Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Destruction and Transformation
distributed 10/16/15 - ©2015

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Jerry Rees and Sallie Veenstra of Leawood, Kansas. Their generous support helps make this publication possible.

"The status quo is not to be criticized; it is to be destroyed."

Those revolutionary words ring true for me, especially in light of some of Eco-Justice Ministries' programs this fall.

I should explain that the incendiary quote above is from a preacher and theologian, not a violent terrorist. The larger context of the words from Peter J. Gomes, reads: "Good news to some will almost inevitably be bad news to others. ... When Jesus came preaching, it was to proclaim the end of things as they are and the breaking in of things that are to be: the status quo is not to be criticized; it is to be destroyed."

I love the decisive phrasing of Gomes' final phrases, but they might be re-cast to make them more accessible.

It is not enough to criticize the status quo, to modify it, tweak it, temper it, or adjust it. The status quo must be destroyed, replaced, or transformed.

As pastor Robin Meyers put it, the Spirit of God "awakens us to the simple but unbearable fact that the world as it is cannot possibly be the world that God intended." Meyers calls the Christian church to that work of transformation in his challenging new book, Spiritual Defiance: Building a Beloved Community of Resistance. Toward the end of the book, he writes, "So let me say it this way: If the Body of Christ has become just one more peculiar gathering of the loyal subjects of empire, singing and praying for the success of the empire, then we have no Good News to offer, just religious propaganda."

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I'm tuned to this proclamation of destruction and transformation because of many programs and projects of Eco-Justice Ministries this fall.

  • I've spent a lot of time interpreting Laudato Si', the "environmental encyclical" from Pope Francis. Six times in just over two weeks, I've led "Meet the Encyclical" workshops to entice local congregations into deeper study of this remarkable document. As I've walked folk through the encyclical's outline, I've become more and more aware that Francis has put forth a revolutionary manifesto. His ethics of "integral ecology" calls for conversion. "Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change." [202] "Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress." [194]

  • Eco-Justice Ministries has been involved in planning and publicizing the People's Climate Movement rally in Denver. The message here, and in 200 other rallies held around the US last Wednesday, was for "Climate Justice NOW" and for the overturning of systems that lead to injustice and climate chaos.

  • On a couple of occasions this fall, I've been part of congregational discussions about divestment from fossil fuels. The strategy of divestment intends to destroy the status quo -- to break the power of the fossil fuel industry, and to provide the space for dramatically different models of economic and social life to emerge.

  • Twice in the last week, I've been part of delegations to Congressional offices (a fairly rare thing for me). I brought a faith perspective to meetings with Denver's US Representative about campaign finance reform, and with the regional director for Colorado's junior Senator about methane emission rules and climate change. They were worthwhile sessions, but it was abundantly clear that the best that can be achieved in those settings is a criticism or a tweaking of the status quo. Legislation will not do much for "the breaking in of things that are to be" and the dismantling of empire.

This fall, as always, Eco-Justice Ministries has been preaching and teaching about the Good News of a just and sustainable world. That calls for acknowledging the deep crises around us, and lifting up the hopeful vision that a dramatically different way of being is both possible and desirable. Yes, we've been about destruction and transformation.

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A big challenge in acts of transformation and resistance is sorting out where the status quo has to be destroyed, replaced with something new, and where "the way things are" embodies good and worthwhile practices. Because the real calling is not just to destroy; it is participate in the "breaking in of things that are to be," and that often will include reinforcing the best of what is around us.

Today is World Food Day. So it is appropriate to highlight an example of destroying and transforming the status quo from the realm of agriculture.

A few weeks ago, I was given a copy of a brand-new magazine, Local Food Shift. The cover story of the first issue is "The Hub of the Revolution". The revolution has to do with the emergence of "food hubs" which provide locally-grown food to local sources in ways that are more organized than farmers' markets. "Perhaps the local food revolution in Colorado will one day revolve around dozens of hubs ... all of them working cooperatively to bolster the health of the soil, to steward water resources and strengthen communities, and to provide all citizens access to healthful, affordable food."

A companion article, "Toward a Local Food Revolution", asserts, "There comes a time for declaring that all this is unacceptable, a time for determining to withdraw from the current food system and to build something new to regain our food security and food sovereignty. There comes a time for our people to become self-reliant, to meet our own essential needs locally, beginning with food. That time is now."

Destroying the status quo of industrial agriculture is an act of creativity and a labor of love that will take place in community after community. It is one example of how we can do far more that critique and tweak systems of exploitation and destruction. It is one example of how we -- in our communities and congregations -- can participate in the in-breaking of God's justice.

As Peter Gomes said, "Good news to some will almost inevitably be bad news to others." Our calling is not to be nice and non-controversial. Our calling is to proclaim and embody Good News.

May we be bold in that faithful work of creative destruction and joyous transformation.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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