Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Peace Testimony in the Twenty-First Century

By Valerie Hurwitz

As many of you know, Earlham School of Religion has a Church of the Brethren seminary next door. We share share some parts of the curriculum, a weekly Friday worship, and Common Meal once a month with them, as well as our Academic Services and Computing Services offices. I am often asked what Brethren and Quakers have in common. While the Brethren would not use the term “Testimonies” with as much
specificity as Quakers do, there is a strong emphasis on values very similar to the Quaker testimonies. The Brethren have a longstanding commitment to non-violence and American Brethren required their members to abstain from joining the military in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Simplicity is another strong value, and I have seen a few “plain” Brethren around Bethany.

This digression will be quite familiar to anyone who has spent time on ESR’s campus since Bethany seminary moved her in the mid-90s, and to the Bethany-affiliated folks who might be reading this. My hope is to provide context for those who aren’t familiar with Brethren.

Jordan Blevins, a Brethren pastor on the staff of the Eco-Justice programs at the National Council of churches, spoke at Peace Forum this past Thursday. He spoke about Just Peace and how Peace Churches can no longer be a “set apart” movement, but must reach out to the larger Christian movement as it struggles with questions of nonviolence and opposition to war. Jordan also told us that it was not sufficient for Peace Churches to rest on their history of opposition to war. There will be no more drafts, he told us, and no more opportunities for conscientious objectors to express their opposition through registering. Contentious objection is now silent. We must articulate what we are for rather than what we are against. Enter “Just Peace”, a concept that is strongly promoted by the World Council of Churches. It seems best to quote directly from their document “An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace”:

[Just Peace is] “a collective and dynamic yet grounded process of freeing human beings from fear and want, of overcoming enmity, discrimination and oppression, and of establishing conditions for just relationships that privilege the experience of the most vulnerable and respect the integrity of creation”

In short, peace and justice are inter-related, and peace must be maintained not through the absence of conflict, but through a holistic approach to creating right relationships among people, governments, companies, the earth, etc. Peace Churches have an opportunity to “put meat on the bones of Just Peace” for other denominations, to “flesh out” the idea of Just Peace. (Weird analogies for a conversation over a
vegetarian meal, I know.)

The discussion after that ranged widely. There was discussion of the Peace Tax Fund, of economic conscription into the military, and of what Just Peace might look like from the perspective of a prisoner or a Native American. With the election this year, there is a great deal of discussion over the federal budget. What does this document say about our values? What does it mean when no one is turned away from military service, but Americorps and Peace Corps must be very selective? I honestly vacillate on total pacifism (can I say that, working for a Quaker seminary?), but I do appreciate the larger approach that Just Peace takes. Wars and conflicts are the end of the process, not the beginning, and working on peace and justice requires affecting those causes. On an international level, Ron Paul has mentioned the “golden rule” in a few of the Republican primary debates, and been booed for it. If it’s good enough to be taught in every elementary school, why is it not good enough for foreign policy?

  • First, Jordan’s big question to us: “What needs to change in our world for Just Peace to occur, and what can we do to make that happen?” 
  • What can Quakers learn from considering the commitments of other Peace Church to their version of the Peace Testimony? 
  • Are there any Brethren out there who can tell me more about the history of the Brethren commitment to non-violence?

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Peace Forum: What can Hiroshima and Nagasaki teach us about Peace?

By Valerie Hurwitz

How much did the US population know about the aftereffects of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in the 50s and 60s? How much do they know now? The lessons of these two cities were hard-learned in Japan, but have taken longer to filter out to the rest of the world. ESR Master of Divinity students Erin Hougland and Abbey Pratt-Harrington have both spent time in Hiroshima, Erin as an English teaching in a nearby town and Abbey as a summer researcher at the World Friendship Center.

Erin and Abbey explained that the bomb detonated about mile over Hiroshima and immediately killed around 70,000 people. There was no food or water in the area afterwards, and the medical centers were overwhelmed. Some people survived, but so badly burned that they jumped into the river, only to be killed by the boiling-hot water in the river. Radiation poisoning killed many more in the first 6 months and it is difficult to say in the end how many people died later because of various forms of cancer. No one was sure what the long-term effects of the radiation would be on the health of survivors.

The Japanese coined the term “hibakusha” to mean anyone in Hiroshima or Nagasaki when the bombs were dropped, or who were inside the city limits within two weeks afterwards, or who had direct contact with bomb victims. This is not a historical term, but a quite current one as the Japanese government recognizes more than 200,000 living people as hibakusha and some receive a special form of government health insurance.

In Japan, hibakusha were and are marginalized for fear that they could contaminate others or that their children would have genetic abnormalities. Particularly right after the bombs, they had difficulty marrying and often hid their status. Still, many went on to thrive and live long lives. Erin spoke of meeting a Japanese woman in her Tai Chi class in Japan who was 6 months old when Hiroshima was bombed. The next day, her mother took her and her 2-year-old brother into the city to look for her (the mother’s) parents. Her little brother, who had no shoes and so walked barefoot, died 6 months later of radiation poisoning. The woman grew up, married, is healthy herself, and has many healthy children and grandchildren. Erin told us this story in part to demonstrate the lack of knowledge Japanese individuals had in the after mass of the bombings (e.g. jumping into rivers or allowing their children to walk barefoot in the city) and the unevenness of the effects (some hibakusha have/had health problems, while others are quite healthy). American scientists initially told the Japanese that it would take 70 years for vegetation to grow in the area, but seeds sprouted the next spring. Erin describes modern Hiroshima as beautiful and lively.

Abbey’s connection to Hiroshima began when she started volunteering at the Peace Resource Center, located on the campus of Wilmington College in Ohio. Barbara Reynolds, the founder of the center, traveled to Hiroshima in the 50s with her husband. American and Japanese scientists were uncertain of what the long term consequences of the blast and Earle Reynolds traveled to Hiroshima to study radiation
and child development. Barbara brought 2 hibakusha to the US in 1962 to speak about the dangers of nuclear warfare. Returning in 1964 with 25 hibakusha, they traveled to several countries to speak against nuclear weapons. These survivors still travel; when Abbey was there in the summer of 2009 she met two hibakusha who had just returned from speaking in Pakistan.

Abbey and Erin were asked about how people in today’s Japan see the bombings and whether they blame the US. They told us that people take a broad view; the Japanese emperor led the country into war and ignored the US announcement that the A-bomb would be dropped if Japan did not desist. “They told me ‘this is what war does’” Erin explained, saying that Japan sees the bombings as punishment for the crimes committed by the government. This is not to say that everyone in Japan is of one mind on this issue. A small minority continually calls for repeal of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which renounces war and nuclear weapons.

Food for thought:

• Perhaps Abbey and Erin can tell us how the reaction to the Fukushima nuclear power plant being damaged in the spring was related to the communal memory of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan. Abbey? Erin?
• What would the US look like if it renounced all nuclear bombs and laid down the entire military?

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Cycle of Poverty in the Local Richmond Community

Peace Forum February 2, 2012
By Valerie Hurwitz

Laura Arendt, third-year Bethany Seminary student, spoke Thursday, February at Peace Forum about Open Arms Ministry. OAM is a non-profit that we’ve talked about on the blog before. They provide emergency assistance for people in the Richmond area, both from their own funds and through coordinating funds local churches have for charity. I won’t repeat the detail that the earlier post contains, but please read it if you’re curious to learn more.

Laura’s talk was part logistical information and part theological reflection. She talked about the cycle of poverty, an institutional web making it unlikely that people in poverty will be able to change their educational and financial position significantly in life. In Wayne County, 40% of the school-age children live below the poverty line, #2 in the state. According to Laura, however, the primary need is not financial but personal. People coming into OAM and want someone to listen and validate the struggles they’ve been through. There is a feeling that the rest of the Richmond community, Earlham College, and local Christians have no idea what people in poverty are going through.

There is the tendency to make the poor fit into stereotypes: lazy, unmotivated, etc. Laura told two stories that exemplify the type of person she sees. One was a grandmother with 6 other people living in her household, including an infant and a toddler. She is the only one with any income coming in. The second was a man who came in with his 17-year-old son. They were homeless, but the man had several job interviews lined up. (If you want to get Laura up on her soapbox, ask her about Richmond not having a family homeless shelter.) OAM helped him find an apartment and pay the security deposit so that he would have an address to list on his job applications.

I have a little personal experience with this on my street in Richmond, which is mostly rentals. I am constantly picking up garbage. The gentlemen down the alleyway have a confederate flag in their garage. One of the neighbor’s cats recently started visiting my house, looking for food. I happened to see and speak to the cat’s owner for a few minutes and found out that she has not had enough money to have the cat spayed and vaccinated and worries about the cat’s health. She also spoke of having to sell or junk her car for lack of money for repairs, leaving her without transportation. My other neighbors moved out without telling the landlord and shooed their (indoors) cat out of the apartment to live on the street. (As you can tell, I am a cat magnet.) Stereotypes are often there for a reason even when they’re not entirely true; I could look at the confederate flag, at the abandoned animals, at the trash, at the broken-down car, etc., and stereotype. Certainly there is a basic assumption (some people on my street live in poverty and have some of the associated limitations in living their lives) that is correct, although not universal and certainly varying greatly.

It’s critical to keep an open mind and heart to the people around you. It’s also important for those of us living in Richmond to be mindful of the incredible work that can be done in our own community. Laura pointed out that it’s easy for the residential students to feel poor living off part-time work and graduate loans, but ultimately important to remember that our educational loans are a “down payment” on skills,
transformational experiences, and future employment. Cyclical poverty is quite different. So, what examples of poverty have you seen in your area (particularly the Richmond area, if you’ve lived here)? What do you think are some solutions to that poverty? What can you do personally?

Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reflections on Cross-Cultural Understanding and Partnership

By Valerie Hurwitz

Last Tuesday at Common Meal, Stephanie Crumley-Effinger spoke about her sabbatical this fall semester. Among many other projects, Stephanie traveled to Kenya for three weeks and focused her common meal presentation on this. Stephanie started her trip in Nairobi and Kijabe. She visited with Aziz, the man from Southern Sudan whom we met at St. Paul’s University this past June. Stephanie brought him a number of bibles, bought with money raised from ESR, for churches in Southern Sudan. The continuing famine and violence in Somalia and central Sudan is a growing issue in Kenya and one we should keep in our thoughts and prayers. FTC students are doing ministry at Kakuma Refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, and there are many other ways that Kenyan Friends can have a direct impact.

The bulk of Stephanie’s time was spent at Friends Theological College. Having been there this summer, it was interesting to hear about the workings of FTC and how it is trying to increase its financial resources/independence. FTC recently received official accreditation (having previously had accreditation through St. Paul’s University) and is now subject to a rule that 50% of their income must come from within Kenya. FTC is traditionally supported heavily by FUM and Friends in the US, so this is a switch. They have, wisely, focused on investing donated funds into money-making projects. FTC has a canteen, a dairy, a bakery, gardens, a tailoring shop, and makes bio-sand water filters and fuel briquettes. Students work 7 hours a week in these projects to earn money to pay their school fees, and 5 hours a week on chores around the campus. (I found this difficult to imagine doing at ESR, but then I realized that our Cooper Scholars do 4 hours a week a volunteering, and many residential students work part-time. Maybe ESR should open up a coffee shop to employ students. Or a farm. Jay, any thoughts?)

FTC has certificate programs (2 years of study), diploma programs (3 years) and a Bachelor’s degree. Stephanie worked with the Year 3 Diploma students on the Incident-Reflection model she uses in Supervised Ministry at ESR. Diploma students do ministry at sites around the region, but do little critical reflection on what they’ve experienced. Ann Riggs, the principal of FTC, hopes to have more theological reflection incorporated into the ministry internships. Stephanie also mentioned that each class has a “class representative” who gathers papers for the class, turns them in, and reminds those who have not yet turned in an assignment. Stephanie seemed very pleased with the idea and joked that each class at ESR should have a representative.

A few other comical notes: Stephanie brought an ipad to FTC, which Friends there found fascinating. Stephanie told us proudly, “I finally did something that horrified my children” by riding on the back of a piki-piki (motorbike). This “mzungu on a piki-piki” apparently provided a great deal of entertainment for the Kenyans who saw her on the road. She also preached at two meetings. At one, Kivagali, FTC professor
Josephat Muchele translated her sermon into Swahili. Stephanie commented jokingly that sometimes Josephat seemed to speak much longer than she did, and the meeting laughed at certain points she hadn’t thought were funny in English. Having met Josephat, I am sure he was translating faithfully, but perhaps adding commentary, explaining things so they were clearer to a Kenyan audience, or adding jokes!

Stephanie hopes that connections between ESR and FTC can be strengthened and that more ESR students and alumni can spend time at FTC. As I mentioned when I wrote this summer, Friends at FTC are eager for visitors and hopeful for connections with the wider Quaker world. Stephanie identified many problems that Kenyan Quakerism and FTC are facing, including low pastor pay, (non-Quaker) TV preachers and the gospel of prosperity, corruption in the government, FTC’s physical plant, and rising food prices. American Friends don’t have all the answers, but I firmly believe that American Friends and African Friends need each other and can contribute a great deal to each other’s development.

Some questions for consideration:

• What are the best ways for American Friends to assist Kenyan Friends?
Books Stephanie brought for the FTC library
• What can Kenyan Friends teach Friends in the US?
• Kenya does not offer federal loans for education, as the US does. What would the US look like without these federal loan programs?

 Valerie Hurwitz is Director of Recruitment and Admissions at Earlham School of Religion. She lives in Richmond, Indiana and serves as choir director at West Richmond Friends Meeting.