2024 Issues

Issue 27: April-June 2024

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What We Hold in Common

Our recent issues of Ka Mana have emphasized the importance of community for true sustainability. But what do we mean by “community” within the context of sustainability? That, like a lot of seemingly simple questions, does not have a definitive or universal answer. But “It depends” is not satisfactory, either. If we look at the word itself, “community” assumes we have important things in common with each other, and it is what we hold in common that defines what we mean by “community”. And so, as we reflect on the importance of community for sustainability, we must ask ourselves what we hold in common that we wish (and need) to sustain to ensure a healthy, abundant, and meaningful  life for all.

Common Ground

The documentary film being promoted by Interfaith Power and Light during Faith Climate Action Week – the time around Earth Day (April 22) – this year is “Common Ground”, which tells hopeful stories of farmers, foresters, ranchers, artisans, and communities renewing our soils through regenerative agriculture and land management to address climate change; biodiversity; food security; the physical and financial health of farm family and communities; even racial, indigenous, and economic justice, i.e. the interconnected and interdependent aspects of sustainability. While the “producers” highlighted in this film are tending and renewing their own plots of land, they have a much larger perspective of caring for and renewing parts of this Earth, of Creation, that we all need and depend upon. Farmers speak of their responsibility toward and love of future generations: their kids, grandkids, and those not yet born. As producers, they help provide for our basic needs, which has always been an immense source of pride but also a sacred duty they feel called to fulfill. While the documentary focuses on soils as something we hold in common, it serves as a metaphor for the complex earth systems we depend upon and have a responsibility to  manage sustainably. 

The complexity of the soil itself is a theme of the film, representing the larger natural and social systems we must nurture and renew to live sustainably. The Hawaiian word for “land”, ʻāina, translates directly as “that which feeds”. This is not a utilitarian interpretation of land but rather a deep and complex understanding and relationship to what sustains us biologically, socially, culturally, and spiritually and therefore what we have a responsibility to steward and celebrate. This is integral knowledge and “ancient wisdom” for indigenous societies and even for most of the world’s religions; thus, it is also something we hold in common and should sustain. 


Grounding Community in the Commons

Recognizing that what we mean by community depends upon what we hold in common AND that what we hold in common is complex and reaches across times, places, and cultures, what emerges is a broader, deeper, and more complex sense of community. Cliches such as “We are all God’s children” should not be spoken lightly but with a deep sense of reverence and connection. That we are a part of Creation should also bring forth a deep sense of interdependence and responsibility to care for all of the Earth as a manifestation of our Creator’s design and desire. Scientists have discovered for themselves the inter- connectedness of systems, from the universal influence of gravity across the universe; the idea of Earth as Gaia, a self-regulating and abundance-generating super-organism; to the complex microbiome of the soil and even our own digestive systems. It is complexity and things we hold in common all the way down. 

Even those we disagree with and treat as enemies are part of this community. We seek to suppress and destroy them at our own peril, as they are connected to the systems that we also depend upon. If climate change has taught us anything, it is that unsustainability anywhere affects sustainability everywhere. There is no 100% local self-reliance, independence, or security. Again, the Hawaiians understood this well. While they were able to support hundreds of thousands of people in these islands with no daily imports of food, fuel, or manufactured items, they depended upon the seas and skies and lands far away to enrich and sustain the abundance of the islands. They traveled widely and welcomed visitors, recognizing our interdependence, vulnerability, and reliance upon hospitality and care for that (and those) which feed us. They readily learned from others and adopted  technologies, practices, and traditions that could support the thriving of the Hawaiian people and the ʻāina. We speak of this in the past tense, but it is part of a living culture and traditions that can guide our return to sustainability.

Community is an essential part of this return. It is essential not just for survival, it is how we thrive and sustain ourselves, each other, and what we hold in common, cherish, and celebrate.  As we learn and reflect on the existential crises we face, let us do so in the context of the deepest values and traditions of our respective cultures and religions. We will find we hold much in common, which makes us part of diverse communities. It can guide us and support us in developing renewed and mutually supportive interactions with each other and all of Creation and help create and sustain an abundant ʻāina for ourselves and future generations. 

For Earth Day this year, we encourage you to consider screening the film Common Ground (HIPL has DVD copies and can assist you in a screening event) and making what we hold in common the ground of our efforts to build communities whose goals align with a just, abundant, and sustainable future for all. 

Issue 26: January-March 2024

Printable copy (pdf) of Issue 26

Sustainability & Wicked Problems

Sustainability is a way of orienting our values, priorities, decisions, and actions toward the social and ecological systems we have co-created and live in, from local communities to global networks. The linked crises and challenges that threaten the sustainability of these systems and thus ourselves - climate change, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, the cross-over and spread of novel human diseases like COVID19, to name a few - can seem complex and overwhelming, resulting in what are sometimes called “wicked problems” with no easy or straight-forward solutions. 

What makes many of these problems wicked is not that we do not know what to do or what can work; rather it is that we are often not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to implement them. In too many instances, we want to do the right thing but complain it is “too expensive” or there are not enough resources.  In economic terms we are not “willing to pay” the price to avoid or address these systemic problems. The real costs to the environment and human society of not being willing to make these sacrifices are, of course, much larger than the price of doing what is right, as we are becoming painfully aware these days, but somehow that knowledge or awareness never seems to be convincing.

The term “wicked problem” is perhaps appropriate, since it suggests the kinds of solutions that are needed: moral, religious, cultural, transformational, but also visionary and unifying. Getting prices low enough, developing the next breakthrough technology, or figuring out various “life hacks” are not solutions in themselves, but they can support the more fundamental changes that are needed. And much like the religious and cultural diversity around the world and in our own islands of Hawaiʻi, these necessary changes are not exactly the same for everyone. But at the core of the worldʻs major religions, and what we most cherish in our own cultures and communities, are shared values, virtues, and orientations that are meant to permeate our lives and form the basis of how we make decisions and relate to one another and the world at large. “Aloha”, “shalom”, “compassion”, and “grace” are just a few of the names we give to these shared values that are meant to guide our lives and how we live together.

Spiritual and Religious Transformation

Drawing upon these core values and beliefs is essential when we face the wicked problems that confront us. And much like the Hawaiian proverb Ka wa ma mua, ka wa ma hope (look to the past for a guide to the future) our cultural and religious traditions tell us that todayʻs problems (and solutions) are not really new. They are related to decisions we have made (or that have been made for us) and continue to be made, which reflect as much the systems we live in as our personal preferences or values. 

To truly solve these wicked problems, we have to think, relate, decide, and act in radically different ways. We need salvation, conversion, transformation, call it what you will. To achieve that, we have to embrace not new ideas, necessarily, but rather the core values and beliefs of our deepest traditions. It will take vision and dedication and working together, but that is what religion, culture, and community are all about.

Working in Community

These changes are not merely personal, but they also are not things we should just expect government or industry to do for us. In Hawaiʻi, we are slowly but increasingly embracing community-driven approaches to these wicked problems. Family Promise of Hawaiʻi is an example of churches working together to provide temporary housing and support for working families. Puʻuhonua O Waiʻanae is a self-organized village of houseless individuals and families who have created a community and are now seeking land to grow food to feed body and spirit. Community-Based Sustainable Fishing Areas, drawing on the knowledge and experience of Native Hawaiian culture and communities, are becoming a reality on Kauaʻi, Molokaʻi and Maui, with broader interest across the islands. The community of 

Hāʻena, on Kauai’s north shore, has shown tremendous resilience after the climate change-fueled rain bomb in 2018. They also continue to show leadership in managing tourism in this area to the benefit of residents, tourists, and the ʻāina. The Hawaiʻi Food Hub Hui is a network helping local farmers work together to store, process, and distribute locally produced food for local consumption, with help now from the state. Community-based nonprofits are at work across the islands to protect, conserve, and restore natural and cultural resources on public and private lands, involving youth, families, and even visitors to our islands in their efforts. Efforts to document and map these stewardship groups has been undertaken on Oʻahu and Hawaiʻi islands. Community-based renewable energy projects are slowly rolling out in Hawaiʻi, but they are primarily driven by development companies, not communities themselves. This is most likely because they were introduced by the state with rules strongly influenced by the electric utility, meaning we need to re-envision and redesign this to emphasize the priorities and needs of targeted communities. 

With the right institutional support and enabling rules and regulations, these religious, cultural, and community-driven approaches can help renew the sustainability of the places we live, work, and call home. Because they are grounded in religion, culture, and community and reflect the core values we profess and hold dear, these approaches are more flexible, adaptable, and resilient; more just, equitable, and diverse; and thus more sustainable as we work to address yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s wicked problems. We do not need government, business, or educational institutions to lead these efforts: we need them to recognize and support what our innovative spiritual, cultural, and stewardship communities are already doing. They cost little in money but provide truly valuable benefits and models of transformational sustainability.

