Tornillo: The Turning of the Screw

Tornillo. In Spanish it means screw – as in turning the screw – as in taking something bad and making it worse. That is exactly what has happened in this place.

Tonight I stood before the closed gate to the Tornillo-Guadelupe Port of Entry, beyond which sits the newly populated “tent cities” for children separated from their parents. I took it all in and struggled to find words. My colleague from University of Arizona, Juan Ortiz, had brought me there, weaving through the pitch blackness and utter isolation that lies east of El Paso, Texas. We drove as far as they would allow, and then I got out and walked the rest of the way while Juan kept watch. I’m a white woman in a clergy collar: my risk is infinitely less.

It was so dark. It was so isolated. I imagined that must be how the children held beyond this gate must feel. I imagined the tears that wet some of their pillows, like the Rio Grande winding through El Paso.

We are horrified. Finally. Why did it take us so long? Separating children from their parents is not new, but here it is – in Tornillo – that we find the turning of the screw. The point beyond which we cannot tolerate the pain. Dear God, I plead, let us not tolerate the pain. Let us not get used to it. Let us not rationalize and find comfort once again, while others are tortured. Torment us.

Throughout our history, this is what we have done when we have wanted to break the spirit of a people. What are we trying to do now, if not that? We seek to break the Spirit. To break apart families, to break hearts, perhaps in ways that can never be repaired.

Let me take a moment to be clear about what I mean when I say “we.” I mean the powers that be, and all of us that are not on the receiving end of their abuse but are merely mentally tortured by their constantly escalating atrocities. We who will not be the ones whose children are taken. We who cannot imagine a cause for our arrest, rather than dreading it’s arrival constantly. We who do nothing. Let us not be that we.

Let us step away from that “we” and into another. Let us resist. Let us embrace discomfort. Let us refuse to be silent.

The thing that I want us to remember is that while these conditions are horrible for children, there are no conditions into which we can place them that will diminish the horror, trauma, abuse and damage that you inflict upon a child when you separate them from a parent who loves them and is willing to risk their lives for that child. The separation itself is the horror.

Yet, that separation already happens when a family arrives together to seek asylum – a human right – and one parent is taken and held. That separation happens when a parent is deported away from their children.

That separation happens in our mind when we create a narrative where the child is a victim and the parent is a criminal, when in reality their parent is all too often their savior. We have already separated parent from child mentally, before we separated them physically. We have already placed them in separate categories, before we placed them in separate cages.

To end this, it will not be sufficient to end their physical separation. We must also tear down the walls that we have constructed between parent and child in our minds. Until we do that, we will remain complicit. It is our mental divide that has led to their physical one.

Let us bring them back together in our minds, so that we can bring them back together in the flesh.

Below is a portion of the El Paso mural by Francisco Delgado and Juan Ortiz.

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Wrestling with Peace

“To have peace we must tell the truth; without truth-telling there is no peacemaking.”* (Jean Zaru)

“Only by being truthful about how we got here can we imagine another way.”** (Austin Channing Brown)

The words were like salve to my weary mind. A balm in Gilead. Oil poured out and running over. 

For three weeks, I had been focused on deep listening. You see, three weeks ago, I wrote a blog in deepest sincerity, not seeking to be provocative, but needing to be honest about a book that many leaders in my church were reading. 

The response from some has been to read it again. Not to throw out the baby with the bath water. This may be an option for some. Our deep investment institutionally will make it necessary for some, and I understand that. Due to the calling that I have to amplify “the cry of the needy”, this was not personally an option for me.

That does not mean I had the answers. In truth, it had frightened me how willing I had been to swallow down what I now know to be a mixture of stories, some true and some likely not, under a veneer of heavy handed opinions on one of the most painful and ongoing conflicts in our world. Inviting people to get out of the box with a story taken from a people, many of whom quite literally cannot leave the walls that box them in. I felt deep grief that the pain of an occupied people half a world away was being coopted, not in order to end their pain but in order to end mine. Their trauma domesticated and packaged for my consumption. A placebo of peace. A lesson for better living. 

Over these three weeks, I worked hard. I continued hosting a family of asylum seekers in my home, and I listened to their insightful opinions on the topic of my study. I traveled and I spoke and I prayed.

Most of all, I read. I read voraciously. I read for my life. I read to hear all those voices that  had been stolen. While it is true that I needed to keep reading, in my case it was not the same book again. 

This is what I read:

Throughout the weeks, I both wanted and did not want to continue this conversation. I scribbled notes. I created and scrapped outlines. Many times, I thought I could escape the need to continue. Yet the words of a Palestinian Christian woman, Jean Zaru, would not let me rest, “To have peace we must tell the truth; without truth-telling there is no peacemaking.”

So, because peace must be made and not merely awaited, I’m going to try to share three things that I invite you to bear in mind with me. 

Peace is not an inherent good.

I love my church too much to say it.

I love my church too much not to say it.

Jesus was clear that the peace that we are called to pursue is different from the way that the world uses the word. In John 14:27, he says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

I do not give to you as the world gives. 

The peace of our God is not the peace that the world gives. The peace of the world most often requires that some suffer in silence, so that others may feel comfortable. The peace of Jesus leaves no one out. The peace of Jesus makes room for everyone. A peace that even makes room for the Canaanite woman, when she disrupts worldly peace to cry out, demand, and refuse to be excluded from the table of the Lord (Matthew 15:21-28).

As Dr. Mitri Raheb, the pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, said of his occupied context in Palestine, “The peace model that has been employed to date has been a type of Pax Romana where the empire dictates peace either through endless processes or through facts on the ground (settlements, land confiscation, colonization, and so forth), thus buying time to expand the boundaries of empire. Pax Romana was rejected by the Judeans of the first century, and similar models are understandably rejected by the Palestinians of the twenty-first century. Peace dictated by the empire is not desirable, doable, or durable.”****

What we must seek is Pax Christi, not Pax Romana. The peace of Christ, not the peace of the Emperor. The peace promised in Isaiah 65:25. This is what defines us as people.

This strange and unusual peace of Christ is what would lead him to say, in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

In Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious,” his sermon on this very text, he wrote,

I had a long talk the other day with a man about this [at the] bus situation. He discussed the peace being destroyed in the community, the destroying of good race relations. I agreed that it is more tension now. But peace is not merely to absence of this tension, but the presence of justice. And even if we didn’t have this tension, we still wouldn’t have positive peace. Yes it is true that if the Negro accept his place, accepts exploitation, and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be an obnoxious peace. It would be a peace that boiled down to stagnant complicity, deadening passivity and if peace means this, I don’t want peace:

If peace means accepting second class citizen ship I don’t want it.

If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it.

If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening staus quo, I don’t want peace.

If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated polically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace.

In a passive non-violent manner we must revolt against this peace.

Jesus says in substance, I will not be content until justice, goodwill, brotherhood, love yes, the kingdom of God are established upon the earth. This is real peace. Peace is the presence of positive good.

As Rev. Dr. King teaches us, the peace we seek must be the peace of Christ. The peace that passes understanding. The peace that the world cannot give to us. The peace that silences no cry of the needy so that it can sleep better at night. 

The challenge for peacemakers, for those who pursue a peace that includes all, has always been to help us to clearly see the difference between the peace of the world and the peace of Christ.

On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in 1965, the people of Selma tried to cross and many were beaten to the point of death by the police. They did this in order to reveal to the rest of the nation that the peace that existed in their community was no peace at all. It was the world’s version of peace: the silencing of the cry of the needy. It was not the peace of Christ that turns the world upside down. 

It is the work of peacemakers to reveal the difference. Therefore, it is dangerous indeed to create models, that when applied to social issues, would portray the non-violent resister as involved in a collusion to escalate their own abuse. 

Peacemakers disrupt the peace of the world to make way for the peace of Christ, just as Christ did. Just as Bonhoeffer did when he spoke out against the Nazis, while the vast majority of Christians and pastors in his nation were content to be at worldly peace with Hitler.

All anger is not equal.

I love my church too much to say it.

I love my church too much not to say it.

Anger is not equal; neither in its cause, nor in its expression.

In 1965, when armed police were beating Amelia Boynton into bloody unconsciousness on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, there was surely anger on both sides. Yet the anger was not equal in its cause or in its expression. As those of us who have born the pain can attest, there is no desire on the part of peacemakers for a beating, no desire for tear gas. 

The anger, for those that felt it as they fled for their lives back towards Selma, was a just and a righteous reaction to the injustice of their lives both in that moment and in the years preceding. The anger of those that were giving the beating was unjust and unrighteous and arising from their fear of losing the power to oppress those who were marching for their right to vote. 

There is a scene in the 1967 film, “In the Heat of the Night” that always captured this so perfectly for me. A wealthy suspect in the case crumbles into anger and tears because he realizes the world has changed and he cannot just have the Sheriff shoot Mr. Tibbs for being a Black man with confidence. 

We may all feel anger, but it is not equal. Neither in it’s cause nor in it’s expression. For some of us are angry that our humanity is being diminished, and others of us are angry that we cannot control the other’s expression of their humanity. 

Sandra Bland was a Methodist woman pulled over in Texas, who later died in custody. When she was pulled over, both she and the officer were angry, but the anger was equal neither in cause nor expression. She was angry at being unnecessarily pulled over and illegally arrested. He was angry that she did not cater to his ego. His ego cost her life.

Some of us can get away with anger, with explosions and fits. Some of us can yell and scream and curse without lasting consequence. Others live their lives suppressing that anger and it’s expression, knowing that the results can be costly and even deadly. The ability to express anger is a privilege. 

We cannot all explode in anger and get away with it.

Austin Channing Brown writes, “Because I am a Black person, my anger is considered dangerous, explosive, and unwarranted. Because I am a woman, my anger supposedly reveals an emotional problem or gets dismissed as a temporary state that will go away once I choose to be rational. Because I am a Christian, my anger is dismissed as a character flaw, showing just how far I have turned from Jesus. Real Christians are nice, kind, forgiving – and anger is none of these things.”*** She continues to write of finding freedom from this social positioning in the writings of Audre Lorde, “A sense of freedom fell over me as I read her words. Anger is not inherently destructive. My anger can be a force for good. My anger can be creative and imaginative, seeing a better world that doesn’t yet exist. It can fuel a righteous movement toward justice and freedom. I don’t need to fear my own anger. I don’t have to be afraid of myself. “^

Reading her book and Dr. Cleveland’s book made me aware that we value storytelling that leads to self-introspection, but that as a communal body we are more comfortable with the lens of our journey being that of a white man, as was the case in the initial book. The powerful storytelling of Dr. Christena Cleveland and Austin Channing Brown made me wonder could we go on that journey together if it were the lens of a Black woman? Certain ones of us have always had to go on these communal journeys through the lens of another, but others of us have not. Some of us do not see the need to read a book from such a different perspective than our own, how would it be relevant? Yet, others of us have been expected to read from another person’s perspective all their lives.

As Dr. Brittney Cooper writes, “Before we fully learn to love ourselves, all people of color in the United States learn that we are supporting characters and spectators in the collective story of white people’s lives. The stories we watch and read ask us to put aside their whiteness and relate to their very universal human struggles around conflict with the world, the self, and others. The problem is that only the experiences of white people are treated as universal. Meanwhile, Black movies, shows and books are typically seen as limited and particular.”^^

If after centuries of taking a man born in Palestine, like Jesus Christ, and clothing him throughout centuries with whiteness, seeing and hearing him through a lens whiteness, portraying God the the Father as a white man with a white beard on a cloud, is it then any wonder that we could so easily accept other thefts of the voices of Palestine. What have we lost by not seeing the world through the eyes of a God born in Palestine? What have we lost by failing to look at our faith through the eyes of Palestinian Christians, those that call themselves the Living Stones, the descendants of the earliest Christians? Has our discomfort with the turmoil of the region left us so divided from them that we would not recognize their voice if we heard it? This is a point where I feel personally convicted, which has grieved me deeply.

Peace requires change from all of us.

I love my church too much to say it.

I love my church too much not to say it.

The book that challenged me the most was Dr. Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ. She pushed me to see the ways that I could change, without committing the error of oversimplifying. 

That we all must change may seem like a simple and easy thing that we can all agree upon, yet historically this has not been true. In fact, all too often the change has mostly been expected on one side – the side of the one who is most moveable, with the least power, because they have always had to be the ones to move. We have even created elaborate reconciliation paradigms where we bring people together to have the impression that we have all moved; yet, when we go home, we find that often nothing has changed and that it has been an exercise in catharsis if nothing else. 

History has always cast some in the position of being the ones who must move, and offered others the illusion of moving. In this paradigm, we have sought peace without the world having to change, without the church having to change. A peace in which systems of injustice remain in place is not the peace of Christ. 

For example, what if, for one person, peace meant the dismantling of patriarchal systems that oppressed women. And for another person, peace meant people no longer talking about dismantling patriarchal systems that oppress women. A semblance of peace may be achieved if one person would be quiet, and the other would be content because their definition of peace would have been achieved. This is the kind of peace that we experience the most of in our lifetimes. This would not be the peace of Christ, however, because it would be the silencing of the cry, rather than the opening of the table. 

A model where people become suspect if they criticize or make demands, where the oppressed must always consider where they have failed to support their oppressor, is a model that coddles the one with power who is reticent to relinquish or share it. This is a model that may create personal progress for all individuals, but when applied on a communal level works much better for the powerful than the powerless.

In her 2016 sermon on ‘Faith, Justice, and Race,’ Austin Channing Brown reminds us of how dangerous it is to allow those with power and privilege to paint the picture of how things are, without the true and authentic input of others. She reminds us that Pharaoh set out to slaughter the children of Abraham because he assumed that he knew how the Hebrews would act in a conflict without including them in the conversation. He decided that he knew their hearts and minds, and that they would turn against him. He controlled their narrative, stole their voices, and punished them for what he assumed they would do in the future. 

Instead of saying, ‘There were some very fine people on both sides,’ perhaps we would do well to heed Austin Channing Brown’s advice when she writes, “Dialogue is productive toward reconciliation only when it leads to action – when it inverts power and pursues justice for those who are most marginalized.”^^^

Instead of permitting our views of the situations of Palestinian Christians to be shaped without their input, perhaps we would do well to heed Mitri Raheb’s words, “Christians in Palestine are forced to ask themselves what God’s justice means to a people whose members suffer under systematic political, social, and economic injustice. What does “freedom in Christ” mean to people living under occupation and denied basic rights? What does the cross mean to a people constantly crucified and marked by suffering? And what does love for even an enemy mean to a people facing a heavily armed enemy?”^^^^

The Bible is the only book that has the answers to these questions for me, the book which I have committed my life to teaching. And trust me, I get enough of a workout wrestling with it.

“When I hope for peace, I have to work for peace.” -Jean Zaru

 

 

 

*Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks, Jean Zaru, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008, Kindle loc 1076.

**I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown, New York: Convergent Books, p. 118.

***Ibid, p. 122

****Faith in the Face of Empire: the Bible Through Palestinian Eyes, Mitri Raheb, Marynoll: Orbis Books, 2014, Kindle loc 1962.

^I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown, New York: Convergent Books, p. 125.

^^Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, Brittney Cooper, p. 53.

^^^I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing Brown, New York: Convergent Books, p. 169

^^^^I am a Palestinian Christian, Mitri Raheb, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995, p. 230.

At least there was a baby to clothe…

Searching through the racks of baby clothes at Factory 2 U, only one thought was running through my mind: thank God they are together. The thought of the alternative made my stomach contort itself into knots. Five days earlier, I had knelt on the ground on the Mexico side of the Deconcini Port of Entry, pushing a small red car back and forth between this baby’s brother and I, while she laughed and built up the courage to crawl closer. They were halfway through what would be 11 days of waiting outside in the summer heat, with temperatures well over 100 degrees, hoping that their name would be called one morning and they would have a chance to go through that doorway into the United States and begin their plea. Next to them, five sick children – siblings – slept with limbs entwined on the ground in the heat and dust.

