The Voices for Earth Justice Interfaith Prayer Breakfast on the National Day or Prayer (May 2) will serve as the official launch for the 30-day statewide “RISE UP for Justice” campaign.
“People and planet are so tightly tied together,” said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. “When you start talking about one, you end up talking about the other. The way we treat the planet tells us a lot about how we treat people. How we treat people tells us a lot about how we treat the planet. All are in need of justice and you just can’t choose one and ignore the other. That’s why we’re so pleased to launch the ‘RISE UP for Justice’ campaign at the Interfaith Prayer Breakfast on May 2.”
The Rise Up for Justice campaign will call people of faith from across the state to devote the month of May to prayer and action against five “evils” in society:
Statewide leadership for the “RISE UP for Justice” campaign comes from The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. The Poor People’s Campaign traces its roots to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, 1968 campaign of the same name. That campaign sought to mobilize Americans against what Dr. King called “The Three Evils of Society”: Systemic racism, poverty, and the “war economy.”
Organizers of the new Poor People’s Campaign added ecological devastation and distorted morality to the original “Three Evils.”
Participants in Michigan’s “RISE UP for Justice” campaign will coordinate prayer, conversation, and action around each of the five “evils” over five weeks. VEJ will help lead the statewide focus on “ecological devastation.”
“The planet is not separate from us,” said Rev. Cass Charrette, one of the organizers for the “RISE UP for Justice” campaign. “Let us feel ourselves rooted in the planet and reverberate that energy out into the world. Humanity is called to assist God in the co-creation of a new consciousness that is life-sustaining. Each of us is an influencer of this light and play a vital role in the actions it will take to create a responsible, caring, just world.”
At the Voices for Earth Justice Interfaith Prayer Breakfast on May 2, clergy from different faiths will offer prayers for people and planet. Rev. Faith Fowler, a pioneer in urban environmental and social justice work, will offer keynote remarks. Chef Annabel Cohen will serve a breakfast with options for most religious diets. “RISE UP for Justice” organizers will share their plan and vision for the campaign. Proceeds from ticket sales support VEJ’s interfaith environmental education, outreach, and volunteer programs.
Guests may reserve their seats in advance at voices4earth.org/breakfast. While VEJ suggests a donation of $35, guests may reserve their seats for as little or as much as they like. Reservations may also be made over the phone at (313) 355-6042.
We live hectic, emotionally-charged, and situationally complex lives, which means it often takes a conscious effort to remind ourselves that we, as human beings, are residents of Earth’s arms. Earth Day gives us such an opportunity to participate--individually or collectively--in moments, events, and actions that will re-center our energy on creation.
This week, I had the opportunity to help start some seeds for the garden. As I created little crevices in the soil & sprinkled seeds into the ground, my heart settled & my brain eased. Small moments like these remind me of how incredibly connected I am to the soil that squishes between my toes, the breeze that flushes my cheeks, and sun that makes my heart soar and plants grow. They remind me of how richly interdependent we are on each other & all of creation.
Take a breath, and get yourself started on a more mindful, planet-conscious path on Earth Day! Reinvigorate yourself by attending an event, crafting a prayer, or planting a tree on April 22 (or the weekend preceding it). There are several fantastic events taking place in Detroit or the Metro-Detroit area. Our staff has compiled a list of our favorite Earth Day events & activities below.
At Voices for Earth Justice, we work to practice Earth care & connection every day. We have several programs this spring & summer that uptake prayer, education, and action to care for creation. You can check out these programs at our website to carry on your Earth Day renewed energy & spirit in the practice of everyday Earth Justice.
~ MiIPL Earth Day Sermon Contest
Whether you are a seasoned sermon writer or a beginner, you can bring the passion of intersecting faith & earth justice to pen & paper. Submit your words of passion to this contest!
~ Brightmoor Artisans Collective Earth Day Event
Tree planting & socializing are two wonderful ways to take action on Earth Day!
