10 Questions for Sandhya Rani Jha

Sandhya Rani Jha
Activist and author Sandhya Rani Jha

Sandhya Rani Jha’s newest book, Transforming Communities: How People Like You are Healing Their Neighborhoods, collects real stories of ordinary people who took action and changed their corner of the world. Jha, director of the Oakland (Calif.) Peace Center, writes on race, community, and social activism. 

Why did you write Transforming Communities?

I do a lot of “front lines” work around things like the housing crisis in the Bay Area and racial justice, and it is easy to feel hopeless. I wrote Transforming Communities for myself as much as anyone, as a reminder that there really is forward momentum and that people power can’t be underestimated. I also wrote it as a best practices resource so that folks who want to really transform their city have all the tools they need in one place, but even if someone just said “I could get some folks together to do this one thing,” that would be more than enough. Sometimes we feel stuck, like we can’t do anything. But starting with one small thing, and not doing it alone, can make a HUGE impact.
 
You maintain that “going local,” or healing your neighborhood, is more effective in transforming the world than joining a national issue.  Say more about that. 
 
I think the things happening at the national level are REALLY important, but two things make national organizing hard:
1) It is easy to get overwhelmed with how little change we can effect when chipping away and trying to win small victories in a hostile environment.
2) Part of the reason the environment is this way is that decades ago, people started organizing at the local level to shift American culture away from things like valuing our elders, caring for the poor, investing in a good education for all, honoring the immigrant and religious diversity and so on. Part of why national change is so hard is that over decades, there has been culture shift that started at the local level. So our best work starts local and then builds out from there. It’s really the only way to ultimately effect national outcomes: community by community, then those communities connecting and those values taking root and becoming second nature.
 
What’s your favorite story in the book?
 
It really depends on the day: in the wake of the tragic Sutherland Springs Texas, I keep thinking about the amazing young Sikhs who went through the terror attack on their house of worship in Oak Creek several years ago and turned that tragedy into a process of healing. They showed up to support the victims of Sandy Hook a few months later. They reached out to their neighbors so their neighbors would know about the Sikh religion and be more invested in their wellbeing. They recognized that while they had faced violence because of their race, they needed to deepen their relationship with the Black community whom they didn’t know. They are my heroes for a moment like this, showing us that in the midst of suffering, people can build a community so there is less suffering in the future.
 
But my favorite story for years and years is the story of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston. Most of us assume that the solution to problems in our community is well-run nonprofits. And most nonprofits feel the same way. (I know I do, as the director of a nonprofit!) So a major charitable foundation gets all of the nonprofit leaders together to propose a solution to the problems in a really underserved neighborhood in Boston, but a few people living in the neighborhood learn about it and show up to the meeting. They say “hey; how come you’re always talking ABOUT us but never talking WITH us?” And the foundation is shocked, because they thought that by meeting with the nonprofits, they WERE meeting with the people from the community. So they started the process from scratch, this time with community meetings that churches (and some nonprofits!) helped coordinate, to capture the voices and commitments of the people who lived there day in and day out. Thirty years later, that neighborhood has developed a pathway to home ownership and small businesses as well as amazing community building and culturally resonant educational opportunities. The city government wouldn’t have created that structure, and neither would the nonprofits or the foundation. But by creating space for the people’s voice, vision and hard work to be part of the plan, it is a community very different from most “urban renewal” programs you see today.
 
Your stories are all very different in their particular people, places, and events. Are there any common threads weaving throughout the stories that are instructive for would-be change-makers? 
 
I think the thing that ties most of these stories together is that (a) they are about listening to the wisdom of people actually facing the problems we want to fix, (b) involving them in the solution-making process, (c) investing time in building up a community, not just fixing specific things, and (d) practicing some consistent ethics. That last one maybe isn’t always explicitly named throughout the book, but it really is at work in every chapter and is particularly clear in the last chapter about the small village in France during World War II that saved thousands of Jewish people and other people fleeing the Nazi regime. Before the French government was even taken over by Nazi sympathizers, the people in that village were practicing values that said they were the sons and daughters of Huguenots, Protestants who had to flee persecution in the 1500s. That meant their faith and their history required them to protect persecuted people, whatever the cost. They knew that’s who they were, so in a time of trial, that is who they were able to be. (And it’s who the Catholics in their community were as well, because it was baked into their community ethic.) 
 
I think things are so bad that we’re often desperate for a quick fix. The stories in this book yielded often fairly quick results: deeply transformed communities within a matter of years. But the work that we really want to see takes community building and it takes discipline, because the counternarratives of fear and distrust and isolation are so thick around us that we will need to work together to override them. But the great hope of the stories in this book is that we can override those narratives. We can build communities of inclusion and justice and compassion. In fact, we already have, a million times over.
 
