Posts Tagged ‘Reconciliation

01
Apr
13

looking backward / going forward

Every now and again an old friend or acquaintance will come to mind and I wonder what they are doing now…where they are. Sometimes I Google to find out. Maybe it’s a way of measuring the length of my days in years? Some time ago I found an artist friend through Facebook that I’d known a dozen years ago and wrote about the encounter in my June 13, 2012 post, art then / art now. A few weeks ago I reconnected with another friend through Facebook that I’d known in the glorious, early 1970s (when some of us were still young and others, not yet born). That was great fun.

Last week…in a more serious mood…I looked for a person I’d known six years ago in a cancer support group. I’d been thinking about him for a while. I wanted to thank him for all the invaluable help he’d given me—help that changed the course of my recovery for the better. We both have a form of incurable lymphoma that can capriciously become active or lie inactive at will. I’ve been in remission for five years and wanted to know how he was. I Googled him, and found his name in connection with a cancer support group’s phone listing. I called and was delighted to find that he is a survivor and continuing with his cancer support mission. It felt good to send a message of thanks and affirmation. Many cancer survivors like to pay it forward, including me.

A few days ago, I thought about two persons I’d known from my days in the art world.  Despite that association ending badly, I Googled them hoping to find an avenue for constructive reconnection. To my dismay, I found pages and pages of articles linking them and the gallery to fraudulent misappropriation of federal grant funds from 2004-10. I was shocked and wanted to know what had happened. I began reading the articles. When I got to the FBI Press Release dated December 14, 2011 what I considered the most reliable—I stopped to take stock. My partner and I had known these women for many years. Until my last show in their gallery in 2002, we had considered them close friends. The exhibition—Inheritance: art and images beyond a silenced genocide—was a production showcasing Armenian-American artists and the Armenian people. It was nearly a year’s work and a major undertaking for me as artist, curator and producer.

A few weeks before the exhibition opened, our tax preparer urged us to ask the two women for an accounting of the money contributions that had been donated toward funding the show. Asking for an accounting touched off a firestorm of angry accusations toward us, and threats to cancel the show, which put me in a state of ongoing anxiety for the two months of the show’s run in the gallery. Naively, we assumed the contributions that came in from our contacts were earmarked and set aside. We had virtually no understanding of non-profit gallery operations at that time, and no idea of the potential threat this request to the gallery directors would be.

Historically, the gallery had been an important outreach to the community and an alternative for rising artists to the traditional, market-based gallery system. I do not know how the current situation happened, when, or why it happened. I only know my own experience in what would be my last show there. It had been my labor of love. We were fortunate to receive in-kind donations that included a four-color catalog, marketing/advertising help and a marvelous array of catered, Armenian food and drink for the opening reception.

Everything was in order, but the enmity that ensued—the demands and constant threats to close the show at a moment’s notice made a basket case of me for most of that time. Trust was broken on all sides. What had been friendship for many years became a battleground and a living hell. I didn’t understand it then and mourn the emptiness of it all now. I am sorry to have lost the friendship we had with these two very interesting women, but in light of this new information I am thankful to be on this side of current events…thankful…but still sad to have all that collateral damage sitting in the roadway of my past. I cannot think of it without great regret for relational carelessness and wasted time.

Looking back, I remember the government shutdowns of arts funding hitting the small enterprises hardest. I am not excusing anyone or anything, merely seeing two sides of what has become the vanishing coin of the power-Study in time–3x2.5elite. I have compassion for these two people, regardless of circumstances, because I knew them at their sincere best…maybe not as deeply as I’d thought, but well enough. We are all looking for our way…our path in life. I am sorry about detours and sink holes and broken pavement. I do not know where these women are today, or how they are coping. There is nothing online past December 2011, so I assume the allegations are still pending. I am a bit of an idealist. I love resolution and reconciliation. I would like that with these two, but I dare not dream of it. I don’t really know how to swim with the bigger fish and my skin has not yet hardened. ~¿

Waiting

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20
Dec
10

red velvet cake and the spirit of christmas

I have a lovely Christmas story to share and a fine storyteller to introduce, but first I must give some background.

