Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

‘Water protectors,’ supporters rejoice over victory for Native Americans

Posted on: December 7th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features


Fireworks mark celebration over the Oceti Sakowin Camp following the U.S. federal government’s Dec. 4 announcement that it would not allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe. Photo: Michael Pipkin/Facebook


Federal government stops pipeline from crossing Sioux tribe’s water supply

Episcopal and interfaith chaplains were about to raise a tent in the Oceti Sakowin Camp on Dec. 4 when a message runner approached and called them to join the crowd already gathering around the sacred fire in the camp’s center. They left the tent, poles inserted, on the ground, and they went.

As they joined the hundreds of people around the fire, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II took to the microphone to announce that that federal government said it would not allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the drinking water source for some 8,000 people living on the Standing Rock Reservation, which covers 2.3 million acres in North and South Dakota.

“It’s significant for all of the people that supported us, standing with us,” said Archambault. “It’s huge. It’s big.”

He called on those present to take the lessons learned from the “Water is Life” movement home with them to heal their families and communities, and to create a better future.

“It’s time that we now move forward and that we don’t forget. I’m just so thankful for all of you,” Archambault said.

The crowd, including many who have been camped out in opposition to the controversial oil pipeline for months, erupted into applause; tears flowed, and people hugged one another in celebration.

Thousands of people, including Native Americans and indigenous people representing some 300 tribes from around the world, have traveled to North Dakota in recent months in an unprecedented show of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.

“On behalf of the Episcopal Church, I offer my gratitude to President Barack Obama and his administration for championing the rights of the indigenous peoples of the United States. We applaud the decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny the pipeline permit under Lake Oahe,” said Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who went to Standing Rock in September. “I personally offer thanks to all those who have worked to amplify the voices of the people at Standing Rock, calling our attention to historic wrongs and injustices, and urging us all to consider a new vision for how we might love God, love each other and love creation.

“I am grateful and humbled by the water protectors of Standing Rock, whose faithful witness, serves as an example of moral courage, spiritual integrity, and genuine concern for the entire human family and God’s creation. I am equally appreciative of the sacrifice and example of the military veterans, interfaith clergy and trauma chaplains who accompanied the water protectors during critical moments of the struggle.”

The Dec. 4 decision came as U.S. military veterans were pouring into the camp to stand as a shield between nonviolent water protectors and law enforcement officers in what had become an increasingly violent, militarized standoff. At one point, it looked as if protectors would be forced to evacuate the Oceti Sakowin Camp, located on federal land just south of the Cannonball River on Highway 1806.

 


The Rev. John Floberg, supervising priest of the Episcopal churches on the North Dakota side of Standing Rock, standing with the Episcopal flag in Oceti Sakowin Camp on Dec. 4. Photo: Lauren Stanley


“Speechless … completely overwhelmed. I always hoped for today,” said the Rev. John Floberg, supervising priest of the Episcopal churches on the North Dakota side of Standing Rock who has led the Episcopal Church’s continued support to water protectors, following the announcement. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he expressed gratitude “for all those who answered the call and had the church standing with Standing Rock. This is the Kairos moment, and we are in the middle of it.”

“I want to thank everyone from every faith tradition who came to support us …. This is the common ground from Roman Catholic to Orthodox to Wiccan, this is the common ground for our faiths, we are at a new place.”

By the time the announcements finished, thousands of people had gathered around the sacred fire, “you could feel joy, shock and excitement all rolled into one; it was like the entire earth was vibrating,” said the Rev. Lauren Stanley, superintendent presbyter of the Rosebud Episcopal Mission West in South Dakota, adding that fireworks and victory songs continued into the night. “They were saying thank you to everyone who has supported them, it’s been a way of proving to the government that people do care, and that’s not been the history of native people.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe commended the Obama administration and the federal government for its decision.

“We wholeheartedly support the decision of the administration and commend with the utmost gratitude the courage it took on the part of President Obama, the Army Corps, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior to take steps to correct the course of history and to do the right thing,” said the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in a Dec. 4 statement in response to the Army’s decision. “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all of Indian Country will be forever grateful to the Obama administration for this historic decision.”

The tribe’s statement went on to thank the tribal youth who initiated the “Water is Life” movement; advocates and the millions of people around the globe who supported its cause; the thousands of supporters who came to the camps; and the tens of thousands who donated time, talent and money to its “efforts to stand against the pipeline in the name of protecting water. We especially thank all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us, and we stand ready with you if and when your people are in need.”

The Army based its Dec. 4 decision on the need to explore alternative routes for the Dakota Access Pipeline that “would be best accomplished through an Environmental Impact Statement with full public input and analysis.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched a review of the permit on Sept. 9, when it requested construction stop on the 1,172-mile 30-inch diameter pipeline poised to carry up to 570,000 gallons of oil a day from the Bakken oil field in northwestern North Dakota – through South Dakota and Iowa – to Illinois where it will be shipped to refineries. The pipeline was to pass within one-half mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and tribal leaders repeatedly expressed concerns over the potential for an oil spill that would damage the reservation’s water supply, and the threat the pipeline posed to sacred sites and treaty rights.

Back in September, federal agencies said the case highlighted the need for discussion regarding nationwide reform with respect to considering tribes’ views on infrastructure projects.

Energy Transfer Partners responded on Dec. 4 by saying that it and its partner Sunoco Logistics Partners are “fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

The statement went on to say, “The White House’s directive today to the Corps for further delay is just the latest in a series of overt and transparent political actions by an administration which has abandoned the rule of law in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency.”

President-elect Donald J. Trump says he supports the pipeline’s completion.

Law enforcement has back away from the Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806 near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. The bridge had been blockaded since an Oct. 27 confrontation and is a vital artery for emergency vehicles carrying people to hospital from the Standing Rock Reservation. As of Dec. 5, the road remained closed. Photo: Michael Pipkin

Even while celebrating the Dec. 4 victory, water protectors and their allies are preparing for the long winter and road ahead.

“People will not leave until this situation is secure and that the victory that was won yesterday is sustained, and we have confidence that it will be sustained even into a new presidential administration,” said Floberg in a Dec. 5 telephone interview with Episcopal News Service. “Will some people go home? Yes, there can be a large stand down right now, but there will be a significant presence maintained, that will call back this force of people from throughout this country and around the world if this course is not maintained.”

Although, the Dec. 4 decision is a victory, the case is not over. On Nov. 15, Dallas, Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the company developing the pipeline, filed a lawsuit asking for federal court intervention to finish the project.

The situation on the ground intensified in late November, and initially, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Morton County Sheriff called for the evacuation of the Oceti Sakowin Camp, but both have since backed off. The Dec. 5 evacuation deadline coincided with the planned “deployment” of military veterans on the ground. In anticipation of the veterans’ arrival, the Standing Rock Sioux Nation asked for chaplains to be present.

After the Dec. 4 announcement and the initial celebration the Episcopal and interfaith chaplains returned to erect their tent, and early on the morning of Dec. 5, they hit the ground running, providing wellness and pastoral care to water protectors and their allies in the Oceti Sakowin Camp.

