Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Peace is the Way

By Anna Woofenden

“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” 

I’d heard the phrase many times, spoken it even, but it was not until this past Thursday at Peace Forum that I leaned it’s source. The Rev. Abraham Johannes (A. J.) Muste, a leader in the pacifist movement, labor movement and civil rights movement in the early 20th century. I learned this gem from graduating Masters of Arts student Jeff Myers as he presented excerpts from his thesis: The Way of Love, the Way of the Cross: A.J. Muste’s Theology of Pacifism.

Jeff began by sharing a glimpse of his own journey as an evangelical Christian who was exposed to theories of non-violence and pacifism through the legacies of people such as Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Dr. King while he was in undergrad at Hope College. He found a collection of essays by A. J. Muste and shared that  until that point he had, “never been so powerfully struck by the written word.” Muste brought to light the depth that his Christian faith informed his pacifism and how at heart, Muste was a theologian and from his teaching one could make the argument that “Christianity is pacifism.”

Muste’s theological basis for pacifism, Jeff presented, can be summed up in the value of each individual person, the command to love the neighbor and the life of Jesus Christ, especially as it culminated on the cross. Muste presents a way of pacifism that is far from passive. He presents an active and powerful way of life, claiming that God is love, love is active, love is the most powerful force and that it is this love we need to embody. Muste proclaims the ineffectiveness of meeting violence with violence and reminds us to look to the way of Jesus. Jesus did not respond to violence with violence, culminating in his crucifixion when he proclaimed forgiveness for those that were killing him.

This way of reading the gospels and looking at the life of Christ through the lens of pacifism came to Jeff through his reading of Muste. He shared, “I am a pacifist because of A. J. Muste. He showed me that the Bible speaks to pacifism.” As someone with evangelical roots, Jeff is passionate about how to have the conversation about pacifism with a variety of Christian modalities. He shared, “If you’re talking to an evangelical about pacifism, do not talk about the secular arguments, talk about the Bible”, as that’s what is held as the authority.

Jeff presented a vision, which he is actively engaged in, of growing conversations of pacifism from the Biblical conversation and lives engaged in being peaceful, loving and powerful beings in our communities. I know I, for one, was changed by Jeff’s presentation and urged more deeply into my own exploration of what it means to follow Christ and how the actions and principles of pacifism are part of this journey.

Anna Woofenden is a MDiv student at Earlham School of Religion and the Swedenborgian House of studies. She blogs at http://annawoofenden.wordpress.com 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Raising Up A New Generation of Quaker Leaders

By Anna Woofenden

Questions around engaging young people in the life of faith are being asked across denominations, as faith communities notice that many children who came faithfully to church with their parents as children are no longer involved as young adults   Within the scope of the Religious Society of Friends this question is being raised and addressed in various venues. One that may be of particular interest to the readers of this blog is work that is being done by the Newlin Center for Quaker Thought and Practice on Earlham College campus.

Emma Churchman and Trish Eckert spoke at Earlham School of Religion’s Common Meal and shared stories of the work they are doing to create spaces to raise up Young Friends through the Newlin Center. “The Newlin Center aims to identify young Quaker leaders, nurture Quaker scholarship and dialogue on campus, and provide members of the Earlham and wider communities with information about the Religious Society of Friends and Earlham's living Quaker character. More broadly, the Center aims to promote conversation and cooperation among Friends, and to provide a gathering place for Friends of all sorts.”

Trish, an ESR alum and Emma, an ESR current student both bring an infectious and deeply thoughtful energy to the topic of Young Adult Friends. Trish, who has been working at the Newlin Center for three years, started there as a project for her supervised ministry in her final year at ESR. On a search to discover her calling and passions, she began working with college students and discovered her ministry niche. She shared the joy she finds in the connections she has with the Young Friends she has on Earlham campus as she meets with groups weekly for fellowship and mentoring and provides spaces for Young Friends to gather and grow together.

Emma describes herself as a “visionary” and came into the Newlin Center overflowing with new ideas and ways to grow community and leadership among Young Friends.  Building on her experience of working with young adults at Pendle Hill she dove right into create programs, most notably the Quaker Fellows @ Earlham College program which works with Earlham College students to offer a transformative college experience.

