Friday, July 5, 2013

Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Advocacy Training

Become an advocate for maternal health- Apply for the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Advocacy Training!

The Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project is excited to announce that it will sponsor its fourth Ambassador Advocacy Training this fall to engage and empower people of faith from across the United States to respond to the global tragedy of maternal mortality and the unmet need for family planning. The training will be held in Washington, D.C., from October 27th-30th.

Participants will learn about global maternal health, train in effective grassroots advocacy, design action plans for at-home advocacy, and meet with their elected officials to advocate for increased funding for international family planning programs.

We’re looking for passionate people of faith who reside in the continental United States to apply. Those interested can apply for the training here. The Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project will cover travel, lodging, and food costs for all participants.

To learn more about our training we invite potential applicants to attend an informational webinar on July 9th.

Applications are due by July 15th.  For more information visit the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet website.

Friday, May 3, 2013

You’re right President Obama, it’s time to close Guantanamo

by T.C. Morrow

Last Friday I stood in an orange jumpsuit and black hood, carrying a sign with the name of a detainee who had died at Guantanamo. It was only for an hour, but a profound hour to think about the men that are being held in our name.
Photo by Ted Majdosz

This Friday I again joined a Close Guantanamo vigil over the lunch hour in Washington, DC. Between the two Fridays, during a press conference on Tuesday, April 30, President Obama restated his belief in the need to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. 

I appreciate President Obama responding to a question about the hunger strike at Guantanamo that started in February and now reportedly includes 100 of the 166 detainees. It is a hunger strike born of the desperation of men being held in indefinite detention, 86 of whom have been cleared for transfer but Congress has put up roadblocks for the transfers. While I appreciate President Obama’s recommitment, which he had stated during last year’s campaign as well, I am waiting to see words turn into action. The President has blamed Congress for the roadblocks, but he signed the bills into law and has not used the powers the Administration has to certify individuals for transfer.

I have no doubt that a number of the men held at Guantanamo are guilty of war crimes and should be tried, but how long are we going to embarrass ourselves and not transfer men who have been cleared for transfer? Every day that the detention center stays open is another day of reminder of the sins of torture that have taken place there.

So as tourists walked by snapping pictures of the White House, I was present in vigils to let President Obama know that we support his desire to see Guantanamo closed and encourage action to back up his words. I was with fellow colleagues with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), members of Witness Against Torture, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, and more. On April 26, we were joined by Col. Morris Davis (ret.), former Chief Prosecutor of the Guantanamo military commissions. Col. Davis launched a petition this week that now has over 125,000 signatures.
Later on Tuesday after the President’s remarks in the press conference, 38 religious leaders released a public letter sent to the President and all members of Congress, describing the desperate situation at Guantanamo and calling on President Obama and Congress to back the President’s words with action by expeditiously moving to close the Guantanamo detention center. My colleague Laura Markle Downton read the letter, coordinated by NRCAT, at the vigil this Friday. I shared the following prayer. It is not the lament that has been just on the edge of my mind and unable to get into full sentences, but I offer it for your prayer and reflection:

God of the open spaces like this plaza and God of the closed cells like at Guantanamo, we give thanks that you have created each person in your image, each person with dignity and worth.

We pray that you may help all people remember that each and every person is your beloved child.

When we fall short and do ill to each other, lift us up and let your justice reign.

On this day, here in front of the White House, a symbol of hope and freedom, we gather to call for the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, a symbol of torture and shame.

We gather in solidarity with those desperate enough to go on hunger strike to make their voices heard. May they know that many voices have lifted up for an end to indefinite detention and closure of Guantanmo.
We pray for President Obama, for strength of conviction and action to close Guantanamo. We pray for others in our government to undue this stain on our country. We pray for the guards and medical staff at Guantanamo, we pray for the detainees, especially those who have been cleared for transfer and languish in the unknown. We pray for the American people and we pray for ourselves, that we may not give in to fear – that through your help O God, we can see a closure of the Guantanamo detention facility.



