Femonite Bites (4/18/15)

Five things I love this week:

This new album by fab feminist rocker Lowell. (Thanks to Isaac V. for the referral)

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This article on teaching your toddler emotional intelligence (and an excuse to show them Daniel Tiger).

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Chatbooks: the do-it-for-you photo album that takes your Instagram photos and turns them into books. Shameless plug: If you use my code (7ARC3W43) your first book is free and I get credit, too!

ellie

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Kristen Bell for fair wages. (Thanks, Laurie!)

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This mother’s photos of her fearless and active daughters

Anything you would add? Happy Saturday!

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On busyness

busynessThere are a myriad of ways someone can answer the simple question: How are you? Often this question is sort of asked as part of a basic exchange of pleasantries or as an aside while two aquaintances pass in the hall. Sometimes I even find myself asking the question without even really listening and/or waiting to hear the answer, which is perhaps part of the problem in and of itself.

Over the course of the past year though, I’ve read a number of reflections that highlight a default answer that many Americans have started to pick up. And in my own life (and even for myself!), this trend seems to hold true. Ask someone how they are and 95% of the time (I’m not being scientific here, but you get the point) they’ll reply with some variation on the theme of, “I’m good! Busy, but good,” or “Crazy busy! But it’s all good stuff.”

Somehow busyness has become a middle class marker of a good life. It means that your time is put to good use, you are in demand and you are by no means underworked. If it’s your boss asking, it makes it clear that you are working hard for the money. Or perhaps it shores up our sense of self and helps us to feel popular and in the know.

This may seem like a benign enough response – not too interesting and perhaps harmeless – but busyness as a constant state of being is far from neutral.

Writer and mystic, Thomas Merton, wrote, “The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist…destroys his [or her] own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of their own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

During a recent children’s story at our church on a Sunday morning, Kristin, a local preschool teacher and all-around wise person, shared a story with the children about the special core that God instills in each one of us. In front of the kids, she sliced an apple horizontally and showed them the resulting star pattern found at the apple’s core. This special core is there, placed and nurtured by God – within every apple and within every human. Simple, but profound.

But what happens when we are busy, even with good things, and we lose our sense of connectedness to this very core of our being? What happens when we simply become what we do and our whole sense of self-worth is wrapped up in those things rather than the core of who we are? What happens then when there is nothing left to do? Or maybe the very idea of there being nothing left to do is far-fetched enough that it’s not even worth considering.

This sense of righteous busyness takes on an added layer for Anabaptist-Mennonites, who have prioritized a theology that is all about ethics and about being the active hands and feet of Christ in the world. We can easily sanctify our busyness.

We’ve founded organizations and faith communities centered on cleaning up after disasters (literally), advocating for justice, serving in communities around the world and the list could go on. And it’s all good stuff. Part of why I’m proud to be a Mennonite is that our faith bleeds out into our daily lives all the time. We don’t just sit back and let the world go to hell in a handbasket and wait for Jesus to come back someday, but we commit ourselves to working to help the kindom of God to be manifest in the world and our communities right now.

But –as there is with anything-there’s can be a shadow side to all this constant “doing.”

For whatever reason, my spiritual director felt like it was time to talk with me about busyness this week. Maybe it was the glazed look in my eyes or just the fact that we had to reschedule our appointment three times before I made it to her house, but whatever the reason, she was right. She gently reminded me that sometimes there can be a temptation to “…do love without ever realizing that we have to simply be love in order to be effective.”

An oft-quoted saying by Hans Denck goes, “No one can know Christ unless one follows him in life…” But the second part of this quote, which seems to often get chucked or left behind, says, “…and no one may follow him unless one has first known him.”

It takes time and space to get to know someone. When I think about what has taken me to the “next level” with many of my dear friends, it has not often been big events or doing lots of things together, but rather time spent in conversation or just walking through humdrum daily life together. It took space and time and energy to invest in knowing and being known. As my spiritual director pointed out, how often do our efforts to “save the world” end up actually getting in the way of being loving towards those we encounter throughout the day? How often are we so busy that we are unable to notice the needs and desires of those closest to us? I feel this tension all the time when I struggle with whether to get more work done or to spend time being really present with these sweet little humans who inhabit my house and long for my attention.

I realize that writing a blog post bemoaning busyness is not that unique and perhaps not even that helpful. But sometimes naming something out loud is the first step in undoing its power over you.

So I commit myself to two things:

  • No longer asking “How are you?” as a throw away question. When I ask, I want to be have the time and energy to invest in listening to and fleshing out the answer that comes.
  • No longer answering that question with “busy” as my default answer. I want to stop making busyness a mark of prestige, popularity and/or personhood.

Sounds simple, right?

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A new Anabaptist reading list

The Mennonite churches that I have been a part of (and the theology and ethics they espouse) have been among the most formative theological influences in my life. But lately, I’ve been realizing that most of the theological texts that I’ve read and consider formative actually haven’t come from Anabaptist-Mennonite sources (with a few exceptions). A few months ago, I published a list of what I considered the most influential books I’ve read. With the exception of The Body and the Book by Julia Kasdorf and The Nonviolent Atonement by J. Denny Weaver, none of these texts grew out of an Anabaptist context. Thinkers who have shaped my theology and understandings of the world the most are writers like Rita Nakashima Brock, Patrick Cheng, bell hooks, Gloria Anzaldua, Christena Cleveland, Alfred North Whitehead, Catherine Keller, and the list could go on…

In recent years, as I’ve wanted to dig more intentionally back into Anabaptist-Mennonite texts, I have been frustrated by how difficult it is to find pieces that are written by individuals who are not straight white men. Now, let’s be clear: many straight white Anabaptist men have said really interesting and important things that have shaped the ways I think, but in seminary I would have scoffed at, scorned and critiqued up and down any syllabus that didn’t include a more diverse canon of authors. So how is it that – after 11 years of Mennonite education (yes, 11!) – I still have to dig and hunt to find diverse voices exploring theology, religion and cultural studies from within Anabaptist-Mennonite contexts?

