With her self-deprecating honesty and trademark blond dreadlocks, writer Anne Lamott connected her story of Christian faith to the nearly 1,000 people gathered for the Pacific Northwest Spirituality Book Fair in Seattle, Wa. "We must recognize ourselves in each other and break the cycles of isolation that keep us oppressed and from understanding the search for meaning," she said.
In the geographic region often described as the most unchurched part of the country, Lamott spoke about her relationship with God to a packed auditorium at the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry. The theme of the gathering -- the Search for Meaning -- brought together a diversity of believers from Muslims to Mormons, Evangelicals to Episcopalians.
So how are believers finding meaning in this most secular region of the country? For one, religious communities are connecting their belief in loving their neighbor with caring for God's creation. Through the organization Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light, people of faith are working as partners with the leading environmental groups in the state to close its one coal-fired power plant and provide a transition to a clean energy economy.
Surprisingly, the state of Washington has found a voice through faith that may set a precedent for climate action amid paralysis in the "other Washington." Last fall, the U.S. Senate failed to act on national climate legislation. Congressional Republicans have questioned the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases, which would have serious implications for clean air and public health.
Meanwhile congregations in Washington State are moving forward, bringing their prophetic voice, organized networks, and moral imperative to the campaign to reduce coal pollution, protect families' health, and strengthen the state's economy. Earth Ministry and the Sierra Club are the lead organizations for the Coal-Free Future for Washington bill (H.B. 1825) in the state legislature.
Earth Ministry is a partner in the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a network of 25 environmental groups that selects priority issues for each legislative session that affect the public health and welfare of the state. Once the priorities are set, every organization gets on board to lobby state legislators around these issues. This year, the Coal-Free Future for Washington bill aims to eliminate the state's biggest source of mercury, air, and climate pollution at the TransAlta coal plant by 2015 and support the local community during this transition.
Last Sunday, the Vancouver Columbian printed an op-ed entitled "Coal-burning plants defy covenant with Creator," written by Bishop Greg Rickel of the Episcopal Church's Diocese of Olympia and the Rev. Hunt Priest, a board member of Earth Ministry. "In the New Testament, Jesus told his followers to care for the poor and the least of these among us. Coal is a dirty and dangerous fuel source which poisons our air, water, and our own health," they wrote.
On a national level, these religious leaders called for strong performance standards under the Clean Air Act, so that the oldest coal-fired power plants must comply with health regulations. And on a state level, they asked that leaders be given the grace to make good choices for the health of the state, the local economy, and the future of Washington's children.
When religious leaders preach innovative action to protect the climate at a regional level, that's good news for believers and non-believers across the country. We need to follow the legislative session in Washington State and watch for the outcomes of this strategic partnership that includes a strong voice of faith.
LeeAnne Beres, the executive director of Earth Ministry, was trained as a fisheries biologist and now spearheads religious-environmental campaigns. When she left Save our Wild Salmon to join Earth Ministry, a colleague asked her, "What? I can't believe you are one of them!" (The "them" in this case was Christians).
Indeed our isolation from those who appear different from us may be the source of our greatest oppression. But as witnessed in Washington State, our ability to act on shared hopes for the health of our communities may be the greatest outcome of the search for meaning.