witness

The Ecology of Trauma: Resilience in a Post-9/11 Nation

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Some social and trauma theorists believe these issues are directly symptomatic of an undiffused, collective trauma around the event of 9/11 — exacerbated by our post-modern, technocratic society, in which our witness of one another is often relegated by social media personas and devices. The environment is controlled, protected, guarded — a false sense of security that instead perpetuates isolation and disconnection. This raises a question as to where, and whether, we are experiencing integrated and authentic community as we heal.

It is widely acknowledged that supportive and caring community is an absolutely necessity in trauma repair. To be sure, the answer is complex and dynamic. But perhaps on this day of remembrance, rather than re-enacting our dissociative narratives, we can attempt to reimagine and embrace courageously an authentic witness — to continue the work towards a restorative, integrative, and peaceful future.

Bonhoeffer's Harlem Renaissance

During his 1930-31 fellowship at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer joined his African American classmate Albert Fisher as a regular attendee at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.

WHEN BONHOEFFER entered Harlem with Fisher, he met a counternarrative to the white racist fiction of black subhumanity. The New Negro movement radically redefined the public and private characterization of black people. A seminal moment in African American history had arrived, and all of Bonhoeffer’s descriptions of his involvement in African American life during his Sloane Fellowship year occurred during this critical movement. He turned 25 that February. Bonhoeffer was experiencing that critical moment in African American history while he was still young and impressionable.

The New Negro, a book containing a collection of essays, was edited by one of the leading intellectual architects of the movement, Alain Locke. The New Negro, as Locke and his authors appropriated the term, described the embrace of a contradictory, assertive black self-image in Harlem to deflect the negative, dehumanizing historical depictions of black people. The New Negro made demands, not concessions: “demands for a new social order, demands that blacks fight back against terror and violence, demands that blacks reconsider new notions of beauty, demands that Africa be freed from the bonds of imperialism.” Bonhoeffer knew the movement by the descriptor New Negro, but James Weldon Johnson preferred to describe the movement as the Harlem Renaissance ... as a rebirth of black people rather than something completely new. ...

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Dynasties and Birthrights

THE CHILDHOOD UNDERSTANDING of the familiar tune about climbing Jacob’s ladder needs a reset. The Genesis narratives aren’t just about heaven—they yield epiphanies into the ordinary life of faith. The household of Abraham and Sarah, even in its ancient context, is atypical. In family dynamics, without the miraculous moments, epiphanies subvert our expectations of whom and what God can utilize to reveal the faithfulness of divine promises. Sometimes the testimony is evident in ordinary lives—even ours. You’ve heard it said, “Our greatest weakness is our strength.” The episodes in Jacob’s life provide sufficient demonstrations of how passions both energize and blind us: Passion or anger; leadership or arrogance; emotion or intuition; determination or stubbornness.

Despite Jacob’s inconsistencies, the second half of Genesis encompasses his story, as the son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. Here we find an unfolding drama. Characters display human nature at its extremes: conniving relatives, loving couples; creative entrepreneurs, dishonest contractors. All, somehow, used by God to form a people with whom the Spirit so evidently abides.

Even when we go our own way, God’s purposes are not thwarted. The challenge for the church in this Pentecost season is to trust that God is planting seeds in good soil—and the seeds that won’t sprout also have a purpose in this garden. Remember that the actions of justice, grace, and faithfulness we practice at home are as much a witness to God as our public proclamations and protests.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

[ JULY 6 ]
'I Will Go,' says Rebekah
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67; Psalm 145: 8-14; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

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Cherish Each Moment — Even the Sucky Ones

Elizabeth Palmberg (photo by Heather Wilson)

ELIZABETH PALMBERG—Zab to her friends—says her motto is “Cherish each moment, even the ones that suck.”

Nine years ago, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She has had her ups and downs in her battle against cancer, but many moments in that journey have undeniably sucked.

