This Land

She lay quietly, waiting, until they found her. Like a treasure, they cared for her and she, in turn, birthed the deer, elk, and buffalo, while berries ripened on her branches and birds filled the space of her breath with song. The bushes, trees and grass burst out in all vibrant shades of green and flowers danced daily in her light. She swelled with life under their care. And they multiplied and soon chubby little feet caressed her face and she laughed at their joy.

But then, the pale ones came. Some were kind, and tired, and grateful for her. They settled in and cared for her. But many others – they tricked, and killed, spread disease and reduced the ones who treasured her from a mighty number to a frail few. They spilled blood quickly to demand more and more of her. They brought in others in chains and shackles and forced them to pull from her what little life she had left so they could feast and sit in ease. Generation after generation they grew, and consumed, and hoarded until an empire emerged.

Then they built walls around her and said, “No More!” to those standing at their doors. They took what was never theirs, hoarded it and turned their eyes away from the tired, the hungry, the ones running for their lives. They shut their eyes and put their hands over their ears and would not share her. But what they did not see was when they shut their eyes and closed their ears, they shut down her life as well. The empire they made for themselves alone, the one that could have fed all the hungry and brought healing to millions, distorted into a poison that consumed them, and they dried up with her. Too late, they realized that their self-protection had become their suicide.

But still she whispers her secret to those who can hear.

I belong to no one; I am both gift and treasure. My bounty multiplies when I am loved and shared. Share me so that I can come back to life and dance again.

 

 

The Law of Kindness

It didn’t seem strange, at first, to see this young family ahead of me in line when I went to drop my son off at camp for the week. They stood huddled together, quietly waiting, but then when they reached the front of the line, they quietly requested a place to take a shower. While other children excitedly checked in and called out greetings to long lost friends, the silence of these children and their parents suddenly spoke volumes to me and in their beautiful, brown faces I read an unwritten story and it broke me a little more. What does it feel like to live life on the run, with no home, no place of safety to tuck your little ones into at night, no place to wash the dust of your journey off your weary body? How devastating it must be to have your adopted home become unsafe, unfamiliar and possibly dangerous.

By the time I got my son settled in to his cabin, the family was gone. I realized I had gone on through the line, expecting someone else to do the right thing, the kind thing, thinking up all the reasons why I couldn’t, why I didn’t just offer my home to them to freshen up in. I needed to get my son settled in. I didn’t have enough seat belts in my car. I lived a distance away and they probably wanted to stay in the area. I desperately needed some down time. As I went over my list of “reasons” on the long, quiet ride home, I only felt regret. I felt as if the Christ-child had knocked on my door and I had shut it in his face.

Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.

So I am writing to myself, as much or more than to anyone else. Something in my bones is grieving, like some ancient DNA that remembers the loss of home, of children, of family. 300 years ago it was not uncommon for Mennonite parents to have their children taken away from them, while they were put into prison for refusing to change their faith. It was next to impossible for them to own land. They were heavily taxed based upon their faith and often hunted down like animals. They were deported, branded (literally) and sometimes sold as slaves,  yet they illegally returned again and again to the places they called home. My ancestors became wandering immigrants, leaving Switzerland and living wherever it seemed safer – France, Germany and eventually finally finding passage to the United States of America.

Recent events have made me keenly aware that I am the descendant of immigrants and that awareness has helped me to step into their stories. And when you are on the inside of someone’s story, well, things just feel a whole lot different.

So today I’m asking all those other descendants of immigrants, especially  those who came here because home was no longer safe, I’m asking you to please stop looking into this story as if you were an outsider, because you are not. Anabaptists, this story especially  belongs to you. You would not be alive today if your ancestors had not broken laws and run away with your great-great-great-great-great-great grandma in their arms. They broke laws so that you could be here today, so how can we be so hard on those who are breaking laws so that their children have a chance of growing up in safety? I’m not talking about criminals who are trying to come in, but the thousands of ordinary, hard-working folks who are running from unsafe situations in their home countries. We have become experts at justifying our existence while denying others theirs. When does it become right for the descendants of immigrants to decide no other immigrants can come here and experience what we have? When did it become right to uphold man-made laws that break the ancient and holy laws of kindness? Our ancestors broke all kinds of laws so that we can be here today but let me tell you what law they did not break – the law of kindness. They fed their enemies. Literally. And remember the iconic story of the guy escaping who heard his oppressor fall into the icy water? He went back, helped him out and saved his life, even though he was caught and put to death anyway. This is our heritage, to love God first with every bit of our being, and then to love our neighbors so much that we are willing to take risks for them.

Remember our heritage, search out our roots. What would our life be like today if unjust laws had never been broken on our behalf?

 

 

 

In Memory

 

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. Banks, schools and government offices are closed. Parades have marched the streets of our cities. Families gather for a picnic or meet at the cemetery to leave flowers on the graves of loved ones.  For many, it is a day of honoring those who gave their lives for this country. For others, it’s just a day to sleep in and hang out with friends over juicy burgers and potato salad.

As a young girl in a long line of Conscientious Objectors who refused to pick up weapons in times of war, I  personally knew no one who had died in the line of duty. It was pretty much a day of picnics for me. As an adult, however, I’ve come to realize that today is not a picnic.

May 30, 1868 was the first official Memorial Day. It was originally called Decoration Day, and was set aside as a time to decorate the graves of those who had died in the war with flowers.

Three years after the end of the Civil War, we decided to decorate the graves of those who died in the war between us. The war between the North and the South. The war that threatened the collapse of an empire. The war that turned brother against brother, that was really about keeping the South in the Union and protecting an economy built on the backs of slaves than it was about freeing those slaves. This did not begin as a day to honor soldiers who died “over there” but, rather, the ones who died here.

But there is another version, an unofficial version, of how Memorial Day started. David W. Blight, a Yale historian, has found a list of commemorations initiated by freed Black Americans. The largest took place on May 1,1865, less than a month after the end of the war, when more than 10,000 of them gathered to dig up a mass grave of what had been hundreds of Union prisoners. These Black Americans dug up the bones that represented their freedom and lovingly gave them each a proper burial and built a fence around the new cemetery. Then they marched, lamented, honored, and sang with crosses, flowers, wreaths and anthems.

Later, the South hushed the voices of the Black Community and made the day about the reconciliation and sacrifices of White America, completely leaving out the voices of Black America. Mississippi,  South Carolina, and Alabama each have their own days to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day as State Holidays, in addition to the National Memorial Day.

153 years after the end of the Civil War and we are still fighting each other, still shushing the voices of Black America, still making things about us.

I’m going to fire up my grill soon and throw on the burgers. Then I’m going to sit my boys down and tell them about some pretty brave folks who dug up a mass grave, and honored the bones of those who had suffered for their freedom.

Isn’t it time we stop making everything about us?

Isn’t it time we stop telling Black America what patriotism looks like?

 

 

The White Moderate

Like a laboring woman who rests momentarily between contractions, the heavy sky pauses briefly outside my window. It rests from pushing out a howling wind and gasping raindrops, taking in deep breaths of cold, cold air to turn these drops into fluffy flakes. Soon, they predict, ice and snow will fall on this city and white will cover up the gray and the mud.

Isn’t that what we want – a fresh clean layer of something sparkly to cover up the muck of a thawed out January? Anything to help us forget the long hours of darkness and the ick underneath. The kids are happy to have yet another snow day, fingers curled around the remote, reports and books forgotten while parents everywhere hurry through the grocery aisles, stocking up for who knows how long, hoping to get home safely before it hits. Yet, for now, it’s still muck and mud.

Funny how much faith we put in the weather report, how quickly entire schedules are swept aside so we can be safe, yet pay precious little attention to certain other voices that have been telling us about their own un-safety for a long, long time now. If we aren’t stuck in the muck ourselves, why is it so hard to hear those who tell us they are?