I had driven down that morning with my friends Gretchen and Kat, wanting to see for ourselves where the people were who usually filled the cots in our refugios. Hundreds of people stretched out from the doorway into the United States, all the way back to the small tables of wares and men offering taxis that welcome newcomers to Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. 

A man with a stethoscope slung over his shoulders, Panchito, walked the line, checking on the needs of those seeking asylum. Volunteers from Kino Border Initiative fed them, while Voices From the Border carried in water and clothes. Each day, only 5-12 people were being permitted through that doorway into the United States, the same one that I could walk through with such ease. 

When we did walk back through that doorway, only one of us with a passport but all of us with blonde hair, I spoke to the mother in the best Spanish I could manage. I tried to tell her that we would be waiting and praying on the other side; that we would have a place for them; that we wanted them; that they were welcome. I tried to hide the fear behind my eyes, knowing what our government had given itself the right to do. Knowing that some families do not make it to us; that some families are torn apart and sent to separate facilities, just as families throughout history’s cruelest moments have been sorted left and right. 

I did not know if I’d ever see her again. I prayed I would. The only families they send to our refugio are the ones where at least one parent has been permitted to stay with the children.

Five days later, when I unexpectedly saw her face, holding her baby and calling to me, I was overjoyed. With all the hundreds of families that we see each week, this week has felt different. For the first time, we were taking joy in something as small as no one having arbitrarily decided to tear this woman’s baby from her arms. This was a level of cruelty that I had not imagined we would have to face. This was a relief that I did not think I would ever have the necessity to feel.

I carried that relief with me as we dug through bins of clothes, searching for a clean shirt for her 18 month old, and came up with nothing. At least there was a baby here to clothe, I told myself.

Ten minutes later, standing alone in front of racks of baby clothes at Factory 2 U, I sorted through tshirts trying to find even a single one without Minnie Mouse or a white Disney Princess on it. At least there was a baby to put in that Minnie Mouse t-shirt, I told myself.

As an aunt of five with a sixth due any day, I am well versed in the skills of playing back-up and indulgent aunt. I am well versed in what it means to be family.  I am well versed in trying my best when I am not sure what to do… There are so many moments now when I am not sure what to do. 

Pulling down a fuzzy baby blanket from the wall, I thought of the two children who had spent the past month living under my roof, leaving drawings on my fridge, taking naps with my dog, watching telenovelas on my television, falling asleep in my arms. Once again, a spasm rocked my gut at the thought that they too could have been separated from both their parents instead of just their father. Just their father. As if a gaping hole in your heart that keeps you awake all night crying, and in bed all day sleeping could be captured by the word “Just.” Is this what we have come to? That we must give thanks that only one parent has been taken?

I am so tired of giving thanks for small mercies, with the knowledge ever pressing on my mind of the great cruelties that have been escaped, that hang ever threatening over our heads from my own government. I can do these little things. I can lessen the pain for those that cross my path. I can put warm socks on the cold feet of babies, and smiles on the faces of children too young to understand the truths that are causing their parents to despair. Yet, these are such small things, and this cruelty, this complacency, this occupation of our community is so vast. 

At least there is a baby to clothe, I tell myself. At least the baby wasn’t strapped into a car seat with dozens of other children in a converted prison bus, screaming as they are transported away from their parents. 

At least there was a baby to clothe.

Has it really come to this?

Somewhere, a Christian man or woman sits behind a computer, typing comments onto every post they can find. Not even understanding the laws themselves,* they are saying that these desperate families, these children, these mothers, should not have broken the law and deserve what they get. 

Whose law? 

While these parents and children stand accused by us of breaking the law of man, we stand guilty of breaking the law of God. We sort them left and right, mothers to one side, children to the other; yet, God has sorting to do as well.

“Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:41-46)

Somewhere, a five year old child is crying out for their mother. They are tired. They are traumatized. They live their lives in fear 24 hours a day. They do not understand what the people around them are saying. Perhaps they are being held in an institution like Southwest Key where the staff speaks Spanish or English, but not Portuguese or K’iche’ or Q’eqchi’ or Kaqchikel or whichever language their mother uses to soothe them. Perhaps they have a video translation device that talks to them and translates the staff’s orders. Let go of your siblings. Be quiet. Behave.  Every day that passes, every tear that falls, was the choice of our government, and was a part of a system financially dependent upon keeping its beds full of children who are kept from getting tucked in by their papa with a good night kiss.

Here we stand, where the rest of the nation makes our decisions for us, and a Federal force occupies our streets, and we are relieved simply to see a baby still in her mother’s arms. 

You can organize. You can talk to your neighbors. You can petition. You can donate. You can call. You can write. You can refuse to let our elected officials rest until these children are resting back in their parents arms.

Stop. Family. Separation. Now. 

*For more information on how the United States Government is breaking it’s own laws read about American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh and the screening process that we are bound to apply for credible fear and reasonable fear.

Anatomy of An Artifice

As I struggled with the strange aftertaste in my mouth after reading “The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict,” I have been left wondering, should I swallow? I was not sure if this was a sugar coated pill or a spoonful of sugar. I was not sure if I was being given a sweet story to help the medicine of interpersonal learning go down, or if I was receiving some interpersonal lessons to conceal the fact that some very heavy opinions about race relations in the Middle East and the United States were being fed to me surreptitiously. After all, isn’t the best propaganda hidden in plain sight?

