Life moves fast

A reflection by Karly Eichenauer as featured in the Spring 2021 issue of Bridge

In my favorite movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the main character Ferris reflects at the end, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” In our work/school/play, life moves very fast. We busy ourselves with daily tasks or assignments. We plan events and meetings into the day.

This year has been tough for most people. In addition to great loss and suffering, social distancing and safety protocols have canceled many fun events that usually get planned into our schedules. Due to the pandemic, there have been fewer in-person social events to connect with friends, family, and the church community. Even hobbies have been modified to reduce social contact. These changes, layered on top of our busy daily schedules, contribute to stress, anxiety, and loneliness.

Despite this season of stress and loneliness, may we find the time to stop and look around, to slow life down, and appreciate where we are right now. In our own ways, we have experienced new growth and persevered through trying times. Wherever we are, God is guiding us and promises to be by our side. Slow down for a minute: breathe new energy into your body, to center your mind to focus your thoughts, and to release your worries to God.

May we open our eyes to find the joy that is all around us: the blooming of the daffodil flowers, the warming of spring days, and the birds singing in the morning. May we open our hearts to God’s call through the bustle of daily life: to changing paths, to stepping into the unknown, to trying something new. May we focus our sights on the glimmer of hope on the horizon: that we may soon be through this dark season once and for all, and we can reconnect with everyone in our community soon!

Learn more about Youth and Young Adult Ministries at www.brethren.org/yya or support it today at www.brethren.org/giveyya.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Testifying to the work of Jesus

Pentecost Offering 2021
www.brethren.org/pentecost

A theme reflection/sermon starter for the 2021 Pentecost Offering written by Matt DeBall, coordinator of Mission Advancement Communications

“When the Advocate comes . . . the Spirit of truth . . . will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify.” ~John 15:26-27a

Not a day goes by that we aren’t bearing witness to something. Sharing about today’s local weather and how well it matches the forecast. Talking about the incredible meal we had from our favorite restaurant. Telling confidants about the person who went out of their way to help (or harm) us. Whenever words pass our lips, we are sharing a testimony.

As the resurrected Christ prepared for his transition to the heavenly realms, he outlined the essential elements of experiencing new life in the Holy Spirit. Jesus trusted his followers to continue his work and promised to provide them with what they needed to do it. The emerging advocate, the Holy Spirit, would bear witness about Jesus, reminding his followers how to hold him in their minds. In addition to receiving words from the Spirit, to continue the work of Jesus meant the disciples would bear witness as well.

As we hear the words of Jesus from the 15th chapter of John’s Gospel, the mission to testify should not surprise us. The whole account of John prominently features the Greek word “martyreō” meaning “to bear witness”—more than any other gospel, in fact. In the NRSV, variations of the word “testify” are present 30 times and “testimony” is mentioned 12. Indeed, to follow Jesus is to reveal in word and deed what we have seen, heard, and experienced.

Beyond the faithful act of sharing testimonies, the apostle John also reveals whose testimonies to whom we should stay attuned. In the family of faith, our witness is collective. Just as we aim to lift Jesus by the words that we share, so also do we elevate him in the world by the voices that we hear, amplify, and echo. To honor the testimonies in John’s Gospel involves inclining an ear to the same people today. This means listening to the stories of social outcasts (who, like John the Baptist, may be very aware of the redemptive work of God), believing the testimonies of women (the only preachers on Resurrection Sunday), and hearing the voices of people of color (without whom we wouldn’t have a single letter of the entire biblical narrative). Though some voices might be overlooked in other circles, expressions of new life in Jesus can be found everywhere that the church lends an ear.

With your help, the ministries of the Church of the Brethren testify to the work of Jesus and amplify unique life-giving testimonies that need to be heard. Through online conversations and webinars, fearless disciples and leaders are equipped to reveal the ministry of Jesus in new ways. Thank you for supporting this collective work that builds up the body of Christ and speaks words of healing and hope to a hurting world.

How are you testifying about the work of Jesus? Whose testimonies are you hearing regularly? What new voices need to be heard (in your household, church, community) for the redemptive work of Jesus to become more tangible near you?  Together, empowered by the Spirit, how can we reveal the new life we have found in Christ to people in a broken world?

Whatever the conditions, the location, or the people you encounter, may we faithfully testify to the work of Jesus with each day that goes by.

Find worship resources for this year’s offering or give an offering today at www.brethren.org/giveoffering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Christ is alive!

www.brethren.org/newandrenew

By Stan Dueck, director of Organizational Leadership and co-coordinator of Discipleship Ministries

Christ is risen!

This is the Good News of Easter. But is it really news? We know the story. We’ve heard it for years.  At times, it can be difficult to hear something new in this particular Good News.

Though this is the old, old story, our lives—renewed by the gospel of Jesus—are new each day. Every day is refreshed as we remember that Jesus Christ is alive, death has been conquered, our sins are forgiven, and we can live a new, confident, and courageous life. With the very real turmoil, distress, and risk of the world, our understanding of Christ’s victory brings daily renewal. The Easter response, “Christ is Risen, indeed!” echoes good news into each day. Though born centuries ago, Jesus is born again into our lives as we grow in faith. Though his resurrection occurred at a particular time in history, the resurrection power of Christ is ignited again and again as we connect with him through prayer, worship, service, and fellowship. Indeed, our faith endures because of new examples of how Jesus is alive in us and in the world.

Discipleship Ministries points toward new and renewing life in the Church of the Brethren. An example of this is the New and Renew Conference, happening next month (May 13-15). Once known as the Church Planting Conference, New and Renew emphasizes congregational renewal and new church starts. I have been encouraged to hear the stories of individuals who, after attending this event in past years, have planted a new church or provided leadership for the renewal of their congregation.

This year’s conference theme is “The Reward of Risk,” connected to Matthew 25:28-29a, “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live.” Often around the topics of church planting and church renewal, we talk about the possibility of failure due to risk. But have we ever stopped to ponder the possibility of reward amid risk? What might it look like to celebrate those who have taken risks faithfully for the Kingdom of God?

Though pandemic detoured plans for an in-person gathering, we are hosting a new virtual conference for pastors, leaders, members, and anyone who is passionate about new life in the church. Together we will worship, connect, and learn. This three-day virtual conference will lead us to think in new ways about church planting, congregational renewal, and leadership. In addition to workshops, inspirational worship and keynote speakers will nurture calling and passion for ministry as followers of Jesus.

We have invited more nationally known thought-leaders and practitioners to share their rich ideas and down-to-earth practices that empower churches to be the presence of Jesus in their neighborhoods and communities, and to share the Good News. In addition to incredible Brethren leaders, the depth of this conference’s speakers has never been greater with leaders such as Christiana Rice, José Humphreys, David Fitch, Coté Soerens, Darryl Williamson, and Michelle and Aaron Reyes.

As something new, the virtual conference will allow people to participate who otherwise would not have the opportunity due to challenges of finances, travel, church responsibilities, and work or personal schedules. You can register to attend the live events from wherever you are, or view the recorded sessions—3 sermons, 3 plenary sessions, and more than 20 workshops and breakout groups—at your leisure. (Ministers can earn more than 2.0 CEUs for both the live and recorded sessions.)

Thank you for generously supporting and participating in the work of renewal happening through Discipleship Ministries. We deeply appreciate your prayers and partnership. Together we declare that Christ is risen, confidently and courageously share God’s love, and walk toward a bright future.

Learn more or register at www.brethren.org/newandrenew, or support Discipleship Ministries, who hosts this life-changing conference, at www.brethren.org/givediscipleship.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

US Militarism and Climate Change

by Angelo Olayvar

Earth Day is an annual one-day event on April 22 that seeks to show support for the protection of the environment. According to the official website, the 2021 Earth Day theme is ‘Restore Our Earth’, which focuses on natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems. Events like Earth Day give hope for the future of our home planet.

Weeks after President Joe Biden signed an executive order that made the United States a part of the Paris Climate Accord again, he indicated that he is looking at the possibilities of increasing US military spending by 1.7%. The United States of America had already spent approximately $721.5 billion on its military in the fiscal year 2020. This colossal spending is made possible through the political will of American policymakers who intend to protect American national and security interests. But what does this mean in terms of protecting our environment and averting the catastrophic consequences of climate change? Obviously, increasing military spending means allowing the continuation of military activities and operations that are environmental stressors. The activities and operations of the US military are evidently unsustainable because of the tremendous amounts of carbon emissions these release to the atmosphere. Thus, it is without doubt that scientists and climate activists recognize the far-reaching impacts of the US military and its activities on the environment. If the United States is really serious about addressing climate change, it needs to recognize the fact that its own military is considered to be the top climate polluter in history and a bigger polluter than the next 140 countries combined.

A report published by the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding affairs concludes that the far-reaching consequences of climate change, such as drought and rising sea level, have the potential to foster conditions that can result in violence, instability, climate displacement, and forced migrations. Moreover, recent historical events demonstrate that large-scale human migrations increase the chance for conflict and turmoil as new populations attempt to intermingle and compete for resources against established populations. These kinds of scenarios, produced by changing and extreme weather patterns, greatly affect regional and global peace and security. Thus, if the world fails to fundamentally address climate change soon, armed conflicts, humanitarian crises, and instability, brought by climate change, could be on the horizon. If the United States wants to protect its reputation as a reliable global leader, it needs to spearhead the creation of solutions that will address the root cause of these impending disastrous and catastrophic scenarios events — climate change.

As mentioned earlier, the US military is the world’s biggest polluter. The wide array of activities that the United States conducts during peacetime and wartime has substantial effects on the environment — from the amount of hazardous wastes it produces to the number of its nuclear tests to the wartime activities and operations it conducts. The activities and operations of the US military have contaminated large swaths of lands of Indian reservations, resulted in the desertification of 90% of Iraqi territory, contributed to the continued high levels of radiation in many islands in the Pacific Ocean, and so much more. It is no surprise that the continued and increasing militarism of the United States can be linked to the changing and extreme weather patterns. Furthermore, The past environmental record of the US military shows that its current policies are unsustainable. However, this did not discourage many American policymakers and top pentagon officials from blatantly planning future contamination of the environment through increased military activities.

Proponents of US militarism argue that a strong and well-funded military is necessary for protecting American national interests and preserving global peace and stability. For decades, the US military has been called to play an active role in humanitarian aid and disaster relief around the globe to preserve peace and stability. However, is a militarized response or the utilization of the US military really effective in maintaining regional peace and stability? Many would argue that the humanitarian interventions authorized by the United States are counterproductive and oftentimes resulted in disastrous results. For example, the response of the United States to the conflicts and crises in the countries in the Middle East, Central and South America, and Africa resulted in a disaster and worsened the situation. Given the fact that the US military and its activities contribute greatly to climate change that produce situations and conditions that will necessarily require a more robust US military activities, is it logical to support the idea of relying on the US military in addressing humanitarian crises and conflicts instead of diplomacy? Moreover, does it make sense to continue on sustaining and expanding military activities and operations that fuels climate change and its consequences?

This piece briefly explored the implications of the activities and operations of the US military on the environment. It is right to ethically and morally question various human activities that fuel inequality and perpetuate a cycle that unnecessarily causes people to suffer. As indicated, the US military budget is a whopping $721.5 billion, and many American policymakers are wanting to add more. This large sum of money will allow the US military to continue and expand  its unsustainable practices that can put more stressors on the environment. It is time that American lawmakers and top officials recognize that the United States needs funding for education, health, and renewable energies, not funding for more nuclear bombs and chemical weapons. The world needs peace which can be fully achieved if we pursue environmental justice.

References:

https://dppa.un.org/en/addressing-impact-of-climate-change-peace-and-security

https://www.ipb.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/briefing-paper.pdf

https://www.ecowatch.com/military-largest-polluter-2408760609.html

https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/5-Disatrous-US-Led-Humanitarian-Interventions-20190219-0024.html

Creating a mosaic together

Read a reflection by Nancy McCrickard in this week's issue of eBrethren.
(Feel welcome to save this image and color it on your computer or on paper.)

By Nancy McCrickard, Mission Advancement advocate

Each time I receive an issue of Messenger magazine, I glance at the articles quickly and then turn to the back for the “Turning Points” section to review recent deaths. Later, I go back and read the articles more thoroughly.

Why, you may ask, do I look at the “Turning Points” section so intently?

Over the last three years of serving with the staff of the Church of the Brethren, I have formed relationships with many people across the denomination–people who are faithful, passionate supporters of the church.

As a Mission Advancement advocate for the denomination, I work to build relationships with ALL individuals who support the Church of the Brethren through their generosity of time, talent, and resources (regardless of the size of the gift). Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have “serenaded our supporters from the balcony” through phone calls, personal letters, handwritten notecards, emails, text messages, and Zoom meeting visits.

We have also embraced the paradigm shift in religious giving:  from a traditional perspective that is often summarized as “fundraising is raising money,” to an emerging paradigm that suggests that “fundraising is nurturing generosity” and that supporters are collaborative partners.

We have sought to make our supporters more than a name on a page or a number in our database. And each week in our Mission Advancement team meeting, I share donor stories from correspondence over the past week that have inspired me so that all of us can be inspired together.

Subsequently, while reading the list of deceased members in Messenger, I find myself pausing to reflect on my fondest memory of that person. Memories like:

  • visiting a woman who was a missionary with her husband in Nigeria and seeing the original manuscript he wrote that led to books about their work;
  • telling a retirement community resident that it was okay for us to stop talking long enough for him to take his medications from the nurse (and not keep her waiting any longer);
  • having lunch with a couple and videotaping an impromptu scripture reading for them for an online worship service;
  • sharing a bag of Herr’s potato chips with two supporters at Annual Conference in 2019;
  • spending time with a widow after the death of her husband (who had passed shortly before a previously scheduled visit), hearing stories about his life as a Church of the Brethren pastor;
  • talking with a gentleman on the phone (a few months before he unexpectedly passed away) when he reiterated his commitment of support to the Church of the Brethren;
  • giving a loaf of blueberry bread to a couple to express gratitude after the gift of a beautiful, homegrown lily on my previous visit, and receiving a call at the end of the week so he could report they were “fighting over the last piece of bread”;
  • working from the home of supporters who graciously hosted me for a few days, enjoying meals together, walking with them to a nearby yard sale, and shedding tears as we departed, knowing that we likely would not meet again.

These stories uplift just a few individuals who have passed away in the past year and a half. All were just ordinary Brethren who have supported our denominational work. Many were also members of our Faith Forward Donor Circle (FFDC) after choosing to include the Church of the Brethren in their estate planning. I am honored to have met many faithful Christ-followers who have enriched my life and work.

Over the last few years, I have often said that I am hoping to learn from the individuals I meet, forming a mosaic of memories and experiences of those supporters. Each of these individuals have added one or more colorful tiles to the mosaic of my life. As a result, I strive to honor their legacy within the Church of the Brethren and to celebrate our shared mission.

In Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen noted that each of us adds a piece to the story of faith, like colorful tiles, and that together we reveal a beautiful picture of God’s face to the world.

Today, I invite you to consider the many “tile opportunities” in your life. How will the mosaic of your life take shape today, this week, this month, and in the years ahead? And, in the spirit of re-aligning perspectives: how might you add a spot of color to someone else’s life mosaic?

Blessings to you in creating your mosaic!

Learn more about the mosaic of the Church of the Brethren and its ministries at www.brethren.org or support its life-changing work at www.brethren.org/give.

The war on terrorism and the erosion of human rights

By Angelo Olayvar

It is exactly one month before the impending May 1 deadline to pull out all US troops in Afghanistan. The destruction brought by the wars waged by the United States in the Middle East against terrorism along with the counterterror measures it curated have had far-reaching consequences that resulted in countless loss of human lives and hampered the promotion of human rights all over the globe.

The US-led global effort to counter terrorism and contain violent extremism has resulted in the death of at least 800,000 people due to direct war violence. This absurd number does not include the people who suffer and continue to suffer from physical, emotional, and/or mental trauma from the war. The destruction and instability resulting from the global war on terror has forced at least 21 million people in the Middle East to live as refugees and internally displaced persons, in extremely inadequate conditions. The never-ending wars on terror have cost US taxpayers at least $5.4 trillion and an additional $1 trillion for veteran care. These numbers are ridiculously excessive and it could have been avoided if the United States had adopted more responsible and peaceful methods in addressing terrorism and violent extremism.

The war has also created significant ripple effects on the economy of the United States that include job loss and an increase in interest rates. The federal government’s investment in military assets, in the duration of the wars, has made the United States lose the opportunity to fundamentally advance capital investments in core infrastructure such as roads and public transit. Given the fact that military spending creates fewer jobs, the United States should have just invested in clean energy, public education, and health care which could have resulted in the creation of millions of jobs for Americans and create a sector that can fundamentally address climate change. Even more, it is important to note that war spending is entirely financed by borrowing. The debt accrued from military spending has contributed to higher interest rates that basically charged borrowers such as new homeowners.

Reviewing the overview of the financial and human cost of the global war on terror does not shed light in discerning the full extent of the impact of the US-led global effort to counter terrorism and violent extremism. The global war on terror and the counterterror measures have resulted in gross human rights violations and obscured the promotion of human rights all over the globe.

The response to terrorism and violent extremism by the United States, along with the response of the United Nations, has been immoral, unethical, undemocratic, illiberal, and counterproductive. Instead of curbing terrorism and violent extremism, it has brought destruction, instability, seemingly endless wars, humanitarian crises, deaths, and loss of human rights of many people around the globe. It is apparent that the counterterror practices curated by the United States and the United Nations are being exploited by authoritarian regimes to legitimize their repressive and oftentimes violent acts towards their own population to maintain their grip on power. It is disheartening to learn that there has been an erosion of civil and political liberties in many democratic societies because their governments adopted authoritarian practices to counter terrorism and violent extremism. Since terrorism is a scourge of all modern civilized societies, state governments should and must not misuse counterterror measures and violate fundamental human rights to advance political gains.

Counterterror measures by democratic and authoritarian states necessitate the use of rhetoric to legitimize their anti-terrorism campaign. Oftentimes, these rhetoric results in the increase of anti-muslim sentiment. The rise of Islamophobia has detrimental effects on the basic human rights and dignity of Muslims and people of Middle-Eastern descent in many countries. Although Islamophobia existed even before 9/11, its frequency and notoriety increased dramatically during the past decade. In many western societies such as the United States and the United Kingdom, many people with Islamic background and Middle-Eastern descent are victims of discrimination, hate crimes, and racist acts due to the rhetoric adopted by the US government and political leaders.

Autocratic states such as China and Myanmar exploited counterterror measures and the global war on terror to strengthen their hold on power. In these autocratic regimes, Muslim ethnic groups lost their fundamental human rights due to the states’ paranoia in preserving territorial integrity, which is crucial in securing their regimes’ legitimacy. Millions of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province are subject to human rights abuses and genocidal acts. The Chinese Communist Party links the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (a separatist group that operates in Xinjiang and uses Uighur dissent to attract members) to the Taliban and Al-Qeada groups to justify their so-called ‘counterterror measures’ against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province. In Myanmar, the Tatmadaw (military of Myanmar) adopted the language of counterterror measures to justify their military operations against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. The Tatmadaw created a narrative linking the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (an insurgent group that aims to defend, salvage, and protect Rohingya Muslims) to Taliban groups. The military operations have resulted in ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and genocide of the Rohingya Muslims, producing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in modern times. The lethargic provisions and vague language of the counterterror measures that the United States have curated and advocated for in the United Nations Security Council have far-reaching consequences in the promotion of human rights around the world. It is with great sadness to hear that 71 years after the holocaust, genocides are still happening.

It is important to note that many autocratic regimes and illiberal democracies have capitalized and exploited the global war on terror and various counterterror measures laid out by the United Nations Security Council to secure the legitimacy of their regimes. Countries such as Poland, Hungary, Russia, and the Philippines have implemented counterterror measures in order to silence political opponents and the civil society. The leaders of these countries have no respect for fundamental democratic principles. They create an enemy out of the civil society to justify their use of oppressive and repressive measures. The actions of these regimes have resulted in the dramatic erosion of civil and political rights.

The global war on terror, counterterrorism campaign, and the fight against violent extremism have had counterproductive and adverse results that culminated in the erosion of basic human rights. The United States along with the United Nations should design more comprehensive and humane counterterror measures so that authoritarian regimes would not exploit it to advance their political gains. The temptation to adopt autocratic practices in fighting terrorism and violent extremism is strong, but it is paramount that democratic states should maintain their adherence to liberal values and establish human rights as the bedrock of its campaign against terrorism and violent extremism. Furthermore, state governments and political leaders should be careful in using rhetoric that can incite paranoia and hatred towards religious and ethnic minorities and other traditionally disfavored groups.

Angelo Olayvar is an intern with the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy.

Preserving church history

Read a reflection by William Kostlevy and a Messenger magazine quote in this week's issue of eBrethren.
William Kostlevy, director of Brethren Historical Library and Archives,
 presenting in a recent Facebook live event.

By William Kostlevy, director of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives

In the summer of 1981, I served an eight-week internship at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives (BHLA). As a Bethany Seminary student with a master’s degree in history, it was a natural fit. But little did I realize that it would a life-changing experience that would lead to a career in archives management, new friendships, and an addiction to Brethren history.

On a normal day that summer I would ride from the old Bethany Oak Brook campus with the truly legendary Bob Faus, director of Ministry for the church. While many remember Bob for his wonderful sense of humor (which I enjoyed as much as anyone), I remember his generous mentorship and infectious love for the complex and diverse Church of the Brethren. In truth, I learned more about the Church of the Brethren from Bob’s marvelous stories than I learned from any class I took at Bethany.

My primary work that summer was processing the many smaller archival collections that had accumulated over the years. Many were collections documenting the work of the Church of the Brethren in Illinois and included papers of Illinois pastor and Bethany faculty member J. W. Lear and his equally accomplished wife, an ordained minister named Martha Lear; Brethren educator C. Ernest Davis; the Civil War era diaries of John Emmert; and the many small collections of Illinois congregations. To this day the names Cerro Gordo, Lanark, and Polo conjure up images of ordinary rural Brethren serving and transforming their communities in unexpected ways. I met many remarkable volunteers that summer including former Messenger editor Kenneth Morse; founder of the Fellowship of Brethren Genealogists, Gwen Bobb; and the very interesting Edith Barnes whose memories of the church and Elgin dated from the arrival of her father to head the Mission Board in the 1920s.

My summer in the archives opened unexpected doors to work in the archives of the University of Notre Dame, a rare PEW Charitable Trust funded opportunity to create a comprehensive list of manuscript collections documenting the Wesleyan Holiness tradition at Asbury Theological Seminary, and archivist positions at Asbury Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary. All of these culminated in me returning as the director of the BHLA in 2013.

As director of the BHLA, I have sought to continue the work of my predecessors Jim Lynch, Ken Shaffer, and Terry Barkley. Our primary task is to preserve the heritage of the Church of the Brethren and make documentation of that heritage available. In this role, I have experienced the truly worldwide significance of Brethren witness with visitors and outside researchers from India, Nigeria, Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Korea, and especially China, using BHLA materials to tell the story Brethren service and mission in their respective countries. Working with gifted interns Keith Morphew, Andrew Pankratz, Kelley Brenneman, Aaron Neff, Fred Miller, Haley Steinhilber, Maddie McKeever, Zoe Zorndran and Allison Snyder, I have attempted to highlight the uplifting stories of the largely unknown figures who witnessed to and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ in unforgettable ways in Europe, North America, and around the world.

In May of 2013, I had the opportunity to spend a day with Dale and Lois Brown acquiring one of the most important manuscript collections documenting the Brethren story in the second half of the twentieth century and, more personally, the papers of a friend and mentor. Equally important were trips acquiring the papers of Warren Groff, Donald E. Miller, and later Gene Roop, another favorite and important personal mentor. Other adventures included a trip to Santa Barbara, Calif., to interview the noted actor Don Murray who raved about his experiences as a conscientious objector, completing alternative service with the Church of the Brethren in Europe. I especially enjoyed interviewing Esther Frye, member of Mount Morris (Ill.) Church of the Brethren, who clearly recalled an afternoon spent at the home of Bethany Theological Seminary co-founder at E. B. Hoff, ninety years earlier.   

I will never forget the Chinese visitors whose enthusiasm for the work of Brethren missionaries in Shanxi Province reminded me that the Brethren story is truly a story that is not limited to North America. But closer to Elgin, I think of the truly extraordinary courage of Harold Row in offering Nathan Leopold, one of the most notorious figures of the last century, a chance to serve humanity outside a prison wall. Or the Indiana farmers who sought to end war and hunger by providing livestock to those in need. Or Anna Mow sharing the old Pietist dream of the possibility for all of us to have a new meaningful life in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the end I am truly grateful to the Church of the Brethren for the priority and support given to the BHLA, and for giving me the privilege of having the job of a lifetime. Thank you for supporting the life-changing work of the Church of the Brethren and helping preserve our remarkable and rich history.

Learn more about the Brethren Historical Library and Archives at www.brethren.org/bhla, or support this Core Ministry of the Church of the Brethren at www.brethren.org/giveBHLA.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Taking Nature Black

by Susu Lassa

I was opportune to attend the 2021 Taking Nature Black Virtual Conference, which took place from Tuesday, February 23rd to Saturday, February 27th. It was put on by the Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) as a Black history month celebration, with the theme being “Call and Response: Elevating Our Stories, Naturally.” Between classes this semester and work obligations, I was able to attend at least one panel a day. The panels I attended were: Living On and Off the Land; The Politics of the Environment; Breaking Decolonization’s Hold on the Environment; and Minding the Gap: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Agricultural and EJ Activists. I intend to share some of my outtakes from these panels in this blog post, and I hope that the insights gleaned from this experience will foster a nuanced understanding of the experience of Black people in nature and ecological justice spaces.

How is the understanding of Black people in nature framed?

As this conference was intended as a space for healing, learning, dialogue, and organizing, an understanding of how the issue of black people in ecological and ecological justice (EJ) spaces is framed is essential to this endeavor. The issue is usually framed as “Black people are not in nature because they do not like nature/don’t want to be in nature.” However, the issue actually includes the centering of whiteness as normative or even aspirational and the reception of black people in these spaces, as well as the very real history of racism and segregation that deters black people from feeling safe in urban park and agricultural spaces. To that second point, I know the tangible hesitation that I personally felt being in public lands and parks in Washington D.C. after participating in the protests at the White House following the murder of George Floyd and various other people at the hands of the police. Seeing the highly militarized park police in riot gear brutalizing people and recognizing that such a militarized presence is present in public parks around the city and country make me weary of utilizing those spaces, and I do not think that I am alone in this sentiment.

What then is the experience of Black people in nature and in ecological justice spaces?

During the Living On and Off the Land panel, which was a conversation engaging Black farmers, the biggest issue experienced by Black people engaging with urban agriculture is access to land, so there not being enough land to feed entire communities. Throw in issues of soil quality in predominantly Black communities, and the issue gains more nuance. Militarized public spaces, issues around access to public lands, and hesitation to engage due to the legacy of slavery are also reasons that can help us develop an understanding of the experience of Black people in nature. During the Breaking Decolonization’s Hold on the Environment panel, the issue of ‘diversity and inclusion’ in ecological/ecological justice spaces came up, illumining an aversion to encouraging Black people -collapsed into ‘diversity’- into these white-centric spaces, when focus and effort should be geared towards interrogating the ownership of these spaces that see Black people as having to be ‘invited-in’. Thus, this perception of Black People as ‘diversity’ and not as stakeholders in these spaces forces Black people to pull back and invest in movements that do not pigeonhole them.

How and why is the environment political?

The environment is political by virtue of the inequitable nature of land use. Thus, the salient interest is proprietorship, and politics in an adversarial context elevates economic gain and profit at the expense of the environment. It is key to remember that the health and well-being of the environment is a political fight in a political space because it is less about the land itself and more about wealth.

Knowing what we know, how can we move forward?

A good first step would be encouraging a reorientation of minds from a consumption mindset to a mindset that encourages growth for both the land and the people. This insight was shared by a Black farmer in the south with the aim of shedding the reputation of sharecroppers imposed on black landowners and farmworkers in the south. A second step is to encourage an understanding of public land as a necessary component of Black healthy living. We can also find and support individual efforts geared at urban agriculture -if you live in an urban setting- as there is funding available for agricultural communities that are disbursed by NGOs which do not often trickle down to these efforts.

What can we do politically?

We should encourage and emphasize the interconnected nature of land stewardship issues taking place in various communities nationwide based on geographical location, while understanding that there is no one fix. We should also tie urban agriculture to bigger initiatives of the Biden administration’s climate initiatives, i.e.: growing food near to communities, which cuts down on carbon emissions. Lastly, we should make sure to always connect domestic EJ work to global issues. In the words of one of the panelists, “we can’t play whack-a-mole with these issues, as a solutions pop-up here and more issues there.”

What can we do educationally?

