On the Need for Non-Violent Resistance: A Statement of Commitment from the Faith Matters Network

These past several months have illustrated our unfathomable entrenchment in an ethos of violence. As community leaders who hold fast to an imagination deeply rooted in hope for the radical flourishing of all things, we intentionally sit in the rupture of what is happening in our country, and globally, and lean into the discomfort of it all. But, because of our deep sense of hope, we know that our work in community, organizing for radical social change, contributes to our becoming unified in light of our differences. 


We know that violence in this country pre-dates Ferguson, Charleston, Orlando, Baltimore, Dallas, and Baton Rouge. We know that the logic of white supremacy in which we are all socialized damages each one of our moral imaginations. Given the history of violence that is supported by the logic of dominance, we now experience an overwhelming reality of anti-black & anti-brown racism (often seen as domestic terrorism) that continues to materialize in police violence, and we see that communities are also responding with violence against the State. While no violence enacted on an individual, people group, or community is condoned by Faith Matters Network, we write the following statement to express both our deep concern with the ways in which the logic of dominance has cemented our moral imaginations in an imagination of violence against one another and we denounce such violence against both the margins of the margins and the dominant sector of society. 

In an effort to shift the ways in which we relate, we utilize story as the mode of transformation that in turn shapes our moral imagination into one that privileges the flourishing of all creation. For this reason, we submit a comprehensive statement in favor of a militant pacifism that is rooted in the tradition of non-violence, not in the logics that are reproducing multi-system oppressions resulting in the current ethos of violence. 

A militant pacifism is an orientation to a thoughtful and intentional non-violence; it is not a passivity. It is, in fact, a profound resistance to what is happening in our nation and globally and a preferential option for the margins of the margins.  We are not suggesting that communities of color silence their frustrations nor do we encourage communities of color to respond to violence with violence. 

We look to the stories of Jesus (& other religious and activist leaders of our time) who demanded individuals and communities to use power in intentional ways and leveraged intentional acts of anger as a way to speak power to truth. It is in that spirit that we submit this statement - to denounce the overwhelming realities of violence that are death-bringing and to leverage the power of hope in the face of such hegemonic structures that are killing us all. Our current reality now is that if we do not halt the violence against one another, we likely will not survive one another. 

We do not need to repeat to you that black and brown bodies are disproportionately affected by the Police State or by multi-system oppressions that further marginalize people of color. What we want to offer is our deep solidarity with communities who are suffering as a result of the State making life not only  unlivable but also making a livable life untenable. We lay claim to the practice of nonviolence through that of militant pacifism. We see this in the new orientation of a militant pacifism that takes the history of non-violence seriously and also leverages the erased agency of the margins of the margins as an agency that has power to make substantial changes to our current maelstrom. 

While pacifism has a history of peace, we lay claim to that history as being important for our work - that we should seek to be at peace with all creation, and we realize that the structures that the logic of dominance has erected cannot advocate for peace. For that reason, we firmly plant our commitments to the militancy of pacifism, which we see as a deeply rooted activist oriented faith that calls for the dominant to relinquish their dominance and work for a more equitable future for us all. We see this work as deeply rooted in the history of peacemaking, but the militancy is a demand for there to be peace and equity in light of the supremacy of the dominant sectors of society. We must find ways to bridge with radical difference and find ways to be unified in light of our differences. This is a feature of the militancy of our call for a militant pacifism.  

Finally, we believe that a militant pacifism is a new contour of non-violence that demands a new moral horizon that is rooted in the politics of radical difference. We know that the never-receding horizon of difference presents its own challenges for creating lasting change, but we believe that change is materialized in the active story telling of our histories of violence and ongoing work to nurture communities into their resilience to flourish by unhinging ourselves from an ethos of violence.

Written by Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza on behalf of the Faith Matters Network Team, July 2016

Orlando's Intersections: May Our Differences Stretch Us to Revolutionary Love

by Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza

This post was originally posted on Sojourners online: https://sojo.net/articles/orlandos-intersections-may-our-differences-stretch-us-revolutionary-love

It was the last day of the Philly Trans Health Conference, the day of the Philly Pride Parade. It was my first time at the conference, and as a non-binary trans Latin@, I felt safe, finally, and had a growing awareness that my body was safely contained with other trans and trans-positive folks.

That safety was fractured when I woke to the news of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. As I lay there in shock — many of my LGBTQ siblings, the majority of them Latin@, were murdered, taken from our community — mí gente, I cried!

And as a non-binary trans Latin@, I knew that my own response would be an important one. I have always been vocal about the constellation of differences that are found in relationship relative to race, religion, and sexuality. This shooting has been named one of the worst mass shootings in U.S history, and we cannot ignore the overlapping intersections of race, religion, politics, gender, and sexuality.

And while we need to be cautious of erecting a hierarchy of oppressions — the overwhelming bigotry that the LGBTQ community faces in an age of Islamophobia — we must also lean into this tragic rupture. Our human community is deeply fractured by the very differences that threaten our flourishing.

The overlapping intersections that are present in this tragedy are important to acknowledge. We all need to recognize the role of Christian supremacy, the logic of white supremacy, the presence of Islamophobia, and anti-trans rhetoric, including anti-LGBT rhetoric, that has been perpetuated for years. This event combines all of these dynamics.

Our call and response needs to be rooted in compassion for the one who lost love, Omar Mateen. This is not a call to excuse hate, or condone violence — it is a call from the depths of my being, one that exposes the reality that I am just as vulnerable to losing love as he was.

Every day, I choose to be committed to the politics of radical difference that is expressed in queer relationality, trans-positivity, and the everydayness of radical social change. This commitment is rooted in an attention to affirming our world’s religious pluralism and in the work to build sustainable communities that will practice the everyday work of justice-making.

These are times of melancholia, an age of institutionalized violence. The words of queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz help us reframe what is at hand. Muñoz writes:

“I have proposed a different understanding of melancholia that does not see it as a pathology or as a self-absorbed mood that inhibits activism. Rather, it is a mechanism that helps us (re)construct identity and take our dead with us to the various battles we must wage in their names — and in our names.”

This moment frames our call to be unified in our radical differences, to extol deep postures of welcome to those who are not of us, so that we may survive the very real struggle of trying to be human with one another.

Being unified in our differences does not suggest a singularity of identity or privilege the normalization of one identity over another. We must find earnest ways to harness our imagination to live into a moral excellence that is at root the active affirmation of the differences of one another. This is seen in affirming Muslim identities, queer identities, Christian identities, and Latin@ identities simultaneously.

We have to stretch with the differences that are pushing us into new contours of relationality, that motivate revolutionary love.

Faith Matters Network Statement on the Shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida

In an age when violence has become a norm: Sandy Hook, San Bernadino, Aurora Movie Theater, and countless others, we find ourselves in stark silence at the inevitable. In the midst of the midnight darkness in Orlando, FL at the Pulse nightclub on 12 June 2016, we acknowledge the overwhelming sadness that has terrorized the LGBTQ community. We cling to the stories of our faith that tells us that violence in any form is death-bringing. We also hold space for the story of the one who perpetrated this violence. We cannot hold the same hatred for the one who killed our siblings, and we refuse to continue this path into islamophobic rhetoric that continues to cause more violence. 

We find ourselves in a culture of violence, a particular pathology that has institutionalized radical hate, materialized in the very real death-bringing realities of a fear of difference. As people of many faiths, we reject the overwhelming spirit of fear and cling to a prophetic spirit found in radical hope. This orientation found in radical hope motivates new contours of becoming community. While we embrace these moments of queer lament, this prophetic hope is found in that the Orlando shooting has garnered significant press, whereas the 1973 arson that ensued while a local MCC church met in the upper room of a local bar singing hymns and enjoying fellowship in New Orleans garnered no press. We know that because marriage equality has become law in this country, there is significant visibility of the LGBTQ community and we also know that radical hate motivates an expression of violence against the active acknowledgement to an orientation of difference. We know our days are numbered and nothing here on earth is promised to last. Our hope, though, is that by holding vigil for those who have been killed for their gender and sexual expression at Pulse and acknowledging the senseless violence that stems from an attitude of indifference, we reach toward our future horizon that is rooted in a hope that transcends our creeds and scriptures and expressed in our orientation of community.

Names of those murdered:
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34.
Stanley Almodovar III, 23.
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20.
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22.
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36.
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22.
Luis S. Vielma, 22.
Kimberly Morris, 37.
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30.
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29.
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32.
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21.
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25.
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35.
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50.
Amanda Alvear, 25.
Martin Benitez Torres, 33.
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37.
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26.
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35.
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25.
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31.
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26.
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Cory James Connell, 21
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Tevin Eugene Crosby
...and to those not yet identified

¡Presente!

To those who mourn know that we are with you accompanying you in this painful journey. You are not alone. -The Faith Matters Network

#OrlandoShooting

Reflections from a Progressive Christian

This is the 2nd in a 2-part series on the intersection of LGBT and interfaith issues. The first "Being Out as an Interfaith Activist" can be found here.

By Marin Klostermeier 

During my senior year of college I found myself in what many people would consider a contradictory situation.  Every Wednesday night I assumed my role as a co-President of the Queer Student Alliance (QSA) and every Sunday morning I adopted my role as a member of a United Methodist Church (UMC).  Even though I identify as straight, I feel very lucky to have found a church community that shares my liberal point of view (much like the Presbyterian Church in which I was raised).  However, the converse was not the same; In QSA, many of the members that grew up going to church felt strongly against the church as an institution.

I don’t blame them.  Many members of QSA were raised going to churches that told them they are  an abomination. They were often in churches where ignorance regarding the natural spectrum of gender-identities and sexual orientations was so high that they felt completely isolated.  I often ask myself, how can an organization that proclaims to foster community find it so easy to exclude people and deny them rights? 

The fact that I even have to ask this question makes me embarrassed for my religion.  While Christianity is not the only religion with members who adhere to this non-inclusive belief, it is the one faith with which I am most familiar.  I am familiar enough to feel safe saying that a lot of the Bible makes me uncomfortable.  Not only the passages regarding men lying with men (Leviticus 20:13), but also passages that condemn touching the skin of a dead pig (Leviticus 11:7), wearing clothes of mixed fibers, and growing different crops side by side (Leviticus 19:19).  Is it possible for a church that is not led by a person who identifies with a Queer identity and was not created to explicitly serve the needs of individuals in the Queer community (but to be generally inclusive) to reconcile the extreme subject matter of the Bible along with the tradition of discriminatory churches?

As a member of what many would call a progressive UMC congregation and the straight person who co-led QSA, I find myself thinking a lot about how to show that many Churches are very inclusive while acknowledging that the Church has hurt many people and those people do not often want to go to church. Finding an answer becomes even harder because I believe that a Church should not try to ‘sell’ Queer individuals (or anyone for that matter) on the idea of going to Church.  How do you explore that dynamic when the indicator that a progressive church is actually making positive changes is that Queer individuals participate in the community? This is something that might involve changing lots of people’s minds.

How can I best communicate my feelings about the church without feeling like I also need to protect people who have their own agency?  What is the best way to own up to the faults of a dominant religion, but also speak to how many parts are changing in very positive ways?

Is all of this just Christian guilt?  God, I hope not.

Marin is a recent college graduate, originally from St. Louis and currently lives in Denver.  With a degree in Psychology, a minor in Business Administration, and a passion for social justice she hopes to continue the work of making traditional corporate environments, diverse, inclusive, and focused on the complete wellbeing of all employees in and outside of the office.  Marin believes that the work being done by the Faith Matters Network and organizations like it are laying the crucial foundation for creating a healthier world.

Being Out as An Interfaith Activist

By Prerna Abbi

This is the 1st in a 2-part series on the intersection of LGBT and interfaith issues. 

The March on Washington is an event I often lift up as one of my favorite examples of the historical legacy of interfaith cooperation in America. On the surface, that seems like an obvious choice given the varying religious and nonreligious backgrounds of the people involved.

Personally, I like the example of the March on Washington because it gives me a chance to talk about Bayard Rustin, the chief organizer of the event, parlaying his story directly into my own story of why I care so deeply about interfaith cooperation. That’s because my faith isn’t my strongest draw to interfaith work.

Years before the March on Washington, Rustin introduced Martin Luther King to the principles of nonviolent civil disobedience, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian Revolution. As a first generation American born to Indian immigrants in this country, seeing the impact of my heritage on my current civic landscape is a powerful one.

But more importantly than that, I like talking about the March on Washington because it allows me to acknowledge that Rustin was a gay man, and in turn to acknowledge my own queer identity. Just as important as it is for me to share my faith perspective in my interfaith work, being a queer interfaith leader is something I also wear on my sleeve.

In my experience, it’s the relationships that are built that make interfaith work such a powerful vehicle for tackling social justice issues. Those meaningful relationships cannot take place in an environment where we don’t talk about our identities. Sharing the realities of who we are is essential to building the mutual respect and trust that exemplifies outstanding interfaith cooperation.

One of the most powerful interfaith experiences of my life was working alongside an Evangelical Christian woman, Kay. I didn’t share her religious beliefs – in fact I thought that many of them were wrong or untrue.  But I also knew that she was a valuable partner in the work I was trying to accomplish and that we are both able to multiply our personal impact through working together. My relationship with Kay, born out of our shared passion for tackling an issue in our community, allowed us to form a deep mutual respect for each other despite our differences. I wasn’t drawing my inspiration from the Bible like she was, but knowing what motivated Kay strengthened my trust in her commitment to our work. 

Likewise, it was important for Kay to understand what brought me to our work. Personally, my motivations didn’t come from a religious text or prophet. They came from a sense of civic duty as a proud American. They came from my mother, who taught me to treat all lives with dignity and respect. And they came from my lived experience as a queer woman of color, which gave me the compassion and empathy to fight for the rights of the underrepresented. 

In a world where we see so many examples of people being cut down because they are somehow different from the norm, I came to interfaith work because I saw it as an avenue for partnership in progress across lines of difference, and that doesn’t stop with religious and nonreligious identity. My queerness makes me the interfaith leader that I am.  

Prerna Abbi is the Alumni Relations Manager at Interfaith Youth Core  where she supports alumni leaders’ personal and professional work to grow interfaith cooperation. As a Secular Hindu, Prerna is driven to make space for all identities and hopes to be a voice for finding common ground with those who don’t fit neatly into check boxes. 

Refusing to Be Comforted: Charleston, Black Death, and Prophetic Grief

By Rev. Jennifer Bailey

This piece was originally published in the Sojourners for a link to the original article please click here.

"A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."- Jeremiah 31:15

On Wednesday, June 17, Dylann Roof walked through the doors of Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Charleston, S.C. For nearly an hour he sat among the saints of God and participated in their weekly Bible study before opening fire and viciously killing nine black Christians. Among those gathered was a librarian, Cynthia Heard; a minister and local high school track and field coach, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton; and their pastor state Sen. Clementa Pinckney. Tywanza Sanders sacrificed his own life to protect those around him. They were mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. They were ministers of the gospel, ushers, and choir members all united by their love of God, their church, and each other.

I am a clergywoman in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I am in mourning and I refuse to be comforted. Like the story of Rachel weeping for her children (Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:18), I will not allow my anger and lamentation to be silenced. With silence comes complacency, and the stakes for are too high. The very soul of American Christianity is on trial, and progressive platitudes of reconciliation will not save it. The type of healing we need can only be borne out of lament — a lament that holds space in the deepest pits of our beings for the piercing sorrow and rage being expressed by black communities, cultivates empathy, and puts restorative justice at the center of our collective action. It is a type of lament some of my dear sisters in ministry have begun to call prophetic grief. As one of my beloved heroes, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church in New York notes, “Love looks like this: Prophetic grief. Tears falling heavy. And activism that ends racism.”

The type of healing we need can only be borne out of lament.

When unspeakable tragedy happens, it is human instinct to ask questions to attempt to make sense of the chaos. In this case, the Charleston massacre last week, the answer to the question of why is abundantly clear: Dylann Roof wanted to kill black people. Reports from friends and peers describe a young man who in recent months made increasingly violent statements about attacking black people and talked of wanting to start a “civil war.” In a statement to police Roof stated the hospitality and welcome of his victims made him second-guess his actions, but that he pushed through with his mission because he believed black people were taking over the country .

There is nothing new about Roof’s worldview. Whenever the ideology of white supremacy is threatened in America, it responds by violently inflicting lethal harm on black and brown bodies. So it was during Reconstruction, when the political and social advances of former slaves gave way to the rise of domestic terrorist groups like the Klu Klux Klan in the name of protecting white families. So it was during the Jim Crow era, when the lynching epidemic claimed 3,959 black lives by claiming to defend white womanhood. So it is today, when the public declaration that #blacklivesmatter is met with resistance, scorn, and outrage in communities quick to proclaim we are living in a post-racial society. The slaughter at Mother Emmanuel is just the latest chapter in a 400-year-old collection of narratives detailing the horror of racial terror in the United States. In the library of America’s unspoken truths, the collection sits next to a companion series on the history of labor exploitation and the cultivation of American wealth.

Attacks on African-American houses of worship are entrenched in this history of racial violence. In 1821,Mother Emmanuel itself was burned down for its members’ role in plotting a slave rebellion. Four little black girls were killed during the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963. During the early 1990s, another tumultuous era of American race relations, an series of church bombings occurred through the South. This tactic of terror is particularly egregious in its profaning of holy space. Black churches are not just a space for communal worship. They are one of few places in our society where black Christians are acknowledged as children of God. That is what makes this violation particularly heinous. By a combatting the narrative of black life as commodity through the affirmation of black humanity, the black churches function as political spaces that inherently challenge the dominance of white supremacy.

This tactic of terror is particularly egregious in its profaning of holy space. 

I invite my Christian brothers and sisters of all racial backgrounds to join me in my prophetic grieving. Our cries cannot and should not be the same. For some of us, who inhabit black skin, our tears will be coated in rage and exhaustion. They will be punctuated by the stark feeling that we are permanently displaced in the only place we have known as home. We know that we fighting for our lives and have no choice but to cry out to God.

For others, particularly white Christians, the choice may not be as clear. Lament for Charleston cannot be separated from a challenge to the system of white supremacy that serves to protect white people and white interests. Prophetic grief requires a confession that the system of white supremacy infiltrates and shapes our worship spaces, theologies, and ethics. I have no doubt that this process will be risky for my white colleagues. Rarely does transformation occur without birthing pains. The reality of power is that while my survival is at stake, my white Christian brothers and sisters have the option to opt-out, avoid the pain, and remain silent.

Yet, if Christians are serious about those words in the Lord’s Prayer “thy kingdom come,” I believe that we have to get serious about dismantling the sins of racism and white supremacy. If faith without works is dead, so are calls for prayer without action and accompaniment with suffering communities. For those asking wondering how to start, you can begin in your own congregations. Refuse to be comforted. Lean into prophetic grief. Speak the truth about your own implicit and explicit racial biases.

Nine black Christians are dead in Charleston. Killed by during a prayer meeting in their church. If that is not enough of a call to action for the American church, I don’t know what will be. May God rule accordingly on the Day of Judgment.

Rev. Jennifer Bailey is Founder and Executive Director of the Faith Matters Network.

Rolling in Sackcloth and Ashes

By Rev. Jennifer Bailey

This piece was originally published in the Huffington Post for a link to the original article please click here.

"In the streets they bind on sackcloth; on the housetops and in the squares
everyone wails and melts in tears." -Isaiah 15:3 (NRSV)

"To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time." -James Baldwin

Above my bed hangs my certificate of ordination in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. It is much more than a piece of paper, but the physical representation of my call and life journey pursuing justice for God's creation in the name of Jesus Christ. The day I was ordained was the most meaningful day of my life. Peering out into the crowd that day, I saw a snapshot of my life story. There sat Erik, my best friend of 13 years, who was my first call in high school when, paralyzed by depression, I thought about ending my life. Behind him were Dom, Juli, Charles and Geoanna, who accompanied me across that bumpy terrain into adulthood known as college. My parents wiped tears of pride from their eyes. Three rows of friends, family and mentors in ministry were there, all standing witness in solidarity and affirmation of my vocational path. Toward the end of the service, I took my first communion as "Reverend Jennifer" with my 81-year-old grandmother, who softly repeated, "Thank you, God," over and over again.

This morning, I awoke under the watchful eye of that certificate into a living nightmare. Reports about the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, dominated my social media feed as texts from friends and colleagues poured in. Some expressed sorrow. Others shock. Yet, the most visceral feeling in my gut was rage. Nine bullets pierced the side of nine black bodies and in the process, shattered lives and any remaining illusion that there are spaces where black lives are protected in the United States. They were mothers, grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers crucified at the foot of the cross for embodying the virtue of hospitality. If, as a Christian, rage is absent from your analysis of what happened in Charleston, I am not sure we worship the same God.

To be clear, the murder of these brothers and sisters was committed in the name of a demon disguised as a god: the god of white supremacy. It is a god whose hunger is only satiated with the blood sacrifice of black bodies. My ancestors in the AME Church knew this all too well. The AME Church was birthed out of a protest against racial inequity in the 18th century. After being denied access to the prayer space because of his race at a white Methodist Episcopal Church, our founder Richard Allen prayed then arose to prompting the movement that we now know as "the Black Church." Mother Emmanuel follows in this storied legacy of resistence to racial terrorism. In 1822, the church and one its founders, Denmark Vessey, was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt. As the Washington Postnotes, the revolt was planned for June 16 -- 193 years and one day before the shooting Wednesday night. The plot created mass hysteria throughout the Carolinas and the South. The church was burned down, yet worship services continued until 1834, when all black churches were outlawed.

Nine people are dead today and I am angry. I have no doubt the anger I feel is righteous. My God is one who stands on the side of those who are marginalized and oppressed. My God is not docile, and is big enough to hold my anger, frustration and questions. My God understands that narratives of reconciliation and peace are not what my community needs right now. What we need is truth-telling and accountability. We need this horrific massacre to be named for what it was: a racist act of domestic terrorism. We need those in positions of power to acknowledge that this was not simply a "single incident," but the latest in a 400-year history of violence against black people in the United States. We need religious leaders to step up and speak out against implicit and explicit acts of racial violence in their congregations. Until then, I'll adorned in sackcloth and ashes in mourning for my people and the nation they call home. I will also be in the streets continuing to raise the profile of these issues in solidarity and sorrow. The virtue of anger is that it does not remain static. It is active and will not stop working until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).

Rev. Jennifer Bailey is Founder and Executive Director of the Faith Matters Network.

A Call to My Beloved Jews: We Gotta Talk About Privilege

by Talia Cooper

This piece was original published on the Ma'yan Blog

Over the past year we’ve seen an increase in articles by Jews that seek to disprove the concept of privilege due to experiences of anti-Semitism. These writings upset me because they in no way represent my own beliefs as a white, female, Ashkenazi educator and activist. The articles do not acknowledge the complexity of identity that I believe is necessary for the Jewish community to embrace. Here is my response to a compilation of articles:

Dear TaffyJamesJohnSeth & Tal

You have all joined the deluge of Jews venting frustration with the concept of “privilege.” I admit my temptation to pick apart your arguments line by line. The number of offensive statements makes my heart race.

But for the time being, what I’ll say is:

You’re right.

Anti-Semitism is real. It has and continues to negatively impact our Jewish people.

The leftist activist community doesn’t always do a good job acknowledging or understanding anti-Semitism.

And this is a problem.

It’s a problem because it means the left won’t have a full picture of society, which is necessary in order to build power and win. And it’s a problem because it perpetuates anti-Semitism itself.

And also: you’re wrong.

Experiencing anti-Semitism does not preclude other truths: white privilege (for Jews who are also white), class privilege (for Jews who also have wealth), male privilege, able-bodied privilege, straight and cis-gender privilege. None of these experiences of oppression trumps any other; all oppression is painful and unjust.

Sometimes it seems so simple: of course it’s possible for me as a white Jewish woman to experience sexism, white privilege and anti-Semitism all at the same time. It’s “simple” because I’ve lived it my whole life.

But sometimes breaking it down feels complex and painful. Do I really want to dive deep into my family history and investigate that the fact that we have money comes from this weird stew of running from anti-Semitism and also gaining white privilege?

In my work with Ma’yan’s Research Training Internship, a big theme we teach isintersectionality: the concept that one person can experience both oppression and privilege simultaneously. It’s complex. But it’s important.

“Privilege” is a word that sometimes scares people. But it doesn’t have to. Privilege doesn’t mean I’m bad or that my people are bad. It also doesn’t mean I’m extra good. One definition we use at Ma’yan is that privilege is a system of unearned advantages that benefits one group at the expense of others. I have to remember this or else I fall into the trap of believing I have “earned” things because I am somehow “better than” others. But that’s a lie that only further isolates me, and leads me to remain complicit in oppression.

I don’t frame this conversation as “Jewish privilege” because Jewish identity is multi-faceted and complex. When working with white Jews, I talk about the white privilege that we experience as Jews. It’s a subtle but important difference. The experience of being Jewish includes oppression—past and present. And even still some Jews have certain privileges.

It’s particularly scary for Jews to think about the idea of holding privilege because of the history of anti-Semitic tropes that say that Jews control the world and therefore their takedown is justified. But I’m not saying Jews are the most privileged.  Actually, we know that the majority of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the U.S are white Christian men. But that doesn’t mean that white Jews don’t still experience privilege. I know I do. Even at the same time as anti-Semitism.

When as Jews we don’t understand intersectionality, it’s a problem for everyone. Not understanding intersectionality means white Jews are more likely to assume a uniform Jewish experience, which keeps us from appreciating the richness of our diversity and perpetuates racism not only to non-Jews but also to Jews of color within our community (not to mention classism, homophobia, ableism and more). Not understanding intersectionality also leads us to believe the myth of exceptionalism: seeing ourselves as the most oppressed, which only serves to further isolate us from the people and movements we could actually be working with. Anti-Semitism is not our fault and it is not our (sole) responsibility to end. But by staying in our narrative of victimhood, we essentially leave ourselves alone and stuck, and we damage other communities along with our own.(For a fuller list of why Jews MUST understand privilege and intersectionality, click here).

“When my Jewishness comes into conflict with my whiteness, I’m not effective in challenging racism,” said educator Randy Clancy in a recent workshop for a group of social justice educators that Ma’yan convenes. We have to embrace all parts of our identity to do the work.

Talking about privilege is just a start. The point isn’t just to recognize it, but to understand our place in fighting for racial justice and ending oppression for all people.

The left also has some responsibility. If lefties don’t understand that anti-Semitism is real, it leaves Jews feeling like they have to prove it over and over again, as we have seen in the articles I linked in the salutation. And wouldn’t it be nice if the right-wing didn’t have a monopoly on defining anti-Semitism for once?

So: Anti-Semitism is real. White privilege is real. Racism is real. These things are linked, but they are not all the same and cannot be compared. Sometimes it makes sense to focus on one while not abandoning the other, and at this moment in U.S history, I see way too many murders of black people to stand idly by. When I say Black Lives Matter, this in no way negates my commitment to ending anti-Semitism. It is not about oppression hierarchies, though we do need to examine the fact that this country was economically built on racism. Ultimately, I believe our liberation is connected. So let’s get to work.

With love,

Talia

P.S. There are lots of great resources put out by leftist people and communities. April Rosenblum wrote a great pamphlet about anti-Semitism and the left. Ngoc Loan Tran,Asam Ahmad, and others have written beautifully about ending in-fighting among the left.Paul Kivel has also written about being both white and Jewish and showing up in the fight for racial justice. There’s a lot of good thinking out there. Let’s stay in it together.

Talia Cooper is a youth educator, organizer and musician from Oakland, California. She is a firm believer in the strength, intelligence and power of youth. As the program director of Ma’yan, a Jewish feminist organization at the JCC Manhattan, she leads the Research Training Internship for girls and supports community members to develop empowering relationships with young people. Prior to Ma’yan she worked as the executive director of Jewish Youth for Community Action (JYCA). Talia was initially trained in Jewish organizing as a high school participant of JYCA.  Talia received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Oberlin College. A singer since birth, Talia can also be found performing and recording original music as ‘Entirely Talia’

Why Liberalism Lacks the Moral Imagination to be a Peacebuilding Movement

by Aaron Stauffer

To the everyday liberal, suggesting that there is a need for peacebuilding in the U.S. might seem a bit odd. Ours is a country of conflicts, sure, but nothing that has kept us from reasoning with those with whom we disagree; peacebuilders are sent to war-torn lands. There are other, more interesting reasons that have kept us from seeing current activism or even historical struggles for justice as peacebuilding. It admits that we are living in a society that permits sustained levels of structural violence on peoples and communities. This violence has become so normalized that when we see ghastly examples, such as the killing of black and brown people by police and the subsequent non-indictment of the policemen, our liberal media focuses on police reform and training, rather than the whole edifice authorizing such violence. And, for example, when three young Muslim university students are killed, liberal pundits shy away from naming it as another result of societal dismemberment.

            The connection between Islamophobia and our country’s racial caste system is an important one, and my intentional focus on religion is crucial. In my experience, what we as a country are facing is more than a set of deeply entrenched biases. We’re facing more than a political economy structuring our desires and aspirations, further isolating us from our neighbors. We’re facing the reality that our moral imagination is stunted. It seems we simply can’t come up with a complete picture of what sort of country we really want to be. Admittedly, this task becomes a bit more confused when religion is in the mix. For centuries, our liberal theory has gone on confidently proclaiming religion and politics don’t mix (in an astonishing denial of its own history). And so, when offering alternatives to our current reality, we end up riffing off of the same tune instead of rewriting the score.

            For the last 3 years with Religions for Peace USA, I’ve helped build a public education campaign in Middle Tennessee to make anti-Muslim bigotry socially unacceptable. This work is not flashy. But it places me in the position of asking everyday southern Christians to come and meet a Muslim, and to do so with honesty. Our current religious landscape is an odd mix of public Christianity dressed up as secularity. Robert Wuthnow put it right when he said that we are a society of schizophrenics when it comes to public discourse on religion. Our public discourse is rife with Christian allusions and symbols, and yet we proclaim to be open and inclusive. This sort of environment encourages an understanding of religion as purely a private affair, and when acts of violence break out against Muslims or Arab or South Asians because they “look” Muslim, we dismiss that religion had anything to do with it. In our current society, outbreaks of religious conflict and bigotry are stripped of religious content under the guise that we live in a secular society – this confuses, sadly a notion of secularism as a political project and secularity, as a cultural process that forces religious voices to the margins. So, anti-Muslim bigotry isn’t connected to the larger racial struggle, but instead is seen as an aberration in an otherwise calm, albeit calcified, society. We may have our political conflicts, most liberals say, but religious prejudice isn’t something pressing.

            Connecting anti-Muslim bigotry to the broader system of structured violence by inserting Christian supremacy into the mix helps us see the full picture of what exactly ails our country.

            Seeing the whole picture requires us to place religion in the mix, and it requires us to take up the task of peacebuilding in the U.S. But to see religions as a potential part of a solution does not mean I’m advocating a service-learning or even a CBCO model of social change. The reason that religion is a vital part of this peacebuilding conversation is because we have for too long been locked into the Judeo-Christian frame of how social change happens. Our religious neighbors can teach us much on how social change can occur. That switch in process can significantly alter outcomes. We have to break our conceptual frames of what it means to do interfaith work. We have to admit that we live in a violent society. In order for us to build the bridges necessary to bring all of our communities together we need to cultivate a new moral imagination.           

            Carrying out the work of interfaith peacebuilding means that we have to admit these points out front. What follows is the tenuous game of building relationships and understanding that subverts our common approach to solving our social, religious and political problems. Peacebuilding asks of us to break out of the polarizing discourse of “us vs. them,” without conceding deep injustices in our society. It doesn’t ask us to forget; it asks us to imagine what could be. We have for too long, tried to “solve all of our problems with a hammer.” If we are truly going to come up with societal solutions we have to take a longer view of the ground from which our problems stem. 

Aaron Stauffer is the Executive Director of Religions for Peace USA where he oversees all projects and initiatives, while working with over 50 member communities to inspire and advance common actions for peace. With nearly a decade of experience in the interfaith movement. He most recently worked as an institutional organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation, working to build public power within disenfranchised communities. Aaron’s work in the interfaith movement has led him to hold previous positions with the World Student Christian Federation, The World Communion of Reformed Churches, The Coexist Foundation, The El Hibri Foundation and the Presbyterian Church (USA). 

 

 

Wholy Holy Transformations

by Micky ScottBey Jones

We'll holler love love love across the nation...We proclaim love, our salvation.                                                            - Wholy Holy, Marvin Gaye

We are in a moment in time, a Kairos moment, where a proclamation of love is being delivered all across the nation. The call to value black lives is a call to love by eradicating racism. The call to pay fast food workers is a call to love by paying a fair wage for hard work. The call to reduce or eliminate mass incarceration is a call to love through radical grace and belief in redemption. There is a revolutionary love with the power to bring holistic salvation that transforms our minds, bodies, spirits, relationships and communities.

Love is powerful and overwhelming - in part because it is so complicated, deep and focused. We can feel it, but we can't quantify it. As Brother West says, love looks like justice when it unfolds in public but do we even know what justice actually looks like? Do we "holler love" like the unknown words of a favorite song on the radio, singing along but mumbling a little on the unknown parts?

It's time to pull out the lyric sheets, study the music and seek the master teacher. The time to proclaim love; our salvation is now.

What does this movement of love look like? It looks like the intersectional Moral Mondays movement led by Rev. Dr. William Barber that has united the people of North Carolina to confront issues of injustice and government corruption for the mutual liberation of all. Love is focused on everyone getting free. Love looks like the interfaith network created by Jennifer Bailey, an AME pastor determined to amplify the revolutionary love in the Southern US. Love connects us to others. It also looks like Lisa Sharon Harper and Alexia Salvatierra training hundreds of people in faith-rooted organizing and continuing to participate in actions - leading by example and yet still able to meet people where they are. Love is patient and dedicated.

At a time when public schools are slipping back into segregation, income gaps are widening, videos of black people killed by the state are no longer shocking, and a Facebook comment can end  friendships - we need to proclaim love. We need a love that says, “if my neighbor is hungry, I'm hungry.” We need a love that recognizes that when Jesus said he came to set the captives free, he meant those in any captivity - the mind, the spirit, and physical chains. This is revolutionary love, the love of my teacher Jesus refuses to leave the world, our communities, and each of us. When he found people hungry, he ate with them filling their stomachs and minds. When people were put before him as sinful, he offered forgiveness and truth for the accused and accusers. At a time when people were segregated into worthy and unworthy, rich exploited the poor, and the marginalized were brutally and publicly executed, Jesus brought love, a love which disturbed the empire, changed individual lives and caused revolution...revolutionary love.

So, this month I will gather with friends, with fellow neighborhood pursuers of the wholy holy, with reverends, activists, seminarians, artists and theologians. I will gather with mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, planners and dreamers who all want to join together to holler love, love, love across the nation. We won't just be another conference that hears inspiring speakers and innovative concepts then goes home. We will find ways to work together, help each other brainstorm for our home communities and we will keep singing together as the song spreads out across the nation. This gathering together is not the event; it is the pre-show for your song of love in your home community. The Transform Network produces national and regional gatherings where we learn that love from one another, where we begin to hear it rising, where we remember the sound if we've forgotten it. We gather together to explore this call of love but we do not leave it inside our souls. Through partnerships with others in Transform Network, through our conversations and co-learning, encouragement and lament, I begin to feel that holler-of-love rise up and the words become clearer and the proclamation grows louder.

Join us for an historic gathering at Wesley Seminary Downtown, April 23-25 for the Transform Network Gathering [transformnetwork.org]. It's not to late. We need your voice to join the proclamation of love, of our salvation.

Micky is a perpetual learner, communicator, facilitator, and contemplative activist living just south of Nashville, TN with her creative genius husband KC, their 3 creative and brilliant children, and an old lady dog. After 10 plus years as a mother-baby specialist, trainer and author, she decided to shift to earlier interests: theology and community development. She studies with the co-learning community of NAIITS (North American Institute of Indigenous Theological Studies) through George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon with a dream to go on to doctoral studies.

 Micky hosts & facilitates conferences, and writes & speaks on a crazy variety of topics including burnout, race & justice, theology from the margins, and curates contemplative spaces/activities. Recently named one of the Black Christian leaders changing the world in Huffington Post, Micky serves on the leadership team of TransFORM Network as the Director of Training and Program Development and is involved with all kinds of projects and organizations that call upon her when needed - you’ll just have to ask!

Micky believes in revolutionary love, engages in authentic conversations, facilitates and participates in transformative experiences, and never passes up a dance floor.

She is a contributor at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/ , https://medium.com/theology-of-ferguson,  http://homebrewedchristianity.com/ and http://www.redletterchristians.org/ and  tweets in fits and spurts here: @iammickyjones

 

 

 

Conscious Living, or The Need for Tikkun Olam

by Stuart Portman

The sunshine was misleading. The warmth of the rays could barely break through the cold air ensconcing the snow-covered ground. As I walked to the bus stop, I quickly stepped over the snow piled 10 inches high on the side of the road, deep in thought. I need to find a job. I need pick up a bag from my friend’s house. I need to finish a project for work, and I have a friend visiting, so I should probably clean my apartment. So much to worry about, and I only had 6 hours to get everything done.

As I waited for the bus, I noticed a woman doing the same. She was swaying and stepping from side to side rather than standing still. It wasn’t the cold; it seemed liked a neurological condition that made it difficult to move; she had all of the signs of a regular tick or medical treatment. Soon, the bus arrived and I quickly stepped on to get out of the cold.

Behind me, the woman waited. The bus was her sole source of transportation, and the driver knew her. He lowered the bus lift to assist her getting onto the bus. The lift whirred, slowly creaking into place…then stopped. Due to the snow banks, the lift could not lower properly; the platform was at an angle from the ground.

The woman muttered that she was unable to get on board.  The driver reversed the lift, and tried moving the bus closer to the snow embankment. She could not lift her legs high enough to overcome the mound of snow. I offered a hand, but it wasn’t enough. The woman stepped back, frustrated, realizing she would have to wait to conduct her business until the snow was cleared or had melted. Her entire day, ruined by snow plowed to make the streets a safer place.

This was jarring. This woman had some form of disability, and because she had a limited range of motion, was unable to ride the bus. My heart burned, and I felt diminished, unable to assist this woman who had intended to carry about her day like any other person. How did something that felt so wrong have no person at fault? Why was I, a person with many privileges, unable to assist? Suddenly, my problems were less important. Suddenly, I was aware of my own physical abilities.

With my Jewish faith and my public health Master’s degree, I felt that there was something that I could do. In fact, it felt like I was required to act. Tikkum olam, the practice of repairing the world, requires us to root out injustice to make the world a better place. But where was the injustice? There was no singular party at fault, and no intentional malice was portrayed.  

How do we balance concern for the independence of others, individual autonomy, and a desire to create a society that values each person? Tikkun olam has guided my personal development for 24 years, and how I struggle to address the world around me will further my understanding of the interconnectedness of all people. This process will be painful at times, but in seeking justice, sometimes pain provokes the most powerful results.

 

Justice isn’t a uniquely Jewish belief. We live in a world that prioritizes the here and now, and always seeks to differentiate “us” and “them”. But our humanity exists outside of this. We forget that suffering surrounds us in ways that we cannot imagine, and we often don’t see it. Everyone has problems, but what do they mean? We can rationalize our own as being of utmost importance, but really, what matters? Who we choose to be and how we choose to help others matters far more than whether my apartment is clean or if something happened to a bag. We rush through life from priority to priority, refusing to acknowledge the world around us. It is time to stop and think. It is time to be consciously alive.

Stuart Portman will graduate in May 2015 with his Master of Public Health degree from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University. A native of St. Louis, he was active in his synagogue youth group and the St. Louis Jewish community at large. He completed his undergraduate coursework at the University of Denver, earning degrees in Biological Sciences and Political Science. A social justice advocate, he constantly seeks to initiate dialogue between differing parties to encourage positive change.

 

A Christian Feminist's Call to Justice

by Kathleen Wilson

I am a woman, a Christian, and a feminist – three identities that have blended together to form my core definition of self. In the United States, I know that statistically I am at a disadvantage because of my gender.  Women only hold 20 percent of the seats in the Senate and 19.3 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. According to the American Association of University Women, women are only paid 78 percent of what their male counterparts are paid. This pay gap exists across career fields, whether one compares the earnings of women to men in teaching, in STEM fields, or in the entertainment industry. In the film industry, only 30 percent of speaking characters are women. In business, women only hold 4.6 percent of CEO positions at S&P companies.

Yet, I know my position as a woman living in the U.S. grants me many opportunities that are denied to women worldwide. My policy research on Afghan women’s literacy initiatives has reinforced the harsh reality that millions of women are denied access to education simply because of their gender. Working at the Feminist Majority Foundation last summer, I researched the immense shortage of birth control methods worldwide. From the streets of India to the current conflict in Iraq and Syria, women and girls are raped, kidnapped, and forced into marriages or unfavorable social situations.

--

Having grown up as a Christian in the South, my religious beliefs were rarely criticized. However, through my work with Peace by Piece UGA and IFYC’s Better Together Campaign, an organization that aims to build interfaith community, I recognize the gravity of religious intolerance in many communities. At school, my Muslim friends dodge both hateful slurs and thrown rocks. Worldwide, I know these religious intolerances are even more extreme, as people are beaten, imprisoned, and killed for not holding a certain religious belief. As an intern in the Office of International Religious Freedom, I monitor infringements on people’s freedom to express their religion or no religion at all and am filled with sadness at the suffering caused by religious divisions.

--

It is abhorrent that people around the world are barred from education, health services, safety, and political and economic participation simply due to their gender or religious identity.  As a feminist and a Christian, I believe in the equality of rights for everyone regardless not only of gender but also of race, sexuality, religion, and other identities.  I am compelled me to find ways to create environments that lift up oppressed minorities and allow them the space to participate fully in society, free of oppression. Some days, this means hosting interfaith discussion hours on campus where people from different religious and philosophical backgrounds can gather to build relationships in spite of their differences. Other days, this means attending the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women to advocate for the full inclusion of all women in all societies.

In the Episcopal Church, in preparation for the Eucharist, our priest always says, “This is the Lord’s table, not our own. All are welcome here.” Fundamental to my faith is this concept of radical inclusion – of finding ways to build connections with people, across cultural, religious, racial, and gender divisions. My identities as a feminist and a Christian are not incompatible; they are daily woven together in my pursuit of interfaith relationships and social justice.

Kathleen Wilson studies economics, international affairs, and Arabic at the University of Georgia. Through various NGO and government internships, including work at the U.S. Department of State and the Feminist Majority Foundation, Kathleen has developed a passion for gender equity, women’s empowerment, and interfaith work. On campus, Kathleen founded WORC, the Women’s Outreach and Resource Coalition, and has advocated her university for the establishment of a women’s center. She has served as president of Peace by Piece UGA, a campus interfaith organization, and as a national Better Together Coach with the Interfaith Youth Core. Kathleen hopes to pursue a career with the Department of State where she can formulate policies that help protect the rights of women and religious minorities globally.

 

So We March On

by Jennifer Bailey

Walking the halls of Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma, Alabama history surrounds you. Each step is a living testament to the miraculous work that happened here 50 years ago. There is the hallway of photos honoring local heros that marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday. In the sanctuary there is a plaque naming the martyrs -- Jonathan M. Daniels, Jimmy Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo, and James J. Reeb -- who gave their lives fighting for the voting rights of African Americans in 1965.

At the center of it all is the pulpit. Many of the most prolific figures in modern American history have stood behind that sacred desk. It was from the pulpit of Brown Chapel that Martin Luther King, Jr. preached during mass meetings during the Selma Campaign. When King was jailed, Malcolm X spoke from the same podium just 17 days before his assassination. In March 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama made Brown Chapel one of the first stops of his presidential campaign.

On Sunday, palms sweaty and heart racing, I stepped on that famous pulpit as I stood to give the benediction at the Selma March 50th Anniversary Commemorative Church Service. Preceding me on the program was a steady stream of luminaries from the federal government, religious communities, and national civil rights organizations. Attorney General Holder gave remarks, as did Ambassador Andrew Young, Martin Luther King III, and Rev. Al Sharpton. Then there was me, a 27-year-old black clergywoman that is part of a new generation of faith leaders, organizers, and concerned citizens working to actualize a vision of the American South in which all people are able to thrive.

As founder of the Faith Matters Network, my work has taken me many places. From conversations with Vietnamese fisherfolk in Mississippi still reeling from the devastation of BP Oil Spill to singing alongside clergy and non-religious activists at die-ins in Tennessee where we boldly declared that #blacklivesmatter in the South. In Selma, the heart of America's Black Belt, I met Sherri Mitchell. She taught me about the sustained struggle of Selma residents to gain access living wage jobs, quality education, and in some cases basic sanitation services.

At the podium Sunday, the memory of these stories enveloped me. They served as a poignant reminder that the movement for civil and human rights in the South is far from over. My generation of activists may never know the sting of a fire hose or feel the sharp pain of a billy club's blow. Yet in a nation where young black men are killed and left for hours on street lying dead and 45 million Americans are trapped below the poverty line we must be careful not to confuse progress with victory. That is why after finishing the benediction, I joined 70,000 other sojourners as we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge and embraced the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday not as a commemoration but as a call to action. Today's challenges call us to lead movements that are responsive to the uniqueness of our current context. Movements that recognize the intersectional nature of the most pressing issues within our communities and understand that our work cannot be done in silos.

One thing is clear: We must march on for the prophets of the past and the foot soldiers of the future. We must march for neighbors like Sherri Mitchell. We must march because Selma is now. As we march let us keep Dr. King's words at the end of the Selma March in mind, "Let us therefore continue our triumphant march to the realization of the American dream."

Standing Together

by Wendy Low 

This year, we commemorate 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

In 2010 I visited Poland. My time visiting the concentration camps cemented my need to be an activist. My stand against bigotry and prejudice is my way to honor those who were murdered.

 For most of my lifetime, the recent memory of the Holocaust led to a relative quiet of anti-Semitic voices. Since 2000, even as Holocaust survivors still live and share their stories of survival, anti-Semitism has increased significantly with verbal attacks against Jews, vandalism, and even violence. Public opinion polls in European countries show increased negative attitudes towards Jewish people. In France, after the Charlie Hedbo shootings, the Great Synagogue was closed for Shabbat services for the first time since Nazi occupation.

When I hear about anti-Semitic incidents, I react with a shrug and a sigh. I feel sad and helpless in the face of these horrible crimes. I wish my friends would understand why I also feel so scared. And though I feel part of the global Jewish family, I am lucky to live in the United States where anti-Semitism hasn’t yet reared its ugly head in full force. But equally disturbing in the US is the expression of Islamaphobia.

At a recent dinner party, when I shared about my interfaith work someone from across the room inserted themselves into my conversation to tell me why Interfaith was not a worthy pursuit with Muslims before spewing off many other ignorant and prejudiced comments. I wish this was my only direct encounter with Islamaphobia, but sadly it is not.

When I hear Islamaphobic comments either directly or from the news, I am angered and feel compelled to take action. My pluralistic dream for America seems more and more to be just that, a dream.  I know how easily hate of one group can spread to hate of other groups. Following the Charlie Hedbo attacks, there was an increase Islamaphobic incidents. I jumped on social media and began yelling. I yelled at people who said Muslims weren’t condemning the attacks. I yelled at those who mischaracterized the religion of Islam.  I fought for my friends and I thought I was acting as an ally.

And yet.  In my anger, I had forgotten something key. While I was busy refuting bigots and posting articles of Muslims condemning terror, I had forgotten to be a personal support to my Muslims friends. When I finally reached out to my Muslim friends, I found that their feelings towards anti-Islam incidents mirrored my own responses to anti-Semitic incidents. One friend expressed her deep sadness at the events and that they made her feel further alienated from American society. She wondered if anyone would stand up for her as they had stood up for other minorities.

As much as bigots need to be silenced, my Muslim friends needed to hear voices of support even more. So although this might be late, I want to say to my Muslim friends: I am with you and I will stand with you. I am responsible to you. Hate should never go unchallenged. Just as I stand for my friends, I trust that when I am threatened by bigotry, my friends will stand for me.

Today, we see the tragic results of a community pushed to the margins by ignorance and hate. Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 23, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, were killed Tuesday evening in an apartment complex near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. I am overcome with sadness and overcome with the need to act. Today, more than ever, we must reach out and build stronger bridges. I do not want to live in a country where my Muslims friends feel afraid to walk outside. My heart is with UNC.

If you wish to support the victim’s many are donating to Deah Barakat’s project  "Refugee Smiles," which aims to provide dental care to refugees of the Syrian War in Turkey and raise funds to support local dentists. You can donate here. 

Wendy A Low is the Communications and Outreach Fellow for Faith Matters Network. In addition to her work there, she is an activist and graduating senior at the University of Denver where she studies Biology. Wendy strongly believes in story-telling for social change and the power of stories to change minds and hearts. You can follow her on Twitter @wenderlah.  

 

Brachot and Amazement

"Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ....get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed. "

--Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “God in Search of Man”

As a Jewish environmental educator, one of my main goals for my students was to experience the natural world with a sense of awe and wonder.  If you spend most of your time inside (“Where the electrical outlets are,” to paraphrase Richard Louv), encountering unfamiliar settings and creatures in the woods can be overwhelming.  Instead of simply cataloging all the different kinds of plants and animals, I aimed to help kids discover emotional connections to the world around us by developing their awareness skills.    To enhance our awareness, we used both classic environmental education techniques and the traditional Jewish practice of reciting brachot (blessings).  

We practiced listening to sounds in the woods using our “deer ears” (hands cupped around ears).  We noted the different colors, textures and shapes we encountered on the forest floor and canopy.  We breathed in the different scents of pine sap and leaf mold.  We stroked the velvety leaves of mullein and carpets of moss.   Soon, the kids themselves were pointing out different bird calls they heard in the distance, the skittering of red newts through the fallen leaves, the soft rustling of wind through the branches.  They grew more confident in their sensory awareness and became excited about all the new things they were noticing. 

Jewish tradition recognizes that approaching the world with awareness is also crucial to spiritual connection.  The practice of reciting a bracha (blessing) can be an expression of thanks or something we hope to happen, but is also an opportunity to greet an “ordinary” experience with amazement and wonder.  I carried a set of laminated cards with several of these traditional blessings for my students to pull out as we encountered various organisms and occasions over the course of our day. There are blessings for smelling a pleasant fragrance (like pine sap), for eating fruits of trees and vegetables of the earth, for viewing a comet or a rainbow or seeing the ocean.  There are blessings for beholding a particularly beautiful or even extraordinarily strange-looking creature. (We would often say both upon discovering dragonfly nymphs or slime molds.)

There is even a traditional blessing you can say after using the restroom.  For our students, we turned “giving nitrogen to a tree” (i.e. peeing in the woods) into an opportunity to acknowledge the amazingness of our bodies and our place in the nutrient cycle.  With this attitude of “Radical Amazement,” as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called it, any moment can become a time for mindfulness and appreciation, for wonderment and awe.   For me, these instances of reciting brachot in the woods with kids have been among the most authentic spiritual experiences of my adult life.

Awareness, as we taught our students, is only the first step.  It is not enough to say blessing over a dragonfly nymph.  Once we start realizing the interconnectedness of humans and the ecosystems that sustain us, we must accept the responsibility of caring for the Earth.   Many of our students resolved to undertake a Brit Adamah, or “covenant with the Earth,” to put this accepted responsibility into practice. This could be deciding to use a reusable water bottle in their lunch to reduce waste or turning the lights off each time they leave a room to reduce energy usage.   The students chose a promise that was meaningful (and doable) for them and committed to keeping it for 6 weeks.   

 Tu B’shvat, or the New Year of the Trees, takes place on Wednesday, February 4th this year.  In modern times, this ancient festival has become “Jewish Earth Day.”  Make this Tu B’Shvat special by taking time to notice some of the amazing things living alongside us.  Say a traditional blessing or even make up one of your own.  Resolve to incorporate a new Earth-friendly practice into your life.  Blessed are You, Creator of the Universe, who gives us this opportunity to protect the Earth.     

Batsheva Glatt is a former TEVA educator for Hazon in Northwest Connecticut, where she taught 5th and 6th graders ecology and Jewish values as part of the Shomrei Adamah program.  Hazon is an environmental non-profit working to “create healthier and more sustainable communities in the Jewish world and beyond.”  You can read more of Batsheva’s work at her blog, The Protopian Pickle Jar.

 

 

 

A Faith-filled Journey of Activism

by Byron Tyler Coles

As a millennial growing up in what many consider a secular nation, religion has always fascinated me. Beyond the beautiful prayers, elaborate rituals, and humbling acts of devotion and care. An individual’s faith or philosophy plays a significant role in their lives; it impacts how they relate to the world, to their families, to their friends, and to the communities that surround them. 

While growing up in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, I was never overly exposed to varying religious thought or practice outside of my own loosely Christian household. Never did I make the overarching assumption that all people believed as my family or I did, but never did I realize there existed such plethora of religious ideologies. 

Yet after leaving the faith tradition that I was raised in and discovered Paganism and Unitarian Universalism, I also realized that faith could have a revolutionary effect on changing a person’s outlook on life. 

For many, it is hard to understand how two traditions such as Paganism and Unitarian Universalism can go hand in hand. But upon truly looking at both traditions, one quickly notices several overlapping similarities. Of such are the ideas that all life is interconnected and all people deserve respect for they hold inherent worth and dignity. This was a radical notion that changed not only my way of thinking but also how I related to others.  

As it is often stated within my Unitarian Universalist congregation in Roanoke, Virginia, “the arc of the universe truly does bend towards justice.” And I have faith in that! Not just blind faith that relies on hope, but a faith that comes from the experience of knowing and seeing so many others who are dedicated to a multitude of causes. And it is in seeing those individuals and communities do such work that I am inspired to continue forward with the good fight. 

As an active Unitarian Universalist-Pagan, my faith and how I live out my ideologies are central to my work as an activist within many communities. No matter the cause, ultimately, my work towards a more just and loving world is unwaveringly centered in the humanity of all people. In so much that all people are just that, people: sisters and brothers. Siblings. A beautifully complex and reach family of different colors, shades, sizes, and ways to express love. Yet at the same time, my siblings have been challenged by a multitude of injustices including racism, sexism, transphobia and host of other atrocities. And it is because of my faith, because of my UU-Pagan values that I must stand tall to these sinful systems and progress towards a way of being that values all life upon this green earth. 

If you have heard the call for justice and yet not answered to it, now is the time. Join your many siblings around the world who have started this work of change making. Remember, a single person can make a world of difference. 

Blessed Be. 

Tyler Coles is your average millennial who hopes to make a difference in the world through one conversation at a time. Over the past four years Tyler has devoted his time to creating a more radically inclusive society through his work concerning interfaith cooperation, advocating for the LGBTQ community, and leading conversations concerning race in the United States. His future plans are to become a college chaplain focusing on multicultural advocacy and interreligious engagement.

Pulp Realities Through Tattoo Stories

By Eric Brown

It’s hard to think about my work with the Children’s Defense Fund, without thinking about the stories I hear from high school students. I learned in my church’s “Youth Round Up,” that my teens would not open up to me until I opened up to them. I open up to my teens the best way I know—my tattoos.

Because of my tattoos, I receive stares from people who assume negative stereotypes. Far from popular belief, my tattoos were not scars of a violent past of gang affiliation. All of my tattoos were acquired post-ministry calling.  When people ask me, “Why would you do that to your body,” this is an opportunity for me to tell the complexities of my personal narrative and my struggle of keeping my faith. Afterwards, their eyes are open and they see me in a different light, wanting to know more and willing to let go of preconceived notions.

When I tell my story through my tattoos to teens, they never look down on me. They take my tattoo story telling as an invitation to tell their own narrative. My faith and my work to dismantle a cradle to prison pipeline, a pipeline that devours the lives of 1 out of every 3 black males born after 2001 and transforms them from student to prisoner, is etched into my brain like the ink in my skin.

I could not do this work of going in and out of the identical twins— high schools and prisons—if it were not for the fact I believe we are made in the image of Hope that many know as God. My hope does not come in the form of white angelic heavens with gold paved streets.

My hope is found in the stories of teens who once were eight year old kids left with guns in bedrooms accidentally shooting themselves to the beat of bass-driven parties downstairs.  My hope is found in black boys that watched cops kick in their door with the permission of a No Knock Warrant, as cops looked in the house for drugs and exile parent from child.  These black boys become teens who are reminded that their family history is a premonition of their own future.  These kids are put down for having dreams as disbelieving adults asks, “Can anything good come from Nazareth… I mean North Nashville?”

Because I am an addict of a Hope that runs through my veins, I say yes. I say yes because of the Afrofuturistic art that comes from a black male teen that show the systemic forces that affect and infect his everyday reality. Those same pictures give him and others the chance to receive training and scholarships for a future brighter than the negative prophecies already told about them. Their lives matter because the humanity that Hope created turns victims into victors, offenders into officials, and so called “thugs” into trustees.

I continue to raise awareness of black teens in North Nashville because they should never be seen as only survivors who barely escaped a struggle. They should be regarded as human beings created in the image of God tearing down despairing expectations and transforming them into positive expected outcomes. I look at my tattoos no longer as my story, but a part of the human story that says, “Yes, God created us to do miraculous things too.” So let’s get back to work. 

From Nashville, TN, Rev. Eric Brown is the Lead Organizer of the Children’s Defense Fund’s Nashville Team. He is also the Assistant to the Pastor of Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church. He graduated from American Baptist College, and earned master degrees in Theological Studies and Ethics from Vanderbilt University. Follow Eric on Twitter @ConsiderEso 

A Light in the Darkness

by Sarah Pinson

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” – John 1:5

The structure of this short sentence has always fascinated me. “The light shines” – present tense. “The darkness did not overcome it” – past tense. The light is shining now, and the darkness did not overcome it then. Why this juxtaposition? Who or what is John talking about? I’m pretty sure that the “light” is Jesus, but everything else about this verse is a mystery to me.

When faced with a puzzling piece of scripture like this verse in John, it is easy for me to get caught up in the details, to diminish a statement’s power in my attempt to dissect it. When this happens, I have to take a step back, to accept that I can’t fully grasp the verse’s original meaning, and to reflect on what they mean to me in this moment.

When I read this way, with my heart rather than my intellect, the haze around this passage clears immediately. I might not know John’s intention, but I know lights. Lights are the people who refuse to let the darkness, the sadness and pain of the world, overcome them or the ones around them. In particular, at this moment, the light I think of is Lorraine. Lorraine runs a little food pantry out of her home in Lincolnville, South Carolina. I called her last week to let her know that the food bank where I work is providing 50 free Christmas food boxes for her to give out to low-income elderly people in her community. Based on her response, you would have thought I told her she won the lottery. “Thank you Jesus!” she yelled into the phone. “God may not come when you expect Him, but he ALWAYS comes on time!” She forgot I was on the line for about 30 seconds as she rejoiced in the news I delivered. She brought tears to my eyes.

Lorraine is not a wealthy woman; in fact, she could use one of these 50 boxes herself. And those 50 boxes she’s giving out won’t solve the problems in her community, a place where one in five people don’t have enough to eat, hundreds lack access to adequate healthcare, and poverty rates are exponentially higher among people of color. Lorraine knows all of this, but Lorraine doesn’t let these details overwhelm her. She doesn’t let her light get snuffed out, because she knows people need that light, and she knows God always sends  a little light just in time. So she shines in the darkness, regardless of the facts.

Lorraine is one of hundreds of lights I know, one of millions of lights across our world. I can shine my light with her. You can shine your light with her. God, who sends the light into the world, shines with and through all of us.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Keep shining. The darkness did not overcome the light, and the darkness will not overcome the light. Amen.

Sarah Pinson is the Agency Relations Manager at the Low Country Food Bank in Charleston, South Carolina. You can read more of her work at her blog Bring a Little Bread.