11 September 2014
Rhythms of justice
Lucy Cooper chats to Katherine Maxwell-Cook, editor of online collective Rhythms.org, on encouraging the emerging generation to connect lifestyle with biblical action…
With a 10-year background in drama and the arts, Katherine landed her perfect job, commissioning young writers and editing content for Rhythms. "For a long time I had been trying to bring together different strands of my life," says Katherine. "I love dreaming up accessible and interesting ways to engage young people with a Christian response to poverty and injustice.It perfectly combined my skills with my passion for justice and community, having been living in community on an estate in Islington."
As part of Tearfund, the Rhythms community encourages young adults to think about how everyday UK lifestyle choices impact others. Online posts and offline events enable students and young adults to relate to community, social action, injustice, conflict or poverty in our globally-connected world. "If you take an action for 30 days it becomes a habit, a way of life and a rhythm. It starts with making a proactive choice and then can become more natural," Katherine explains.
"First it's about opening our eyes to notice what is around us. Homelessness is poverty in your face, so we might share questions and thoughts like…How do I talk to the homeless? Do I give them money or food? Is there a better way? Some young people return from overseas placements deciding they don't want to be the same as before, and others have a vision for political lobbying."
By nature, the millennial generation doesn't need convincing that climate change is an issue. It's been taught, accepted and they want to know what can be done. Older generations may have been inspired by elders or experts but millennials are influenced by their peers. "Influencing your peers and network is the primary aim and if it goes wider, that's even better. Young and old share the planet so everyone has responsibility to start something today, but the emerging generation are the ones who will likely have to face up to the problems and put a stake in the ground," comments Katherine.
Katherine loves the diverse community in which she lives. "We throw parties, inviting friends and neighbours. I love that a PHD student, a neighbour, who's been a postman all of his life, and Aunty Grace, who can cook up a Nigerian feast, are mixing. It's rare but beautiful. When we create an understanding we see another story. This impacts our perception of who our neighbour is and that might lead to thinking about who, other than Tesco, actually provided your morning coffee and how you might consider them as your neighbour too."
The Rhythms community is a place to share questions, concerns or thoughts in an uncondemning way - linking thoughts, talking, writing, theology and action. With huge global issues such as consumerism, poverty, climate change or conflict, an individual can feel overwhelmed but there is solidarity and encouragement in a collective. "How do we talk about the war in Syria in a way we can connect with and not switch off from? Actions must be as simple as possible, starting today and hopefully growing as a journey continues. Instead of thinking they have to tackle climate change single-handedly they can add their name to a petition or decide not to buy coffee in plastic cups anymore."
She continued: "My mind has just been blown by the sheer scale of our overconsumption. We're living like there are three planets and not connecting with how things are made. We can't carry on buying new clothes and wasting food at the current rate. When you buy a £2 T-shirt someone else is paying the price."
Rhythms also run emerging influencers, a mentoring programme for students and 20s, providing advocacy opportunities. 'Put thirst first' co-ordinated by Beth Milburn highlighted the water and sanitation Millennium Development Goal. She met her MP, the minister for equality, and collected 1,600 signatures on a petition presented to the House of Commons. "She influenced her friends and they joined her walking round campus dressed in snorkelling gear in contrast to millions who lack access to any clean water. Tim Perkin pushed the government on homelessness and many joined him sleeping on the floor for a week, in solidarity with those without beds."
Activism and sharing your concern for a cause can connect with people outside the Church who might get involved in a foodbank or homeless shelter run by a church but not attend a service. "Many are activists before they are worshippers, so let's not dismiss action as a way for people to get to know God," adds Katherine.
"Mother Theresa's quote that it might be just a drop in the ocean but the ocean would be less because of that one missing drop, encourages me. If one person can inspire 10 of their friends to do something too, that's 10 ocean drops. I have to believe there is hope, that we can make a difference, that our world can be better and that Jesus will restore his kingdom, because if I don't, it's just too bleak. Jesus is at work."