T.C. Morrow is Director of Finance & Operations for the National ReligiousCampaign Against Torture and a member of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Promised Land: The Mountaintop for Immigration Reform

by Mistead Sai

Guide my feet while I run this race, (yes, my Lord!)
Guide my feet while I run this race, (yes, my Lord!)
Guide my feet while I run this race,
For I don't want to run this race in vain! (race in vain!)
-African-American Spiritual

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed by a shot from a sniper’s bullet while he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 39 years old. This past April, we commemorated the 45th year since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. who will always be in history books for years to come for the hand he had in the civil rights movement. It’s hard to even think of the civil rights movement without Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK had traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support the striking of African-American sanitation workers. The workers had participated in a walkout earlier in February to protest the unfair wages and working conditions they experienced at their workplace. He had spoken the day prior to his death to a gathering at the Masonic Temple known as the speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

Excerpt: “And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats... or talk about the threats that were out……….. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land.”

Listen to this powerfully captivating speech of “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” here!

Despite receiving bomb threats against his plane before got to Memphis, he understood the work of God in his life and his life’s mission to bring the Promised Land to all people. He understood the need to support workers, the need for righteousness in the face of injustice. He understood the need for economic justice for the plight of African-American workers.

Has things changed in these times? No!

I can draw a lot of parallels between the Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech concerning the Memphis Sanitation Strike and the undocumented immigrant in this highly-political climate with the event that happened a couple weeks ago, and the struggle of the undocumented immigrants.

Today, the undocumented immigrant has experienced abuse from their unscrupulous employer who steals their wages (wage theft), exposes them to hazardous working conditions, and intimidates them with threats of calling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they complain, or try to organize other themselves.

What kind of life is it to work in a low-wage job providing essential labor such as farming and having to live in the shadows in constant fear?

Moreover, similarly as Martin Luther King, Jr. received a bomb threat, we witnessed the tragic Boston bombings and some lawmakers have cited the Boston bombing as example if Congress carries immigration reform too far. They want to use the incident to heighten enforcement and deny citizenship for the estimated eleven million undocumented immigrants in this country. It has revitalized a certain xenophobia and anxiety in America.

MLK did not let the bomb threat affect his vision, but he stood the course, and we should not let the bomb threat prevent us from seeing the vision either.

We should not allow politicians to use the Boston bombing as a ploy to inhibit immigration reform from happening. We are too close now to let immigration reform fall right under us…..I have seen the Promised Land

Let’s stay the course my brothers and sisters and not derail from our work on immigration reform. I mourn for the folks that were injured or killed in the Boston bombing, but I stand with a much heavier heart seeking the Beloved Community that MLK speaks of in light of this travesty.

We must commit ourselves to the Beloved Community of MLK. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood and saw the Promised Land for Civil Rights, and now we see the Promised Land for Immigration Reform where all of our immigrant brothers and sisters are respected and their dignity is acknowledged.

Let’s stay the course……

Today on May Day (International Workers’ Day), I will walk through the city streets where the Haymarket massacre occurred in Chicago with my co-workers at Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) to protest for immigration reform for immigrant workers seeking full citizenship and be ensured of their workers’ rights.

I have seen the Promised Land. My eyes have seen the Promised Land and I know that we can get there together!


Mistead Sai is a US-2 missionary for the United Methodist through the General Board of Global ministries. Mistead Said serves at Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) as their Worker Center Network Assistant providing support to worker center affiliates nationwide. Mistead received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at the University of Maryland. He enjoys intellectual conservations, likes documentaries, and has taken a liking to investigate issues surrounding environmental racism, biopolitics, and identity politics in the past recent months.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Women: At the Center of a Sustainable World

by Beka Olsen

Crossposted on the Huffington Post

Last February, I had a daughter. It changed the way I view the world entirely, in ways I’d never expected. Suddenly, I spend a lot more time thinking about the world in which my daughter will grow up, and what I’d like that world to look like. This Earth Day, I’m also thinking about how women – like the one my daughter will grow up to be – can change the face of the world.

My viewpoint has always been shaped by my relationship with the church and my family. My father was a Methodist minister. My mother is a Methodist minister, as is my stepfather. I believe that we all have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than us.

My daughter will grow up lucky, compared to millions of children around the world. She’ll have good food, safe places to live and learn. She won’t have to walk for miles to find clean water – she’ll turn on the faucet anytime she gets thirsty. She won’t have to spend hours gathering enough firewood to cook her dinner.

But many women, here in the U.S. and around the globe, aren’t as lucky. I was thinking about those women, and their daughters, during a long drive across Texas last year with my husband, my mother and my newborn daughter. We were playing one of those “what if?” games that people play to while away the hours. What would you do if you could do any work you wanted? I’d help women, I said.  I’d help make sure their daughters could have the same opportunities as mine.

My mother then encouraged me to get involved with the “Healthy Families, Healthy Planet” project at the United Methodist Church. Through the project, I learned that one of the best ways to help women and girls thrive is to give them the education and options they need to plan their families. More than 220 million women around the world want to delay or avoid a pregnancy, but aren’t using modern family planning. Sometimes it’s a question of access, sometimes a question of cultural barriers. But always, it’s a question of choice – a choice I had, a choice I want my daughter to have, regarding when and whether to bear a child. I want all women to have that choice.

What does this have to do with Earth Day? I believe that healthy, thriving women both create and depend on healthy, thriving communities. Without clean air, healthy forests, abundant fish and  wildlife, we cannot have healthy cities and towns. But a healthy environment depends on people, families and communities that are empowered to make decisions that work for them about how fast to grow.

Last June, then- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a powerful speech at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, noted that “to reach our goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women’s reproductive rights. Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children.”

My daughter will grow up healthy and empowered to plan her family. But the world she will live in depends on the decisions we make now about how to empower the rest of the world’s women. By giving women choices and education regarding family planning, women will have access to the tools they need to make decisions about their family’s future. We can help build a world in which every woman and girl – and everyone man and boy – can grow up as blessed as you and me.


Beka Olson is a “Healthy Families, Healthy Planet” Ambassador for the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society. She lives in Manhattan.

God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale

by Sara Swenson

The smell of ice melting into damp earth. The sounds of returning geese harmonizing with winter silence over sundown. Spring in rural Minnesota means new grass, wobbling calves, thawing lakes, sunlight dissolving clouds, and the first tassels of corn brushing up from the fields.

Growing up around the farms and forests of western Minnesota, the concept of resurrection came easily. I remember my Sunday school teacher laboring through the complexity of the topic during Holy Week, unsure how to present such abstract subject matter to a classroom of kindergarteners wielding crayon-shaded cutouts of butterflies and crosses. She must have stayed up half the night crafting her lesson plans, but the theological nuances which evaded her were a natural given to her pupils After all, we had watched the perennials in our gardens and flower boxes bloom fresh year after year – leaves bursting from bark as if by magic, apples rolling red from pink blossoms, golden wheat rising from dry seed without self-conscious awareness that it was performing any sort of miracle. Butterflies casually unfolded from cocoons; kittens tumbled mewing from barns with matching stripes as their mothers; winter melt sparkled into once-dry ponds, and sunflowers turned their faces to God.

So why wouldn’t Jesus rise from the dead? Resurrection was at work every day in our farms and yards; that which the world’s greatest preachers and theologians had grappled over for centuries came to us farm kids as naturally as talking and moving. Life demonstrated Easter better than any lesson plan.

The farms and lakes of my childhood were God’s classroom. The wonders of discovering new bugs, neat rocks, and weird plants taught me awe and reverence for an incomprehensible divine so big that God encompassed all of nature’s wild diversity. My daily adventures in nature taught me humility by reminding me how much I still had to learn about the world. Every time I encountered something new and exciting, I realized how limited my own imagination was next to the enormous creativity of God in the world. If one tiny plant could hold so much mystery, imagine how much more mystery my friends and neighbors contained! I learned to be self-critical of my own assumptions about others, to practice grace and forgiveness, and to respect the surprises God hid within all life, just by walking through fields.

As I grew up and began to learn more about science and biology, this depth of mystery deepened each in God, my neighbor, the world, and in the tiny wonders of snails, daffodils, molecules, and atoms. The possibilities of this unconceivable complexity thrilled and challenged me. No longer could I comfortably accept givens or stereotypes – science itself was an expression of transforming thought and gradual evolution. Compassion became a necessity in the light of this required humility – all that I did not know became the ethical grounding for my moral and theological convictions. I could not help but default to love and forgiveness in light my own very human flaws and limited understanding. I had to practice grace toward my friends and neighbors for their own simple human limits. The incomprehensible complexity of nature was a demonstration of God’s vast mystery and an underlying requirement for me to both accept and practice grace.

As I read now about the growing trends of global fundamentalism and genetic modification, I can’t help but wonder if they are related. After all, isn’t it the same impulse within us that encourages humans to deny both the incompressible complexities of God and nature? Fundamentalism limits God to a narrow interpretation of texts and dogma. Genetic modification limits nature to machine-like decoding and human convenience. Either way, we are running away from faith and diversity by claiming to understand more than we can. Either way, we are denying the grace of divine mystery.