“(The) Quaker Fellows echoes Earlham’s core values. Utilizing Quaker faith and practice, the program engages the whole person and prepares students to be agents of change in the world. Quaker Fellows includes three formation cores: spirituality, community and leadership development. The program is designed for young adults who are serious about serving as leaders in their communities, developing tools for social transformation, and living a life grounded in the Spirit.”

The ESR Community engaged in a thoughtful discussion with Trish and Emma, examining some of the questions that come up working with Young Adults and expressing a desire to support this important work.  If you are interested in spaces that nurture and develop Young Adult Friends, check out The Newlin Center and see how you can contribute to raising up the next generation of leaders.

Anna Woofenden is a MDiv student at Earlham School of Religion and the Swedenborgian House of studies. She blogs at http://annawoofenden.wordpress.com 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bread for the World

By Valerie Hurwitz

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” FDR, second inaugural speech 1937

ESR MDiv student Anna Woofenden spoke at Peace Forum on Thursday, March 29 about the summer she spent interning at Bread for the World in Washington DC. She brought with her Matt Gross, a Bread for the World organizer who is based in the Chicago area. Bread for the World is unique in that it does advocacy for hunger-related issues but not direct food aid.

Matt pointed out that most Christian organizations focus on direct aid; a food pantry, a soup kitchen, etc. 96% of food aid in this country is delivered by the federal government, mostly in the form of SNAP (food stamps), WIC (for pregnant women and mothers with children under 2), and free lunches. What churches and other non-profits do is very small in comparison with these programs, and changes in the federal and state funding of these programs could easily wipe out all the good that NGOs do in this country. Thus, to have a food ministry of direct aid without looking at systemic issues is a losing proposition.

A recent Bread for the World blog post discussed the dangers the Paul Ryan budget poses to these programs. Eligible women and children could be turned away from these programs if indeed their funding is limited.

• In 2011, 45 million Americans received SNAP (14%)
• In 2011, 9 million women and children received WIC

Bread for the World engages churches in letter-writing campaigns and other advocacy. This summer, Anna worked on a resource called “Bread for the Preacher.” This provides information to pastors who want to discuss hunger in their sermons. Selections are available online.

OK, so here’s my dilemma. Obviously the amount of money the US spends on aid programs is a lot (Social Security, Medicaid/Medicare, SNAP, WIC, etc.) although military spending is certainly the bigger elephant  in the room. Social Security, I always point out, is not charity. I pay into social security and have since my first paycheck at 15 (which is something I always point out when Republican presidential candidates say, “Oh, social security won’t change for those over 50. You’ll be able to count on the money you paid into it.” What am I? Chopped liver?)

But, the reality is that SNAP and WIC are welfare. (I would also argue that the government creates the need for SNAP and WIC to a certain extent through its own policies.) Some folks argue that the government should not give aid of this sort. Indeed, they argue that the Christian mandate to care for the poor should be done privately, not through governmental organizations. This seems like a good theory to
me, but bad practice. If the government simply taxed us all less, would we really give all that money to organizations that directly aid the poor? If private organizations are currently responsible for 4% of direct aid, would we really contribute 25 times as much? Additionally, the federal and state governments recognize that they have a stake in the health and welfare of their citizens and that caring for them now means greater
productivity and fewer costs later. Thus, aid ultimately makes sense from an economic standpoint.

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, April 10, 2012

Howard Macy: Friend in Residence

Howard Macy, ESR alumnus from 1970, visited ESR the week of March 26th. As the press release describes him:

Howard Macy is a Friends educator, minister, and author from Northwest Yearly Meeting. He has recently retired as Professor Emeritus at George Fox University and has taught previously at Friends University and Earlham College. Howard has served as a released minister in Northwest, Indiana, and New England Yearly Meetings and has traveled widely among Friends as an itinerant minister. His books include Rhythms of the Inner Life, Laughing Pilgrims, and Stepping in the Light, and he has published regularly in Quaker Life, Quaker Religious Thought, and other periodicals.
Among Howard’s special interests in teaching and writing are the Old Testament (especially the Psalms and the Prophets), spiritual formation, and humor in the Bible and Christian living. Privileged to live in Oregon, Howard particularly enjoys traveling in the wonders of nature, photography, and playing and singing in music ensembles.

The teaching faculty sat down with Howard for lunch on the 28th and immediately delved into questions of the church. Howard had commented at Common Meal the day before that church ministers are sometimes unfairly maligned and Jay’s first question was about the vitality of church institutions. The conversation turned to the “privatized” nature of church, where people go “church-shopping” for something that pleases them. Younger Christians/Quakers vacillate between leaving and living in the midst of the chaos. At the same time the “emergent” church and other movements are in the process of changing the face of Christianity . . . but into what? Nancy pointed out that many older members of the church are not so much afraid of change as they are that the church might change into something that is no longer comforting to them. “I love Jesus, but hate the church.” “I’m spiritual but not religious.” These phrases are common and only the type of the iceberg. Lonnie pointed out that part of the problem might be all the confusing and contradictory things that are going on in the name of Christ in the public arena.

The discussion turned to education within the church. Jay said that if churches are interested in only their own preservation, they will fail. Carole Spencer commented that education can easily become indoctrination, not formation. Nancy Bowen gave her common complaint that so many people in her Old Testament course know only a little about its contents and yet have pre-judged what they will find. “Why do you have to go to seminary to learn this stuff?” I’ve heard her ask more than once. We discussed the preparation of Sunday School teachers and formation among adults. Jim pointed out that most people who go into ministry are “people-pleasers” and are afraid to really delve into tough passages in the Bible or go beyond the lectionary. Howard others noted, however, that when people are given the opportunity to discuss issues like theodicy and suffering and really ask questions, they are glad to have an open forum.

The conversation was rich and Howard did not speak a great deal. He did, however, tell us that he was soaking us all up and his presence encouraged the faculty to deeper discussion. There were no conclusions, but we knocked off a number of sandwiches and a few packages of cookies and had a good time.

  • How do you view the church? Does it speak to your condition?
  • If you could envision the ideal church, what would that look like?
  • What is the balance between maintaining institutions and allowing them to grow and change with their constituencies?
  • How do you find a way to encourage formation without indoctrination?

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.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Acupuncture and Peace

By Valerie Hurwitz

Kurt Ritchie, a Bethany Seminary alum, came to Peace Forum on March 22 to speak about acupuncture. After pastoring for a decade, he went to an acupuncture school and spent four years learning that craft before opening up an independent practice. Kurt told us that he does more ministry as an acupuncturist than he did as a pastor.

“Why is everyone so sick?” Kurt asked us. The answers were innumerable and came quickly: diet, industrialization, stress, preservatives in food, etc. Kurt summarized them into three main issues: the automobile, electricity, and the refrigerator. He explained that if we’re always driving we don’t walk, get less exercise, and spend more time sitting. Electricity allows us to stay up late and not get enough sleep. Finally, fridges allow us to eat food that is prepared and preserved and that is not fresh. Kurt is often the last resort of patients who are suffering from cancer, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, or other illnesses. While western doctors specialize, Kurt focuses on treating the whole person, including diet and mental/spiritual state. Oriental medicine believes that everything is medicine.

Much of Kurt’s talk was technical, and I’m not sure I can reproduce it here (even with having taken notes). Kurt explained that eastern thinking is cyclical and that acupuncture works with channels (meridians) of qi (spirit?) flowing through the body and uses needles to adjust that flow. Kurt also explained that Chinese medicine works on the premise of a cycle from wood to fire to earth to metal to water back to wood. The different elements are associated with specific colors and organs, and they control other elements.

“Does it hurt?” was one of the first questions asked. People seemed interested in and open to alternative/holistic medicine and acupuncture specifically, but Oh! The needles! Kurt explained that modern acupuncture needles are rounded at the end and designed to part rather than tear tissue. That seemed only partly comforting to some folks.

I get migraines sometimes, and certainly have been through most of the easy holistic treatments (feverfew, mint essence on the temples, etc., etc.) I am not for or opposed to holistic medicine but believe that everything should be approached with an open mind . . . maybe I’ll be making an appointment to see if there’s something awry with the qi in my head . . .

