What’s your elevator pitch?

Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2014

Let’s say you step into an elevator, push the button for the 10th floor, watch the doors slide shut and cast a quick glance at the other passengers in the car. Lo and behold, you spot one of the Koch brothers! No, it’s the CEO of ExxonMobil! Or the CEO of TransCanada, the outfit behind the Keystone XL pipeline! Or maybe it’s President Obama himself! You swallow hard. This is your one and only chance to say in 30 seconds why you care about tackling climate change. What do you say?

Perfecting your elevator pitch is considered a key element in landing a job or making a sale. No doubt it’s also a basic skill behind speed dating, though personally I wouldn’t know about that. But even shorter than an elevator pitch, and sometimes as challenging to craft, are slogans, those pithy messages that you see on banners at a march or rally.

Part of my new job at the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts is to raise awareness of climate change. This spring I asked myself: if the diocese made a banner to bring to climate rallies, what should the banner say? I came up with several possibilities and ran them by various focus groups, such as 1) my husband, 2) the bishop, and 3) several diocesan entities. My research was neither systematic nor extensive, but it was great fun, and it generated vigorous debate.

Before long, a winning slogan emerged. Our diocese’s new banner says: “Love God, Love your neighbor: Stop climate change.”

To me it makes perfect sense to link stabilizing the climate with loving God and neighbor. We express love for the Creator when we tend and safeguard the living world that God entrusted to our care. We express love for our neighbor when we work to stop climate disruption, which in different parts of the world is already devastating food supplies, intensifying floods and drought, spreading disease, raising sea levels, producing extreme storms, creating refugees, and triggering violence and social upheaval.

The “neighbors” we love when we work to stop climate change include everyone already suffering from the effects of climate change. Those neighbors also include our non-human kin and our descendants. As theologian Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, commented in a recent blog about climate change, “We should not and cannot leave our children’s children with a fundamentally different planet. Perhaps we should replace the classic image of a polar bear on a small floating piece of ice with an image of our great grandchild standing in line for his or her water ration.”

We have our marching orders: love God and neighbor. We have our banner. We’re all dressed up and we have a place to go: to New York City, on Sunday, September 21, when people from across the country will participate in what promises to be the biggest climate march in American history.

Ban Ki Moon, United Nations Secretary-General, has summoned international leaders in government, business, finance, and civil society to New York that week for the 2014 U.N. Climate Summit, as part of a global effort “to mobilize action and ambition on climate change.” The People’s Climate March intends to amplify the urgency of that message, as tens of thousands of people who care about our planet’s future take to the streets of New York in a dignified, family-friendly, high-energy and historic march.

According to organizers’ current plans, people of faith will meet at Central Park and march together. I like to imagine that lively crowd and its colorful tapestry of diverse religious symbols, vestments, and banners. I like to imagine the joy of walking alongside Christians of many denominations, and alongside countless Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu men, women, and children as together we bear witness to our shared faith in the goodness of life as it has evolved on this planet.

Yes, this event will start near midday on Sunday. Will Christians and other people who pray on Sunday morning have to miss Sunday morning worship? Maybe your clergy and members of your congregation can pray together as you ride a bus to New York City. Maybe your congregation can hold a special send-off worship service the night before. Maybe they can pray on Sunday morning for everyone at the march. And maybe you can pray with your legs.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said in 1965, after walking alongside Rev. Martin Luther King at the voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, “I felt my legs were praying.”

As I imagine us streaming through the streets of Manhattan, I can already sense our common commitment to protect and heal the global atmosphere upon which all life depends. And let’s face it: along the way we’ll have plenty of time to perfect our elevator speeches.

Here’s one last thing about our banner: like Jesus’ mission of mercy, justice, and compassion, and like the climate movement itself, the banner is too big for one person to carry. Close to eight feet long, our banner needs at least two or three people, maybe more, who can hold it high. Will you join me in taking a turn at carrying our banner? Love God. Love your neighbor. Let’s stop climate change and head to New York.

To sign up for the People’s Climate March, go to: http://peoplesclimate.org/march/. You will receive updates as plans for the march come together. To ride one of the buses heading from your area of Massachusetts to New York City, go to: http://www.betterfutureproject.org/buses-to-nyc/.

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, an Episcopal priest and climate activist, serves as Missioner for Creation Care in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. This article is based on a blog from her website, RevivingCreation.org.


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