Category Archives: Uncategorized

Do Your Own Work: Leadership on the Frontlines

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A shortened version of this article appeared in The Mennonite, in conversation with the awesome article entitled Vincent Harding, Rebels, and MJ Sharp.”

Sarah MJ and Jonathan Brenneman

One of my favorite things about my dear friend MJ Sharp (pictured in the middle) was how he did his work, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He gave his life for peace work there, but he was not simply a martyr.  He was someone giving his all to investigative work.  MJ was a complex character who pushed hard for justice, utilizing creative and courageous tactics that led to positive change in some key situations.  Speaking at his memorial service, the representative from the United Nations remarked, “the international community has lost one of its best investigators.”

 

MJ and I would often commiserate about how hard it was to do our inner work in the context of dealing with our external work: oppression-induced societal emergencies and organizational conundrums.  He was about to finish up his term in the DRC and move to Albuquerque to live in a semi-intentional community. One reason he was going to do this was because it would hopefully give him the opportunity to do that hard, slow, heavy, and contemplative inner work. He never got that chance. But I still do.

 

I followed the footsteps of Dr. Vincent Harding to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia to learn of my vocational calling while exploring the fullness of my identites. My work took me to Mennonite World Conference, where the words of prophets like Harding and Sider still echo. And it took me to Christian Peacemaker Teams. Now it is taking me elsewhere, but not before I take time to rest and honor MJ by doing my own work: Looking internally at those neglected areas of myself, compassionately contemplating my missteps, and reflecting on words from mentors living and ancestral.

 

We strive for work that fulfills our souls and meets our own needs, not because we aim to be martyrs who simply give up our lives for “the cause.” Leaders must understand the connection between their personal inventory and their personal contribution. We are acting out in the world what we personally need.  Seeking to understand the forces driving our souls does not make us selfish.  It helps us become more self-aware leaders, and that’s what congregations and organizations need.

 

Doing your own work also means understanding your identity, social location and how power pools and flows in your organization. It means thinking about how you show up, ask for allies, and be an ally to others who are newer or who are having difficulties navigating a system that you easily understand. We desperately need leaders like MJ who commit to doing personal and collective work to make organizations more welcoming to everyone.

 

Finally, to “do your own work” is a reminder to follow your dreams, and employ your gifts to do work that only you can do in the world. This may mean taking a risk to innovate in your field, or a keen focus on how you do your work. Make sure there is something uniquely you that you do in your job. You are not a machine. You are a beloved child of God.  No one can do it like you can!

 

Sarah Thompson is finishing up her term as Executive Director of Christian Peacemaker Teams. She is a licensed minister in Indiana/Michigan Mennonite Conference.

MJ Bowling in Wichita 14Jun16.jpg

Bowling with MJ on the last day I saw him, in Wichita, Kansas.

Solidarity with a falsely-charged worker in Brazil

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Who’s Rafael Braga Vieira? His saga is an example of what is happening to marginalized working people everywhere. To paraphrase James Baldwin: If they come for Rafael during the day, they will come for us at night. None of us is free until all of us are free to work with dignity and have our word respected.

Rafael Braga Vieira is a black and poor young man, who, until June of 2013, worked collecting material for recycling in downtown streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. He lived on the streets in order to save money on his way back home – he didn’t return home everyday in Vila Cruzeiro (North zone), where he lived with his parents, brothers and sisters. However, on June 20, Rafael Braga’s routine changed.

Learn more how you can help out with this campaign here!

Since that day he’s been beaten, falsely accused, put in solidarity confinement, released, re-captured, in and out of court, and now sentenced (the defense is working on his appeal).

Life. Disrupted.
Disrupt your routine a little bit today to learn more about what our young family members around the world are experiencing.

 

100 Days

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Disturbed about what to do to survive and resist in the current political climate?
Live the alternative.
Cultivate your agency through daily practice of beauty and expanding your comfort zone.

The following post is by Spelman sister Adinah Morgan, check her out here!

Our 100 Days: A List

100 Days. What can you do with 100 days? This is one of the more popular questions that U.S. presidential candidates have had to answer over the past century. Shortly after the results of the last election I asked myself, “Well, what am I going to do for our first 100 days?” As the list grew, so did the insatiable need to share these ideas with others. I realized that I want everyday citizens, organizations, and people that may even reside in other countries to get involved. The list has grown and expanded to seven different subjects/issues. I have also included additional lists for self-care, and resources for educators who may want to apply the list in the classroom. Together, we can collectively redirect our energy to highlight positive, peaceful methods to counterbalance the anxiety of the past several months. Our 100 Days List is here.

Our 100 Days List is in no way meant to reflect the vast amount of ideas and strategies that have been developed overtime. You may choose from the topics below, or be inspired to make your own 100 days strategy. The mostly free or low-cost tips below are just a place to start.

The ultimate goals of Our 100 Days List are: (1) to help quell the very real fears and anxieties in our communities, (2) encourage more active participation of American citizens beyond 100 days and (3) remind us all of where the real power lies, in ourselves.


Our 100 Days List

Environmental Issues/Climate Change

  • Volunteer at a community garden
  • Teach children how to grow food from seeds
  • Start a recycling initiative in your home or workplace
  • Visit a National Park for an afternoon
  • Learn more about the efforts to protect and sustain clean water in the United States (i.e. Flint, Michigan and Standing Rock, North Dakota).

Immigration

  • Volunteer with a non-profit organization in your area that directly serves refugees and immigrant families
  • Call out xenophobia when you hear/see it
  • If you only speak English, consider learning another language. Practice this new language with multilingual members of your community
  • If you are or know an immigration lawyer, organize a free workshop on rights for U.S. immigrants and their families
  • Host or participate in an international, multicultural gathering with members of your local global community. Offer space for others to celebrate and share their respective cultural heritage.

Islam/Interfaith Outreach

  • Visit a local mosque
  • Spend time reading or listening to the recitation of the Qur’an
  • If you are not a Muslim, be an ally. Call out Islamophobia when you see/hear it
  • Invite Muslim scholars, artists and activists to speak at local institutions
  • If you are a civic or religious leader, invite members of your local mosque to a dinner. Respectfully ask ahead of time what food your guests may be comfortable sharing across the table.

Women’s Rights/Reproductive Justice

  • Research the Divine Feminine.
  • March is Women’s History Month. Host or organize a local event celebrating the women in your community
  • Volunteer for a local women’s advocacy group such as a women’s shelter or a women’s clinic
  • Educate your children about the importance of consent and respecting every body
  • Establish or strengthen gatherings of sacred women’s circles. If you are male or are not able to attend the gatherings, offer space to be of assistance to the women in your life to meet by babysitting, catering or offering other services.

Racial Equality/Black Lives Matter

  • Support black businesses. Open an account at a black owned bank. Invest in black communities and invite others to do the same
  • Host an inter-generational dialogue between elder community leaders and young activists that respect each other and honor the complexities of intersectionality
  • Donate children’s books with positive contemporary subjects to a school that primarily serves children of color
  • Support lawyers and organizations that fight to protect the rights of individuals in prison and illuminate the business of the U.S. prison industrial complex
  • If you are a therapist or counselor of color, consider offering one free group counseling session for members of organizations that work to end systematic racism.

LGBT Rights

  • Host an inclusive house party celebrating all members of the LGBT community and their families in a safe space
  • Support legislation and lawmakers that work to protect and expand LGBT rights
  • Volunteer at a shelter for LGBT youth
  • Advocate to make all restrooms more accessible for transgender people
  • Call out homophobia when you see/hear it. Even if it’s in your most sacred and intimate spaces.

Special Needs/Individuals with Disabilities

  • Speak openly and honestly to people with disabilities in your community. Ask how you can be be more inclusive and respective to their needs
  • Start an initiative for children with learning disabilities to start and complete a creative project
  • If you own a business, consider expanding your workforce to include people with disabilities
  • Teach all children that bullying individuals with disabilities in any setting is unacceptable
  • Respect the space and spaces that are held by people with disabilites. Honor their bodies by asking for permission to touch or interact with them, including the assistive devices that help people operate their daily lives.

Self-Care List

  • Meditate for at least 20 minutes
  • Participate in a free yoga class
  • Walk in nature for at least 30 minutes
  • Wear colors that resonate with you, regardless of the season
  • Make one positive change to your diet
  • Call a friend or loved one who can actively listen to you with compassion. Then check up on someone else, and practice actively listening with compassion.
  • Take a day trip
  • Be creative: write, draw, dance-create for yourself or others
  • Unplug from technology for an hour
  • Rest when needed

Special Resources for Educators:

http://www.tolerance.org

http://www.teachingforchange.org/teaching-blacklivesmatter

http://www.glsen.org/educate/resources/curriculum

http://www.adl.org/education-outreach/

http://www.pbs.org/empires/islam/eduk12plan.html

http://climate.nasa.gov/resources/education/

https://humaneeducation.org/blog/2016/resources-teaching-dakota-access-pipeline-protest/

http://www.specialeducationguide.com/pre-k-12/tools-and-research/support-and-resources-for-parents-and-teachers/

https://www.reproductiverights.org/project/curricular-resources

http://www.racialequityresourceguide.org/guides/guides-and-workshops/&issuefilterType=Education

The more power we use to impact positive change in our communities, the more we will re-evaluate the function and capacity of our government. Please share, distribute, and be inspired.

Kujichaguila & Wansalwara

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WANSALWARA is a dance, literally and metaphorically.  It’s about the fact that we all live in One Salt Water. Wansalwara is a way they call this living planet, in Melanesian hip-hop terms.

Today is a day that self-determination is celebrated by people of African descent, during the festival of Kwanzaa. I’m reminded of my trip to the Pacific, where people of African/Aboriginal heritage are struggling for autonomy in the face of intense repression. By coming alongside them in the movement, I didn’t think I’d learn so much about how I want to self-determine in the world, but I sure did get two clues. One was through birth and birth justice work, and the other through continuing to support self-determination movements throughout the world. Write me if you want to see some great video footage from people rising up and doing nonviolent direct action there for justice. (I would link the  youtube vids into the blog, but that would mainly help those who are hired to cyber-attack and trace international activists working with grassroots leaders to change the oppressive systems).

And from Abbey of the Arts:

Looking ahead, February 1 will be the Celtic feast of Imbolc which means “in the belly.” It marks the first herald of spring when the earth begins to stir with the new life deep below the frozen ground.  In Christianity we’ve just celebrated what emerged from Mother Mary, consciousness birthed. To remember the significance of birth we keep coming back to it each year. What’s coming from you in this new year?

Take a few minutes to pay special attention to what God might be causing to stir within you.  Quiet your mind and focus on the blossoming within yourself.  Notice colors and the fragrance.  Imagine a blossom sprouting deep inside yourself.  Listen to the invitation calling you to new growth.

And, just as Mary shared her experience with her cousin Elizabeth, do share what’s stirring within you, with someone you love and trust.  Mary’s experience of victimization and survivorship inspired her to sing-out for a deep revolution: political, economic, and moral. How you sing-out is related to your kujichaguila (self-determination).

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12/31/2016 Update: On the last day of Kwanzaa, I went to a Watchnight service curated by Repairers of the Breach and the Poor People’s Campaign revivers. Valerie Kaur, of Groundswell, said this there, and I wanted to share the encouragement, as it relates to the interplay of light and darkness, individual and collective self-determination, and a labor and birth that contains the revolution: “the darkness we are in may not be a tomb of American democracy, but a womb of American democracy. What if all that we’ve experienced up until this point are the labor pains of the America that we might birth?!”  It would be a healthier country, connected with the rest of the planet by the one salt water.

And now, from Standing Rock

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I appreciate Pancho’s article because it contains many links. Stitch by stitch, you can begin to quilt together a picture from the frontlines by following any thread, click by click.

This is it!

