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 (email@example.com):
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.
During this season of harvest and gratitude, we at Voices for Earth Justice offer a prayer of deep appreciation for our donors, staff members, collaborators, and volunteers.
This year we have connected with you in our gardens, children's programs, interfaith prayer gatherings, environmental justice work, workshops, and pot lucks. Thank you so much for participating with your presence and other forms of support! Partnering with people and organizations who want to save the planet and who share their resources makes the day-to-day miracles of life happen.
We are looking forward to 2017, believing that together we will ensure a more just world for our children and grandchildren. We rely on your annual financial support. Will you help us continue our good work by sending us a check or donating on line through our web site?
THANK YOU, AND HAPPY THANKSGIVING from all of us at
Voices for Earth Justice
Our garden designer and program manager Naim Edwards took a few weeks off in September and October for a permaculture design course in Missouri. Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centered on simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. The course was hosted at the Peace and Permaculture Center by the Possibility Alliance. Naim spent two weeks sleeping in a tent on a 160 acre wooded savannah site with no running water or electricity learning how humans can better live in harmony with one another and nature.
Permaculture is an approach to food production that is intended to be self-sufficient and self sustaining. The course was almost divided 50/50 between hard, technical skills and "harder" social skills like conflict resolution. Naim was awakened by music every morning before dawn to a day filled with learning sessions, reflection, and just living outside. He returned from the Permaculture Design Course with new knowledge, ideas, and skills to apply at Hope House and our outreach work in Detroit!
VEJ Cofounder on "Going Green in Warren"Watch Voices for Earth Justice cofounder Patty Gillis on the TV program "Going Green in Warren" discussing faith-based environmentalism, including VEJ's work and Laudato Si: https://vimeo.com/album/2519140/video/189196015 or watch below: