Tag Archives: Peace

Though You’ve Broken Your Vows 10,000 Times…

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.
-Rumi

 Two nights ago, I stood in the midst of a crowd of thousands of people, holding yellow electric candles which illuminated the dark night, wearing yellow shirts printed with the outline of a heart and bearing the words, “Standing on the Side of Love.” This rowdy crowd, which alternated between chanting and singing, joined together as one to sing the simple yet oh-so-powerful words of this Rumi poem.

 This gathering, organized as a part of the social justice activities at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, took place outside of Tent City, a detention city that has been in operation for over 20 years in Phoenix. At tent city, undocumented workers, awaiting sentencing and/or possible deportation, live in inhumane conditions. They are housed outside in tents during cold winter nights when temperatures drop down into the 40’s and also during the oppressive summer heat that blankets Phoenix, even in the evenings. In an ugly ironic twist, right up the road from tent city is the Phoenix animal shelter, where stray cats and dogs are housed in climate-controlled, indoor cages.

 This evening vigil was part prayerful meditation and part protest. Various speakers spoke throughout the night, led the group in chants of “Shut it down” or “We are with you” and led a variety of songs.

 I came to this protest after 48 hours of meeting with local partners in Phoenix, learning about the legacy of the controversial SB-1070 legislation (which the U.S. Supreme Court is currently mulling over) and meditating on what it will mean for Mennonites to come to Phoenix in 2013 for a convention gathering.

 Earlier that day, I sat down at a meeting with a local Phoenix city official, who also happens to be a member of a Phoenix-area Mennonite congregation. During our conversation about what types of public witness and engagement we should be thinking about at our gathering, this staff member said, “It will be important to remember: Arizona is America. There are problems here that may be more visible, but are just as present in communities across the United States.”

 These words rang in my head, as I stood outside, sweating and singing, at the barbed-wire boundaries of tent city. Here the injustice was obvious and displayed almost arrogantly for all to see. But as we sang the words of this Rumi poem, and repeated the phrase, over and over, “Even if you’ve broken your vow 10,000 times,” I was challenged to think about the places in my own community where people are not welcome or are denied dignity. How many times have I thought to myself: This time I recommit to becoming an advocate for women, an ally for people of color, or a helper for the GLBTQA community. On multiple occasions, I’ve decided to commit myself anew to vegetarianism, water conservation or some other form of environmental care. And this list of new commitments to justice could go on.

 And each time, I fall short in some way. Although the goals are there, I have in fact, broken my vows 10,000 times, and there are likely more pending failures in my future.  But the invitation of this poem, and at this rally, and perhaps even of Arizona, is still to come, and to remain in the struggle and journey, in our communities and in the new places that we encounter, even though we may fall short time and time again.

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Filed under Pacifism

Mennonite on an Island

Jenna Liechty Martin

Guest post from…Jenna Liechty Martin lives and works in Belfast, Northern Ireland alongside the Edgehill Theological College Reconciliation and Integration Partnership Project and in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network. The goal is to help facilitate and guide Christian churches and church leaders in Northern Ireland and the border counties in their vocation of reconciliation and integration through education and training, practice and research. Jenna is a 2007 graduate of Bluffton University.

This post is another in a series of posts reflecting on what it means to be a Mennonite woman. Other posts in the series can be seen here. Jenna has been a dear friend of mine for a long time now, and I am grateful to her for writing this post.

I live on an island with nearly 6 million people and no Mennonite community. (While there are a scattering of Mennonites on the island of Ireland, there is no formal Mennonite church.)

One of the gifts of living away from a place where being Mennonite is assumed to mean certain things is that it presents the opportunity to continually refine my explanation of what it means to me to be a Mennonite woman. When asked if it means that I am a good baker and quilter and if I am allowed to drive a car or use electricity, I take it as an opportunity to offer a slightly different picture of what it means to me to be a Mennonite (and to remind myself that I really do want to learn to quilt.)

At times this opportunity is a gift, while at other times having to explain myself becomes tiresome and I struggle to find the right words to do justice to the faith tradition I embrace. I wonder…What am I really describing? If I speak from my personal experience, am I focusing too much on a particular sub-culture of the Mennonite church and ignoring the reality of a church with a global impact and identity?

 Along with the excitement in being able to share about Mennonites there exists a self-imposed pressure of wanting to do justice to the richness of the tradition, while also struggling with not wanting to come across as being blind to the ways and places we, as a church denomination, fall short.

When people ask whether women can hold leadership positions in the Mennonite church, I quickly respond by saying that I was baptized and married by a woman pastor. When I’m asked how decisions are made within the church, I can describe the processes I’ve seen played out where the church community listens and discerns a healthy way forward. When people ask why Mennonite’s seem to be involved with so many peace-building and reconciliation initiatives around the world, I highlight ways in which the Mennonite church sees peace and justice as central themes to Jesus’ ministry and that we are called to be peacemakers.

But I sometimes wonder if I’m being completely honest…While all the things I say are true, the reality is that not all Mennonite people or churches are supportive of women in leadership; not all of our churches are healthy communities; and not all churches believe that peace is a central piece of the gospel.

Having lived away from a Mennonite community now for nearly three years, I’m slowly settling into the reality that I am a part of a tradition that is not simple to define. Yet at the same time my own identity as a Mennonite woman seems to be more well-defined than ever before. Yes, I still cook out of my Simply in Season cookbook (the only one that made the journey with me to Ireland) and still listen to my Sing the Story CD and yearn for some solid 4-part singing.

But my identity as a Mennonite woman has come to reach far beyond these more ‘cultural cues’. While I often struggle for the right words to describe what it means to be a Christian from a Mennonite perspective, I am becoming increasingly comfortable in that struggle. I might not have all the right words, but sometimes, when sharing a meal with friends around the table or working alongside others  to fix up a community garden space, sometimes people really seem curious as to who these Mennonites are and what they are all about. And sometimes there isn’t a need for words and a shared experience is enough.

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Filed under Mennonite Identity, womanhood