Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Just Solidarity

“When I was working in the Eastern part of Germany back when the wall still divided the country, I worked with the people; I listened to their stories and heard their grievances. I remarked once that the people in Eastern Germany were just like other people around the world and they deserved the same kinds of rights that those outside of Eastern Germany received. My friends corrected me: ‘That is not so. We are not just like you. We look at the world very differently. We’ve been told,’ they said. ‘That in order to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world, we must give up our freedom. Yet you, and those of you outside of Eastern Germany have been told that in order to be free, you must give up your solidarity with those like us.” (paraphrased recount)

The story above was told to me by a Lutheran pastor who participated in the Bible retreat that I attended this past Saturday. My new friend paired solidarity and freedom with the biblical references of righteousness and justice; making me think of the passage in Isaiah “The fruit of righteousness will be peace and the effect of justice will be quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 32:17)

I sit down tonight to write next about my experiences with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Kurdistan, Iraq and the words solidarity and freedom like two little globes rest in each of my hands. I look at them in my imagination, puzzled by how to fit them together.

After a night in Diyarbakir, the six of us travel south to cross the Turkish-Iraqi border. We were scheduled to meet up with the rest of the CPT-Iraq team late that night on the Iraqi side; stopping on our way to the border to meet with the director of a cultural center in Cizre (Jeez-ra). An early morning bus ride took us along the Tigris river for a short while before veering sharply south until the Syrian border. We then rode east alongside Turkish-Syrian border for many kilometers watching the barbed wire and military outposts snake back and forth around small villages, riverbeds and agricultural fields.

Cizre is only a few kilometers from the intersection of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. It is surrounded by the Tigris river on three sides which is where it gets its name Cizre, which in Arabic means ‘island.’ Like Diyarbakir, nearly all of the residents are Kurdish. However, due to its proximity to the Iraqi-Kurdish border, Cizre faces a myriad of challenges.

We arrived at the cultural center in the mid-day and the director was away visiting his mother who was ill in a nearby town. After a few phone calls, the director arranged for a friend of his to come translate for us in his absence. The director was on his way and would be with us in about an hour.

While we waited, the many youth of the cultural center entertained us with music: instrumental and singing. First a few of the older men started playing and then younger boys and girls joined in both on instruments and in voice. The music was moving; it was full of joy and pride.

The director’s friend arrived to translate for us for a while but left after a short visit. We discovered that this young man was a pharmacist nearby and on the request of his friend left his place of work to host us. However, the cultural center was a dangerous place. The promotion of Kurdish language, music, and customs was seen by the Turkish government was illegal. This young pharmacist was afraid that he would lose his job if discovered in support of the center.

With his departure, we settled back into the entertainment of the young people. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the songs that the children were singing were Kurdish nationalist songs; songs that were illegal. Once the director arrived, we learned that over the course of the last year over 200 children between the ages of 11 and 18 had been arrested for displaying Kurdish culture in public.

The display and/or support of Kurdish culture are viewed by the Turkish government as the display of support for armed Kurdish guerilla groups. The situation is complicated and circular:

Between the ages of 11-18 children are in danger of being arrested for being Kurdish. If they act and speak according to Turkish law, when they are 18, boys are subject to conscription. The Turkish government places these young Kurdish men on the border of Turkey and Iraq to fight the Kurdish guerilla groups.

If children want to avoid prison and live into their Kurdish identity, often they will run away to the mountains and join the Kurdish militant guerilla groups; which in turn fight their brothers in the Turkish military. The guerilla groups, influenced by Marxism, are more egalitarian and often a more appealing option than prison. The director of the cultural center quoted us the figure that 10-15 children a day leave Cizre for the mountains.

The role of the cultural center is to provide a space for children to learn about and live into their Kurdish culture without running away to the mountains. Yet as the Kurdish cultural is systematically oppressed, many who learn about their roots leave Cizre to live more fully into their identity. The director himself was facing charges for indirectly supporting armed guerilla groups. He wasn’t sure how long the cultural center would remain open.

On September 20, two German sociologists were arrested by the Turkish government for suspicion of spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization. The two Germans had been part of a larger international team of sociologists who were investigating a mass grave that may contain the body of German sociologist Andrea Wolf. They had written a news brief critiquing the local government and were arrested shortly after its release.

This incident lay heavy on my mind as I listened to the director of the cultural center in Cizre. In order for the Turkish-Kurds of Cizre to live in solidarity with their Kurdish people, they had to give up their freedom. In order for me to preserve my freedom, did I have to give up my solidarity with my new Turkish-Kurdish friends in Cizre?

Because of what happened only weeks before to the two German sociologists, all of us on the delegation were instructed to keep silent about our support for the Kurdish people until we crossed the border of Iraq. During those days in Turkey, we choose to preserve our freedom publically and stretched to privately convey our solidarity with our friends. Our friends, the children of the cultural center included, choose to display their solidarity publically and privately conveyed their concerns for freedom.

I pray that one day we can choose to live into both solidarity and freedom publically and in that new creation the fruit of righteousness will be peace and the effect of justice will be quietness and confidence forever.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Freedom is the Most Important Word

The four of us huddled together in the hostel dorm room. We were lucky to have a room to ourselves. “So we’re going to use a few code words.” Gerald, our team leader implied. “We can’t use words like Kurdish, Kurd, Kurdistan, PKK, etc in public. It’s dangerous. You got that article right? Last week a group of German journalists were arrested in Southern Turkey for appearing to supporting the Kurdish national cause. It’s illegal here to be Kurdish.”

While my recollections of exact statements are simple estimations, Gerald led our small delegation through an orientation session that included examining what we said, to whom, just about everywhere. In the cafĂ© downstairs a woman remarked “Did you four meet here? What are you doing together?” We looked at each other and came up with an ambiguous answer. We didn’t know who was listening, who was watching, who was waiting.

As a U.S. citizen I highly value my right to freedom of speech. Throughout the next few days of the delegation found that the right to freedom of speech was one of the many U.S. assumptions and privileges with which I view the world. During the first two days in Istanbul our group worked through a series of orientation sessions that covered topics about overcoming oppression, personal security, and group roles. While it was necessary to discuss these things before traveling into the field, the next few days brought them to life.

We flew from Istanbul to Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir is in south eastern Turkey and is one of the largest cities in its region. It sits on the ancient river Tigris and overlooks kilometer after kilometer of farmland. The old city is surrounded by now rundown ways which make up the alleged “Longest continuous city walls” second to the wall of China. Its airport, the very one that we flew into is also used by the Turkish army. From that airport surveillance drones and shells are dropped on the Turkish-Kurdish border region.

Diyarbakir has a turbulent history. Early in the 20th century Armenians and Assyrians were brutally massacred. Over the last century, rural-to-urban migration, governmental pressures, and refugee migration have contributed to the increase of Diyarbakir’s population. In the early part of the 20th century the population was around 30,000. Today Diyarbakir verges on 1.4 million where over 98% of the population is Kurdish.

Being Kurdish, speaking Kurdish, dressing Kurdish, writing Kurdish, advocating for Kurdish communities: all this is illegal in Turkey. According to the Turkish Constitution there are not ethnic minorities in Turkey. The only language allowed in the public sphere is Turkish. The only flag that may be flow in the Turkish flag.

Yet of the 98% of the Kurdish Diyarbakir population, 60-70% are generational refugees from the 1990’s. The first wave of migration settled in the city and today they have children (47% of the total population of Diyarbakir is between 14 and 29 years of age). Persecuted for decades for being Kurdish, the Kurdish language, cultural traditions, and flag are deeply embedded in the pride of the Turkish Kurds. Giving up the Kurdish identity to succeed in Turkey, for most, is not an option.

In Diyarbakir, we met with a young woman who is a Human Rights Activist. She was dressed more western than myself, carrying a laptop and smoking cigarettes elegantly. Her English was slightly accented and her presentation one of education and respect. In another context we might have been best friends; collaborating on projects, cooking food, laughing. Her stories revealed a very different reality… one that left me pondering the U.S. privilege I have and what responsibilities I have to use it.

In 2009 our friend was arrested for four days. She lives with her parents in Diyarbakir and one morning she woke to the touch of cold metal to her forehead. A machine gun was pointed at her forehead. Surrounded by masked armed military personnel she was escorted to prison where she stayed for four days. The government charged her for being a member of an illegal armed organization. The following evidence mounted against her:

1. She wrote grants that funded 44 social projects for Kurdish women and children in Diyarbakir.

2. She published 5 books about these social projects.

3. She signed a human rights petition online against sexism.

4. Kurdish music was found on her computer.

5. She co-authored and produced a book and film about honor killings.

6. She met with international groups (like us!) to talk and teach about the situation of the Kurdish people.

And the evidences continue as such. In December our friend faces trial for these accusations which may lead to a sentence of eighteen years. Now she considers leaving her country; something she never thought would happen: “I have decided to leave because I’m afraid that I will lose my hope. When your hopes are challenged every day, every hour, its hard to keep up hope.”

As our friend left us for the night, we were joined by a Kurdish teacher for a short time. We asked her to teach us a word in Kurdish, the most important word that she could teach us. “Freedom” she replied. “That is the most important word.”

We walked back through the darkened streets of Diyarbakir pondering the words of our new friends. I was asked to keep a radio diary of my trip and I found that night especially difficult to describe. What could I say? How could I share the stories of my friends and of their people without causing them harm? What power do relationships, do names, do conversations have in this part of the world. Why do I feel so angry that I can’t say certain words on the streets; that I can’t share with you my friends’ name; when none of this is about me- and all of it comes back to me and my country’s foreign policy.

What does freedom mean to any of us? My own questioning brings me to my faith, to the bible, in which I find some guidance and many more questions. I expect I'll be reflecting more on all of this as the days continue.

But what does freedom really mean to any of us?

Freedom.

It is the most important word.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Transitions and Holy Remembering

One of my dear friends at Pendle Hill asked me upon my return from Kurdistan, “Were you faithful?”

“Yes.” I replied.

“And are you then released?” She continued.

“No.” I shook my head. “This is only the beginning.”

I’ve thought about that brief conversation several times over these past few weeks and each time tears well up in my eyes when I think of the act of being released from a leading. “How?” I wonder, “Can anyone go on a CPT delegation and feel released in return?”

There is only beginning. This work becomes part of life.

"How this become part of my life?" though is a different question; it is a difficult question. So difficult in fact that it has taken me a while to get into a space of personal and theological reflection. I’ve needed space for the experiences of CPT to stew inside me. Now, stories are emerging.

These past few weeks have been saturated with transition. Two weeks before I left on the CPT delegation I was offered a job at Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry (STM). I returned from Kurdistan, Iraq to Pendle Hill for five days. During those days I wrapped up my time with the resident program, gave two presentations on my CPT delegation and then moved across the country.


Way Opened.


And it continues to open. Just before I left on the CPT delegation I was contacted by friends of friends who invited me stay with them for my first month in Seattle. I arrived on October 31st to an unknown city with many familiar faces. An old college friend picked me up from the airport and showed me around the house I would house-sit for two weeks before my hosts came home. So with the company of an adorable dog, I began my work at STM.

As the Interreligious Program Manager I’m still figuring out all the pieces of my position. These first two months are dedicated to listening; listening to faculty, staff, students, local faith communities, and intermediary partners- listen to their ideas of how to engage in interreligious dialogue, what projects people are already doing, and how I can help. My to-do list is pages long already and everything is so exciting! I have a lot to learn!

On a parallel thread to starting a new position here in Seattle, I’ve also been working at figuring out where I am going to live. I have been invited to consider an intentional community out near the mountains in a place called Issaquah. The community is looking at how to be good neighbors to everyone around them- including those who are homeless and who are working poor living in the woods. The house that I hope to be moving into is a collection of these good neighbors and the basement of the building is being developed into a sanctuary space.

At the end of each day, I retreat home and after dinner I collapse.

My exhaustion surprises me; until I remember all that has changed in this past month and a half. I am pushing through- In’shallah.

The intentional community in Issaquah is brought together monthly by the ministry of two of its members who host a bible study/ discussion group. Saturday was the first session of the year and we worked with the idea of remembering; holy remembering related often to shema the Hebrew for listening. One thing that struck me from our study was how deeply creative was the act of holy remembering. The act of reflection, or remembering transformed the present into the future. God commanded remembering not as an act of retribution or returning to old ways, but as a call back to the center, the source, from which newness grows.

And I have so much to remember.

I’ve been struggling with so many questions concerning life, lifestyle and life choices. I feel like every moment is caught between what is first nature in me and what is God’s will. I have chosen to live radically into my faith but I’m not always very good at it. And on top of all the transitions here in Seattle, the multitudes of stories to share from CPT have overwhelmed me to the point of shutdown these past weeks. That is changing. I am learning so much. I have so much to reflect on. I have so much to learn… it’s all exhausting.

However, when I sit and think about all that has happened to me these past weeks, I find myself incredibly thankful for where I am now and how my path has directed me here all along. I am deeply thankful for the space and grace that my friends and family have given me in this transition period. As I wrote above, the stories are beginning to emerge and those feelings of being overwhelmed are starting to subside. God’s shema, or holy remembering is written on my head and on my arm bringing me back to the center, back to the source and new growth is happening.... slowly, sometimes painfully, sometimes with beauty, and always in the presence of the Spirit.

So my blogging begins with the stories of the CPT delegation.

May I be faithful in my remembering.

In’shallah.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Christian Peacemaker Teams #1

Dearest Friends and Family,

Since the death of Tom Fox in 2006, I have struggled with my own understanding of faith and theology. My journey has taken me away from Quakerism for a time and my journey has brought me back. Two and a half years ago a dear friend of mine from High School Young Friends was killed in Afganistan after he joined the Marines (post Tom's death). My friends' death brought me full circle to the realities of my faith-- encouraging me to reexamine how I was living out that faith and how I was challenging myself to grow.

In my reexamination I found that I had run away from the evil that I begun to experience. I didn't grow up with concept of evil. Many liberal Friends don't. Yet when Tom was killed, the idea that there was that of evil in each of us along with that of good emerged with an overwhelming force. I saw the human capacity for corruption, manipulation, and selfishness acutely all around me, even in the Quaker communities that I loved. I felt useless, unprepared, and disappointed in a people who I believed were creating the Kin-dom of God on Earth.

So as I turned away in disillusionment, others fought--apathy vs. violence--both responses unacceptable to the ideal of non-violent transformation. Three summers ago, at the FGC Gathering, I had a beautiful experience of coming home to my community. The experience resulted in some life changes, and I've spent the year relearning who I am and relearning how to listen to the voice of God inside me. So now, instead of turning away and instead of fighting with outward weapons, I have begun again to listen-- and listen deeply. I studied inter-religious dialogue and peace building at the Earlham School of Religion for the past year and a half—and unexpectedly three weeks ago I was offered a position at Seattle University in those fields.

Before Tom's death I had felt the nudging to participate in a CPT delegation and such nudging has returned-- although now the nudge is a full on push.

At this point I write these words with a great deal of clarity recognized by my Quaker community. Through a series of Quaker opportunities with faithful F/friends it has become clear that my leading is not of my own creation but of a creation beyond my being. I believe that God is calling me, as I believe we are all called, to embrace the rejection of violence.

Therefore, right now I am traveling with a short-term delegation to Turkey and Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), an organization that is dedicated to living out Christ’s teachings in areas where peace seems hopeless and out of reach.

“Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) –Iraq is a faith-based violence reduction NGO operating since 2002 in Iraq, first in the south and now in the Kurdish north.

CPT-Iraq is not primarily a human rights organization, and yet its purpose—to reduce violence and to accompany those who are the victims and targets of violence—frequently intersects with violent actors who deny fundamental human right of their targets.

Thus CPT-Iraq joins its voice to those of various human rights organizations around the world, documenting and decrying the violence and attendant deprivations experienced by the Iraqi Kurdish villages along the borders of with Turkey and Iran, as the decades-long efforts of those two countries to militarily suppress their own Kurdish minorities spill over into the lives of the Kurds in northern Iraq.

It is a sign of our times that an organization dedicated to nonviolence must offer the following disclaimer: CPT neither endorses nor approves of the violence used by any side in any conflict, and in particular, for the purposes of this report, the violence used in the conflicts between Turkey and the PKK on the northern border of Iraq and Iran and PJAK on eastern border.

However, while many around the world know the conflict between Turkey and the PKK particularly, few seem to be aware of the suffering that the conflicts between Iran, Turkey and their Kurdish populations have caused the Kurdish villages in Iraq. CPT hopes that its delegations and team members will bring home reports and stories that will help create a new global awareness of what these villagers are facing.” (2011 CPT-Iraq Report)

In order to assure the safety of my delegation and CPT’s team members, most of my reporting on this blog will be done when I return home on the 25th of October; many names will be changed and some identities will not be revealed. Pseudonyms used will be selected without regard to regional or religious implications, thus a Christian man may be given a name not generally given to Christians—a woman from Suli may be given a name from Erbil, etc.

For more information about CPT and its work, visit their website at www.cpt.org. In addition, I am available to answer any questions that you might have about CPT and its work in Iraq; I also intend to travel and speak about my experiences when I return.

While I am here in the Middle East, there is one important thing that you can all do—pray. After decades of violence, oppression, and war, it’s hard to imagine Iraq as a place where peace can prevail. Please be praying for the citizens and leaders of this country, and that love can permeate this shell-shocked society. Be praying also for the safety of myself and my fellow team members as we listen to many stories and love the people in the small ways that people like Tom Fox loved them so many years ago. Kurdistan is far removed from the sectarian violence that is rampant in the southern part of the country, but it’s still unstable and your prayers are needed.

Thank you so much for your prayers, support and guidance. I walk with many on this journey, if you and/or your community would like me to come talk about my experiences after I return, please contact me. It would be an honor to share this journey with you.


In love and prayer,
Rachel Stacy

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011
My Dear Beloved Community,

Since I last wrote my journey has of course continued. The spring brought with it a curious unfolding of plans. My studies at the Earlham School of Religion took me to Israel and Palestine; an opportunity to write for Friends Journal brought me to the country of Jordan; and my work with ecumenical dialogue paved way for me to attend the World Council of Churches Peace Convocation in Jamaica. Each of these trips exposed me to new cultures, new ideas and new friends. For these opportunities I’m deeply thankful.

In the midst of all of this travel my plans to participate in a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to Iraq was postponed so I returned to Indiana to finish my MA in Religious Studies. At the surprise of myself and my professors, I successfully defended my thesis in the beginning of May after only six weeks of writing. This summer I have returned to Pendle Hill to work as one of the coordinators of the Young Adult Leadership Development Program and way has opened for me to stay here at Pendle Hill for the next year as the coordinator of the Residential Student program.

So as I look to how to describe for you, my beloved community, the threads that bring life to my journey, I discover that there are several spheres within which I now live and work. I describe these spheres as threads because while to share with you their specifics I categorize them as I do, in reality, each sphere intersects, links, and intertwines with the others, making up the beauty and challenges that I embrace.

Quaker Involvement: I have returned to active participation in the Quaker world in several ways: I’m writing for several different Quaker groups; I’m of course working here at Pendle Hill; and I’m volunteering with Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC).
Since I have been named a representative of Baltimore Yearly Meeting to the World Conference of Friends in Kenya next April, I have begun helping the FWCC-Sections of the America office organize conversations among Young Adults about the gathering and prepare the younger reps for their travels. I’ve also spoken at several of FWCC’s Salt and Light events which are geared to all-aged friends and aim to spread the message and involvement of the World Conference among friends in the Americas.
My work here at Pendle Hill has many components including programmatic organization of the Resident Student program, pastoral care, small group facilitation and conflict mediation. I am also working with a group of people in the research and visioning of Young Adult programming. I have had the joy of being visited by my position’s counterpart at Woodbrooke and I look forward to some international collaboration on Youth and Young Adult programs.

Ecumenical Involvement: The International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in Jamaica in May was amazing. I have been studying the concept of “Just Peace” with a professor for the past year and a half and at this conference the World Council of Churches (WCC) accepted the document that has been written on “Just Peacemaking,” The WCC hopes to adopt/approve it at their 2013 Assembly in Busan, Korea. I had the privilege of being selected with one other person from the USA to serve on a team of stewards. At about 38 members, the stewards helped the Convocation run smoothly while also representing over twenty countries and six continents.
From this experience I have further developed my fantastic network of international friends; however, the most powerful part of the Convocation was the time I spent with people from my own country. I discussed at considerable lengths the responsibilities that US church communities have in fostering discussions of peacemaking and peace building in our own country. Beautiful ideas have emerged from these conversations; ideas that I hope to help flower and fruit.
I also spend time talking with the international collection of Historical Peace Church members (Mennonites, Brethren, and Quaker). On the Sunday of the convocation, two Friends, one from the Netherlands and one from Brazil, organized a waiting worship. Over twenty people attended, representing the Historical Peace Churches and many others. Conversations among us and among the wider conference community asked the question “Should we lay down our name as the Historical Peace Churches to join with others as Living Peace Churches?” This question continues to work in me as I continue to engage with my Historical Peace Church friends.

Peace-Building Involvement: Some of you, my beloved community, may have been asking at the beginning of this letter… What about Iraq? Well, my friends, plans are set. I have been accepted into the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) Delegation in October (Oct. 13-26) to the northern part of Iraq. Amazing feats of non-violent resistance have been engaged in Kurdistan over the past Spring and Summer. While the US news rarely reports on anything except the deaths that are occurring, CPT’s updates depict a challenging but hopeful situation. If you would like to receive past CPT briefs of the situation in Kurdistan please send me an email (rachel.e.stacy@gmail.com). I will be keeping you all updated during my trip and hope to speak with you and share with you when I return.
I have raised about half of the funds needed to attend this delegation. I am still seeking financial and prayer support for October. Donations may be made through my website: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/rachel-stacy/rachelstacy or checks made out to CPT --noted that they are for my delegation-- can be sent to the CPT offices at:

