Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Acting in Faith: Persistence
distributed 4/18/14 - ©2014

This Lent, Eco-Justice Notes is exploring a variety of ways that we can act in our community and the world -- individually, as congregations, or in other settings.

Six weeks ago, at the start of this Lenten series, "Acting in Faith," I quoted the Bible and a Buddhist.

  • "What good is it ... if you say you have faith but do not have works?" (James 2:14)
  • "It is not enough to be compassionate -- you must act." (the Dalai Lama)

Wise people of many times and traditions have known that action is imperative -- both for our own conscience and integrity, and for the sake of bringing about a just and sustainable future.

Through this season, Eco-Justice Notes has looked at many different forms of action, taking place in different social and political realms. My focus has been on collective forms of action, more so than on "things you can do" as an individual (recycle, change light bulbs). I have looked at action as intentional, strategic work for social change.

I conclude the series today with a quality of action, rather than another strategy. Acting in faith requires persistence. Faithful action is not a one-shot deal -- we must stick with it.

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Persistence is a quality of action that has been highlighted by many. (I've added the emphasis in the following quotes.) 2 Timothy 4:1-2 says, "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus ... I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching."

Dorothy Day wrote in The Catholic Worker, "What we would like to do is change the world... By crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, of the poor, of the destitute ... we can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world."

And then there is that famous saying from Margaret Mead -- "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; Indeed it's the only thing that ever has." That saying was significant in my founding of Eco-Justice Ministries 14 years ago.

In the late 1990s, my work connecting faith and the environment was done as a volunteer with an ecumenical group; members were appointed by various denominations. As the task force entered into a planning process, several of the members indicated that they were willing to come to quarterly meetings, and to put occasional articles in church newsletters -- and that was about the extent of their persistence.

It became clear to me that a small group of half-hearted citizens won't accomplish much. It was obvious to me then, and still today, that Mead's emphasis on "committed" citizens is essential. That awareness helped nudge me toward starting Eco-Justice Ministries as a setting for persistence and commitment.

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Significant change does not happen quickly. The great movements for justice in the US -- abolition, women's suffrage, civil rights -- all worked for decades toward their goals. A single, dramatic day of activism generally yields results only when it is an expression of a larger, long-term effort.

In his book, A Social Action Primer, Dieter Hessel tells of a recent college graduate who complained, "I've tried social action and it doesn't work!" Hessel says that "the student had joined a couple of disappointing demonstrations. Since he apparently had not accomplished anything, he proposed to turn from the grand issues to the small, the individual, the personal." Hessel adds, "Effective social involvement requires both perception and staying power, both skill and spirit, both technique and vision."

I have been blessed by knowing many of those persistent, committed citizens. In 2002, I wrote about one group that inspired me -- Deborah Sanchez (who later served on the Board of Eco-Justice Ministries) and her neighbors in Denver.

Residents of a Denver neighborhood have been persistent in demanding justice from the Environmental Protection Agency. They have spent the last decade organizing, lobbying, and pestering officials at all levels of government in their efforts to reclaim their neighborhood and get a large stockpile of radioactive waste removed.

At an event celebrating their success, there were teenagers present who were raised under the tables of the neighborhood meetings -- meetings held weekly, year in and year out, to strategize and educate. The US Representative who spoke that day commented that she had never seen a better example of determined and effective citizen activism.

In that 2002 Notes, I contrasted the persistent work of the Overland neighborhood group with the then-new proliferation of "instant activism" through internet petitions. I'm sure you encounter it often these days. Just reply to an e-mail, or click once at a website, and a carefully crafted message is sent in your name to members of congress, the official record of a public hearing, or targeted business leaders. We're led to believe that 15 seconds of painless response is all that is needed to be a good activist.

Those petitions may have some value, but real action, real work for change, takes persistence, commitment, and long-term involvement.

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Through Lent this year, I have pointed to many forms of action -- political activism, public witness, financial action, education, building community and language.

It is not an exhaustive list, but this series does suggest some of the categories where we might act to make a difference in our communities and the world. It is a diverse toolbox of strategies, and we can each select the approach that is most appropriate to the issue and our own style. But if we are to be faithful and responsible in seeking a just and sustainable society, we must act in some way.

This holy weekend, recommit yourself to action toward the healing of God's creation.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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