Hidden in the midst of it all was the lesson that Palestinians ought to look to Israelis to see how they can bring peace by caring for the needs of the ones that they see as their oppressors, and that African Americans were in the wrong for protesting in outrage in the streets.

In order to know what this was in my mouth, it was very important to know who formed this narrative, regardless of whether they intended consciously to sway people politically or not.

I soon saw that as I was drawn into the story of a Palestinian Arab Muslim, who has experienced oppression, teaching a white man how to treat the people in his life better, what I was actually reading was a group of white men using a fictional story, barely perceptible as such, to teach oppressed people that their suffering was of their own making.

Let me explain.

If you are in any kind of leadership role in the United Methodist Church, it is likely that you have been asked this year to read “The Anatomy of Peace” by The Arbinger Institute. It’s a feel-good read that, during these stressful times for the denomination, gives many of us hope that we can figure this all out. 

It’s feel-good. Real good. Maybe too good?

As the book describes itself:

Yusuf al-Falah, an Arab, and Avi Rozen, a Jew, each lost his father at the hands of the other’s ethnic cousins. The Anatomy of Peace is the story of how they came together, how they help warring parents and children come together, and how we too can find our way out of the struggles that weigh us down.

The weight and authority of the information presented in the book comes from the horrific experiences that these two men have experienced and the way that they have overcome their pain in order to create a progam for youth in Arizona called Camp Moriah. 

The only problem is – these men do not exist. There is not a Dr. Yusuf al-Falah who teaches at Arizona State University. There is not a Camp Moriah in the wilderness near Phoenix.

Technically the authors have themselves covered because there is a sentence in the preface, if you were diligent to read it, that states, “Although some of the stories in this book were inspired by actual events, no character or organization described in this book represents any specific person or organization. In many respects, these characters are each of us.”

Despite this subtly placed disclaimer, however, the clear intention of the book is to get the reader lost in the story and drawn into the characters; and, thereby, to use the experiences of those characters to lend credence and authority to the teachings.

The fact that these people and places do not exist would not be a problem were it not for the people and places that do exist in their place.

When I Googled “Camp Moriah,” what came up on my google map was The Anasazi Foundation, the actual location of the lessons in the book. The Anasazi Foundation in Mesa, Arizona is a Troubled Teen Wilderness Treatment Center near Arizona State University and Phoenix. Its President and CEO, Mike Merchant, writes one of the glowing references for the book at the beginning.

Although founded by Larry Olson and mentee Ezekiel Sanchez, scrolling down past Michael Merchant’s photo on the Anasazi Foundation staff page, and past the two white men who are the Co-Directors, one could perhaps wonder whether this is an all white staff running a Foundation named after an ancient Native American people. Apart from co-Founder Ezekiel Sanchez, it would appear that the Foundation has a Board of Directors also made up entirely of white men.

The Anasazi Foundation, confirms that they are in fact Camp Moriah on their “About” page, “ANASAZI’s preventive efforts—including parenting workshops and community drug awareness/education forums—have inspired two international best-sellers (Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace).”

So, Camp Moriah does not exist, but the Anasazi Foundation does.

Does that matter?

You tell me. Does it bother you that you were drawn into a story about a Palestinian Muslim and an Israeli Jew who had both experienced trauma and built Camp Moriah in response, with a superfluous amount of information and opinions about Palestinian/Israeli relations, only to find out that that camp is actually directed by a group of white folks with degrees from schools like Brigham Young and Liberty University?

Does it matter to you how things are framed? It matters to me. Especially when the truth and the fiction are so far from one another.

The men in this story, Yusuf al-Falah and Avi Rosen, build authority to speak directly to the experiences of the oppressed because they have experienced oppression and trauma. Why frame it this way when the men who work at the Arbinger Institute and the Anasazi Foundation are so far from that reality?

Why frame work done by white men from Brigham Young University as work done by men who have suffered in the Middle East?

Could it be that we would only listen to critiques of the oppressed if they came from the oppressed themselves? Necessitating, therefore, an act of authorial black-face in order to help us to swallow a philosophy that the oppressed create their own problems by not attending to the needs of the oppressor

Which brings us to the character of Dr. Benjamin Arrig, an African American scholar seemingly at Yale, who at this point you ought to be able to guess is also fictitious. The fictitious Palestinian, Yusuf, watches as “black protestors were being restrained by shield-carrying police who were shooting tear gas toward the crowds.”

As a Palestinian, he feels empathy with the oppressed protestors, until Dr. Arrig teaches him a better way, telling him that both are in the wrong because while the police have the tear gas, the protestors have “the desire for tear gas” (p. 187).

(Would it interest you to know that one of the featured leaders from the Arbinger Institute is “Charles “Chip” Huth, “a Major with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. He has 26 years of law enforcement experience, commands KCPD’s Special Operations Division, and is the State of Missouri’s defensive tactics subject matter expert.”)

Therefore, Arrig teaches, “If you see a people of a particular race or culture as objects your view of them is racist, whatever your color or lack of color or your power or lack of power… [The oppressed become the oppressors] Because most who are trying to put an end to injustice only think of the injustices they believe they themselves have suffered. Which means that they are concerned not really with injustice but with themselves. They hide their focus on themselves behind the righteousness of their outward cause” (p. 189).