Video from KarmaTube

From Dallas Goldtooth: “A lot of folks know the Ponca leader Casey Camp. She stood in defiance, in peaceful prayer, in front of an armored personnel carrier, because she loved the land and wanted to protect the Missouri River, not just for the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, but for all nations and all people and the millions of people who depend on the Missouri River for drinking water. So this movement is not founded out of hate for the police officers or for the workers themselves, but out of love for the land and for all of us as human beings. That’s why we’re there. That’s not—our enemy is not the worker. Our enemy is not the police. It’s the corporations that are hell-bent on poisoning Mother Earth and disconnecting ourselves even further from the sacred integrity of the land and the water.”

Get Pancho’s first impressions word-quilt block here: Strong Blessings from the Water Protectors at Standing Rock! #NoDAPL

#occupyheaven

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This poem for the end of Yom Kippur observances (Ne’ilah Yizkor service) was written by Tzedek Chicago’s rabbinical intern Jay Stanton. Original post and more of Jay’s musings here. He does a great job molding people willing to stand at the intersections of “intimacy and intimidation” into community.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

#OccupyHeaven: A Poem for Ne’ilah 5777

United not by common language or experience

but by action, by clapping, using our hands

to give voice to our rising power

transcendent heartbeat of our collective will, we say

 

petaj lanu sha’ar b’et ne’ilat sha’ar ki fanah yom

hayom yifneh hashemesh yavo veyifneh navoah sh’arekha

Keep the gate open for us when the day turns to night!

As surely as the closing bell sounds, we will rush the gates!


The word ne’ilah means closing time, buildings locked, gates bolted, alarms set

so no intruders can infringe on God’s spare time He spends like spare change

Ne’ilah means our time is up, you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here

If God didn’t get to you today, you should have showed up earlier


Forced to participate in this frustrating process of penitence

God’s yearly performance review of humankind

all denied food and water for the last twenty-four hours

some denied food and water each and every twenty-four hours

we convene today for protest’s sake

as the sun sets on this Day of Atonement

The Day of Judgment

when even the Hosts of Heaven are judged

God thinks if management has to do this too that we won’t notice

the glorified injustice of the pinnacle of our calendar year


So we’re here ready to make some noise – our voices will be heard

We will make God listen; that’s what we’re here to do, to insist on

to insist on not being ignored, to insist on disrupting God’s dinner party

“No humans allowed” except the help; be sure to use the service entrance


If you are a veteran of actions like these, great.  If this is your first, even better.

Let’s start with refreshing our memory at why we’re here

God says He seeks our repentance, not perfection

God says this is all He desires, as soon was we repent, He will forgive


Adonai adonai el rajum vejanun

erech apayim verav jesed ve-emet

notzer jesed la-alafim

nose avon vafesha  vejata-a venakeh


My Lord, My Lord, God is merciful and gracious

endlessly patient overflowing with kindness and truth
bestowing kindness to the thousandth generation,

forgiving wrongdoing, sins of commission and omission and granting pardon


What a load of –

oh right, no cursing – there are children present – yeah, right

You may not know yet but we have the full text of that quote about God’s kindness

it’s taken out of context and when you play the tape all the way to the end

He’s actually talking about how He won’t forgive


and instead He’ll punish people to the third and fourth generation – at least

God and His cronies don’t want us to know He seeks revenge and calls it justice

God and His cronies don’t want us to know the Messiah is ready to come tomorrow

if police lay down their weapons and superintendents reopen closed schools


if we tear down separation walls and throw welcome home parties for refugees

as they come back to the properties whose deeds they have safeguarded for generations

if we abolish prisons and establish a justice system that respects even the cockroach

and one that never treats humans like roaches – but that would destroy God’s master plan


Hypocrite on High – we see through Your empty rhetoric

this was the year that God increased, not decreased, extrajudicial execution of Black boys

this was the year that dancing in your queer Brown body became punishable by death on Shavuot

that going to mosque in Queens became a capital crime for Imam Alauddin Akonjee


On Tisha B’av.  This was the year God further punished poverty

and humiliated and killed transgender women of Color

this was the year God sanctioned the scapegoating of Muslims for violence

even though God gave us violence millenia before the life of the Prophet


that’s why we’re here to #occupyHeaven, here for the immigrant, for the beggar, for the refugee

for the orphan and the child soldier, for the domestic workers, the sex workers, and ourselves

here to negotiate a new covenant, here to strike if needed

God and His cronies don’t want us to know we can throw off their yoke


But now is the time

we #occupyHeaven

Now is the time

we deem God an unsuitable negotiation partner

Now is the time

we hold out for a better offer
Now is the time!