~ Kensington Metropark Earth Day Clean Up
Roll up your sleeves for Earth. Join in for litter pick-up & general park clean-up.
~ Earth Day Event with Keep Growing Detroit
Plant some gorgeous little cuties (plants), and then dine out for lunch.
~Creation Justice Ministries
This link provides a downloadable 2019 Earth Day Resource for Christian Education.
~West Bloomfield Parks Earth Day Celebration
Planting trees, live animal interactions, recycled crafts, & more! This is an awesome family-friendly way to get everyone involved in celebrating Earth Day.
~ Belle Isle Green Day
Earth-friendly crafts, games, storytelling, keeper talks, and exhibits by local conservation groups. Join in on the fun on Belle Isle to celebrate the planet!
VEJ's 2019 Community Meals series sets the table for the first time on Sunday, May 5.
Community Meals will bring together friends of VEJ and neighbors from Detroit's Brightmoor and Old Redford for curated discussion, chef-prepared local food (some from VEJ's garden), and expert presentations on food and sustainability.
"You want to do Earth justice? Start with food," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "Nothing, nothing, has a bigger impact on the health of the planet and its peoples than food. So, what better way to talk about that than by bringing people together around a table to share a meal?"
At each Community Meal, chefs will use as much local produce as they can to prepare a delicious dinner. Experts on food justice and food sustainability will give short talks, then lead discussions among those who attend.
Guests may attend for free, but seating is limited to 24 and VEJ will "pass the hat" to help cover the costs of hosting the event.
The first Community Meal features food by Chef Nicole Seals and a talk by Tommie Obioha of Detroit Sustainability Ambassadors. Sign up here.
Find the complete list of 2019 Community Meals here.
Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ) will host its first-ever Interfaith Prayer Breakfast on the National Day of Prayer (May 2) at Congregational Church of Birmingham in Bloomfield Hills. In addition to prayers from interfaith clergy, guests will enjoy remarks from Rev. Faith Fowler of Cass Community Social Services and the food of Chef Annabel Cohen.
Tickets are on sale at https://vejbreakfast.eventbrite.com
Since this is a big, new event for VEJ, voices4earth.org sat down with VEJ executive director BT Irwin to ask him to explain the "why" behind this event.
v4e.org: Where did the idea for an interfaith prayer breakfast come from?
BTI: Well, it's not an original idea at all. I suppose most people who are friends of VEJ have some experience going to interfaith events like this. Groups like the Interfaith Leadership Council of Detroit and WISDOM have been hosting events like this for years.
v4e.org: So, why do you feel like VEJ needs to do one? What about VEJ's interfaith prayer breakfast is going to be different from other events like it?
BTI: VEJ is a little different from other interfaith organizations in southeast Michigan. Whereas interfaith relationships are the focus and the mission of those organizations, VEJ's focus and mission is environmental justice. We believe that people of all faiths have a part to play in that mission and--let's say divine reasons--to play that part. Faith is a powerful force that moves people to live certain lifestyles and make certain choices. Faith communities are powerful influencers on personal lives and on society as a whole. Imagine the impact on our world when faith and faith communities become powerful influencers for environmental justice. So, I'd say that element--environmental justice--is what sets VEJ apart from most other interfaith work happening in southeast Michigan.
v4e.org: And you feel like hosting a prayer breakfast is the best way to do that?
BTI: It's a start. It's been awhile since VEJ has done any of its own programming that focuses on building up the interfaith community in southeast Michigan. That's not to say VEJ hasn't been doing work that brings people of different faiths together. Our volunteer program at Hope House & Gardens brings in people of a lot of different faiths to work side by side. But the garden and the neighborhood are the focus of that work. Our new community dinners and Wonder Walks programs are for people of all faiths and we are seeing a lot of diversity in the people who attend. But, in terms of a program that really lifts up and serves those who are doing interfaith work in southeast Michigan, we haven't had anything like that in awhile. And, since food is our focus right now, a breakfast seemed to make the most sense for bringing people together and serving them.
v4e.org: Why are you charging for the breakfast?
