Reflecting on Eugene Cho’s “Water Your Own Grass” Idea From the Justice Conference

One of my favorite parts of the Justice Conference was listening to Eugene Cho’s seminar and message Saturday morning. He’s sharp, interesting and he is able to challenge his listener without them feeling guilty or frustrated.

I find there’s a good number of “justice” types who given their prophetic nature, frustrate their listeners. I’m some of it is meant in a well-intended provoking but some of it is likely unintended and I wonder how much of that speakers are actually aware of. While there is a significant population that needs to be confronted with the failures of apathy and inaction, there are a number of people who are already serving “almost the best the can.” When you push that latter group too hard, it starts to be counter-productive, especially if they are not in a life position to directly serve in say, a non-profit justice-seeking organization. So for the everyday person in the Church and the workforce, I think Eugene has a lot of wisdom to offer.

(Photo: From World Relief Responds)

Here were my notes:
1. Be generous.
2. Shut up and listen.
3. When you dehumanize the poor, you have no value in their redemption
He told a story of a man who shine shoes for a living. Over many years, he saved $200,000 in tips, then gave it to a kids’ home in Pittsburgh. If I heard the story right, the man himself was raised in an orphanage and never forgot either the pain of his childhood or those that were there to help.
4. Need to get deeper in the story
Study, Read, Search – Be informed, “Not enough to say I read it in Relevant, heard it on NPR or somewhere online…”
5. If justice is sexy, our movies are off. – Justice is a marathon
6. Pursuing justice takes tenacity.
Eugene told a personal story of his life taking an unexpected turn and for a time he was a custodian at Barnes and Noble. He was ashamed to tell anyone. One day when his mother was staying for a few days at his family’s house, she asked where he was going so early in the morning. He was a coy at first, then admitted his job. His elderly mother stood up and said, “Let’s go together” and would spend the days at the store with him. That season, though humbling, strengthened resolve and renewed mission.
7. “If the grass looks greener on the other side, it might be … so water your own grass.”
“We need a steady and faithful engagement.”

This was the “A-ha” moment where everyone said, “Yeah, why am I not doing that? I know this, well apparently not…


I think most will listen, read and say, “Wow, that’s great advice for young people – way to go Eugene…”
But honestly, this is needed advice for anyone in the foyer or fringes of the social justice conversation. Frankly this is good advice for our all generations because our inability to be generous, to listen, to go deeper, to be tenacious, and tendency to dehumanize others is why justice comes off as trendy or a novelty. It doesn’t just come across that way to others but even to ourselves!

Just about every speaker wisely made some type “justice is not trendy, it’s a marathon” comment. This constant reinforcement was needed and welcomed and frankly, it’s impossible to disagree with. I also wish that more would have taken the glamour off of justice. Cho did that well with his story of being a custodian. Now, I know none of the speakers are living glamorous lifestyles (right? ;) but if you want to convince people that justice isn’t trendy, it feels like we need to tell those stories too. Along these lines, when Jason Russell shares his story, that is going to be powerful. May not be as big as Kony 2012, may go unnoticed by many, but God-wiling he can continue in his work, that’s going to be helpful advice for justice-seekers in the Church.

What we also needed to hear was the “water your own grass” idea. We can’t share similar experiences of Gary Haugen or Shane Claiborne because we spend the 168 hours of our week differently than they do. And that’s ok. Now we can take part in the work of International Justice Mission and The Simple Way and One Day’s Wages but to stay with Eugene’s metaphor, that’s their grass, their calling, water your own.

God has given each of us our own identities , our own communities, our own resources, and skills. Further we have our own set of challenges and limitations. While we must work together part of that work is in focusing our energies and tackling what has been placed before us.

May the Lord give us strength and clarity of thought.

Check out Eugene’s non-profit One Day’s Wages – “One Day’s Wages (ODW) is a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty. ODW promotes awareness, invites simple giving, and supports sustainable relief through partnerships, especially with smaller organizations in developing regions.”
You can read more at One Day’s Wages.

and follow Eugene Cho on Twitter here.

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