Thoughts? How does this relate to Peace? How are physical health and ministry related in your mind?

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, April 3, 2012

A Prophetic Voice in Occupy - People of Faith in the Public Sphere

By Valerie Hurwitz

There is something a bit comical in the blog post that I am about to write. Micah Bales, who I worked with on ESR’s outreach and social media strategy and who maintains this blog, spoke at ESR’s Common Meal on Tuesday, March 20th. Micah spoke about his history of activism and dis-illusionment with politics after 9/11. Micah went up to visit the Occupy Wall St. camp in September with the question “what’s your ask?” He realized, however, that this movement has no policy platform. Occupy looks to step outside the binary of Republican-Democrat and talk about the distribution of power in this world.

Seven people gathered to discuss starting Occupy DC soon after Occupy Wall Street began, including Micah. This face-to-face meeting is a key point; people got off the internet and met face-to-face. They gathered in a public space and talked. The group began small, with 6 people picketing a Bank of America. The Bank pulled down their shades and shut out customers, eventually calling police and telling them that protesters were breaking into the bank. The police, happily, found this comical as it was clear when they arrived that no one was breaking into anything. Occupy DC, in its early days, took the form of a camp. Micah explained, however, that while the camps were a wonderful symbol they were not sustainable and quickly became a magnet for those who were mentally ill and homeless. While providing food and shelter for such people is an important goal, the serious activism has moved away from the camps.

Micah talked about his ministry within this seemingly secular movement. “God stands in judgment over our economic arrangements” he told us and quoted Luke 4:18-19. Micah told us that some secular Occupiers were uncomfortable with his particularly Christian outlook, whereas many clergy seem reticent to be too radical. There needs to be a challenge to the Christian dominionist view that the government should be run according to conservative Christian values. There is a space between these three, where Christians can have a prophetic role in the secular sphere.

There was some discussion as to where the demarcation is for the “99%”, and whether that was relevant. The top 1% of tax-payers in the US made $343,927 and up in 2009. We also shouldn’t fool ourselves that the bottom 99% is all the same. Life is very different at $200,000 a year as opposed to $50,000 or $25,000 or less. Additionally, this measure of income does not include assets, and ultimately does not include the most important point: access to power. Thus, it is less important to divide the US into 1% and 99% and more important to discuss access to power and a voice in the public arena. Finally, some within the 99% certainly have more privilege and resources than others, and with that comes greater responsibility.

The involvement of young people in religious and public institutions is not an unusual topic of conversation around here. I remind the teaching faculty at ESR (who are all, shall we say, somewhat older than I) that I was too young to vote in the 2000 election. In 2002 my vote was invalidated (it’s a long story having to do with Senator Wellstone). 2004 was the first election I could vote in, and I lived in the second poorest county in Ohio where there were 7 hour waits at the polls and election challengers abounded in poverty-stricken areas. In 2006, I had just moved and couldn’t establish residency sufficiently well enough to vote. 2008 started out well and provided some hope, but the 2010 was pretty uninspiring (partly because of where I live). With the recession, I am one of the few people I know my age who is fully employed. That’s not a very inspiring introduction to adult civic life. Thus, I was really glad to see the Occupy movement got started and involved so many people speaking out and saying, “You know, this isn’t about political parties. This is about how ridiculously out of whack the distribution of wealth and power are in this country are.”

The question we asked Micah on the 20th and I have asked him a few times over the phone is where we go from here. If the camps are not sustainable, how does this movement continue? The US sometimes seems as though it has a very limited attention span. How can a movement looking to mobilize people to talk about power and injustice in this country be sustainable? Micah wants to see General Assemblies and people meeting around the country. He encouraged people to consider practical actions, such as putting your money in a small bank or credit union. He suggests small-scale activism, like the work he has done assisting a woman who was wrongly foreclosed upon in keeping her house. Finally, for those who are spiritual or religious (in a Christ-centered way, or not) there is a great deal of history and a good many bible verses leading to a peculiarly Christian call to economic justice and supporting the poor, orphaned, and widowed. This prophetic voice, as Micah termed it, can and should be a powerful force in the public sphere. Thoughts? What do you think a sustainable Occupy movement looks like?

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.