The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
My seminary textbook in educational techniques calls it the "Advanced Organizer Model." The kids who do it think it is fun.
Here's an example. Grab a batch of writing implements out of your desk drawer, and dump them on a table. Have the kids (or adults) sort them out.
They will probably gather the pens into one pile, the pencils in another, then markers and crayons. Then they will look at you and say, "So?"
Stir them all together again, and tell the group that they did a very nice job, but now they need to sort them into different groups. There will be a pause. Somebody will dive in and group them by color.
Have them do it again, and again. Things with erasers. By length. Those with advertising. Color that they write instead of color on the outside. And on and on.
The exercise is designed to boost the student's creativity, to help them think "outside of the box." It is a great way to lead a group into other creative projects. (Try it!)
But "the advanced organizer model" also reminds me that grouping things together is an important part of how we make sense out of our complicated world.
Grocery stores, book stores, our kitchen cupboards -- they're all organized into functional groups. Putting things into groups helps us claim some control out of the chaos, but our groupings can also control us. They create the mental maps that direct how we will function in our day-to-day lives.
That is why it usually takes a few moments before participants realize there are many ways to group the pens and pencils. If one mental map dominates, we may not think about other ways of organizing our world that could lead us into creative perspectives.
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Stir together all of the churches that you know, and then sort them into groups.
Most people will quickly list them by denomination (Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker, Catholic), look up and say "So?"
Those denominational groups are very helpful. They express important similarities in theology, structure, mission and program. Good job, but do it again.
Round two may have geographic clusters: by neighborhood and city, or urban/ suburban/ rural. Those are helpful, too. Do it again.
Thriving/ stable/ dying churches. Liberal/ conservative. Congregations clustered by their stances on a controversial issue.
The way we group churches shapes how we interact with them. Our mental maps identify who we see as our "kindred spirits." Most of us will think and act within the norms and expectations of that community of support. Those clusterings will define what seems reasonable or possible.
Eco-justice is not one of the ways that people usually organize their thinking about churches. When the clusters are formed geographically, or by liturgical style, or denominationally, efforts at eco-justice won't tend to emerge as a subject of conversation, let alone action and programming.
Grouping churches into new mental clusters is empowering. It allows us to realize that we're not alone, that we're not crazy in some of our ideas and projects. Discovering our kindred spirits taps us into fresh energy, creativity, resources and strength.
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Here is today's assignment (the advanced organizer is an educational tool, after all):
Mentally group the churches and church leaders that you know according to their interest in faith-based work for eco-justice. Be sure to include folk from outside of your own denomination, and from beyond your own community. Think of the strong leaders that you can turn to for guidance. Think of colleagues that you can engage in cooperative projects and mutual support. Think of those who can be invited and nurtured into a deeper eco-justice commitment. (And don't think too much about those who are indifferent or hostile.)
Now do something to encourage a few of those kindred spirits in their work. Pick up the phone and say thanks to someone who has helped you. Join together with others to plan a community Earth Day service. Encourage a few friends to subscribe to Eco-Justice Notes. Set a date to have lunch with someone to talk over your shared interests.
Remember that there are many ways to organize our relationships and commitments. Discover, celebrate and affirm your kindred spirits in the work of caring justly for all of God's creation.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: email@example.com