2023 Issues

Issue 25: April-June 2023

Printable copy (pdf) of Issue 25

Climate Change & Communities

Climate change is what some people (at least people some of us  know) would call a “glocal” issue, one that happens at a global scale but has local impacts. And in responding to the climate crisis, we are urged to take both individual and collective actions, e.g. drive less and support zero-emission vehicles. But as our last issue of Ka Mana emphasized, climate justice from a religious perspective has a lot to do with repairing and developing right relations within our communities, ecological and social. For this reason, we promote responses at the community level as part of rebuilding just and sustainable relationships. 

Mutual Flourishing in Community

An essential outcome of building sustainable communities is mutual flourishing. While open to interpretation, the idea is that meeting basic needs and fulfilling goals in life should be a consequence of our relating and working together. Our success should not come at the expense or exclusion of others. A drive to succeed in competition can isolate us from others who are part of our community. From the perspective of climate change, we fail, ignore, or refuse  to see the connections among the causes and consequences of extracting, exploiting, using, disposing of, and failing to renew or regenerate key parts of our local to global communities. Our focus instead is on meeting our needs and ensuring our own success. That, ultimately, is not sustainable and will lead to catastrophic consequences.

Rethinking Price & Reliability

A recent report from Hawaiian Electric stated that a survey of their electricity customers showed that “price and reliability” of electricity were their top priorities. While the opposite of those are certainly not desirable, their high priority reflects an individual-minded perspective of customers, not community members. Our relationship to those who meet our basic needs should not be primarily transactional. Unfortunately, discussions about a renewable and sustainable (energy) future too often focus on price and availability as overriding other considerations.

The ahupuaʻa as an example
The ahupuaʻa tradition in Hawaiʻi provides a different and real example of how communities can work toward mutual flourishing. First, the real needs of the community of people are the basis of the geography of the ahupuaʻa. Communities actively modify their place and cultivate what they need, but they work within the flow and processes of natural systems. They work with the potential and limits of their place to ensure sustained abundance. In this way they take ownership of their efforts to provide for their needs and develop deep and reciprocal relationships with others in the community to ensure sustainable and mutual flourishing.

Fostering Climate Communities

So how does that affect us now in trying to address the climate crisis? Can we build “climate communities” in which we define and build relationships with the communities that help us meet our needs but have real impacts on the climate? There are many possible answers to this question we admittedly pose to ourselves as well as to you. The first perhaps is to reflect on how we meet our own needs, the sources and locations of the products and services we use every day and consume on a regular basis. Is our relationship primarily that of consumer or customer? What do we expect or demand of these products and services and how they are provided? Do our expectations and our relationships support the mutual flourishing of a living community and not just the financial bottom line of company and customer? Price absolutely is a constraint to our choices and actions, but if we find it keeps us from pursuing what we feel or know is sustainable or promotes mutual flourishing, that is a strong signal that we need to reshape and retake control – as a community – over how we meet our needs. Relying on “government”, “corporate responsibility”, or “consumer demands” to change the system ignores the need for right relations within communities that flourish together. If we look around us at the beauty, power, and potential of the places we live, the communities we are a part of, can we find, develop, and sustain what we need to flourish together? That is the discussion we need to have before we get into details of policies, prices, or preferences.

Going “Glocal”

Getting back to that term, fostering communities that can meet our needs while promoting a livable and sustainable climate requires a lot of work and relationship-building at the local level. Our efforts in Hawaiʻi to achieve 100% renewable energy and increase local food production both speak to that. But the consequences can have radiating and global effects. We become not just a model for others to emulate; the communities we foster have connections at larger scales. Our relationships within these networks change and promote mutual flourishing for other local communities. And when we experience what works, we can advocate for it and defend it against entrenched systems that seek to perpetuate an individualistic focus on meeting needs based mostly only on price and reliability. Those objectives need to be met within more locally developed and managed systems whose primary goal is mutual flourishing. 

