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Judge Not, Climate Activist

August 6, 2016

How a priest taught me that preconceptions thwart climate conversation before it can even begin.

medal priest airport

I met a priest today in the airport. Normally I shut down religious discussions before they start. I am not a religious person and conversion attempts make me very uncomfortable. But when he asked me what my faith was instead of saying atheist or not religious as I have in past along with a request to not discuss religion, I answered “Catholic” and let it play out. Technically this is true. I did convert when I was married. I took the RICA classes and everything. I converted for several very good reasons and none of them were because of my faith. I converted because it was important to my husband and his family whom I love. I converted to better understand his culture and his faith. I took my classes in Spanish—which I considered an excellent cultural and language immersion exercise—and since I’m being honest, as research for the novel I was writing at the time.

I consider myself to be spiritual but I have not practiced any sort of religion in years. Mostly I feel the existence of deity is irrelevant. I don’t need a god for a moral compass; my internal compass is more than enough. My morals are evident in my choices and actions. Whether there is or not a god has absolutely no affect on how I intend to live my life; striving to make this world a better place.

But this isn’t about my faith or lack thereof, it’s about how I took a chance and entered a conversation from a place of tolerance and open-mindedness.  I knew I wasn’t interested in someone trying to convert me but I also knew that kind of conversation could only lead to negativity and division.

So I choose a different route. I owned my conversion. I answered honestly when he asked about the church where I was married and of my knowledge of the Gospels. I accepted a gift, a small medal of the Virgin Mary and listened to the story about her appearance in 1830 in France. I listened to him describe each of the men who had written these chapters in the Bible and when he asked me which one I might be drawn to read, I answered Luke because the name popped in my head. “That makes sense,” he answered, “Luke was a physician.” (I had told him that I worked for the non-profit organization Health Care Without Harm earlier). I even agreed to re-read The Gospel of Luke and I fully intend to.

I don’t expect to have any great revelation, and the connection between my chosen gospel and my line of work doesn’t register to me as a divine coincidence. But I think there is a connection to some kind of human spirit of love and acceptance at work. My calling in this life is to motivate people to change their behavior in order to bring about the massive change that will help us avoid catastrophic climate change and hopefully adapt to it along with a slew of other goals that will make living on this planet more healthful, equitable and so on. No small task.

I am learning more and more that coming at a conversation with assumptions and expectations is simply not effective. If I ever hope to achieve my task I am going to have to speak to people who do not agree with my point of view, who come from a very different understanding of the world and their place in it.

I did not try to make a point in my conversation with the priest. I did not bring up Climate Change or the Pope or even the Catholic Health Association who are doing such good work in the sustainability field.   I also didn’t bring any of my discomfort with the patriarchy, body shaming and the guilt-driven motivation of the organized religions I had encountered in the past into it. I listened instead of talking (with the exception of clarifying questions). I allowed him to lead the conversation. I let it go where it would.

It ended with blessing, a reading assignment and small symbolic token that I believe was given from a place of love. This priest was not indicative of all priests and although he certainly had an agenda, it came from such an earnest regard for my wellbeing. He truly believed his gifts had the power to improve my life and I think that belief empowers them. I never would have received any of these gifts had I shut the conversation down due to my fears and expectations.

The priest had to catch his flight but if he didn’t I wonder where the conversation could have gone next. Perhaps it would have been my turn to ask some questions about faith and protecting the planet. Perhaps we could have discussed all the things I mentioned before: the Pope’s proclamation on climate change and the good work of the Catholic Health Association who have placed protecting health of people and planet center to their mission and policies. Perhaps we would have found parallels between the story of Luke, the physician and HCWH’s clarion call to modern day physicians to “do no harm.”

Maybe the old adage “judge not, lest you be judged” doesn’t refer to other people judging you but your own judgment upon yourself for sabotaging the mission of connection before it even has a chance to begin.




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