Last week I decided to crowd-source this question on Facebook, and I was pleasantly surprised at the response, which included many texts I had never heard of. One of the suggestions was that I create a list of all these resources on the blog, so here you have it. I hope to keep adding to this list. What authors and texts would you add?

Nonfiction

the apple speaksPoetry

Fiction

 

Now I’ve got some reading to do! And there has to be more out there. What would you add?!

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On Racism and Having a Son

BlackLivesMatterFour hours before a grand jury would decide not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., my water broke. This was a surprise. My due date was still a solid two weeks away, and it just so happened that – at the time my water broke – my husband was sitting in Phoenix, Ariz., waiting on a plane to bring him back to the Midwest. Given this reality, I was in no hurry to jump start contractions, so I agreed with my midwife that I would rest easy until the hubs made it home, and we’d talk about next steps then.

This meant that – when Robert McCulloch began giving his speech – which signaled from its opening lines that what many had feared would, in fact, come true – I was sitting on my couch, staring at Twitter, and knowing that the birth of my own son was imminent. As I read words from Michael Brown’s parents, mourning the loss of their son and urging people to peacefully protest for change, I was preparing to meet my own son face-to-face for the first time.

For some reason, this collusion of events – a juxtaposition of new beginnings and painful endings that felt undone, unjust and profoundly unfair – made the tragedy of this news sit even heavier.

It also made me profoundly aware of the difference in the world that my son would enter and inhabit from the “get go”, as a young white male, and the world that Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Kimani Gray and other black men and boys experience on a day-to-day basis. In a recent editorial, Tim Wise, a long-time worker for anti-racism in both the United States and South Africa, wrote:

Can we [white people] just put aside all we think we know about black communities (most of which could fit in a thimble, truth be told) and imagine what it must feel like to walk through life as the embodiment of other people’s fear… To go through life, every day, having to think about how to behave so as not to scare white people, or so as not to trigger our contempt—thinking about how to dress, and how to walk and how to talk and how to respond to a cop (not because you’re wanting to be polite, but because you’d like to see your mother again)—is work; and it’s harder than any job that any white person has ever had in this country… It is in these moments—moments like those provided by events in Ferguson—that the limits of our commitment to that aspirational America are laid bare. It is in moments like these when the chasm between our respective understandings of the world—itself opened up by the equally cavernous differences in the way we’ve experienced it—seems almost impossible to bridge. But bridge them we must, before the strain of our repetitive motion disorder does permanent and untreatable damage to our collective national body.

There will be things that I will never have to teach my son; like how to speak respectfully to police officers, how to dress to avoid suspicion; how to be not just good enough, but better than expected in order to avoid fitting into someone’s narrow-minded stereotype.

There are assumptions I can make with my son. I can assume that the police are “on his side,” and that their role will to be protect, not bait and trap him. I can assume that people will think he is smart and nice and good, unless he proves them otherwise.

Truth be told, I am grateful for these things. But it breaks my heart to realize that – for other parents –the reality of what knowledge they must impart to their children in order for them to survive is much, much different.

Soon after the Ferguson decision, Glen Guyton, wrote,

When I see the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, I ponder, ‘Really?’ Yeah this is big news on Twitter, but ironically enough, before the nine-hour-long press conference to tell us what many in the black community already suspected (Surprise! The officer was going to get off scot-free), my 13-year-old son and I were having a very frank discussion about his behavior. He is a great kid, but I had to explain to him that as a black teenager he could not afford to make mistakes at school.  He could not afford to be average, but he had to be better just to be looked upon as equal. I told him that the system would look for any opportunity to bring him down. Why? Because race still matters in this country. Why? Because the black male is still seen as a threat. So my message to my son was, even though things have gotten better in this country, you can never, ever give the system an excuse to bring you down.

As the high profile decisions in the Michael Brown and Evan Garner cases have illustrated to us over the course of the past weeks, we cannot certainly claim to be living in a “post-racial society.” As comedian Jon Stewart mused yesterday, “Some people might even be wondering if we are living in a society at all.” For white people to claim “colorblindness” or to suggest that either of these two decisions (and the slew of other decisions  and situations like them that haven’t garnered national press attention) had nothing to do with racism, is a travesty. For those of us who are white to deny and ignore the presence of white privilege is not only false, but it’s deadly.

This is not just something “outside the church,” but is a worldview that has woven itself actively into Christian theology for hundreds of years. And racism’s insidiousness harms not only people of color, but those of us who appear to reap benefits from it as well.

