Crossing the River

We asked members of our staff to share what moves them to do justice work. This month Jim Deming, Minister for Environmental Justice, reflects on the story of Jacob and the ways in which he finds God's grace and good news in the journey for justice.

Crossing the River

As the Minister for Environmental Justice for the UCC, I am confronted every day with the catastrophic potential of climate change. I read the scientific predictions of global harm if we stay on our current trajectory of fossil fuel use and material consumption. I know that the first ones to be affected by and the least ones able to cope with climate change will be the poor and most vulnerable among us. And I wonder where in the midst of legitimate fear and worry I can find God’s grace and good news in the road ahead.

I think the Biblical story of Jacob found in Genesis 32 is relevant here for me. Jacob’s fear was to cross over to the other side of the River Jabbok and confront the danger of his brother’s revenge. In the night, he wrestled mightily with his fears and when daybreak came he was wounded, but he had named and wrestled his fears to a draw and was able to cross over the river and continue his life.

I know that the fears I have about climate change can keep me at the edge of the river, paralyzing me in the cycles of grieving for the future of ourselves, our children, and our planet. Like any other time when I have faced an emotional crisis, I have experienced the cycles of denial, anger, bargaining, and despair. But I know also that when I acknowledge my fears and bring them to the surface, they lose their power over me and I can begin to get my feet wet.

I recently asked one of my pastoral counseling friends how - having listened to so many stories of emotional distress – he keeps from being depressed about the state of the world. His reply was that he focuses on the process rather than the outcome of therapy. He says that he invests in the process of helping families and individuals do their own work and find their own strengths, so that he helps to set up the potential for change.

I know the future is uncertain. But my job is to help set up the potential for change. Along the way, I get to work with folks all over the country who are trying to make a difference, and in them I find God’s grace and good news. They may change their lifestyles by consuming less, they may organize their communities for local action, or they may call on their elected officials to change public policy. They are not always “religious,” but they are always people of faith who choose to live in hope rather than despair.

I don’t know what lies on the other side of the river, but I know that when I name my fears and add my energy with my neighbor’s energy, I can join in a process of restoration and hope that is positive and life-giving. So for me, it’s not the outcome that motivates me. It’s getting my feet wet on the journey.

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