Category: Ethics and Social Justice

Hope, and the work that gets us there: Insights for communities engaging survivors

Nine days ago, I stood in Elkhart, Indiana, on the campus of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS). The campus apartment building where I was sexually assaulted is gone now. When I learned that it would be demolished, I remember wishing that I could be the one to swing the wrecking ball. Soft, green grass now grows in the place where my life broke apart. Nine days ago, with two of my fiercest supporters at my sides, I set my gaze there for just a fragment of a moment. I expected to feel sick at the sight, but the nausea didn’t come. Instead, I was visited by an image of today’s students finding rest on the lawn, studying in the sun. I felt warmly toward them. I sensed the roots of the gentle grass working through the ground, turning it over, reinfusing that once-terrible place with the capacity to grow something different. I was on campus to meet both with the seminary personnel who were involved in administratively responding to my original disclosure of sexual assault, and those members of AMBS’s faculty and staff who led this last year’s process of reviewing that response. These meetings were the culmination of the […]
The post Hope, and the work that gets us there: Insights for communities engaging survivors appeared first on Our Stories Untold.

Syndicated from Our Stories Untold

Loading

Jesus and the Invalids

Jesus makes his way from the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem around 33 AD to our city in 2019. Jesus can do this because Jesus is alive and because Jesus shows up behind locked doors and along roads to Emmaus and over breakfast with confused disciples. Also, because, well, Jesus is God. He walks around our city streets to see what he will see.
He makes his way the hospital. Or the Extendicare facility. Or the dementia ward. He sees the sadness, the confusion, the losses piling up upon losses, the ways in which we institutionalize our most vulnerable people, keeping them out of sight where their presence isn’t a nagging reminder of what might be coming for us. He sees the gnawing fear—theirs and ours. He sees the longing for wholeness or relief. Or release.
Or maybe Jesus wanders down the road to the jail. He sees the neglected and rejected kids, the hurt people who hurt people, the addicts and the misfits, the abused and the abusers, the victims of toxic systems of racism. The liars and the thieves, those looking for a warm bed and a hot meal in winter. The ones who will tell anyone who will listen that they didn’t do it. The ones who will tell anyone who will listen exactly what they did.
Or maybe he makes his way to the safe injection site. He surveys the scene—the addicted, the homeless, more victims of racism, the criminals, the mentally ill, the predators and the prey, the broken and discarded pieces of humanity who are far easier to blame than to try to understand.
Or maybe Jesus walks into the mall and sees people consuming and distracting themselves into spiritual oblivion. He sees the expensive gadgets and endless entertainment options. He sees all the ways in people seek to escape. He sees people living indulgently, carelessly, recklessly, thoughtlessly. He sees our addiction to technology and all the ways we have of self-medicating to relieve the boredom of lives in search of meaning.
Or maybe Jesus finds his way to a gym and sees people frantically pummeling their bodies into submission because they’re trying to measure up to some impossible standard of what health and strength and beauty look like. Or because they’re afraid of death.
Or maybe Jesus makes his way into a library, or a coffee shop, or a pub, or a park bench on a lovely spring day, and he listens in on anxious conversations about the future. Our own individual futures. The future of our kids, the church, the culture, the planet. We so desperately long for futures of goodness, hope and meaning, but we’re not always sure how to get from here to there.
Or maybe Jesus shows up at an ordinary middle-class home with ordinary people just trying to make their way in the world. Maybe he sees an untended marriage or estranged kids or lonely suburbanites marinating in social media and Netflix, or people wondering if there shouldn’t be more to life than this.
Maybe he sees people whose faith, hope, and love have dwindled down into not much at all, people who have settled, who are just putting in time, drifting aimlessly instead of living creatively and purposefully.
Wherever Jesus goes, he sees people in pain and in need. He knows the story behind the story. He knows the story behind every story.
He knows all of our afflictions, all the things that hurt and frighten us. He knows the ways in which we have been victimized, the ways in which our suffering is not our fault. He knows the ways in which we are sometimes the instruments of our own misfortune. He knows the things we have done and the things we have left undone.
Jesus could sit patiently and listen to our version of the story. And he might, another time. But today, he just has one question. Do you want to be made well? That’s it. It’s not a question of explanation or analysis or justification or blame. It’s a question of desire.
What do you want?
It’s a question that offends and unsettles us, perhaps. How can you ask such a thing, Jesus? Thirty-eight years by the pool?! Twenty years of grief? Ten years of fighting this illness?! Five years in the fog of this depression?! Of course I want to be well!
But Jesus asks it anyway. He knows how easy it is for pain and victimhood to become our defining narrative. He knows that no matter who we are or what we’ve endured or what we are presently going through, there are forms of strength available to each one of us in every situation through the power and the example of the risen Christ.
***
Jesus made one final stop on his walk through our city. It was Sunday morning, so Jesus decided to go to church. Maybe it was our church. Or maybe Jesus decided to visit the Anglicans, or the Lutherans, or the Evangelicals, or the Catholics.
And what did Jesus see when he showed up at church? Did he see religious business as usual? Did he see shiny buildings and well-dressed people? Did he see clever sermons, polished music, and bustling programs?
Did he see religious professionals who were more concerned with correct procedures and proper interpretations, who, like the Jewish religious leaders of his day, seemed to think that their job was to police and promote the ways in which God was allowed to work in the world, who would rather silence the Healer than celebrate the healing?
Or…
Did he see communities that had room for invalids? For the “not strong” ones? Did he see people who were trying to understand the story behind the ugly and painful stories, people who had determinedly set their course to love the lost and the unlovely.
Did he see people who paid their neighbours and each other the compliment of refusing to see them as nothing but victims of their pain? Did Jesus see a community who knew that they were all, in fact, invalids? That they were all “not strong.”
Did he see a people who had covenanted to walk together, to support each other, to help one another get to the source of their healing? Did he see people who knew that the church was not a museum for the righteous but a hospital for the sick?
One thing we know about Jesus, then and now. He sees. He knows. And he offers life to all who will come.
—-
The preceding is an edited and condensed version of a sermon preached at Lethbridge Mennonite Church, May 26, 2019. The sermon is based on John 5:1-18 and reflects on the Latin roots of the word “invalid” (“not strong”).

Syndicated from Rumblings

And then I Died: Sexual Assault at (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical) Seminary

Let me catch you up to speed. When I was a student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), I was sexually assaulted by a classmate. I tried to get help from the seminary and the results were devastating. The assault happened ten years ago, my disclosure to AMBS, nine. In the spring of last year, 2018, I contacted the president of AMBS and asked that the school reevaluate its original administrative response to me. She agreed, and a team was put together to review my case. Interviews were had, negotiations were made. Ultimately, AMBS affirmed that the school mishandled my disclosure. The first weekend in June of this year, I traveled to Elkhart, Indiana, sat down in person with all the relevant AMBS parties, heard their acknowledgements of wrongdoing, received their apologies, asked questions, and talked about where we go from here. One of the places we agreed to go is to you, the public – the Mennonite public, the Christian public, the academic public, the public constituted by survivors everywhere and the people who love them. There are three publications that will be coming out this week. The first is this one. It is (roughly) the account of the […]
The post And then I Died: Sexual Assault at (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical) Seminary appeared first on Our Stories Untold.

Syndicated from Our Stories Untold

And Yet, Once More

To be a pastor is to regularly encounter people who find faith difficult. (It’s also to regularly encounter people who you suspect might find faith too easy, but that’s another post). There are all kinds of people in the post-Christian West whose faith kind of hangs by a thread. It retains a bit of nostalgic affection for Christian ethics, perhaps, and it craves the community embodied and offered, however imperfectly, by the church. It might even have an appreciation for mystery and a dim recognition that this life can’t be all there is. But it can often seem like not much more than a kind of half-hearted and undemanding openness to possibility.  It’s a long way from deep conviction and bold faith in the great creeds of orthodox Christian faith. All that talk of virgin births and resurrection from the dead and judgment is too much to stomach. And so, faith often coasts along on the fumes of memory and vague longing, coughing and sputtering until it stalls on the side of the road.
I’ve been reading Tomáš Halík’s Night of the Confessor over the past week or so. Halík is a Roman Catholic priest in the Czech Republic, one of the most secular countries in Europe. His is a voice that I have come to appreciate when thinking of those for whom faith remains difficult, or for when faith feels difficult myself. Here are a few passages from this chapter that I found memorable and worthy of further reflection.
In the context of a mountain top conversation with a long-time Christian friend who announced that he simply couldn’t believe in life after death any more:

In a sense, belief in “last things” is a kind of touchstone for the authenticity of our belief in God in general. If we restrict ourselves to the playing field of this life then maybe all we need of Christianity is what remained of it after the post-Enlightenment selling off of transcendence—a smidgen of moral principles and humanitarian kindness, a slightly updated version of existentialism, and a poetic sense of the mysterious. But when the curtain is about to fall on the stage of our earthly life, all of a sudden we are dreadfully alone in the auditorium—the god of such a humanitarian religion has disappeared through the trapdoor because he was too feeble to confront death.

On how to deal pastorally with those for whom faith is hard:

If people’s potential for trust and hope has been exhausted because of the pain they have suffered, it is up to us, their neighbors, not to assail their doubts with apologetic arguments, but instead to give them close support and encouragement to regain the courage to trust, to take that step of faith that says “and yet,” “once more.”

On the “nervous laughter of skepticism” from those too old for great expectations:

Only when we truly fall silent will we be able to hear once more the voice that says to us: Fear not. I have conquered the world. I am the resurrection and the life. I am with you always until the end of the age.
Fine words, but empty promises? From behind the tent awning—and from deep within ourselves—comes Sarah’s skeptical laugh. How could that be possible, seeing that we are not only adult already, but also too old for great expectations?
“Why did Sarah laugh?” Doesn’t she realize that there is “nothing too marvelous” for the Lord to accomplish? And Sarah lies, because she is afraid. Her laughter was also an expression of her fear of trusting. “Yes, you did laugh,” the Lord insisted.
You did laugh, the Lord tells us. But maybe He’ll treat us the He did our mother Sarah. Maybe our nervous laughter of skepticism and mistrust will be transformed into the happy laughter of those who have lived to see the fulfillment of His promises.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Wednesday Miscellany: Proselytism, Parasitic Morality, and a Punch in the Mouth

I sat in on an attempted proselytism the other day. It was in the chapel at the jail. One of the young women had been pontificating about how she didn’t really believe in God, but she figured there was probably a higher power that was orchestrating things down here. Life was mostly about merging with the energy of the universe and nature and discovering how everything’s connected and all religions basically say the same thing and that it’s all about love and peace (she said this after introducing the word “perping” to my lexicon and talking about how sometimes it’s just so much fun!). She was, in other words, a well-tutored member of the burgeoning SBNR (spiritual but not religious) category of the post-Christian West.
At any rate, another young woman was quite concerned to correct her views on these matters. She wanted to talk to her about Jesus, about reading the bible more, about salvation, about freedom. There was a lot of talking past one another and generalizing assumptions and no small amount of squirming for those listening in. I generally agreed with the girl who wanted to talk about Jesus, but I, too, found the scene uncomfortable. No, don’t say it like that… Ah, that’s going to be a dead end… Maybe you should soften or modify that a bit? On and on it went. I suspect there are few pastors less comfortable with proselytism than I am.
I went home and opened Facebook later that day. I saw a pretty much unending stream of proselytism—everything from specific ways of understanding and advocating for indigenous justice to the moral urgency of embracing climate change to the evils of anti-vaxxers to the immorality of understanding sexuality and identity in the wrong ways to the perils of being the wrong kind of soccer parent to how my leadership style might be failing the church to the wearisome binary antagonisms that pass for political discourse. In each case, there was meaning andwere sinners being condemned and good news being offered. There was one right way to think and there was outer darkness for those who did not conform.
Perhaps proselytism shouldn’t make me so uncomfortable. Everyone else seems cool with it…
(I say all this partially tongue-in-cheek. The world of social media—and particularly those who go to war over ideas there—is, obviously, not exactly a representative sample.)
***
A few weeks ago, CBC’s Ideas ran an interview with Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith about his new book Atheist Overreach. Smith points out the irony of a cultural moment where some of the most stridently moralistic discourse often emerges from those who claim to be atheists. They certainly don’t have a monopoly on moralizing—this is well traveled terrain for right wing religious folks, too—but the often-atheistic progressive left trades in moral absolutes just as eagerly as those whose views they despise. Smith isn’t convinced that this works very well. The question isn’t, “Can atheists be moral?” (of course they can!) but are their moral convictions and their beliefs that these are not just their own private opinions but public truth coherent? Can anything like an “inherent human right” be produced by naturalistic philosophy? Can a moral imperative be read off of nature? Can an unencumbered “is” ever produce a binding “ought?”
At one point, Smith pointed out an interesting and very timely conundrum. Those who are often most keen to (quite rightly, in my view) criticize and protest against the strong-man politics of leaders like Donald Trump have the fewest (coherent) moral resources from which to draw in their protest. If one is an atheist, what consistent moral responses are there to someone who, in essence, says, “Who cares about your moral convictions? You can have your opinions, certainly, but I don’t have to share them. I happen to think it’s fine to make fun of disabled people and express casual disdain for immigrants and trample recklessly over norms of truth and decency at will. And I have the power, so bugger off, thank you very much.”
In other words, what happens when someone acts like Nietzsche was right—that without God, it really does all reduce to power games? We can talk about inherent human rights and dignity, we can talk about the centrality of truth and the moral duty of civility, we can express our conviction that the vulnerable and the poor and the weak ought to receive special care and attention, rather than being scapegoated. We can and we do, in fact, do all of these things, across the spectrum from morally zealous atheism to morally zealous religious belief. And this is good and necessary. Pushing back against people like Trump with incoherent moral resources is certainly far preferable to not pushing back at all.
But we should at least be honest that absent a robust conception of an Absolute Truth to lend normative force to these convictions, we are mostly just parasitically (and selectively) feeding off of religious morality.
***
Early in her career, Flannery O’Connor wrote a story called “The Barber.” It is, among other things, a parable about moral and political discourse. The main character, Rayber, is a college professor and a liberal who finds himself in a barbershop full of racist conservatives in the deep south. He sits there and endures an endless stream of vitriol and stupidity and insecurities and fears masquerading as arguments. Inwardly he fumes. He tries to push back here and there, but his responses are halting and ineffective, easily overwhelmed by ignorant bravado.
The barber tells Rayber to come back in a week with his best arguments to see if he can convince him that all the “Mother Hubbards” are right. Rayber takes him up on it. For a week, he crafts his best arguments, he writes them down, he practices them on his wife. He comes back to the barber shop armed with reason and eloquence, braced to do his moral duty.
The barber has almost forgotten about the whole thing. Rayber has to jog his memory about their deal even to get a hearing. The barber and the other patrons laugh and agree to listen to his “speech.” Rayber protests that it’s not really a “speech” as much as an opportunity for dialogue, to “discuss things sanely.” The men just guffaw and tell him to get on with things. He offers his speech. It feels like less than he had hoped it would be. It’s met with mockery and laughter—“I’ll be the first to vote for Boy Blue tomorrow morning!” Rayber seethes, particularly when he looks at George, the “colored boy” who cleans the floor and the basins of the barber shop.
The story ends with Rayber punching the barber in the mouth and the barber staring uncomprehendingly at his enraged customer. I don’t know what you gotta get so excited about… I said it was a fine speech.
I turned over the last page of the story, grimly chuckled, and thought “Well, that’s a good analogy for about 90% of the moralizing proselytism we see on Facebook every day. We yell and and mock and fume and seethe, each one of us flogged on by our moral absolutes, wherever we derive them from and however coherently we do so. And then, we do the equivalent of punch each other in the mouth and stare bewilderedly at those who can’t or won’t see what seems so obvious to us.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Pacifism in America, part three: Making peace through service

