by Daniel Mitchell, Diocese of Ohio
The EcoJustice Immersion Experience I attended at the end of August was a retreat in Seattle, where around 20 Episcopalian young adults met with different organizations and speakers from the area. It was a glimpse into a global balancing act between meeting the world’s needs and redefining not only what those needs are, but how they are met. The conference also challenged us to consider how ecology, theology, and economy interconnect. But above all, EcoJustice struck me as a testament to the power of community. A true community, one where a group of people hold each other accountable for what they are doing and how they live their lives, can be difficult to find. And people – especially young adults – who lack a community often suffer for years, with repercussions that will affect the rest of their lives.
Last February, the Pew Research Center published a survey on the impact of the Great Recession on young adults. According to the survey, most young adults will not experience the same standard of living that their parents had when they were their children’s age. Unemployment, job insecurity, longer work weeks, and reduction in salaries have led to delays in young adults getting married, starting a family, or living independently of their parents. The pressure of finding a job, and then keeping it, makes it more difficult for young adults to become part of a meaningful community. With less time and energy, we turn to the quick fix for fleeting happiness. New electronics, unhealthy food, alcohol, meaningless sex – often, these things just alienate us further, but we pursue them because they help us forget our problems and inadequacies. Loneliness and despair have become a silent epidemic among young adults, and we struggle to find a lasting way to cope.
There’s a saying that shared joy is doubled joy, and shared sorrow is halved sorrow. This, I feel, is what a compassionate community strives to do and during EcoJustice we saw many examples of this. We visited a 23-acre community farm dedicated to providing affordable organic food to the local area. We met with one of the last members of the Duwamish Native American tribe, who has dedicated his life to restoring his tribe’s ancestral river, and an organization who lobbies for a union & better working conditions for truckers at the Seattle-Tacoma seaside port. We worshipped and shared a meal with the congregation of an eco-friendly church, and toured their innovative parish garden.
And although we were together only for a few days, I feel like the young adults at the EcoJustice Immersion Experience formed their own community. Like all the communities we’ve seen, we were united by common values – in this case, by our passion for eco-justice and our search for fellowship. Among us were teachers, theologians, scientists, mentors, and seekers, each of us with a unique set of skills and experiences. I’ve learned a lot from every EcoJustice participant, and I hope we will continue to inspire and learn from each other as we find ways to direct our passion towards what Frederick Buechner called the world’s deep hunger.
Some people, such as the Duwamish tribe or the community farm’s founder, dedicate their lives to an environmental or social cause. But what I learned from EcoJustice is that we all can do something, whether it’s a grand gesture or a simple change. We all can make a deliberate choice to take better care of our bodies, to learn how our food is raised and how it arrives to our tables, to be grounded more in compassion and less in greed, and to refuse to sacrifice the things we value just for money or social status’ sake. It’s about taking control of our lives and living according to our own terms, and along the way we will find a community filled with people who share the same vision we do. Community is the foundation, leading to a better understanding of what we are called to be and how we can become more fully alive.