Seven Year Plan.

Posted by: ARC | August 21, 2009

No student gets a grade until they plant a tree

We’ve just had an inspiring letter from Fachruddin Mangunjaya from Conservation International Indonesia attaching a  story from the Jakarta Globe about the fantastic initiatives by Muslim boarding schools to keep the environment clean. And it cites ARC’s work as one of the early inspirations.

“When founders of the Darul Ulum boarding school started building their school compound in 1995, it was so hot and humid that they had second thoughts whether the place was really suitable for learning. Four years later, the air around the school is cool and fresh, and 700 trees — mango, avocado, rambutan and durian — thrive. This came about because the founders decided to set aside one hectare of the 7-hectare area as a harim, or forbidden, zone. Any form of production and settlement in it was banned. And what is more, every student is required to plant a tree before they can take the school’s final academic test.”

durian flower wiki

The article goes on to explain how the school imposed a ‘one student one tree,’ policy and evaluated students not only on planting trees but also on how they maintained them. I’d love to see whether such an idea could be expanded or adapted to other parts of the world – and indeed will be sending it out to our Catholic Schools network in the UK to see what they think.

At our Faith in Water conference last month, Fachruddin told us about how other boarding schools had also actually helped create a new national park – in large part because the river water needed for tackling ritual ablutions was so foul that they decided to campaign for the upstream areas to be protected.

So 31,900 students from 19 schools converged in Bogor (a shady city a couple of hours from Jakarta, where the main Botanical Gardens is sited) resulting in the forming of the Gunung Gede Pangrango and Halimun-Salak national park. And hopefully that’s not the end: 1,311 of West Java’s pesantrens are located in mountainous areas, 1,065 in agricultural estates, 87 on coastal lands and 114 by rivers. “Protecting the environment is a religious duty,” says K.H. Mansyur Ma’mun, leader of the Al-Amanah boarding school in Bandung.

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