In a blog written last April, Drew Hart wrote,

Given the longevity of western Christianity’s tradition of exalting the ‘White Male Figure’ as the standard of perfection and the model for citizenship and discipleship, it becomes the norm to see the White Male Figure at the center. Once people are accustomed to that norm, it is no longer seen as a violent practice…It is the irony of people becoming mal-adjusted to injustice and white supremacy. In fact, to even call out white supremacy in relation to mythic ‘White Male Figure’ is in itself seen as heretical and anti-Christian. However, what must be understood is that as long as the ‘White Male Figure,’ in its mythic and legendary glory, stands at the center, then that inevitably means that the Jewish Messiah and Lord over all creation, Jesus the Victorious One, does not stand in the center. The Jesus that has been manipulated to look like, think like, and bolster the agenda of “the White Male Figure” is not the Jesus found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but is an impostor and enemy of Jesus. The Living and Resurrected One does not take the mode or disposition of the oppressor, but rather his disposition is found in his being crucified by earthly authorities that found him to be a threat to the status quo…

So given all of this, how does one go about raising young white children who are both aware of their privilege and not stymied by guilt? Children who are not just nice or friendly, but who are actively engaged in creating just communities from early on? How does our whole family unpack our own baggage, so that we can avoid continuing to offload it onto others? I wish I had easy answers to these questions. I’ve been reading and pondering a lot.

Glen’s suggestion is to begin where you are. He writes, “My son matters every single day. The kids he interacts with matter each and every day. Don’t acknowledge the need for reform because some event is trending on Twitter. Let’s put programs in place that teach and groom young African-American men each and every day. Heck, just mentor one or two kids who just need someone to love them. The Ferguson decision did not make me sad, it just confirmed that I, Glen Guyton, am the best chance of keeping young black men alive, starting with my son.”

White parents have a responsibility to educate their children, too. So I’ll start with my son, and, for that matter, my daughter, too. A new birth always brings with it a myriad of new possibilities. We rejoiced when our son arrived after what felt like hours and hours of labor! He, like all babies, is beloved child of God, knit together in my womb over the course of the past nine months. As I hold him in these first tender days, I am highly aware of both the gift and the responsibility that lies in my arms.

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My Top 10 Influential Books

Usually I try to cultivate indifferent resistance to Facebook challenges or listmaking just because it feels a little too bandwagon-y (sorry, ALS ice bucket challenge), but after being tagged by several people and asked to identify the top 10 book that have stuck with me over time, I had to oblige. There’s been something really fascinating about watching the books that people list. Also, just one quick disclaimer. I thought about adding the Bible to this list, but decided not to. It certainly is a book and text that has been influential and has shaped so much of the narrative of my life. But it also seems not quite fair to have it compete with so many other books which have both less content and less historical significance overall…

So here, in no particular order, and many of them for reasons I can’t articulate in any rational fashion, is my list:

1. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – Strong women. The Black Madonna. Theology. A good story. What’s not to love?

PRoverbsofashes2. Proverbs of Ashes : Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker – The book that introduced me to feminist theology and completely changed the way I understood communion and the cross.

3. The Nonviolent Atonement by J. Denny Weaver – Important partly because of the person who wrote it and his role in introducing me to theological studies, but also important because it suggests a way of making sense of Jesus’ death that fits with an Anabaptist peace ethic.

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Don’t know why. Just classic.

5. Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland – The newest book to rock my world. Well worth a read.

6. The Phaedrus by Plato – Maybe just because it was my first taste of philosophy.

7. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua – The first book that helped me to really borderlandsunderstand intersectionality and the space of possibility that is the margins.

8. Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope by bell hooks – Really, bell hooks could have made this list again and again, but this book in particular seems chock full of words that are challenging and worth reminding myself of over and over again. Helpful for teaching, pastoring, and just being in community in general.

9. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – I feel like this is a) really stereotypical for someone my age and b) maybe cheating since this is a series, but I can’t pick just one book. It’s good because it goes together.

BodyandBook10. The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life by Julia Kasdorf – The book that first proved to me that theopoetics must be the future of Anabaptist theology. A brilliant read.

Honorable mentions have to go to the His Dark Materials series (especially The Golden Compass), The Sexual Politics of Meat (trust me, you will never watch a Carl’s Jr. commercial the same way again), The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Eichmann in Jerusalem and many more that I just can’t think of right now…

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Pam Nath: When There is No Peace, Where are the Saints?

Nath-PamGuest post from…Pam Nath has been living and working in New Orleans, LA for the past seven years.  She works for Mennonite Central Committee Central States and is a Roots of Justice trainer. This post originally appeared on the Roots of Justice blog.  

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has annointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

“…the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.” W.E.B. DuBois

I traveled to Ferguson, Missouri from August 21-24 along with two other community organizers from New Orleans, La. We visited the Canfield Green apartments where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer and where beautiful memorials had been created. One sign referenced the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4: 8-10 – “And the Lord says: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out.” And indeed, roses lined the street where traces of Michael’s blood were still evident, crying out for those with ears to hear. Photo1

We talked with Ferguson residents, including a group camped out in a parking lot across from the police station and some youth camped in the “approved assembly area” in the parking lot of an old car dealership. Both of these groups said they planned to stay until Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown was indicted, and we brought them water and ice and fruit as a way of expressing our support and appreciation for their persistent call for justice.

That evening, we saw how West Florissant Avenue was closed to all through traffic, beginning at its intersection with Chambers Road, a full mile away from the “approved assembly area.” Anyone who wanted to join the protest had to walk a mile just to get to the protest site and then march in a spot cut off from the rest of the public, where police imposed a “5-second rule” which required protestors to keep moving, breaking up any conversations among groups of protestors who began to gather together.

This was only the most recent attempt to contain and squash people’s cries for justice. Others who had been in Ferguson earlier reported even more intense police repression. Police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed people who were in places they had every right to be including their own backyards, driveways and doorways. Purvi Shah of the Center for Constitutional Rights was part of a multigenerational crowd –including a number of children– into which police fired tear gas, with no warning and a full three hours before the midnight curfew that had recently been established. Many first person stories of encounters with police oppression are available if you look for them. What we saw in Ferguson was a community under occupation by police. No one felt safer. The constant threat of violence by police toward protestors was palpable.

