"You are the light of the world!": 107th Earl Lectures end with call for environmental justice

January 28, 2008

The 107th annual Earl Lectures and Pastoral Conference ended Thursday with an exhortation: “You are the light of the world. Light the way to peace, environmental justice, and economic justice!” The challenge came from Reverend Clarence Johnson, pastor of Mills Grove Christian Church in Oakland, preacher at the final worship service of the lectures. The conference, titled, O for a World: Faith, Community, and Sustainability, drew participants from across the country and around the world to discuss the importance of involvement of faith communities in environmental issues. The lectures and conference workshops were held January 22-24, at First Congregational Church of Berkeley.

Relating the theme of environmentalism to globalization and peace, Earl Lecturer Chandra Muzaffar, professor of global studies at the Science University of Malaysia filled the large sanctuary of First Congregational Church with energy during his two lectures on Tuesday and Wednesday. “The globalization process has given us no choice but to look at the world as our neighbor,” Muzaffar said. “The world has shrunk. We are part of the other; the other is part of us.” Leaning forward in his wheelchair, Muzaffar admonished the attendees, “We should never ever, even for a minute, support violence for the sake of religion.”

Lecturer Mayra Rivera Rivera, assistant professor of theology at Pacific School of Religion, took as her inspiration the text from Exodus in which Moses experiences God in a burning bush. She interpreted God’s request that Moses take off his shoes before standing on holy ground, “not as a demand to keep our distance, but to approach gently and experience God in the non-human and the elemental. Perhaps our naked feet would be more attentive to the pulse of the earth.”

Other Earl Lectures were given by Karen Baker-Fletcher, professor of theology at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX; and Daniel Buford, sculptor, writer, community organizer, and associate minister of the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland. In addition to Reverend Johnson, worship leaders and preachers included Reverend Mary Westfall of the Community Church (UCC) of Durham, NH, and musician Ken Medema.

Workshops at the pastoral conference included: “How to be an Earth Steward,” “Preaching Sustainability with Film, Image, and Music,” and “Sustainability in Higher Education.”

On Wednesday night, Pacific School of Religion honored its distinguished alumni. Particularly moving was the remembrance of Doug Adams, professor of art and religion, who passed away in 2007. Citing the “double claim” PSR had on Adams as a former student and a professor, Dean Mary Donovan Turner presented the award to Doug’s family. Other distinguished alumni honored this year included: Reverend Diane Darling, pastor of Alki Congregational (UCC) in Seattle, and the first openly lesbian minister to be called to congregational leadership in the UCC; Bishop Frederick Talbot, bishop and diplomat from the African Methodist Episcopal church; and Reverend Shigeo Tanabe, a 1937 graduate of PSR and survivor of the Japanese American internment camps during World War II who will be turning 100 this year.

Use these links to listen to audio of the lectures or to order audio recordings of the lectures.