“We’re going two-by-two knocking on tents to make sure people are warm enough; if they are not we can help them get to a warming place, we have hand warmers and blankets,” said the Rev. Michael Pipkin, a former Navy chaplain on the Minnesota diocesan staff, who is coordinating the chaplain’s response.

Temperatures were in the lower teens on the morning of Dec. 5, and by noon snow was falling. Temperatures are forecast to fall as the week goes on.

Once the person’s physical needs are addressed, Pipkin said the chaplains move on to “deep soul work,” asking questions like, “How are you feeling? What does this mean for you?”

“We all understand that this is a prayerful place, Oceti Camp is a camp of prayer. In my whole life, I’ve never been around so many people praying and praying for a single cause …  this is prayer in action and prayerful action all at the same time,” he said.

Thirty chaplains, including Episcopalians, Unitarians, Quakers, hospital and prison chaplains, are spending their days in camp through Dec. 7, while sleeping on the floor of St. James’ Episcopal Church in nearby Cannon Ball. On the evening of Dec. 4, Pipkin said, there was a line of veterans from recent and past conflicts still waiting to get into the camp.

“I’ve seen vets in wheelchairs … I just met an 80-year-old veteran from Alaska; it’s fascinating to me,” he said. “This has been very healing as a vet who has experienced conflict.”

Also on Dec. 5, during a forgiveness ceremony held in the pavilion of the Knights Prairie Casino and Resort on the Standing Rock reservation, non-native veterans including Wesley Clark Jr., son of the retired U.S. Army General, knelt for 14 minutes asking elders for the forgiveness of sins committed by the U.S. government against Native Americans. Following the ceremony, Native American veterans were asked to come forward and make relationships with those who were apologizing, and they did so by exchanging hugs and handshakes, said Stanley.

“Forgiveness and reconciliation is what Dave Archambault was talking about, and of course that resonates with us Episcopalians,” said Stanley. “This is a whole new chapter between natives and the rest of the United States.”

The Episcopal Church has supported water protectors and their allies since August when opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline began in earnest. And the support will continue, said Floberg.

The Church will continue to provide support comfort and pastoral care to people on the ground, and Floberg is encouraging Episcopalians to continue to come to Standing Rock in a show of solidarity; yesterday as the announcement was made, a group from Rochester, New York, was making its way.

“What we are doing is we are staying where the people are, that is where the Church belongs, among the people, and we continue to call for Episcopalians and clergy to come and bear witness here. We’re not calling for people to turn around.”

About the Author

Lynette Wilson, Episcopal News Service

–Lynette Wilson is an editor/reporter for Episcopal News Service.
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Are you being quiet or silent?

Posted on: November 24th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

headphonesBy mere definition, to engage in a retreat is to take a specific time away from the stresses and busyness of regular life, in order to attend more deeply to God’s presence and voice. To do this, many retreats employ some element of silence. We put down our schedules. We close our emails. We turn off the noise.

Or, at least, we turn the sound off.

Silence in one discipline I have often struggled with. Every year, the clergy of the diocese are required to go on a retreat, a large portion of which is spent in silence. I would often plan for these silent times, arriving at the retreat with a suitcase of ways to fill up the time: projects to complete, music to listen to, or movies to watch. My phone was ever in my pocket, always providing the relief of emails, texts, and social media. It’s still ok to answer emails if your phone is on mute, right? Through these tactics, my observance of the discipline of silence became very easy. I could sit in my room, watching Die Hard, confident that all unwanted noise was being mediated through my headphones. Who wouldn’t love a silent retreat like that?

Recently, I read a book called ‘Invitation to Silence and Solitude’, written by Ruth Haley Barton. In this book, Barton writes that through silence we “take seriously the need to quiet the noise of our lives… in order to give God our undivided attention.” These words spoke powerfully to me. My times of silence were not spent in undivided attention to the Lord. And Die Hard isn’t the most theologically dense film.

As I rdie-hardeflected on that, I noticed how I had grown accustomed to the sounds that encompassed my life: the blaring of the stereo, the flashes of the TV screen, the chirps and whistles of the apps on my phone. It was as if I depended on those noises to take up the acoustic space within me. What is more, my engagement with projects, social media, or various forms of entertainment re-created the very dynamics I was to be stepping away from. In my desire to fill the silence (or worse yet, make the silent times ‘productive,’) I was actually removing myself from the very retreat I was to be on; I observed external quietness, yet knew nothing of an internal discipline of silence. It’s hard to give God our undivided attention when we’re watching Bruce Willis jump off a building.

Being quiet simply refers to a reduction in external noise. It is more of a description of an external atmosphere rather than an internal disposition. The fact is, one is able enjoy quietness, mediated through headphones or the cessation from talking, and still be filled with the noises of modern life. Even within a quiet atmosphere, the direction of our souls may remain fixed upon the frantic activities of life around us.

The discipline of silence is different than quietness because silence describes an inner quality of the soul. In silence we open ourselves to the presence of God, laying down the noise produced by our own striving and inward compulsions. Silence involves closing ourselves to that which whirls around us, and (possibly more importantly) within us. By quieting our environment, we labour to still our inner chatter. Like Elijah before the still small voice, in silence we willingly allow the presence of God to confront us. Quietness means I can put on my headphones and continue to watch action movies. Silence means I must necessarily lay down those distractions, and turn my inner self to the one who waits to commune with me.

This is the power of silence. Beyond all else, the discipline of silence is grounded upon the availability of God’s presence. Silence creates the necessary space for us to interact with God’s presence, unhindered by the clutter of familiar distractions. “The point of solitude,” writes Barton, “is to be with God with what is true about me right now—whatever that is. Silence, then, allows me to simply give God access to the reality of myself.” As we push through the feelings of discomfort, we find ourselves entering that silence that is defined, not by the absence of noise, but by the mighty presence of God.

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith. Connect with Kyle on

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The Community, An update from The Community, November 04, 2016

Sean Mitchell: Five questions Christian leaders need to answer about fundraising

Posted on: November 24th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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What’s your personal mission? That question is the first step in the ministry of fundraising, and helps keep the focus on serving God, not just raising money, writes the director of stewardship development for one of the largest PCUSA churches in the nation.

How do spiritual leaders lead through challenging times? They ask challenging questions.

Questions travel to places of the heart and mind that advice doesn’t. Good, thought-provoking questions can lead us to new understandings of ourselves, God and the church. That includes those dreaded questions about budgets and giving.

As director of stewardship development at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and as a consultant, I equip leaders of church communities to foster generosity through initiatives ranging from planned giving to annual stewardship. I’ve developed a set of questions to ask stewardship leaders to help them in their work.

What is your mission in stewardship ministry? Notice, the question is not, “What is the mission of your stewardship ministry?” The question is about your mission, the reason for your being involved in stewardship ministry.

It is critical for you to know what unique role you play in this ministry and to be honest about how much of yourself you are giving to this work. When people, companies and congregations are on a mission, we know it. Missions are contagious. Is yours? How would people describe your mission in stewardship ministry? Contagious and inspiring, or apathetic and fearful?

Examine why you do what you do in stewardship ministry. Hopefully, you are giving it your best time and thinking. But if your mission is not based on a sense of calling, you will struggle, and your stewardship ministry will suffer because of it.

Think about ways you can have more impact. What might happen if your focus on stewardship ministry changed? Think and decide. Do you really want to be on this mission? Is it time to change your mission?

Do you know the reasons why people are not giving? It is valuable to become familiar with the answers to this question. People have reasons for giving, but they also have important reasons for not giving. Here are some common reasons I’ve encountered:

  • They have never been asked directly. Sure, they may have been asked to give through a letter or email, but face-to-face requests in small group gatherings — or even better, in one-on-one conversations — is the best way to go.
  • They believe they don’t have enough to give. Some people are in debt, some spend more than they should, and some people face both issues. These reasons need to be considered when planning a campaign. The challenge of the leadership is to help people re-evaluate their situations and determine ways that giving might still be possible.
  • They don’t trust the leadership. Unfortunately, cynicism is prevalent these days. People often question their leaders’ truthfulness and scrutinize organizational decisions. How can you respond? Be authentic. Don’t hide the numbers. Tell potential donors exactly how the money is spent.

What is your elevator speech? These speeches are more relevant than ever. Knowing the unique purpose of your church or organization and being able to articulate this mission in 45 to 60 seconds is a skill one should actively cultivate.

Imagine a potential giver meeting with you or sitting beside you on the train in to work. The person might ask the following questions: “Why should I give money to the church community when I can give directly to causes that are meaningful to me in caring for the poor?” or, “How would our city be different if your organization was not here?”

If you can craft answers to these questions, you are on your way to creating an elevator speech that will elevate your community’s uniqueness and relevance in the minds of potential givers.

As you craft it, remember that every unforgettable elevator speech contains an expression of the organization’s uniqueness, the “why” behind its existence and its impact on the world.

Do you believe fundraising is a spiritual exercise? Whether they admit it or not, most people who are not professional fundraisers are afraid of asking donors to give. They fear being perceived as offensive, being rejected or being labeled as one of those “stewardship” team members.

Each of those things might happen — and does. Still, the overall exercise is worth the investment of time and effort. Embrace fundraising as a spiritual act. It will help your church community or organization flourish in many ways.

Fundraising deepens relationships. It provides the opportunity to tell the story of how your congregation or organization can do more good works for the kingdom. And fundraising challenges your members to redirect some of their resources to support the group’s mission and ministries.

Fundraising matters. Don’t be afraid of it. Think of it as a gift and an opportunity to invest time in your community relationships and your spiritual journey.

What are you grateful for? Gratitude is at the heart of Christian generosity. We give in response to the grace of God. Hopefully, gratitude is one of the primary reasons one decides to serve on a stewardship committee.

In the absence of gratitude, the job can become anxiety-provoking and all about the numbers. Gratitude keeps the work centered on God’s ongoing faithfulness and the truth that the world belongs to God, not to us. The work of stewardship ministry is given to us by God, as a way for us to inspire more generosity and care in our world.

Are you grateful for the opportunity to participate? Do you believe this is an important ministry to God? I hope so. I hope you can reach the place where the prevailing undercurrent becomes gratitude rather than simply a desire to raise more funds.

Be grateful. This is what it means to be a leader in fundraising ministry. Do everything in response to God’s grace. Give your money and your acts of leadership in response to God’s grace.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, November 11, 2016

Nothing on my tongue but hallelujah: thank you, Leonard Cohen

Posted on: November 23rd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Roland Godefroy (CC BY 3.0)

Roland Godefroy (CC BY 3.0)

As usual, I had unplugged from my devices in the early evening. I had no idea of the barrage of emails and facebook messages pouring into my phone, or of the news release behind them all: Leonard Cohen, dead at the age of 82. I woke to the news the next morning. And I waited for the sadness to sink in.

I had considered this moment for a long time. You can’t be a Leonard Cohen fan without having mortality—his and yours—right in front of you. As a recent New Yorker review noted, “Cohen’s songs are death-haunted, but then they have been since his earliest verses.” There was that warning note that went viral this summer, a word of enduring love Cohen sent to his partner and muse from a few lifetimes ago: “Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.” I hoped that these words were just one more beautiful Cohen reflection on the fragility of this life, but his death didn’t exactly come as news either.

I couldn’t access the sadness that I had anticipated feeling. There is nobody else in the world for whom I feel the same sense of admiration (adulation or even hero-worship, if I’m honest). My last blog was about my near-idolatrous feelings for him. The messages of condolence, and/or of shared grief, that I began to sift through spoke as if he were my friend. Friends spoke of sadness for my loss. But of course, my relationship with him will continue on as it always has. His body of work, more than any other artist I have experienced, continues to elicit new insights and connections. Like Scripture, I can hear his words multiple times before catching something he has sung or written as if for the first time. That is the thing about celebrity death. We have a relationship with the person’s work, not the person. And so the relationship we have known continues on essentially uninterrupted.

It also isn’t the case that the circumstances of his death warranted that sadness either. He could have lived longer. I had hoped for a resurgence of health, another tour, more albums. But his life wasn’t cut short like Bowie or Prince. The Rollingstone review of his newest album noted that “You Want It Darker is the sound of a master soundtracking his exit with advice for those left behind.” He gave us a great work as he stared death in the face. He died peacefully with, as his son said, “the knowledge that he had completed what he felt was one of his greatest records. He was writing up until his last moments with his unique brand of humour.” His life’s work was seemingly caught up in this last act of death. it is the end that I hope for myself and for everyone I love.

I couldn’t access sadness in the face of this news. I almost wrote it in a few return email messages: “sad day,” or something equally bland. But I couldn’t, because it wasn’t true, and I had to honour him at least with truth. The only feeling that I could name in connection to this news was gratitude.

I feel grateful.

I feel grateful that Michael Thompson, my mentor and colleague and supervisor when I was first ordained a priest, introduced me to Leonard Cohen. He played KD Lang’s version of Hallelujah while travelling to a meeting. “I love her version,” he said to me, as if of course I knew this song already. “There’s a little catch in her voice when she sings the ‘hallelujah’ that just gets to me.” I was so taken with the song that the next day he deposited a Best of Leonard Cohen album onto my desk, wrapped in cellophane, newly purchased just for me. I think of how Michael supported me unconditionally in those first years of naïve, and sometimes quite arrogant, ordained ministry. I was young and sentimental, he was my elder in wisdom and experience and the ways that life can break us. He made it clear that a thin skin can be a gift in how we care for others and preach the Gospel. He wasn’t afraid to be sad. His introducing me to Cohen is part and parcel of all of the important lessons he taught me and how he provided such a safe and supportive start to my life as a priest, of how that kindness and honesty has served me well, been instrumental in my knowing joy in ministry.

I feel grateful for the friends I have made because of loving Leonard Cohen. George, Natalie, Charles, among many others. It has been said that being a Cohen fan is like demonstrating the secret handshake, and suddenly you can access the soul of another person because you know that their soul understands the same things that yours does. I think of my dear friend Faith, one of my favourite people in the world, and how a simple meeting over coffee (I wanted to quiz her on her experience of a recent visit to my church with her grandmother) turned into a cherished friendship when, as we were clearing our mugs from the table, we let slip that we both loved Leonard Cohen. Our friendship deepened shortly thereafter when we got together for dinner just after she had had a carefully-planned tattoo tribute to him inked onto her body. “There’s a spelling mistake!” she cried over the sushi menu. We laughed and reflected on that mistake again and again because, of course, it was perfect. It was perfectly Cohen. She had picked a verse of his poetry, she had found a sample of his handwriting; she so passionately wanted to make permanent her sense of connection to this artist. And we don’t get to make perfect or permanent responses to what moves us and touches us. Her tribute to one of history’s greatest masters of the English language has a spelling mistake in it. “Ring the bells that still can ring,” Cohen would say. “Forget your perfect offering.”

I feel grateful for my husband. I fell in love with him all over again when he responded to the news with me that morning. “I’m heartbroken,” he said simply. His insight and his eloquence then led him to post the perfect epitaph on his facebook page. “I will speak no more. I shall abide until I am spoken for. If it be your will.” I think of how he secured us tickets for Cohen’s last tour, and of the incredible blessing of having a loved one care enough about me to know the perfect gift to give me, and then to go about making the arrangements to give it, of how, more than anyone else in the world, he was the one to share that concert with, to marvel with me for days and years afterward at the religious experience of seeing one of this age’s great mystics share his craft with the world.

I feel grateful for the permission Leonard Cohen gave us. That is where the sadness comes in. I’m not sad about his death. I was permitted to be sad because of his life. This will sound confusing to some readers, and some will know exactly why it is a gift to be able to lift up the dark and trust that the light will get in too. “As I grew older, I understood that instructions came with this voice,” Cohen said in 2011. “What were these instructions? The instructions were never to lament casually. And if one is to express the great and inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.” I have wondered over the years if it gets old and predictable how often my reflections are tinged with death or how grief is so many times my starting point for writing. And I have remembered that this is okay because, maybe I too am invited to lament, as long as it is done with an eye to what is true and lovely.

I read an essay long ago, shared by Bruce Iserman my grade 13 English teacher, that provided a vision of heaven. I wish I could remember the name of the writer or the collection in which it appeared. He described many of the gentle, warm and lovely images we would associate with paradise. But he included in his description a hint of sadness, a shadow of regret, that small ache in the chest or catch in the throat, that speaks to what it all costs, how precious and fleeting it all is, and how we have been created with the ability of naming both love and loss and it is in that tension where ecstasy is found. Heaven has to include that ache. Leonard Cohen contrasted the rawest and most wounded, the humorous and sensual parts of our human existence with utter surrender to God’s love and power. “Even if it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

I trust that he is now standing and singing, that his beloved Marianne did indeed linger on the road ahead with a hand stretched back waiting for his.

Thank you, Leonard Cohen. Rest in peace and rise in glory.

About Martha Tatarnic

The Reverend Martha Tatarnic serves as the rector of St. George’s Anglican Church in St. Catharines. Previously, she has served in congregations in Orillia and Oakville. Her focus in congregational leadership has been in empowering justice initiatives and outreach in the small church, starting a new service, the possibilities and potentials of Anglican-Lutheran partnership, and forming disciples through the power of music. As a young mother navigating family life through the continually changing waters of modern-day life, she is passionate about connecting the dots between faith – worship – Scripture, and exploring the concerns, joys, questions, stresses, worries, celebrations, of Right Here, Right Now.

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The Community, An update from The Community, November 18, 2016

Bequest opens the way for Safe Harbour’s re-opening

Posted on: November 15th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Gisele McKnight on November, 15 2016

 

Safe Harbour, empty for nine months, will re-open, probably in March, to offer shelter and help at-risk teens with viable options for work, education and life skills. File photo: Gisele McKnight

By Gisele McKnight

The Anglican Diocese of Fredericton has taken ownership of Safe Harbour youth house in Saint John, enabling it to reopen after it closed suddenly in January.

It paid the $642,000 construction lien on the building, thereby becoming its owner.

A Letter of Intent says Partners For Youth Inc. will lease the building from the diocese and operate the facility for at-risk youth with the Province of New Brunswick as an operational funding partner.

De Stecher Appraisals Ltd. of Saint John values the facility, built on land once occupied by St. James Anglican Church on Broad Street in the city’s south end, at $1.1 million.

“In paying the lien, we buy the building,” said Bishop David Edwards. “Our reason for doing this is to enable young people in Saint John and the wider area to have a safe place to be if they become homeless.”

God’s timing was perfect, said the bishop. An unexpected bequest of $50,000 a year from the estate of George Bartlett, uncle of Dorothy Wilkes, who herself bequeathed $5.5 million to the diocese last year, led to the Safe Harbour decision.

Mr. Bartlett’s estate paid an annual income to Dorothy, his only living heir, but when she died in 2015, his will stipulated that money would be given annually to two worthy charities — a cathedral in Hawaii, where he lived, and the Anglican Diocese of Fredericton, where he was from.

“It is very interesting that the news of the bequest arrived very shortly after the news of the closure of Safe Harbour,” said Bishop David.

With the means to pay the lien, the diocese launched into five months of negotiations to come up with partnerships and funding agreements that would see the youth house not only re-open, but be adequately funded by the province to ensure its long-term viability. A formal announcement from the province is scheduled for Nov. 23.

Young people who will access the facility will be afforded much more than a bed. They will be required to access programs and services, education and/or job training.

“The whole point is to prevent chronic homelessness,” said Bishop David.

“A young person who’s homeless or on the edge of homelessness, one of their issues is, ‘How do I stabilize my life?'” the bishop told CBC news last week.

“And if they’re spending all day trying to find a place to stay at night, then there’s very little stability. So the very essence of this place is — OK, we provide a place to sleep, a place to be cared for, a place to begin to build family. And that begins to build stability.”

John Sharp, with Partners For Youth, hopes the facility will be opened again by March. It opened in March 2015, but with the lien and a lack of long-term operational funding, its future was in jeopardy and it closed almost one year ago, forcing 10 residents out.

Anglicans will be pleased to note that Safe Harbour now sports stained glass on the upper front of the building — the actual stained glass from St. James church. A window and frame had been built into the front exterior wall to hold the historic glass, but it had not been installed until now.

Called the Cody window, after  Archdeacon H.A. Cody, it now looks out onto Broad Street as it has for generations.

“The Cody window has been restored to its rightful place,” said the bishop.

About the Author

Gisele McKnight

Gisele McKnight

Gisele McKnight is editor of the New Brunswick Anglican, the diocesan newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Fredericton. She is also communications officer for the diocese.

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Anglican Journal News, November 15, 2016

In East Africa, new PWRDF-funded equipment helps mothers and babies survive

Posted on: November 15th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By Tali Folkins on November, 09 2016

A new mother rests with her baby at a PWRDF-funded health centre in Mozambique. The baby was born unresponsive, but was resuscitated at the health centre. Photo: Zaida Bastos


In Mozambique, not all health centres have electricity, and light can be hard to come by when night sets in. Unfortunately, however, the nighttime is when most babies are born. This means staff have to do what they can to provide light, as Zaida Bastos, director of the development partnership program at The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), saw first-hand during a trip to the impoverished East African country this summer.Bastos says that at one clinic she met a nurse who depended on the light from her cell phone during nighttime labours. The nurse—who, she said, delivered an average of 198 babies a month—would hold the phone between her teeth so that her hands would be free.

Two countries away, in Rwanda, a working light bulb can mean the difference between life and death, says Joel Mubiligi, deputy chief medical officer at Partners in Health, a non-governmental organization and PWRDF partner that runs a hospital and other facilities in the country. Mubiligi says he once had to transfer a woman in labour to a hospital—a two-hour drive away—for a Caesarean section because the light bulbs in the clinic where he was working had burned out.

“It was very dangerous for the mother and her baby,” he says. “Really, you cannot imagine the difference that having equipment in a facility can make.”

But from ambulances in Burundi to “solar suitcases”—portable solar power units—in Mozambique, much-needed equipment is flowing into East African clinics as a result of money provided since earlier this year by PWRDF and the government of Canada, attendees at the agency’s annual national gathering in Toronto heard last week. Other PWRDF funds are allowing health centres to train and pay much-needed staff.

PWRDF’s board met with representatives from Canadian Anglican dioceses, plus members of the PWRDF Youth Council, from November 2-6. On November 4, information sessions on PWRDF’s maternal, newborn and child health program (MNCH) were offered by Bastos, Mubiligi and Sophie Matte, senior program officer with Village Health Works, PWRDF’s partner with the program in Burundi.

Announced last summer and implemented beginning in April of this year, the initiative is a five-year joint program with Global Affairs Canada (formerly known as Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada) focusing on maternal and child health in 350 villages in Burundi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania. The project has a total budget of $20.5 million, $2.79 million of it to come from PWRDF and the rest from Global Affairs Canada. PWRDF received a boost this October with a $500,000 contribution from the diocese of Toronto, most of which will go toward helping PWRDF pay its share of the program.

Funds from the program, Matte said, have already allowed Village Health Works to dramatically expand its services in Burundi. They’ve enabled the organization to ramp up its team of community health care workers from 98 at the start of 2016 to 150 as of October; next year, this figure is expected to reach 200, she said. Village Health Works will also significantly increase the number of doctors and nurses at its clinic, she added.

With funds from MNCH, the organization has recently purchased two new ambulances—vital for helping expectant mothers avoid having to climb steep hills to get to the clinic, Matte said. It is also planning, among other things, to build a nutrition centre to train farmers to grow a wider variety of crops, and teach techniques for better nutrition. Village Health Works has also purchased two HIV diagnostic machines; one is the first of its kind in all of southern Burundi; the other is one of only four of its kind in the entire country, she said.

“This partnership is really going to help us increase all our activities related to maternal and newborn child care,” Matte said.

Meanwhile, she added, Village Health Works is currently fundraising to build “an incredibly huge hospital” near its current facility, which will, among other things, train medical students.

Mubiligi said Partners in Health was looking forward to continuing to improve both the quality of services provided by the nurses at its centres in Rwanda, and its equipment. In particular, he said, the organization is working on improving the quality of the lives of the babies it delivers. While Partners in Health has helped reduce infant mortality in Rwanda, many of the babies whose lives it has saved are born with health problems. Their mothers are often in poor health—they will arrive at health centres malnourished, for example. So along with running health centres, Partners in Health also aims to promote better nutrition by offering training on growing crops and seeds and using farming equipment. And it also has been working at providing training for pediatric development clinics to improve these babies’ quality of life. All together, 19 health centres will be provided with equipment and training to help children born with health problems, he said. PWRDF’s MNCH program, he said, now provides Partners in Health Rwanda with roughly a quarter of its annual budget.

Joel Mubiligi, deputy chief medical officer at Partners in Health, a PWRDF partner in Burundi, gives a presentation at PWRDF’s national gathering in Toronto November 4. Photo: Tali Folkins


Bastos said she witnessed one particularly dramatic birth while visiting a health centre in Mozambique. The birth happened, she said, while she was helping install a solar suitcase at the centre. A young woman had gone into labour and the baby had started to emerge, but became stuck because his mother was too exhausted to push, she said. When the baby finally came fully out, he was blue and unresponsive.

“I could see in the faces of the mother, the nurse and the grandmother that they had given up,” Bastos said. “It was like, that’s it.”

But Bastos remembered that the man helping the health centre staff install solar panels on the roof was also a trained pediatrician. She called for him, and he set to work trying to resuscitate the baby.

“He worked for 40 minutes trying to resuscitate the baby…and at the end of the 40 minutes, that was an eternity, finally the baby began to breathe and a little cry came, and we were all exulting,” she said. By the time they left, the baby seemed normal and was being nursed by his mother, she said.

Bastos was in Mozambique in July and August, accompanied by Richard Librock, external funding program manager at PWRDF, to install the solar suitcases and train staff on their use. The suitcases, designed by an American non-profit organization, are specially made for providing solar energy to health centres in parts of the world where access to electricity is difficult. They are equipped with a battery, charger, lamps and Doppler monitor, a device for picking up the heartbeat of fetuses in the womb.

Note: A correction has been made to this story. The total budget for the maternal, newborn and child health program is $20.5 million, and the contribution in October from the diocese of Toronto will not trigger new funds from Global Affairs Canada.

 

About the Author

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.  His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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Anglican Journal News, November 10, 2016

Sin and redemption on Facebook

Posted on: November 15th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By Jeffrey Metcalfe on November, 08 2016

 Image: Fabio Freitas e Silva/Shutterstock


 

A provisional Christian ethic of social media use: part III

It had been a long day and I was tired. After hours of examining Christian hospitality and homelessness, I had returned to my own home quite late. Without a second thought, I flipped open my laptop to check my messages on Facebook before I headed to bed.

That was my first mistake.

As I entered through the digital gates of social media and walked towards my messages, an article appeared along the way that immediately caught my attention. It was a story about a church and a drop-in program for the homeless that had run into conflict, and unhappily parted ways.

Reading the story in light of my studies, I was livid. “Who are these people?” I asked with incredulity. Did they not read Matthew 25:41–46, which makes it pretty clear that our constitution as a people of God is measured by how we welcome strangers and provide food, drink and clothing for the “least of these”?

Exhausted, enraged and feeling a little smug, without a second thought I shared the article along with a snarky comment that posed the same question more bitingly.

That was my second mistake.

A curious thing then happened. As I sat in my darkened living room staring at the post, a sinking feeling began to grow in the pit of my stomach. I did not know the church or the drop-in program involved in this affair. I did not even like the media conglomerate that posted the story in the first place. Certainly the story did not meet what I considered basic journalistic standards. So why did I share it? Having second thoughts, I deleted the article—but it was too late.

My post was online for only three minutes, but that was long enough to hurt someone. In what I experienced as a grace-filled moment, a person from that church sent me a private message explaining what it was like being on the receiving end of my text, what it was like to have another Christian make such comments about this person’s community publicly without first hearing that community’s perspective.

Ashamed, I apologized. The church leader was right. Whether or not the critique in my post was true, without hearing the other’s perspectives it was invalid. Whether through fatigue, a concern for justice or pride, I had sinned against this person.

As a commenter pointed out on my previous column, one of the problems with social media is its immediacy: it gives us the capacity to publicly share our visceral response to what we experience. We can post faster than we can think, which means we can hurt others in ways we might otherwise not if we took the time for sober second thought.

Walking through social media with a spirit of prayerful contemplation (or at the very least, sleeping on our snarky comments before we post them) would strengthen our Christian witness online. Nevertheless, even our best desires and practices can be captured and misdirected by sin, and so the work of confession and forgiveness are also necessary components of living as Jesus’ witnesses online.

If the immediacy of the Internet opens up new avenues for hurt, maybe it can also open up new avenues for healing and reconciliation. What if, following Jesus’ model in Matthew 18:15–22, we confronted our sisters and brothers who have sinned against us online by privately messaging them before publicly shaming them?

I am grateful that this was the path the church leader I hurt decided to walk. By doing so, it invited me to more fully recognize the hurt my thoughtlessness causes others, to confess it, to seek forgiveness for it and to extend that same invitation to those who have hurt me.

Like Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24–30), social media is a field sown with the seeds of both sin and redemption. Our task as Jesus’ disciples online is to help water the seeds that bear the fruit of grace.

About the Author

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Jeffrey Metcalfe is a priest from the diocese of Quebec and a doctoral student in theological studies at the University of Toronto.

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Anglican Journal News, November 10, 2016

Claudia May: Reconciliation requires us to observe, practice and take seriously how Jesus lived on earth

Posted on: October 30th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

Day to day, people's hearts are being transformed. -Claudia May
 

Reconciliation doesn’t begin with us but with God and God’s longing to reconcile all of us to himself. And Jesus is the model for how reconciliation happens, a scholar says in this interview. 

Reconciliation begins not with us but with God, and for Christians at least, the model of how reconciliation happens is Jesus, says Claudia May, an associate professor of reconciliation studies at Bethel University.

“From a biblical standpoint, we’re reconciled to God through Christ,” she said. “And Jesus embodies how reconciliation should be lived. So for me, when I’m looking how to receive, abide in and live out reconciliation, Jesus is my go-to. It is through Christ that we are reconciled to God and one another.”

Which doesn’t mean, of course, that reconciliation happens easily. It can be difficult, bringing with it certain tensions and costs.

“A lot of peace and joy comes with faith, but reconciliation reminds us that it’s going to be uncomfortable for ourselves and for many people,” May said. “Jesus was challenged by most everyone. His disciples challenged him, close followers challenged him, Pharisees and Sadducees — it was pretty constant.”

May is an associate professor of reconciliation studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, with expertise in African-American, black British, and Caribbean literature and popular culture; biblical studies; and Christian hip hop. She has a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of “Jesus Is Enough: Love, Hope and Comfort in the Storms of Life.” (link is external)

She spoke with Faith & Leadership recently while at Duke Divinity School to teach a seminar on the theology of reconciliation for the Summer Institute for Reconciliation (link is external). The following is an edited transcript.

Q: To start, what does reconciliation mean theologically?

First, reconciliation isn’t our idea; it’s God’s initiative, God’s longing to reconcile all of us to himself.

From a biblical standpoint, we’re reconciled to God through Christ. And Jesus embodies how reconciliation should be lived.

So for me, when I’m learning how to receive, abide in and live out reconciliation, Jesus is my go-to. It is through Christ that we are reconciled to God and one another.

Q: So, as the description for your summer institute seminar says, “Jesus is the way to reconciliation.”

Like I said, God gave us the gift of his only Son so that we could learn through him what it means to be loved, healed, forgiven — what it means to be a new creation.

Jesus himself teaches us a couple of things around reconciliation.

One is that he didn’t situate himself in one particular location. He moved in different regions, encountered different peoples, was comfortable being around those who were despised, the hurting. His ability to be present to other people reflects a God who is willing to meet people where they are and confront the injustices he encountered.

Jesus has such a wide, embodied vocabulary of how he relates to individuals, which nurtures a sense of humility for those who follow him and take him seriously.

Because you can’t assume that you will know what to do in any given moment, you become more and more sensitive to your need for God. Jesus himself said he could do nothing without God.

And that tempers an ego-driven way of leadership, or a sense of self-reliance. Jesus was very communal; he was very much about the “we.” And the “we” was very inclusive rather than exclusive.

So the way to reconciliation requires us to observe, practice and take seriously how Jesus lived on earth and related to those whom he encountered, especially the hurting, the marginalized, and the despised.  It was Jesus’ custom to go to a lonely place. It’s easy to lose sight of this essential practice of Jesus, because it is often sandwiched between activities of healing, teaching and table fellowship and conversations.

As word spreads about Jesus, he doesn’t covet the approval and the affirmation of others; it’s enough for him to go away to a lonely place, a place that’s deserted and unpopulated. There aren’t distractions; it’s just him and God.

A lot of what I do in reconciliation is to help people observe how Jesus lived out reconciliation, not just in terms of mindset, but also in terms of following how Jesus lived out reconciliation.

Q: What is the relationship between spiritual disciplines or practices and reconciliation?

Allowing God to tech us how to deepen our engagement with spiritual disciplines is absolutely essential. There was only one spiritual discipline that the disciples asked Jesus how to do, and that was how to pray.

The disciples are a motley crew; a lot of times they don’t get it. But you have to give them credit for noticing how prayer was so enriching to Jesus’ life and how he related to others.

It’s also important that we make the distinction between spiritual disciplines and being disciplined by spiritual practices. It is key that the disciples have to ask Jesus about prayer rather than having him force it on them.

Reconciliation is going to affect every aspect of your life, not just how you relate to other people, people of different races and ethnicities and cultures classes, gender, and sexual identities, but also how you relate to God.

— Claudia May

As a leader, he didn’t insist that they pray. He encouraged them to pray, but he didn’t force them to do so.

So we have to see spiritual disciplines as a form of freedom that allows us to be very transparent, very present to the God that’s present to us. There are many forms of communication with God that Jesus himself lives out.

Howard Thurman talks about the humility of God, which at first I found strange. It challenged some of my beliefs of God.

I wondered, does that diminish God in a very human way, this sense of humility?

But as I pondered that and I thought of Jesus, I thought, you know what? I can get my head around that, because God is willing to wait for us to call upon him.

Q: So how does all this contribute to reconciliation? And reconciliation with whom, between whom, among whom?

Reconciliation acknowledges that there are divisions. Reconciliation isn’t divorced from the pain of the world and the fractures of our world. Even our relationship with God is full of tensions, divisions.

Many times, an unwillingness to receive God’s love is part of the experience of sin. So that’s part of the initiative of God, to create reconciliation as a way to bring us to himself again.

Q: So before there’s reconciliation between and among people, there is prior work to do — reconciliation with God?

Yes. You have to remember that this was God’s idea. It wasn’t our idea.

Our relationship with God through Christ informs how we relate to others. This process is not linear and it is not without its disruptions. It is a messy process and a humbling one. We will make mistakes — many of them. We must not adopt the mindset that we have to establish a good relationship with God before we live out reconciliation. The ministry of reconciliation requires us to learn and live out how to reconcile with others even as we learn how to reconcile with God. This happens simultaneously.

And yet what we also see is that even though this was Jesus’ mission, he couldn’t force people to accept this call of reconciliation. He couldn’t even force his own brother James to buy into him, you know?

But that’s the beautiful, humane aspect of reconciliation. How can we learn from Jesus to be present and true to the call but be comfortable with the fact that not everybody is going to buy into this?

Reconciliation is going to affect every aspect of your life, not just how you relate to other people, people of different races and ethnicities and cultures, classes, gender, and identities but also how you relate to God.

When Jesus encounters individuals, he does a couple of things. He never discredits or disbelieves a person’s story; he never interrupts people when they speak. He never says that what somebody has said is trivial and unimportant. He never does that.

Martha can come to Jesus and complain that her sister isn’t helping her. At no time does Jesus say, “Why are you coming to me with this concern?”

You’ll have people who are deeply hurting know that they can come to Jesus and that they can be healed, but they come as they are. There is no time in Scripture where Jesus says, “No, I will not go to your home.”

The English Standard Version has a wonderful terminology, that Jesus “reclined,” when he’s sitting at the table with tax collectors and sinners, the despised. And we never get a sense that the people when they leave cease being those things — tax collectors, sinners.

But Jesus is willing to recline with them and not have a criterion of who or what they need to be or how they need to present themselves in order to be in his presence. That says a lot about the freedom that comes with this reconciled relationship.

Certainly, the divisions of our world are ruled by our own understanding, the histories that shape us. And Jesus shows us how God meets people in those divisions. He walks alongside the marginalized, the poor, and the despised. How does God love people in the midst of their own brokenness? How does God teach us how to forgive through Jesus?

When I think about reconciliation, first I always think about relationship. The God of the universe wants to be in a relationship with his people, all people. Whether all people will choose that is another thing.

Q: What are the tensions that come with trying to practice Jesus’ way of reconciliation?

Well, you may not always be claimed by the people you want to be claimed by or that you’ve rooted a lot of your identity in.

Jesus wasn’t welcome in his own hometown. After he spoke particular truths, they wanted to throw him over a cliff.

There is an awful amount of resistance to this message. It’s easy to talk doctrine and denominational allegiance, but when you really get the nitty-gritty of Jesus, he makes all of us uncomfortable.

Many of us can have certain views that we will express sort of undercover, because doing so publically risks condemnation. When you align yourself with particular groups that are despised and are not seen as worthy to be loved, you will receive a lot of anger and hate.

Jesus says, “How they treated you — just remember, they did the same to me.”

And that’s a part of it.

A lot of peace and joy comes with faith, but reconciliation reminds us that it’s going to be uncomfortable for ourselves and for many people. Jesus was challenged by most everyone. His disciples challenged him, close followers challenged him, Pharisees and Sadducees — it was pretty constant.

How did Jesus live out the ministry of reconciliation while confronting such adversity?

It always comes back to this central relationship that Jesus prioritized with his Father. He needed his Father, to do what he did. And that kind of reliance and dependence is what we need.

We must learn to follow Jesus’ example in the midst of community. This is a collective endeavor. And as we walk alongside, and learn from, and serve the hurting, and as we confront injustice, and pursue loving others in a divided world, God through Jesus also invites us to engage with the Holy Spirit as our teacher.

Q: As you talk about Jesus being the way to reconciliation, how does that play out in multifaith settings?

We have to look at the kinds of peoples Jesus related to; many of these individuals did not believe in him. I love the story of the good Samaritan, because you have this incredibly jarring figure that reminds us that history shadows us. We don’t even have to know his name. He is a Samaritan and, as such, a Jew would consider him an enemy.

He represents for many Jews all that is wrong in their relationship. A history of pain gets triggered by the Samaritan.

It’s a beautifully convicting story for all of us. For me, I come away with how Jesus often uses the unlikeliest of people to teach his disciples and followers about the ways of God that really aren’t our ways.

Reconciliation teaches us that it is never loving to skip over someone’s pain and go to the other side where apathy resides. I embrace the artist and activist, Jesse Williams’ assertion that “the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander.” Similarly, Jesus teaches us through the Good Samaritan story that we must not expect the man who was robbed to comfort the Levite or the Priest, nor can we assume that the Good Samaritan is a Christian. We must be willing to learn from those whom we despise or dismiss as irrelevant. We must follow the example of the Good Samaritan and be vessels of God’s loving kindness to the brutalized.

Jesus’ message is not that before you encounter a person they must change, and then you follow suit. Oftentimes, it’s you must change, and you do so unconditionally, without expecting that somebody will change in step with you at that same time.

Q: How did your own story, growing up in the U.K., shape your interest in reconciliation?

I lived in the East End of London from the age of 7 until my early 20s. The world lived on my street. We had Irish, English, Scottish, Indian, Pakistani, people from different Caribbean islands, Africans, all on one street.

That was an incredibly rich environment to be in. It shaped me powerfully. In our humanity, there’s a diversity in the oneness that I was reminded of — just God’s amazing creativity in the range of peoples that he created. That was a gift.

But at the same time, I don’t want to romanticize the community I grew up in. There were also racial tensions.

But what it did from a reconciliation point of view was a couple of things. One was that I received the gift of diversity. As I learned more about Jesus, it illuminated to me how he related to different kinds of people, how he was able to move in different regions.

But I was also aware of the tensions and the ways in which we can seclude ourselves in our particular cultural regions and identities.

Q: What’s the state of reconciliation today, given events and divisions here and in the U.K. and around the world? Are you encouraged? Discouraged?

Certainly — just as Jesus encountered — systems are in place that really do serve a few as opposed to all. And when I look at that, I think, well, Jesus was aware of the power decisions that were made by the Roman Empire.

Still, he did not allow the religious and political power brokers to prevent him from doing the work of reconciliation on the ground.

So obviously, yes, there are incredible divisions that are fanned by ego, by money, by those who build oppressive systems and by those who treat people and things as idols.

But there are many things that I don’t see that God sees — the day-to-day ways in which people are also learning to love their neighbor. Day to day, people’s hearts are being transformed. They learn to address issues of injustice and not separate themselves from it.

This is how Jesus lived.

I can only see in the perimeters of where I’m moving, and it is often heartbreaking to me, in all honesty.

For me, a deal breaker was the massacre of the beloved Charleston Nine.

They were massacred on a Wednesday night, a time that many Christians in this country understand equals Bible study. But numerous churches did not acknowledge the massacre, the passing of some of their family members. I have students, predominantly white students, who said that their pastors did not mention this tragedy during their Sunday morning service.

When I heard that, I knew something was very wrong. Many Christians still believe that race and ideologies of any kind ought to separate us. We should never allow our ideological and political preferences to undermine our potential to be ambassadors of God’s love, peace, and justice.

If we have that level of unconcern for members of the body of Christ, we have a very big problem. Do we actually have the right to speak to how other people are living if we can’t mourn with one another, love one another, and see each other’s humanity as members of God’s family.

That deepened my passion and my desire for reconciliation. I needed to talk to the family.

As family, we must live out the ministry of reconciliation by being hearers and doers of Jesus’ teachings and practices. We must seek God’s counsel through prayer and ask him how we ought to respond to the inequities we encounter. We must be honest with God about our resistances to Jesus’ teachings, and share with him the biases, fears, and concerns we harbor in our hearts.

We cannot love God or others without God. We need each other and we need community to learn how to love. We need Jesus to teach us how to love.  And so we must learn from the one who created love — God. Through God’s guidance, wisdom, and strength, Jesus teaches us that we can confront and break down the walls of division that separate us from one another and God.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, October 28, 2016

Maggy Barankitse on forgiveness

Posted on: October 30th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

In a short excerpt from a longer interview, the founder and president of Maison Shalom in Burundi explains the importance of forgiveness.

 

Marguerite “Maggy” Barankitse is a humanitarian who created Maison Shalom — House of Peace — out of the carnage of the Burundian genocide. In nearly 20 years of existence, Maison Shalom (link is external) has grown to include schools, a hospital, agricultural cooperatives, a microfinance system and other projects.

Maison Shalom began after Barankitse saved 25 children orphaned in a horrific night of mass killing during the civil war between Tutsi and Hutu tribes.

But she has always been clear that her mission is not to build an orphanage or even to help children but rather to help raise them in God’s love and to create a new generation that will break the cycle of violence in her country. The mission of Maison Shalom has expanded to the communities in which the children live, and its holistic initiatives seek to improve the lives of all people.

Barankitse has received many honors, including the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award, the Opus Prize and the Fondation Chirac Prize for Conflict Prevention. Barankitse received an honorary degree from Duke University at its commencement ceremony in May 2013, when she also spoke at Duke Divinity School (link is external).

While on campus, Barankitse was interviewed by journalist David Crabtree about her work with Maison Shalom. Their conversation is presented in a 20-minute video.

Excerpts from that same interview can also be viewed by topic in a series of short video clips. In them, she talks about her phrase “Love made me an inventor,” why she built what she did at Maison Shalom, how she found the courage to create an innovative institution, why she built a morgue, her own struggles with God, and her view that life is a feast.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Q: You speak of forgiveness. That’s central to your mission; that’s central to Maison Shalom.

Forgiveness is the key of life. If you refuse to forgive, you refuse life. If you don’t take time and say, “I want to live; I want –” Of course, forgiveness is a process; it’s not like a baguette magique [magic wand], to say, “Oh, I forgive.”

It will come, but you must take time. Take time to read this page. And you must decide to turn the page. Read together with killers, with other persons who suffer, and step by step try to turn the page and to write another page, a beautiful page. And then it allows you to continue to live.

If you don’t want to forgive, then you — you have hatred in your heart, and it will kill you, because hatred kills. Hatred kills, because it’s a cycle of violence.

You think you are weak if you forgive. But somebody who forgives becomes powerful. Imagine if I don’t forgive: I have those victims’ children, and I will never prepare their future.

I will organize; it will be a rebellion. Maison Shalom will be a house for rebels who will take weapons when they become adults and go to kill the killers of their parents.

If I love those children, I must change their life and make them like candles amidst darkness.

The children taught me how to forgive. It’s a process; it was not so easy for me, even today.

Sometimes I think that I’ve forgiven, but — I remember one day I met a killer; he was in front of me, going in the church for communion, and he had the clothes of one of the parents of one of the children of Maison Shalom.

I was so angry that I went and took him and said, “No! Imagine, no shame! How can you?”

Then I thought, “Oh, I taught the children to forgive” — and then after church, I asked him to forgive me, and I called him, and we shared food. I said, “OK, you ask for forgiveness from the children, and then we will forgive.”

It’s like that. It’s not so easy to turn the page. Because, of course, when I return to my village, sometimes I cry, because I remember my cousins, I remember my uncles, because they killed 60 persons from my family. And my family wanted revenge; they became killers also.

Then it’s a process, and it’s a gift from God.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, October 28, 2016

Scott Benhase: Forgiveness allows the other virtues

Posted on: October 30th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

Shadows show an adult reaching out to a child

Bigstock/digitalista

Scott Benhase
Episcopal bishop, Diocese of Georgia

Virtues are not values we can pick up or put down. They run far deeper than that.

Christian virtues are not values. Values are changeable because they represent commitments we hold in relationship to other commitments. For example, we might say we value time with our family more than we value time at work.

Values have a price tag on them and we daily weigh the cost of holding one value in relationship to another. Virtues, however, are more immutable ways of being. Virtues like truthfulness, compassion, and mercy cannot be values we hold. They are ways of being and acting in the world. For example, we cannot “value” compassion. We either live compassionately or we do not.

Christianity is less a set of beliefs we hold than a way of being we embody. The creeds of the Church are not set before us so we can be challenged to believe them. Rather, they are a summary of the faith Christians practice.

In Galatians, St. Paul writes: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” These are just some of the virtues that disciples of Jesus are to incarnate in their lives. When he writes: “there is no law against such things,” he acknowledges that these virtues cannot be commanded. They are rather ways of being that each disciple must cultivate in her or his life. Such cultivation of virtue is a lifelong discipline.

Probably the most challenging of all the Christian virtues is forgiveness. It is also the virtue Jesus addresses most often. He makes it a central part of what we now call the Lord’s Prayer (“forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who sins against us.” Luke 11:4). Jesus sees forgiveness as the cornerstone that enables all other virtues. Without the capacity to forgive, incarnating other virtues simply could not be possible.

Yet forgiving others is clearly one of the hardest virtues for us to incarnate. The hurt can be so deep. The desire for vengeance can be so powerful. But we should remember: this is not a minor teaching by Jesus or one that can be open to several interpretations. Jesus is clear — we must forgive.

The Church teaches us much about forgiveness. She teaches us that our primary identity is as a child of God. Such an identity cannot be lost in our interaction with others, even if those others sin against us or we sin against them. That is why Jesus calls us to seek reconciliation: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24). Jesus shows that our lack of forgiveness prevents us from finding our identity in a God, whose very nature is forgiveness.

Our call is to embody forgiveness as the central virtue of our life as we practice the Christian faith.

Scott Benhase is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, October 28, 2016