Photo2The power of the state arrayed against the people of Ferguson reminds me of Desmond Tutu’s quote about an elephant with its foot on the tail of a mouse. Reverend Tutu advised us: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

What is extraordinary about Ferguson is not the killing of an unarmed black youth or the ways that institutions like the police, city government, etc. act in racist ways. That happens in New Orleans and it happens across the country. What is special and inspiring about Ferguson is that people’s thirst for justice is so strong there that they persist in protests despite the ways they are persecuted and threatened by the powerful militarized forces arrayed against them. Like Jesus, they are guided not by what is, but by their vision of what can and should be, and because of this, they, like Jesus, have found the courage to speak out in defiance of the powers of Empire, even to the point of risking their lives. They have done this now for two weeks.

Photo by Abdul Aziz, Used with permission.

Photo by Abdul Aziz, Used with permission.

The evening of Friday, August 22, the 13th day after Michael was shot, we joined protestors who had left the approved assembly area and marched three miles to the Ferguson Police Department, to drums and chants of “We want justice,” “No Justice, No Peace!” and “Indict that cop.” Despite the fact that they were met at the police department by a line of armed police who stood in formation, blocking their access to the building, people gathered across the street and continued to cry out for justice through song, drumming and conversation. One young man said on the mic, “We are not going to go over there tonight. Let’s be clear that we have a right to go over there, but we are not going to exercise that right tonight.”

I am reminded of a powerful sermon response that Vincent Harding delivered at the Eighth Mennonite World Conference in Amsterdam in the summer of 1967:

The beggars are rising – they refuse to lie on the ground, crippled, crushed, begging. They are rising in Detroit and in Harlem…. and among them is Christ, the beggar of Nazareth. Do you see him? Do you hear him in the noise of all the voices? Do you realize how his spirit blasts all bastions of security, affluence, and greed? He is there. We can hide but he is there. We can continue paying our taxes for armies and bombs, and continue to cry: ‘What can we do?’ We can call on the police and the army. Fearfully we can hide behind law and order or behind the walls of our churches. Nevertheless, there is a spirit walking freely upon the earth. There is a spirit in search of freedom. This spirit will not perish…. We should know one thing – the insurrectionist beggars are not waiting any longer. Christ has promised to help all beggars and he keeps his promise. Let us not misunderstand. He is on the side of the beggars. On which side are we as Mennonites, Christians, and humans who love humanity? ….Are we surrounded by the barricades of a status quo where we pray that the storm may pass on so that we can continue living without disturbance? …. In this case, we must admit that we are…. missionaries of law and order, defenders of a status quo, and seekers for peace without a cross.

Photo by Aziz Abdul, Used with permission.

Photo by Aziz Abdul, Used with permission.

I saw good news in Ferguson. I encountered the Spirit of Truth and Love and Hope there. As someone who has committed my life to working against racism, sometimes I despair. The systems that we fight against are huge and trap us all, including white people, and it can be hard to believe that things can change. I have often clung to words like Arundhati Roy’s: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” In Ferguson, I heard the whispers of a new world, stirrings of the promise of Hebrews 12:27, that things will be shaken up so that “what cannot be shaken may remain.”

The message of the Gospel is that there is a Force more powerful than Empire, more powerful than White Supremacy, and these protesters are preaching the Gospel! I saw in their faces not only righteous anger and determination, but also joy, because they have discovered that they are free because, like Jesus, they no longer are walking in the fear of death. In the face of that sort of Soul-Force, the power of empire fades into the background, like the police line in the beautiful pictures my friend Aziz took of the protesters while we were in Ferguson.

As people who believe in the gospel of peace, now is a time that presents an amazing opportunity for Mennonites to give flesh to our beliefs. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past when way too few Mennonites responded to Vincent Harding’s call to join in the civil rights movement. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the Christians to whom Martin Luther King Jr wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom….Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

In order to respond to the Gospel call for Justice coming out of Ferguson, we need to get clarity about what true peacemaking looks like. Peace is not refusing to be in open conflict or refusing to take sides in conflicts which exist. The situation in Ferguson doesn’t call for neutral mediators, bridge-builders between two sides who are in conflict, with us in the role of “peacemakers.” The “two sides” don’t have equal power, and they aren’t both right.

Like Desmond Tutu, historian and social justice worker Howard Zinn warned against neutrality in the face of oppressive power. In Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (a helpful read for those who wish not to conform to the world but instead to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” Romans 12:2), Zinn writes:
Why should we cherish “objectivity”, as if ideas were innocent, as if they don’t serve one interest or another? Surely, we want to be objective if that means telling the truth as we see it, not concealing information that may be embarrassing to our point of view. But we don’t want to be objective if it means pretending that ideas don’t play a part in the social struggles of our time, that we don’t take sides in those struggles. Indeed, it is impossible to be neutral. In a world already moving in certain directions, where wealth and power are already distributed in certain ways, neutrality means accepting the way things are now. It is a world of clashing interests – war against peace, nationalism against internationalism, equality against greed, and democracy against elitism – and it seems to me both impossible and undesirable to be neutral in those conflicts.

When we choose neutrality and are unwilling to engage conflict, we are clinging to the false peace that Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Old Testament prophets warned against.“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,” Jeremiah warned, “saying ‘Peace, peace.’ when there is no peace (6:14).” We need to face the cracks in the very structure of our society, rather than just trying to cover up cracks in the walls, as Ezekiel warned: “…they have misled my people, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace; and … when the people build a wall, these prophets smear whitewash on it (Ezekiel 13:10).”

What would working toward a positive peace in Ferguson look like? Chris Crass, a white antiracist organizer, gives us one vision:
So I’m seeing all these pictures from last night of adults trying to convince young Black people to leave the streets and only protest during the day in Ferguson, and this is being heralded by the police and mainstream media as “helping bring peace to Ferguson.” Where are the pictures of the white community leaders, the Federal government and the United Nations standing before the police in Ferguson telling them to put their guns down, go back to their homes, to take their frustrations out in constructive ways and to stop making us (the white community and the U.S. government) look like vicious, armed to the teeth, defenders of a white supremacist society without an ounce of regard for Black lives? 

“Peace”, as defined by the state and mainstream media, in Ferguson, means a return to the, below the national radar, war against the Black community that is “normal life” in this town that the Mayor repeatedly affirms “has no racial conflict”. Conflict, we are to understand, only exists when oppressed people fight back, but when oppressors rule through racist laws, policies, culture, and violence, it’s “peace”. That is why ever since the Rodney King rebellion in Los Angeles in 1992, the slogan is “No Justice, No Peace”. The Black young people in Ferguson, bringing discipline, non-violence, and determination in the face of continued violence and media smearing, are heroes!

The positive peace that Jesus calls us to work toward requires the presence of justice. Here are just a few of my ideas about some ways to work for justice that holds the promise of real peace. I am excited to hear others’ ideas as well.

• We can support the demands of groups organizing on the ground in Ferguson through letters to the editor, letters to your governmental representatives, conversations with friends, family, church and community members
• Send money to support the organizing in Ferguson
• Join or organize a solidarity march
• Find out what is happening in your city/town to address racial inequities and support the work, particularly groups led by organizers of color
• Sign this Color of Change petition calling on GoFundMe to cancel the fundraising site for Darrin Wilson. Wilson is on paid leave and since he has not yet been charged, has no legal fees, yet donations to support him have exceeded donations to the Brown family.
• Check out other suggestions for action in this toolkit put out by Showing Up for Racial Justice, a network of white antiracist organizers

Let us not repeat the mistakes of our past. Let us join in this movement for change, this movement for justice, this movement for real peace, this movement where we will experience Jesus walking next to us and the Truth shall set us Free.

Additional Recommended Readings

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ben adam Climer: On Pacifism and Sons

First Baby Pics 191Guest post from…ben adam Climer lives in Eugene, OR with his wife, Selene, and son Jonas. He attends Eugene Mennonite Church, where he is involved in teaching and preaching. He works as a crisis counselor on a mobile emergency team called CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets). CAHOOTS is a unique, city-funded program which dispatches through the police non-emergency line and handles calls regarding intoxicated folks, people with mental health crises, minor medical issues, inter-agency social service transports, unhoused people in a housing crisis, death notices, people at risk of suicide, and more. He very infrequently updates his own blog at: www.messesofben.wordpress.com

Every human being is a miracle.  While I cognitively believed this, I felt it as a physical knowledge at the birth of my son.  The process from sex to a new life, albeit better understood intellectually by scientific experts, still appears infinitely complex and indescribably incredible to those of us fortunate enough to see the entire metamorphosis from conception to beginning.  It is nothing less than a miracle.

To shift gears, let us talk about the problem of Private Ryan.  In Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus, Saving Private Ryan, President Franklin Roosevelt faces a moral dilemma: Private Ryan is in immense risk behind enemy lines during the battle of Normandy. His four brothers have already died as infantrymen.  FDR learns that Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter informing a mother that all five of her sons died in combat during the American Civil War.  Not wishing to subject a mother to the loss of all her children and not wanting to write such a tragic letter, the President gives direct orders for a group of soldiers to rescue Ryan.  Nearly all of them die in the process.

Saving Private Ryan is perhaps the greatest piece of war propaganda ever made. It is our modern Iliad. Nonetheless, its presenting problem understands that the victims of war are the loved ones of the young men who die: mothers, wives, sisters, children.  In simultaneous glorification of war, Private Ryan exposes the inherent, problematic masculinity of combat that leaves behind widows, orphans, and childless mothers.  Thus, to confront war means confronting the masculine culture that creates it.

Some within Liberal Feminism often incorrectly locate violent aggression within men to how we are socialized.  This sets up many families who ascribe to anti-violent values for failure when their young sons begin acting aggressively as children.  They wonder how this could have happened when they struggled so hard to socialize their child away from violent behavior.  Too often, they blame the all-pervasive violence within our hyper-violent culture and feel powerless against it.

Truthfully, male aggression should be in no way surprising.  High testosterone levels encode aggressive behavior within us.  This makes sense as the more physically strong males most certainly served as protectors of breastfeeding mothers throughout our entire evolution.

This raises a question for those of us in faith communities where nonviolence is one of our highest spiritual values: how do we raise our young boys to forgo their deep-seeded will to violence?  This is the current question facing my wife and me with our son, Jonas.

My first inclination is to deny him his right to aggression and work hard to discipline him out of violent behaviors.  This does not guarantee against him playing with guns and swords.  I myself played with guns and swords despite my parents’ strenuous attempts to shield me from violent influences.  What my days of playing “violence” taught me is that protecting the vulnerable is good.  What I would later learn is that using violence against other miraculous human lives is a lie.

The will to war hinges on men’s desire to be involved in meaningful efforts to protect.  Attempts to socialize this desire out of our sons only demonizes their innate sense of justice.  We must encourage these desires toward aggression while teaching how to use it in a nonviolent way.  To our children we must teach this lesson: war turns our loved ones into widows/widowers, orphans, and childless parents.

Male aggression moves men toward protective behavior.  As parents, we must point this aggression toward nonviolence.  We must teach our children that all human lives are miracles, and nonviolence is the only way to confront enemies while respecting them as miraculous.

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Barbra Graber: Not even on the radar: Understanding and preventing child sexual abuse

BarbraGraberGuest post from… Barbra Graber, M.F.A. is Associate Editor of www.OurStoriesUntold.com, a website dedicated to provoking conversation and ending sexualized violence especially in Mennonite faith communities. She is a retired professor and director of theater at Eastern Mennonite University and continues to live in Harrisonburg with her husband, Dale Metzler. Other articles she has written on the topic of sexualized violence can be found online. Her detailed bio can be found at Our Stories Untold. For additional information and a free bibliography, please contact her at barbragraber@gmail.com or on Facebook. 

This post is part of a series of posts on raising children, in honor of my daughter’s second birthday last week. 

In 1985, after weeks of intensive training, I became a volunteer at the Los Angeles Rape Hotline (taking calls, accompanying victims to court, etc). After about a year on the job, it started getting to me. Every time a call came in I felt like the sound of the victim’s voice (telling me yet another horror) went through my ear, down to my gut and began churning up razor blades. I would get physically sick and could barely continue listening much less stay focused for an appropriate response.

During the same period I was meeting with a diverse group of Christian women who gathered to explore the meaning of the Divine Feminine in our lives. I took my experience to them for counsel. As we stood in a circle and I began to share, a huge wave of emotion came over me. My knees gave way and I dropped to the floor. An African American woman sat down beside me, scooped me up onto her lap, and started rocking me while the rest of the women prayed, swayed and sang around us.  After the intensity of emotion passed, she said to me quietly, “Honey, you aren’t just crying for those rape hotline clients. Something happened to you.”

Of course I didn’t believe her. I thought I’d had a wonderful childhood.  I grew up in the most pastoral setting imaginable, in a loving community among peace loving people. Such horrible acts of violence could not have been part of my life experience, I told myself.

That was the first hint, the first chipping away at the huge boulder of denial blocking me from the reality of my family’s secret.  Over the next months and years I was forced to “do or die” and pieced together the undeniable truth that indeed I was an adult victim of childhood sexual abuse. I almost didn’t survive it.  Today I am not ashamed to say I was a victim of CSA.1 No one should be ashamed. It was not our fault. And I’m now an incredibly grateful survivor/thriver, a survivor’s advocate, and committed activist. I believe we can end this plague.

We know things now that were not even on the radar screen for our parents.  And there is so much we can do now to protect our children. Most of all they need for us to accept reality and to take responsibility.  It is not only the parent’s responsibility to protect a child, it is the extended family’s responsibility and the responsibility of the community to which that child belongs.

The first step we must take to protect our children is to accept reality. Dr. Ana C. Salter, a renowned researcher said: “We will never deal effectively with the problem of sexual aggression if we do not first find, examine, and deal with the myths we use to make ourselves feel safe.”In reality, our children are not safe.  Refusing to accept that reality will not protect them. 

  • One out of 3-4 girls and one out of 5-6 boys will be sexually violated before their 18th birthday.3
  • Child sexual abuse is seventy-five times more common than pediatric cancer.4
  • One in seven children ages 10-17 have been sexually solicited online 5
  • Convicted sex offenders usually identify themselves as religious; the most egregious offenders are the ones most actively involved in churches and synagogues 6
  • Most child abuse cases involve someone the child knows and often someone the parents trust. 7  Abuse most often takes place within the child’s “safe world” of home, school, church, sports, scouting and other approved activities. 8
  • Offenders are often people you would least expect and often have many victims over a lifetime. They are very good at patiently grooming both child and parent to believe they are trustworthy before ever laying a hand on the child. And they are frighteningly adept at convincing the child to tell no one.  Too often children who tell are not believed by the adults in their world.

The taboo against talking about CSA has been far greater than any taboo against actually molesting a child. It is no wonder my mother asked her sister-in-law why her little girls had blood stains in their underwear. 9 It was not even on her radar. But before my mother’s death, she admitted to discovering the truth and her truth telling confirmed our suspicions.  We all need to accept reality, no matter how severely the truth rocks our world. Our children are worth it.

Once we accept reality, what can we actually do? As adults, we must be the ones to take responsibility for protecting the children in our immediate surroundings.  Leaving the responsibility in the hands of children to “just say no” or “stay away from strangers” or “tell an adult” has not solved the problem as we thought it would.  Here are some suggestions for ways we can move the responsibility from children to parents and other adults who love them.

