Example #11 Words and Actions

What if picking up litter brought words and actions into line?

Elizabeth wanted to raise her students’ awareness of their responsibility to the environment. They accepted responsibility in the abstract but it did not seem to change their behaviour. She decided to set up a situation that enabled them to bring words and actions into line and accept positive criticism of present behaviour.

"I deliberately dropped litter all round the classroom before the students came in. They sat down and did not seem to notice the cartons and biscuit wrappers scattered around their desks. I led an abstract discussion about our responsibility to care for the environment during which they all agreed that it was wrong to drop litter. I then asked whether they would pick up someone else’s rubbish and throw it in the bin? I got a mixed reaction but some said they would. I then gently pointed out the rubbish at their feet.
'What about that?' I asked.
"I could see that some were clearly embarrassed. We might say we will pick up other people’s rubbish but seldom do. We talked about what we could do, and I realised from the discussion that I needed to make grab sticks and gloves more obviously available. I found that I, too, had to be willing to take criticism."

What's going on here?

Elizabeth saw her lesson on the environment in a new way; for her it was a way of helping students bring their words and actions into line, taking responsibility for their actions and reflecting on their degree of attentiveness to their environment.
She engaged students in experiencing dissonance (talking about environmental responsibility in a littered room) in order to evoke a more personal response from students. Elizabeth also created a 'learning from' situation, not just learning about.
She reshaped her practice by using the classroom environment and choice of questions to create a particular atmosphere (deliberate unease).
How do I do this myself? (Primary) How do I do this myself? (Secondary)

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Faith without actions is dead. Being gently prompted to see when behaviour does not match faith or values helps us to reflect on when our beliefs are a cover for inaction, and when they have integrity. Realising our responsibilities to each other and practising putting beliefs into action allows us to grow in love towards the world and towards each other. Criticism itself, done in the right way, can be an act of love.

What difference does it make?

Many students grow up in a very individualistic culture where they don’t feel responsible for the actions of others. Questioning this assumption and helping students to see its force in their own lives is difficult to achieve, but an activity like this helps to make visible our very self-centred lens on the world and pushes us to consider others. It could help the class grow together if they accept the criticism and feel able to make suggestions that involve the staff as well so that the relationship is not one way.

Where could we go from here?

Students today are often very engaged with questions about the environment and issues of fair trade and environmental sustainability, and it is a good topic to connect to the life of faith and the radical choices it requires us to make in order for whole communities to flourish. Websites of Christian aid organisations such as Tearfund and CAFOD have some good activities to encourage empathy and illustrate, in concrete terms, the consequences of our decisions for communities in other countries.

Digging deeper

Many modern societies tend to stress the individual: individual decisions, lifestyles, tastes. Although this has brought a certain type of freedom, it can lead to loneliness and a lack of connection with others and the environment. A lack of a sense of belonging to communities and a lack of sense of place make it difficult to make choices with others and the world in mind. Christian community is based on all being one in Christ and expressing that oneness in a caring lifestyle (Romans 12:9-10), which means translating beliefs and attitudes into choices and actions. Within a Christian community criticism can be gently given and taken (along with encouragement) in order to grow.
The way we respond to criticism pretty much depends on the way we respond to praise. If praise humbles us, then criticism will build us up. But if praise inflates us, then criticism will crush us; and both responses lead to our defeat. Warren Wiersbe
The Bible calls people to serve their wider communities and work for their well-being (Jeremiah 29:7): this includes care for the environment. In Genesis, God describes the world as ‘very good’ and entrusts the world to people as care-takers. People were given rule over the earth in the sense of bringing creative order and exercising responsibility. Care for the earth is a charge on Christian communities, not just individuals, for the land is on loan, it belongs to God. The Bible has guidelines on the environment, from caring for birds’ nests to protecting fruit trees in times of war (Numbers 35:33-34; Deuteronomy 20:19; Deuteronomy 22:6). These guidelines preserved the environment for future generations.
… most of environmental ethics and sustainable development policy could be based precisely on the viewpoint of the guest. Just think of what you would and wouldn’t do as a guest in someone else’s home. How much would you eat from their table — even if you felt it were a banquet laid for you? Would you chop up the furniture for kindling? Kill the pets? Deny other guests their share of the host’s bounty? Whether we base this sensibility on belief in God or not — we are indeed guests, here for a twinkling in the cosmic long haul. We continue acting as the haughty master of the house at our peril. Jeremy Benstein from The People & the Book quoted in The Jerusalem Report, October 7, 2002.

