The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Acting in Faith: Education
This Lent, Eco-Justice Notes is exploring a variety of ways that we can act in our community and the world -- individually, as congregations, or in other settings.
Acting -- doing something -- toward a just and sustainable world is essential. The toolbox for action is large and diverse, with strategies for different situations and personalities.
So far this Lent, we've explored issue activism, public witness and financial strategies for change. Education can be a form of action in itself, and it can lead toward future action by individuals and communities.
Education happens in classroom settings, of course, and it takes place in many other styles and contexts. Two personal stories illustrate the wide range of ways that education shapes the actions of individuals and communities.
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When I was in high school, I decided to test my cooking abilities by baking an angel food cake. I pulled out the family copy of Joy of Cooking, checked to make sure we had all the ingredients, and started into the process.
I found the special pan, mixed up the basic batter (no problem), and then got going with the eggs. Separating yolks from whites was a bit tricky, but I managed it. The electric mixer was useful in beating the egg whites to the "stiff peak" stage. Almost done -- but, down there at the very bottom of the recipe, I encountered an unfamiliar term.
"Fold the beaten egg whites into the batter," it said. I didn't know what "fold" meant, so I fired up the electric mixer to thoroughly blend the two bowls of ingredients. Then I poured the batter into the pan, slipped it into the oven, and waited for my elegant cake to emerge. When the timer went off, I retrieved the world's flattest angel food cake, about an inch and a half thick. While it tasted good, the texture was rubbery, and it didn't look at all like I intended.
As a result of my disaster, I was highly motivated to research the cooking term of "fold" -- very lightly and gently to stir together. Learning that definition has given me an expanded ability to cook successfully. (That day, I also learned to read to the end of the recipe before starting!)
There are occasions when education provides a simple and welcome path toward effective action. I wanted to make a cake, and a tiny bit of extra research taught me how to do it well. There are people who want to make a difference politically, but they don't know how to make a call to their representatives -- it really is simple! We all know friends and neighbors who would welcome guidance about energy conservation, recycling complicated materials, finding locally-grown foods, or safely disposing of prescription drugs. (The US National Take-Back Day is April 26, 2014.).
Providing practical information to people who are eager to increase their eco-justice engagement is a powerful form of action. Whether we're educating ourselves or others, we're empowering people who didn't know how to act, and giving them the tools to do things that they already want to do.
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Education about political participation and recycling can be quick and direct. My other personal story is of a very different ilk. Ongoing, extensive education can nurture us into entirely new perspectives about how the world works, and our place in it.
My college studies had a very strong concentration in the then-new field of environmental biology. Classroom sessions and academic reading provided the conceptual basis for hundreds of days in the lab and doing field research. The persistent combination of head and hands became transformative.
We did cutting-edge studies, tracking the way that DDT residues concentrated toward the top of the food chain, causing eggshell thinning in hawks. Hiking through the Colorado foothills with an engaging professor, the relationship between soil types and plants was unmistakable. Ornithology classes demonstrated the essential habitat required by certain species of birds, their need for migratory corridors, and the interplay of predator and prey. In course after course, we explored how plants and animals, soil and water, climate and human impacts are interconnected. It became impossible to look at a tree or a bird or a rodent as an isolated thing -- they are all parts of an interwoven web of life.
I had entered college with some awareness of natural systems, but when I finished four years later, I was thoroughly steeped in an ecological worldview. It is a perspective on the world that has been persistent. Forty years later, that ecological awareness still shapes my daily life, and it is at the core of my vocation with Eco-Justice Ministries.
Life-changing education (usually!) does not happen by watching one informative video, or sitting through an adult ed session at church, or reading a flier about an environmental issue. Immersion into a way of seeing the world, combined with vivid personal experiences of how we are part of social and natural systems, can bring about a complete transformation of values and behaviors. Providing deeply internalized learning is a form of action in itself, and it leads to long-term action by those who have been touched by it.
This meshes with what a professor of economics told me about his studies toward a doctoral degree. He reflected that his course of study was as much a socialization into a way of seeing the world economically as it was about acquiring detailed information on economic theories. In the same vein, the broad educational ministry of churches can socialize our members into the relational worldview of eco-justice and shalom.
A church community that is consistent in living out commitments to justice and peace provides that kind of socialization. Transformational education takes place when a church's recurring message -- in word and in deed -- stresses justice for immigrants and the poor, engages global issues of peace and ecology, and listens attentively to those on the margins. Year after year, church members are shaped by the routine teaching of the congregation, expressed in themes of worship, theological reflection of classes and newsletter articles, recurring acts of service, and bold public witness.
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Education can be a powerful tool for action in church and society -- but providing that form of education takes clear intention and careful planning.
Education that provides information without motivation, that simply teaches "about" something, does not lead to action. Awareness, by itself, does not bring about change. My two stories from the extremes of education both shaped the way I live. Unfortunately, I could tell many, many more stories about classes I attended that filled up my brain and did nothing to change my behavior or belief.
Take some time this week to consider education -- in the ministries of your church, and in your own lifelong learning. Notice the options that empower and transform, and look at how those can be expanded. Notice, too, the education that does not lead to action, and reflect on how to replace it with educational opportunities that do make a real difference.
Eco-Justice Ministries * 400 S Williams St, Denver, CO 80209 * 303.715.3873
Home Page: www.eco-justice.org * E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org