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It Sounds Like a Whisper

On Friday, there was magic in the air and solidarity in the streets. Even though it was only in the hundreds in downtown Boulder, the day across our world was remarkable. We are a part of a global expression and now it is a critical mass, a large number of us who are engaged, who understand, who are showing up and voting and calling and praying. As one person shouted into the crowd at the end, “How does it feel to be awake?”

There are a lot of us, now enough of us that those in power are paying attention. They are enough of us willing to go public about the emergency we are in that we have clout. This Friday we showed up with signs and songs. We showed up with cycles and chants, with honks and shofars. Storytelling and signature sharing. And according to early reports, there were over 2,500 events scheduled in over 163 countries, on all seven continents. A major environmental advocacy group and a co-organizer of Friday's events, shared that more than 4 million people worldwide took part and that’s just who could show up in the middle of a work day under the heat of the sun… It was a vast and diverse, beautiful demonstration and that was just the surface of this movement…That was just what was revealed in the streets.

In this current moment of dire disconnection and cultural division, in this time of a global turn toward nativism and nationalism, such a display across planet earth is glorious, perhaps even something our children’s children will inquire ask about. God willing, maybe one day they will celebrate. Perhaps this will be, just maybe this is, the moment that could be marked as one in which, “finally the tables are starting to turn.”

We know at the very least that we haven’t been ignored, that we have been seen, that our stance in the streets has been noted. The conversation has now forever been changed. The children have demanded that we listen, that we tell the truth, that we show up…

And as I pondered what unfolded just this past weekend, it occurred to me once again that when we are in a moment of magnificence, we don’t always hear it because it sounds like a whisper. When we are a part of changing a culture or turning a tide, we don’t always know it. We don’t always see it right away because it can start so small….

Even when we are living in the midst of something incredible, a grand story, it is often not until we tell it later, that we understand fully what we heard or told or did. We don’t always get what it is we are a part of. Because what happened this weekend and what will keep happening in the weeks and months and years ahead started with what those who passed by mostly missed or mocked. And I am sure the vast majority of us would.

It wasn’t long ago. In fact, just last summer. Only weeks after I had visited this incredible site at the corner of Table Mesa and Lehigh for the first time. On August 20th, 2018, she didn’t know it, but it was the beginning, it was the whisper. It was the day when activist Greta Thunberg, at that point a ninth grader, decided to not attend school until the 2018 Sweden general election on September 9th. There had been a bout of intense heat waves and wildfires that had hit her home country of Sweden and I suspect she was simply fed up.

You may have already heard some of her story. When she talks, her face is mostly without any kind of emotiveness. She speaks only when she feels that she must. This is in part because Greta has Asperger’s Syndrome, and when she shared publicly about her diagnosis after she was criticized about how it makes her “different”, she responded that from her point of view, it was a “superpower.”

In the wake of this wildly successful demonstration, corporate media is making Greta out to be something other than a kid with a dream of a livable planet because what she is asking demands a revolution. What she is asking is for our way of life to dramatically change. What is required of us is to align our actions with our values. What the kids are showing us is that there is a disconnect between what we say we believe and how we are living. If this really is our call, if this really is our job, if this really is our time, then our loyalties must be clear. We have gotten where we are because we have worshiped the idol of unending growth. We are here because we have bowed down to the idol of a free market, where the costs to pollute and harm are hidden. It seems to me that Greta is making a similar pronouncement to the one Jesus’ made in this teaching we heard earlier. You can’t love money and get where you aim to go.

This teaching in the Gospel of Luke is one of the most challenging. Scholars, preachers, theologians and writers alike have been inspired, annoyed and perplexed by its meaning.

The main character is lazy and focused on himself. He takes shortcuts, doesn’t tell the whole truth and then Jesus praises his actions and speaks of children of the light. And if we weren’t confused enough, Jesus says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth…”

To be sure, Jesus is speaking into an economic system in which there was the rich and the poor and a large chasm in between. And he intentionally oriented his teachings toward those on the underside and the outside. So it would make sense then, that the hero, the star, the one to emulate in the end, is the one who reduces the debts of those on the edge. Yes, the manager was conniving, but another way to look at this is that within a larger structure, the manager found a way to help those who were hurting. Yes, it advanced his own cause. Yes, he was dishonest. That is often how this parable is titled. The Dishonest Manager. But if we focus on that, we might miss the point.

What if this parable is about how and whether we participate in the profitable and pervasive, oppressive structures of whatever time in which we live? What if this teaching asks us this: when it’s hard or seemingly impossible to do justice, where are your allegiances? As my colleague, the Rev. Dr. Penny Nixon wrote, “By describing this situation maybe Jesus is pointing to the harsh reality that there is no way to be honest in a system that is already excessively unjust and dishonest.”

And this frame, could point to the words of profound thinker and writer Audre Lourde who wrote, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change…”

Or put another way, be cautious about the role you inhabit and the tools you use because you might end up conforming to the very things you aimed to dismantle.

Maybe Jesus is highlighting this same idea: work around the structures that are harming and find a way to do good. Dismantling the laws and leaders causing pain means we must play a different game. As Greta said to the United Nations, “We can no longer save the planet playing by the rules because the rules have to be changed.”

We can’t love money and get where we aim to go.

We cannot love unending economic growth and claim to love the old growth forests too. We cannot claim to love the futures of our children’s children, if we carry on and do not change. People of conscience should not wait until it is profitable to do what is right… We cannot love a return on investment more than we love the coral reefs or the white snow peaks.

We can no longer serve two masters… We cannot consume our way out of this.

In a testimony on Capitol Hill Greta said, “Activism works, so what I am telling you to do now is act. Because no one is too small to make a difference.”

Nathan Robinson wrote in Current Affairs, “ the master’s tools won’t destroy his house, because they’re only his tools so long as he controls them. Once they are reclaimed, they belong to all of us. And our tools can do anything.” [1]

“You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution.” Be the Revolution! That sounds too big, too vast, too complicated. And yet, the loud sound of a global movement, in the beginning, it can sound like a whisper…


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