Explore similar examples:

What if an environmental unit reflected ‘Our world’ as ‘God’s world’?
What if history were about making a difference?
What if failures were seen as opportunities to serve?
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1Dear friends, God is good. So I beg you to offer your bodies to him as a living sacrifice, pure and pleasing. That's the most sensible way to serve God. 2Don't be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him. 3I realize how kind God has been to me, and so I tell each of you not to think you are better than you really are. Use good sense and measure yourself by the amount of faith that God has given you. 4A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use. 5That's how it is with us. There are many of us, but we are each part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another. 6God has also given each of us different gifts to use. If we can prophesy, we should do it according to the amount of faith we have. 7If we can serve others, we should serve. If we can teach, we should teach. 8If we can encourage others, we should encourage them. If we can give, we should be generous. If we are leaders, we should do our best. If we are good to others, we should do it cheerfully. Rules for Christian living 9Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. 10Love each other as brothers and sisters and honour others more than you do yourself. 11Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. 12Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying. 13Take care of God's needy people and welcome strangers into your home. 14Ask God to bless everyone who ill-treats you. Ask him to bless them and not to curse them. 15When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad. 16Be friendly with everyone. Don't be proud and feel that you are cleverer than others. Make friends with ordinary people. 17Don't ill-treat someone who has ill-treated you. But try to earn the respect of others, 18and do your best to live at peace with everyone. 19Dear friends, don't try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, I am the one to take revenge and pay them back. 20The Scriptures also say, If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. And if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. This will be the same as piling burning coals on their heads. 21Don't let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good. Obey rulers
1I had been left in Jerusalem when King Nebuchadnezzar took many of the people of Jerusalem and Judah to Babylonia as prisoners, including King Jehoiachin, his mother, his officials, and the metal workers and others in Jerusalem who were skilled in making things. So I wrote a letter to the prophets, the priests, the leaders, and the rest of our people in Babylonia. 3I gave the letter to Elasah and Gemariah, two men that King Zedekiah of Judah was sending to Babylon to talk with Nebuchadnezzar. In the letter, I wrote 4that the Lord All-Powerful, the God of Israel, had said: I had you taken from Jerusalem to Babylonia. Now I tell you 5to settle there and build houses. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. 6Get married and have children, then help your sons find wives and help your daughters find husbands, so they can have children as well. I want your numbers to grow, not to get smaller. 7Pray for peace in Babylonia and work hard to make it prosperous. The more successful that nation is, the better off you will be. 8Some of your people there in Babylonia are fortune-tellers, and you have asked them to tell you what will happen in the future. But they will only lead you astray. And don't let the prophets fool you, either. They speak in my name, but they are liars. I have not spoken to them. 10After Babylonia has been the strongest nation for seventy years, I will be kind and bring you back to Jerusalem, just as I have promised. 11I will bless you with a future filled with hopea future of success, not of suffering. 12You will turn back to me and ask for help, and I will answer your prayers. 13You will worship me with all your heart, and I will be with you 14and accept your worship. Then I will gather you from all the nations where I scattered you, and you will return to Jerusalem. 15You feel secure, because you think I have sent prophets to speak for me in Babylonia. 16But I have been sending prophets to the people of Judah for a long time, and the king from David's family and the people who are left in Jerusalem and Judah still don't obey me. So I, the Lord All-Powerful, will keep attacking them with war and hunger and disease, until they are as useless as rotten figs. I will force them to leave the land, and all nations will be disgusted and shocked at what happens to them. The nations will sneer and make fun of them and use the names Judah and Jerusalem as curse words. And you have not obeyed me, even though 20I had you taken from Jerusalem to Babylonia. But you had better listen to me now. 21You think Ahab son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah are prophets because they claim to speak for me. But they are lying! I haven't told them anything. They are also committing other horrible sins in your community, such as sleeping with the wives of their friends. So I will hand them over to King Nebuchadnezzar, who will put them to death while the rest of you watch. And in the future, when you want to put a curse on someone, you will say, I pray that the Lord will kill you in the same way the king of Babylonia burnt Zedekiah and Ahab to death! A message for Shemaiah 24The Lord All-Powerful, the God of Israel, told me what would happen to Shemaiah, who was one of our people in Babylonia. After my letter reached Babylonia, Shemaiah wrote letters to the people of Jerusalem, including the priest Zephaniah son of Maaseiah, and the other priests. The letter to Zephaniah said: 26After the death of Jehoiada the priest, the Lord chose you to be the priest in charge of the temple security force. You know that anyone who acts mad and pretends to be a prophet should be arrested and put in chains and iron collars. 