Ted Grimsrud—June 5, 2019
 The resilient response to World War II by those few who retained their pacifist commitments insured that when the war finally ended, there would be peacemakers to devote themselves to overcoming the effects of the massive violence. As we will see, these efforts often took the shape of nonviolent direct action for social change. However, the experience of a world at war also greatly stimulated expanded works of service from pacifist groups.
The Civil Rights and nuclear disarmament movements sought directly to transform American culture through social activism. They were ad hoc uprisings made up of a variety of citizens whose energies ebbed and flowed over the time of the movements’ activities. Their significance lies in their quest, at times remarkably successful, for genuine democracy from the bottom up, based not on coercive force but on the exercise of self-determination.
Alongside these transformation-seeking movements, we should also be attentive to several long-term efforts, largely motivated by pacifist sensibilities, to work for self-determination and disarmament through acts of service. The first of these “service committees” was the American Friends Service Committee. I will also discuss two other quite different but parallel service-oriented groups, the Mennonite Central Committee and the Catholic Worker.
American Friends Service Committee
AFSC established a presence in numerous international locations during the inter-war years, but also invested significant time and money in working inside the U.S. in relief and development work during the Great Depression. AFSC leaders worked skillfully with government officials—even to the point that long-time AFSC director Clarence Pickett developed a strong working relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt and through her had significant contact with President Roosevelt himself.
AFSC had links with numerous Quaker centers throughout Western Europe that had begun with the post-World War I relief work. With the rise of Nazism, these Quakers, with support from AFSC, sought to facilitate the emigration of beleaguered Jews. They met with resistance from the American and British governments, so were unable to help nearly as many people as they wanted to. But they helped some, they sounded the alarm (too seldom heeded) about the increasing danger faced by Jews, and they challenged (not successfully enough) the political structures in the U.S. to respond to this crisis.
AFSC also worked to provide alternatives for military service for draftees. With their years of work with government, Quaker leaders were uniquely situated to lead peace church efforts to shape government policy toward conscientious objectors. They worked with government officials to create and operate what became the Civilian Public Service (CPS) program in collaboration with Mennonite Central Committee and the newly created Brethren Service Committee.
As it turned out, the Friends CPS camps attracted a wide range of COs from various traditions (the Mennonite camps were populated mostly by Mennonites; and the Brethren camps had a strong Brethren identity), partly due to a disappointingly small number of Quakers who chose to be COs. Throughout the war years, AFSC leaders debated the validity of the agency cooperating so closely with the war-making government. In the end, when the government insisted that the CPS camps continue for nearly two years even after the War ended, AFSC opted out of its involvement with CPS.
As with World War I, so also in the devastating aftermath of World War II, AFSC effectively devoted extraordinary resources to relief work. This work was recognized when AFSC and its British counterpart the Friends Service Council were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their relief work in 1947. During the Cold War years, AFSC continued with its relief and development work, giving special focus to aiding victims of warfare. As had been the case since its founding in 1917, AFSC gained wide respect from various sides in these conflicts as genuinely oriented toward humanitarian aid and not political partisanship.
At the same time, within the United States, AFSC did take strong stands critical of the American National Security System. One influential AFSC publication, Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence, was issued in 1956 and gained wide attention for its critique of American (and Soviet) nuclearism and its articulation of an alternative vision for the international order based on “the effectiveness of love in human relations.” AFSC provided important support and leadership in the early development of the Civil Rights and nuclear disarmament movements. When the American participation in the Vietnam War grew during the mid-1960s, AFSC joined with various other long-term peace organizations (such as Fellowship of Reconciliation, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and War Resisters League) to provide organizational resources for the anti-war movement.
Throughout the Vietnam War years, AFSC worked hard at antiwar activities, provided widespread draft counseling in aiding prospective inductees who sought CO classification, worked with members of the military who sought help in dealing with their traumatic experiences, and engaged in extensive aid and development work in Southeast Asia.
During a time of intense debate, agitation, turmoil, aggressive protest, and polarizing conflicts, AFSC provided a distinctive presence. On the one hand, operating from a consistently pacifist perspective, AFSC offered a rigorous critique of American involvement in this war. This critique also included skepticism toward the various public relations efforts by American governmental officials. Yet, also drawing on its pacifist convictions, AFSC rejected the more militant and at times even violent reactions by the antiwar movement against American policies and policy-makers.
After 1975, AFSC worked hard at reconciliation efforts with the Vietnamese, actively but futilely seeking the normalization of relationships between the United States and Vietnam. AFSC also actively participated in efforts to resist American intervention in Nicaragua and elsewhere in Central America during the Sandinista years. Probably most controversially, AFSC has supported the Palestinian resistance to Israel.
Prominent Quaker sociologist and peace educator Elise Boulding offered this recent evaluation of the efforts of the AFSC:
“The AFSC had gone far in acknowledging kinship with and staying in relationship with groups whose lifeways differ sharply from those of middle class pacifists, groups that sometimes seek more far-reaching changes than the average pacifist feels called upon to support. This has led the AFSC into uncomfortable situations that many of us have never had to confront. Keeping a steady and loving spirit in those situations, and upholding the commitment to nonviolence requires great inner strength. Certainly the AFSC has made mistakes. But they have been the mistakes of love and concern. We can choose to stay in risk-free spaces where the purity of our pacifism is never questioned, or we can choose to move into those spaces where humanity’s growing pains are more acutely on display.”
In spite of, or perhaps in some sense because of, the messiness of its direct engagement in peacework in the midst of intense conflicts, an engagement that has certainly included remarkable and exemplary relief work but also has gone beyond relief work to attempt to address causes of conflicts and take sides on behalf of the victims of warfare (hot and cold), the AFSC has embodied a powerfully transformative ethic of servanthood. Part of the power of the AFSC surely has followed from its rootedness in a particular Christian tradition. It has certainly practiced an impressive inclusiveness both in welcoming as its workers people from a variety of religious and non-religious traditions, and in offering its services to all in need regardless of ethnicity or creed. Yet it has also remained firmly anchored within the Quaker tradition and drawn most of its support from Quaker sources.
Mennonite Central Committee
American Mennonites’ experience during World War II shaped their pacifist convictions in several important ways. The generosity Mennonites had expressed through MCC’s relief work in the 1920s was also expressed in the churches’ financial support for the CPS program. Mennonites supported their own CPSers, but their contributions also underwrote the expenses for other COs who lived in the Mennonite-operated CPS camps.
For many, CPS participation led to greatly expanded horizons. If prior to World War II, Mennonites had tended to think of their pacifist convictions primarily in terms of living faithfully as “quiet in the land” who practiced their nonresistant faith in neighborly ways in their isolated communities, as a consequence of their exposure to the wider world, many accepted the challenge to apply their convictions much more broadly after the War ended (see Leo Driedger and Donald B. Kraybill, Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism).
This urge to apply Mennonite peace convictions more broadly led to an expanded ministry for Mennonite Central Committee. In 1940, MCC’s work was mainly focused on offering aid to impoverished Mennonites in the Soviet Union and those who had migrated from the Soviet Union to South America. Over the next several years, MCC work began in England, France, Poland, India, China, Egypt, and Puerto Rico. Immediately following the War, MCC entered seventeen more countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. MCC sought to be non-involved in partisan politics. However, in a broader sense, MCC’s work was deeply political. MCC did seek to further self-determination everywhere on earth—echoing the ideals of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter—without the use of coercive methods.
When the United States reinstated the military draft in the late 1940s, the policies concerning alternative service changed. Instead of requiring COs to take assignments in government-operated Civilian Public Service camps, nongovernmental agencies could provide assignments for COs. As well, the service was no longer restricted to North America. Consequently, during the 1950s and 1960s, MCC accepted thousands of COs performing alternative service and placed them throughout the world (see Calvin W. Redekop, The Pax Story: Service in the Name of Christ, 1951-1976).
One major impact of World War II on Mennonite young adults was an exposure to the wider society through their CPS work. For many, this exposure led to an interest in applying their pacifist convictions to problems of the day. They also tended as a consequence to have a more positive attitude both toward other peacemakers outside their Mennonite communities than had been the case in earlier generations and toward society and the state in general. The long-term, deep-seated Mennonite suspicion toward “political involvement” began to lessen.
Numerous Mennonites responded positively to Martin Luther King’s active nonviolence. For example, Guy Hershberger, the prominent author of the standard book on Mennonite peace convictions, War, Peace, and Nonresistance (1944), made an effort in the 1950s to understand King’s work and ended up as a supporter, even arranging a King visit to Goshen College, the Mennonite school where Hershberger taught.
The civil rights movement of the 1960s, led by King and inspired by Gandhi’s practice of nonviolent resistance, made a strong impact on many Mennonites. Vincent Harding, an African-American pastor for a time affiliated with Mennonites, worked closely with King and thus also helped to acquaint Mennonites with nonviolent resistance. Harding also played a major role as King’s own peace witness became more radical. He wrote the initial draft of King’s widely noticed speech, April 4, 1967, that provided a sharp critique of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Mennonites responded much differently to the Vietnam War than they had to World War II. A Kansas Mennonite, James Juhnke, won the Democratic nomination and ran (unsuccessfully) for Congress as a peace candidate. A number of Mennonites practiced tax resistance, joined in public antiwar demonstrations (including civil disobedience), and for the first time in the U.S., some Mennonite young men refused to cooperate with the draft, choosing prison or exile in Canada over alternative service.
During the entirety of World War II, virtually no American Mennonites went to prison as draft resisters. With Vietnam, several dozen Mennonites did go to prison and numerous others exiled themselves to Canada (see Melissa Miller and Phil Shenk, eds., The Path of Most Resistance: Stories of Mennonite Conscientious Objectors Who Did Not Cooperate with the Vietnam War Draft). This resistance reflected a growing acceptance of non-Mennonite sources for war resistance such as Thoreau, Gandhi, and King. Many of these Mennonite resisters had contact with the wider anti-war movement.
Though the actual number of Mennonite draft resisters was quite small, their stance did gain the official approval of the two largest Mennonite denominations. Later, when President Carter reinstated draft registration in the late 1970s as a means to “show resolve” toward the Soviets, a number of Mennonite young men refused to register. The denominations offered support for these resisters (while not recommending that course of action for all registrants). The main governmental sanction for non-registrants has been the refusal to allow non-registrants to receive government financial assistance for college. So the Mennonite Church USA offers grants for non-registrants partially to offset that loss.
With the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the focus of Mennonite peacemakers changed to several new initiatives with links to MCC, as well as continued relief and development work. MCC had earlier established a “Peace Section” to further reflection on peace issues in light of Mennonite theology and a “Washington Office” to aid in listening to federal political issues and to provide a base for witnessing to legislators. Early in the history of the Washington Office, MCC facilitated testimony to Congress by various MCC workers who had served in Vietnam during the war years.
The Catholic Worker
World War II changed everything for the Catholic Worker movement. Dorothy Day and her closest colleagues remained resolute in their opposition to all warfare, even in the face of strong support for the War among their main constituencies. As a whole, Catholics supported the War at least as strongly as the wider American population. During the war years, support for the Catholic Worker shrank drastically. Numerous houses of hospitality had to close due to lack of support and circulation for the Catholic Worker newspaper dropped to a fraction of its prewar numbers.
However, the Catholic Worker’s costly pacifist stance became a foundation for the expansion of Catholic peace activism in the following generation. Two Catholic converts helped shape the Catholic Worker peace witness in the Cold War years. Robert Ludlow, a World War II CO, wrote about Gandhian nonviolence in the Catholic Worker, presenting it “as a potential substitute for war and as ‘a new Christian way of social change.’” Ammon Hennacy, a World-War-I-socialist CO and a lifelong political radical, joined with the Worker and pushed the group to more direct engagement in peace activism.
Dorothy Day herself made the news beginning in 1954 for being arrested due to her refusal to participate in legally mandated civil defense drills—participation that she believed implied an acceptance of American nuclear weapon policies. This was the first step in what has since become a long tradition of Catholic pacifist civil disobedience.
With Catholic Worker urging, Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace group founded by French and German Catholics in 1945, established an American branch in 1962—notable for bringing together pacifists and non-pacifists. Two years later, a new group with an overt pacifist commitment also got underway—with the intent of complementing the work of Pax Christi. The Catholic Peace Fellowship, with strong Catholic Worker connections, affiliated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The FOR connection signaled a new—and permanent—bridging of distance between Catholic pacifists and organized Protestant pacifism (see Peter Brock and Nigel Young, Pacifism in the Twentieth Century).
Another inspiration for American Catholic peace activism was the brief, transformative papacy of John XXIII. John convened Vatican II that moved Catholics into the twentieth century. Shortly before he died, John issued the encyclical Pacem in Terris, a call for peace that made it possible for “good Catholics” to begin to consider pacifism as an officially acceptable option. At the Vatican II council, two Americans, well known Trappist monk Thomas Merton and a lay theologian, James Douglass, lobbied for pacifism. Both men helped to shape the further development of American Catholic pacifism.
Merton, a prolific writer read far beyond Catholic circles, advocated for Gandhian nonviolence and sharply critiqued America’s war in Vietnam. While Merton’s understanding of peacemaking continued to develop, his conviction about “the essentially nonviolent character of the Christian message” remained firm. He believed that nonviolent tactics were always best in responding to evil and oppression. Douglass, also a prolific writer, had a major impact as a creative antiwar activist—most notably with his Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action near Seattle in the 1970s and 1980s. Douglass’s writings, beginning with The Non-Violent Cross in 1968, broke important ground in catholic theology by presenting Jesus as a nonviolent revolutionary.
The names most commonly associated with Catholic resisters to the Vietnam War are Daniel Berrigan and his younger brother Phil (see Murray Polnar and Jim O’Grady, Disarmed and Dangerous: The Radical Life and Times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Brothers in Religious Faith and Civil Disobedience). Both were priests, and they collaborated with close colleagues to perform a series of acts of civil disobedience beginning in 1968 that stretched Catholic peace concern to new extremes.
The Berrigans had close connections with the Catholic Worker, FOR, and Catholic Peace Fellowship. They valued Merton’s writings highly and drew deeply on Jesus’ teachings (more than on the Catholic natural law tradition). Their additional step was to perceive a calling to go so far in their protests as to destroy government property. They believed, though, that such protests remained consistent with nonviolence—even as they burned draft board files or despoiled them with demonstrators’ blood. In face the of the horrendous war they were ready to become “criminals for peace.”
The Catholic resistance sustained its activities—moving after the end of the Vietnam War to anti-nuclear activism and involvement in the sanctuary movement that resisted American intervention in Central America. Philip Berrigan especially received prison sentences on many occasions. He worked closely with Catholic Worker communities, which had retained a thoroughly pacifist witness after Dorothy Day’s death in 1980.
The influence of Catholic pacifists became so extensive by the early 1980s that they played a major role in the writing and discussion of the American Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter on nuclear war, The Challenge of Peace (see Philip J. Murnion, Catholics and Nuclear War: A Commentary on The Challenge to Peace, The U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Letter on War and Peace).
The letter did not fully embrace pacifism. However, to an unprecedented degree it affirmed pacifism as a fully legitimate option for Catholic Christians. Notably, at this time several American bishops did publicly express thoroughgoing pacifist convictions—including the influential bishop of Seattle, Raymond Hunthausen, who worked closely with James Douglass and the Ground Zero Community. Hunthausen and the other pacifist bishops also cited Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker as an important influence along with the writings and witness of Thomas Merton.
[This post is part of a series of posts on the history of pacifism in the United States adapted from the third section (“Alternatives”) of Ted Grimsrud, The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters: World War II’s Moral Legacy (Cascade Books, 2014). Here is a list of the posts in the series:

The roots of war resistance
Pacifism in face of the “good war”
Making peace through service
The role of pacifism in the Civil Rights Movement
Opposing war and warism
Civil society and peacebuilding

Check out this link for more on that book: The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters.]

Syndicated from Thinking Pacifism

Pacifism in America, part one: The roots of war resistance

Ted Grimsrud—May 31, 2019
The United States has an extraordinarily ambivalent legacy when it comes to war and violence. On the one hand, we originated, in the view of many, as the victor in a war of rebellion against the British Empire; we have engaged in war and after war throughout our history; we are the only country ever to drop a nuclear weapon on another country; and now we are the world’s one “superpower” that spends more on its military than virtually all the other countries in the world combined.
Yet, on the other hand the United States has a long legacy of peace movements, acceptance of the rights of conscientious objectors, and the development of philosophies of nonviolent social action. The US from its early years provided a home for members of the “historic peace churches” and provided them a largely persecution free home in contrast to many other places in the world that had driven pacifists out.
I recently listened to an interesting series of podcasts on the history of nonviolence that reminded me of much of the peace legacy in the US. The third season of “The Thread” focused on the history of nonviolence. In six episodes, the series discussed key figures in that “thread,” moving backwards from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Bayard Rustin to Mohandas Gandhi to Leo Tolstoy to William Lloyd Garrison. There are many details in this series that I could nitpick about, but overall I found it interesting and inspiring—and I would recommend it.
One inspiration that emerged for me was to post some things I have learned about this history. I will share some thoughts in several installments about the history of pacifism in America, starting today with background to the emergence of pacifist opposition to World War II—opposition that obviously had little impact on the execution of that war but that planted seeds for a number of significant efforts to oppose war and injustice nonviolently in the decades that followed.
The early generations
From colonial times, the population of North American has always included significant numbers of people who by conviction believed they could not participate in war. These pacifists varied in how they believed those convictions should be applied to public policy, some actively engaged in seeking for governments to repudiate warfare, others focusing their energies primarily on encouraging those within their own faith communities to refuse to participate.
Pacifism established itself in the North American colonies when the British government granted William Penn, a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), a charter to establish the colony of Pennsylvania in 1682 (see Peter Brock, The Quaker Peace Testimony, 1660-1914). The Friends had emerged as a distinct movement in Britain in the mid-1650s under the leadership of George Fox. Fox combined a close adherence to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount with a mystical sense of the presence of God’s Spirit in the believer’s heart, in the hearts of all other human beings, and in the broader creation.
The combination of placing the highest priority on the message of Jesus with the belief in the active work of the Spirit throughout the world inspired many Friends to affirm at the core of their faith the belief that all human relationships should be characterized by compassion, respect, and mutuality. This belief led them to repudiate warfare as a way for human beings to settle their differences.
In its early years, the colony of Pennsylvania operated under the leadership of people who were part of the Society of Friends. The colony sought to establish peaceable relationships with the Natives who were living within its borders. The colony also saw itself as a haven for other religious dissenters who shared similar values as the Friends, thereby becoming a pioneering political community that practiced genuine religious freedom and did not center its policies on the sword.
From the start, the colony of Pennsylvania lived with significant tensions between the ideals of its Quaker leadership and the realities of the broader colonial enterprise in North America not shaped by those values. In time, the numbers of colony residents who were not Quakers (or those of similar convictions) grew much larger than the population of Friends. In the face of growing conflicts with Natives in the western part of the colony, the Friends relinquish their leadership role by 1756.
During these 75 years, though, Pennsylvania became home not only for Quakers, but also a haven for a few other sizeable pacifist groups, most notably Mennonites and Brethren. The Mennonite tradition actually predated the Quakers by about 130 years. Its origins lay in the Swiss Reformation, specifically in Zurich. In 1525, a group of supporters of the early Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli set off on their own due to differences with Zwingli over the place of secular government in determining the types of reforms the church would pursue. The issue that came to the surface in this split was baptism—the “Brethren” became known as “Anabaptists” (re-baptizers) due to their rejection of infant baptism. To reject infant baptism was also to reject the entire institution of the state church and the assumption that church membership equaled national citizenship.
Presaging key Quaker convictions, the early Anabaptists took Jesus’ direct teachings as the center focus for their beliefs and practices, especially as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. From very early, for most of the Anabaptists, the teaching of Jesus concerning love of enemies and turning from the sword led to a principled pacifism (see Gerald J. Mast and J. Denny Weaver, Defenseless Christianity: Anabaptism for a Nonviolent Church). Over the next several decades following the first Anabaptist baptisms in 1525, the beliefs about non-participation in war became one of the convictional pillars for these radical Christians. As the movement gained a strong foothold in Holland, a former Catholic priest named Menno Simons became an important leader, and ultimately most of the various Anabaptist groups took his name—“Mennonites.”
The Mennonites faced generations of harsh persecution in Switzerland, Germany, and Holland. Though Mennonite groups remain in those countries, many communities and individuals migrated to locales that offered them safety—including the Pennsylvania colony beginning in 1683. The state of Pennsylvania remains today the home of the largest concentration of Mennonite communities in the United States.
Early in the 18th century, a new movement arose in Germany, deeply influenced by Anabaptist convictions but remaining a distinct fellowship. Members of this emerging movement, numbering only in the dozens, migrated en masse to Pennsylvania not long after their emergence and in North America took the name Church of the Brethren. The Brethren, like the Mennonites and Quakers, had as one of their defining characteristics belief in non-participation in war. During the last few decades of Quaker rule in Pennsylvania, the Brethren and Mennonites offered what support they could—and welcomed the freedom to practice their faith (including the open commitment to pacifism).
Members of all three groups (sometimes called the Historic Peace Churches) in time moved to the west and south from Pennsylvania, establishing communities in other colonies. The war that marked the American colonies effort to break free from British control proved difficult for Peace Church members, and a number migrated to Canada to avoid the conflict. By and large, though, the pacifism of Peace Church members was respected by government and they were allowed to avoid military involvement. Their presence was significant enough that James Madison, in an early draft of the Bill of Rights following the Revolution, included a provision establishing the constitutional right for conscientious objection in the face of war. Ultimately, this right was not granted. As a consequence, those seeking provisions of conscientious objection in face of the military draft have continually needed to request that Congress include provisions for COs in the draft legislation.
The 19th century: The first peace societies and total war
In the early 19th century, the United States, the world’s pioneering democracy, became the home of numerous citizens’ groups, established for numerous reasons—some having to do with social justice, some with education, some with various other civic issues. In this ferment of activity, the world’s first non-denominational peace societies were formed (see Peter Brock, Radical Pacifists in Antebellum America).
These early peace societies were notable for a couple of reasons. They signaled the spread of explicit convictions about rejection of warfare beyond the Peace Churches (a significant potion of those engaged with the peace societies were Quakers, but many were not). These may be the first organizations in the world with the specific purpose of furthering political opposition to war as an instrument of state policy. As well, some elements of this small peace movement connected with some elements of the much larger anti-slavery movement. Prominent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was an outspoken pacifist as well and sought to hold the two movements together.
The peace societies remained small. As the abolitionist movement grew in strength and conflicts over the issue of slavery increased, the peace societies shrank even more and eventually more or less died out. Garrison himself struggled with the growing tensions between his desire for an end to slavery and his opposition to warfare. In the end, he never explicitly endorsed the Civil War, but his abolitionist convictions led him tacitly to accept the Civil War as an appropriate tool for achieving the end of slavery.
During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy imitated practices Napoleon had initiated half a century earlier and formally conscripted young males into their militaries. In the Union, the prominence of the Quakers especially led Congress to make provisions for conscientious objection. These provisions were somewhat ad hoc, the process did not satisfy either the Peace Church communities nor those who opposed conscientious objection altogether. However, those whose convictions led them to reject participation in warfare in principle were generally able to avoid fighting (see Lillian Schlissel, ed., Conscience in America: A Documentary History of Conscientious Objection in America, 1757-1967). And precedents were set that would inform future confrontations between principled pacifists and a warring American government.
The turn toward warism and the pacifist response
Following the Civil War the United States government did not decide put together a large military for about half a century. During that time, pacifist beliefs, especially among the Peace Churches, continued to be taught. However, without the test of actually facing the challenge of wars, the strength of the convictions likely weakened. In the broader society, some peace interests found expression in the emerging awareness of the need for strengthened international safeguards to provide alternatives for overt warfare, such as mediation and arbitration. This awareness was not generally linked with full pacifism.
The U. S., in general, continued to have the self-image of remaining aloof from “foreign military entanglements”—with the key exception of the decision by the McKinley administration at the end of the 19th century to enter the imperial age via the Spanish-American War and the subsequent annexation of several pieces in the former Spanish Empire, most notably the Philippines (which involved a clandestine war that left hundreds of thousands of Filipinos and as many as 30,000 Americans dead). The Spanish-American War and its aftermath did lead to the emergence of anti-imperialist sentiment in the United States, sentiment that shortly would help fuel opposition to American participation in what came to be known as World War I.
As the nations of Europe started moving toward major conflicts, engendered in part by greatly expanded military spending, Americans tended to assume that the U.S. would remain neutral. Americans had a long tradition of noninvolvement in European wars. However, President Woodrow Wilson, elected in 1912, had strong connections with Great Britain. After the formal war in Europe began in 1914, Wilson moved ever closer to a commitment to join the British and French. Finally, in 1917, the Americans took the big step and for the first time entered into a war in Europe as a formal belligerent.
The American entry into the war came after three long years of mostly devastating impasse between the two warring sides in Europe. Historians still don’t fully agree on the significance of the American involvement. Certainly, this involvement was brief, since the war ended in November 1918. The general consensus now seems to be that the American entry actually did play a major role, certainly at the least helping the Germans see that they simply did not have the resources to continue the war of attrition that the conflict had evolved into.
This brief experience with such a massive war served as a wake-up call for many peace-oriented Americans. As with the Civil War, draft legislation was passed and did make allowance for conscientious objectors, but in ways that were highly objectionable for many Peace Church people and other pacifists. Around 50,000 draftees claimed CO status. However, the policy required all those inducted to go into the military. Only then, as members the military, could the prospective COs seek to make their case. Their fate would be determined by military officials. Not surprisingly under these circumstances, over 80% of those who had originally sought CO status gave up and became regular soldiers.
The immensity of the war led to the formation of several important pacifist organizations during the war years or the time shortly after the end of the war. Four in particular will play major roles in the story of war resistance during the century to follow. Two of these groups were linked with specific peace church denominations—the American Friends Service Committee and the Mennonite Central Committee. The other two sought a much wider membership—the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the War Resisters League.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was formed just as the United States entered the war in 1917 (see Marvin R. Weisbord, Some Form of Peace: True Stories of the American Friends Service Committee at Home and Abroad). With the draft legislation, the Quakers desperately sought to find alternative forms of service that pacifist young men could perform as an alternative to going to war. By this time, the devastation in Europe was clear and so there was no lack of need for food distribution and medical care.
The AFSC sought to communicate to potential COs and inform them of the possibilities for alternative service and to garner the military’s acceptance of these alternatives. As the war ended fairly soon after the Americans joined, the AFSC programs barely got started. The most successful program was service in war zones as medics and ambulance drivers.
With the end of the war, American Quakers concluded that the work of AFSC would continue to be needed, especially immediately in postwar repair work. AFSC played a major role in the distribution of food in many parts of Europe, saving millions of lives. The AFSC also understood that part of their needed work would be to seek to revive awareness of the Quaker peace testimony for younger people. Many Quakers believed they had not been as prepared as they should have been for responding to the war when it arose. They saw a need to help their young men understand the Quaker peace testimony and respond to the war in light of it.
Many Mennonites also felt they were unprepared for this massive war when it came. In the aftermath of the war, they began to seek ways to help some of those who suffered the most from the war’s consequences. Mennonites tended to focus their energies on their own communities. One large Mennonite community with ties to many North Americans was the Mennonite community in the newly established Soviet Union.
So, North American Mennonites created a new organization to bring together Mennonites from their various branches into one “Mennonite Central Committee” (MCC) for the purpose of offering aid to the severely traumatized Mennonites in Eastern Europe, especially Mennonites suffering famine in the Ukraine. After a burst of activity offering aid to the Russian Mennonites, MCC remained relatively dormant for a number of years. World War II provided the catalyst for the reinvigoration of MCC, both as the central agency that would work with the U.S. government in providing for alternative service for COs and, more importantly in the long run, as the arm for the North American communities to provide a wide range of relief, development, and peace education and advocacy work (see Perry Bush, Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America).
The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) had its origins among British pacifists (mostly Quakers) during World War I who issued a public statement making an explicitly Christian case for rejection of warfare. The FOR was formed in Britain in December 1914. An American FOR began in November 1915, and the International FOR was formed in 1919 (see Paul R. Dekar, Creating the Beloved Community: A Journey with the Fellowship of Reconciliation).
In its early years, the FOR drew its membership from four groups—many Quakers, Protestant Christians influenced by the Social Gospel movement that had emerged at the turn of the century (and was not itself committed to pacifism), participants in another new organization called the Young Men’s Christian Association, and participants in the women’s movement that had coalesced around the voting issue (another parallel organization with many members in common with the FOR that was formed at this time was the Women’s League for International Peace and Freedom).
The FOR grew rapidly following World War I, becoming the gathering place for many people who became disillusioned with war because of the less than satisfactory outcome of the Great War. Many leaders in American Protestant denominations (especially Methodist, Congregational, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian) affiliated with the FOR, giving it a prominent place in ecumenical interactions (see Joseph Kip Kosek, Acts of Conscience: Christian Nonviolence and Modern American Democracy).
Many pacifists during World War I and its immediate aftermath found themselves desiring an organization that would be more open to non-Christians than the FOR was in its early years. With the FOR’s blessing, an FOR member, Jessie Wallace Hughan established a new organization in 1921 initially called the Committee for Enrollment Against War. Over the next few years, the term “War Resisters League” (WRL) came increasingly to be used, and by 1923 was the group’s official name.
The WRL focused on providing moral support and guidance for people who had come to reject warfare in principle—especially people who did not have strong connections with religious communities. From near its beginning, the WRL’s declaration stated, very briefly, its core conviction: “War is a crime against humanity. I, therefore, am determined not to support any kind of war, international or civil, and to strive for the removal of all the causes of war” (see Scott H. Bennett, Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915-1963).
The other pacifist group that will play a major role in the story of pacifism in America also began in the aftermath of World War I, but in quite a different milieu. This entity, the Catholic Worker Movement, essentially got its start with just two people, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. They were Catholic lay people, Day a young adult convert and Maurin a French immigrant. The two met in the early 1930s in New York City, found themselves to be kindred spirits—Day deeply influenced by Marxism, Maurin by Franciscan personalism—with a deep concern for caring for suffering people in the depths of the Great Depression.
They began publishing a newspaper called The Catholic Worker and established houses of hospitality modeled somewhat after rescue missions but without the coercive religiosity. Day became the main leader for the movement. She felt it was essential for the Catholic Church to be involved in caring ministries that would provide a basis for a nonviolent kind of revolution in a time with much ferment in favor of not so nonviolent revolutions. So she sought to work closely with the Church and always endeavored to remain in positive relationships with the hierarchy.
Day’s theology remained fairly simple. She drew most centrally on the gospels (much more so than from Catholic natural law moral philosophy). From the beginning of her work with the Catholic Worker, she articulated a strong gospels-centered pacifist commitment. She insisted that the Movement as a whole be pacifist—especially as represented in the newspaper. Because of the obvious fruitfulness of the Worker’s service-oriented ministry, many Catholics, including bishops and cardinals, provided support and the Movement expanded greatly during the 1930s (Mel Piehl, Breaking Bread: The Catholic Worker and the Origin of Catholic Radicalism in America).
During the difficult years of the Great Depression in the 1930s and the rise of the war clouds that were soon to burst forth, these various strands of pacifist conviction in the United States grew stronger. As it turned out, they ended up in largely a defensive mode during the years of World War II (1941-5), but though each one faced a great deal of stress they emerged strongly committed to the way of peace and ready for positive action.
[This post is part of a series of posts on the history of pacifism in the United States adapted from the third section (“Alternatives”) of Ted Grimsrud, The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters: World War II’s Moral Legacy (Cascade Books, 2014). Here is a list of the posts in the series:

The roots of war resistance
Pacifism in face of the “good war”
Making peace through service
The role of pacifism in the Civil Rights Movement
Opposing war and warism
Civil society and peacebuilding

Check out this link for more on that book: The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters.]

