What a Ramadan!

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Well, it was quite a month for all of us worldwide. Here is a mosaic of images from my experience of Ramadan, in Spain, Morocco, Greece, and Germany. I think the captions will show if you scroll over them.  Eid mubarak!

Big Days in Greece

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It’s a profound day today.

The celebration of Juneteeneth (when Africans enslaved in the United States learned of their freedom, declared by the Emancipation Proclamation almost two years earlier).

The one year anniversary of the massacre of the church at Mother Bethel AME folks in Charleston, SC.

The one week anniversary of the Pulse Orlando club shooting.

It’s also Father’s Day, so blessings to the Dads out there…especially those redefining traditional masculinity and providing open-minded and gentle ways of nurturing children (or ideas!) into wholeness.

Tomorrow continues the meaningful days (of course every day we’re alive it’s meaningful!) It’s solstice, and the middle of Ramadan. It only comes around in the summer every 33 years.  Given global weirding, this is a hot one!
It’s also World Refugee Day. Being here, working with refugees…this day now means more to me than ever before.  I knew theoretically the difficulty of being a refugee: the bureaucracy of paperwork and sometimes arbitrariness of official decisions, long lines, inadequate resources, the fast friendships, the cramped camps, the waiting, oh the waiting.

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Our Christian Peacemaker Team is accompanying refugees in Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece. As Executive Director I have a chance to do a two week team visit. I sat across the table from a man from Afghanistan yesterday. Neither he nor I are from Greece or speak Greek. I don’t speak Dari yet, and he just began the English classes offered to refugees. We don’t know each other’s names and yet we are deeply and violently connected. My village paid for his village to be bombed (through the US led war in Afghanistan).

We kind of smile at each other to acknowledge a greeting, but neither of us are happy about the situation so we exchange a glance of agreement that there is no use pretending we are. I can hope that through our work he and I can feel that there is another way to connect as well, through nonviolent interaction. But if it ends there it is not enough, in a way. I want to exchange the real smile that comes after a day of joint action to bring change to global functioning. Tomorrow is World Refugee Day and we will do a public witness action that reminds the public that refugees are not invisible, and mourns the loss of over 1,600 people that have died in crossing by boat from Turkey to Greece. We will thank the Lesbians for being so welcoming to those who made it, and together with them brainstorm ways to insure safe passage for all and challenge EU and US and local policies that lead to so many people being frighteningly expelled from their homes.

We spend time in autonomous efforts organized by those accompanying refugees, such as Lesbos Solidarity, and supporting co-existence efforts led by those most impacted by colonialism, and compiling first hand human rights documentation in some of the camps, which are like detention centerswhich are like detention centers. There was a branch of the Orthodox Church that was very active as well.

Okay, I’m exhausted and will head to bed. Thanks for reading.

 

For All Our Mothers

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Bluffton University Commencement, May 8, 2016

This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
This is indeed a special day. I’d like to thank Bluffton faculty and commencement committee for the invitation. I’m so happy to celebrate with YOU, the illustrious class of 2016!

This is a day of celebration of all the hard work that you’ve done and what you’ve learned. This is the day that celebrates your perseverance through the ups and downs of the college or graduate work experience, your labor of learning. Whether you are a commuter students that had that up front parking…or a residential student who managed to keep your car from being hit by a foul ball for four years, you’ve made it to this finish line, and we rejoice and are glad in this day with you!

Today is a special day because it is Mother’s Day. To state the obvious, none of us would be here without our mothers. (Thanks Mom!). Our many mothers.  There is the female person that birthed you. And there are those people in your life who mother-ed you, raised you up. Some of them are here today.  You may have chosen mothers or mentors in your your neighborhood who encouraged you.  There may be grandmothers in your faith community who made it possible for you to attend Bluffton in the first place. So let’s give a round of applause for all our mothers!

Some of you may have a broken relationship, or a distant relationship with your mother. You may have lost your mother, or never met the woman who birthed you. This is a day where we celebrate your journey as well.  You have found ways that to mother yourself, we see and honor how you’ve built community, and how you continue to weave together the financial, emotional, and spiritual basis for your wellbeing, and the wellbeing of those around you. We honor you too.

Regardless of the situation in relationship to the person or people you call your mother up until this point, we all have some mothers in common: God, the Earth, and Bluffton. And as you cherish and honor the people close to you, I invite you, class of 2016 to cherish and honor these mothers as well.

Jesus once described himself as a mother hen, gathering her chicks under her wings. The prophet Isaiah speaks of God as “cry[ing] out like a woman in labor” with gasps and pants as God brings forth new life into a community that was plagued with violence.  Later the prophet goes on to remind us that those who seek God will be comforted “As a mother comforts her child.”  The Bible does not shy away from female imagery to describe God, but most of current Christian tradition does not use it as much as we could. Many of you have taken religion classes and reclaimed some of the lost richness of the biblical texts, and delved into the mystery of a life of faith through attending chapel and other activities throughout your time at Bluffton. This has enriched and expanded your perspective. It has generated new questions. God our Mother is not afraid of your questions, your emotions, your doubts.  As you return to your homes or move to new places, share with your faith communities what you’ve learned, and what questions you wrestle with at this point in your life. Do not hold back in sharing your faith, that is sharing your deepest truths and values, with others.  Share as much as you are willing to listen deeply to others, in the spirit of Bluffton’s values of mutual discovery and respect. Those who are religious these days are being blamed for many of the globe’s political problems. Make Mother God proud and be a part of the healing instead of aggravating these conflicts. Do this by paying attention to whose voices are heard more than others, asking yourself whose voices are missing in a conversation, and who benefits by the outcome?  When I was here in January the Romans 12 challenge was just beginning.  That was beautiful, to see the wide range of students that participated in the combination of physical and spiritual strength-building.  That is exactly what you’ll need for your future as you seek peace and justice for all of God’s creation.

We live on a wonderful planet. Full of diverse ecosystems…And though it will be hard to shake the memory of what it was like to walk across campus when it’s freezing outside, some of our best memories relate to being outside and in contact with the natural world…some speculate that Maypole dancing, now a Bluffton tradition, has roots in a recognition of the sacredness and importance of trees on this planet.  Indeed, on Earth we need each other, not only humans, but without trees where would the oxygen come from? And how would the carbon dioxide be digested?  But the balance is out of whack, we know there is too much CO2 bouncing around in the atmosphere! So, what will your Masters or Bachelors do in a world that is rapidly deforesting? An Earth that is hot with rising oceans, and scarred by advertisements to get you to buy more plastic? How will you use your degree to respond?

This is Mother Earth. She is powerful, but she is not well.  Where are the accounting majors? Sports management? Social work? Psychology and Criminal Justice? Where are the organizational management folks? History and Exercise Science? Where are my Early Childhood education majors? Art? The collaborative MBAs? We are humans so most of our is focused on ourselves, but if we do not also expand our focus to understand this ecological moment, we must realize the potential that life on Earth will end as we know it.  (And I know you didn’t pay all this money for school to not have a chance to use it here.  I want a return on your investment). Therefore, you need to address pollution and poverty at the same time.  As Van Jones, the founder of GreenJobs would say, “we are in an era of mass extinction and mass incarceration. An era of ecological instability and economic inequality.” And we are looking to you, class of 2016 to address the dire conditions of your Mother, Earth. During your matriculation here, some of you have tried experiments in sustainable living, maybe you learned something about how to live simply during your cross-cultural experience. You’ve worked on building safe space for one another, for racial healing, for gender equality. Keep up the efforts you’ve begun, because we still do not have equal pay for equal work in this country or around the world. We are still producing exponential amounts of waste.  On practical and policy levels determine what is important to you in helping to nurture healthy and equitable life on this planet, put that at the center of your life and the rest of life will come into place around it.  We will be here to cheer you on as you applying your learning here out in the world.  We will hold you accountable to the pledge that your green ribbon symbolizes. Thank you for taking that stand!

Note: The green ribbons that some graduates wore indicated a commitment “to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve those aspects of any organization for which I work.”

Bluffton is birthing you into the world! Bluffton is your mother as well.  Universities are called your alma mater for a reason. Alma mater means nourishing/kind mother. And just as you would never forget to honor, support, help, and show up for the mothers in your life, give back to your university.  Honor what you’ve experienced here.  Your relationship to this place is changing today, just as your relationship with your mother changes throughout your life. This type of change is something you can embrace because Bluffton has prepared you. And if it hasn’t, come back and tell her.

Support Bluffton in creative ways such as returning to speak in classes in a few years as young alum.  Give back financially, so that others may have the special opportunity that you have.  Give every year, perhaps on Mother’s Day.  So when you get a card for the special person or people in your life, remember to send a contribution to your alma mater as well…Because here at Bluffton the show must go on, and it cannot do that without your support!

How beautiful it is that you are graduating on a day that was originally dedicated to peace.  A quick lesson in history…I knew you thought classes were done, but one little one yet: Mother’s Day in the US started in 1870s, when abolitionist Julia Ward Howe established a celebration to eradicate war. She said, “Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” She continued, “From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword is not the balance of justice.”  How perfect for you to graduate on this day, from a place whose early founders and early teachers turned swords into plowshares, from a place that has a Lion and Lamb center.

Today’s commercialized celebration of candy, flowers, gift certificates, bears little resemblance to Howe’s original idea. But let us rededicate ourselves to peace this day.  May you, the class of 2016 and your supporters, be so tender to classes of 2016 everywhere on the globe, that we will not use our education to bolster a society that will injure theirs.  Rather, commit your education to be a balm rather than a bomb, for all the mothers of the world. Mothers whose immense labor and creative work is often unrecognized, underpaid, and under-appreciated.

And some of you may be mothers in the future, you may be a parent, if you feel called to do so. Each of you today can mother; we will all birth ideas into being.  Craft the world that you want children to grow up in, not so much focused on things but on relationships of integrity. In this tender post-college time take care of yourself, your most important relationship.  We have a lot of athletes in the group. Keep up some kind of training routine. If you’ve been neglecting your body during college or grad school here, begin a training routine. In addition to minding what you eat, examine your cultural and spiritual diet.  If you are thinking about moving to a new community, search first for a spiritual community, then look for a place to live. Look for a place near to where you worship, prepare to inhabit there. In that way you’ll be making respectful choices related to Mother Earth, you’ll get to know the mothers of the neighborhood and their concerns, and be nourished by people of God, all in the same vicinity. Then bring your Mom to visit! I brought mine to visit today!

Like siblings from this mother Bluffton, stay connected to each other, so you can ask what someone else is doing in another sector. Stay connected to God, so you can ask what is yours to do in any given situation. Stay connected to the poor, to those without the opportunity to be here. Stay connected to a particular staff person or professor or administrator.

This is the Day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. When I was a little girl, my mother used to stand at the end of the hallway and sing that song to wake us up.  Usually I woke up near the beginning of the song and made my way slowly down the hall to her hug.  But on one particular morning I became alert and realized she was nearing the end of the song.  I panicked, believing that my whole world would be shattered if I didn’t arrive by the end of the song! I threw the covers off, jumped out of bed and in a full sprint headed down the hall. At full 4 year old speed I slammed right into her hug as she hit the last note.  Whew! I felt so much relief!

You have pushed through to the finish line, through many sleepy mornings, likely some panic, and you have arrived at the last note, bodyslamming into the finish line and the embrace of this community. Feel the relief. Rest!  Bluffton University class of 2016, you are charged to live for all our mothers!  I look forward to how our paths will cross in the future. Congratulations!

http://www.bluffton.edu/
http://www.bluffton.edu/graduation/pledge.html

Commencement addresses from women still number much less than those given by men. Here are some examples of awesome speeches this year given by women!

 

A Prayer for Yom Hashoah

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Celebration and Lament so often run together. Thanks Rabbi.

Yedid Nefesh

(photo: Margaret Bourke-White) (photo: Margaret Bourke-White)

Oh, Spirit of mercy,
whose presence dwells
in the highest heights
and the darkest depths:

Shelter the souls
of all who were oppressed and murdered
during the years of the Shoah.

May the memory of those who were
singled out, persecuted and destroyed
be sanctified for goodness
and for peace:

Jews, gays, lesbians
and political dissidents;
communists, socialists,
labor leaders and Soviet prisoners of war;
resistance fighters, Roma,
Freemasons and Jehovah’s Witnesses;
the disabled of mind and body;
the homeless, the unemployed
and the unwanted…

May all who were once left vulnerable
remain protected beneath the soft wings of your presence
that they may rest in peace.

Spirit of Compassion,
help us to mourn their loss in such a way
that our fears and our hopes will become indistinguishable
from the fears and the hopes of all who are oppressed.

Help us turn isolation into wholeness,
division into…

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4.22 The Welder | Cherrie Moraga

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This poem for this moment! Also found on Black Women’s Blueprint Mother Tongue ceremony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_VVOJxbC3g

theusesofanger

The Welder | Cherrie Moraga

I am a welder.
Not an alchemist.
I am interested in the blend
of common elements to make
a common thing.

No magic here.
Only the heat of my desire to fuse
what I already know
exists. Is possible.

We plead to each other,
we all come from the same rock
we all come from the same rock
ignoring the fact that we bend
at different temperatures
that each of us is malleable
up to a point.

Yes, fusion is possible
but only if things get hot enough –
all else is temporary adhesion,
patching up.

It is the intimacy of steel melting
into steel, the fire of your individual
passion to take hold of ourselves
that makes sculpture of your lives,
builds buildings.

And I am not talking about skyscrapers,
merely structures that can support us
of trembling.

for too long a time
the…

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If you See Something, Say Something

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This post was originally an article I wrote in the The Mennonite magazine.

“If you see something, say something.” This line comes to us out of post-9/11 security culture.

In places where people normally moved around freely, met one another and perhaps made an unexpected connection, a culture of suspicion took hold. God forbid someone asks you to watch their bags while they walk with their child to look out the airport windows. Feel your blood pressure spike as someone puts their backpack down to run to the water fountain. I’ve seen security called in cases like this. Before you know it, police reports are being filed by witnesses, countless hours and money wasted, people feeling frustrated because their bag was considered “unattended,” and they have to jump through hoops to get it back.

What we see as suspicious is filtered through what we perceive as familiar and comfortable, versus what is not.

“If you see something say something” can also be turned on its head for those of us who are members of the upside-down kin-dom of God. Building on Philippians 4:8, when we see something beautiful or honorable, we should say something too.

I see much to affirm in my travels with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). Our mission to build partnerships to transform violence and oppression leads us to collaborate with those who might be considered suspicious. Getting to know new places and new people in order to work to transform situations of violence and address oppression is a benefit of nonviolence work; we learn to see and say in new ways.

Across Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, we travel with the Ted & Co. show “I’d Like to Buy an Enemy” and connect with congregations and community organizations engaged in missional peacemaking work. Set in the “Enemies R Us” shop, this show demonstrates how the concept of enemy is built in our minds and hearts. It plays out the devastating impacts of U.S.-led wars on humans and creation. The show also contains a stealth pie auction. Beautiful things can happen when we bring different people in a room to laugh, learn and demonstrate our values by buying pies for a good cause.

Affirming what is beautiful does not eliminate the need to identify pain and the manifestations of evil. It is still important to say something if you see something hurtful.

One thing I see now is Donald Trump. He is encouraging the buying and making of enemies. Eschewing alternatives and capitalizing on ignorance, he is fueling the fires of hatred, suspicion and consumerism.

Instead of being angry that racism still exists and that Trump is running for president, now is the time to do something about it. I often ask, What were the Christians of Germany doing in the late 1920s? What were the Christians of the United States doing when their Japanese neighbors were rounded up and interred on the basis of their race/national origin? I have read enough history to know that many people said, “We didn’t see this coming; we didn’t think it could happen here so we didn’t say anything.”

I am not asking you to publically criticize Donald Trump. He has received far too much press already. But I would be remiss if I did not use this platform to register my public dissent of the foundation and direction of our country’s politics. Philippians 4:9 builds on the previous verse and invites us to speak to the reality we learn in Jesus. When we practice our boundary-crossing, enemy-loving, liberating faith, it says, “the God of peace will be with you.”

As you go about talking with people related to the national rhetoric, you do not need to speak for anyone else or champion anyone else’s cause. However, do talk about how much you appreciate diversity and how you’ve dealt with differences of opinion and power in healthy ways. Talk about what a loss of your neighbors, the land you farm or the narrowing of the church you attend feels like. Release yourself from the need to have a solution to the problems you see before you share your pain or confusion. Sharing your story will give others permission to share theirs.

When we share our fears and sorrow, politicians cannot use them to divide us. We do not know the future, but we can study the past.

This is leadership. You have been called for such a time as this. If you don’t feel like you have skills for this moment, let me assure you, you do. Don’t let the culture of fear and suspicion get into your bones. It rots them. Strengthen yourself for this moment through trainings available (from CPT and other organizations) for your congregation. Practice is the only way to learn to engage this moment with bold humility, disciplined patience and clear strategy. If that sounds like a lot, just begin in prayer for your words to be God’s words and then, if you see something, say something.

Reference here: https://themennonite.org/opinion/if-you-see-something-say-something/

Retracing our Trail in Tears

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I’m missing my Potawatomi siblings’ advice and companionship and insights tonight as I read the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and learn from the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Article 48 applies especially to those in non-profit and faith-based organizations.

As a settler-of-color, I’m the descendant of both willing and unwilling (enslaved) settlers who now lives on land that was historically tended by Potawatomi people. “The Potawatomi called the St. Joseph Valley home from the mid-1600s. After the War of 1812, settlers flooded into Indiana from the south, traveling up from the Ohio River via the newly established Michigan Road, whose route is followed closely today by US-31. The pressure from settlers forced the U.S. government to pursue treaties with the Miami, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, and others by any means necessary.” -Josh Kinder

Excerpts from Josh Kinder’s blog posts about retracing the steps of their brutal removal from the land I call home brings their spirits closer. He joined others in following “the route that more than 800 Potawatomi were forced to walk in 1838 from their homeland in northern Indiana to lands given them in eastern Kansas. This removal route has become known as the Trail of Death: along the way, more than 40 Potawatomi died from disease and fatigue, most of them children.”

During the retracing, Josh shares about how his “spirit was greatly exercised, and…powerfully moved.” Read the rest of Part I here.

The re-tracers in 2015 walked and drove for 16 days to the “end” of the trail of death; much shorter than the 60 days the Potawatomi were forced to walk (their overseers often riding horses) all the way to Kansas.  Many died on the way to the Kansas mission because of the harsh end of summer and early winter. Josh writes,

“With each step further into the mission, I could feel again that burden of sorrow weighing down my body. Though the landscape was flat and open, I felt myself surrounded by the spirits of the dead. This was the very spot the Potawatomi walked, this was where they remembered their home, this was where they sat and wept. God is especially present in those places where God’s people have cried out for an end to their oppression. Our faith is that God hears the cries of the oppressed. I was haunted by the spirits at the mission, and I was haunted by the Holy Spirit, the presence of God. Here was where hundreds of Potawatomi refugees died and were buried. We had just walked into a valley of bones.” Read the rest of Part II here.

Josh is honest about the painful space of grief and heart-opening that this retracing led to. He notes that the rituals of deep listening, re-tracing, and the resources of his religious tradition can be crucial parts of reconciliation between settlers and Indigenous peoples. His writing will move you beyond your fix it mentality to sit with all the broken pieces (inside and outside yourself) and observe them. “But there has to be more,” he says, and he humbly admits that he doesn’t know the way to justice in this place that many call the Midwest USA.  Not one of us knows the way entirely. He continues:

“The ghosts I experienced along the trail, the spirits of the trees and plants, none of these know the way, either. But we need them. We cannot reconcile with our Indigenous neighbors today if we do not reconcile with the histories of terror perpetrated upon their ancestors by our ancestors, and the ways we have terrorized the land. The way forward is dark, mysterious, and full of trouble. Reconciliation is hard. It will cause us to weep; it will require us to make reparations, to give up what is not ours to keep. We will be haunted by spirits. We will need the help of the Holy Ghost on the way toward peace.” Read the rest of Part III here.

Josh’s writing is part of a broader effort of the Anabaptist angle to Dismantle the Doctrine of Discovery. Please consider supporting them! Christian Peacemaker Teams also participates in Indigenous Peoples Solidarity toward building partnerships that transform violence and oppression. While paying attention to our own experiences and story, we seek to be led by those who are most impacted by settler colonialism in the directions of resistance and reconciliation that they want to go. Find out how to join us in this work.