In the mid-1980s, members of the historic peace churches began seeking new ways to express their faith. Out of this desire came the Christian Peacemakers Teams, an organization, which seeks to embody an inclusive, ecumenical and diverse community of God’s love in partnership with local peacemakers worldwide. Denominations and organizations supporting active CPT chapters are—Church of the Brethren, Friends United Meeting, Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Congregation of St. Basil, Every Church a Peace Church and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

My friends Mark and Sara—peace and justice (CPT) activists from my church—entered a letter writing program to prisoners through a Church of the Brethren friend of theirs. Through this program they met Glenn, an inmate at Alabama’s Holman Prison, where he has been on death row for the past 25 years. Mark and Sara have visited him 3 times since 2002 when their correspondence began. Each time, they found that they were the only visitors Glenn had that year.

A couple of days ago Mark sent this remarkable story….Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas…to the congregation through our listserve :

Glenn called today and left a voice mail saying, “Brother, I have something important to share with you.”  I called him back.

He said, “You know what my favorite dessert is?” He’d told me some time ago, but I couldn’t remember. “Red velvet cake. Everyone (the inmates) around here knows that. Today, a ministry (program) was here distributing food packages.’

(Aside: there are a few ministries that distribute such food packages throughout the year. The inmates look forward to these. On death row, I’ve learned, food is a BIG deal. The daily prison food is awful, so anything normal is a major event.)

“Sister Antonia gave me my package and I told her my date was around the corner. I looked through the package and saw that there were a lot of good items. It was a pretty good collection.  And the dessert was…red velvet cake…home made!  Of all the desserts to be in there….I told her it was my favorite.”

“A little while later, she came back, and pushed another piece into my cell.”

“A little while later, another piece came, passed on down the line by the guys, from cell to cell.”

“And a little while later, another, and another, and another, until every guy on the tier had passed their red velvet cake.”

Glenn was choked up at this point in the phone call. He said jokingly, “I must have male menopause.” I told him it was a very touching thing and he was just being human and that the guys were just giving back in a small way what they’d received from Glenn over the years.  Glenn said, “Whatever they’ve received, it has been from God, not from me.”  Glenn is deeply faithful and very humble and attributes whatever positive influence he’s had on others as God’s working through him. And I believe it.

Mark goes on to share some about his friend Glenn:

Here is a story of part of Glenn’s transformation—one that happened in spite of the brutality of the so-called correctional system, and because Glenn opened himself and listened to God.

“When my sister was young, she was put into a mental hospital where she was raped repeatedly by one of the workers. As a young man, I was so angry. I pictured the man in hell, and I wanted to torture him to the verge of death so he’s feel pain like my sister.

“While in prison I asked Jesus into my heart. God said, ‘You shall know the truth and it shall set you free.’ I had to tell the truth before I could be free, and the truth was that I wanted to kill the man. The truth was not that I wanted to try to love the man. I wanted to mutilate him.

“Once I confessed to god this truth the way opened up. In a dream I heard the voice of God say:

“Glenn, there are people in your life that you hurt, not in the same way, but pain is pain, and they want you to hurt. But I don’t want you to hurt because I love you. And guess what, I love that man too, and I don’t want you to hurt him.”

“I Woke up and cried like a baby. I said to God, ‘I can’t do it, but I’m willing to let you, God, do it through me.’ I got to a place where I could envision being in the same room with the man, and telling him that I forgive him and that I love him.

“People who knew me when I was 19 (when I entered prison) will not recognize the person I’ve become; God’s love allowed me to forgive.”