In 2001, Zab was a college professor in California when she applied to be an intern at Sojourners. We decided her Ph.D. (in Victorian literature) perhaps qualified her to do the data entry and fact-checking work required of our editorial intern, and when her yearlong internship was over we invited her to become a full-time member of the editorial staff.

She’s been gracing us, and our readers, with her brilliant analysis and quirky wit ever since. Her knowledge, passion, and insight informed and often challenged those of us who’ve worked closely with her—and led to outside recognition as well. In 2011, for instance, Zab joined a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia, visiting communities engaged in the difficult work of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Her report on the trip—the last feature she wrote for the magazine—was honored by the Associated Church Press as the best news article of the year.

In November 2012, she wrote on her blog, “Just as I was planning a big six-year hey-they-cured-my-cancer party, it turned out I have cancer again.” Months of difficult treatment followed, and she chronicled the good times and the bad with (most of the time) her sense of humor firmly intact. For instance, she wrote that “technically, the exact wrong thing to read [during chemotherapy] is Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, which also happens to be the wrong thing to read in almost *every* context—that book really puts the “ick” in ‘Victorian.’ My deepest apologies to the one class I forced to read it. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

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Earth Week: A Witness to God's Glory

Sun shines through trees in rocky valley. Photo: Mark Poprocki/Shutterstock

There’s an old hymn that many Christians have sung for nearly a century. “How Great Thou Art” celebrates the glory of God while considering, “all the works thy hands have made.” It reminds me of the psalm that reads, “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.”

Creation, therefore, is a witness to the wonder and awe of God. Although humanity has been given the honor of bearing God’s image, the earth shows God’s creativity and ingenuity. Over the years I’ve heard so many stories of people finding faith in God, not because of brilliant arguments, but because they are in awe of the complexity and glory of the created world.

But creation is not just a unique witness to God’s glory — it is, as the apostle Paul wrote, “groaning” waiting also for its redemption. This past Easter Sunday, Christians all over the world sang joyful songs of resurrection and renewal. Many of these songs proclaim freedom for all of creation — not just for humanity. One church I know of even sang “Joy to the World,” in celebration that the power of Christ’s resurrection extends “far as the curse is found.”

It’s hard to face, but humanity — image bearers of God — is largely responsible for destroying much of this great witness to God’s glory. 

Pax on Both Their Houses

EVERY SO often an extraordinary book appears with potential to bring change—or at least advance justice by mitigating nationalism or prejudice. Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East is such a book. The appeal is clear: Be both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli and pray for the best for each.

The book is a gut-wrencher as it describes the results of cyclical violence and reaction that fuels descent into paralyzing trauma and anger for both Arabs and Israelis.

Lerner, an advocate for Middle East justice and founder of Tikkun magazine, speaks truth about the human-made tragedy of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. His transformative counsel about what people and nations can do to participate positively is desperately needed. Social justice advocates have been offered a candid and honest reprise of the tragic thinking and actions of oppressed people who should have known better than to visit the same on “the other.”

Lerner’s way toward peace is grounded in many years of living in and traveling to Israel/Palestine, loving the two protagonists equally, and constantly exploring his and others’ souls. In spite of the victimizing and traumatizing of both Jews and Arabs, he remains hopeful. Embracing makes for a compelling and even inspiring read. I devoured most of it in two sittings, captivated by Lerner’s vision.

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England Debates Full-Face Veils in Courtrooms

A woman wearing a niqab (far right) takes a nap in the London subway. Photo: RNS, Courtesy of Kamyar Adl via Flickr

A  senior judge, leading members of Parliament, and human rights activists are calling for an urgent debate on the explosive issue of whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear veils when they testify in court.

The call for national debate follows Judge Peter Murphy’s Sept. 16 ruling that a 22-year-old Muslim woman standing trial on charges of intimidating a witness at a north London mosque must remove her facial veil, called a niqab, when testifying so the jury can better evaluate her facial expressions.

If she refuses, the woman — known only as Defendant D — could face a prison sentence for contempt of court.