We should encourage environmental literacy, especially in young POC as young people live at the forefront of civil rights and social justice spaces. By providing youth with the tools for advocacy and empowerment regarding EJ issues, we will be able to utilize this current time in history and mobilize young people around EJ issues and natural science/agriculture fields. During the Minding the Gap: Cultivating the Next Generation of Diverse Agricultural and EJ Activists panel, I learned that some of the barriers to underrepresented youth pursuing natural science and agricultural fields include a deep stigma related to environmental/agricultural fields due to the history of racism, as well as a misunderstanding of the diversity of careers in these fields and a lack of representation (seeing people who look like they do). Thus, by creating channels for kids to foster relationships with people in these fields and nurturing the sense of agency and efficacy in young people, youth will be enabled to know their worth and value in community spaces addressing these issues and have the confidence to take on roadblocks.

In parting, those of us in EJ movement spaces and organizations must understand that it is not about being Black in movements, it is about changing the norm that centers and elevates whiteness in these spaces so that everyone can bring their talents and skills, regardless of social location, because in the words of Ella Baker, contact with all people, if you are interested in people, can be valuable.

This blog post was written by Susu Lassa, former BVSer, presently BTS and studying with OPP focusing on Ecological Justice.

Words of life

Photo by Russell De Boer

By Ed Woolf, director of Finance and Treasurer

In March of 2018, Loyola University had an improbable run in the Men’s National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament. With dramatic game winning shots, winning the first three games by a total of four points, and then beating a high-ranking team by a large margin, it seemed as though they were destined to play in the national championship game. Unfortunately, their run ended in the semi-finals.

Along with the team’s dramatic run, many also remember Loyola’s most famous fan—Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the team’s then 98-year-old chaplain. Sister Jean became a household name as she was interviewed regularly after games and was visible on TV as she cheered from the sidelines throughout the tournament.

Last year, as she approached her 101st birthday and in response to the growing pandemic, Sister Jean concluded a prayer for her alma mater with these words, “As the days go by, let us continue our team spirit. Let us bring happiness and joy to others. Let us ask our God to continue to protect us with our love.”

Words have purpose and meaning. They can divide, instill fear, and break people down, or they can empower and inspire others, lifting up their hearts and building them up. Surely, Sister Jean’s pre-game prayers and sage advice to the Loyola players were impactful, an important part of the team’s spirit that led to their success.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us to use our words to build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. In other words, we are called to use our words to speak life to one another, just as Jesus speaks life to each of us.

The last year has surely been a difficult one. It has been challenging to experience and hear stories of families being physically separated for long lengths of time and it has been heartbreaking to miss out on so many meaningful events that are important to us. In this socially distant environment, it could be argued that our words to one another matter even more now than ever before.

At this time when our Brethren value of hands-on service and our call to follow WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) may still be restricted, we must also consider WWJS (What Would Jesus Say). It’s important to remember that we can also be the hands and feet of Jesus to those we come in contact with every day through our words.

Even when we cannot meet in person, we can send a heartfelt text message or email to someone going through a difficult time. We can share something inspirational on social media. Or, a more novel idea, we can write a letter or perhaps send a post card (like those in the 2020 Annual Report “Living Letters,” still available for free by request) to friends or family who live far away. We can look over our fences and encourage our neighbors with a kindhearted word, giving them strength for whatever challenges they are facing. As the family of God, we can pray for someone whom we might not have thought to pray for before; another way to pray without ceasing.

There are also times when we, ourselves, are going through a difficult time and need to hear words of assurance. If this is the case, we can seek inspiring words wherever they can be found. We can talk with a dear friend. We can also look for encouragement in God’s Word, a daily affirmation, a devotional, a favorite hymn, or perhaps a Messenger article.

No matter how we choose to speak life to one another (or receive them), we are called to carefully choose words from the heart that are affirming, positive, genuine, life-giving, faith-filled, purposeful, fruitful, and inspiring. To faithfully follow Christ and the Word of God, our words will outdo one another in showing honor, reveal love to our neighbors and enemies, and put others ahead of ourselves.

Whether through seasons of victory or of difficulty, may we, like Sister Jean (who still serves as the chaplain of Loyola’s basketball team), continue our team spirit and choose to speak words of life to one another.

Learn about how the ministries of the Church of the Brethren speak life at www.brethren.org or support them today at www.brethren.org/give.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)