The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Many Gifts for Social Change
A long, long time ago, the apostle Paul gave some advice to the quarrelsome church in Corinth. Much of that advice still seems timely (since churches are still quarrelsome communities) and some of it seems painfully out of date (his views on women, for example).
One piece of his guidance for the Corinthians has some contemporary relevance that applies far beyond the church. A familiar passage brings some timeless truth to current discussions about social change strategies.
It may seem like a stretch, but cranky old Paul meshes pretty well with Annie Leonard's new installment in the Story of Stuff Project: "The Story of Change."
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Among their astounding variety of church fights, those early Christians in Corinth argued about who had the best spiritual gifts -- speaking in tongues, interpreting that ecstatic speech, healing, performing miracles. It must have been a lively community with all that going on, but not a harmonious one.
So Paul told them: "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
He then goes into an imaginative conversation between body parts -- the eyes and feet and hands and ears -- making it vividly clear that the body needs the whole variety of pieces, all doing their appropriate functions. They're all important, even if some of them seem less honorable or less respectable.
To make sure that the far-from-perceptive church members get his point, he makes a specific list: "God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues." (12:28) And from there, we go directly into his musings that we now know as 1 Corinthians 13 -- where Paul's poetic language about love can allow us to ignore the fact that he's still writing about church fights.
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Fast forward almost 2,000 years, and look around for groups of people arguing about who has the best gifts, and which one should be the only one. I see that sort of conflict in social change movements, including the ones addressing major eco-justice causes.
The list is different from the one in Corinth, but the divided factions are still with us. How do we make a difference in the world? Civil disobedience! Legislative change! Localized food! Renewable energy! Letters to the editor!
There are layers of boasting and put-downs, where (for example) those organizing a protest march might look askance at the ones who are "just" working on a letter-writing campaign. Some who are passionate about their particular strategy might find it difficult to respect a different approach as part of the legitimate movement at all. (What do community gardens have to do with it?)
We need the reminder that "there are many members, yet one body," and the distinctive gifts and perspectives we bring all can be -- must be! -- a part of the larger movement.
That's what Annie Leonard affirms in her latest semi-animated little film, "The Story of Change". She talks about three common themes that she has seen in recent social change movements: a big idea, a commitment to work together, and taking action. And that's where she comes back to the old point about many members, each with their own gifts, and how they're all important to the body. She says:
Making real change takes all kinds of citizens – not just protestors. When you realize what you're good at and what you like to do, plugging in doesn't seem so hard. Whatever you have to offer, a better future needs it.
She doesn't talk about apostles, prophets and people who speak in tongues. Her list defines some different, modern gifts (dare I call them spiritual gifts?) that are essential in a social change movement. And the wonderful thing is, the Story of Stuff website has a tool to help you figure out which of those gifts is most present within you.
You can take their "Changemaker Quiz" in about two minutes, and get some insightful suggestions about the ways that you might be most comfortable and effective in taking action for a just and sustainable society. (It is presumed that we'll all vote, and be responsible in making consumer choices. These point toward more extensive and intentional types of citizen action.)
I urge you to take the quiz, and then make a decision about how you might use your gifts for a good cause. Why not have all the members of your church "green team" or social action group -- or your Sierra Club chapter, or MoveOn group -- take the quiz, celebrate the diversity of your gifts, and then figure out how to use your gifts in working together.
Our skills and interests are a gift from God, planted within us so that we might do good and God-ly work in the world. Discern where your gifts lie, and put them to work.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
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