What trends are you seeing in community organizing?  Where do you feel the current greatest need is for transformative community work?
 
One of the things I am so excited about that’s shifting in community organizing is how often I hear people from high level labor leaders to leaders in the Movement for Black Lives to organizers for worker justice talking about love. In the midst of the urgent work, we are slowing down enough to be in relationship with each other. History has shown us that the best way to break apart a movement is to sow seeds of distrust between members. This was a very intentional part of government efforts to disrupt the Black Panthers in my hometown of Oakland, for example, and it worked in a lot of ways. For us to invest in honoring each other’s humanity as part of the work of movement building can slow down the pace of the work, but it creates such strong foundations.
 
I have a chapter on faith rooted organizing, the model of organizing I practice with several organizations where I live. It was named and developed by prominent civil rights leader James Lawson and workers’ rights leader Alexia Salvatierra. It emerges out of the Indian freedom struggle of Mahatma Gandhi, the Black-led US Freedom Movement of the 1960s, Latin American Liberation theology and the multisectoral organizing model of the Philipines. What is really inspiring to me, though, is that I am seeing other community organizing movements (PICO, Gamaliel) taking on issues of racial justice, honoring the leadership and wisdom of people of color, and somewhat organically implementing a lot of the values of faith rooted organizing that were not always there before.  They focus on love as well as outrage, on higher vision and not just self-interest. It’s been beautiful to watch.
 
I think the election results of 2016 show us that amidst the many urgent issues facing us (climate, religious liberty, immigrant rights, voter rights, health care, housing access, food safety, and so much more), there is some critical work to be done community by community for poor white people and poor people of color to recognize where their needs and causes and life experiences align. I do want to note that poor white people did not put Donald Trump into office by themselves: middle class and rich white people voted for him at high, possibly higher, margins. So some of the conversation right now distracts from a larger “us-them” issue in the country. But if we spent some energy on honoring the experiences of poor people of all races and also cultivating 
 
How does your faith inform your work in community organizing and activism?  
 
The person who trained me in faith rooted organizing, Alexia Salvatierra, talks about faith rooted organizing as “organizing as if God is real.” To me that means always having an eye on what Dr. King referred to as “Beloved Community,” or what Christians sometimes call “the realm of God here on earth.” It also means not limiting our vision. We hosted a panel on reforming the prison system at the Oakland Peace Center, and one of the panelists said, “you all won’t get engaged in the work of prison abolition (replacing our current system with restorative justice and rehabilitation programs that would better serve victims, offenders and communities) because you want to aim instead for small, winnable campaigns. But you don’t win those either, so why not go for what you actually believe to be right?” There is a need for strategy and for negotiating in coalition, but as people of faith, why don’t we let the secular folks take the lead on that and instead do what all of our faith traditions call us to: tikkun olam or “the healing of the world” in Hebrew. It is ironic to me when faith communities brag about their political acumen or their strategic skills; the people on the front lines of the movement need something different from us, I think. The justice movement could use some big dreaming, some hope, some vision.  I think the other thing we do on a good day is humanize people. Sometimes activists forget that the work is about people; we can keep the movement grounded in the humanity of people who are suffering…and also people who are in power.
 
How do you hold onto hope in dark times? 
 
I’m a big picture, statistics, systemic thinker. But that can also become overwhelming: the number of people facing injustice can feel insurmountable.
 
I’m writing this on a rainy day in downtown Oakland. A homeless person just walked into Starbucks and the people next to me and I made room for them to rest their weary feet at the table we were sharing. A woman standing near me asked if they wanted a coffee and bought them one.
 
A homeless woman came in and sat down with me and chatted for a while, and then the two of them traded advice on cheap footwear that doesn’t rub. Then she showed them a video from her phone of when a rat jumped into her lap this morning and offered them some leftover halloween candy from her backpack.
 
I could probably get depressed about that scene, but that’s people being human, being in relationship even for a moment.
 
If that is who humans can be, what can’t we do when we set our sights on actually making the world better, with a few of the right tools?
 
What books are on your nightstand (or Kindle) right now?
 
I keep rotating among Samantha Irby’s “We Will Never Meet in Real Life,” Roxane Gay’s “Hunger” and Sherman Alexie’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” They are all so brilliant and also so sad that I have tossed in the Alexander Hamilton biography that Lin Manuel Miranda used as the inspiration for his musical, just to keep things light.
 
But confessionally, I’m really digging post-apocalyptic young adult fiction featuring people of color characters these days. That’s my almost cliche escapism.
 