From the Archives: Fall 1972

IT CAME TO pass in the summer of ’72 that many young people gathered in Dallas for Explo, a week of training for Christian witness sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. ... And among those present in Dallas were some messengers of peace—some post-Americans calling themselves the People’s Christian Coalition, and a few sons of Menno sent by the Mennonite Central Committee, who had also come to witness for their Lord.

The messengers of peace set up their booths along with many others and distributed their literature. And many people came by. Some looked and smiled; some looked and frowned. Some said “right on” and “we need that” in response to posters saying “blessed are the peacemakers” and “swords into plowshares”; but others said “praise the Lord, God will take care of wars, all we need is to win people to Christ.”  ...

And some of the messengers of peace made signs saying “Stop the war in Jesus’ name” and “The 300 persons killed by American bombs today will not be won in this generation” and “Choose this day—make disciples or make bombs, love your enemies or kill your enemies.” And they walked among the people with their signs.

And some people said, “Amen” and others were offended, saying, “Why bring peripheral issues to Explo? We are here to witness to the Lord.”

Peter Ediger was pastor of Arvada (Colo.) Mennonite Church when this article appeared in The Post-American, the predecessor to Sojourners.

Image: Witness illustration, Sam72 / Shutterstock.com

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What God Has Joined

WITH TROUBLING DIVORCE RATES, the trend among younger couples to postpone marriage or abstain from it altogether, and other factors, some feel we are in danger of losing marriage in this society. The institution is arguably in serious trouble.

This period of intense media focus on marriage—while more and more states legally affirm marriage equality and the Supreme Court ponders two related cases—offers the opportunity to examine the institution of marriage itself. How can we strengthen and support marriage, a critical foundation of a healthy society? How can we, as church and society, encourage the values of monogamy, fidelity, mutuality, loyalty, and commitment between couples?

A study by the Barna Research Group a few years ago found that “born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce,” a fact that pollster George Barna said “raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families.” Our authors in this issue wrestle with what it takes to build long-lasting marriages, rooted in and offering a witness to God’s covenantal love. —The Editors

MY HUSBAND AND I have been married to each other for 42 years. Does this make me an expert on heterosexual marriage? Not really.

My experience over 40 years as a pastor, teacher, and theologian helps some in thinking about marriage, as I have counseled couples and performed countless weddings, in addition to my personal experience. But as a contextual theologian of liberation, I know that to extrapolate from your own experience, or even from that of a small group, means you end up colonizing other people’s experiences through ideological privilege. In short, what that means is you think you know more than you really do. Hence, using social, political, and economic analysis is crucial if we are to think theologically in context about marriage.

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A Heart for Peace

A VARIETY OF EVANGELICAL PEACEMAKING efforts have sprung up in recent years, from the Two Futures Project, which seeks a world without nuclear weapons, to the World Evangelical Alliance’s Peace and Reconciliation Initiative, which seeks to redress the fact that “in our zeal for evangelism, we have often overlooked the biblical mandate to pursue peace.”

This fall, evangelicals from a range of viewpoints gathered at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., exploring what a distinctive evangelical contribution to peacemaking might look like. The essays below, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the first Evangelicals for Peace conference, a “summit on Christian moral responsibility in the 21st century.” Organizers hope to publish a book with the entire collection of talks.—The Editors

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‘All the Easy Jobs Have Been Done’
Standing on a rich tradition of peace and transformation


by Geoff Tunnicliffe

WHY IS PEACEMAKING an important topic for evangelicals? As a global community of 600 million Christians, our churches are confronted daily with the impact of illegal weapons. Our hospitals treat the victims of violence. Our church leaders counsel the traumatized. All forms of conflict negatively impact our development programs. Our aid agencies seek to care for and rehabilitate child soldiers. Our inner-city communities are confronted with the outcomes of gang warfare.

For all of us who say we are followers of Jesus, as we observe or experience the brokenness of our world, it should break our hearts. If we feel the pain so deeply, I can’t imagine what our loving God feels. The One who is called the Prince of Peace. The One who laid down his life, so that we could be reconciled to God and each other.

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