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Swords into Plowshares is the blog of the Peacemaking Program and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations of the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

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May 6, 2013

A New Method of Healing for a Wounded World

By Teo Ufford-Chase

On May 1, I attended another event on climate change and the environment entitled Aphrodite and the Landfill. The event was co-sponsored by several organizations, most notably the Temple of Understanding and the Committee of Religious NGOs at the UN. The speaker for the event was a woman named Trebbe Johnson, the founder of the organization Radical Joy for Hard Times. When I arrived at the event, I had certain expectations put in place by the first event I had attended on climate change about small island states. This event completely defied those expectations. I didn't know that two events could be so dissimilar in content and still be speaking to the same issue.

Ms. Johnson opened the event by giving us a picture of a wounded place. A wounded place could be anything from a toxic oil spill to the burned out house next door. When someplace we love is wounded by a disaster, be it manmade or natural, we have an instinctual gut response of grief. But how do we respond to that grief? That was the question that Ms. Johnson wanted us to consider.

She started by giving us a detailed explanation of the five basic assumptions that we make that inhibit our response to the pain of nature. They are as follows:

  1. "You can't cry for pelican" Sometimes as a society we feel that it is taboo to show grief over the pain of nature.
  2. "It is bad. It is getting worse. It is our fault." There are many activists trying to get us to take notice of the environment. One strategy they use is "Scare, Blame, and Rally". First they attempt to scare you with disheartening facts and figures. Then they make the point very clearly that you share responsibility for what happens in the environment. As a last small add on, they give you a few actions you can take to atone for the damage that you have already caused.
  3. Environmentally damaged places become tabooed. You don't go near them anymore. They are bad. Then something interesting happens: Biophilia- human beings have an innately emotional sympathy with all life. This can be developed through use or degraded through disuse. Are the wounded places off on the side forgotten? Or are they still part of a community?
  4. The Environment is an area. Often we define the environment as a place that we visit. This is a fallacy. The truth is that the environment is all around us, be it city or wilderness, and every action we take has an effect upon it.
  5. "Despite all the efforts of activists, the natural world keeps being deeply wounded. We are fighting a losing battle." People become pessimists instead of activists. They think that they lack skills and motivation and bravery.

Ms. Johnson described these assumptions to make the point that we need a new kind of activism. She argued that we need activism more focused on the present. We need an activism that is portable that can be done anywhere. We need an activism that is beautiful, playful, and fun. We need an activism that is good for the earth.

Speaking passionately about this new kind of activism, Ms. Johnson told the group about a radical new movement that she had helped to start called the Earth Exchange. She explained that the Earth Exchange was founded to give everyone a method and guide to renewing their connections to the Earth. The Earth Exchange methodology consists of four easy steps:

  1. Go with friends to a wounded place. There is something empowering about visiting these places and rediscovering personal connections to the place.
  2. Tell stories about personal experiences with the place. Telling stories is the time of personal connection and serves to create a collective story about the place within the group.  This would be a good time to speak some about the history of the place, learning about the past to better recognize the distress of the present. This is also time for grieving about what was lost.
  3. Spend some time getting to know the place as it is now. This could take up to half an hour. The discoveries that can occur just by experiencing an environment are always very surprising. Try to recognize the resilience of nature in the place. Compassion for the wounds of the environment is often evidenced during this time.
  4. Make a simple act of beauty at the place out of materials already present within the environment. The place already has all of the elements needed to make the place beautiful. This is the point where the healing and transformation of the place is begun in some small way.

After elucidating the concept of Earth Exchange, Ms. Johnson told several empowering stories of the small acts that people did through participation in an earth exchange event. She told a story about a woman who worked in a hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel. The woman worked in a treatment ward completely sterile and devoid of fauna. She saw the absence of green and growing life in the recovery process of the patients as a problem, so as her Earth Exchange, she constructed hanging mobiles of plants that she hung from the roof of the hospital to drape across the window panes of the patients.

I think that this story illuminates the concept that Ms. Johnson was trying to communicate beautifully. One woman, acting alone, without too much effort, was able to reconnect with the environment around her and make a difference in the lives of the patients at the hospital at the same time. This is how the new brand of activism that Ms. Johnson is envisioning begins. Not with some great act with large impact, but instead with many little acts all across the world.

Ms. Johnson concluded her lecture by inviting those gathered to participate in Earth Exchange Day this year on June 22 when people everywhere complete small Earth Exchange programs. Now I extend her invitation to you. I invite you dear reader to participate in an act of Earth Exchange, be it by yourself or with a friend or with a group. No matter how small, everyone can make a difference. I agree with Ms. Johnson, maybe if we can all just take time out of our busy lives to realize how precious the Earth that we live on is, perhaps we will be inspired to take larger action on the seemingly insurmountable issues like Climate Change and Environmental Protection.

Categories: Environment

Tags: committee of religious ngos at the un, temple of understanding


  1. Thanks Greg. Evangelism and justice are inseparable. We invite people into relationship with Jesus so they will worship God and care for God's creation. By caring for God's creation, we proclaim the Good News. Both types of activism are needed. Thanks for the reminder.

    by Mark Koenig

    PC(USA) Staff

    May 13, 2013

  2. I think if we spent half as much time in the Word and in the work of saving souls, and worshiping God rather than a misdirected, dare I say, "secular" worship of earth and nature, which by the way, is under God's care and sovereign control, then we really could make a difference. Now that would be a "new kind of activism".

    by Greg Kateff, St. Timothy Presbyterian Church,MI

    May 11, 2013

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