Now is the time

               we say no más to deportation

Now is the time

we make the sun stand still over Jericho and Silwan and Susiya

declaring #existenceisresistance against God’s weaponized bulldozers

until Jacob and Esau once again embrace


This is the year, the poet says, this is the year the squatters evict landlords

the year we refuse to go home until everyone has housing

the year we refuse to be satisfied with forgiveness until all are forgiven

the year we tell God not to make foolish promises, the year we abolish not only prisons but sin


The sun hasn’t set yet, the gates are still open.  So here’s what we’ll do

even the worst sinners and those whose guilt weighs heavily though they are blameless

we’re going to join hands and enter the open gates. Our chant starts simply:

Hear our voices!  Hear our voices!  Hear our voices! Hear our voices!

 


Read Jay’s Rosh Hashanah remarks. And then Rabbi Brant’s sermon from the next day. Our congregation is dedicated to Judaism and social justice. It is neither assimilationist nor Zionist. We seek to block oppression, build solutions, and be present to  what arises. My remarks (beginning at 1:20:03) here.

The Passionate Observer

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Many desire objectivity and to be a “dispassionate observer.”

Advice given to me by a woman who was in her late 70s as she remembered her feeble husband who had a sensitive stomach and was easily bothered by light and loud noises. She told me, “When you ask God for a sensitive husband, specify what kind of sensitivity you’d like!”

Being a passionate observer simply helps me name my subjectivity, and speak my specificity!

I cannot and will not pretend that objectivity is possible or that I don’t have a subjectivity.  My favorite books are ones in which the author is self-aware enough to name their vantage po20161223_165546int. Audre Lorde was amazing at this. I’m pictured here with Hilary Scarsella, a writer, thinker, and friend who epitomizes the ability to think deeply, carefully, and non-ideologically about something, but also NOT succumb to the paralysis of analysis. Over at the important blog “Our Stories Untold,” she and other faith-related folks lift up the stories of survivors of sexual violence, share trauma theory, and articulate the impacts of silence in the church and broader society about sexualized violence.

Being a passionate observer means that reading the news about Thomas Garcia (assassinated by Honduran soldiers on July 15, 2016) doesn’t just go in one ear and out the other, but in my ears and eyes and heart and soul.  Another indigenous activist leader murdered! There is a sharp rise in violence directed at environmental activists. They are the targets of threats, intimidation, and assassination because they dare to protect the vital natural resources (relations) of their community from the global economy based on extraction.

Here’s more of Tomas’ story: According to eyewitnesses, a soldier who had been firing into the air lowered his M-16 and fired multiple shots directly at Tomas.  Tomas had recently arrived at the company’s installations as one of those who was at the front of the delegation; the whole group had not even had time to arrive and many were still walking down the hill that leads to the offices. As one woman from the community explained, “We didn’t even have a conversation with them, they didn’t say anything to us. They didn’t even wait for us to say why we there, they didn’t wait for us to say what we had to say. We saw Tomas fall, he fell from shots, including to his head.” Three other villagers were also seriously injured and required hospitalization.

Then the military blamed the violence on the grassroots leaders of COPINH, and spread that lie all over the media!!! If we are dispassionate observers, we’d get the wrong information. We’d become too scared or confused to get up the courage to participate alongside our neighbors.

We always need to consider the source, and our relationship to the source and the people in the story. Read the rest of this story here, and please, take action! Call for an end to US military aid to Honduras and on the Honduran authorities to respect the rights of the Indigenous Lenca people of Rio Blanco.

Unleash your passion and your observation skills. We need you, passionate observer.