1. Update
  2. Environment & Energy

Then Do What's Possible

March 30, 2015


A few times a month, I get a call during work—usually around 10:30 AM—from my grandmother. I always let these calls go to voicemail so I can listen later because I know exactly what they are. At 10:30 a.m., my 96 year-old grandmother has just finished doing the cryptoquote.

In the newspaper, stuck somewhere between the advice column and the funnies, the cryptoquote is a puzzle that requires decoding an encrypted sentence of jumbled letters. Friends, I am the world’s worst cryptographer, but my Gram is really good. She says that after 96 years of reading, writing and listening to language, she recognizes common letter pairings and easily spots patterns of vowels and consonants in words, such that she can solve these puzzles in a matter of minutes.

Last week when I got home from work I listened to her recite the latest decoded quote, by St. Francis of Assisi: "Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible. Suddenly you are doing the impossible."

"Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible. Suddenly you are doing the impossible.

Hearing her voice made me smile, as these cryptoquote voicemails always do, but I found these particular words lingering with me longer than usual. This quote from Assisi reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently: how to stay motivated in working for peace and justice.

Modern society has calculated the science behind precisely how many minutes our brain can stay focused, and we’ve determined which app is best for managing projects, and how best to structure our five-year plans, but I wonder how we keep our hearts motivated. How we keep our spirits…spirited. How we keep our minds clear and focused ahead to the world we seek when it sometimes feels hard to make out the forest through the trees.

For me, these deeper questions of what keeps us motivated and sustained as we work for justice are harder to answer. As I think about the world I seek and the work it will take to get there—ending endless war, healing the earth, lifting one another out of poverty—staying motivated and optimistic is at tension with how overwhelming this vision can sometimes seem.

Yet, Assisi’s words gave me insight into something I notice at FCNL when talking to a constituent who organized a letter writing table after Meeting, or I hear a lobbyist tell about a recent visit: we work incrementally, celebrate the small successes and trust that even though it’s sometimes hard to see all at once, we’re working on the necessary and possible things that compose that larger vision of the world we seek.

An example of this process was palpable at FCNL this past month around issues of climate change—one that has felt so stuck in partisanship without much, if any, legislative movement. And yet FCNL lobbyists and constituents, along with the thousands of other people working on this issue around the country, have been chipping away at the problem, brushing off certain areas, and finding holes where light shines through.

This year our constituency has persistently called, written letters and op-eds, and gone on countless lobby visits in congressional office around the country. Our staff has worked closely with congressional offices, faith coalitions and has recruited at over 50 colleges and universities for our spring lobby weekend on climate change.

Two weeks ago, 280 young adults from around the country came to Washington D.C. for Spring Lobby Weekend, lobbying their members of Congress about the moral and faith-based call to conscience and the realities of climate change. From this lobby day, 11 members of Congress agreed to sign onto a bipartisan bill addressing climate change preparedness, all on the brink of a Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) introducing a resolution recognizing the reality of climate change and its effects on each of us and the earth.

I’m reminded this day that justice is not impossible, it is happening -- and this is enough to keep me going.