Yes, voices can change things. When enough of our voices pray, shout, sing, speak, and weep in harmony, mountains move or stop in their tracks.
Let’s keep the faith that this is true and let’s not assume that someone else will speak up if we are silent.
Let us encourage one another to join our voices to speak truth to power.
After all, power only speaks one language: Power.
Power comes in many forms, love being supreme (if you believe it).
Those who prefer a baser, meaner, more immature kind of power--a coercive kind of power that relies on patronizing and tranquilizing or, when those don’t work, force and violence--enjoy an opponent much like themselves. They know what to do in combat and politics. Might makes right and that’s how they like it.
They want bullets, fists, and shouting because they know their budgets, guns, and strings to pull are always better and bigger than ours.
And if they lose, they will make sure they take down everyone and everything with them.
So what do they fear? What will work against them?
They fear us. Specifically, they fear us together. Their power relies on cynicism, division, paranoia, and suspicion among people like you and me. As long as we’re using our voices to shout at each other, we will never join our voices in harmony. Why do they fear that? Because when we join our voices in harmony, we find something in each other that is better than what they’ve been selling us.
And when we’re no longer buying what they are selling, they no longer have power.
So while we must use our voices to speak to power, we must be even more diligent about using our ears to listen to each other. While those in power need our open mouths, our neighbors need our open ears.
Let’s resolve as a fellowship to listen 80 percent of the time and speak 20 percent of the time. Let our speaking arise from the empathy and understanding we cultivate among ourselves.
Let us be Ears for Earth Justice as much as we are Voices for Earth Justice.
What changed me from a climate change denier and opponent of those who speak for the environment?
Was it alarming facts and the latest research on climate change? No.
Was it a persuasive politician, scientist, or theologian? No.
Was it a preacher or prophet who triggered my guilt? No.
What changed my mind about earth justice was...my heart.
And what changed my heart was gratitude that came from wonder.
A blog post is too small a space to tell the whole story. That may come over the weeks, months, and years ahead of us.
Here and now, I’ll share one scene from the story of how gratitude and wonder changed my heart.
It was Thanksgiving Day 1998. I was 22 years old and spending Thanksgiving away from my family for the first time. They were gathered in my hometown of Ashland, Ohio. I was 800 miles away in Searcy (pronounced “sir see”), Arkansas. Searcy is home to Harding University, where I was a fifth-year senior that fall. That year, I moved off campus and into my own apartment. To buy groceries and pay the rent, I got a job as the night shift DJ at KWCK 99.9 FM, a country music radio station.
As the DJ with the least seniority, the station manager asked me to cover a shift or two on Thanksgiving Day. It would mean being away from my family, but time-and-a-half pay for two shifts of work. I took it.
What was supposed to be two shifts turned into 21 straight hours on the air as two other DJs never showed up. I worked from 11 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving until 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. When I finally left the station, I stepped out into a ghost town. Everyone in Searcy was inside a home, celebrating the day with family and friends. The streets were empty and still. I was alone. And lonely.
As I walked the two miles back to my apartment, something mysterious and wonderful came over me. The air was calm and chilly. The night was perfectly silent. Something made me look up at the sky. I gasped and then sighed at the sight: I’d never seen so many stars shining so bright and clear.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone or lonely anymore. In the absence of family and friends, I felt the earth and sky themselves were keeping me company, saying “I love you” in a way that touched every one of my senses. The beauty of the moment overwhelmed me inside and out. I’d never felt so close to God. I’d never felt such love. I’d never felt such wonder. All I could do was whisper “thank-you” again and again and again.
When people ask me to share my conversion story, this is the story I most often share.
Years of Bible study didn’t do it. Political arguments and scientific research didn’t do it. Facts couldn’t change my heart, nor could guilt.
But that night in the cold air under the stars filled me with a wonder that overwhelmed my old ways of thinking. The love washing over me was too much for my old stubbornness. All I could do was succumb to the gratitude pouring out of my heart like an artesian spring.
I’ve never been the same.
That’s what drew me to Voices for Earth Justice. Look at our mission:
Voices for Earth Justice is an interfaith network of people committed to prayer, education, and actions that deepen our sense of wonder, responsibility, and gratitude for all creation.
The truth is, we won’t change too many minds with arguments, facts, or even guilt. That’s not how people change. People change from the heart and that change always starts with what Christians call an epiphany. What I like about our mission is that it rightly identifies wonder and gratitude as the catalysts for that heart-changing epiphany.
I’m living proof.
Now I’d like to hear from you. Please tell me in the comment section or in a personal email (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Onward and upward,
Naim Edwards, a familiar face to friends of Voices for Earth Justice, recently left his post as program director to take a position with the City of Detroit.
Naim first came to Voices for Earth Justice as part of the Capuchin Corps in 2014. That program placed and supported volunteers who lived and worked in underserved communities for one-year terms. Naim stayed on with Voices for Earth Justice after his Capuchin Corps service ended. Over the last three years, Naim coordinated and led many of the programs at Voices for Earth Justice. That included education programs, farming and gardening projects at Hope House, fundraising, interfaith relations, monthly potlucks, neighborhood outreach, and volunteer projects.
Naim remains with Voices for Earth Justice as the on-site steward of the Hope House property.
“A lot of people who know Voices for Earth Justice know it because of Naim,” said BT Irwin, Voices for Earth Justice executive director. “He made a deep impression on everyone, especially on our neighbors. Everyone who got a chance to work with Naim will miss him.”
As an environmental specialist at the City of Detroit, Naim will be responsible for enforcing laws to protect air, land, and water quality in the city. He will also review demolition, development, and environmental assessment permits.
“I am deeply grateful for my time at Voices for Earth Justice,” said Naim. “I have grown significantly spiritually, socially, and professionally. Voices for Earth Justice gave me both the opportunity and flexibility to combine faith, activism, and community service into a job. I learned how to garden, cook, care for community, and organize better. I learned how to be more vulnerable and proactive. I learned about Brightmoor and intimately became acquainted with many of the issues Detroit faces.”
Are you willing to do a little favor for the “new guy”?
Here it is:
For one day, listen closely to the voices in your life. On that day, use your imagination to hear every voice as a whisper so that you’ll have to lean in close to listen carefully.
Don’t forget to listen to your own voice. Listen to what you say to other people. Listen to what you say to yourself. What tone do you use? What words do you choose?
You may wonder: “Why is the new executive director of an ‘earth justice’ nonprofit asking me to listen to myself talk?”
Maybe “earth justice” calls to mind things like clean air and water, fair trade and local sourcing, renewable and sustainable energy.
Those are big things. Hard things. Those are the kinds of big, hard things that make us feel helpless and small.
“Earth justice.” What to do? Where to even start?
What if we start with voices?
We can clear the air by listening to other voices more than we use our own.
We can be fair by asking people to use their voices to help us empathize and understand.
We can renew good energy within and without by using our own voices to speak kindly and tell the truth.
We may not know how to solve the big, hard problems today.
But we can do something today.
Let's listen and speak with care and kindness.
Onward and upward,
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice