Uprisings

Almost Heaven

Interstate 77 winds around the mountains of Bland County like lifelines on the palm of my hand. I cross through the Big Walker Mountain tunnel and know I am home. I crack the window for a fresh breath of southwestern Virginia air and hear music beyond the wind and the butterflies.

I've come home to attend the funeral of my great-uncle Wendell Newberry. This stretch of Route 617 traces the roots of my family tree. We pass the family homestead of four generations--where my Uncle Randy and his family still live. Adjacent to the cemetery, my parents and I pass the farmhouse that belonged to my family when they were dairy farmers.

A serenade of dulcimer, banjo, and fiddle rises from Stone Age creek beds, now empty but filled with song. It's a lonesome twang that resonates in the county my grandparents claimed as their own. I remember the land, but growing up I felt I had no grandparents because I had no memories of them. My father's father died when my dad was 15. My other grandfather and both grandmothers died within six months of my birth. The grief I had experienced at the death of other grandparent figures--my great-grandmother Miss Lu, my great-aunts Elsie and Carrie, and now my great-uncle Wendell--pulled to the surface the intense grief I felt at never having known my grandparents, which became a divining rod for a deep well of love and gratitude buried inside me.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2000
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Sustaining a Life of Service

I am designed to show God’s love in action," wrote 24-year-old Krista Hunt Ausland in her application for voluntary service with Mennonite Central Committee. The following year Krista died in a bus accident in Bolivia. She was serving in a women’s cooperative with MCC.

Krista’s legacy didn’t stop with her last breath. In 1999, family and friends formed a socially committed organization in her memory. Krista’s parents, Jim and Linda Hunt, direct the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship. The foundation’s board members—drawn from around the world—have launched a mentoring community to encourage and sustain young adults involved in service in developing countries and America’s inner cities. One foundation project is to provide volunteers with talent and interest grants in Krista’s name.

Most voluntary service organizations provide the bare minimum of resources and encourage simple living. Many volunteers don’t have funds to enhance career and life skills during their stipend-based projects. Krista Colleague grants encourage the efforts of volunteers and foster a worldwide community of service-minded mentors.

For example, Krista had graduate school plans after her commitment to MCC. She wanted to enroll in a University of Washington correspondance course in economics while still in Bolivia. The foundation’s grants can cover the costs of such classes.

The Krista Foundation also recognizes a need for emotional release from intense Third World and inner city environments. Creative cultural activities bring vitality back to the volunteers and help them share new ideas and energy with the community.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2000
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Going to the Chapel

Josh and I made some important decisions on the day that we got engaged. First, we decided to retain our sanity amidst the barrage of impending wedding chaos. We decided that meaning is more important than madness. We decided that we definitely wanted to register for a snow-cone machine.

I don't remember ever being the gap-toothed girl in a miniature white wedding gown who stares back at me now from a magazine ad touting this day as the day I have dreamed about since I was 5 years old. My wedding day. I was too busy back then collecting moss to carpet my miniature shoe-box universes to be preoccupied with prince charming and his pals.

So two years ago, when prince charming pulled up in a red Chevy station wagon, I was a bit surprised. We both cautiously put down our armor, surveyed the relational wreckage in our wake, and decided to take on a few new battles together.

Now we are both 20-something interns in Washington, D.C., making roughly enough money to finance a healthy coffee habit, but not enough for a full-blown Bridal Mart or Honeymoon Emporium wedding extravaganza. Our decision to keep our wedding simple comes partly from necessity, partly from laziness, and partly from our values and idealism.

The complexity of the simple route seems daunting at times. Weddings can be energy vacuums that suck us into a vortex of absurd concerns. I catch myself focusing on the frivolous - wondering whether the punch color will clash with the centerpieces. (I don't think the centerpieces will mind.)

JOSH AND I are trying to find a way to live outside of societal expectations without trashing tradition. What rituals should we keep, what should we throw away, what should we transform? We want our decisions to honor our families, our friends, and ourselves instead of showcasing what is most impressive or expensive. We want to avoid trappings that sap our celebration of its joy and sacred strength.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2000
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Cutting Classes for Christ

Ariel, the son-in-law of the Guatemalan couple that hosted me when I traveled to Central America in 1997, spoke nostalgically of his days in the student movement—even though it had gotten him roughed up and shot at by security forces. He left such dangers behind when commitments to wife, children, and church became his highest priorities.

Though most U.S. activists risk far less than Ariel, often the same kinds of commitments push justice work to the back burner—or off the stove entirely. These commitments don't excuse "grown-ups" from doing activism, but awareness of them points out the importance of encouraging the radical impulses of those who often are without such pressing responsibilities—such as, for example, students.

Compared to Ariel's risks, getting arrested for protesting the U.S. Army's School of the Americas (SOA) in Georgia—the school that trains the soldiers who've caused so much suffering in Latin America—was the very least I could do. Last November, students from more than 232 colleges and universities made the same choice and did civil disobedience to protest the School of the Americas. Interrupting my "busy" academic schedule for such events was not only possible but, in the big picture, an even higher priority than classes.

SOA Watch and other emerging student movements are impressive for their "love thy neighbor" attitude. Many of the most popular causes—sweatshop labor, a living wage, and freeing Tibet—defend the rights of others. And though passions may wane after graduation, youthful idealism can grow into life-long commitment to justice.

Students, however, need more than a call to action. We need encouragement to integrate faith and politics without feeling that one must be sacrificed for the other.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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Living Large

I am continually amazed at how easily we think we can know another human being from a glance, a conversation, or even months of friendship. The willingness to see another human being and to be seen, to stay open to the unknown in the process, is a supreme act of faith. It is a triumphant declaration of what matters, and it transforms us, both individually and collectively.

This willingness to see and be seen is not easy work, but I believe that our survival depends on our ability to build a collective story across lines of difference. This requires a rare kind of openness, an ability to receive without judgment or preconception how other persons define themselves.

Last December I attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa, with hopes of gaining more insight into how a new story of love and justice could be created on a global scale. With 3,500 people gathering from all over the world, I was eager to engage in ways that would truly deepen my own understanding and dissolve some of the barriers to durable bonds forged of both reality and vision.

I have seen how this works on a smaller scale.

Through stone circles, the small nonprofit organization I run in Durham, North Carolina, I have been creating spaces for interfaith dialogue and the creative integration of spiritual practice and social justice for the past four years. Above all, this requires formats that allow us to break through our isolation and truly engage with people across lines of difference. We have explored innovative ways to get folks to sit down, pause a moment, remember their own truth, then talk to each other.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
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School House Lock

As the media report each new act of violence in American schools, the only question journalists can ask is, Why? They are desperately looking for the causes of perversion in today’s youth. In truth, there will never be any reason—whether it is television, video games, bad parenting, a secular society, or the press itself—that fully explains how an adolescent, even as young as 9 years old, can murder his or her classmates and teachers and feel a surge of power at watching them die.

Both students and parents are concerned with safety in schools. The solution presented by the Washington, D.C. school district has been to cut the positions that naturally provide security in schools—such as janitors and school guards—and subcontract that work to outside companies that primarily sell security hardware. The result is that to enter school, high school students are forced to pass through scanners and video cameras.

I must now wear to school an ID badge with a barcode. I feel as though I am a criminal constantly under suspicion.

The only way to ensure safety in schools is to make students feel acknowledged and secure. Students often do not feel safe in their schools because of the lack of trust that exists between students, teachers, and administration. It seems the only purpose ID badges serve is to reinforce the maxim that students (like any teen-agers) are "guilty until proven innocent" by an adult.

Young people cannot survive in an environment where they are constantly suspected of misconduct without beginning to live up to those negative expectations. Teen-agers are extremely in tune with how other people perceive them. If they feel that others judge them as inferior, they begin to act desperately. They mutilate or starve themselves, lose interest in learning, or commit acts of violence.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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Praying for Air

Recently I’ve been irritated by the over-professionalization of American culture. We rely on professionals to bring us our music, our entertainment, even God—which causes our own creativity to wither, and leaves us lacking different ways to see the world. This is most prominent in the state of radio broadcasting today. But I find some hope for an opening of communications in the model of the church.

Most American radio today is a top-down form of communication—much like the Church in the Middle Ages. Then, Bibles were written in Latin, a language few people knew, and chained to the altars so only priests had access to them. Not until the Protestant Reformation and the invention of the printing press did people start getting direct access to the Word of God. Communication, which had been from God to priest to ordinary worshipper, was now opened up. The Reformation and the new mass communication tool of the printing press disrupted the hierarchy of the church.

Today, a similar response to the hierarchical control of the mass media is being generated through low-power radio. According to Felix Guattari, an Italian radio activist, "’popular free radio’...aims at changing the professionally mediated relationship between listener and speaker, and even challenging the listener/speaker dichotomy itself." In America, we generally accept radio as a one-way communications tool: We have music played at us and hundreds of ads beamed at us each day. The average listener rarely helps determine the actual content of a radio show.

With the low-power radio movement, this is beginning to change. People are realizing that, with a few hundred dollars, they can start their own radio stations, broadcasting to a radius of a couple of miles. They can invite their neighbors on the air to talk about local issues. They can play whatever music they want to hear. They can promote local causes. The standard communication order is being disrupted.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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It's the Real Thing

Responding to the tragedy at Columbine High School, educator Thomas de Zengotita wrote in a recent issue of Harper’s that a "hybrid entity with a structuring life of its own has emerged on the planet." This "entity" is identified as a new public culture that blurs the borders between reality and simulation. Littleton’s Eric

Harris and Dylan Klebold became caught up in this limbo, as have countless other teen-agers and adults—though the vast majority with consequences that are less destructive, yet not completely harmless.

This illusory culture, which De Zengotita calls an "entity" but the Apostle Paul might call a "principality and power," is able to consume those who haven’t established their own sense of who they are—especially, but not exclusively, young people. For young Christians and those who walk along beside them, the call to engage this invasion of illusion is especially critical.

For nearly 2,000 years, the power of God has kept the onslaught of such principalities and powers at bay through baptism, confirmation, holy communion, and the other sacraments of Christianity. Spiritual direction, discipleship, and biblical teaching also have proven themselves to be effective in guiding people into maturity and freedom. Though the gospel has always been about the discerning of truth from deception, the new paradigms and tools at the end of this century create a context that is dramatically different than ever before. Will the church of the new millennium be as successful in creating safe space for young people and at helping them distinguish the simulated warfare on a computer screen from the spiritual warfare of the heart?

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Four Spiritual Laws of Gen X

Little Calumet Christian Fellowship is the first Mennonite church in North America to intentionally form a Generation X congregation with pastoral leadership from within that generation. As Anabaptists, we have many of the same concerns as other young people. The Mennonite church upholds the needs of the poor. We advocate racial and gender equality, as well as environmental stewardship. We are also staunch advocates of nonviolence and reconciliation. These characteristics have been crucial in overcoming cynicism, which is the chief obstacle we have faced in building our community.

As pastor and church-planter of this multicultural, urban congregation, I have learned some valuable lessons about ministering to people of my generation. There are four key areas that need re-engineering to be fruitful in reaching my generation: leadership, worship, preaching, and discipleship.

Leadership. We are happy that the church of the baby boomers has a heart for young people. We have a lot of gifts to bring to the table. However, new wine requires new wineskins. By elevating aspiring Gen Xers to positions of leadership, the church will help members of our generation mature into responsible adulthood and use our gifts and resources to share the love and grace of Christ to a broken world.

Worship is the church's most important tool for evangelism and for keeping Gen Xers as active participants in the corporate body. In our church we have received very positive responses to the use of alternative Christian music during our worship. Perhaps this is because so many of us identify with the rage and melancholy present in today's rock music. As we worship to music by groups such as Jars of Clay and Seven Day Jesus, we encourage personal and expressive participation from the congregation. We also are not afraid to use applicable secular music that speaks to us theologically and spiritually.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1999
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'Tis a Gift to Be Simple

cup in a tiny, single-serving French press. Some mornings I rush out of the house and leave the coffee-making for someone at the office, but I usually regret this. I make coffee better than anyone I know, and my complicated ritual gives me almost as much sanity as the caffeine. I move amongst my housemates and their breakfasts to get the coffee grinder, the hot water, a spoon, or a cup.

Along with seven others, I came to Washington, D.C., this year committed to "living simply." We work and live communally—and generally get on each other’s nerves. I unwittingly committed to rooming with a morning person, who doesn’t need any stimulants to get herself up and running. I manage house finances (a task I volunteered for), and I still haven’t gotten the checkbook to balance. We have trouble keeping the house clean. We are in each other’s faces and spaces 24-hours-a-day. I have learned that there’s nothing simple about simple living.

Simplicity is heralded as a cure for the excesses of modern culture. Strip down, throw out (or recycle), make time. Often this results in complicated, involved actions such as planning ways to get to work without a car or cooking meals from scratch. Mainstream North American culture would have us believe that fast meals and sport utility vehicles make for a simpler, smoother-running life. Counterculture suggests that life is simpler and more meaningful without acquiring possessions and not utilizing all the available technology. Both hold up an ideal lifestyle that we must achieve by performing prescribed tasks.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
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