This morning I came across some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quotes that the media won’t cite. They were fascinating. The quote that struck me the most concerned King’s disappointment with the White Moderate. He says,

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

He wrote these words in a Letter from a Birmingham Jail to the clergymen of Birmingham. It is a long, letter but well worth the read and I find myself a little more in awe of this man who was willing to sit in a jail cell to prove a point.

While some things have changed in this country since then, there’s still a deep layer of muck and mud that some of us choose not to see because we still love order (for ourselves) more than justice (for all people) and the absence of tension (in our own lives) to the presence of justice (for all people). I’ve spend my share of time in White Moderate communities where we are taught to love all people but not make waves. How can this even be a thing? Moderation is held high and radicalism frowned upon. And “tension”, forget about it. In these places I’ve called home, it has always been better to sweep things under the rug than to disagree or expose a conflict. I’m speaking about entire communities committed to keeping a calm, perfect face, of striving to maintain “peace” (AKA lack of tension), looking good at all costs.

Edmond Burke said “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.”

My point is that there are a whole lot of us that feel okay about ourselves because we aren’t out there committing acts of violence. We are nice to those we meet. We do not cheat our customers or hurl racial slurs. We don’t go anywhere that would be too uncomfortable but we still do our share of kind things for others. We hear whispers of injustice but we aren’t creating the injustice so we feel okay remaining where we are at. But, being good and moderate and remaining quiet is the very thing that lets injustice continue. If we are okay allowing injustice to continue, how are we different from those who perpetrate acts of injustice?

Outside the wind is again picking up speed, throwing bits of snow and ice at anyone who dares venture out. In my warm, safe home, I ponder and pray.

May I have courage to always speak up when I see injustice.

May I have the humility to listen to the voices telling me stories so different from my own reality. May I sit in the discomfort and truly learn to listen and to weep with those who weep rather than shushing them.

May I become a radical who dares make waves because I love so deeply, across racial, gender and socioeconomic lines. May I be stubborn enough to reject labels and boxes, to see each person as reflective of the Divine.

May I be wise enough to inspire my sons and all of this next generation to be radicals who will never look at injustice and say, “It’s not my problem”. Who will uncurl their fingers readily from the remote and wrap their arms around the broken instead.

May I be bold enough to yank the rug out from under feet, to expose the lies that lay beneath. The world does not need my silence any more. My “doing nothing” only creates more souls who feel like nothing.

May I love deeply enough to stop spending my time and my money, but to change the currency and spend myself.

And may I never, ever, ever, stand in the way of justice or be a stumbling block in someone’s journey to freedom. Let me, instead, be the one clearing the road so they can run to freedom.

Leaving “Whitopia” Behind

 

During a recent trade show, one of our buyers stopped by our booth to put an order together and told me how much she appreciated the cover model we had chosen for our catalog this year. The customers that walk through her door love the Pebble Pixie Rattles, whose variety of skin tones mirror their own. She told me that America isn’t a white country anymore, and she’s right. In fact, 2042 is said to be the year when whites will be a minority in this country. The landscape of us is changing.

Does that scare you or excite you?

As a descendant of immigrants who came here to escape terrible discrimination and death because of their faith, (read more from that post here) I dream of this land being a place where people of all backgrounds can find sanctuary and freedom.

My ancestors were of Western European descent (“white”). They boarded a ship and found sanctuary in this country during the time when Africans were forced to board the slave ships and live out a hellish existence in this country.

I struggle to wrap my mind around it. The disparity of the two experiences epitomizes white privilege.

I thought, in my naive, sheltered, rural “white girl” reality, that when slavery was abolished in 1865, it and all of the injustices associated with it truly ended. I understand now, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

One of my earliest waking moments was when I participated in a Privilege Walk done by Mennonite Central Committee. As a stay-at-home mom with no college degree, I was not surprised to be near the back of the room when the exercise ended. What shocked me was that behind me was a black mom, who worked full time and had a college degree. I was crying by the end of it, shaken out of my comfortable white bubble, while she matter-of-factly said, “This is how it has always been.”

Nearly a decade later, I’m still listening, learning and re-educating myself on the painful realities that make up the history of this land and contribute more than we can imagine to current realities.

Books like The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson are teaching me about the migration of nearly 6 million people from 1915 to 1970, fleeing slave-like conditions and unspeakable brutality in the south, who made their way north and west to begin new lives. Yet, even in these new places, they struggled dearly, often forced to do the most menial work for a fraction of what their white counterparts made, forced to live in segregated and over-crowded sections of the cities where they had to pay double for half the space. As a result, both parents had to work, leaving the children to fend for themselves.

Today people of color are often blamed for the drug and crime problems of these cities. But what if their ancestors had been treated with equality from the start? What if they had had fair and equal pay? What if they could have lived anywhere and done anything within their skill power? What if they could have afforded one parent to stay home and care for the kids? What if equal access to education had been made available?
I listened to a Ted Talk today on Whitopia, by Rich Benjamin on his journey as a black man through the whitest towns in America. A couple of quotes stood out to me.

It’s possible for people to be in Whitopia, not for racist reasons, though it has racist outcomes.

America is as residentially and educationally segregated today as it was in 1970.

This hits me hard.

I look at the beautiful face of Kahiniwalla’s 2017 Catalog cover model, and I get all soft inside. I see what will become a strong woman of color who is not left in the back of the room, but is leading the way to a new era. We can choose to embrace 2042 today.

If we treat minorities the way we wish to be treated, we will have nothing to fear when we become the minority.

Burden or Blessing?

Fresh MangoesThere’s a small produce place I like to shop at in a nearby town. Like many others, I am drawn there because of the delightful variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and affordable prices. Located in a relatively small, mostly white town, the aisles are typically packed with a diverse crowd of shoppers. As I was checking out one day, the cashier, an older “white” woman, began to talk to me about the foreigners who shop there with their (EBT) “food stamp” cards. She told me that I would have a heart attack if I saw their balances and ended by telling me that she is so tired of supporting all “those people”. At this point I was becoming increasingly mortified, not at the balances she was freely sharing with me, but at her attitude towards those poor and foreign.

When our family went through some really tough times financially, (yes, we know what life looks like below the poverty line) I started to notice how often the word “poor” is used in Scripture. There are 446 references to the poor or poverty. I have yet to find one of those references that are about the poor needing to work harder or stop taking advantage of the rich. What I see over and over and over is this:

Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other. Zechariah 7:9&10

Mercy.

Compassion.

Don’t even think evil of the poor.

What does that look like? In a world where often the minimum wage is not enough to feed, clothe and house families, this has to mean something.

Personally, I consider it a blessing to contribute to a system that helps the poor, even if the system isn’t perfect. In an article called The Hidden Benefits of Food Stamps, we see that every $5 of food stamps spent generates up to $9 in economic activity. Every $1 billion of food stamps creates 3,300 farm jobs. Food stamps improve kids’ health and allow struggling families to have more to spend on rent and other necessities. Nearly half of all adults in the US and half of all children will be on food stamps at some point in their lives.

If you’re in the half that will never need to be on food stamps, hold your tongue and your thoughts the next time you’re in line behind someone paying with food stamps. More likely than not, they’re ashamed to use it but know their kids would either be hungry or on the streets if they wouldn’t. While every system is broken and has some who will take advantage of it, there are many more who use those benefits to make the world a better place. Walk in their shoes for a moment because someday those shoes could be yours.

Lenten Rememberings – Burundi

Burundi MealBurundi, a small African country hemmed in by Rwanda, Tanzania and the DR Congo, is no stranger to hard times. A civil war that lasted from 1993-2005 left 300,000 dead and many fled the country as refugees during those years. Some of those same refugees, having returned home after the war, are once again on the run as refugees. Since the election of President Nkurunziza, the police, intelligence officials and the ruling party’s militia, known as the Imbonerakure, have been on a killing rampage. Nearly 400,000 have fled the country, fearing for their lives, with an average of 724 refugees arriving daily in Tanzania. Camps are full in Tanzania, with only one, Nduta, still accepting new arrivals. Nduta recently passed its capacity of 100,000 and the struggle to shelter the refugees is huge.

In the DR Congo, refugees from Burundi are finding healing by performing dramas based on real-life experiences. You can read more here and watch a short video clip.

The refugee camp in Rwanda has passed capacity, with many people living in overcrowded communal hangars covered with plastic sheeting.

In Uganda, Burundian refugees are given small plots of land to build homes and plant crops.

Burundi cuisine is simple but delightful. Red Kidney Beans with Plantains, Fish with Tomato Sauce, and Pili-Pili hot sauce served over white rice made a delightful meal.

No Matter Where You Are From…

Yard Sign Welcoming NeighborsThis sign graces our front yard. It does a good job of putting our hearts into words. We want our home to be welcoming, especially to those who may not feel so welcome right now.  My friend from Jordan was so excited when she saw it that she had to stop and take a picture. She told her son she couldn’t believe anyone would do that!

Last weekend I took our boys to their first public rally. It was a welcoming rally, and we put our voices together with many other voices from our city to let it be known that we want to be a welcoming city. My oldest carried the sign from our yard and immediately we had a slew of folks asking us where we got it.

A young Afghani woman shared her story about how her father was killed by the Taliban. When grief caused her to pause her story, the crowd filled in the pause with “We are with you!” The irony of it all gripped me. Here was a Muslim woman who herself had lost someone she loved to terrorists, and has come to us for sanctuary. Her father had been part of the resistance against the Taliban, so after he died it was no longer safe for her and her family to remain in Afghanistan. They spent two years in Pakistan before coming to the US, during which time they could not go to school but had to work to support themselves.

We forget that many refugees themselves are victims of terrorism. We also forget that throughout history, and still today, people with our same skin tones and religious affiliations have inflicted unspeakable terror on others.

Enough lines drawn. Enough boxes. We are people.

If you would like a sign to let those around you know that you welcome them, you can buy a one here if you are in NE Ohio. It is also available on here on Amazon.

But then be ready to open your doors. A sign is no good if you aren’t ready to live it.

Grieving…

GrievingThere is a grief going on. A deep, visceral grief that hangs heavy on my shoulders as I stumble through my days. It hauntingly echos in my soul while I rest in the night. Like a child shrouded in her father’s winter coat, I cannot shake it off if I try. This heaviness surrounds and runs deep within my being. A groaning has found me and I try to give it words so those around me can hear it too but when I groan I meet with arguments as if this were something that we could even begin to solve on paper or in dialog on the internet.

I groan because all around me, world wide, I see fear. Some, running with nothing but the clothes on their backs as their city burns behind them, fear pounding in their legs and screaming in their lungs. Others afraid to run through the pouring rain because an officer who sees his dark skin may in fear draw his weapon and assume he is running from the scene of a crime instead of home from the train station. Women and girls with shaking knees, taking abuse one more night, guttural screams held silent by a stronger fear of exposing the truth. Or fear that causes a father to buy a weapon to keep his family safe but that safety is fleeting, a cruel trick accidentally taking the life of his child who knew no fear but now knows no life. Fear like a monster patrolling our borders and slamming our doors in the faces of those who only come because the fear of staying behind is greater than the fear of a strange country with unwelcoming faces.

Eight generations back, my people came to this land because they wanted to live their faith in a land that was free and safe and kind. My people, who were once considered the left or third wing of the Protestant Reformation, who advocated freedom of conscience and insisted that no government had the right to decide the religion of its people, were weary of being hunted down like animals. Thousands chose death rather than change their faith or violently resist. Heavily taxed because of their faith and discriminated against, they found that owning land was next to impossible. The seller could legally change his mind at any time and take the land back if the buyer were a Mennonite in an early form of institutionalized prejudice. The early 1700s found a thousand of these emigrants a week fleeing Germany for London, where they hoped to find passage to America. Many were so destitute that they arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs, much less money for sea passage. By the fall of 1709, there were 13,000 refugees in London. The British government was overwhelmed and disgusted and began to turn them back. The  persecution of my people is described as bloody and severe.

300 years later I find similar scenes being reenacted. Unfortunately many of my people have forgotten. Once it was our ancestors, helplessly standing as refugees in the streets of London, surrounded by a staring, jeering crowd. All my people wanted was to start over in a new land. When they finally did get that chance, they dug in and worked hard. They were honest. Quiet. Sincere. They changed the face of this land for the better. They taught their children to work, to pray, to be kind and, most of all, to love their enemies and live a life of peace.

How did we get to this crippling state of fear, where descendants of these brave immigrants are voicing their approval of turning back other immigrants, running for their lives? An entire group of people, judged because of the faith or the nation they belong to. Fear takes the actions of a few and shouts vehemently that they are indeed the actions of the many, without giving the many a chance.

My people came here from Switzerland and Germany because they believed that no government should decide the religion of its people. Faith, they believed, is a personal choice.  If the choices of a few within a group make everyone from that group a terrorist, we would all be terrorists. History is ripe with examples of “Christians” who have committed acts of terror and yet we refuse to be labeled as terrorists – so why do we in turn do it with those of other faiths or races?

I would rather risk opening my door to a “possible” terrorist and die in an effort to live a life of love than live in fear behind a closed door while thousands suffer alone.

I understand if you are not at that place. I wasn’t always at this place myself. The thing that changed me was getting to know Muslims that so many are still afraid of. I’ve written much about these experiences and you can read my reflections on 9/11, experienced while living in a Muslim country here.

Today I grieve but I also remember. I honor those who eight generations back, crossed the ocean so I could have a voice in a land of freedom. I honor those who welcomed me when I was a stranger, who called me family even though I represented what they feared most. I honor those who risked becoming my friend even though their extremists say I am the enemy. I honor those who, like me, feel a stirring in their souls, a remembrance that they too were once a radical wing of a reformation. I grieve, but this grief is not the the last word.

 

 

Somebody’s Daughter (A book review)

Somebody Daughter Image

Somebody’s Daughter: The Hidden Story of America’s Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them

It took me months to get through this book. I was busy, yes, but the real reason was the way it tore at my heart. Here in our own country 100,000 children are trafficked for sex every year.  Sometimes that means a child is kidnapped and sold but most kids involved in prostitution began either as runaways or throwaways, trying to escape sexual abuse and violence at home.  Rape Is, a website that seeks to educate about rape culture, compares the experience of prostitution to that of rape. Nobody chooses to be raped. While prostitution may look like a choice in this country, the only ones with real choice in this multi-million dollar industry are the pimps and the johns.

Prostitution is another face of modern day slavery.  90% of prostitutes have pimps. Whether they are kept in a hotel room or walking the tracks, he owns them. The author describes it this way:

Once a desperate teenager finds herself under the spell of a pimp, once she is drawn in by the lure of fancy clothes, money, and undying love, she clings to the promise of emotional and economic security, things every child needs – and every neglected child craves. Abusive relationships at any age involve control, dependence, and elements of brainwashing.

If we could see prostitution as a symptom instead of a crime, we would be able to take some baby steps towards true dignity for women and children.

Halle Berry wrote a moving letter to the girls of our country and opened with these words:

Being a girl isn’t easy. Today in New York City, a girl will flee an abusive home, only to be approached by a pimp-trafficker who will promise her love and protection. He will not deliver on these promises. Instead, he will assault and degrade her, and later sell her repeatedly to johns. I have never met this girl, but she is my daughter.

America, it is time to value our daughters…every one of them!