Oh, and can we require that every American read Claudia Rankine’s book of poetry Citizen in order to actually be a citizen?
 
What is inspiring your work and ministry these days? 
 
I’m a big believer in having a volunteer project that inspires a person. That and taking vacation are what stop me from burning out. (Ask me about my trip to Chiapas in October; it was amazing).
 
My volunteer project is Bay Area Solidarity Summer. For eight years now, a group of volunteers has created a five-day camp for South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangaladeshi, Burmese, Bhutanese, Nepali, Afghani) young adults to be trained as activists around our own struggles but also in solidarity with other communities fighting for justice…where we have privilege, let’s figure out how to use it to support people with less privilege. Where we are oppressed, let’s learn the skills to advocate for change. Everyone who runs it is a volunteer and we raise enough money for the program to be free or almost free so that low-income activists can attend.
 
This past year, the young adults inspired me: they had such amazing understanding of issues of justice in this country. They were so open to learning new skills and techniques. But what amazed me was how much love and compassion and care they extended to each other, and to us as organizers who were more like aunties and uncles to them than siblings. That level of heart gives me so much hope for the movement.
 
What advice would you give to an aspiring yet hesitant, overwhelmed,  or discouraged activist?  Where does one start?  How does one keep on?
 
It depends on the activist! 🙂 I remember saying to a room full of sincere church elders who wanted to ease into anti-racism work that the day we were meeting Muslims were being detained at customs and sent back to countries they were fleeing. I told them that I knew they were looking for evolution and not revolution, but since they had a lot of power, my people needed them to evolve REALLY fast. But they knew I was saying it with love and compassion, and that church is doing church-wide work around anti-racism and partnering with Black-led organizations in their town to effect change, less than a year later. That’s really what this book is about. Regular people really can come together and move the dial, if they find the people who want to move it with them.
 
I also know that the story of the little girl walking along the beach and throwing starfish back into the ocean is overused. (If you don’t know it, the beach is littered with them, and they will die without water, and a man sees the girl throwing them into the ocean. He tells her she can’t save them all, and she shrugs, picks one up, throws it into the ocean and says “Yeah, but I can save that one.”) But it’s true. 
 
Part of the way systemic injustice gets entrenched is we come to see people, or some groups of people, as disposable. A dear friend of mine adopted a girl who had been through everything you could imagine by the age of 9. They have been through hard times. The system had given up on that girl before she could walk. But she’s about to turn 16, and holy terror that she can be, she is 100% going to make this world a better place to live in. My friend’s investment in that little girl is going to end up improving not just that girl’s life but whole communities. If my friend had chosen an easier path, a whole community decades from now would suffer from that absence.
 

And I think that’s the other thing: we do this work for the generations to come. If we only measure our success in its immediate yields, our emotions are at the whims of so much that is out of our control. Should we fight for immediate wins? Absolutely. If all homeless people were housed, our work to build Beloved Community would be exponentially easier. If everyone had access to good affordable healthcare, we could concentrate on soul-deep work so much more easily. But if we gauge our success only on what is winnable, our vision shrinks. Let’s invest ourselves in a world where no 9-year-old has been given up on by their community or their government. Let’s remember, as the prayer that still gives me comfort on hard days says, that “we plant the seeds that one day will grow.”

For more on Sandhya Jha, visit her website: www.sandhyajha.com.

To order Transforming Communities, click here.

Blank bookcover with clipping path

Guest Post: Are United Methodists in Violation of Wesley’s “Do-No-Harm” Principle?

By Rev. Franklyn Schaefer, pastor, activist and author of Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church

Just this past week, the highest United Methodist court, the Judicial Council, chose to defer a ruling on the question on whether the United Methodist (U.M.) Church’s rhetoric on homosexuality is unconstitutional, specifically the phrase: “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Council explained that the Annual Conferences who submitted the question “did not have the authority to ask for a ruling.” Therefore, the Council felt no obligation to answer it. [1]

I have felt very strongly about raising this question for years, especially as a pastoral care giver who has been in ministry with LGBTQ persons.  Does the U.M. rhetoric and doctrine on homosexuality harm gay and lesbian persons in its care and therefore violate the “Do-No-Harm” Rule as formulated by John Wesley, founder of Methodism? If they do, these policies can actually be considered unconstitutional, since the Do-No-Harm Rule is part of the U.M. Constitution (Article III). [2]

The following discussion of these questions is from a presentation I gave at Dickinson College, PA on October 26, 2017, entitled An Indictment of the United Methodist Anti-Gay Doctrine. (Watch the video-taped lecture here.)

Harmful Rhetoric: The “Incompatibility” Declaration

The U.M. Church calls the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” [3] I am not aware of any other activity being labeled in this way in the Book of Discipline. The practice of homosexuality is obviously not considered equal to other “sins.” This choice of words rather seems to assign it to a special category of “sin.” (I put the word sin in quotation marks because progressive Christians including myself, do not consider the practice of homosexuality to be sinful).

Whenever an item is set apart by such a strong label, it is deemed special, in this case, worse, than others. What doubtlessly magnifies the harmful effect of this rhetoric is the fact that some conservative faith communities call homosexual practice forthrightly the worst sin and often use distinctive language for it including the derogatory term “abomination.”

And this is what I am seeing in my pastoral care practice: gay and lesbian Christians feel the pain of discrimination, they describe feeling labeled as a member of a special group of sinners. Sometimes they even perceive the Church’s message as stating that their sin is beyond grace.  Whether this concept is openly stated or whether it is an unwritten, underlying message, it is often unfortunately part of the conservative church culture within the U.M. Church. And such a condemning message can be exceedingly harmful to gays and lesbians, especially to adolescents in their formative years.

Growing up in the United Methodist faith, particularly after being exposed to the debate over human sexuality at an annual conference, my fourteen-year old son, Tim, came to believe that as a gay person he could not enter the kingdom of heaven. For years, he prayed and pleaded with God to change his sexual orientation. When nothing changed, he thought of ways in which he could take his own life. His faith was very important to him, yet he believed his own church condemned him. He felt like a freak and just wanted to end it all; he didn’t want to bring shame on his family and his local church. Fortunately, he did not follow through with his plan and, in time, found a supportive community even within the U.M. Church. Remarkably and despite his struggles with the church, he is now in seminary studying for the ministry.

The Church’s Gay Marriage Ban Can Be Harmful Too

I have also witnessed the harmful effect of the Church’s gay marriage ban in gay and lesbian couples. Take Bernie and Chely, two female members of my current congregation, for example. I recently performed a ceremony celebrating the renewal of their vows. This ceremony meant so much more to them, though – when they were married nine years ago, they were denied a church ceremony as their pastor at the time refused to marry them on “religious grounds.”

How were they spiritually harmed by the church’s gay marriage prohibition? Bernie and Chely felt rejected and marginalized and eventually left their church. They stopped going to church altogether; they did not try out other churches for fear of more rejection.  Through common gay friends, they finally found a new spiritual home at University U.M. Church, where all people are welcomed, accepted, and supported.

As people of deep faith and spirituality, they had always felt as though their marriage wasn’t quite legitimate without the blessing from the church. Following their vow renewal ceremony, Bernie described the marriage blessing they finally received in terms of a redemption:

Just having that blessing put on our family, I felt like God was redeeming our marriage in a sense, and new life is being breathed back into our marriage by having that blessing. To walk without the blessing of God is a tough road. [4]

[Watch interviews and part of the ceremony: Bernie & Chely Forever]

Harmful Coersion: Abstinence as a Requirement for Equality

Traditionalists argue that the U.M. Church’s prohibitions regarding homosexuality cannot be considered discriminatory or harmful because they do not condemn homosexuals as persons. Neither do they condemn same-sex attractions. Only the practice of homosexuality is considered a departure from the norm for sexual behavior. [5]  And, as the argument is developed, even if you are an out and proud gay person you you can be a church pastor and leader – as long as you remain abstinent. [6] Therefore, traditionalists claim, one cannot say there is harm done to gay and lesbian persons since no specific group or person is singled out. We are all equally sinful and need God’s grace. What some gay and lesbian Christians go through in terms of remaining abstinent is admittedly difficult, but will ultimately prove redemptive and rewarding to them.

I strongly disagree with this traditionalists viewpoint. Gays and lesbians are singled out and expected to fully deny their sexual tendencies. Nobody else is expected to remain abstinent; rather, everybody else is free to express their romantic love and find a partner in life.  But if gays and lesbians want to be fully included in the life and ministry of the U.M. Church, they are expected to abstain from expressions of romantic love and the natural desire for intimacy and to share life with a partner. According to Dr. Dorothy Benz, a lay leader of M.I.N.D. (Methodists in New Directions), “You are who you are, you are who God created you to be, so to say that it’s ok that I’m gay that I want to have sex with another woman, but its not ok that I actually have sex with her, that makes no sense, and even if it did, it would be cruel to say that this portion of the population should be deprived of the basic human need for love and intimacy.” [7]

For gays and lesbians it is not just about about whether they are allowed to become ordained clergy, it’s about their very salvation. The church’s position is clear in that practicing homosexuals are considered living in an “incompatible,” sinful state. Traditional theology maintains that God’s grace and forgiveness is available for repentant sinners – sinners who turn away from their sin. God’s grace is not expected to extend to sinners who remain in a state of sinfulness.

According to the U.M. Church, then, if you want assurance of salvation as a gay or lesbian Christian, you must live a life of abstinence. In my understanding, this is spiritual coercion. We must not underestimate the psychological power contained in the threat of losing one’s salvation. Homosexual Christians are spiritually coerced to comply with rules that ask them not only to deny their basic human desire for intimacy and companionship, but also part of their identity.

Our sexual orientation is an integral part of who we are as humans. When a homosexual person is asked to deny their natural attractions by living a life of abstinence, he or she is forced to deny part of who they are. Anybody who does not fully embrace their identity, experiences an isolation of self which often leads to a severe identity crisis. This has been adequately described by the report of the American Psychology Association on patients of religious conversion therapy. [8]

Conclusion:  

The spiritual coercion of gays and lesbians as well as the “incompatibility” rhetoric expose the U.M. Church policies concerning homosexuality as discriminatory. They systemically harm gay and lesbian persons under the Church’s care and are, therefore, in direct violation of John Wesley’s “Do-No-Harm” Rule.  The anti-gay policies and rhetoric in the Book of Discipline must be indicted and corrected. They are unconstitutional according to U.M. Church’s own Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith.

Frank Schaefer is the author of Defrocked: How  a Father’s Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church

Sources:

[1] United Methodist News Service, Court maintains stand on ministerial candidates

http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/court-maintains-stand-on-ministerial-candidates, Oct. 28, 2017

[2] United Methodist Foundational Documents: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/foundational-documents  (John Wesley’s “Do-No-Harm” Rule)

[3] Book of Discipline statements on Homosexuality by the United Methodist Church, UMC Official Website (umc.org): http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/homosexuality-full-book-of-discipline-statements, 2016

[4] Rubio-Rodriguez, Bernadette in Bernie & Chely Forever – The Spiritual Quest of a Same-Sex Couple, Schaefer, Frank, ed., 2017

[5] Pannenberg, Wolfhart, Revelation and Homosexual Experience: What Wolfhart Pannenberg Says About this Debate in the Church, Christianity Today, November 11, 1996, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1996/november11/6td035.html

[6]  An Understanding of the Biblical View on Homosexual Practice and Pastoral Care, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary Position Paper, 2015  page 17

[7] Sheppard, Scott, dir. An Act of Love A Father. A Church. A Movement (documentary) Virgil Films, 201

[8] Glassgold, Judith M. PsyD, Chair, Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, 2009: http://www.apa.org/pi/gay and lesbiant/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf

Overcoming the anxiety of talking about racism

Editor’s Note: Carolyn Helsel’s upcoming book from Chalice Press, Anxious to Talk about It, aims to help white people talk about racism. In this guest blog, she reflects on the August 11-12 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Carolyn Helsel
Carolyn Helsel

Sick. Sick to my stomach. I opened social media Saturday morning to reports of torches and racist slogans of white nationalists at a “Unite the Right” rally on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

I turned off my phone to get breakfast for the kids. We were traveling to San Antonio for the day, so attending to children occupied my mental space. But I wasn’t hungry for breakfast.

While I tried to keep current events out of my mind, they kept showing up. As we drove through downtown San Antonio, three white men carrying signs and wearing shirts with Confederate flags crossed the street in front of my car while I waited at a stoplight. These men were headed several blocks away, to join a protest against the removal of a Confederate statue from a San Antonio city park.[1]

Later that afternoon, while I sat at a restaurant, the news on the TV reported the alarming headlines: at the Charlottesville rally, a neo-Nazi drove his car into the crowd of counter-protestors, killing a woman and injuring 19.

Minutes later, I overheard a young white man joking at a nearby table, “I tell you, white men have it hard these days.” I’m not sure he’d been paying attention to the news from Charlottesville.

Driving back to Austin, my mind kept returning to the white men wearing Confederate flags in San Antonio and the white men in the pictures from Charlottesville, carrying torches. I kept wanting to distance myself from them: these white people are not the kind of white people I know and love. These are really bad people. Ignorant people. Evil people. But feeling sick-to-my-stomach did not go away. I could not distance myself far enough.

Returning to social media at the end of the day, several people called out to white preachers, asking: “How are you going to change your sermon for tomorrow?” Articles in major news outlets challenged the Christian church to respond with a definitive condemnation of white supremacy, asking: “After Charlottesville, will white pastors finally take racism seriously?[2] And “How Will the Church Reckon with Charlottesville?[3]

But I wondered whether the people who went to this rally even went to church? I doubt it. I wanted to think of them as crazy hate-filled heathens who would never step foot in a church. I want to think of these people as so very different from me.

But as a colleague of mine from Austin Seminary, Dr. Margaret Aymer, reminded me, these people still look like me and are not that different from me. Dr. Aymer posted the picture of the torch-wielding men, and instructed viewers to look them in the face: “If you are white or the parent of a white male child, as I am, look at these faces. Look hard. These are not monsters. These are not deformed or mentally ill people. These could be your sons. These could be my son. Look hard. There is no “they” out there. This is about you. This is about me. This about how you interact with family and how your raise your children. Do not look away.”

As uncomfortable as it makes us, we need to keep looking. We need to sit with the discomfort of these terrorizing moments, because they will not go away when we are not looking. They will keep happening. There will continue to be demonstrations that support this way of thinking. We need to denounce them as evil and to condemn this rhetoric.

At the same time, the depth and breadth of racism is thicker than this one event, bigger than a group of white nationalists protecting a statue, older than the history that these whites want to memorialize. And condemning racism as evil demands more than realizing that racism is a problem. We have to keep talking about it with other white people.

White liberals have prided themselves on “getting it.” There’s a sense of self-righteousness that comes from feeling you are on the right side of history. But self-righteousness fosters a sense of superiority. And superiority continues to compete for superiority. There will always be better labels, more critical analysis, and more radical calls for change; but if these only lead to self-satisfaction in our moral superiority, we have failed. Whites who want to make a difference need to accept that there is no moral high ground for us: no matter how “woke” we are, we continue to be part of a system that unjustly benefits us. We are not superior to these white nationalists. We bear the guilt as well.


[1] Emilie Eaton, “Dueling San Antonio protestors clash with each other, police over Confederate monument.” The San Antonio Express News. (August 12, 2017). http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Dueling-San-Antonio-protesters-clash-with-each-11814577.php

[2] Jemar Tisby, “After Charlottesville, will white pastors finally take racism seriously?” The Washington Post. (August 12, 2017). Accessed online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/08/12/after-charlottesville-will-white-pastors-finally-take-racism-seriously

[3] Emma Green, “How Will the Church Reckon with Charlottesville?” The Atlantic. (August 13, 2017). Accessed online at https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/will-the-church-reckon-with-charlottesville/536718/

Christians and Standing Rock: An Update

News outlets often describe the standoff between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Energy Transfer Partners, developers of the North Dakota Access Pipeline, as contest between the water rights of indigenous peoples and the energy needs of the nation. This is a false and misleading characterization of the conflict.

People of faith have understood from the beginning that for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe the deeper issues are Native sovereignty, treaty rights, and religion. Religion for many Native peoples is land-based, and Native spirituality is bound to the land, making sacred places set aside for human remembrance such as burial grounds. For the Great Sioux Nation, to be a Sioux is to care for Mother Earth.

The centrality of land for Native spirituality was recognized by the United States with the enactment of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. This law calls upon the government to “protect and preserve for Native Americans their inherent right to freedom of belief …  and to worship through ceremonies and traditional sites.”

In October Churches Uniting in Christ, eleven denominations in covenantal relations, joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other indigenous peoples to support tribal sovereignty, water, cultures, way of life, and sacred sites, citing the centrality of land to Native peoples and Native religious practices

On November 4, 524 clergy representing many denominations responded to a call put forth by Reverend John Floberg, an Episcopal priest who has been serving the Standing Rock Sioux people for 25 years, to come to Cannon Ball, North Dakota, for a time of prayer and to be in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The clergy who gathered used the occasion to ceremonially burn a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery, a policy used to justify the confiscation of Indian lands, the destruction of Indian cultures, and the taking of Indian lives.

One month later, with protesters facing an order from the North Dakota governor to leave their encampment before the harsh winter sets in, more than 1,000 communities around the world joined an Interfaith Day of Prayer. People of many faiths came together to pray with and to pray for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Water Protectors. That same day, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a key permit needed to finish construction, a major victory for the water protectors. Whether that victory will end the debate, rerouting the pipeline away from Standing Rock, time will tell.

These prayers and the ongoing vigilance of the faith community is greatly needed. North Dakota Governor Dalrymple called the Army Corps of Engineers decision “a serious mistake.” The Morton County Sheriff’s Department pledged to “continue to enforce the law.” Energy Transfer Partners has pledged to complete the present pipeline.

Christians from many denominations are showing strong support for the religious rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. We must stand in deep solidarity now and in the coming year.

David Phillips Hansen David Phillips Hansen is a minister in the United Church of Christ and author of Native Americans, the Mainline Church, and the Quest for Interracial Justice, available for preorder now for delivery in January.

Stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

I urge Christians and all people of good will to stand in deep solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, their First Nation allies, and the many others who have joined them in their effort to permanently block the North Dakota Access Pipeline. The decision of the Departments of Justice, Army, and Interior to temporarily stop construction is a direct result of the actions of these “stewards of the earth” who have taken a courageous stand to protect the sovereignty of Native Americans and our environment.

Native Americans, the Mainline Church, and the Quest for Interracial JusticeMany Protestant denominations have apologized to Native Americans for their participation in the long history of our nation’s efforts to assimilate or exterminate Indigenous Peoples. Some denominations have renounced the Doctrine of Discovery—a legal fiction couched in quasi-religious sentiments that gave European kings a right to conquer foreign lands and is now the basis for U.S. control of Native lands. Most denominations have called for an end to the public use of images and logos that demean and degrade tribal people. Now is the time to take the next step and stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

David Archambault II, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman, addressed a letter to “all Native American Tribes in the U.S. and to all Indigenous Peoples of the world,” on August 25, 2016, in which he wrote: “We all have a responsibility to speak for a vision of the future that is safe and productive for our grandchildren.” In this same letter he quoted Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota, who once said: “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” When President Obama spoke to the 20th Annual Environmental Summit on August 31, 2016, he quoted a Washoe tribal leader: “What happens to the land also happens to the people.” The president has invited tribes to a formal government-to-government consultation on infrastructure.

If completed, the proposed 1,172-mile pipeline will carry nearly a half million barrels of crude oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa to Patoka, Illinois, where it will be linked to another pipeline. Proponents of the pipeline promise that during the construction phase it will create 8,000 to 12,000 jobs. Craig Stevens, a spokesperson for MAIN Coalition, a group supporting the pipeline, is quoted as saying that a delay in construction could have “a long-lasting and chilling effect on private infrastructure development in the United States.” Other advocates for the pipeline suggest that the actions of the Obama administration are a “temporary halt” to the project, which may be completed under a new administration.

The National Congress of American Indians put the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline in a historical context when they called it “another chapter in a long history of constructing hazardous pipeline routes through tribal lands without respecting tribal sovereignty.”

The immediate concern for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is protection of Lake Oahe, a primary source of water for the tribe and people and communities downstream who rely on the Missouri River. The larger but no less important concern is respect of the rights and sovereignty of Native Peoples. Deep solidarity, a phrase coined by Joerg Rieger, is rooted in an understanding that we are all in the same boat. We share the same earth and water. Given that many Protestant denominations have already renounced past efforts to assimilate or exterminate Native Peoples and repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, it is time for us to stand in deep solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.”

David Phillips Hansen David Phillips Hansen is a minister in the United Church of Christ and author of Native Americans, the Mainline Church, and the Quest for Interracial Justice, available for preorder now for delivery this autumn.

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Eric Law on The Gift

From chapter three, “The Gift,” in Holy Currency Exchange: 101 Stories, Songs, Actions, and Visions for Missional and Sustainable Ministries by Eric H.F. Law:

Holy_Currency_Exchange_cover_finalRE_400At the beginning of the new year, I often hear people say with a sigh of relief, “Thank God the holidays are over!” I recall seeing frantic shoppers before Christmas trying to find the right presents for people to whom they are obligated to give gifts. If gift giving is reduced to an obligation and is measured as a commodity, I can understand how it would be a relief to be done with it until the next birthday or anniversary or Christmas.

In his now-classic book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, author Lewis Hyde shares stories from different cultures around the concept of exchanging gifts. He writes

These stories present gift exchange as a companion to transformation, a sort of guardian or marker or catalyst. It is also the case that a gift may be the actual agent of change, the bearer of new life. In the simplest examples, gifts carry an identity with them, and to accept the gift amounts to incorporating the new identity.

According to Hyde, there are at least three obligations to gift economy—the obligation to give, the obligation to accept, and the obligation to reciprocate. In many of the cultural stories that Hyde examined, the reciprocation may not go directly back to the original giver but to a third party. Sometimes the gift is expected to keep flowing throughout the community and it may eventually return to the original giver in different forms. Hyde wrote, “[A] gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift. The spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation.”

For Christians, one of the greatest gifts that we receive is Jesus. To accept this gift is to incorporate a new identity embodied by the words and actions of Jesus. Continue reading Eric Law on The Gift

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Rev. Jennifer Bailey on Daniel Holtzclaw and #StandWithBWG

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On December 10, 2015, Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted of multiple counts of rape, sexual battery, and other charges. Today, he was sentenced to 263 years in prison. Although little media attention has been given to this case, it is important to recognize the brave response of the victims, like Jannie Ligons. In an article for MoyoLiving.org, Rev. Jennifer Bailey reflects on how these events mirror the sexual exploitation of black women throughout history. Bailey shows that there have always been women like Ms. Jannie to resist the mistreatment. Her call is #StandWithBGW (Black Women and Girls).

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

Sarah Griffith Lund on Her 2016 Lent Devotional

The Fellowship of Prayer 2016 Lenten devotional was written by Sarah Griffith Lund, author of the acclaimed Blessed Are The Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family, and Church. We asked Sarah a few questions about this year’s Lent devotional. Here’s what she said:

SarahGriffithLund_FOP16Tell us about the theme for the Fellowship of Prayer 2016 Lenten devotional. How did this theme of “dreams and visions” come together? What inspired you?
The theme for the Fellowship of Prayer 2016 emerged out of my conversations with readers about my book Blessed are the Crazy. In the book I talk about my own personal fears and vulnerability to mental illness because bipolar disorder runs in my family. As a Christian and a spiritual person who has a relationship with God, I have experienced dreams and visions. But because of the history of mental illness in my family, I was reluctant to talk about my dreams and visions, because I was afraid people would think I was crazy. Yet, when I study Scripture and the writings of early Christian mystics, like St. John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich, their writings are filled with visions and dreams, encounters with the living God. So this Fellowship of Prayer is dedicated to exploring the visions and dreams of the Bible, in hopes of opening up conversations about how God continues to speak to us through our own dreams and visions. This theme comes out of encouragement by my readers to break the silence in the church about dreams and visions.

What did you learn through the writing of the Fellowship of Prayer 2016 Lenten devotional? What was your experience like during this project?
I was sincerely shocked by how saturated the Bible is with dreams and visions. I had never looked at the Scriptures through this particular lens before, and I was overwhelmed by the powerful stories of God breaking through ordinary time and visiting people in their dreams. I learned more about the nature of God’s communication, discovering that God historically and continually connects to us through dreams and visions. I learned to trust my own dreams and visions more, and found encouragement in the Scriptures for my own faith journey. Writing this devotional was a real gift to my spirit, deeply immersing me in Scripture, drawing me closer to the heart of God.

What do you hope readers of Fellowship of Prayer 2016 will gain from spending the 40 days of Lent walking through it?
I hope that readers will learn from the witness of Scripture about the ways that God seeks to be revealed to us. I believe that God continues to seek us out in our dreams and visions. Spending the 40 days of Lent walking through Biblical dreams and visions, readers will be encouraged to open themselves up to the Spirit of God … with the hope of transforming us with dreams and visions of new life.

Lent begins Ash Wednesday, February 10. The last day to order copies of Fellowship of Prayer 2016 for your personal use or for your church — in order to ensure delivery by/before Ash Wednesday — is Monday, February 1!

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.

What Is Your One Word for 2016?

Mihee Kim-Kort, author of Making Paper Cranes, writes:

There’s a sermon that I often heard during the summers of 2002 and 2003.

At the time I was a backpacking guide for a ministry for high school students called Wilderness Ranch. It was my seminary internship for one summer, and an excuse to be in Colorado again for another one. I needed to get out of New Jersey for a few months. For seven days two guides would take a group of high school students from all over – Texas, Georgia, weirdly, New Jersey – through the Rocky Mountains. At the end of the week back at base camp the director, Skeet Tingle, would always do the same talk using the scripture from the Transfiguration.

I remember this as I sit at a table looking out at the lovely Blue Ridge surrounding Montreat, a Presbyterian conference center that hosts college students every year for a few days. How it’s easier to see at a height. How some things begin to make a little more sense up here. How you feel braver and truer when you are surrounded by trees and your Creator. How the air is clearer and you can breathe better.

The topography of a space has to include peaks and valleys, bright sunlight and a large sky, and a nibble of winter for me to come back to myself. Good preaching and the sound of 1100 college students singing Come Thou Fount and the Canticle of Turning helps, too. The epiphanies come like breaking waves and rolling clouds, and like Peter, I am eager to pitch numerous tents to hold onto those revelations. Reality begins to blur a little, and I see signs in the poetry being read on stage, paintings, a still lake, and even my dreams become undeniable.

And so that’s going to be the word for 2016. Dream.

Read the rest on Mihee’s blog

So, what is your one word for 2016?

Brad Lyons is president and publisher of Chalice Press.