Claire Evans
Delegation Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
Box 6508
Chicago, IL 60680-6508

Thank you to all who have supported me and will continue to support me. It is very important to me that I have the opportunity to share with you my experiences and my journey. For those of you reading this from monthly meetings within driving distance of Pendle Hill, please let me know if there is a possibility to come speak with your meeting. For those of you at greater distances, my travels are taking me around the country. Let me know about possibilities to share with your meeting/community and we’ll see what ways open. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

Personal/Professional Development: So where is all this heading? I have a long journey ahead of me. I feel deeply called to pursue an advanced degree that will assist me in my work. I hope to work in pastoral care for people like CPT members who serve in intense often traumatic situations. I hope to walk with these people in the field and when they return; teaching and supporting communities of faith to embrace and integrate their peace builders back into the community. Right now, the next step is to pull a series of pieces together. Intermixed with my role here at Pendle Hill and my two major trips to Iraq and Kenya, I will be applying to pHD programs in practical theology and trauma healing. My work with CPT is the first step of learning what the people I hope to work with experience and my Ecumenical work constructs a professional network of faith communities whom someday I may serve.

In the end I come around back to my own faith community for support, guidance, and growth. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to work here at Pendle Hill next year while experiencing the encouragement and support to pursue my array of projects. If you are in the Philadelphia area, please let me know and if time allows, I would love to meet up and share what is on our hearts. Blessings to you all and I hope that our paths cross soon.

Love,
Rachel Stacy

Saturday, June 11, 2011

2nd Chance at American Representation

On the Saturday night before the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) the stewards gathered for a cultural night, where we shared songs, poems and dances from our local cultures. Hung Pham, a recent graduate of the Jesuit Theological Seminary in Berkley California and I represented America among the thirty-six stewards. We sang a few Appalachian folk songs; American enough that everyone sang along.

Since I was coming to Jamaica having just defended my thesis, I hadn’t put any thought into the presentation. Hung and I had thrown something together at the last minute with only a few emails exchanged in prior planning. As the other stewards performed and many of them expressed concerns for indigenous communities, I grew ashamed. I realized that I should have not only put much more effort into the presentation but I should have uplifted so many more voices; Native American, Hispanic, Migrant, Refugee…etc.

When the event was over, I thanked one of the stewards who was from an indigenous community in Australia. ‘Thank you’ I said, ‘Thank you for reminding me of who makes up my country.’ What does it mean to be American in an international context? Whose voices am I representing? How could I have done things differently?

My 2nd chance at representing the U.S. came a few days later. About half way through the IEPC, the young adults organized a youth night where we not only taught songs and dances to the audience (both the young and young at heart), but we also selected someone from each region to talk about that region and/or the youth present there.

After checking in with the other Americans and Canadians present, I gained their permission and support to speak, as a young American for one of these presentations. Here was my 2nd chance to represent America at this International Ecumenical Peace Convocation where so many of the problems discussed were the fault of my country. I worked on my piece throughout the day before the youth night and what resulted was a poetic representation of my struggles as an American working on Just Peace. It was difficult to deliver but in the end well received:

Lord Have Mercy

A Statement from a Young American at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation of the World Council of Churches.

By Rachel Stacy, member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) and steward for the WCC-IEPC

A small group of people sit in a circle, in a church basement, hidden away from the world. The concrete walls are void of images; the space is empty and hollow. The small group huddles together, trying to block out the surroundings.

This circle is a support group, like any other support group,

Of addicts, of perpetrators,

Of those guilty of hurting others,

Of those guilty of hurting themselves

These are the oppressors.

These are the oppressed.

My country sits among this support group. My country sits among this confession. Addicted to the sweet stickiness of power, guilty of grave injustices, my country suffers.

My country suffers as its hatred, the poison drunk in pursuit of revenge, dominance, and righteousness sinks deeply through its veins and murders not only the indigenous, the immigrant, the union worker and the poor…

But also taints the very Living Water of Christ which each of us drinks.

My country cannot be cleansed – such language is destructive. No fire will purge the evil from our lips. We carry the poison in our veins from one generation to the next – it is our history, it can never be forgotten.

The sins of my ancestors are with me but their sins have made me strong.

My arms are strong to link with my neighbors to change, to heal, to seek that which is life-giving and transform the past.

My legs are strong to move forward to accompany not only those of other countries suffering from injustice, violence, and poverty but also to accompany those of my own country:

The women at the welfare office

The immigrant in the desert

The unemployed at the picket line

And lastly

My immune system is strong to face the injustices of my faith and seek deeply compassionate ways to be with others and with God.

My country’s journey must begin now. Into the support group, into the experience o f healing from the trauma it has caused to others and to itself.

Lord have mercy.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Peace Churches: Historic, Living, or Dead?

Many conversations at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) planted seeds in my mind and in my heart. I found myself often saying “that’s really interesting, I need to think about it for a while.” Often only days later the conversations wove together and those seeds bore fruit.

One such occasion was a conversation with Stan Noffsinger, the general secretary of the Church of the Brethren, USA. I had met Stan last July, through mutual friends, at the Peace among the People’s conference and again in November at the NCC-USA meeting in New Orleans.

At the IEPC, we sat down to talk one evening while he was preparing to deliver a report the next morning on the activities of the Historic Peace Churches (Mennonites, Quakers, Brethren) during the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV)

Stan remarked (not in exact words, but from my memory), “I’ve been working on this theory that the Historic Peace Churches need to give up their title as the ‘Historic’ peace churches and join with other faith communities as the ‘Living Peace Churches.’”

“Would we then lose our particularity? Would we lose our special status among other faith traditions that would otherwise disregard us?” I asked.

Stan thought for a moment and replied, “No, the Historic Peace Churches have experiences, resources, and wisdom that places us in the middle, in the leadership of this new concept of Living Peace Church. Our particularity remains in our history, that can’t be forgotten, but we are really doing ourselves a disservice if we continue to exclude others.”

“Hmm…” I told Stan, “I’ll have to think about it for a while.”

And in fact Stan did stand up in the IEPC and challenge all of us with such a theory. What would it mean for the Historic Peace Churches to let go our title and join others in the creation of a Living Peace Church? What would it mean? How would it look?

His challenge has stayed with me throughout the IEPC especially as I met and befriended leaders and peace builders from a variety of Christian traditions: Lutheran, Methodist, Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist… the list continues. The more people I met and the more ideas I heard the more I was convinced that a Living Peace Church is not only necessary but the building blocks are already a reality. ‘All we need to do’ is come together in conversations and work together.

In my recently completed thesis, I talk in one chapter about different parts of inter-religious dialogue. I break the process down into three parts: experiencing the other, sharing sacred scripture study or theological exploration, and living as a community in everyday life.

The IEPC was a chance to meet the other. I discovered vibrant passionate people with whom I hope to work with in the future. I also discovered a split in focus among the participants. Even within the Historic Peace Church meetings there were people incredibly concerned with documents that the World Council of Churches (WCC) was developing and there were people passionately concerned with bringing these conversations of Just Peace to the streets.

I have to say that I’m in the later group and my youthful enthusiasm for public theology at the expense of perhaps some unwise comments about the dryness of documentation delivered me some critiques from the older members of the conference. However, in reflection of this experience and in weaving it with my thesis; I find that both the documentarians and the practical theologians are needed. We need the people writing the documents, developing the theology, and conversing on the academic level. We also need the people engaging others in dialogue, challenging the streets, uncovering the poets and keeping this Living Peace Church alive!

And so, one of the fruits of this thread, this Living Peace Church thread, is an idea to develop a multi-fold project that both develops theological dialogue on the academic level and theological dialogue on the streets. I’ll let you know how things unfold; as faith moves into action of the Living Peace Church, we as the Historic Peace Churches can’t be left behind.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Seeds of Ignorance: Growing Pains

In my last post, I wrote about my challenges as an American at an international peace conference. My American identity labors in the pursuit of peace, negotiating the illnesses of my country with my drive to live out of its history.

But I wasn’t the only one challenged by this conference. Most of the young adults I befriended had their own trials and tribulations to work through. In this space, I offer up three stories and my own reflection as witness.

Syria.

One of the stewards was a young Orthodox woman from Damascus, Syria. Mary was one of the first stewards I met upon arrival in Jamaica. Since I recently returned from the Middle East and had been following the news of the region closely, I had all sorts of questions for her. “What are your views on the violence in your country? How is the violence impacting you? What is really going on?”

Mary is anything but shy and my questions opened up a flood gate of opinion. “First,” she said (not in exact words, but from my memory), “Your media is lying. The rebels are actually Islamic extremists who if they get their way will cleanse my country of Christians and enforce strict social codes on all of us, especially women.”

“But we hear something very different from sources we consider reliable.” I challenged. “Even Al-Jazeera and the BBC are reporting that student rebels are trying to bring about an Arab Spring like what happened in Egypt.”

“No.” Mary responded. “The rebels are Islamic extremists who threaten the secular nature of my government. The Christians are in danger if these people win. We were here first, before the Muslims. We Christians have a right to this land. We have a right to live peacefully in our country; peacefully with our Muslim neighbors. Syria has protected our rights so far. My government is a good one. The rebels are wrong.”

Throughout the IEPC, Mary raised her voice to challenge the media influenced information that all of us consumed about her country. She urged us not to forget what was happening to Christians in the Middle East, whether in Syria, Egypt or Palestine. Her story, and even consequently her difficulty returning home after the IEPC made me ask questions of truth, of media, and of narrative. While the events of the last week have made me even more confused about what is happening in Syria I can say “Stay safe my dear friend, we are all praying for you and your country.”

Canada.

My friend Miriam is a beautiful, compassionate Canadian with whom I processed many moments of frustration and confusion. She came in late to the steward’s program so many of us did not get to know her very well till the conference was underway. The time I got to spend with Miriam was priceless and I can’t wait to visit her in Toronto and work with her on ecumenical projects in the future.

Unfortunately many people at the IEPC did not get to know Miriam as I did. Confined most of the time to her wheel chair, Miriam has Cerebral Palsy (CP), a condition that impedes her speech and limits her movement. Several powerful people in my life also have CP and I feel incredibly blessed to have grown up with a least a minimal awareness of disability and accessibility challenges. I feel sorry for those at the conference too embarrassed or too afraid to approach Miriam for they missed an opportunity for deep friendship with my dear friend.

Miriam taught me several important lessons throughout the gathering, the least of which was that my awareness of accessibility challenges needed to be raised quite a bit. One night, when the IEPC gathered in downtown Kingston for an open-air concert, the stewards who were off duty decided to walk across the street for ice-cream. This was the first time I had gotten the chance to spend significant time with Miriam and when the others stepped off the curb, I stayed back to continue our conversation. Our friends would get us ice-cream and return shortly.

While we were waiting, a well meaning IEPC volunteer approached us and without acknowledging Miriam asked me if I, or whoever was monitoring her (motioning to Miriam) had arranged departure transportation for the conclusion of the IEPC—which was several days off. Shocked that someone could use such language as “monitoring” and disregard the humanity of my dear friend, I closed my eyes, breathed and tried to get a grip on what was happening. Miriam and I deflected the question replying that we would take care of it later and the women left.

“Does that happen to you often?” I asked Miriam. “How do you feel when people do that!?” Miriam replied compassionately “I’d get angry if someone did that to me at home, but here, it’s too difficult to challenge every person that behaves that way. I just feel sorry for them but I have to let it go and try to not let it bother me.” “You’re a better person than me.” I replied to Miriam with a coy smile, because I was the one trying not to let anger get the best of me.

Kingston.

Two hours were carved out of the schedule, between steward meetings, meals, and job assignments, to foster a space where youth could discuss the Ecumenical Call to Just Peace (ECJP). The ECJP was the central document of the IEPC and the plenary and workshop sessions were geared to its discussion and the development of response.

The youth discussion was a disappointing session, not because the facilitators didn’t try incredibly hard, but because of a series of factors slowly contributed to its downfall.

First, a large portion of the time was eaten up by presentations by older participants. One German man lectured on Germany’s response and distributed such response in a full-color multi-page document which was translated in German and English. A man from Colombia slept through the meeting until it was his turn to deliver a three sentence call for our youth input and then left before we could give it to him. And towards the end, in the midst of other confusion, an older American woman stole an opportunity to elaborate extensively on her international organization. Was this a youth discussion?

Then, there was the fact that few of the youth/young-adult delegates and stewards had actually read the ECJP. The cultural differences regarding oral and written traditions was clearly apparent as most of the Westerners had studied both the ECJP and its study document, while the participants from the Global South had not even heard about the document prior to the IEPC.

And lastly, ignorance of the WCC youth networks, ignorance of availability of resources in particular regions, and ignorance of the work of other youth in the room bred an environment of perceived injustice. Some regions felt cheated, felt unprepared, felt silenced because they had not had the access or the ability to respond to the documents in the ways that had been presented to us. Our ignorance clearly contributed to confusion and anger. We weren’t part of the Decade to Overcome Violence but we were its future. What responsibility did the WCC, the IEPC, and our individual faith communities have in educating, supporting, and empowering us to move the decade further?