27Jeremiah from the town of Anathoth is pretending to be a prophet there in Jerusalem, so why haven't you punished him? 28He even wrote a letter to the people here in Babylonia, saying we would be here a long time. He told us to build homes and to plant gardens and grow our own food. 29When Zephaniah received Shemaiah's letter, he read it to me. 30Then the Lord told me what to write in a second letter 31to the people of Judah who had been taken to Babylonia. In this letter, I wrote that the Lord had said: I, the Lord , have not chosen Shemaiah to be one of my prophets, and he has misled you by telling lies in my name. 32He has even talked you into disobeying me. So I will punish Shemaiah. He and his descendants won't live to see the good things I will do for my people. I, the Lord , have spoken. The Lord will rescue Israel and Judah
1While the people of Israel were still camped in the lowlands of Moab across the River Jordan from Jericho, the Lord told Moses 2to say to them: When you receive your tribal lands, you must give towns and pastures to the Levi tribe. 3That way, the Levites will have towns to live in and pastures for their animals. 4The pasture around each of these towns must be in the shape of a square, with the town itself in the centre. The pasture is to measure nine hundred metres on each side, with four hundred and fifty metres of land outside each of the town walls. This will be the Levites' pasture land. 6Six of the towns you give them will be Safe Towns where a person who has accidentally killed someone can run for protection. But you will also give the Levites forty-two other towns, 7so they will have a total of forty-eight towns with their surrounding pastures. 8Since the towns for the Levites must come from Israel's own tribal lands, the larger tribes will give more towns than the smaller ones. The Safe Towns (Deuteronomy 19.1-13; Joshua 20.1-9) 9The Lord then told Moses 10to tell the people of Israel: After you have crossed the River Jordan and are settled in Canaan, 11choose Safe Towns, where a person who has accidentally killed someone can run for protection. 12If the victim's relatives think it was murder, they might try to take revenge. Anyone accused of murder can run to one of these Safe Towns for protection and not be killed before a trial is held. 13There are to be six of these Safe Towns, 14three on each side of the River Jordan. 15They will be places of protection for anyone who lives in Israel and accidentally kills someone. Laws about murder and accidental killing The Lord said: 16Suppose you hit someone with a piece of iron or a large stone or a dangerous wooden tool. If that person dies, then you are a murderer and must be put to death 19by one of the victim's relatives. He will take revenge for his relative's death as soon as he finds you. 20Or suppose you get angry and kill someone by pushing or hitting or by throwing something. You are a murderer and must be put to death by one of the victim's relatives. 22But if you are not angry and accidentally kill someone in any of these ways, the townspeople must hold a trial and decide if you are guilty. 25If they decide that you are innocent, you will be protected from the victim's relative and sent to stay in one of the Safe Towns until the high priest dies. 26But if you ever leave the Safe Town 27and are killed by the victim's relative, he cannot be punished for killing you. 28You must stay inside the town until the high priest dies; only then can you go back home. 29The community of Israel must always obey these laws. 30Death is the penalty for murder. But no one accused of murder can be put to death unless there are at least two witnesses to the crime. 31You cannot give someone money to escape the death penalty; you must pay with your own life! 32And if you have been proved innocent of murder and are living in a Safe Town, you cannot pay to go back home; you must stay there until the high priest dies. 33I, the Lord , live among you people of Israel, so your land must be kept pure. But when a murder takes place, blood pollutes the land, and it becomes unclean. If that happens, the murderer must be put to death, so the land will be clean again. Keep murder out of Israel! The laws about married women and land
1If you have to go to war, you may find yourselves facing an enemy army that is bigger than yours and that has horses and chariots. But don't be afraid! The Lord your God rescued you from Egypt, and he will help you fight. 2Before you march into battle, a priest will go to the front of the army 3and say, Soldiers of Israel, listen to me! Today when you go into battle, don't be afraid of the enemy, and when you see them, don't panic. 4The Lord your God will fight beside you and help you win the battle. 5Then the tribal officials will say to the troops: If any of you have built a new house, but haven't yet moved in, you may go home. It isn't right for you to die in battle and for somebody else to live in your new house. 6If any of you have planted a vineyard but haven't had your first grape harvest, you may go home. It isn't right for you to die in battle and for somebody else to enjoy your grapes. 7If any of you are engaged to be married, you may go back home and get married. It isn't right for you to die in battle and for somebody else to marry the woman you are engaged to. 8Finally, if any of you are afraid, you may go home. We don't want you to discourage the other soldiers. 