Syndicated from Thinking Pacifism

The Filthy and Excessive Gospel

In a world where deep reading is becoming the exception to the rule of skimming and grazing our way through the endless media that comes at us every day and from every angle, headlines are becoming increasingly important. If the headline doesn’t grab us, we won’t read on. There are just too many words out there and not enough time or attention to bother with them all. Poor headlines! They have to do a disproportionate amount of the work for a piece to even get a hearing! This is more of a confession than an indictment (although I suppose it could be both). I am the chief of sinners on this score.
At any rate, a headline (ahem) caught my attention a few days ago. It was a piece written by philosopher Thomas White for Aeon and it was called “Philosophy should care about the filthy, excessive and unclean.” I did read beyond the headline, you’ll be relieved to know, and came across an interesting discussion of the challenge of the “unclean” to Plato’s world of ideal forms and Slavoj Žižek’s use of this category in analyzing the degradation of political discourse. But my thoughts kept returning to the headline. Actually, narrower still, to a single word from the headline: should. “Philosophy should care about the filthy…” The implication being that it normally doesn’t, that it has more important matters to ponder.
I thought about that headline as I made my way to the jail on Monday morning. I thought about it as I considered those from our church who would be making their way to the soup kitchen yesterday morning. I thought about it as I watched people making preparations for the MCC Relief sale that our town will host this weekend, which funds relief and development in some of the neediest parts of the world. I thought about it as I considered the many people connected to our one small church who are invested in communities like L’Arche and other organizations that walk alongside people with disabilities. I thought about it as I pondered recent visits to people in pretty desperate (and sometimes disgusting) situations whether due to age, illness, or catastrophes of their own making.
I thought about how the headline would sound if we substituted “Christianity” for “philosophy.” “Christianity should care for the filthy, excessive and unclean.” Perhaps the headline still pops a bit—our attention is always grabbed by words like “filthy” and “excessive,” after all, or at the very least, by anything presuming to be a moral imperative. But I’m guessing the headline also seems a bit redundant with this substitution. The idea that Christianity should have something to say in and for the ugly and the easily ignored parts of the world, the parts that don’t fit neatly into ethical systems or metaphysical schematics seems obvious. These are the very places that people assume Christianity should be present. Even people who know almost nothing about Christianity often have a dim awareness that Christians are the ones who are supposed to follow Jesus to the bottom.
For Christianity, the imperative to care about the filthy and unclean and excessive is sort of built into the package. Anyone who has even a nodding acquaintance with the gospels, knows that Jesus called “blessed” those who mourn, those who are poor, those who suffer and are persecuted. We know that Jesus flouted social and religious norms by touching lepers, the lame, the dead, the dying. We know that Jesus frequently found himself in “excessive” company, that he was labeled a “friend of sinners,” a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus lived among and for the filthy, the unclean and the excessive. Jesus believed, evidently, that there was inherent worth, dignity, and value in each human life, no matter how outwardly unimpressive.
And so have his followers down through the ages. Not perfectly, of course. Not consistently or always admirably. But across the Christian spectrum, from the hyper-conservative fundamentalist to the hyper-liberal social justice warrior, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t at least pay lip service to the truth that Christianity should care for the filthy, excessive and unclean. Even when we’re failing miserably at it, we know that we shouldn’t be. We know that Jesus didn’t come for the healthy, but the sick. Sometimes we even remember that this includes us.
And Christians, at our best, don’t just do all of this because Jesus told us to. That’s perhaps a decent place to start, but it goes much deeper than that. Christians believe that the nature of God is most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ, who not only deigned to minister to the filthy and unclean from time to time, but who entered into this experience himself. Christians have sanitized and abstracted the idea of Jesus hanging on a godforsaken cross, turning it into a “doctrine” or a soteriological mechanism or whatever else. But at the time, God-on-a-cross would have been unthinkable, offensive, filthy, unclean, and excessive… pick your unsavoury adjective. Cursed is anyone who hangs upon a tree, and all that. Jesus goes straight to the bottom and says, “This, this is what God is like and this is where God is to be found. This is where love is grown, where forgiveness is extended, and where the kingdom of God takes root. This is the good news.”
I listened to part of an episode of the Liturgists podcast the other day. I used to listen to it more regularly, but the genre of ex-evangelicals frolicking in the pastures of enlightenment and heaping scorn upon their benighted conservative brethren gets old after a while. At any rate, in this episode William Matthews was trying to convince one of the hosts, Mark Gungor, who has evidently left Christianity behind, to become a Christian again. Matthews presented the gospel as liberation and good news for the oppressed. Gungor mostly liked that but couldn’t get past the problem of evil and God’s rather poor performance in world-supervision. Round and round they went.
Part way through the discussion, Gungor left metaphysics behind and took a more pragmatic turn. Christianity just doesn’t work very well, he said. It doesn’t produce “enlightened” people who can live freely in the present like Hinduism or other forms of Eastern mysticism do. I think I laughed out loud. Is that what you think Christianity is supposed to do? I said (again, probably audibly, and probably louder than I ought to have). Produce “enlightened” people? That’s the metric you’re using to evaluate things? I turned the podcast off.
Christianity may produce “enlightened” people, or it may not. As always, so much depends on how we define our terms. But I honestly couldn’t care much less about enlightenment; I’m far more interested in whether or not Christianity produces people (including me!) who are being grown in love, who are being conformed to the image of Christ, and who are willing to follow him to the bottom, where God is waiting.
——
The image above is a creation of Charles McCollough and is taken from the 2009-10 Christian Seasons Calendar. It’s called “The Return of the Prodigal” and beautifully portrays a father embracing his filthy, unclean, excessive son and welcoming him home.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Death of a Convenient Narrative

I am learning that the jail is very often a place where convenient narratives go to die.
This morning’s lesson was ostensibly about learning how to stop blaming parents and take responsibility for our own actions but, as is usually the case, the conversation tends to meander off in all kinds of loosely-related or unrelated territory. There was a younger indigenous woman who was sitting quietly while the lesson was read. She had spiky jet black hair streaked with blond, a few tattoos on her face, one that looked like a tear drop of blood. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she sat in stony silence throughout our time together. She didn’t look like she had much to say.
Turns out, she did. Quite a lot, actually. And it wasn’t what you’d expect. It wasn’t what I expected, anyway. She talked about how she had miraculously forgiven her parents after attending a program which I won’t name but which sounded like (and probably was, I determined after a quick Google search later) one of those wild charismatic Christian programs that use phrases like, “capture back what the enemy has stolen” and “kill every satanic embargo” and “be victorious in your dreams at all times” a lot. She talked at length about demons and strongholds and spiritual warfare. She spoke about the importance of “being in the word” daily. She could recite bible verses better than many pastors I know. Certainly better than the one writing these words. God had turned her life around!
It got worse. Or better, I suppose, depending on your perspective. She triumphantly declared that she had destroyed all of her sweet grass and cultural regalia (she used to be a ceremonial dancer). Ditto for her all materials related to astrology and horoscopes. I half expected her to say that she had burned her secular rock and roll cassettes, as was the familiar ritual in the lives of so many evangelical teenagers when I was a kid. Listening to her felt like stepping into a weird combination of a Frank Peretti novel and a hyper-conservative charismaniac evangelical church from several decades ago.
Like I said, the jail is not a place for convenient narratives. And this one was about as inconvenient as you could hope to find in our post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada and post-residential schools church. A young indigenous woman walking away from her culture and toward a rather extreme form of the religion that has historically done so much to wound and oppress her people. Was this a weird enactment of a kind of cultural-religious Stockholm Syndrome? Didn’t she realize that she had things exactly backward?!
I thought of what my progressive Christian, agnostic, or atheist friends would think if they were sitting around the circle this morning. I could almost hear them gasp with horror. There were times when I found it difficult to listen to! Surely this was an example of a vulnerable young woman being taken advantage of by opportunistic preachers and greedy religious snake oil salesmen. Surely this was another tragic example of the oppressed grabbing on to the categories of their oppressors in the absence of better narratives—another ugly tributary of the rivers of colonialism that had washed over her people. And she was, not to put too fine a point on it, back in jail. So, you know, how well was this brand of crazy Christianity actually working for her?
But there’s a fine line between compassionate understanding and condescending paternalism, isn’t there? Would we really want to find ourselves in the position of saying whatever this young indigenous woman thought was going on in her life, her experience, and her faith, that we (mostly white, mostly well-educated people) knew better? Would we really want to draw the boundaries for her with respect to what real indigenous expressions of spirituality, healing and wholeness look like? Would we want to deprive her of agency in this way? Would not this rather be yet another form of colonialism—non-indigenous people dictating the terms of what indigenous faith and practice ought to look like (or, more importantly, not look like)?
I noticed something else this morning, and most mornings I spend at the jail. When I start talking about God and faith in my usual highly nuanced, careful, non-supernatual, liberal-ish ways, the women usually smile politely, ask a few questions, offer a bit of qualified appreciation. But when one of their fellow inmates starts talking about angels and demons and punching the wall to get Satan out of their room and screaming the name of Jesus to chase the bad dreams away and tearing down strongholds and deliverance and victory, then the heads start nodding a lot more enthusiastically. They have little time for mushy, tolerant, understanding Jesus—they need Christ the victor who exorcises the demons and shatters the chains.
I resonated with very little of this woman’s experience and testimony this morning. I cringed throughout her (long) telling and could have picked it apart theologically in any number of ways. And, again, for all her talk of radical new beginnings in Jesus she was still sitting in a circle of plastic chairs in the prison chapel on a Monday morning, so… Well, so what? She claimed that Jesus had helped her to forgive her parents for abandoning her, that Jesus had set her free from addiction, and that Jesus had given her meaning and victory in her life. And for all my theological erudition (real or imagined), I haven’t walked a single step in her shoes. I have no idea what she has endured, no idea what she has left behind, no idea what she has already conquered or what roads she has yet to walk down. I have no idea the ways in which Jesus has come to her or the ways in which she has found him powerfully faithful.
So, not to put too fine a point on it, I should probably take my liberal-ish theological superiority and shove it. Or at the very least remain sensibly silent.
Convenient narratives die in the jail. Sometimes, it’s because they should.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Christians and politics – a deep devastation or glorious triumph?

Just over a week ago was election day in Australia. After being behind in the polls for years, the Government was returned with a small majority. This was seen by most pundits as an important election, charting a course for Australia’s future. Christians seemed to be more active than in any previous election that I … Continue reading Christians and politics – a deep devastation or glorious triumph?
Syndicated from the Way?

Is Christian pacifism a thing?

Ted Grimsrud—May 20, 2019
I can imagine several ways that the question I ask in the title of this post could go, so I want to start by explaining what I mean. By pacifism, I have in mind the principled unwillingness to support or participate in warfare or other forms of lethal violence (though I will say a bit more below that will define pacifism in more detail). For the purposes of what I write here, I assume the validity of pacifism. My question has to do with whether there is a type of pacifism that is uniquely Christian—that is, in effect, only available to Christians.
To make this more personal, I can rephrase the question: (1) Am I a pacifist because I am a Christian? Or, (2) Am I a Christian because I am a pacifist? Which comes first? Which is more essential? Now, of course, most Christians are not pacifists. And surely many pacifists are not Christians. As I have thought about this lately, I have come to conclude that though my self-awareness of having an explicitly pacifist commitment came at a time when I would have believed #1 (that I was a pacifist because I was a Christian), I now think that #2 is true for me (that is, to the extent I would see myself as a Christian it is because I am a pacifist and I know of a kind of Christianity that affirms pacifism). I should also say before I go further that I recognize that so much of this kind of discussion depends on how we define our terms. I will try to do that with care as I move along—but I request of the reader some tolerance with the limits of our language. I offer these reflections more as a kind of thought experiment than pretending to present anything definitive.
A uniquely Christian pacifism?
I grew up mostly outside the church, and in a general and vague way I found war and other forms of violence pretty unattractive, mostly on humanistic grounds. My father had fought in World War II, but afterwards refused to have a gun in the house, saying he had seen enough guns to last a lifetime. My mother had also served in the military during the War, but certainly never valorized doing so.
When I was 17, I was encouraged by several important people in my life seriously to consider seeking an appointment to one of the military academies for college. I don’t remember the conversations very clearly, but in my memory is a sense of feeling that such a journey was not even remotely attractive. This was partly because of watching the Vietnam War on television and seeing it as deeply problematic. But it was also simply not being able envision myself as a soldier trained to kill other human beings.
Interestingly, the same summer that I had the most intense conversations about my possible future in the military I also had a conversion experience and embraced Christianity. Tellingly the Christianity to which I was initially exposed had no qualms about affirming the soldier’s path. For several years, it never occurred to me that Christian faith might lead one to reject fighting in war. My reluctance to go to war was much more intuitive.
About the time of my 22nd birthday, as I neared graduation from college with a journalism degree (I hoped to be a sportswriter), everything changed. The vagueness of my reluctance to be a warrior became a clear and specific conviction—I could never fight because I knew that it would be wrong to do so. This became a certainty (as it has remained)—and seemed at the time to be directly tied to my Christian faith. As I look back, though, I realize that at that moment I knew nothing about any Christian pacifist traditions or any explicit Christian peace theology. I’d had no conversations with other Christians about pacifism. I’d say that it actually was more a personal awareness about the wrongness of war than a specifically Christian belief.
My vagueness soon changed, though. My faith-seeking-understanding concerning my pacifism led me to discover Mennonites. We had a few Mennonites in our college town (Eugene, Oregon), and I tracked down numerous books and articles. A few years later, my wife Kathleen and I attended a Mennonite graduate school and I got an MA in peace studies. Then followed formally joining the Mennonite church, becoming a Mennonite pastor, and getting a PhD in Christian Ethics with a dissertation on conscientious objection to World War II.
During these years, I came to believe that my pacifism followed from my Christian faith and was shaped by that faith in ways that made it different from any other kind of pacifism. Jesus Christ taught and practiced the love of enemies and he is God’s Son. His path is costly and, ultimately, not based on beliefs about effectiveness. We count only on God’s vindication—which may take the shape of failure (even death) followed by the miracle of resurrection. At the center was the inextricable link between Jesus’s identity as God Incarnate and the truthfulness of his call to follow his pacifist path. His call made no sense and had no power apart from his identity.
I’m not sure, though, that that logic ever actually animated my pacifism at its core. I suspect that for me it was more a matter of believing that I should have an explicitly Christian rationale for any strongly held believe—and then trying to find such a rationale. Certainly, I now realize, my entry into my pacifist convictions was not based on theological reasoning. At the same time, it is not that I now believe that the Bible and Christian theology don’t support pacifism (nor do I no longer believe that Jesus is God’s Son). I do think the best reading of the Bible and the best understandings of Christianity’s core convictions point toward pacifism (I still affirm the two books I wrote making that point—God’s Healing Strategy and Theology as if Jesus Matters)—and I do think Jesus is God’s Son. But I now tend to see that my pacifist convictions are based on something deeper (and perhaps more fundamentally human, even universal) than the scriptures and theology of one particular human-generated religion.
Questions about Christian pacifism
As I said above, my initial experience as a Christian convert was in a church environment that was quite pro war—even militarist—in sensibility. So I have known all along that most Christians are not pacifists. That means most fundamentalist Christians and most liberal Christians. Most deeply involved and pious Christians and most marginally involved and profane Christians. Most high church Christians and most low church Christians. Most highly educated Christians and most lightly educated Christians. Most North American Christians and most Global South Christians. Even, most Quakers and, I daresay, most Mennonites. Most Christians (in many contexts, all Christians) reject pacifism.
In other words, it is simply a descriptive reality that very few Christians see an inextricable link between Christianity and pacifism. And that is not because too many Christians are, sadly, misinformed about Christianity or unserious about their faith. Certainly, many Christians are misinformed and unserious. However, most of the most informed and most serious Christians also are not pacifist. Maybe I could say that after more than forty years, that non-pacifist consensus is wearing me down. It does not make me doubt the truthfulness of pacifism when I realize that Christianity is, as a matter of fact, a non-pacifist religion. It does makes me doubt the truthfulness of Christianity (which does not mean doubting the truthfulness of the Bible or the truthfulness of Jesus).
I noticed a number of years ago when I read the 1995 Mennonite Confession of Faith carefully that this confession, though it does eventually affirm pacifism, presents its core doctrinal teachings (in the first eight articles) in a way that does not take pacifism into account. It seems as if the writers of the Confession wanted to make it seem as compatible as possible with the major Protestant traditions (none of which, of course, affirm pacifism at all). So, even for Mennonites, the core convictions of Christian faith do not require a pacifist sensibility (in contrast, see my attempt to write about the core convictions that does make pacifism central—Theology as If Jesus Matters: An Introduction to Christianity’s Core Convictions).
I think it is also a matter of historical fact that the vast majority of Christians since the rise of the Western nation-states have simply given their respective governments a blank check and willingly supported preparing for and fighting in whatever wars the state might engage in. I researched conscientious objection in the United States during World War II and discovered that the government recognized about 12,000 COs and excused them from military service—and drafted more than 12,000,000 soldiers into the military. Noting that most of those in either group would identify as Christians, we could make a ballpark estimate that one out of 1,000 American Christians was pacifist (0.1%)—that is, hardly any. It seems clear that there is nothing inherent in the actual embodiment of Christian faith that leads to pacifism.
I assume that there is a connection between a doctrinal system that does not make pacifism a part of its core theology and a willingness automatically for church members to go to war. We can construct a rationale for pacifism based on Christian theology, but I don’t truly think that we can call pacifism “Christian.” A kind of pacifism that presents itself as being uniquely Christian does not seem consistent with the understanding of Christianity that characterizes almost all Christians, at least since the 4th century and that affirms war.
I also have recognized for a long time that not all pacifists are Christians. And these are not only “pacifists” who merely see nonviolent tactics as the most effective way to achieve political goals. There are also non-Christian pacifists who are pacifists because they believe in and practice love for their enemies, even at great cost to themselves. Whatever it is that empowers a person to give up their lives out of love for others is present with at least some non-Christians.
So, I have not observed a positive correlation between Christian faith and the practice of self-giving love and refusal to use violence. Certainly many people who seek to follow Jesus and affirm orthodox Christian beliefs do practice self-giving love in impressive ways. But others practice that kind of love in equally impressive ways and do not believe themselves to be Christians. Praise God for both kinds of people!
Pacifism for everyone?
A key point for me is to expand the definition of “pacifism” beyond simply a rejection of war. I do think that rejection is an important aspect of the meaning of pacifism—and separates “pacifism” from merely “loving peace” or affirming “nonviolence”. However, I believe that pacifism signifies more than saying no to war and violence. It signifies a positive affirmation of the centrality of love for human ethics—not simply a negative stance regarding violence.
And I believe that the centrality of love is a core part of who we all are as human beings. We are all born needing connection with others and love is what empowers that connection. We are fragile creatures who easily are damaged and in that damage turn away from love—and the damage spreads to cultures and we grow up socialized by damaged cultures. But love is what drives us and living in love is how we best fulfill our human nature.
So, I don’t believe that the story of Jesus and his love distinguishes biblical faith from the rest of humanity. All cultures over all history have been healthiest when love is central (I state this more as a philosophical affirmation than as the result of careful scientific study—though the latter could possibly disprove the former should such a study be done). Biblical faith can confirm the broader human experience and provide a metaphysical framework for understanding it (e.g., the idea that we are created in and for love by a loving creator based on materials such as the creation story, some of the psalms, and teachings found in the gospels). However, we do not need the Bible to recognize the foundational reality of love.
Let me suggest that the dynamic is not that we start with the normal, innately human way of seeing life as inevitably violent and it taking “special revelation” to see something different. Rather, I believe that the normal, human way of seeing tends more toward pacifism and that the affirmation of violence is due to cultural deception, the consequence of what the Bible calls “idolatry” where people trust in nations and ideologies instead of the true God of love. “Special revelation” is not then special information from the outside that is not discernible to normal people but rather a cutting through of the idolatry to help any of us see how things truly are.
I will close with a suggestion that we can think of “Christian” pacifism in one of two ways. One way would be to say that there is a pacifism that is uniquely Christian, that depends upon God’s special revelation in Jesus and requires an affirmation, we could say, of a faith about Jesus—confessing his identity as God Incarnate as the basis for self-sacrificial love, even of enemies, and a willingness to die for one’s convictions. Such a pacifism stands or falls on this confession.
The second way would be to say that to live with love as our central moral imperative so that violence is always forbidden is simply the consequence when we recognize and affirm the universal human reality of love as our core reason for being. Christian faith is only one way to recognize and affirm that reality. Christian faith is true and worth embracing only insofar as it does empower such a recognition and affirmation. The distinctive elements of Christianity—its creeds and other doctrines, its rituals and sacraments—have their validity in providing such empowerment. Insofar as those distinctive elements become “autonomous” (or, ends in themselves) and comfortably coexist with war and violence, they lose their authenticity and contradict Jesus’s (and Torah’s) placing love as the incontrovertible center of faith.
In light of these points, I would say that Christian pacifists should not seek to present their convictions as unique or better than other forms of pacifism that place love at the center. For a pacifist to affirm that Christianity is true because it puts love at the center will then celebrate of other forms of pacifism that also put love at the center. Pacifism them becomes a basis for welcoming people of other faiths (or none), not another rationale for pride and exclusion.

Syndicated from Thinking Pacifism

Homophobia, Biblical truth and Israel Folau

This is a post about what christians believe, how we should express our belief and how cultures can clash. This is a post about an unfortunate episode in Australian sport and culture, from which no-one is likely to emerge a winner. And hopefully this is a post that won’t add, even in a small way, … Continue reading Homophobia, Biblical truth and Israel Folau
Syndicated from the Way?

Our Rachel.

When I first heard the name Rachel Held Evans, I made one major assumption. I thought she was a white woman writing for other white women. I knew she had a popular blog, and I heard she wrote a book called A Year of Biblical Womanhood. But I didn’t pick it up until a huge announcement came from Lifeway Bookstore. They weren’t going to sell her book in their stores. That was major. A prominent white woman not being able to sell her Christian book in Christian bookstores would mean a hit to her sales for sure, but it also was a significant power play. Rachel would have to decide if she would alter her manuscript to make it acceptable or not. She chose “or not”. The prevailing story was that Lifeway wouldn’t sell her book because of her use of the word “vagina”. She later wondered if that was the whole reason… but suffice it to say, the issue was that Rachel was being too extra. At first she was willing to “clean it up” but then she heard from all of you. Bolstered by your adamant voices that she publish the book as she wrote it, she made her decision. She wrote on her website, “I’m disappointed, of course, and not just because I’ll take a hit in sales. While Lifeway certainly has every right to choose its own inventory, I think the notion that Christians should dance carefully around reality, that we should speak in euphemisms and only tell comfortable, sanitized stories, is a destructive one that has profoundly affected the evangelical culture as a whole.” Now, if you read A Year of Biblical Womanhood you know that Rach was questioning a lot about white, evangelical culture before the Lifeway controversy. But I think Rach began to see that if even she was a white woman could be punished, pressured, pushed aside- than what did that mean for the rest of us who didnt carry her privilege? This moment was a spark in Rachel’s unwavering commitment to fight systems of exclusion. When I picked up her book and laughed my through it, I never imagined Id soon hear from her. I had just started this blog. I began so sweet and gentle and here-allow-me-to-teach-you-all-the-things-dear-ones. But as I watched the country treat our first Black president with hatred and disdain, as I read about Trayvon and Mike Brown, as I watched a little black girl get assaulted by police at a pool party and dealt with my own rising fears following Sandra Bland’s case, my writing quickly shifted. And Rachel found me. Back then, my blog was just a baby. I had very few followers on social media. I never really intended to become a writer. I just had no other avenues for talking about the things I was most passionate about. So my blog became my outlet. But I was mostly talking to myself. Until Rachel popped up in my email and said, “Would you be interested in being featured on my blog?” I couldn’t believe it! Overnight my follower count grew and suddenly I had this thing called an audience. I wasn’t just talking to myself anymore. I was writing and people were reading. Then Rachel joined forces with Nadia Bolz Weber. The pair decided a new kind of conference was needed. A conference full of testimonies. A conference that asked, “in light of all the shit in the world, why the hell are you still a Christian?” Rachel and Nadia decided not to ask all of their famous friends to be speakers. Instead they found a bunch of misfits. The only thing we had in common as a group was a fearlessness of dropping f-bombs. Other than that, we were from different backgrounds, different denominations, different family structures, difference races, different, different, different. And the success of the conference was entirely dependent on the audience of Rach and Nadia because they purposefully chose to uplift new voices. Those who attended the first Why Christian conference know what a powerful community those two women created for everyone. What went unseen was the mentorship Rachel and Nadia provided behind the scenes. They brought us in a day early. Gathered us into one room. Sat us down in a circle. And said, “What do you want to know?” For a couple hours they answered every question we had about writing, publishing, speaking, money, travel… anything we wanted to know. They pulled back the veil on how one becomes a “writer and speaker” as a career. Kind. Generous. Funny. Honest. It was my first time meeting Rachel in person. And I was sick as sick can be. Rachel took care of me. She gave me her stash of medicine. She had volunteers go get me more medicine. She watched over me as I slept on the couch in the greenroom between sessions. And when it was my turn to hit the stage, she was right there, steps away, making sure I wouldn’t fall over. That group of women she gathered together have become such faithful friends. We call ourselves The Hedge because we are still a collection of misfits who like the f-bomb. After Why Christian, Rachel didnt disappear. She offered me a personal introduction to her speaking agent, who decided to take me on. When publishing houses started expressing interest because of the blog, Rachel made a personal introduction to her literary agent, who decided to take me on. At every step in my career, she has been there. Cheering and supporting and making shit happen. I have tried to read through all the emails she sent. The advice for marketing my book when you have just given birth to a human. Advice for choosing an accountant. Advice for traveling with kids. Advice for choosing an agent, a publishing house, an editor. Advice for advances and royalties. Advice for calming my anxieties. Celebrations over the little things. Encouragement. Reminders- not only that she believe in my voice- but why she believed in my voice. She was always specific about what made each voice she valued so special. I once emailed her to ask what I should do about all the requests I was receiving for “a quick coffee date”. She gave me some great advice about boundaries. But then she wrote, “Of course there are exceptions. I make a special effort to respond to anyone who is coming out for the first time, because its such a big deal and I want that first time to be a good experience. And I usually take time for parents of LGBT kids. They are special to me. So know who is special to you, even as you think about boundaries.” That’s who my friend was. She was a champion of inclusion- not just in theory… not in some vague sense that writers can often get away with. She was a true champion- in real life- with her platform, her money, her time, her contacts, her access. Just before my book released, I was shooting my shot everywhere i could to get it into the hands of people I admire. I reached out to Rachel. “Want to do something really, really silly with me?” I asked. “Want to DM Ava DuVernay about my book?” Rachel took exactly zero seconds to say, “Yes, I want to shoot that shot with you.” We both knew it was the longest of long shots. She didnt care. She believed impossible things were possible. And she never underestimated the mischievous nature of the Holy Spirit ( a phrase she used a lot). Generous is the word I keep coming back to. And she was a lot of other things, y’all. Funny. Kind. Grounded. Analytical. I mean what a big, beautiful mind. But she was also generous… to me. Just today, I received my very first royalties check. And all I want to do is text my friend who found my blog, who encouraged my writing, who introduced me to a literary agent, who promoted the book endlessly, who believed I could be a writer before I believed it. Im not entirely sure what to do with myself now. So I think what I’ll do is what she did. Here is an author you can support today: Rozella White is a wonderful human who just released her first book Love Big. Her book explores many kinds of relationships in which we can choose to Love Big, but since I know you all love racial justice as much as I do, here is just a sliver of an excerpt: “All too often in conversations about racial justice, people jump immediately to talk of reconciliation. No one wants to directly address the harm that has been done. But true reconciliation requires facing hard truths head-on and giving back what was taken from Black and Indigenous people, honoring the labor that built this country and created generational wealth for white Americans. Any other starting point is bullshit…” Buy this book. Remember Rachel well. Because Rachel loved BIG.(*as always, sorry about typos. You know what i meant.)
Syndicated from Blog - Austin Channing Brown

Loading

Email Subscribe

Subscribe for blog posts sent to your email

Post Categories

MennoNerds on YouTube