In the 25 years Glenn has been on death row, the courts have denied his appeals and he will be executed in early 2011. Mark and Sara are his friends. They see a deeply wise, intelligent, compassionate and religious person in Glenn…a very different person today than who he was when he committed his crime. I believe this is true and do not understand the twists and turns that keep a redeemed person  pinned to the past. Many people say we are a Christian nation…if so, where is the repentance and compassion that Jesus taught us? He asked  the woman caught in adultery where her accusers had gone and if any condemnation remained. She tells Jesus that no one remains to condemn her. Jesus responds with compassion, and tells her that he does not condemn her either and exhorts her to go and sin no more. (John 8:1-11)

Our penal system practices an ancient code of an eye for an eye. It does not redeem, but God breaks through walls. I believe people can, and do change. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught: “You have heard it said, `an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not set yourself in violent or revengeful resistance against an evildoer.” (Matthew 5:38)

As Christian Peacemakers, Mark and Sara speak for me.  If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

And a little child shall lead them….

05
Nov
10

what sense does it make?

I am an Anabaptist/Mennonite, not by birth as many are, but by God’s leading and my choice. The Anabaptists were so named in the 16th century for their preference for believer’s baptism over infant baptism, but that is only one of the stances taken by these brave souls. Central to the faith are the teachings of Jesus and discipleship. Jesus spoke in love and taught peace and reconciliation. This is one of the core values of the Anabaptist belief. It is not a core value of the social system in which you and I live. The tension is obvious. Search the gospels. You will not find a word from his lips that support violence or retribution of any kind, nor do we.

This morning when I opened my email I found this letter from one of the members of my little church at the edge of the city. He is one of several in the church who are members of our denomination’s Christian Peacemakers Teams. He and his wife believe people can change. So do I. So did Jesus. So does God. That is what Grace is all about. If it were not so, how do we find ourselves still here, chugging along trying to be better people despite our many continued failings? I am not talking about leaving the toothpaste cap off the tube or grumbling about things. I am talking about attitudes, behaviors and actions that wound the spirit in other persons—abuse in all it’s many forms. I have done this many, many times.  I once was blind, but now I see….

Here is the letter that came by email to my congregation this morning:

Alabama killed Phil tonight, November 4, 2010, to my church…

Tonight the state of Alabama killed Phil who was on death row at the prison where our friend Glenn is also awaiting execution.

Earlier this year Glenn was originally scheduled to receive a ruling mid-October which would have set his execution date, possibly as early as mid-November.   And then in August, Phil was assigned a death-date of November 4, and Glenn knew he would live to see another Christmas and New Year, because Alabama only kills one inmate each month (Phil in November) and they don’t kill people in December (too close to Christmas — after all, it would be un-Christian to kill someone so close to Jesus’ birth.  Best to have a little distance…..).   And then, in addition, Glenn’s court ruling was postponed until later this month (at which time he will get an execution date).   But if things had fallen differently, Phil’s execution could have been Glenn’s.

I Googled Phil, and this is what I found.  Phil has been on death row for over two decades.  The information focuses on what he did many years ago; who knows who he is today.  I have learned from my conversations with Glenn that people can change in amazing ways while on death row.   The death penalty is wrong because it denies the possibility of God’s transforming love for victim and perpetrator.   More on that in a later email or other sharing in church.

I talked to Glenn tonight, he was somber, as were the rest of those on death row.

After I hung up with Glenn, I went to sing Eli songs as part of his good-night routine, and Eli asked to sing “Alleluia, the Great Storm is over.”

The thunder and lightning gave voice to the night;
the little lame child cried aloud in her fright. .
“Hush, little baby, a story I’ll tell,
of a love that has vanquished the powers of hell.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Sweetness in the air, and justice on the wind,
laughter in the house where the mourners had been.
The deaf shall have music, the blind have new eyes,
the standards of death taken down by surprise.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Release for the captives, an end to the wars,
new streams in the desert, new hope for the poor.
The little lame children will dance as they sing,
and play with the bears and the lions in spring.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

09
Jun
10

immigration prayer

Recently an Open Letter written by MennoNeighbors to my denomination—Mennonite Church USA—urging the leadership to stand fast in opposition to Arizona’s proposed immigration law, came along for signing. The letter asks the Church to rescind our agreement to hold the 2013 Conference there, as we have many latino/latina members who will not be welcome or safe should this bill become law. This is not the only raison d’etre for this stand, but it is a good and timely one. We are aware that many states are watching to see if they might do the same.

