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

A Little Child Shall Lead
distributed 12/21/18 - ©2018

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"... and a little child shall lead them." (Isaiah 11:6)

That snippet of scripture popped into my head as I watched a video of 15 year old Greta Thunberg speaking to the UN climate meeting in Poland. The diminutive Swedish powerhouse spoke blistering words of truth to the delegates. Earlier this year, the very young woman left school every Friday to sit outside her country's parliament, demanding climate action. Her witness sparked an international movement of school strikes for climate justice.

A little child shall lead them.

But it is not just Greta. There are the thousands of Australian students who followed Greta's lead and walked out of their classrooms to block streets and confront politicians in a "Strike 4 Climate Action." I think of the youth-led Sunrise Movement in the US that has been a driving force behind the Green New Deal initiative, staging sit-ins in legislative offices. I think of the 21 youth who are suing the US government for its policies that knowingly accelerate climate change.

In religious circles, we sometimes hear it said, "Youth are not the future of the church -- they are the church." So, too, in the urgent work for climate justice, we mustn't think of youth as waiting on the sidelines for their time to bring change. They are already leaders of this global movement. And for that, I thank God.

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Let me confess that my quote from Isaiah is completely and totally out of context. The prophet from 2,800 years ago was not predicting youngsters as political activists.

The full verse is the one that speaks about the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid goat, the calf and the lion and the fatling together. It is a dream of a transformed creation, a world of absolute peace. It hearkens back to the Genesis 1 ideal of no predation and no killing. The wolf and the leopard and the lion will graze in the fields, and a little child shall lead them to green pastures.

Isaiah voiced a hope for a world so safe that children would have nothing to fear. What we're seeing now is the exact opposite. We live in a world of such danger that children feel compelled to step into the midst of political conflict to try and secure their own future. They step up to challenge Prime Ministers and legislators and UN delegates, because, it they don't speak and act, there will not be a livable planet.

Greta's speech in Poland was only about three and a half minutes long. It is amazing to watch and hear her challenge the delegates. (The YouTube video page also has a full transcript of her words.) This is not some cute teen offering polite and heartwarming platitudes.

She tells the delegates, "You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children."

In her quiet voice, she announces,

You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.

Several news reports said that Greta "spoke truth to power." But her closing words dismissed the power of the UN conference, and re-located power among those who already know the truth.

We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again.

We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time.

We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.

A little child shall lead them.

In a time of great danger, children speak uncomfortable, inconvenient truth about the crisis. In a world that seems to have no safe future, children accept the frightening role of leadership that adults seem unwilling or unable to claim. Seeing the threats that lie ahead, children risk rebuke and scorn and arrest to bring change.

Thank God.

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As I write today in the United States, we're witnessing a political catastrophe. Large parts of the US government are about to be shut down in a budget fight about a border wall -- a wall that most experts say is unnecessary and ineffective.

With this country caught in a crisis of political paralysis, Greta's assertion that "the real power belongs to the people" seems absurd. But it is, apparently, the demands of the President's most passionate base that have made it impossible for him to back away from his campaign promises. Those people are claiming their power, and Congress is having to pay attention.

Greta said, "And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to. But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be."

The youth are teaching us that it isn't enough to "speak truth to power." Instead, we need to claim power. Youth are doing school strikes and sit-ins. When will grown-ups walk off the job, and engage in wide-spread civil disobedience? Youth are filing lawsuits against federal and state governments. How can churches and other bodies exercise their power in the legal realm? Divestment -- from fossil fuel companies, and from the banks that fund them -- is another way for individuals and institutions to use their power.

Greta, and the youth of the Sunrise Movement, and the Our Children's Trust plaintiffs show us about claiming power, and naming truth, and demanding change. We need to listen to them, and we need to amplify their voices. (The Justice for #EachGeneration initiative includes a call for youth to preach on climate. Can your church provide the space for youth to speak truth?)

A little child shall lead them? No -- a little child is leading us, right now. Children and youth are claiming power and demanding justice. Kids are facing up to danger that adults would rather ignore, and they're leading us toward change. They're calling on the rest of us -- who know the truth, who say we care about the future -- to claim power and take risk, too.

Thanks be to God.


P.S. -- for our friends in the Denver/Boulder area, check out our upcoming events. On January 6, I'll be doing a class on the IPCC climate report, and doing a 2-part sermon on hope January 13 and 20. I'd love to see you.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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