BTI: The short answer is that hosting an event like this costs money and VEJ does not have a lot of money. We have to be able to cover our costs and then some.
The long answer has two parts:
First, we believe we are giving people something of great value--Chef Cohen's food, Rev. Fowler's remarks, fellowship with great people--that is worth a lot more than the price of a ticket. We did our homework and the price we set for tickets is both in line for events like this and fair and reasonable for the people we're inviting to the event. I've been doing events for almost 20 years and people put more into things for which they pay. In the nonprofit sector, we have a bad habit of undervaluing what we offer the world and, as a consequence, the world often undervalues us. VEJ is offering a lot of value and we think that is worthy of people's commitment and financial support.
Second, we're trying to take VEJ from a $70,000 a year operation to a $250,000 a year operation over the next few years. Why? Because that's what it is going to take to be a stable, strong, sustainable mission organization. For most of our history, we've gotten by on a few big gifts or grants that come in once in awhile. The problem is that when those big gifts and grants run out, you have to start all over again. We preach resilience and sustainability at VEJ. So, we need to practice those things as well. That means building a growing community of friends--we think about 500 people over the next few years--who give lots of different kinds of gifts at lots of different levels. For each of them, giving to VEJ is a passionate, personal, purposeful choice--whether its $5 or $50,000.
So, the interfaith prayer breakfast is about growing that new community of friends and practicing mutual giving and sharing together. We are putting together an event that we believe will be inspiring, uplifting, and valuable to everyone who attends. We are asking those who attend to support VEJ so that we can do more programs like this. We're encouraging a community that works together toward a common dream.
v4e.org: Tell us a little more about the program you put together.
BTI: We wanted to put together a program that would fill people with joy. That's the word: "Joy." It starts with the people you will meet when you walk in the room. They may be different from you, but you will also find them to be friends who want many of the same things you want. Who isn't joyful about making new friends in unexpected places? Who doesn't feel more hopeful about the world when that happens?
When you listen to Rev. Fowler's story, I don't think you can walk away feeling cynical and hopeless about the world. We wanted Rev. Fowler because we wanted to remind people of what is possible. What can be more joyful than possibility?
When you eat Chef Cohen's food, you're going to feel joyful. Look, God didn't have to make tastebuds, right? Our bodies seem to be designed to experience beauty and wonder at every point of contact with the world. What is more joyful than eating extraordinary food and knowing the story of where that food comes from?
And, of course, praying together bathes the entire thing in divine blessing. What could be more joyful than that?
v4e.org: Why May 2 instead of Earth Day? Wouldn't Earth Day make more sense for VEJ?
BTI: It would, but Earth Day falls at a time this year that conflicts with some holy days for many of our friends. We couldn't be faithful to our interfaith friends and have the event on or near Earth Day.
So, we picked the National Day of Prayer (May 2) instead. There is an element of protest here. While the National Day of Prayer started in the 1950s, it has become more and more of an evangelical Christian observance. In fact, the foundation that promotes the National Day of Prayer does not hide that it is an evangelical Christian organization with an evangelical Christian political and social agenda. As an evangelical Christian myself, I'm saying you can't have a "national day of prayer" if it's just evangelical Christians praying for their version of America. A true national day of prayer is a day when people of all faiths pray together for something much bigger than themselves--for the people of this world and for the planet itself. So, you could say that we are "taking back" the National Day of Prayer for people of all faiths to pray for all people and places on this planet.
v4e.org: Is there anything else you want people to know about the Interfaith Prayer Breakfast?
BTI: Yes, this is a really, really big deal. It's a big deal for VEJ because it's the biggest event for the most people that we've put on in a long time--maybe ever. It's a big deal for southeast Michigan because it's one of the only public interfaith prayer events taking place on the National Day of Prayer. The relationships that can form at this event can lead to big things for Earth justice down the road.