  • Educate yourself on the basics.  The Common Questions page on the National Sex Offender Public Website is a concise and condensed overview.
  • Create a Family Safety Plan. Teach children that no one has the right to touch them anywhere on their bodies that would normally be covered by a swimming suit, (unless for medical reasons or at bath time, with permission) and that they should not touch anyone else’s private parts.  Assure them you want to know if anyone touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable or asks them to touch those private places.
  • Give each one of your child’s caretakers (camp counselors, teachers, babysitters, coaches, friends and family members) a heads up that you are knowledgeable, involved, and on guard. On the first day of camp you might say or send a note to the leadership:  “Just want you to know that we have taught Mary about body boundaries and that others do not have the right to touch her in any way that makes her feel uncomfortable and that she’s to tell us if that occurs.” Remember that offenders are often people you would least expect.
  • Every now and then ask your child, “Is anyone hurting you?”
  • Consider how a well-meaning requirement of a young child to “Give Grandpa a kiss” or “Give Auntie a hug”, sends a subtle message that the child is not in control of her own body’s interaction with others. If she is not allowed to say, “I don’t want to kiss Grandpa” because it is impolite, is she also not allowed to say “Stop it!” to Uncle Bob whose friendly play suddenly makes her feel weird? Learning to shake hands and wave goodbye are other options.
  • If you are concerned about the safety of a child, trust your gut feelings. Sometimes vague feelings of discomfort or the sense that “something just isn’t right” can be an indication that something less visible is occurring in the background. StopItNow.org has a form to help keep track of the behaviors that concern you.
  • Silence is not an option anymore.  Don’t wait for “proof” of child sexual abuse. File a report of your documented suspicions and concerns by following the instructions here or by calling a confidential helpline such as Child Help USA 1.800-4-A CHILD or StopItNow.org at 1.888.PREVENT.
  • Do not confront the abuser yourself. You are not expected or qualified to become an investigator into the matter you have discovered and neither is your pastor or manager of your day care center or an elder family member. Don’t let anyone in authority stop you from reporting a reasonable cause for suspicion by telling you they’ll “handle it.”
  • Know the “red flags”: If anyone,  friend or relative, is more interested in being with your child than you are, that’s a red flag.  If your child doesn’t want to stay over with someone or be cared for by someone, don’t force him or her to do so. Abuse may not be happening, but why take the risk?  If your child’s behavior tends to become erratic and upset after staying with a relative or friend or babysitter, that’s a red flag.
  • Predators are drawn to places that serve children. Make sure churches and organizations that provide services to your child have two important policies/practices in place: 1) careful screening and required background checks on all staff and volunteers that work directly with the children and 2) the “two adult” rule (i.e. no adult is allowed to be alone with children without another adult present). If your church does not have these minimal practices in place, ask them why they do not and suggest they go through a program like Safe Church.
  • Convicted sex offenders are not “monsters” and they need communities of concerned people to help keep them from offending again. But those concerned persons dare not be naive. A set of clear and strongly enforced guidelines for accountability must be put in place if a church chooses to minister to offenders. Safe Church addresses this, as well as The Stop It Now Website.

 Our children are our most precious commodity as a human family and certainly as a faith community. Too many of them are in danger unless we change the culture of denial and apathy all around us, especially in our churches; until we begin to talk and tell and study and learn and act to protect our children. Let’s commit ourselves to doing all we can to stay vigilant; to keep learning, to act with courage, and to make our children, not our reputations, the highest priority. We’ll do that best by accepting reality and taking responsibility in each of our own communities.

This list is certainly not exhaustive. We hope you will add suggestions in your comments.   But “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Margaret Mead

Notes:

  1. Definition of child sexual abuse: When a child is used for the sexual gratification of an adult or adolescent. It includes touching and non-touching offenses. Samaritan Safe Church training manual. www.scclanc.org
  2. “Predators” by Dr. Ana C. Salter
  3. “Protecting Children from Abuse in the Church” by Basyle Tchividjian as well as multiple studies including this one from the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/
  4.  “A Snapshot of Pediatric Cancers” National Cancer Institute
  5. Janice Wolak, Kimberly Mitchell, David Finkelhor.“Online Victimization of Youth, Five Years Later,”  Crimes Against Children Research Center http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/publications?NC167.pdf
  6. Victor Vieth of the National Child Protection Training Center in a speech at the William Mitchell College of Law says 93% identify as religious. “The most egregious sex offenders–-those who have the most victims, the youngest victims and those who get away with it for the longest amount of time–are the ones most actively involved in their churches or synagogues.” https://vimeo.com/60690302
  7. A disturbing interview by Dr. Ana Salter with a convicted child molester and youth pastor. Trigger alert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sEqWlJbEX4
  8. The Department of Justice Sex Offender website. http://www.justice.gov/ovw/sexual-assault
  9. Samaritan Safe Churchtraining manual. www.scclanc.org
  10. This story came to me from my cousin, who shared that her mother had told her that our mother had asked her this question.
  11.  Mandatory Reporting: “Persons who routinely come in contact with children in the course of their profession, employment or occupation are mandated by law to report suspected abuse of children. Volunteers working with children should be required to report any suspected child abuse to staff who are mandated reporters. Reporting is now required when you have reasonable cause to suspect that a child under your care/guidance/training or supervision OR under the care/guidance/training or supervision of an organization you are affiliated with is a victim of child abuse.” Samaritan Safe Church training materials. www.scclanc.org

 

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On Being Two: A Letter to Toddler E

Ellie

Dear little E –

Another year has come and gone, and – when you wake up this morning – you will no longer be one. You will be two whole years old. It seems only fitting, since two is your favorite number. When we count to ten, you start with two and keep repeating. It goes something like this, “Two, two, two, two, eight, nine, two!” And, for the last month or so, we’ve been teaching you how to tell people your age, so already, when they ask, you hold up “two fingers” (in truth it’s four, but who’s counting?) and say “two.” It’s as if you just couldn’t wait any longer to be two. In the same way that you bounce up and down in frustration if we keep you waiting too long, you were done with one before this official day ever came.

Last year was so much about us getting to know each other and just figuring out how to co-exist. It was a year that – frankly – felt like it was simply about survival at times. But this year…this year, we’ve gotten to know so much more about who and how you are. This year has been fun.

We know that you run everywhere. From the day that you decided that you were going to walk in earnest, a few weeks after you first starting to take those first tentative, toddling steps, we’ve had to sprint to keep up with you.

