Planting seeds one day at a time: a recap of the Eco-faith Youth Project
As I look back at the experience of the Eco-faith Youth Project, I’ve been thinking about planting seeds. In my first vision of the project, I imagined a powerful experience that included youth leadership development and a concrete plan to move forward as a group in some response to our global economic and environmental crisis. It’s not to say that this didn’t happen, because I believe it did and it will continue to unfold. It’s just that I remembered, as we reached the end of the week, that this experience may be more about planting seeds than about some concrete action that we all come to together. This was a week of exploration, imagination, and igniting an interest in some of the most important topics of our time. I know that whatever the youth took from this was exactly what they needed and the seeds that were planted will grow in their right time and place. So it is with great pleasure that I share with you just a few of those seeds and offer a recap of our activities together by day.
Day 1: Coming together and an overview of our environmental crisis
In our first day, we naturally started the morning with some fun activities and got to know one another a bit, beginning with the classic “two truths and a lie.” After some good laughs, we dove right into some videos, which began to outline the environmental and social challenges that face our world, particularly focusing on the Millennials as a generation of youth. We learned about Bill McKibben’s important numbers, which explain that our planet’s temperature is rising rapidly due to carbon emissions and will pass an important tipping point within 15 years. This was what seemed to really stay with us the most and wake us up to the fact that this is happening now and that we will be dealing with this in our lifetimes. As we shifted to the afternoon, we took a trip to Punch Bowl Falls along Eagle Creek in the Gorge, which was a wonderful way to connect with nature and let some of what we learned settle in.
Day 2: Water
We started our second day with some videos and conversation about our relationship to water, asking the questions, “how do I relate to water? Do we take water for granted? What’s my relationship to the Willamette River, right in my city? We then traveled to SW Portland to go Kayaking on the Willamette River together. After an hour or so of paddling around Ross Island, we ate our lunches and headed up to the University of Portland for the River’s Lament, led by Solveig Nilsen-Goodin, Trista Jolly, and Ruth Nickodemous. The River’s Lament is a powerful experience of interactive story telling of the Willamette River, relating to the river as a living being, learning about the pollution and toxins that now pervade our river. We ended our time with some deep searching and reflection about how this could happen in our city.
Day 3: Connections with social and economic justice
Our third day was our fullest day. It started with a visit from a group from the Western Farm Workers Association, based in Hillsboro. We heard from an organizer and migrant worker herself about the lives of migrant workers and how this group is working to organize for justice, to make sure everyone has their basic needs met. To do that, they believe, we need people from all walks of life to support this bottom-up approach. We then traveled to the Day Labor Center on NE MLK run by a non-profit called VOZ. There we learned about how day laborers organized to make sure everyone was getting paid and getting a living wage. We heard stories from folks mostly from Latin America about why they came to the US and how they are treated here. In the afternoon, we finished with an economic focus by having some speakers come and talk to us about credit unions and micro financing, ways that we could use our money to support our community.
Day 4: Farming and Values
Day four was an early day, starting the day volunteering on Sauvie Island at Food Works, a youth run farm just on the beginning of the Island. We met about 10 other high school volunteer youth from different schools around Portland, who led us in harvesting lettuce, cabbage, zucchini, carrots, and many other kinds of produce. In the afternoon, we went back to Central to talk about biblical values and how what we experienced in the week related to what we valued. We finished the day with some good, solid exercise by playing ultimate Frisbee together.
Day 5: Cosmic Story and Calling
We began the morning by inviting Ruth Nickodemous back to lead us in the Cosmic Story, an interactive story of the universe told from a scientific perspective, yet still ritualized and make sacred through its telling. After this awe inspiring origin story, we traveled to a cabin on the coast near Cape Mears, where we spend the last of our week together. After the first couple hours of time on the beach (filled with ultimate Frisbee and swimming), we headed back to the cabin for some creative activity. We talked about the Thomas Berry’s idea of the Great Work, that the world’s great work right now is to learn how to live in mutually beneficial relationship with the Earth. Each of the youth then made a collage of how they saw their piece of the Great Work. Our evening ended with a fire and some game time together.
Day 6: Reflection
After we packed up all our things in the morning, we gathered for one last reflection together. We talked about what the week had meant to us and what we would take with us from the week. Our time together was complete, seeds planted and ready to sprout at the right time.