And it's a big deal for you if you choose to attend. You're saying that entrusting your energy, money, and time to VEJ for one morning is better than anything else you can do with those things at that same time. I believe that, if you come, you'll be very glad you did. And if you're not, I'll personally reimburse you for it.
Early bird tickets to the Voices for Earth Justice Interfaith Prayer Breakfast are $55 through Thursday, April 11. Regular tickets ($65) are on sale through April 26.
You may purchase tickets online at https://vejbreakfast.eventbrite.com
Or, make your check to Voices for Earth Justice and write "breakfast" in the memo line. Send to Voices for Earth Justice, 15894 Greydale Street, Detroit, MI 48223.
Call (313) 355-6042 for questions.
See the abandoned warehouse that transformed into a job-creating organic farm in Detroit's Brightmoor
"Resilience" is a word that comes up a lot at VEJ.
It's easy enough to talk about it, but how do you do it? Where do you go to see an example of it?
One of the most amazing examples of resilience (and resourcefulness) you will find anywhere just happens to be in a plain industrial building in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood.
That building, once a blighted and crumbling warehouse, is now home to Artesian Farms, one of the country's fastest-growing hydroponic organic food businesses. Artesian Farms leafy greens make it into grocery stores and onto plates at restaurants all over southeast Michigan and beyond. And while leafy greens are growing at Artesian Farms, so are career and job opportunities for the people of the Brightmoor neighborhood.
Read more about Artesian Farms here:
"The story of Artesian Farms hits all the right notes," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "It shows that you don't have to choose between economic opportunity and environmental stewardship. They can go hand in hand, even in a neighborhood that has to overcome a lot of negative inertia and real barriers to growth."
That's why VEJ is pleased to be hosting its first-ever Eco-Eating Tour at Artesian Farms on Saturday, March 23. Artesian Farms founder Jeff Adams will lead this exclusive behind-the-scenes tour and tell the story of how he started the farm in an abandoned warehouse.
Tickets for this rare inside look at one of the country's most innovative food businesses are $20. Proceeds support VEJ's educational, outreach, and volunteer programs.
Click here to get your tickets.
Michigan Green Industries founder Rev. Faith Fowler to headline Voices for Earth Justice Breakfast on National Day of Prayer (May 2)
Rev. Faith Fowler, a pioneer in the crossover between environmental and social justice work, will headline the first annual Voices for Earth Justice National Day of Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, May 2, at the Congregational Church of Birmingham UCC in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
The gathering will also feature interfaith prayer and a halal and kosher breakfast made by Chef Annabel Cohen using locally-grown organic ingredients.
Early bird tickets will be $55 each and go on sale March 20. Special discounts will be available for clergy, lay ministry leaders, members of religious orders, and students. Proceeds will support VEJ's educational, outreach, and volunteer programs.
"This event, like all of VEJ's programs, is about helping people believe in what's possible," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "When you come eat Annabel Cohen's food, listen to Rev. Fowler's story, and meet people who are different from you and yet share your hope for a better world, you will leave with fresh energy, more focus, and new friends."
Rev. Fowler is pastor of Cass Community United Methodist Church in Detroit and founder of Cass Community Social Services, Inc. (CCSS), a "Detroit-based agency with a person-centered philosophy, dedicated to providing food, housing, health services, and job programs."
Read more about Rev. Fowler here:
Under Rev. Fowler's leadership, CCSS started Michigan Green Industries in 2007 to create jobs for Detroit's underemployed and unemployed. Michigan Green Industries makes and sells consumer items by recycling or repurposing materials that would otherwise end up at Detroit's incinerator or in landfills.
In 2016, Rev. Fowler began developing a neighborhood of 25 high-efficiency "tiny homes." This development is making national headlines for its unique approach to solving the housing crisis for Detroit's homeless, poor, and working poor.
