The Common Good

When the Earth Shakes

Sojomail - August 25, 2011


"I don't think of it as stealing. These things were planted by a person who was going to harvest them. That person no longer has the ability to. It's not like the bank people who sit in their offices are going to come out here and pick figs."

-- Kelly Callahan, Atlanta, on why she forages for fruits and vegetables in the yards of her neighborhood’s vacant properties
(Source: New York Times)

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When the Earth Shakes

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It was over in less than a minute. Three miles below the surface of the earth near a town in Virginia named Mineral, a fault line shifted. As a result, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake was felt from Georgia to New England and as far west as Detroit. The National Cathedral lost several stone spires, the Washington Monument cracked, and Sojourners' office was closed for the afternoon, as our building was checked for structural damage.

Tectonic plates move beneath our feet in the part of the globe that scientists refer to as the lithosphere. Over the course of a year, an average plate will move as little as 3 to 6 centimeters. The speed of their movement is 10,000 times slower than the hour hand on a clock and even slower than the rate of growth of human hair. For decades, sometimes centuries or millennia, a plate's movement might go almost entirely unnoticed. Then, in less than a minute, the world shakes and everything changes.

Over the past few weeks Sojourners' director of mobilizing, Lisa Sharon Harper, has written about social movements for the God's Politics blog. In the midst of what she referred to as our national "dark night of the soul," it can be difficult to see "movement" or feel any hope. Yet, there is still faith and even evidence of things yet unseen. Today, in the Sojourners office we are seeing some of that evidence.

From across the country, over 25 grassroots leaders have come together to learn, pray, train, and plan for movement. Our Mobilizing Summit has brought together a diverse group of leaders who are serving their local communities, while at the same time advocating for the structural change needed for social justice. While sometimes unseen, their work is moving us toward social and political change, centimeter by centimeter. By faith, we believe that this work will bear fruit, and that one day the earth will shake, and, in a moment, the world will change.

Sometimes, our focus is all on the moments when the earth shakes, and we forget about the long, slow movements that get us to these points. It's not always clear that our down payments on the kingdom of God are yielding an immediate return. Even though we are called to be faithful to God's call every day, we do not see results every day.

As Christians, we live in the tension between wanting to respond to the pressing needs of today and wanting to take the long-term view needed to build for the future. It's distressing to see politicians today cut funding for grants that fight human trafficking internationally by almost 24 percent and domestic funding by around 22 percent, while they put their energy and effort behind protecting corporate subsidies and tax loopholes and breaks for the wealthy. This year, these decisions are being made, and as a result of the priorities of our political leaders, women and children who could have been set free, will remain enslaved.

But we also know that on Christian college campuses across the country, students are joining the "Not for Sale" campaign, or joining their local International Justice Mission chapter. While these students may not be setting the priorities of our country today, the choices they make now will result in different priorities in the future. The choice to cast their lot in with the oppressed and the weak, not the rich and powerful, will change their character for a lifetime. It is hard for me to imagine many members of this generation arguing that the preservation of tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans is more important than a national commitment to ending human trafficking.

Every time we take a step to follow Jesus, we become more like him. The changes in our personal or national character may not always be immediately evident. As we find and connect with others who are on this same journey of transformation, we know that we are moving the earth, centimeter by centimeter. As we pray for God's kingdom to come, and God's will to be done, we wait again for the day that the ground will shake and everything will change.

Tim King is communications director at Sojourners. Follow Tim on Twitter @TMKing.

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