Nelson Cowan is a 2nd-year Master of Divinity student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. He has been serving the Office since September 2012 and is filling part of his Practice in Ministry & Mission (field education) requirement through his service. His educational background is in International Relations at the University of North Florida. At the Office of Public Witness, Nelson focuses on issues of domestic economic inequality, just food systems, and energy reform. In addition to interning at the OPW, Nelson works at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Annandale, VA, as the director of Modern Worship Music. He is an avid reader, blogger, and songwriter.
An Ant's Tale: A Theological Reflection
Doing the work of advocacy and justice is not easy work. Impact is difficult to measure. When serving at a homeless shelter, the work there is seen, felt, and it addresses an immediate need. But when addressing the problems of economic inequality, broken social systems, and systemic corruption on the national level, this work takes years, perhaps even decades to bear any fruit. As an intern for one academic year at the PC(USA) Office of Public Witness, this can be quite disconcerting. What is the point of my role here? Nothing is happening right now. Will there ever be significant change?
As much as I consider myself participating in the work to advance God's reign on earth, I often feel like an ant trying to build a mound taller than the Washington Monument. The proliferation of household and street guns, the perpetuation of endemic poverty and unemployment, and the unswerving allegiance to the military industrial complex makes it seem like I have no voice in a room full of loud, clanging cymbals of injustice. Where is God in all of this? Can God not wipe out injustice with a giant thunderbolt composed of holy discontentment and righteous wrath, fused with steadfast love? Perhaps God could. But that is not the portrait painted in the scriptures, the same scriptures where we find the tangible expression of God's self: Jesus Christ.
If I have learned anything from this internship, it is that Jesus was not subservient to the status quo. Jesus did not settle for the paradigm of empire, which included the systemic oppression of the least of these. We must speak truth to power in love. We may feel like an ant trying to construct a tall mound, but the good news is that there are other ants on the journey. One person's work is never rendered meaningless; there are always more laborers in the workforce. Many times, workers like myself feel as if we can never defeat the seemingly endless piles of money that sustain these injustices in our nation. But I will never forget what J Herbert Nelson often articulates in this office: "Organized people can beat organized money any day." That is a reality I am willing to engage. I thank the Office of Public Witness for re-instilling a hope in me for the institutional church. May we live and love as Christ did. In doing so, perhaps oppression, systemic injustice, and marginalization can one day be old-time folktales for our great-grandchildren and future generations to come.