Social Justice

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.

Worship

From Joy to Sorrow

These past  few weeks, there was another murder spree. In fact, there was more than one. Another random selection of young people took up weapons and decided to destroy the lives of other people.  Next Sunday, many Christian churches celebrate the third Sunday of Advent which liturgically includes lighting the “Joy” candle in an Advent wreath.

That is a difficult paradox to resolve, and it is this kind of sudden eruption of the world into the lives of people that makes collaborative and team approaches to worship planning so important. When the worship we express is not responsive to events such as mass shootings, public bombings, and the unrepentant slaying of black men and women for wearing their American skin, it becomes irrelevant.

We may not like the fact that we have to compete with club sports, Target’s marketing budget or last night’s midnight finish of the playoff game to fill our pews on Sunday mornings, but that does not give us the excuse to stop trying to craft the best worship possible every single week.  Especially in times like these, times when the human experience seems particularly difficult to comprehend or bear.

The human experience is the worship experience.  The work of Sunday morning is a work of meaning-making.  A team of people who have spent weeks in dialogue  preparing for this Sunday of Joy only to wake up Friday to a world in Sorrow, won’t have to wonder whether or not to change the slides, the songs, the prayers or the sermon.  They will only have to figure out who first to call.  They will be able to get together and continue the dialogue for how a service pointed toward Joy can more deeply engage with a community in grief.  

Too often, pastors sit alone in their offices on Saturday, bleeding over a sermon or prayer that arises from the newspaper, with no mechanism in place to work with the musicians, the liturgists, the ushers, the sound engineers, the video crew, or the drama team to shift, change or alter the planned worship.

Too often, the music leader feels duty-bound to the letter and text of the cantata, and doesn’t give herself permission to revise the readings or alter the order of the songs.

Too often, music groups have not spent enough rehearsal time together to be able, without notice, to play a different song set or present a different anthem.

Too often, the children’s sermon has been a slot of storybook or Bible song, and there is no time to find something age appropriate that can help children and parents in conversation and response to sudden tragedy.

It is at these times, these times when a faithful response is especially important, that our lack of preparation shows.  It is at these times that the clockwork, fill the slot worship production mentality bears its fruit.

We show up and follow our lines, incapable of improvising on the black and white themes of the bulletin  We say the printed prayers from the book of worship and sing the songs set before us, not because they mean something, but because that is what we have been taught to do.

We watch the short video clip from “Christmas Vacation,” presented with no shift in context or aim, and at the end of the morning, our people leave, unprepared for the week ahead, their questions, griefs, anxieties and fears unanswered by the Gospel; and the best we leaders can hope for is that worship may have provided an hour’s escape from the morning news.

Social Justice

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.

 

 

 

 

Social Justice

Dear Church

Church, if we just decided to be The Church, there is so much WORLD to which we could be attending*

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why we don’t want to.

Instead, we want members. We want people to come to our church events. We want people to like our linoleum and our pastors. We want to entertain, sustain, enliven, and energize public crowds, but we are not as good at that as are the stadiums, restaurants, dance clubs, and farmer’s markets. Instead what we want is a secure compound with a secret tunnel into Heaven for the day the zombie hordes finally breach the wall. Except, we aren’t very good at administering that, either.

You know what we are good at, though?

Theology.

Hugs and empathy in a world which celebrates toughness and stoicism.

Preparing and sharing food in ways which make everyone feel like a friend.

Talking about the dead, and holding hands with the dying. The worst experience in the world is a death devoid of meaning and a funeral among people without a faith.

Being friends with murderers. Don’t believe me? Read about United Methodist Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, and Jürgen Moltmann .

Feeding strangers-even the dirty, crazy, lazy, unworthy ones.

Communion.

Entrusting the management of our organization to the hands of just about anybody who comes through our doors.

Honoring sheep.

And what resources do we have to help us offer these gifts to our neighborhoods and communities?

Houses and churches-empty or underused spaces which we can employ free of charge; and they are in every town in Iowa. Some of them were even built where there is not a town.

If we could wrap our heads around it, we have a shared bank account with tens, hundreds, thousands, and through the Connection, millions of other people. (This in a culture which rewards people that hoard, hide, and password protect every possible resource they can get their hands on.)

Families that are not related by blood-we have cousins, grandparents, children, parents, and siblings to spare.

