Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Surf's Up!
distributed 6/12/02 - ©2002

I would never have thought of social change work as being similar to surfing. But when a friend from California developed that image for me, the truth of it became clear.

Surfers bring their talent and equipment to the ocean, and then deal with the fickle quality of the waves. I've watched them paddle their boards out into the ocean, where they bob up and down, just looking out into the deeper water. Small waves wash past, and still they wait. But then a larger swell can be seen building, rising, and starting to crest. The surfers stop waiting and start paddling, rushing to catch and ride the perfect wave before it passes them by.

Al said that much of our work for peace, justice and the environment is like that.

We can work to develop our skills and our knowledge. We can hone our strategies and gather our constituency. We can position ourselves to be ready. But a large part of our effectiveness comes from the ability to catch the growing crest of current events, and to ride a wave of public interest with our message.

We rarely get to create the news, or initiate a shift in the tides of public opinion. If we've prepared ourselves well, though, we can take advantage of what is happening around us. We can claim a brief opportunity that allows our message to be heard in vivid and transformative ways.

Riding the wave of headline events is different from surfing, however, in that it is not just sport. What we do in our work for social change has the capacity for making a lasting difference in public policy and individual behavior.

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There are two cresting waves in the news this month. We will have missed important opportunities for ministry on behalf of God's creation if we allow them to wash by us.


1)   Last week, I wrote about the "foolish" stance of the Bush administration, which is now admitting to the vast effects of global warming, but also saying that we should do nothing of substance to reduce the US's emissions of greenhouse gasses. Over the last few days, many columnists and editorial cartoons have ripped into that policy stance. They have ridiculed the proposed reliance on "adapting" to "inevitable" climate change.

Through the Interfaith Climate Change Campaign, and in other ways, many of us in religious communities have been working for years to build awareness of the climate change crisis. We have done our homework, polished our skills, and built our constituencies. We've positioned ourselves to catch timely waves.

One of those waves came early this year, with the Senate debate on energy policy. The release of the Bush administration's Climate Action Report is shaping up as an even better wave for us to ride.

Now is the moment to put our preparation to work. Public awareness is focused on the precise points we have been trying to make. We don't have to prove the science. We don't have to argue the details of an energy policy or the Kyoto Protocol. We simply need to drive home the message that action has to be taken now to minimize future warming effects.

This week is the time to write a letter to the editor, and to call on our friends in the movement to do the same.

This week is the time to write to your senators and your congressperson, the President and key members of the cabinet. You don't have to explain why it is an important issue -- climate change is in the news. Just make it clear that adapting to the effects of climate change, without also working to cut emissions, is a foolish and irresponsible policy.

This weekend -- or at least sometime this month -- is the time to preach a passionate sermon. (Try working from Romans 6: "Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!") It is the time to lift up climate change policy in the prayer concerns of your congregation. It is the time to include information in the church bulletin and newsletter.

Eco-Justice Ministries has gathered resources on our website ( to help you catch this fast-moving wave, and to respond to this appropriate moment for acting on Climate change.


2)   Out here in the western part of the United States, we're dealing with a severe drought. The eastern seaboard of the US, and many other areas around the world, face similar dry conditions.

The drought is impacting agriculture, disrupting tourism-based economies, and forcing water-use restrictions on metropolitan areas. In Colorado this week, uncontrolled forest fires are raging through the mountains. It is big news that touches people's lives.

People in this region are being made aware of how closely we are tied to the natural world -- to rain and snow, to wind and lightning and fire. People are thinking about the limits of water supplies, and the naive confidence that humans can manage forests and watersheds. People are thinking about a core question of simple living -- what possessions are really important, and what could I let burn?

For those of us in drought areas, this summer is an ideal time to lift up theological, philosophical and practical questions about humanity's place and purpose in creation. The wave of public awareness is rising around us. The members of our congregations and the folk in our communities want and need help in answering these questions. We won't be seen as pushing an abstract environmental agenda. We will be seen as doing faithful ministry that is relevant to the daily needs of our folk.

Eco-Justice Ministries has prepared some new resources on the theme of "Ministry in a Time of Drought." Our website ( has an extensive page with suggestions for local congregations in the drought regions, and a related page with a growing set of links and more detailed program suggestions.

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My friend Al uses the image of surfing. Educators speak of "teachable moments." The theological term is "kairos" -- the fullness of time.

All of those ideas remind us that there are moments when our passions and our training intersect perfectly with the shifting currents of history. There is a moment when God's call to us can be leveraged into effective action.

Join with me in claiming the moment, in surfing these perfect waves of awareness.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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