You may have felt uncomfortable when you read that part, if only subconsciously, but maybe swallowed it down because it was a Black man saying it about other Black people.

But it wasn’t.

Those words, that sound all too much like talking points from a conservative pundit, are exactly that.

WarnerCTerry-clr

You see, the founder of the philosophy presented in Anatomy of Peace is neither Yusuf nor Ben, neither a Palestinian scholar nor an African American scholar but – you guessed it – a white man who teaches at Brigham Young University. While you were picturing a stoic African American gentleman on the green at Yale, the person actually producing this knowledge was probably sitting in an office down in Utah, looking a little bit like this. This is the Founder of the Arbinger Institute, BYU Professor Emeritus, Dr. C. Terry Warner, who did in fact go to Yale, prompting the nod to his alma mater. He built a philosophy that we are responsible for our negative actions and emotions that sometimes leads us to accuse others of oppressing us rather than attending to the needs of those we are accusing. To give some context, up until the year when C. Terry Warren founded the Arbinger Institute at Brigham Young University, the Mormon faith had barred African America men, like the fictional Dr. Arrig, from the ranks of their priesthood. One might wonder if Warner met someone like Dr. Arrig at Yale. If he did, however, one would think to find the credit given to him, if not in this fictional book than it least in the white paper of the Arbinger Institute that explains their philosophical grounding. Unfortunately, in neither the white paper nor the video of the history of philosophy before C. Terry Warner is Arrig found. Only white male philosophers, like Freud, preceded C. Terry Warner in his path to knowledge according to the video.

JimCropWhile Warner’s philosophy is the foundation of these theories and practices, we cannot look to him as the author of the book, although it is his philosophy being taught. The book, abstractly credited to The Arbinger Institute, does in fact have one named author in James Ferrell, the Managing Partner of the Arbinger Institute. And, yes, James also went to Yale… before coming to Brigham Young University.

If you’re interested, these are the faces of the Arbinger Institute.

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Amongst them are, “Charles “Chip” Huth, who as referred to above, “consults for international law enforcement, military, and corporate clients” and Cameron Cozzens, who has “more than two decades of distinguished leadership and operational experience in the Intelligence and Special Operations communities.” You see how the book reads differently when you remove the fictional narrative and see the wizard behind the curtain?

Those who deal in war are teaching us how to create peace.

So, one must ask, what kind of peace is this?

Is it Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s false peace that is the absence of tension, or true peace that is the presence of justice? Is it an approach that affirms those that stand up for justice, or condemns them as blaming others for problems they have created themselves? As Dr. King wrote,

“You assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion?… Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Why does this book want us to see the robber and the robbed as both bearing a responsibility to fix the theft? It wants us to say “there were good people and bad people on both sides.” When we take all these teachings and critiques of the oppressed out of the mouths of a fictitious Palestinian Arab and a fictitious African American scholar, and place them in their rightful context in the mouths of the white men that truly created them, it becomes quite a different conversation.

Why place this between an Israeli man and a Palestinian man? It may interest you to look at the recommendations at the beginning of the book to see that among them are two Former Director Generals of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Former Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister of Israel. Not a Palestinian in sight.

“It doesn’t matter if you have power,” one of the statements from the fictional Arrig, is something that in actuality only people with extreme power could desire or afford to say.

As lovely as this book is, could it perhaps be the long awaited response from the White Moderates to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s scathing “Letter from A Birmingham Jail”?

*Dedicated to Gwyn, the fictional daughter of Ben Arrig, because you are much more than the caricature of the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype that you were cast as. I am sorry they put words in your mouth. I know, there were no women of color in the room to stick up for you; quite possibly no women at all… I hope this helps.

Thank you to Rev. Dr. Dottie Escobedo-Frank and Pat for being my conversation partners as I wrestled with this.

Grief on Both Sides of the Border this Mother’s Day

On May 10th, the Thursday before Mother’s Day, Mothers from throughout the United States plan to converge on the Capitol for #STAND, a Day of Action organized to demand legislation and reforms that would address the police brutality experienced by their loved ones.

As they gather at the center of the nation’s power, thousands of miles away, here in the borderlands, their cry will echo from the lips of a mother who shares their pain.

In Mexico, Thursday will be Mother’s Day itself, and the mother of José Antonio Elena Rodriguez will walk the final steps he took in life, just as she has done on the 10th of every month since he was murdered by Border Patrol in 2012.

A mere seven months after the murder of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin rocked the nation, the October 2012 murder of 16 year-old José Antonio Elena Rodriguez shook its furthest territories. Their deaths proved that even a Border is insufficient to protect Black and Brown teenagers from the racialized violence that stalks our streets.

With piercing irony, it became clear that the Border Wall erected to keep the sons and daughters of Mexican mothers out of the United States could not protect them from the police brutality they would encounter here. As 16 year-old José Antonio stood in the Mexican streets of Nogales, Sonora, where the road dipped 20 feet below the wall, Officer Lonnie Swartz put his gun through an opening in that wall and fired 16 bullets – one for every year of José Antonio’s brief life. After 3 bullets, José was facedown on the ground, as Swartz fired 13 more bullets at his motionless back.

It is impossible not to think of the 20 bullets fired at Stephon Clark’s back in California. The 8 bullets fired at the back of Walter Scott in South Carolina. The brutalized body of Joe Campos Torres, dumped into the Bayou in 1977 by Houston police.

They say they want to build this wall to protect us, but those on the other side are the ones needing protection from us. We left slats in the Wall not big enough for a body to squeeze through to our side, but – like any fortress – wide enough to let our bullets pass through to theirs.

Like Trayvon, José Antonio longed to be a pilot when he grew up. As Trayvon toured Opa-Locka Airport in Florida, dreaming of the day when he would pilot one of the planes, about 2,300 miles to his west in Sonora, Mexico, José Antonio was sharing the same dream. Achieving that dream, for José Antonio, involved plans to join the military and make his mother proud.

Those dreams were cut short as Border Patrol Officer Lonnie Swartz gunned José Antonio down in the quiet streets of his own hometown, aiming from where he stood safely above on the US side and raining down a hail of bullets on the child below.

In 2012, just as life was beginning, like Trayvon, José Antonio was rendered powerless to tell his own story, portrayed as a threat by his own killer, and dehumanized in court.

Nearly six years later, his mother had to cross through the Nogales Port of Entry, past the Border Patrol Officers, and into the country where they killed her son. She came hoping for justice, only to sit in a courtroom in Tucson, Arizona and hear her a jury of US citizens find her son’s killer not guilty of second degree murder.

As mothers who share her pain walk the streets of our nation’s Capitol this Thursday, José Antonio’s supporters will surround his mother at the Border in Mexico in the spot where he lay face-down as bullets ripped through his body from above. They will carry grief and outrage, but also the hope and prayer that United States Prosecutors will send a message about the value of their lives by choosing to begin a retrial in the case of his killer, Officer Lonnie Swartz.

We Will Not Be Owned: A Response to Roy Moore & Purity Culture

Nausea washed over me when I saw the article in my feed about Pastor Flip Benham’s statement that Roy Moore dated younger women because of their purity. The coded fetishization is something that ought to sicken us all, but for those of us raised in purity culture it bears with it an extra stench.

The heartbreaking stench of a “Vote Trump” sign in front of the home of a friend, father, brother, whom you were taught was supposed to “protect” you from men like Trump.

The stench of Joshua Harris’s apology during the heat of last year’s election to all the women whose lives were damaged by his book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, the Holy Grail of purity culture.

The stench of insincere apologies from unrepentant men who preened on the progressive moral high-ground for decades, while using their power to take from women what they wanted behind the scenes.

Purity: freedom from adulteration or contamination. freedom from anything that debases, contaminates, pollutes.

Freedom. It would be hard to find a more ironic choice of word. 

Purity in reality has been related to women’s status as property. Women, transferred from one man to another. Unsullied. Undamaged. Property. Extra virgin, just like the olive oil. A descriptor of our status and value and worth. Neither “Good” nor “Excellent” would do, our Amazon rating must be “Like New” or the purchase is void.

We strived to keep our wrapping intact, for the purchaser on the other end. We tried to make sure that we were worthy of being “Handled with Care.” Even so, our wrapping could be torn by a bike accident. Or a young ER doctor in Nashville who really wants to get in some practice with a speculum while you are sedated on morphine and cannot say no anymore. Or, for so many of us, a #MeToo moment, a Roy Moore moment, or a #ChurchToo moment.

Then in this historic moment, all is revealed. The evangelical churches that raised us overwhelmingly stand up in support of a man who we have known was a tearer of wrappings since we were kids. He is no stranger to us. We have watched how Trump treated women our whole lives. Our whole lives. Our whole lives. Our whole lives. When the churches we were raised in supported him, it revealed that our whole lives were a lie. We had never been special. We had never been precious. We had always been property. Like a hammer. Like a spoon. Utilitarian. Use us as you may.

Is it any wonder the onslaught of fury and honesty that has been unleashed from women who have been betrayed. Women who have stayed silent because our culture told us that it was we who were at fault if the estimation of our property value was diminished by the unwelcome touch of a heavy hand.

Then a pastor leans up to a microphone in Alabama, and he tears the whole facade down. “He did that because there is something about the purity of a young woman, there is something that is good, that’s true, that’s straight and he looked for that.” He tells us that Roy Moore went for younger women because they were more pure. Translation: Some conservative Christian men fetishize our innocence and fantasize about being the first to get to us. Our purity, they believe, like everything else about us, belongs to them. In their lecherous perversion, they salivate at the innocence of children. They long to unwrap us like a new phone, with no fingerprints or scratches. They do not want to be the second one to get to us.

For we all know the property value drops the moment that you drive the car off the lot.

As a Christian minister, I must confess the role the church has played in this, even while standing in the role of victim more than perpetrator. Yet, is that not the burden that the world places upon women. To both bear the mess, and be the ones to clean it up. We told young women this was about our relationship with God, which it can be. Yet, the earthly consequences we heaped on them when they acted with self-possession, as if their bodies were their own and no one else’s, made it clear that this was much more about earthly powers than heavenly ones. We called them damaged goods. We taught them that male aggression was caused by the length of their shorts. We measured them with rulers when they came to school. Once “sullied,” we told them no one would want them now. At the same time we elevated the very men whose contact supposedly contaminated them. We looked down our nose at them like so many dented cans in the bargain bin, judging can but not denter.

If we really think about it, we never even tried to hide it. For what are “damaged goods” but another way of telling someone they are property. What is “left on the shelf” but another way of saying unpurchased.

I will not be owned.

Sisters, let us not be owned.

You are valuable, just as you are. You are powerful, just as you are.