As usual there were a lot of opinions floating on the listserve about how it should be written/worded, but eventually it got done. On the day of its last signing an email circulated with this prayer. It seems that First Mennonite of Denver piloted a group prayer project on various themes led by Randy Macy, who plans to add music and record them, then send CDs to politicians in Washington and beyond. This particular prayer was written and submitted by Theda Good and Dawn Kreider.

Prayer for National Security and Immigration

God, Creator of all peoples on earth

We in the United States are a gathered people
With ancestral roots in many lands
Whose descendants navigated terrain and sea
To reach this land we have come to call home.

Many sought new fortunes
Or an escape from oppression
But this land was already inhabited
And in searching for a new home
Our ancestors too became oppressors
Violating the freedoms of those here before them.

Forgive the past acts of violence
Towards natives who already had
What our antecessors were searching for
Forgive our arrogance for believing
That manifest destiny made this land ours
And our unwillingness to now share this land

Millions now migrate to this land
Seeking the same opportunities sought by our ancestors
Many have borne children
Who are United States citizens
Alien parent and citizen child
Both created in your image
All of us equal in your eyes

Give us the ability to see
The aliens in our midst the way you see them
Grant us the wisdom to fairly address their complex issues of
Citizenship, health care, education, and social welfare
Help us resist the temptation to legislate them further from their dreams
Instead let us offer them the decency and compassion
Each of your children deserves

Forgive us for not loving our neighbors as ourselves
Give us wise, just and humble leaders
And give all who live in this land
A will to live in peace with one another
On 9/11 the security of our homeland was threatened by attack.
Our leaders then declared war on an abstract enemy
and old testament justice prevailed
an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth
turning the other cheek was never an option
Instead we used violence to ensure peace and security
We could have chosen life instead of more death, to listen to our enemies,
to try to understand their desire to destroy our empires

God, help us identify what loving our enemies on a national scale entails
and to recognize our part in fomenting hatred and violence in our world.
As we cannot claim to be innocent;
forgive us for not loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Help us O God to see that all peoples of the world truly need each other —
Give us wise, just and humble leaders
And give all who live in this land a will to live in peace with all peoples on earth.

God of mercy, hold us in love!

Theda Good and Dawn Kreider

11/18/2009

27
Apr
10

graciousness in the subdivision

This afternoon I received a very gracious apology letter from my neighbors, so I went over to meet them. They explained that they did not know the sound penetrated beyond their home, apologized profusely and invited us to let them know whenever we find the music or merry-making too loud. I, in turn explained how the deep base without any lyrics or melody devastates one’s nervous system, creating huge amounts of adrenalin. The pretty young woman understood and offered additional apologies, while her cats peered curiously at me from behind the stair railing.

Referring to a sentence in last night’s blog, which she found offensive, she asked  that I not make assumptions about their values and character without knowing them. This is a perfectly reasonable request, one that resonated immediately in my peace and justice brain. I am in the wrong and apologize publicly. My reference to their drug of choice and case of beer was inappropriate and unkind. As it turns out they are lovely young kids trying to start a life together. We are just a thousand generations apart. We agreed we would work together and parted in grace. One truly cannot judge a book by its cover, or even by its title sometimes.

So, to you my good neighbors, I apologize and welcome you to the neighborhood.

They have cats. We have cats. Already we have something in common.

24
Feb
10

forgiveness = grace

This afternoon, Graceful Spirit, the young pastor of our church came to visit adopted daughter. It was a total delight to spend this time together…a blessing. Once again I see God’s answer to my prayers coming not as I expect but creatively and constructively…all in a pattern for growth and nourishment.

I learned something that I didn’t know when I wrote my last posting, Forgiveness 70 x 7. In talking with Graceful Spirit, AD explained the reason for the visit she had made on Sunday to our former church…the visit I said I did not fully understand. I still don’t understand the personal underpinnings, but I now understand that AD’s purpose was to show the congregation, in a simple act of confession, that forgiveness was the doorway to freedom. She wanted folks to see that being sorry for hurting others was not so hard to do. She was modeling it, living it.  Seen in this light, she was God’s voice…a vessel of love: Grace

24
Feb
10

forgiveness 70 x 7

Last Sunday, we all went back to our former church to support adopted daughter in her desire to address the congregation on the importance of maintaining loving relationships above disagreement. We brought her in a wheel chair with portable oxygen and still the effort was physically considerable for her. I don’t completely  know where this desire has its genesis in her own 48 years. I don’t completely know because AD is a very private person. She does not talk extensively about her feelings in connection with her life growing up in an extended family of wealthy immigrants. I have heard stories, and I know the recent past, but there is not a lot of connection along the emotional road from there to here. And curiously enough…I am a confidante.

So I don’t know all that went in to this effort to speak to the congregation and I don’t understand her request for forgiveness, but it seemed to resonate with some of the people there. The pastor responded by asking forgiveness in behalf of the congregation. I have no way of knowing how the congregation felt about that, but it was an important step for the pastor to take. It was a very dramatic and meaningful time. Ad is now quite exhausted by the effort and I am wandering along the path, not quite with it and not quite without. While 99% were glad to see and receive AD, not everyone was glad to see Big Dawg and me—probably most, but certainly not everyone.

We knew that would be the case going in, and were especially aware when sitting directly across from us was person X,  whose dark and grim demeanor was much the same as it had been a year ago, on Pentecost Sunday, 2009. That was the day the congregation exploded, giving us a clear and painful message that we were not to be included into membership. Not only was X’s demeanor the same, but  X was sitting in just about the same proximity to us as last year! It was eerie and unsettling, but we persevered. Just before AD was wheeled up to the front of the church to speak, person X got up and left the sanctuary. I found this action abruptly rude, careless, egoistic at best and a slap in the face of the Body of Christ at worst.

I did not think about this incident until late in the day when I could put aside my public persona and be at home. The incident began to haunt me as memories of the past year flooded my heart and mind, giving free rise to my autonomic nervous system’s response to remembered pain and agony. We had become scapegoats at that church for nine months. Although I’d come closer to God through that suffering, it was at times extremely painful, bringing up childhood experiences of rejection as well as a string of adult experiences. The forgiveness I’d come to in the past several months was being tested and I was teetering on the brink of despair and self-loathing for about  36 hours—teetering and nearly falling from acceptance of God’s love. I could only breathe YHWH and let the Spirit intercede (Romans 8). By Tuesday, I was climbing back up the ladder and leaving goats behind. Today I find this passage in Richard Rohr’s meditation  (February 24) and it helps me put persons like X, as well as goats, in perspective:

We have always needed to find a way to deal with human anxiety and evil by some means—and it was invariably some practice other than forgiveness or healing. We usually dealt with human anxiety and evil by sacrificial systems of some sort, and that has largely continued to this day. (Exclusion, torture, war, segregation, class division, prejudice, and racism would be its common forms.)

Historically, we moved from human sacrifice, to animal sacrifice, to various modes of seeming self-sacrifice. But even in self-sacrifice, it was not usually the ego self that we sacrificed, but most often the material self as its vicarious substitute. The physical body became our usual scapegoat instead of the real problem which was the ego—a rather clever game of smoke and mirrors. Meanwhile the ego has remained “scot free” and off the hook for most of Christian history, even at the highest levels of church.

Whether you agree with Rohr’s analysis wholly, in part, or not at all is not my concern. What is important to me today is that …the rivers did not overwhelm me and I was not burned.




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