Oodles of people with time, flexible schedules, and unique life experiences who can bridge the space between faith communities and their local School Boards, Chambers of Commerce, Housing Authorities, Hospital Administrations, Parent-Teachers’ Associations, Insurance Companies, Retail Stores and Sports Booster Clubs.

Hands on opportunities for people to gain experience in:

Fine Arts, Business Administration, Volunteer Management, Computer Literacy, Grant Writing, Journalism, Audio/Visual Technology, Public Speaking, Financial Management, Web Design, Systems and Information Technology, Spreadsheets, Wood Working, Plumbing, Electrical, Auto Mechanics, Nursing, Meeting Management and Facilitation, History, Humanities, Social Studies, Biology, Food Science, Event Planning, Hospitality, International Relations, Cultural Exchange . . . 

A story that always ends with a Beginning.

The world has issues. The world has problems. The world has patriotism, politics, and Oscar nominations to worry about.

You know what we have? We have the memory of God. And that memory, that reminder of who and whose we are, it has the power to do nothing less than transform the world. What would you rather spend your time attending to?

Abundant Life, Compassion, Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Social Action, Social Justice, Under 18, Wellness, Women

Open Letter

I was asked to submit an open letter as part of a media campaign being scheduled by Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (http://www.iowacasa.org/) for Sexual Assault Awareness Month which is observed in April. ImageHere is my submission:

I write this letter for a college roommate who was afraid to ride her bicycle past the football players’ dorm on our campus because of the harassing comments and remarks that would be tossed her way. I write this letter because my response at the time was to think, “If you insist on wearing a skirt when you ride your bike, you can count on men hollering at you.”

I write this letter for a fifteen year-old woman who came to me because she didn’t want to exchange oral sex for friendship anymore, and she was looking for a way out. I write this letter because, at the time, I had no idea that fifteen-year-olds were under that kind of pressure, and I was unprepared to help her.

I write this letter for my small, bird-frail friend who claimed that Julia Child saved her life because she learned how to cook by watching Julia’s show on PBS. I write this letter for my friend whose pastor told her she must try to do better as a wife so that her husband wouldn’t hurt her anymore.

I write this letter for a nation in which women do not have equal representation in government. I write this letter for a nation which allows male elected leaders whose last biology class was in 1965 to set the tone of conversation in matters pertaining to my physiology, anatomy and psychological make-up.

I write this letter for a world in which people can be put in prison for life for having a romantic relationship with a person of the same gender, while juries in this country continue to acquit people who pulled triggers and ended lives without actually demonstrating any kind of threat beyond their own fear.

It is time for us to change, to admit our priorities are mixed up: when a university president can say that sexual assault is “human nature” and thinks that sounds sane; when physical and verbal violence is offered to young men and women, and our only response is to shake our heads and claim those kinds of behavior are acceptable as long as they happen inside “the locker room;” when our response to radio personalities who equate birth control with promiscuous sexual activity is to give them the benefit of the doubt and keep listening, but our response to our next door neighbor who was raped is to ask whether or not she had been drinking and shut the door.

At this time, more people are being bought and sold than at any other time in human history, mostly to satisfy the sexual urges and relational longing of other people. It is time for honest conversations about sex and the character of healthy and life-giving relationships. It is time that sexual assault and domestic violence stop being part of our everyday experience. It is time for us to stop blaming female bodies for our collective inability to exercise self-control, and it is time for us to shine a light into the broken, unlovely reaches of our own hearts where the urge to violence, alienation, cruelty, and fear are born.

So, I am speaking up, and I hope you will to. I hope you will get informed and spread the word. I hope you will get involved in your local community to gather stories, to share burdens, to confront evils, and to name and own a future where our daughters and our sons don’t have to walk down the streets in fear.

Sincerely,

Colleen McRoberts

Abundant Life, Conversations, Correctional Facility, Poverty, Schools, Social Justice

Income Inequality

Church after church, pastor after pastor, and layperson after layperson name poverty as the most significant issue facing their communities and the world.  Yet poverty is not so much an issue as it is a web of intersecting issues, originating from different sources, yet coming together in a recognizable pattern of violence, insecurity, aborted potential, mental turmoil, disease and fear.  In this video, President Obama speaks to one of those issues, the issue of income inequality: