courage

The Song Remains

THE FONDEST memories I have of Kathy Kelly are of her singing. It’s safe to say that her three nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize were not for her voice, which is sometimes sweet but often a touch out of key. At times I’ve imagined her feeling briefly self-conscious about this, but that passes. The song remains, and I am again reminded of just how deeply this woman can move me.

In spring 1999, in a small banquet room at Georgetown University, I first heard Kelly sing and speak about the suffering in Iraq. A crowd of about 200 people had gathered to hear about her work. She had been to Iraq dozens of times to put a human face on the conflict there and to defy the drastic financial and trade embargo that the U.N. Security Council had imposed shortly after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

She briefly went over the statistics—the deep poverty, the lack of medicines, the estimated half-million children who had died, many due to the U.N. sanctions, enforced in part by a U.S.-led blockade—but she quickly moved on. Statistics weren’t her strength.

Instead she spoke from the heart. Kelly talked about the ordinary Iraqis she had met: the worn women who served her tea and biscuits they could barely afford, the countless kids in threadbare hand-me-downs who ran after her merrily in the street, the tired doctors who broke down crying as they remembered all the children they had lost, the stone-faced parents who accepted her condolences because they didn’t know what else to do.

She also told the story of Zayna, a 7-month-old baby girl who died of malnutrition shortly after Kelly visited her in the hospital.

Then she started singing “We Shall Overcome” in Arabic, after telling the crowd how her friend Sattar, an Iraqi engineer turned taxi driver, had spent hours sitting with her in Baghdad, patiently translating the lyrics into Arabic and teaching them to her.

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Behold, The Dreamer Cometh

A few weeks after the October 2002 plane crash that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone, his wife, Sheila, their daughter, Marcia, and five others, a Lutheran confirmation class visiting D.C. from Minnesota decided to stop by Wellstone’s office to pay their respects. As the group went through security at the Senate office building, one of the students—who had worked on the senator’s re-election campaign and was still wearing a Wellstone button—set off the metal detector. The officer took her to the side to wand her. As he was checking her, the guard said, “Not one other senator in this place knows my name; Paul Wellstone knew my kid’s name.” He and the student hugged each other, and both started weeping.

Paul Wellstone touched people’s lives in profound ways, mostly because he genuinely sought to live a life of integrity, in both public and personal matters. He once advised, “Never separate the life you live from the words you speak,” and those who knew him best said he honestly tried to follow that advice. (A Midwest political observer said the Right never knew what to do with Wellstone, because he lived “conservative values” at home while working for progressive change in the public sphere.)

Wellstone’s political career began when, as a political science professor at Minnesota’s Carleton College, he started working with farmers to block electric lines forcibly run through their farms—and he continued to organize and agitate on behalf of regular people for the rest of his days.

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Mother's Day: A Legacy of Wisdom and Strength

Cynthia Martens with her mother, photo via Cynthia Martens
Cynthia Martens with her mother, photo via Cynthia Martens

Sharing stories of my own mother and the ways she taught and encouraged me feels like the best way to honor her on Mother's Day. To this day when I am thinking of expressing an uncharitable thought I can hear her voice “If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything.”

Although this may sound like a cliché, it is a teaching that I am relearning once again in a class called “Wisdom of the Desert” and finding that my mother's sensibilities had many similarities to that of the early Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers. Gratitude and hospitality, two huge teachings of the desert monks, were also lessons I learned from my mother.

Jeremy Lin and Jesus: A Round Up

Jeremy Lin drives to the basket against the Toronto Raptors, Feb. 14, 2012. Phot
Jeremy Lin drives to the basket against the Toronto Raptors, Feb. 14, 2012. Photo via GETTY IMAGES .

Jeremy Lin has been all the hype this week, but in case you’re still not familiar with him, or are still navigating the waters, we’ve rounded up some of the best coverage of Lin and his faith from the past week. But before diving in, you can read a bit of Lin’s background story and see how he compares to the popular Christian athlete Tim Tebow, in Sojourners’ assistant’s Joshua Witchger and James Colten’s article “The Lin-carnation of Tim Tebow?” And for a little exploration on crafting our own heroes, see God’s Politics contributor Christian Piatt’s “Jeremy Lin and Messiah Formula.” 

 

Thanks(giving) Be To God!

"Mi Famiglia." The author's family gathered for her son's baptism.
"Mi Famiglia." The author's family gathered for her son's baptism in Laguna Beach, Calif.

To me, "unexpected" is at the heart of how I understand grace. It is the unearnable gift, the divine reversal and sacred surprise, the still small voice that drowns out the din of the maddening crowd, the little bit extra that my Cajun friends call lagniappe, the very thing we "deserve" the least but get anyway. From God. From the One who created the world and the audacious, indescribably power of love.

Taking a cue from Nell, here are just a few of the unexpected blessings I am grateful for today:

For God's fingerprints that cover every inch of our world, seen and unseen. And for the moments where I can almost make out the holy whirls imprinted in the sky, the ocean, the sunlight, and on the faces and stories of each of us.

For the generosity and selflessness I see so vividly — all around me, all the time — even in these lean, nervous days. I saw it in Zuccotti Park, where strangers prepared and served food to other strangers. I saw it in the sober faces and strong arms of the men who helped 84-year-old Dorli Rainey to safety after she was pepper-sprayed at an Occupy rally in Seattle. I heard it in the prayers lifted at the White House, at North Park University in Chicago, and in the basement of a church in Spanish Harlem where kind, mighty souls formed Human Circles of Protection last week and stood in solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable, and the least of those among us. I watched it on display at border crossings, immigration rallies, refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, and at a glass blower's studio in my hometown of Laguna Beach where strangers arrived with shovels and wheelbarrows to help dig out an artist and his artwork from the muddy ravages of a flash flood. I saw it in the fresh coat of paint on the front steps of my elderly parents' home in Connecticut that my cousins had applied for them with great care and kindness when my brother and I couldn't be there to do it.

The Unlikely Voice of a Generation: Dorli Rainey is "Maude" to the Occupy Movement's "Harold"

Rainey is quite a woman. Reared in Nazi-era Germany, she is well known around her adopted city of Seattle for her years of social justice activism. According to the Post-Intelligencer, Rainey even ran for mayor briefly in 2009, and was on her way to attend a city transportation department meeting when, as she was changing buses, she heard a swarm of helicopters over head, figured there was an Occupy demonstration near by and went to investigate.

Whether you agree with the ideology of the Occupy movement or not, Rainey is an inspiration. In an interview last week with Keith Olbermann, the octogenarian activist said that she was energized by the pepper spraying incident and went on to give a shout out to the late Roman Catholic nun, Jackie Hudson (also a life-long peace activist who was arrested several times for protesting at nuclear arms sites), for inspiring her to keep fighting the good fight, even in the winter years of her life.

Rainey recalled Hudson's words of inspiration: "Whatever you do, take one more step out of your comfort zone."

#OccupySunday: Blood-Boiler du Jour

In case you missed it...

In an OpEd titled, "What the Costumes Reveal," New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote about a Halloween office party thrown by the N.Y. law firm of Steven J. Baum, an outfit that specializes in real estate foreclosures -- a "foreclosure mill," if you will -- where, apparently, employees came costumed as homeless and foreclosed-upon families.

Fearless Activists

"We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world."

Last night 25 individuals were awarded the Freedom from Fear Award in Seattle at the National Immigrant Integration Conference. Contrary to news coverage we see day after day, these awards, sponsored by Public Interest Projects (PIP) show us courageous individuals who, to each their own capacity, are standing up to and fighting injustice.

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