You love to eat. Truthfully, I love this about you. It may just be that I love to eat to. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as cooking a deluxe, super tasty meal and sitting down to eat it with gusto. But you are a girl who is hungry and not shy about it. You love blueberries. Pickles. Raw lemons. Black beans. Soup (you call it zup!). Noodles (noonels). Watermelon. Ice cream. Yogurt. Peaches. Granola. Eggs (but only with salsa). And the list could go on.

You are are a complex mix of fearlessness and caution. You march up playground steps and slide down the biggest slide. You jump off little ledges and would have loved to just fling yourself down the stairs were it not for the pesky safety gates we kept up. You love to ride on the big girl swings and dislike it when we help you to stay steady. You know you want to do it yourself. You’ll tackle your four-year-old cousin with reckless abandon.  But you also like to know what’s up. You don’t like to be bombarded with new people. You have to assess a situation and a person for yourself before you decide you want to be outgoing and friendly. People have to earn your trust before you’re willing to be yourself with them.

You are driven to communicate. Over the last few months, you’ve been picking up words at a breakneck pace. But even before words, you found ways to tell us – in no uncertain terms – what you needed. And since you’ve picked up words – a complex mix of your very own slang (aimee = ice cream, lemmy = lemonade, whee = swing, peeps = chickens, etc.) and real English-sounding words – you won’t stop talking when you’re in your element. When you really get excited, your eyes shine, your head flounces and you wave your arms about emphatically, telling us long stories and observations from your day.

You are not us. Whenever a new baby arrives on the scene, it’s tempting to speculate about who they look like (for the record, you look a lot your dad with your blond hair and blue eyes, but you’ve got my cheesy photo grin). It’s also easy for people to try to pinpoint the things that babies do and to peg them as similar to either their mother or father. Or maybe an aunt, uncle or grandparent. But if we’ve learned anything this year, we’ve learned that you are nothing if not your own person.

You love being in the mix, but you are not an uber-extravert like me. Your studious and serious gaze sometimes is the spitting image of your dad, but you’ve also got an impulsive, quick-to-act streak that’s all your own. I hope as your parents that we can always let you be your own person. I hope that we can find ways to set healthy limits of course, but I hope you never feel like we are pressuring you into being anyone or any way other than who and how you are.  And I hope that we can help you to be comfortable and confident enough in your own skin that you never feel like you have to compromise your sense of self for anyone either.

And there are so many other things I hope for you.

I hope that you learn to share.

I hope that you want to sleep through the night EllieandMomsometime on a regular basis.

I hope that you always want to attack me with a “chokehold hug” whenever you see me, although I know this probably won’t last forever.

I hope that you will always love soccer as much as you do now (you cried the first day after the World Cup ended and there was no “ball” on TV).

I hope that you will love your little brother, even if it feels like he’s a scene-stealer who just sleeps, eats and poops when he first gets here.

I hope that you always feel surrounded by a community who loves you.

I hope that you find ways to see God’s lure in your life, and that you would feel brave enough to follow wherever it might lead you.

And I hope that you never lose the exuberance you have now for aging. May you be ready to greet each new year with a resounding exclamation point, whether you are celebrating “two” or “twenty” or “forty” or “fifty-five.”

We love you more than you will probably ever be able to really comprehend.

Mom

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Vanessa Rios-Reyes: Seeing through my sons’ eyes

Vanessa Rios-ReyesGuest post from…Vanessa Rios-Reyes is mother to two boys and wife to Rafael. She holds a Masters of Divinity degree from Claremont School of Theology and serves as a chaplain. Vanessa and Rafael were our downstairs neighbors during our first year of parenthood, and were helpful examples to us of how to be calm, relaxed, good parents, and of just how creative a four-year-old boy can be! 

I recently read a blog about a mother who found pictures of herself on her phone.  Her children had taken the pictures, without her knowing.  When she confronted them in anger, the boy responded with “you looked so beautiful laying there” and the daughter said, “that could be a postcard mom.  You’re so beautiful, I love it.”

I must admit, this blog made me emotional.  As I read it, it reminded me of the many times that RJ (our soon to be six-year-old son) has just blown me away with his insight of beauty.  I don’t remember being so in tuned with the beauty around me when I was a child, but I do remember one time when I was struck with beauty.

I must have been about nine-years-old at the time.  My mom was accustomed to sitting us (I’m the oldest of four) around the table after breakfast on Saturday mornings to read the Bible.  I remember one day staring at her and thinking, “wow, she is so beautiful.”  I was reminded of this moment a few months ago when RJ said to me “Mommy, your lips are so beautiful” while I read to him a bedtime story.  It wasn’t until then that I shared this memory with my mother.

“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.”

I am grateful to have an opportunity to re-discover the beauty that lies around me, past and present.  At the early age of five, almost six, RJ has already taught me many things.  One of the greatest things I’m appreciative of is his awe of beauty in the simplest of things.  The beauty of one’s lips when reading a book, the splendor of a full moon surrounded by the bluish dark sky, the respect we must have of the ocean because of its magnificence.

The one that has impacted and continues to change my life is the beauty he finds in his momma every time she dresses up to go out with her boys. “Wow, Mami, you look like a princess!”  As many times as I have tried, I cannot see what he sees, but it changes me every time I hear it.  I do find myself taking time to smell the flowers and feel the raindrops as they fall on my skin.

I hope to work very hard in helping our sons continue to find the awe of beauty that surrounds them.  As a parent, I work harder in continuing to find the beauty that day-in and day-out surrounds me in the things and the people that make up my life.

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