How are you at doing things you know are good for you?
Things like eating five fruits and vegetables a day, flossing, putting money into savings, and working out?
Or how are you at not doing things that are not good for you?
Things like eating too much junk food, hanging out on social media for hours at a time, procrastinating, and watching too much TV?
Give yourself an honest assessment. How do you do?
Being a human being is funny. We like to think that we’re rational creatures, but our behavior says otherwise.
We know what is good for us, but we don’t do it--at least not consistently and often enough.
We know what is bad for us, but we persist in doing it (all while we tell ourselves we’ll get around to stopping the bad behavior tomorrow).
A group of luminary scientists recently gathered at the University of Pennsylvania to begin looking for a way to solve this problem. They ask the question: Why are human beings so bad at doing the things that are good for them? And why are we so good at doing the things that are bad for us?
These scientists are looking at the obvious stuff: The things that, if we do them, will make us happier (getting enough sleep and spending time with family and friends), healthier (eating right and exercising), and wealthier (saving more and spending less). The length and quality of our lives depends on doing things like these--and we know it!--yet we don’t do them or we keep putting them off.
If that’s how we are with the very simple life habits that most affect our personal happiness, health, and wealth, how will we be with something that seems more abstract and impersonal? Something like climate change?
I recently read an article about how Americans overwhelmingly believe in climate change.
It’s just that we Americans--human beings that we are--never get around to actually doing anything about it.
Why should we expect ourselves to do anything? We can’t even order a salad, save a dollar, or stop looking cat videos on Facebook!
The real challenge of a mission like ours at Voices for Earth Justice is not ecological; it’s human. We don’t have to get people to agree with climate change, environmental responsibility, or social justice in theory. Most of them already do. Most of them already believe that something needs to be done.
How does believing or knowing something turn into changing personal behavior? That is the real challenge of our mission. How do we make it so people are more likely to choose to act differently?
Let’s be honest: The odds are against us. Human behavior is what it is and if the brightest scientists and great religions of the world can’t seem to change it, let’s not presume we can do much better here.
If we’re serious about this mission, we need to be deliberate, gracious, kind, patient, and thoughtful about it. At all times, we need to keep in mind that we’re dealing with human beings--and human beings are highly irrational creatures.
So what about change? What kind of change can we hope to make against such human irrationality?
We can change ourselves. Each one of us can work hard to change the way we see each other, see our environment, and see ourselves in the world. This takes a lot of energy, but I believe it is the only way to change our behavior toward each other, our environment, and ourselves. Small changes in our personal behavior, taken together with changes our neighbors are making in their own behaviors, may be exactly what adds up to the global change we all seek.
That last statement is the reason Voices for Earth Justice could never be anything other than a faith-based mission. When we focus on changing ourselves, we take it on faith that those personal changes can and will become global change farther downstream than we can see.
Educating, equipping, and empowering more people to change themselves. That’s the big challenge before Voices for Earth Justice. It is a very big challenge.
As primus inter pares of the Voices for Earth Justice community, I take it as my personal challenge.
I’m ready and willing to take on the challenge. Will you, too?
Please join a conversation about this subject at the Voices for Earth Justice Facebook page. I posted a question there with this blog post and I’m eager to read your answer. Please take a few minutes to share your perspectives with the Voices for Earth Justice community. Thank-you!
Onward and upward!
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice
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
Voices for Earth Justice recently chose longtime community nonprofit leader BT Irwin to succeed founder Patty Gillis as executive director. Gillis retired in July 2017 after leading the organization for 15 years.
“Voices for Earth Justice grew in the rain and sunshine of Patty’s faith, hope, and love,” said Irwin. “She put 15 years of her life into preparing the ground and planting the seeds we get to cultivate and grow.”
Gillis co-founded Voices for Earth Justice with fellow Adrian Dominican Sister Janet Stankowski in 2002. The two believed that communities of every faith could come together to raise their voices for ecological and social justice. That mission found real ground on which to grow in 2011, when Voices for Earth Justice purchased buildings and land in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood. Today, Voices for Earth Justice operates educational and volunteer programs at its Hope House community center and gardens in Brightmoor.
Irwin joins Voices for Earth Justice after a lifetime of church, community, and nonprofit work in several states. Over the last ten years, he began choosing work that allowed him to focus on community development and environmental and social justice. That included almost six years at Habitat for Humanity and three years building Lake Norcentra Park at Rochester College. In 2013, he started smallnonprofitcoach.com to help local nonprofits raise more money, recruit more volunteers, and make a bigger impact. He holds the executive certificate in social impact strategy from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Public Policy and Practice.
"What could be more relevant and more welcome in our world today than a fellowship and a mission like Voices for Earth Justice?" said Irwin. "Ours is the joyous challenge of helping people discover and steward the wonders of community and creation. I'm so pleased to be part of this."
Over the next few months, Irwin said his focus would be making it easier for more people to get involved in the three parts of the Voices for Earth Justice mission: Action, education, and prayer.
Click here to view the January 2017 newsletter.