Reporting from DC

These last two days I’ve been in Washington, DC with other members of the National Sanctuary Collective.  This is a group of 8-10 people in sanctuary and their supporters that Edith has been communicating with regularly.  The Collective shares a common strategy of being very public with their stories as a way of gathering broad support and catching the attention of elected officials.  This time in DC builds on previous advocacy efforts with members of both parties to use their influence in whatever way possible to improve the chances of each person in sanctuary returning home to their families. 

There are about 20 of us here this week from St. Louis, Austin, Philadelphia, and Columbus.  We are clergy, organizers, attorneys, supporters, and family members of those in sanctuary.  I pulled Lily out of school for a different kind of educational experience.  Although I wasn’t expecting to run into any other Mennonites besides our fantastic hosts (former CMC members Mary Hershberger and Dave Kraybill – who send their greetings), we have been joined at various times by three: Pastor Cindy Lapp of Hyattsville Menno in DC, Pastor John Bergen of Germantown Menno in Philly where Carmela Hernandez is in sanctuary, and Tammy Alexander from the Mennonite Central Committee DC office.

Tuesday morning, before our office visits, we joined a large demonstration outside the Supreme Court in support of DACA.  

Our meetings with high profile folks have been with staffers of Senators Warren and Booker.  They have been tuned in to the cases, including doing some official inquiries into the excessive fines from ICE.  They were also clear that conversation had to focus on their bosses’ actions as Senators, not candidates for President.

Perhaps the strongest ally in Congress has been Joaquin Castro, Representative from Texas and brother of presidential candidate Julian Castro.  His staffer plans to gather several caucuses and brief them on these sanctuary cases.

A few of us had an hour long meeting with Senator Brown’s office today.  His lack of public support for Edith has been frustrating and the organizer working on Edith’s case, Mo, led the conversation in how they might be more helpful. 

We’ve also met with several Republican offices, focusing the conversations on family values of keeping families together, and religious freedom without retaliation from the federal government for churches exercising our moral convictions in offering sanctuary. 

One of the participants is a regional justice advocate in the Progressive National Baptist Convention – founded by black leaders in the early 60’s during the civil rights struggle.  Several of us went with him this morning to their national headquarters to meet with their General Secretary about getting sanctuary on their list of priorities.        

This evening a number of us had supper at the Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, Maryland where Rosa Guitierrez Lopez has been in sanctuary for nearly a year.  This was a chance to express support for Rosa and the congregation as she considers considers joining this Collective.  Rosa is on Lily’s left in the front row, and her son is on the chair at the far right.​

Tomorrow (Thursday) morning Senator Brown has an open meet-and-greet coffee hour with constituents, so we’ll start the day by inviting him to come visit Edith at CMC.  We’ll then spend some time at the Museum of African American History and Culture before heading home.  I’m sending this late enough that tomorrow is now today. 

Joel

Thank you taxpayers

This is not satire or cynicism: Thank you taxpayers. 

For the last few months I’ve been watching with glee as construction crews do their thing at a heavily traveled interchange, now nearly complete.  The improvement involves a new walk/run/bike access point to the Olentangy Trail, beginning on the north side of the Olentangy River Rd/Bethel Rd intersection, running east over a newly dedicated bike lane on the Bethel Rd bridge over Route 315, curving down and around through a newly installed culvert under the northbound on ramp to Route 315 leading directly onto the trail.  If that’s hard to picture, you’ll have to come take a look yourself. 

As someone who just moved a half mile from that intersection, who likes to run and commute by bike to church as much as I’m able, it feels like a personal gift.  For me?  Thank you!  It cuts a 5.5 mile commute up through the Antrim Lake bike path access point down to 4.0 miles, also reducing the distance on a busy road.  Hopefully it opens up options for multiple forms of transportation for everyone in an area originally built for cars alone. 

According to the Dispatch, this project, which includes a widening of the Olentangy Trail from that connector point up to Antrim Lake, costs $3.1 million, with the majority coming from federal funding and $500,000 from the city of Columbus.  I’m not sure what the tax paying population is in Columbus, but it amounts to more the $1 but less than $2 per person.  Once again, thank you.

As happy as I am about this, I’m also aware that this is a more affluent part of town, and that public investments skew toward areas already doing well.  The Dispatch also just ran a series on Sullivant Avenue through the West side, noting “Nowhere in Columbus is there an area more plagued with prostitution and drug abuse.”  Whether reacting to the series, or whether the series was timed with announcements already in the works, city leaders have named this corridor a top priority for public investment. 

Most conversations about taxes put them in a negative light.  But taxes can also serve the common good.  How amazing is it that every adult in the city can pitch in a buck and change and we can pay workers to create a beautiful new extension of a bike path?  Or that, together, we can increase safety and critical services in a hurting part of the city?  As someone with three children in public schools I’m grateful to those whose kids have graduated, or who don’t have children, who still contribute toward the education of children.

To slightly shift the focus but keep it in the same local ballpark, this coming Tuesday, November 5, is election day.  In Franklin County we’ll vote on a levy renewal to fund Children’s Services, and in Columbus we’ll vote on four City Council members out of eight candidates – the people who make decisions about where local taxes get spent.  As frustrating as the national political scene is these days, local governments still have power to make decisions that directly positively impact people’s lives. 

Happy trails,

Joel

On Sexuality: For further reading and listening

This Sunday concludes our four week Healthy Sexuality worship series.  We’ll focus on the ways sexuality and spirituality are related as energies of connection.  In case you missed any of the first three sermons and follow up reflections, here they are:

Our bodies, God’s image

(Pro)Creative intimacy

Healthy sex: Drawing the line(s)

If you’d like to do more reading, or listening, on your own, here are four options Mark and I recommend:

Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Margaret A. Farley

Written by a Catholic feminist, this book provides a broad overview of historical, multi-cultural, and Christian approaches to sexual ethics and develops its own framework around sexuality and justice.  The book is academic but accessibly written. In a later section she builds out seven “Norms for Just Sex.”  1) Do no unjust harm 2) Free Consent 3) Mutuality 4) Equality 5) Commitment 6) Fruitfulness 7) Social Justice.  — Joel

Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by Nadia Bolz-Weber

This book weaves together deeply personal stories, humor, poetry, and scripture in an attempt to open up conversations about sexuality in the Church beyond messages rooted in shame.  This book would be good for anyone looking for a more story-based approach that is theologically engaging while not being academically dense. — Mark

Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay Klein 

This book is part memoir and part journalistic commentary that explores the effects of the “purity industry” of the 1990s.  This book would be a good resource for anyone wanting to understand the harm that can be caused by purity-based sexual ethics.  – Mark

Where Should We Begin? Podcast.  Ester Perel

Perel is a therapist and this podcast is recordings of live marriage therapy sessions, (with the couple’s consent).  One of Perel’s emphases is that sexual intimacy can revive emotional intimacy rather than the other way around.  From the website: “In Season 3 of Where Should We Begin, I explore the evolution of marriage through the stories of six couples at different points in their relationships.”  (Episodes released weekly beginning October 10, 2019) – Joel

The lion, the lamb, and the candidate

Yesterday morning Presidential candidate Julian Castro visited Edith at our church.  He met with her privately for about 20 minutes, listening to her story, followed by a press conference at which Edith and he spoke.  He expressed his support for Edith and his commitment to families in similar circumstances.  Local and national press showed up.  So did lots of you.  A strong showing of people old and young (who got to miss some school) declared by their presence that we stand with Edith. 

The Dispatch covered the event, as did ABC6, Religion News Service, and several other outlets.

A candidate for the most powerful office in the world visiting our sanctuary is cause for pause.  After the main press conference, as people trickled back to where they needed to be that day, Secretary Castro continued speaking with the press.  I snapped this photo which I feel captures some of the meaning of the moment.

What I like about this photo is the presence of our banner overlooking the press and the candidate for President of the United States.  The text on the banner reads, “Their young ones shall lie down together  Isaiah 11:7”  It comes from the passage that speaks of the wolf and the lamb, the calf and the lion living in harmony.  This passage is often called “The Peaceable Kingdom.”  The animals on the banner portray this not-yet-realized scene of historic enemies living in peace.  

And in the foreground is the local and national press surrounding Secretary Castro, all attention focused on his comments.  His words carry weight and substance.  What he says streams through cables and wifi networks onto screens and into eyes and ears.  A single phrase could be clipped, shared, and memed.  It elicits comments from pundits and social media.

One of the treasures of Anabaptism, I believe, is our historic wrestling with the relationship between the church and the state.  We petition those in power to protect the most vulnerable among us, but we seek to enact this first ourselves as much as we are able.  We have hopes for good leaders, but don’t place our ultimate trust in the power of the nation state.  The picture of the Peaceable Kingdom speaks of our higher allegiance, even as we welcome and urge the politics of our nation to move in this direction.  We remember Jesus whose favorite title for himself was The Human One, who teaches us how to be human even if it conflicts with established structures.  We live within the prayer Jesus taught his friends which yearns for the kin-dom to come on earth – even as it already is in the realm we have called heaven.

Perhaps this picture evokes additional thoughts for you.

Yesterday was a good day.  And I like this picture.  And Edith really, really, just wants to go home. 

Joel

Two years later – We are still here

For the past two years, this church building has been home for Edith.  A community of support well beyond our congregation has formed around Edith and her family.  What initially began as the right thing to do has grown into friendship and shared life – including celebrating birthdays and graduations.  And events like this where we mark the passage of time.  Friendship has blossomed into solidarity – sharing together in the work to enable Edith to return home to the family apartment.    

The fact that Edith Espinal has been living inside a church building, in sanctuary, for two years, is an unmistakable sign both of her persistence to stay united with her family, and the utter failure of our immigration system to treat individuals and families with human decency. 

So, it is with the deepest respect, and with great sadness that I say that after two years, we are still here. 

We are still here – meaning we, Edith’s friends and supporters, are still here by her side.

We are still here – meaning we will not be turned back by the callousness of poor policy or fear-based rhetoric.

We are still here – meaning Edith has not been deported and, if nothing else, sanctuary has given Edith two more years to be in the same community as her family.    

But this is also a lament:

We are still here – Edith is still here, inside these walls.

We are still here – Despite persistent advocacy to our elected officials and the local ICE office, we have seen little movement toward resolution for Edith.

We are still here – After two years, Edith is still here, and that should trouble all of us.  

And so we will continue to say what we have been saying this whole time: We believe that families are sacred, God’s love knows no borders, and we are to treat our neighbors as we want to be treated.  That’s why we are here.  That’s why we will continue to be here.  We invite everyone who feels the same way to join this work, support Edith, and be a part of a more compassionate humanity.

Joel

Talking about sex…at church

This Sunday at retreat will be the final week of our worship series on our (Membership) Commitment statement.  Which means it’s time to start a new worship series.

That theme, for the month of October, will be Healthy Sexuality.  I guess that means we could either have full or very empty pews for those four weeks.      

There are any number of ways of doing this poorly.  The Church, for its part, has done a lousy job historically of guiding us into healthy sexuality.  The Church has largely seen sex as a necessary evil for pro-creation, perpetuated heterosexual male power dominance, and had little to say about the goodness of our embodied selves. 

Our starting point will be linked with the Christian ideas of incarnation and creation in the image of God.  We are relational beings, which is to say that we are sexual beings, which is to say that connection and intimacy are at the heart of our humanity.  Physical intimacy is one important way we express this, but sexuality extends well beyond what we do with our genitals.  Healthy sexuality draws us into a generative relationship with ourselves and our partners, our friendships and the material world. 

Human sexuality has tremendous power for meaning and healing – and is a major source of pain and trauma.

This is all deeply personal, and we each bring our own varied experiences.

As pastors and worship leaders, we are committed to creating a grace-filled space that recognizes all this.  Our hope is that a focus on healthy sexuality in worship enables us to hold all this in the Light – whether that be through internal processing, or whether that might lead to more open conversation in our circles of trust.

I am hopeful we can do this well and, in doing so, that it can bear good fruit beyond October, 2019.

Joel   

Casting no stones

The headline of this morning’s Dispatch addresses executions in Ohio and the drugs needed to carry them out.  Despite drug makers warning Ohio officials not to use their products for executions, the article details multiple occasions in which state officials acquired these drugs, sending them to the state death chamber in southern Ohio to serve as the three drug cocktail for lethal injections.

However, there is good news on this front.  Folks who work closely for the abolition of Ohio’s death penalty note they have good reason to believe that Governor DeWine has no wish for executions to be carried out on his watch.  The speaker of the Ohio House also recently made a public statement that he has become “less and less” supportive of the death penalty.

While citing expense and legal obstacles serves as a good public argument from some officials to back off death penalty support, the underlying issue is a moral one.  When we kill, we are diminished, and we become a little more like the evil we set out to destroy.  Rather than bring healing and closure to victim families, the drawn out state execution legal process re-victimizes families who publicly relive the horrific incident over and over again.  From a Christian perspective, the person at the center of our faith is a man executed by the state, whose death unveiled the emptiness of this violent form of human justice, and whose life pointed toward Divine justice as a restorative communal project.  A gospel story frequently cited for Jesus’ response to the death penalty is John 8:1-11.  The religious leaders bring before Jesus a woman caught in adultery, a crime punishable by death.  Jesus responds: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”       

If this is something you feel especially passionate about, or if you’d like to become more connected, here are three possibilities:

  1. Join the Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE) email list.  You’ll get occasional educational pieces, legislative updates, and specific calls to action.
  2. On Saturday, October 12, from 9am-4pm First Community Church is hosting “Cast No Stones: Standing with Victims to End Executions in Ohio.”  Speakers includes Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ (Dead Man Walking), and evangelical Shane Claiborne.  Registration required, HERE.    
  3. Have a coffee conversation with Hannah Kubbins, Project Director of OTSE.  Hannah has been attending CMC and would love to meet with a group of us who want to be better educated about this work.  I’m hoping to convene this conversation in the next couple months.  If interested, let me know.

Peace,

Joel