Power of Partnerships
Sitting with theologian and social activist Ron Sider nearly 10 years ago in Philadelphia, he told me what brought real transformation. And what he told me proved true.
> Old HABIT: Expecting personal habits or institutions alone to change the world <
Transformation doesn't just come from a few people deciding to do things differently as we engage more deeply in reducing the amount of waste we individually produce. My not using plastic bags is not going to produce the kind of radical overhaul necessary to slow the scourge of climate change. But I've also found that systems to be indifferent to pressures from religious and faith traditions. Strong, relevant beliefs and ideas about God alone won't sustain transformation in my own heart let alone the United States however rich they might be. And as has been proven over and over again, the government falls far too short of the justice and reconciliation needed for environmental stewardship. If the Paris Agreement can be undone or unenforced in light of all we know about the proven and possible impacts of humans on the planet, our future is quite bleak.
Why This Matters
However, when it is a concert of these three working together for the good of all people that systemic changes (government) come as a result of interested and affected parties (small groups) living out a generous and sacrificial ethic not because it's easy but because it is right (faith traditions).
There has never been a time when people on this planet weren't organizing to pressure those with resources better steward what they have been given. What is happening in Standing Rock - the exploitation and the resistance – is not new nor is it a one-off. We have seen alliances of corporations and government for their benefit – whether it is Ford Motor Company and the government in Detroit to make better cars or to water golf courses at the expense of the poor in Flint; or it is John McCain signing over the Apache lands over to Rio Tinto to exploit their lands to mine copper in exchange for campaign dollars.
Indigenous/Native American Tribes, small and large groups of environmental organizations press for changes constantly as do faith traditions at varying degrees here in the United States. And sometimes this symphony of desires for better stewardship turn into music that sparks a systemic change. I believe that this is what happened in San Francisco when they banned water bottles under 21oz and what needs to happen for NYC to ban styrofoam, plastic grocery bags and go zerowaste as well.
<New HABIT: Partnering to make changes at the personal, group, & institution levels>
Unless I am willing to find, purchase and use grocery bags, mason jars, Tupperware and mobile cutlery it is difficult for me to convince others to do so. Quite simply, I have to practice what I preach. And, sadly many of us who claim to love the environment and want to fight climate change aren't willing to make the personal lifestyle adjustments required to have integrity. I am guilty of using plastic bags, cutlery, and one-time use containers this week! I need to have conversations with my friends and family and be willing to change my habits when I visit restaurants to reduce my waste.
And, the reason I decide to sacrifice the time, talent and resources necessary to integrate these practices into my life is that I am driven by the foundational belief that I am not a consumer, but a steward. This faith tells me that even though it costs more time, money and energy to live as a steward, it is worth it!
Lastly, because I see the benefits in my household and relationships, and am willing to sacrifice because of my faith to bring about the change I wish to see, then I will engage the political system with audacious hope and prophetic imagination.
There don't have to be millions of plastic particles in the waters around NYC. Women and men who eat seafood don't need to ingest 10K pieces of plastic per year. I can be a part of the solution, rooted in values that transcend my fears and press me into advocacy, action and sustainable systemic transformation grounded in personal experience and corporate testimony. I hope that you too will adopt new habits that put the planet and others first that we might be a people oriented around loving sacrifice not comfort and convenience. And that you move from a month of Zero Waste to a less wasteful way of life.
Written by Jonathan Walton