More recently, Rev. Fowler worked with Ford Motor Company to develop a "mobile farm," a portable indoor farming concept that can move from neighborhood to neighborhood in the city of Detroit. Mobile farming will allow residents to grow their own food year-round in Michigan's harsh winters.
"It's easy to sit back and say: 'There's nothing I can do. The problem is too big. It's too hard. I don't have enough influence or money or whatever," said Irwin. "Rev. Fowler shows us what is possible when faith, hope, and love go to work in a community of people who refuse to stop believing."
Chef Annabel Cohen is one of the hottest names in metro Detroit food. In addition to her catering company, Annabel Cohen Cooks Detroit, Chef Cohen is a frequent guest on radio and TV and writes a food column for The Jewish News.
Watch for the early bird ticket announcement on March 20.
In a nutshell, VEJ is about "prayer, education, and action on behalf of Earth."
The order of those three things--prayer, education, and action--is not random.
VEJ co-founder Patty Gillis explained it to me once. I'll paraphrase it for you: Action grows out of education. Education grows out of prayer. Prayer grows out of grateful and humble hearts that open to receive the gifts that God gives through creation.
What happens when action comes before prayer and education?
Action without education is often wasted action. It is like scratching a mosquito bite until it bleeds and spreads infection.
Education without prayer often does a lot of good for the ego, but not much else. What good is it to be the smartest person in the world if nobody wants to be around you or listen to you? The opportunity is lost to be influential for good.
So, right action starts with education, but only if that education grows up out of a grateful, humble, simple heart.
And nothing cultivates that kind of heart like prayer.
These days, it feels like we need to act, act, ACT!
Every morning brings us news of crises that seem to get more urgent every day: Injustices against people and planet seem to be metastasizing all around us.
The human impulse is to do something...now.
That's not the wrong impulse.
But at VEJ, we believe the first thing to do in crisis is to pray. Prayer reminds us that we are not God nor should we try to be!
And then listen to understand. Education reminds us, not that we know a lot, but that we know very little.
And only after we pray and listen will we be formed by humility and grace and informed by empathy and knowledge. Then we act...in courageous compassion, cunning kindness, and love that is lethal to all that is not love in this world.
This year at VEJ, we are taking a time out from the fast-spinning cycle of action/reaction in the world to focus on prayer and education. We are looking to serve those who want to pray and listen for awhile so that they will be ready to act rightly when the time comes.
We are not withdrawing from the crises of our age; we are simply affirming that sometimes the best way to deal with a crisis is to "be still and know..."
If this is what you seek, please let us know how we can serve you.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, primus inter pares
Have you ever been to a "bad neighborhood?"
Over my 43 years, I've been to just two.
Facebook and Twitter.
On New Year's Day, I got out of one of those bad neighborhoods.
I closed my Twitter account.
Over the last year, the time I spend on Facebook dropped to almost zero.
And I feel so much cleaner, healthier, lighter...happier.
I don't know about you, but during and after the 2016 election I found myself on social media a lot. I'm embarrassed to say that I would find myself spending hours a day on Facebook and Twitter.
One day early in 2018, I woke up from my insanity.
What am I doing here? I thought.
Looking for an answer to that question led me to an ugly truth: I was hooked on anger.
On social media, I could get anger from two sources:
The first was posts from people with whom I disagreed. For example: If someone was for a policy or politician I found to be awful. All I had to do was just read whatever they posted and I would get a hit of "anger chemicals" in my brain. I found myself reading different points of view just so I could be angry at whoever was coming from those points.
The second was whenever I posted something and a lot of like-minded people agreed with me. Better yet, when like-minded people cheered me on or rushed to stand up for me whenever someone else disagreed. The "echo chamber" was where I could find the ultimate "righteous anger high."
So, as I said, one day I woke up and saw the truth: I was spending my days looking for bigger and bigger "hits" of anger.
Facebook and Twitter were my dealers.
What about you? Does any of this sound familiar to you?
What you find on social media these days seems to characterize our society. Every day, we get angrier and angrier. We spend our days on the prowl, looking for someone to blame for what "makes" us angry. We're on edge. Jittery. Off balance. Trigger happy.