You are beautiful, even if no one ever tells you. I’m telling you now.

You are brave, look at all that we have born.

We will not be owned.

To those that said “Me too” and those that thought it…

The other day, I was walking down the street in my clergy collar and dress slacks, when a man with a white beard drove up. He was yelling something at me and so I turned to listen better, thinking he may need directions. “That’s a nice ass you’ve got,” he hollered. “Why don’t you get in my truck? I am going to pull over, up there at the corner, and you get in my truck.” I was walking into the Jewish History Museum, in a converted synagogue in south Tucson, and I knew that there was a small crowd of Jewish leaders watching. Not wanting to be disrespectful to them, all I could muster in response to him was, “Do you have any idea how inappropriate that is?” I walked inside the gate, only to see him continue to drive back and forth like a circling shark until I went inside the building.

I need you to know that there is nothing you wore or said or did or went that caused this. It happens to women in clergy collars, nuns in habits, and mothers wearing the hijab. It happens to lawyers, and teachers, and stay-at-home moms. It happens to the most famous people you know, and those closest to your heart. It happens on sidewalks, and schoolyards, and our own homes. It happens in offices, and Starbucks, and church sanctuaries.

I need you to know it’s not your fault. I need you to know that this is not about our behavior, it’s about their behavior. I need you to know that when this passes as a trending topic, and ‘woke’ men return to avoiding the discussion and demanding the exchange of flirtation in order for us to gain their collaboration, we will all still be here. You are not alone.

It’s been a while since I’ve written to you, I know. The better part of the year. The last blog I wrote was after that white supremacist in Texas was physically assaulting me at the airport, whipping my body back and forth like a rag doll until a woman with a baby in her arms tore me from his grasp. It’s always the women. Thank God for us. Thank God for you. You are so valuable.

In a couple weeks, I’ll be 35 years old. That makes it 23 years since the first time my mother told me that she did not like how the man at the store was looking at me. 23 years of being woman. 23 years of bearing the gaze of man. 23 years of having my male friends do that thing where they hug you really hard and pick you up without your consent and swing you around so that they can simultaneously assert their strength over you and at the same time squeeze your breasts against their chest. They think they are getting away with something. (Newsflash: we totally know what you are doing. It pisses us off. Stop.)

Going to college did not change things. Nor seminary. Nor the pulpit. I was 23 the first time I helped lead a funeral, and realized how uncomfortable I was with how the retired clergyman in attendance was gripping my waist. A little too low. It was a feeling I would grow accustomed to as men always felt the need to hug me tight after I preached. They never did that when the men preached. I learned, as women pastors have to do, how to put one hand out to shake the person’s hand and the other to place on their shoulder to hold them back from encountering my body.

It was always I who had to move out of the way, or out of the state. I had to leave North Carolina when my stalker walked into church and sat behind me. I was told my safety “could no longer be guaranteed.” I did not want to be a danger to those I cared about, either physically or mentally. I did not want them to know what I was experiencing. I left so silently and quickly, as if it was I who should be ashamed.

It was always like that. Men like my stalker wanting to own me as a possession. As if we should be grateful that they offer us the attention we so clearly do not want. Believing the myth that it is only they and not us who can give us value; only they and not us who are supposed to realize we are powerful and beautiful. That it is a virtue when they see our power, and a flaw when we see our own power.

I see our power now, and I am unashamed. We have every right to relish it. I celebrate us. I celebrate you. You are at the heart of everything I do.

I had a conversation with a colleague during seminary that I will never forget. He told me that there were men who would want to possess us, and if they could not possess us, they would want to destroy us. It seemed a little dramatic of him at the time, that is until I spent a decade living it.

Until I was told when seeking help in later years:
“Have you forgiven yourself yet?”
“I hear relationships often start with violence.”
“Maybe its good this happened, maybe this experience will help loosen you up.”
“You can never ever tell anyone, or they’ll say, ‘this is why we can’t let women be pastors.’”

When I got inside the gate at the Jewish History Museum, the people inside told me it would have been fine with them if I had cussed the man in the truck out.

I’ve had over 30 years to practice, and I still have not learned how to properly cuss someone out. When I was being driven out of San Pedro, by a stranger trying to kidnap me in a taxi, the best I could muster in response to his “Te gusto sexo” was, “Por favor, estoy una Pastora. Estoy una Pastora.”

This world has taught us that what is more offensive than the behavior of men like Weinstein is our response, our scream, our outcry, our fury. They have opened the door for him, while pushing us out it.

Lord, deliver us from polite society that would prefer us to be silent so that dinner is not interrupted by our screams. Lord, deliver us from liberal society that is all too happy to point the finger at Trump while shielding Weinstein. Lord, deliver us from institutions that see our rights as more of a liability than their wrongs. Lord, deliver us from those who will only listen for as long as this trends.

I set about to write tonight because I wanted to let you know that if in a week it is no longer trendy to listen to and believe us… if in a week the world has gone back to the way it was… if in a week institutions would still rather protect themselves than us… I want you to remember you are still not alone. I want you to remember that we can do something to change this. I want you to remember that if it happens to women in clergy collars walking into synagogues, there is nothing you wore or did and nowhere you went that caused what happened to you.

I need you to know that you are never alone. I need you to know that you are loved. I need you to know that you are valuable. I need you to know that I need you. Not a one of us can do this on our own.

 

"There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." (Leonard Cohen)