I stand with you

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At the tail end of the People’s Climate March in NYC somewhere around 37th St. and 11th Ave. there was an auto repair lot made sacred by art and ritual, where weary marchers could enter to feel the strength of the nearly 400,000 people who walked together that day.

The entrance was made between two sky-reaching cardboard cut-outs of a woman gazing upward with rivers flowing down from her core. Inside the space, each person was invited to write on a ribbon an answer to the question, “What is worth protecting?” or stated another way, “What do you fear losing [if environmental degradation continues]?

There were thousands of ribbons tied to lines strung between the “trees of life” by the time we arrived.  I wrote on my ribbon, “life, breath, the community that grows from a place to garden together”.  Will wrote, “the soil.”  We tied the ribbons on the line and we were invited to take a ribbon off and tie it to our own wrists.  The ribbon of a stranger with the words of what they cherish most on this earth would remind us that we are not in this struggle alone.  Some read the words on the ribbon they would tie on their wrist out loud: “The rhythm of four seasons. Jacob Rodriguez of Massachusetts…I stand with you.” After each ribbon was read, the refrain resounded, “I stand with you.”

“Standing with” is the phrase and the feeling that has stayed with me since the People’s Climate March a few weeks ago.

I thought about that phrase – “standing with” – this past weekend as members of Community Voices Heard (CVH), an organization of low-income people working to improve NY communities, gathered at White Plains Presbyterian Church.  CVH invited county legislators to come and stand with community members as they testified to proposed legislative action that would address poverty in Westchester.  (More on that event soon).

I’m thinking about that phrase – “standing with” – as I look forward to a call later this week during which  participants in the Presbyterian Defense Initiative will discuss the new sanctuary movement and hear about the witness of congregations who have opened their doors to provide sanctuary for undocumented individuals and families living in the U.S.

CVHPCC

Community Voices Heard at the People’s Climate March

“Standing with,” implies not just agreement but also proximity.  Its our proximity to one another – actually being physically present to each other – that inspires the greatest change.  

At the Climate March, labor unions and workers, immigrant-led groups, concerned families organized by region, anti-fracking activists, politicians (we need more on board!), artists, octogenarians, toddlers,  indigenous leaders, people of every race and creed stood with each other and walked together.   From within the march, the closeness of a multitude of voices gave strength and a new breadth to the local action we all carry on at home.  For anyone witnessing the march, hundreds of thousands of people standing with one another looks like (and is!) a force to be reckoned with, a network of alliances that can change everything.

Putting down roots

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20 moves = so many boxes

Since 1999 I have packed up my boxes and moved approximately 20 times.  Some were fairly routine moves: from home to college x 4 years.  Other moves felt more substantial: driving across the country to Texas after college to discover a new state and city on my own, out of the nest.  

This October marks the first time I have lived in one place for more than 3 years since high school.

It was a hard transition, this last move to the Northeast.  Will and I arrived here from South Texas, where I moved after seminary to live closer to Will, where we worshiped with a bilingual Mennonite congregation that taught me so much about love, where we got married on a balmy January day, where I assisted as doula at the birth of a beautiful girl who turns 4 this week, where we gardened with friends who ate and played and laughed together.  It may have been only 2.5 years but those roots went deep.

I arrived to White Plains excited to begin work as the Cross-Cultural Network Coordinator for Hudson River Presbytery and wishing we could recreate our South Texas community overnight.  But, of course, we couldn’t.  The soil is different it here, it grows new and different relationships and at its own pace.  This year, as I walk around town and talk to people from White Plains Presbyterian and the surrounding community or visit with friends from throughout the Presbytery, I am excited to notice the roots are going deeper.  I’ve known people over seasons in their life (and mine) at this point.  I’ve seen small ideas grow and take shape. I know the late-blooming sycamore tree in our front yard and when it put on leaves late in May long after the other trees, I thought, “Right on time.”

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Old and beautiful roots.

If you’ve been following this semi-(in)active blog for some time, you’ll notice it looks different and has a new title, “Cross-Cultural Catalyst”, which is the new title for my position moving forward in Hudson River Presbytery.  The Catalyst position is about growing deep roots.  

As Catalyst, I’ll spend half of my week in grounded ministry at White Plains Presbyterian Church, a diverse growing congregation, as we strengthen relationships with each other and the broader community through English as Second Language classes, the Groundswell Community Garden space, the Lineage Farm Community Supported Agriculture program, and the deepening friendships between the three congregations sharing space in the Presbyterian church building.

The other half of my week will be spent gleaning  and sharing the stories/models/mishaps/revelations from my time in White Plains to inspire community-growing work throughout the Presbytery.  Alongside the Cross-Cultural Network, I’ll encourage and learn from models and practices for cross-cultural community building that exist or emerge in this region.  Together with the Presbytery leadership, I’ll continue the work of growing to be a Presbytery that lives into its commitment to unity and diversity.

I’m putting down roots and noticing just how good it feels not to be packing boxes…for the third year in a row!!!

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More accurate representation of the roots I’m talking about…newer, more tenuous but still growing some good food.

Recognized by our actions

This Sunday many congregations will be meditating on the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  Jesus journeys with two disciples on the road.  The disciples tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection but do not recognize Jesus as the man walking beside them until, reaching their destination, they sit down to eat together. Jesus breaks bread with them and gives it to them to eat. In this action they recognize him.

I’ve been thinking of this scripture text of love, enacted and recognized, as the media explodes with stories and commentary on Donald Sterling’s racist comments, which have brought increased attention to Sterling’s history of racist actions (see Justice Department Obtains Record $2.725 Million Settlement of Housing Discrimination Lawsuit).  Mychal Denzel Smith, writing for the Huffington Post raises the question (raised by Jay Smooth in his latest Vlog):

“‘Why do racist words bring more accountability than racist practices?’ I believe the answer to that question is that Donald Sterling broke the rules of politeness when it comes to American racism. The lesson that this country has gleaned from centuries of freedom fighting and resistance and pushback to slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, economic exploitation, rape, theft and cultural/historical erasure is that you shouldn’t say mean things about black people. So long as you don’t say mean things, everything else is fine. Everything else, in fact, is necessary, in order that the United States remains a place where white supremacy thrives.” (Read full article here)

The old adage is true: Actions speak louder than words.  The national conversation about racism in the United States often catches the eye of the media when a celebrity or politician says something racist.  The national media is less likely to focus on individuals who consistently do things to contribute to systemic racism. That is more complicated and requires a much deeper examination and questioning of who holds power and privilege in this country. We are called to do more than watch our words.  We are called to act justly to dismantle systems of injustice.

The national coverage of racism in this country seems even less inclined to focus on individuals and organizations who work consistently to dismantle systems of racism.  Preaching on Luke’s story of the road to Emmaus?  Consider lifting up a story of someone whose actions tell the story of hope, whose actions chip away at the power of racism and privilege, whose actions are recognized as love.

Here’s some suggestions:

Rev. William Barber II

Jose Valdez

Sonia Sotomayor

Three Ways to Fight Racism in 2014 | The Nation

Three Ways to Fight Racism in 2014 | The Nation.

A post from the Nation to start off the new year.  Recommit in 2014 to working to dismantle racism in our churches, communities, home, and in ourselves. The Cross-Cultural Network of Hudson River Presbytery will offer numerous ways to engage throughout the year in the holy, challenging, life-altering work of uprooting racism. Join us.

O God of all the nations

allnationsThis is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is; Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine. But other hearts in other lands are beating, With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.”  – a portion of This Is My Song, a 1934 hymn written by Lloyd Stone (1912-1993) using the Finlandia Hymn melody composed by Jean Sibelius

We’ve sung “This Is My Song” a few times in recent months at White Plains Presbyterian Church.  It’s one of my favorites and is found in the Blue Presbyterian Hymnal as well as the new Glory to God Presbyterian Hymnal.  I thought of it again as I read the guest-post from Rev. Lindsay Borden that follows and describes the Day of Nations celebrated last month up in Hughsonville.  I was thinking it would be appropriate to write a new verse to recognize all people who deeply hold more than one nation in their hearts, whose hopes and dreams bridge oceans and many, many miles of land. The United States is in itself a country of so many nations, look and see:

“On Saturday, September 14, Iglesia Cristiana el Sembrador, in residence at the Hughsonville Presbyterian Church, celebrated its first Day of Nations since moving into their new church home. It was a day for the El Sembrador (which means “The Sower” in Spanish) community to celebrate the diversity of its own congregation – for its members were born in an array of countries, including Columbia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, USA, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Puerto Rico. All those nations were represented by decorated booths offering food from each country, with everyone dressed in colorful costumes of their nation – everything from ornately embroidered dresses to fútbol (soccer in the USA) jerseys.

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A highlight of the afternoon was the Parade of Nations, with costumed participants parading through the newly paved (thanks to el Sembrador!) parking lot with their country’s flags, as we all clapped and waved and heard each country’s national anthem. The final marchers, carrying the Christian flag, represented the City of God of which we are all citizens.

Prizes were given for the best food and costumes and decoration – and Committee on Representation rep Carla Lesh and I were honored to serve as judges (sampling food from over ten nations was a delicious but somewhat intimidating task!). There was singing and dancing, and a joyful atmosphere that had cars slowing on Route 9D. The children of the church were everywhere – and they more than anything else represent the new life God had brought to the Hughsonville Church and to its community. We are so very thankful to and for these new partners in ministry.

One of the most meaningful parts of the program was a poem written and read by Isabela Leon, a member of the Iglesia Cristiana youth group, which she graciously allowed me to share. It’s called “Nations.”

Nations. In many ways we are different.                                                                             Ask the world to tell us our differences,                                                                                     It will in a heartbeat;                                                                                                                 Location, language, geography, economy, and so on.                                                       But ask it about our similarities,                                                                                             And it stays silent                                                                                                                             Not a word to be said,                                                                                                                 Just a confused look as it ponders the question.                                                                   As in silence without a reply                                                                                                         We lean over borders and reach across oceans                                                                 To hold hands with each other                                                                                                   To become one with our greatest relation:                                                                       Our Lord; Jesus Christ,                                                                                                                   With whom we are all one in.

Isabela calls it a poem. I call it a prayer. May it be so!”

~ Rev. Lindsay Borden, on behalf of the Hughsonville Presbyterian Church

Speaking of race: join the groundswell!

Last Saturday a small, passionate group of Presbyterians from Hudson River Presbytery gathered at First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown Heights to talk about racism.  The flyers that went out ahead of time described the reason for the gathering this way: “At this moment in our nation, in-depth conversations about race and ethnicity can be found all over social media and the news as people respond to events highlighting that there is reconciliation work to be done.  We gather in the Presbytery to add our voice to this groundswell.”  And I’ll add that we gathered to imagine and brainstorm how “adding our voices to the groundswell” looks or might look in our individual congregations.

Our conversation was lively, tender (as in it hit on some raw/wounded spots in each of us), and hopeful.  We talked about how it is not enough to just celebrate our differences; we must also talk about the pain of divisions that have been built on the basis of our differences.  We talked about how nothing will shift if we don’t spend time together getting to know one another, listening to what life is like for another person who is different from you in myriad ways , and being willing to trust the truth of their experience as much as you trust your own.  

This gathering was part of ongoing conversations on how to build up the diverse community of God that are happening through the Cross-Cultural Network of HRP and in many of the churches of HRP.  Check out what Germonds Presbyterian Church will be offering soon for the growth and health of their congregation: Talking About Race in the Church

Below, you will find many of the resources (plus some) that were used in last Saturday’s dialogue.  It is by no means a comprehensive list of resources…but it’s a start.  Feel free to comment and add some others! Also, members of the Cross-Cultural Network are glad to help you get dialogue started in your church!

Resources/Materials:

Blogs!

www.christenacleveland.com 

http://www.christenacleveland.com/2013/08/people-of-color-blog-too/ (this post leads you to a great list of 25 Christians of color who blog)

www.livingformations.com

www.racefiles.com

www.reyes-chow.com

www.colorlines.com (sign up for their news digest – consistently excellent reporting with a focus on race)

Video!

From the World Trust TV youtube channel:

Cracking the Codes: Joy DeGruy, A Trip to the Grocery Store

Subconcious Racial Bias in Children

From The Daily Show:

The “r” word

Frisky Business

From illdoctrine.com:

How to Tell People They Sound Racist 

Books and Studies!

The Racism Study Pack from the Thoughtful Christian.  A downloadable and affordable study guide for adult education.

But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations About Race by Bruce Reyes-Chow.  Excellent book and great conversation-starter for groups discussing race.

Let’s Get Real: What People of Color Can’t Say & Whites Won’t Ask About Racism by Lee Mun Wah.  Honest reflections on racism gathered by Lee Mun Wah from a diversity of people.  Good for setting the tone for group dialogue on race.

Lingering Joy

I’m posting this sermon (see below)  that I preached at the May 21, 2013 Hudson River Presbytery meeting.  Almost  a week has passed since I preached the sermon and at least 4 days have passed since I promised a few people I would post it here.  I was reminded of my promise this morning after worship at White Plains Presbyterian Church by the words of a member of the church who is a faithful volunteer in our new English as a Second Language classes, a joint ministry with Hitchcock Presbyterian on Thursday nights that includes a shared meal, childcare, language instruction, and a brief bilingual worship service.  The White Plains member said that the Thursday night classes are the highlight of her week, that she can’t stop talking about them to friends and family, and that she leaves class glowing.  The majority of the students who come to class are members of a Spanish-language congregation that meets at White Plains Presbyterian Church on Friday nights and Sunday evenings.  The classes are a meeting place for members of the two churches to make connections and grow in relationship.  I, too, leave class on Thursday nights feeling full of deep joy. I had that joy in mind when I wrote this sermon…

A sermon preached at Hudson River Presbytery on May 21, 2013

Acts 1:12-2:21

“The disciples are told by the risen Lord to go to their room and wait for the Spirit.  But they are anxious and leaderless after the trauma of losing Jesus and Judas.   So they don’t wait.  They turn to choosing Judas’ replacement, hoping to make some order out of chaos.  They come up with two candidates, they cast lots (not the most Spirit-filled discernment process), one, Matthias, is chosen, the other, Justus, is excluded.

AND THEN the Spirit shows up.  No sooner had the disciples re-formed their comfortable tight-knit group of twelve, than the Spirit blows through the room, tongues of flame rest upon their heads, and they begin to speak in languages they did not know they could speak, to people they never thought would understand them or the message that Jesus gave to them to share.

A small act of human exclusion in the power structures of Jesus’ followers, is followed up by an epic act of divine inclusion for all God’s people.  It’s like the Spirit was waiting for them to get antsy, for them to stop waiting as they were instructed, to start going down the narrow route, so that the Spirit could show up and in stark contrast blow the doors wide open.

We are in a time of waiting in the Presbyterian Church. We’re waiting to see where the Spirit leads next..and, like the disciples we can busy ourselves in our anxiety with trying to recreate  what always has been or we can we can commit to some creative, ear to the door, waiting. Recently, at a gathering to discuss new visions for the Synod of the Northeast, a woman named Terri, urged, even begged, those of us gathered to take time to sit in the “waiting” room and listen to where the winds of the Spirit are blowing.

In these past months, as we compiled the list of churches in our Presbytery who share their space with other communities of faith (a list we will pray for and lift up during the business meeting), it was impossible not to think of Pentecost in the sheer number of languages represented in the faith communities who share space in the churches of this Presbytery – Tagalog, Hebrew, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Hindi, Korean – and that’s not even taking into account the diversity of languages present within our Presbyterian congregations.  As we gathered together resources to support churches who share space with other faith communities, stories emerged.  Yes, stories of the challenges of sharing space but even more prevalent were stories of deepening relationship between Presbyterian congregations and “that church who rents our space”.  Stories in which worship was shared, names were learned, and “that church” became our brothers and sisters.  These are stories from the waiting room: who is to say where exactly they will lead, but are we willing to wait and see? Are we willing to linger with each other across denominational, language, and cultural differences, to listen for and learn to speak the common message the Spirit may have for us?  If the Spirit grants us the fruit of kindness to extend to one another, perhaps the greatest kindness we can return to the Spirit is to pay attention to who the Spirit has placed in our midst.”

Rev. Betty Griffin of First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Vernon, NY and Pastor Marcio of New Life Brazilian Church continued the sermon by sharing about their experience sharing space and sharing mission.  They concluded their remarks with an embrace.