Rev. Doug Bland wants everyone to fall in love with the earth.
“There are enough sunrises, enough cactus wrens, distant planets, flowers and butterflies to fall in love at least three times a day between now and eternity,” said Bland.
Bland is the executive director of Arizona Interfaith Power & Light, an organization committed to bringing people of all faiths together to take action on climate change. AZIPL has deemed themselves as “a spiritual response to the climate crisis.”
“People protect what they love and if we can encourage people to fall in love then they become defenders of what they love,” said Bland.
Bland grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho and always enjoyed spending time in nature. He graduated from College of Idaho with a degree in zoology and earned his masters in divinity from Duke Divinity School. He recently retired after serving twenty-three years as a pastor at Community Christian Church in Tempe.
His journey to environmental activism was reinforced through his time studying Christianity.
“Caring for the environment was very much a part of what I did as a minister. The scriptures from Genesis and other places call us to be stewards of creation. So I think it’s very central to us as Christians, but also all the faith traditions have an emphasis on caring for creation,” said Bland.
In addition to environmental activism through AZIPL, Bland also has a passion for storytelling and is a part of adjunct faculty in the storytelling institute at South Mountain Community College.
“One of the things we say is that the shortest distance between two people is always a story.”
“You can’t hate someone whose story you know,” said Bland.
Bland recalled an event he led called Sacred Earth Common Ground where a Unitarian Universalist congregation, an Evangelical church, and a Jewish synagogue all got together and were all told to respond to a story prompt: “Tell a story about a time when you found yourself standing on holy ground.”
“As the evening began everyone was suspicious of the other group, there’s not trust built up,” explained Bland.
He deliberately avoided an explicitly religious conversation, as it could become divisive.
“If we just shared our doctrinal point of view, there would be kinds of divisions and misunderstandings, but if we just tell a story about an experience we’ve had, we can connect that bridge,” said Bland.
Everyone shared stories about their lives and considered what it means to stand on holy ground.
“By the end of the evening you could not tell one tribe from another tribe, everyone was mixed together and they would hear a story from someone else about a time where they were in a similar situation and by the end of the evening people didn’t want to leave because they just felt that connection,” said Bland.
Connection is a major theme in Bland’s sermons. He tells stories considering how to achieve it in an increasingly polarized world. For Bland, people’s inability to form connections is a key problem that leads to inaction on climate change.
“The climate crisis today is just a symptom of the problem we face. The real problem is broken relationships between us and the rest of nature. Between one human and another. And storytelling is a way to sort of bridge that difference between us and understand each other better,” said Bland.