The more time we spend in our echo chambers and on so-called "social" media, the more we become more like the disgruntled recluses we say we fear.
The bill for our anger, however, will eventually come due and the price will be too high for us to pay. We will pay for it in health, lost opportunities, quality of life, and relationships. We will pay for it in an even more broken, unfair, unjust, and violent society. We will pay for it in a world even more choked, depleted, and diseased.
The way to deal with an anger addiction is not more anger. That would be like trying to clear up air pollution by releasing more air pollution.
Over the last couple of years, I've come to believe that what people in our society need is a reprieve, a rest, a Sabbath. Not from civic duty, responsibility, or trying to find and act upon the truth. We need more of those things from people, not less.
But what if we rest from our anger? What if we could take a break from the things that stir up the anger chemicals in our brains? What if we could "fast" from outrage?
Are you having a hard time wanting this?
Then you may need to admit you have a problem!
Now, this is not to say that anger does not have a place in our lives. It's not to say that we shouldn't feel angry about things like injustice.
But do we control our anger or does our anger control us?
When we started thinking about what VEJ would do in 2019, someone at the table asked a question that went something like this: Is our anger and outrage really changing anyone's minds? It is really bringing about the kind of world we all want to see? Is it building bridges between us or building walls? Is our anger serving anyone other than ourselves?
That led to questions like: What should VEJ be doing? What could we give people that would be truly helpful? How can VEJ give people something that helps them choose a better way? A way that takes us where we all want to go?
As we prayed and talked through this, we kept coming back to making "space" in life. Space for curiosity and discovery, listening and understanding, quiet reflection, sharing food, simple service, and wonder. We discerned a desperate desire for places where people feel safe to explore, question, and be vulnerable. We discerned a desire for the self to be put back in right balance with all living things, the Divine, and with nature.
VEJ's mission, in shorthand, is: "Prayer, education, and action on behalf of Earth."
Action without prayer and education is immature and prideful, dangerous and unstable. It almost always runs on pure adrenaline. The emotions that manufacture the most adrenaline are anger and fear. So, action without prayer and education is almost always angry action. It is almost always reactive.
What people need, what our society needs, is more prayer and education.
And that is why VEJ is making those two things the focus of everything we do going forward. You see them in our events and programs for 2019. All year long, you will have many opportunities to break bread with friends and strangers. To pray and reflect among those who are different in many ways, but the same at heart. To let Earth teach you as you work the soil with your hands. To thrill in discovery. To wander in nature. To be quiet. To be still. To rest. To let Earth call your soul back home.
If this is what you need, you will find it here in 2019.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, primus inter pares
Voices for Earth Justice
If you're old enough to read this, you're old enough to recall what you might call "big years" in your life. That is, years when big changes changed your life forever.
Examples: The years you graduated, got married (or split up), moved to a new place, started a new job, or welcomed a new child. When my wife and I look back at our lives together, we think of 2008 (the year we got married) and 2012 (the year our son was born and we moved into our house) as "big ones."
If you're reading this, you are part of one of those "big years" for VEJ.
It's a "big year" when your co-founder retires after 15 years as leader (2017). It's an even bigger year when you find out how your mission and organization will do under an all new staff team and a board that is 60 percent new members (2018).
Thanks to you, we found out that the VEJ family and mission are resilient and strong. You were part of making 2018 more than just a "transition year"; you helped make it a year of goodness, growth, and real impact.
Please take a moment to read our one-page 2018 report and 2019 outlook (at the end of this blog post). You'll get see what you supported this year and what is coming next year.
Then, if you like what you see, please be part of ending 2018 on a high note and starting 2019 on a strong one: Make a year-end gift to VEJ before December 31.
Board members, executive directors, and founders come and go. At a good mission organization, what stays constant is people like you. Nobody is more important to the VEJ family and mission than you. Thank you for being part of this!