9When the officials have finished giving these orders, they will appoint officers to be in command of the army. 10Before you attack a town that is far from your land, offer peace to the people who live there. If they surrender and open their town gates, they will become your slaves. But if they reject your offer of peace and try to fight, surround their town and attack. Then, after the Lord helps you capture it, kill all the men. Take the women and children as slaves and keep the livestock and everything else of value. 16Whenever you capture towns in the land the Lord your God is giving you, be sure to kill all the people and animals. 17He has commanded you to completely wipe out the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 18If you allow them to live, they will persuade you to worship their disgusting gods, and you will be unfaithful to the Lord . 19When you are attacking a town, don't chop down its fruit trees, not even if you have had the town surrounded for a long time. Fruit trees aren't your enemies, and they produce food that you can eat, so don't cut them down. 20You may need wood to make ladders and towers to help you get over the walls and capture the town. But use only trees that you know are not fruit trees. Unsolved murder Moses said to Israel:
1If you see a cow or sheep wandering around lost, take the animal back to its owner. 2If the owner lives too far away, or if you don't know who the owner is, take the animal home with you and take care of it. The owner will come looking for the animal, and then you can give it back. 3That's what you should do if you find anything that belongs to someone else. Do whatever you can to help, whether you find a cow or sheep or donkey or some clothing. 4Oxen and donkeys that carry heavy loads can stumble and fall, and be unable to get up by themselves. So as you walk along the road, help anyone who is trying to get an ox or donkey back on its feet. Don't pretend to be the opposite sex Moses said to Israel: 5Women must not pretend to be men, and men must not pretend to be women. The Lord your God is disgusted with people who do that. Don't take a mother bird Moses said to Israel: 6As you walk along the road, you might see a bird's nest in a tree or on the ground. If the mother bird is in the nest with either her eggs or her baby birds, you are allowed to take the baby birds or the eggs, but not the mother bird. Let her go free, and the Lord will bless you with a long and successful life. Put a wall around your flat roof 8If you build a house, make sure to put a low wall around the edge of the flat roof. Then if someone falls off the roof and is killed, it won't be your fault. Laws against mixing different things Moses said to Israel: 9If you plant a vineyard, don't plant any other fruit tree or crop in it. If you do plant something else there, you must bring to the place of worship everything you harvest from the vineyard. 10Don't hitch an ox and a donkey to your plough at the same time. 11When you weave cloth for clothing, you can use thread made of flax or wool, but not both together. 12And when you make a coat, sew a tassel on each of the four corners. When a husband accuses his wife Moses said to Israel: 13Suppose a man starts hating his wife soon after they are married. 14He might tell ugly lies about her, and say, I married this woman, but when we slept together, I found out she wasn't a virgin. 15If this happens, the bride's father and mother must go to the town gate to show the town leaders the proof that the woman was a virgin. 16Her father will say, I let my daughter marry this man, but he started hating her 17and accusing her of not being a virgin. But he is wrong, because here is proof that she was a virgin! Then the bride's parents will show them the bed sheet from the woman's wedding night. 18The town leaders will beat the man with a whip 19because he accused his bride of not being a virgin. He will have to pay her father one hundred pieces of silver and will never be allowed to divorce her. 20But if the man was right and there is no proof that his bride was a virgin, 21the men of the town will take the woman to the door of her father's house and stone her to death. This woman brought evil into your community by sleeping with someone before she got married, and you must get rid of that evil by killing her. Laws about illegal sex Moses said: 22People of Israel, if a man is caught having sex with someone else's wife, you must put them both to death. That way, you will get rid of the evil they have done in Israel. 23If a man is caught in town having sex with an engaged woman who isn't screaming for help, they both must be put to death. The man is guilty of having sex with a married woman. And the woman is guilty because she didn't call for help, even though she was inside a town and people were nearby. Take them both to the town gate and stone them to death. You must get rid of the evil they brought into your community. 25If an engaged woman is raped out in the country, only the man will be put to death. 26Do not punish the woman at all; she has done nothing wrong, and certainly nothing deserving death. This crime is like murder, 27because the woman was alone out in the country when the man attacked her. She screamed, but there was no one to help her. 28Suppose a woman isn't engaged to be married, and a man talks her into sleeping with him. If they are caught, 29they will be forced to get married. He must give her father fifty pieces of silver as a bride price and can never divorce her. 30A man must not marry a woman who was married to his father. This would be a disgrace to his father. Who cannot become one of the Lord 's people Moses said to Israel: