How You Can Build a Better Peace

 

 

I thought I would start 2016 with a list of single steps any one of us can take towards building a better peace.

1. Quit watching the news.

Whether you get your news online, from the TV, out of a local newspaper or via NPR on the morning commute, just turn it off. You don’t need to listen to it or watch it. The really big things are beyond your control anyway, and the vast majority of your day really doesn’t need to have an opinion on most of what you get from the news. (Seriously, you already know who you intend to vote for in the next election, and no amount of amazing punditry is going to change your mind.) If you can’t quit cold turkey, I suggest limiting your exposure to “the news” to 1 single source (newspaper, TV station, or online blog) and to only allow yourself two 15 minute sessions with it a day. Try it for 28 days and see whether you feel better or worse. 

2. Pay attention to your metaphors.

If you stop and pay attention to what you both say and hear, you might be surprised to discover how many violent metaphors American English uses: “That doughnut sure hit the spot.” “Our project is right on target.” “I always aim for the highest goal.” “Shoot me an email, and I will tackle it right away.” It might be interesting to simply record the violent images and metaphors you hear during a coffee break. I have also found it to be really challenging to monitor my own speech and intentionally choose away from a violent image or metaphor.

3. Speak up for the humanness of people.

Speak up for the humanness of groups and the humanness behind actions when others refer to them as evil. By acknowledging that those we most fear and whose actions we most abhor are human beings, we admit the depth of our own capacity for wrongdoing.  When the rhetoric is high on your facebook feed, simply remind folks of their shared humanity with the Democrats or Anglicans who drive them crazy.

This practice is particularly important to me, as in my identity as a Christian I find that demonizing other people gives me an excuse to avoid my responsibility to express mercy, offer grace, and expect redemption. It also allows me to live in the illusion that there is no hope for reconciliation. For me, not speaking up for another’s humanness is extremely damaging to both my faith and my soul. 

4. Pray for someone you actually don’t like.

This is great because no one has to know you are doing it. It can be just between you and Divinity. In whatever way it is meaningful to you, pray for a person who gets under your skin a little bit. Don’t focus on an enemy or even try to tell yourself that you want there to be a good relationship with the person. Simply pray for their well-being. 

5. Take someone who scares the hell out of you to lunch.

You remember when Shane L. Windmeyer went to a football game with Dan Cathy? Or remember when Bob Vander Plaats and Donna Red Wing met for coffee in Urbandale? Like that. Meet in a public place. Pay for the meal. Listen more than you talk.

6. Volunteer.

You don’t need the news to encounter violence in your community. All you have to do is slip under the fences surrounding your life.

  • Volunteer as victim advocate for the court system or with your local domestic violence and sexual assault service center.
  • Find out what it would take to be a Stephen Minister for the local police department.
  • Provide some sort of ongoing assistance for a family with a member in prison. Contact Women@the Well to find out how.
  • Deliver care packages to those working in the ER at 2:00 in the morning.
  • Eat one meal a month at a soup kitchen and get to know someone there.

7. Lead a book or movie conversation group.

What are some of the topics which seem to divide people around you? Find a movie or a book which addresses those topics and lead a discussion group. I recommend The Color Purple (Alice Walker), The Milagro Beanfield War (John Nichols), Mi Familia, Fruitvale Station, Indian Killer (Sherman Alexie) and The Faith Club (Ranya Idliby) The United Methodist Church provides many materials to help people lead these kinds of groups:

8. Read Fieldnotes on the Compassionate Life by Marc Ian Barasch.

9. Form an intervention group.

Gather a group of other peacemakers. Get trained in intervention, and attend school events, community meetings, and sports competitions together. Notice the gatherings of people where bullying often occurs, and practice stepping up. Not sure where to start? Look into Soulforce, the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center or contact Alan Feirer at Group Dynamic 

10. Join a singing group.

Not a rock band. Not a talent show. Not a competition like The Voice, or America’s Got Talent. Join a singing group. Singing in a group has significant physical and psychological benefits. Socially, group singing (or drumming, or dancing, or playing instruments) is a great way to play cooperatively with other people. It builds connection, social awareness and cultural competency.

As you enter into 2016, I hope this list gives you one or two ideas for ways you can cultivate peace. If you are already an experienced producer of peace, I would love to hear your best practices.

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Peace

I recently wrote an email to one of my state legislators, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, asking him not to let fear get the better of compassion, by slowing and stopping the immigration process for refugees fleeing war in Syria. I received a written response from Senator Grassley, for which I am thankful. His letter closes with the following:

“America’s humanitarian principles haven’t changed. The times have changed . . . The United States is the greatest nation on earth, and we have consistently demonstrated our generosity and compassion towards those fleeing persecution. Yet, we must not let this compassion overshadow the safety of the American people in this time of crisis.”

Senator Grassley expresses an opinion that I often hear from people. It is the opinion that certain principles, like compassion and justness, are fair weather friends; that they are like rain coats and umbrellas in a world ravaged by a hurricane; that, when the real world invades our fantasies, we can no longer rely on kindness, hospitality, and mercy to see us through; the idea that peace is only possible because of those who are willing to kill to maintain it.

In 2015, I was asked to present some thoughts on the theme “Go, Be Peacemakers,” for the annual Peace with Justice March which happens during the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Below is a short speech I wrote that I did not end up giving. I have included a picture of the stole I intended to wear.

I think Senator Grassley is wrong. I don’t think the times have changed all that much at all, and I give this to him, and to you, as my response:

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PEACE.

This word. This simple, easy word. One vowel sound. One syllable. All these fat, rounded curves. What does it mean? What do the doves mean? The olive branches? The whole thing is so . . .pretty.

Isn’t it, though? Isn’t it nice? Doesn’t it make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Like a dream of a garden full of lazy bees and butterflies, where honey drips from the comb and flute-like music plays on the breeze?

Is it still nice word when you learn that this word was stitched in Bosnia-Herzegovina? After the war there? By a woman who is selling her sewing talents so she can eat? What does this word mean in Ukraine, where our United Methodist Churches are doing all they can to house, feed and tend those fleeing conflict there? What does this word mean in Democratic Republic of Congo, in Ferguson, in Baltimore, and in Garland, Texas? What does this word mean to you and me, here on this day in Des Moines Iowa?

What does it mean to call God the Prince of Peace and Lord of the Sabbath? Especially if we believe, as many of us here at least claim to, that Jesus is not merely a Lord among Lords, but THE Lord of all Lords, warlords included. Who are we to stand by and let them, then, the Masters of War tell us that peace is not possible. That peace is not politically feasible? That national security requires a standing army, an armed militia, militarized policing forces and borders with just enough permeability not to slow down the export flow of guns and other weapons to our neighbors, friends and enemies around the globe?

It may be that you don’t want to “take sides” in the ongoing feud in the Middle East, to choose Palestine or Israel, Syria or Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran. and I can understand that. Conflict is complicated. We like things to be simple.

Like taking sides, for instance, instead of loving people. Loving people, strangers, outcasts, criminals, and enemies such that we invest at least as much in building up their lives and infrastructure as we do in our own defense Research and Development. Loving people, strangers, outcasts, criminals and enemies such that we don’t care what political agenda actually wins the day as long as it guarantees neighbors have the safety and freedom to eat dinner together, and that Romeos and Juliets don’t have to lock their relationships into closets and drink public poison simply to be together. 

Because as I stand here in this garment of peace, stitched together by hands and a heart shaped and changed by the mindless fury of war, I can’t help but believe that peace can’t be some sort of light, fluffy, Kum-ba-Yah moment of sisterly love.I can’t help but believe that peace isn’t some layer of frosting on the celebration cake we bake at the end of time, but that it is instead our Jesus Christ Christian call in the here and now, in the day to day, in the moment by moment choices we  make with every single breath. It is our response to the sighing, dying, killing, hating, hurting question, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

So I would like to issue a challenge to all of us gathered here today. I challenge us to GO! To be peacemakers. To go, to do, to be whatever it takes to make this word, this simple, single-syllable word actually mean something. 

Scattered and Sown

I made a decision today. I made the decision to shut down a website related to a consulting business I tried, half-heartedly, to get off the ground. The whole endeavor was kind of like the seeds in the parable: I just tossed them out, sprinkled them with a little bit of water and let the ground decide whether or not they would grow. And the ground decided they would not grow.

I am alright with that. Some things that are good things aren’t ready to be born yet, and when the time is right, my guess is my heart will decide to actually nurture and incubate that dream.

Meanwhile, my life has undergone a large number of changes in the past year. I adopted a new dog. I quit a job. I moved. And while I had specific goals and ideas for how I would start over here, I was sick for the first 2 months and have not yet gotten my feet under me.

What’s more, it turns out my new town is very different from my old town. While I knew who I was and what I could offer there-here, I am not so sure.

To some extent, I have arrived. I am fully-fledged with skills and techniques, with gifts and ideas, with resources and possibilities. I know who I am and what I can do. I know what the world is and what it needs. But everything works differently here, and I haven’t yet found the right connections. I keep getting distracted by new and shiny things, and temptations to return to dreams I thought had died.

And, in the midst of this uncertainty, ambiguity and possibility, the world around me has gone completely mad.

I often wondered about tipping points in history. What it must have been like when the French Revolution actually ignited. Or what series of decisions led to the rise of fascism in Europe over the first half of the 20th-century. Or whether the Civil Rights Movement just spontaneously erupted around people; Or what it was like to live through Vietnam War protests that were so extreme, our armies came home.

It seems, suddenly, that I am living in the midst of just such a moment-an American moment of toppling social structures, widespread anxiety, and bursts of vicious societal aggression that are downright incomprehensible.

So I made a decision today. I made a decision to close a chapter on my life. To quietly shut the door on a possibility, knowing I can probably come back and open it again later. I made a decision to settle one piece of business-to take control of one thing that belongs to me. When the world stops making sense, it helps to ground yourself. It helps to touch familiar things. It helps to pay bills and clean the house. It helps to exert power and control in the places where  you rightfully have power and control.

In that process, I will be moving some reflections I have shared about worship over to this blog, while reimagining the purpose of Sown In Peace. Luckily, I think it is all part of the same big thing-singing, faith, liberation, justice, and peace. I think it is all part of a call to help remake the life of this world. To build a house, to plant a garden, to eat the produce of the land, to marry, carry, and bury-even when I find myself living in a land of exile and oppression, of fear and despair, of violence, hatred, racism and war.

We’ll see what delicious thing the ground will decide to yield.

 

 

 

 

No Excuses: Solar On Every Church-Guest Post By Deacon Wil Ranney

Is there anyone out there that still needs to be convinced of the devastating effect that climate change has on the world’s poor? Is there anyone out there that still needs to be convinced that people (we) are creating the problem? Is there anyone out there not convicted by Scripture to be good stewards of the earth?

If you can answer yes to one of those questions, email me, we’ll talk.

The next question is a harder. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t feel like they can make a difference? This is where Solar comes in.

Solar’s PR Problem

Solar has something of a PR problem, one that’s cleverly perpetuated by fossil fuel lobbies. In the 70’s when solar first hit the scene, people quickly discovered how pathetic solar was at harvesting energy. They could only capture about 10% of the energy that was hitting them. However, even in the last five years, there have been major improvements made in Solar panel efficiency. Some of these improvements have been made right hear in Iowa.

The latest solar innovations are pushing 40% efficiency, meaning we’ve experienced a 400% increase! The cheapest mass market options are around 25% efficient, still great. This is not your parent’s solar we’re talking about!

It’s Too Cloudy in Iowa

Germany, has roughly the same cloud cover as Iowa, and had a day last month where 75% of their power came from solar! They average above 30%.

It Takes Too Long to Get Your Money Back

According to CleanTechnica, the average payback for a solar project in Iowa is 17 years. Remember, these figures are based on older technology. 17 years might seam like a long time, but divide that by 100 and you’ll see that your rate of return is about 5.8% a year! What other safe investment will give you that rate of return. You’d be lucky to get .58%.

Where Will We Find the Money?

This takes a little creativity, but not too much. There are investment boards (like the Board of Pensions) that are always looking for safe investments and would be natural partners. Not surprisingly, there are lots of finance companies that are popping up to help out with solar projects because to the reliable rate of the return. Many of these are non-profit. Also, you could always offer bond options to your congregants. Solar panels are hardy, and last more than 25 years, which means at least 8 years of pure profit.

It Doesn’t Look “Churchy”

Sure it won’t fit in with your Akron Plan, red brick building; but what says “churchy” more than putting your commitment to God’s justice on public display!

Do You Have the Will?

It all comes down to this question. There are no other excuses that make sense. This is the very picture of a “win win” situation. There is little know financial risk and you meaningfully reduce your carbon emissions. What are we waiting for Iowa?

Photo: By Dietrich Krieger (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Iowa Storm Response

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With reports of severe weather rolling in every day, I wanted to share this update from Rev. Catie Newman, Disaster Response Coordinator of Iowa. Click these links for a report on the damages in Iowa June 16 and June 18 . For contact information and information on how your faith community can best respond:

Suggested Action Steps for Iowa Response

1. Please pray for everyone affected by the water and flooding! We are expecting more rain and that means more runoff and that means more water everywhere!! Several more towns downstream are at risk if we get much more rain, AND because we are still “underwater” that there is not too much for volunteers to do at this time, we are however getting ready for when we can help.

2. We are collecting Clean-up buckets and clean-up supplies and getting them in place,

3. I anticipate that within the next week to 10 days we will begin needing volunteers to help clean outflooded homes, basements, businesses etc…after that we will have a time where things need to dry out and wait, after that we will need volunteers for longer term and rebuilding work.

4. NOW is the time to start planning when you can come and getting a team together. At this time we will want to have teams led by UMVIM Trained volunteer leaders (and yes!! we can get some trainings in right now!!) please contact Melissa Bracht-Wagner for scheduling(melisa.brachtwagner@yahoo.com)

5. There are UMC congregations close-by that you can contact for housing, please do not plan to stay in the town that you are volunteering in, really no space or useable water is available and we do not want to be a burden on top of the flooding. We would hope that teams will come prepared to be self-sufficient, food, tools, sleeping arrangements. If this interests you, send an email to me (Catie Newman, disaster.response@iaumc.org or johnstruckfarm@wiate.net) with the dates you are looking at and how many people on your team, we will put you in contact with the contact person in the town that needs your help.

6. Right now I need some help moving things around, delivering water and clean-up buckets and supplies and general assistance. I would prefer to have people volunteer with a partner, so that we always have a team. IF you have a vehicle that can pull a trailer (loaded with water, we have the trailer) and have a day to volunteer (in the next 14 days) please let me know 712-899-4067 phone or text, I can offer a church floor for sleeping and a place to shower.

Keep Alert, the weather forecasters are predicting, more and more serious weather systems. This can and will affect all of us.

Be Well

Catie and John Newman
IAUMC Disaster Response Coordinators
disaster.response@iaumc.org
712-899-4067 phone or text

It takes ALL of us to make a difference for EACH of us!

 

Talk Is Cheap

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 
― Frederick BuechnerWishful Thinking: A Theological ABC

There are a lot of opinions out there. There are a lot of different ways to use our reason and our intellect to convince ourselves that we are OK, or that we are doing the right thing. There are myriad ways to read Scripture and interpret faith so that our own prejudices, biases, inclinations, and desires can be found comfortable, faithful and otherwise pleasing to our own sensibilities; to the sensibilities of our family, friends and neighbors, and can still conform to the tenets of our “doctrine” and  our “discipline.”

I can’t help but wonder, though, how our world might look if we each spent as much energy actually doing something about those things we argue about as we spend consulting our favorite gurus and posting our favorite memes to facebook.

For instance, in Iowa, there is a shortage of residential treatment facilities. There is evidence of human trafficking in both labor and sexual slavery. School food programs are all struggling, while students whose families are under physical, economic, and psychological distress continue to fall behind in the skills necessary to navigate an increasingly complicated world of credit lending and temporary employment. Youth mentorship programs do not have enough mentors to supply their need. People suffering from ongoing mental illness cannot receive the treatment they require. Air, land and water quality are degraded and deteriorating. Women in Iowa earn only 77% of what men make. Our churches, schools and neighborhoods are built more along the lines of separate and unequal, than along lines of an intentionally cross-cultural integration. Laborers work 16 and 20 hour days, while part-time employees without benefits are fired for refusing to work overtime.

And yet . . . there is a United Methodist Church in practically every community in Iowa. I find it impossible to believe that we, as a church, do not have the resources at our fingertips to actually provide a powerful and faithful response to the evil, injustice and oppression whose forms we meet on a daily basis. What if we decided to measure our faithfulness in lives transformed?  What if we looked to measure our righteousness such that every community in which we live is notably more compassionate than communities in which we do not live? What if we loved our neighbors so deeply and so radically we had no room left in our hearts for judgment?

There is a song by Casting Crowns with these lyrics,

But if we are the body
Why aren’t his arms reaching?
Why aren’t his hands healing?
Why aren’t his words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t his feet going?
Why is his love not showing them there is a way?”

Maybe we would get some things wrong. Maybe we would break some church rules and raise some eyebrows. Maybe our neighbors would look at us strangely and whisper about us behind our backs. But maybe, just maybe, our world would start to look a little bit more like the place God promises us it can be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Statement from the Iowa Nigeria Partnership

The Boko Haram and the Nigerian United Methodist Church

NigeriaPartnership_LOGO_SCXZXHQ3The country of Nigeria has been in the press with stories of bombings, kidnapping of 250+ girls, burning churches and causing turmoil in villages located in northern Nigeria.  Nigeria is the size of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa with a majority of Muslims living in the northern states which border Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Mali.  It is in this area that the militant group known as Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin,” is trying to impose their Sharia law. The Boko Haram targets Christians with hundreds being killed in the last several years.

The Nigerian Government has not addressed this terrorist problem thus allowing attacks to continue in northeast Nigeria.  With the recent kidnapping of 276 school girls taking exams in Chibok, a world wide protest has occurred with the cry being “bring back our girls.”  The school girls kidnapping – which the group has taken responsibility for – is just the latest attack in a brutal campaign of violence it has been waging for years against what it sees as the corrupt, Westernized and oil-obsessed government in the majority Christian south.

Nigeria officials have invited assistance from world powers as the U.S., United Kingdom, and China to help find the girls and train security and military forces.

The United Methodist Church of Nigeria is located in north central Nigeria, south of the states being affected by the Boko Haram.  In Jalingo, the capital of Taraba State and headquarters of the UMCN, there is a ban on the use of motorcycles in the city.  In Adamawa and Borno States cell phones and the internet had been banned.

Our group flies into Yola, located in the southern part of Adamawa State, and then drives to Jalingo where we stay at the church guest house. During our stay in Nigeria, we travel to very rural, remote villages, off the beaten path, where religious groups peacefully coexist.  In the past several years our stay in Nigeria has been without incident.

While we Iowans can return home, our Nigerian church friends live with insecurity and a sense of fear not knowing where, when or why an incident might take place.  Let us raise our prayers to God for their safety and ability to continue the Lord’s work in their land.  Pray that the kidnapped girls be found and returned to their homes.  Our Iowa work team of fifteen members will appreciate prayers as we depart for Nigeria on June 9.

For More Information about the special relationship between the United Methodist Church in Iowa and the United Methodist Church in Nigeria: Iowa Nigeria Partnership  or like on Facebook