Religious Climate Communities

That takes us to our last point, which is how important religious congregations and communities are for this effort. Despite our highly individualized socioeconomic systems, religious communities maintain the power to bring people together around shared core beliefs, values, and goals in life that rise above individual success and seek a better future for all of Creation. The changes we need are transformational in action, thought, and belief. They ask us to have faith in the power of our beliefs and actions to effect large and lasting changes for the good of all. And religious communities are a place for us to gather to learn, be inspired, minister to and support each other in a shared journey, and to form communities that promote mutual flourishing. Thus, religious congregations and communities are the ideal place for climate communities to gather and develop. Responding to the climate crisis requires nothing less.

Issue 24: January-March 2023

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Justice for People of Faith

Justice is a term that is used in a lot of contexts, and that certainly includes issues of faith and religion. From this (admittedly diverse) perspective, justice is seen as an essential part of the nature and actions of divine beings. It relates to the basic worth and dignity of all people (and all of Creation), to the rights and responsibilities we have as humans in relation to both divine beings and the rest of Creation, and to the rewards and punishments for our actions and attitudes both here on Earth and in the spiritual realm. 

Justice is something that is revealed to us in sacreds words, rituals, and traditions; in prayer and meditation; in everyday and divine revelations; and in our growing and developing relationships with the divine and all of Creation.

Right Relations, not Equal Conditions

Justice does not demand that everyone live the same way, enjoy (and suffer) the same things, or think and believe the same things. That said, justice does recognize that we all have the same inherent worth and dignity in the eyes of the divine; thus, we should see and relate to each other as equally valuable and worthy, as we are all part of Creation. Our basic needs to live a fulfilling life should be protected, respected, and promoted. When those relations are broken and the basic needs of others are denied or disrupted because of our own interests, that is what needs to be mended. Punishment of the guilty or reparations to the afflicted may be deserved, but absent right relations, true justice has not been restored. 

Extending Justice to All of Creation

As we look around the world today, we can see too many enduring examples of brokenness among people. How much more, then, is there brokenness and injustice between people and the greater world of Creation, especially as we experience the unfolding of the climate crisis? Giving legal rights for plant and animal species and imposing responsibilities to conserve, protect or restore parts of the natural world that we have harmed are a good start. But we are in an era of global human-induced change that affects living beings; our supporting environment; and the very bowels of the earth, depths of the oceans, and the outer reaches of the atmosphere. To achieve justice at this scale requires a transformation of our core values, beliefs, choices, and actions, i.e. a religious response to climate change and other issues.

Roles & Responsibilities

Our freedom to make willful and intentional choices that affect the world around us is also a responsibility to care for Creation  not just for our own ends but also to allow the natural world to express the beauty and diversity intended by its Creator. Similarly, we must be careful not to try to remake the world in our own image or for our own purposes. This assumes we know better than the Creator or that the gifts of Creation are insufficient to meet our needs. 

Energy Justice

How do we think about and promote “justice” for people and our planet in terms of energy generation and use? Our state Public Utilities Commission is considering the issue of energy equity for Hawaiʻi and asking for public input. The goal is to ensure the benefits and burdens of energy generation and distribution, price and reliability are not just equally shared but also address differences in needs and abilities and even remediate past inequities in our energy systems. To learn more about this effort and how you can participate, visit their website: https://puc.hawaii.gov/energy/equity/ 


Climate Justice

For HIPL and those who care for Creation, the relevant issue is climate justice, since the benefits and burdens go well beyond people powering homes, vehicles, buildings, industries, and infrastructure. We transform the world with our actions, so we need to think deeply and broadly about those actions and how we use energy to make those changes. In a world aligned to our religious and moral beliefs and values, our actions would promote mutual flourishing of all people and the environment. We recognize that there is no “free lunch” and that tradeoffs are inevitable in our decisions. But those decisions should consider not just costs and benefits to ourselves and others but also the relationships we cultivate and promote through our plans, decisions, and actions. 

What does this mean for specific religions? How do we implement this in our personal, congregational, and social and political lives and decision-making? Those are questions we invite you to to explore, but here are just a few suggestions:

To help you get started, we recommend the Resources webpage at Interfaith Power and Light or our own HIPL Resources page. You can find religious statements on climate change, educational and worship information and examples, recommended books and videos, and more. We also recommend our Cool Congregations webpage to learn how you and your congregation can start to reflect, plan, and take action to achieve energy and climate justice for all of Creation. Or contact us to learn more! As with our journey of faith, this is a lifelong endeavor. Climate change and its impacts will be with us for generations, but the sooner we make necessary changes, the better. As the old saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”