Globalization and the dangers of a growing world population seem to present too many unsolvable puzzles and fears for us. Instead of responding with faith and courage – embracing the possibilities of diversity and change – we respond by squeezing one another into boxes of judgment according to race, nationality, sexuality, political perspective, and so on. We squeeze nature, too, into a box of what we think we can control. In oversimplifying the mysteries of the world and one another, we mock, condemn, and cut down what we cannot understand, the same way we mocked, condemned, and crucified what we could not understand in the divine mystery of Christ. I sense, in the midst of our modern travesty, Christ is once again crying out for all, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

When companies like Monsanto claim to “copyright” seeds and redesign swaths of genetic coding in the world’s staple crops, we are faced with a problem that is not only environmental and political, but deeply theological and ethical. This denial of nature’s complexity and undermining of shared global resources reflects an unsettling transgression of the divine. What we fail to recognize in the infinite mystery of nature, we fail to recognize in the infinite mysteries of God and our neighbor. What we are willing to do to a seed, we are willing to do to one another. What we have done in limiting and dissecting a seed is what we have already done to Christ in the limited-perspective and condemnation of the crucifixion.

In limiting the capacities of plants to self-germinate or perennially bloom through genetic modification, we limit our own memory of daily resurrection. When we reduce the inconceivable intricacies of ecological systems to a few key crops and chemicals that we claim to control, we
forget our own inter-dependency on a divine grace and creative force which we can neither
reduce nor control.

Reclaiming natural diversity by refusing to accept genetic modification as our only answer to issues of global warming and global hunger is an act of faith. The dynamic interactions of bees with flowers, dung beetles with cattle, birds with berries, and beans with corn demonstrate for us a world of cooperation and diversity in community toward which we must continue to aspire. Approaching nature’s complexity with humility demonstrates hope for a world of peace, a world where we will also approach one another’s untold differences with respect and humility. Reasserting the mystery of science by protecting genetic diversity is also an act of reaffirming the mystery of God and the value of life.

Protecting ecological diversity becomes an act of faith in resurrection. Resurrection occurs a thousand times each day in the death, rebirth, and sharing of seeds. In protecting nature’s genetic diversity, we also protect our hope for transformation through our own spiritual rebirths. I pray that God’s classrooms of the field and lake will remain for future generations. I pray our global children will continue to grow up, immersed in natural wonder for the daily miracles of resurrection and transformation which are, by nature and creation, available to all. Taking a stand now on issues of genetic modification is not just an act of political or environmental care – it is an act of faith. It is an act of Easter. It is an act of mystery, grace, and resurrection. It is an act of love.

Sara Ann Swenson earned her Master of Arts in Comparative Religions at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. She is an avid gardener, writer, and cook, who serves the United Methodist Church in a variety of lovingly disruptive capacities. This fall, she will begin doctoral work in comparative monasticism at Syracuse University in New York.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter: Believing Idle Tales

by Amanda Rohrs-Dodge

Luke 23:55 - 24:11

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how the body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

“But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them”[1]. It is probably safe to say that most of us have been taught, from a very early age, not to tell idle tales. The fable of ‘the boy who cried wolf’ comes to mind. Do you remember it? A young boy is sent into the field to tend a flock of sheep, which is pretty boring work. Thinking he would play a practical joke on the townspeople, he cries out that there is a wolf attacking the sheep, causing everyone to drop what they are doing to come to his aid. When they arrive, there is no wolf, only the boy who is amused by his ability to trick his elders. They tell him not to do it again, but of course he does, with the same outcome. But then one day a wolf does come. And when the boy calls out for help, no one comes to his aid because they think he is once again trying to trick them. In some tellings of the story the sheep die; in others, it is the boy himself who gets eaten by the wolf. The moral of the story? Don’t tell idle tales, because when the day comes that you’re telling the truth, people might not believe you.

These words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. The women who came to the tomb on that Easter morning stumbled upon a traumatic surprise: the body of Jesus was gone. Not only that, but suddenly two strange men appear before them, bringing good news that initially begins almost as an interrogation. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Remember how he told you...?” The women do remember, and they run to tell the others, to tell their story of what has occurred that morning at the tomb, but they are not believed. The women try to break the silence of fear and mourning, but their words fall on deaf ears. They are not believed. Sometimes it is easier to believe the truth is not truth at all, but only an idle tale.

On Wednesday, March 20 students at Drew Theological School gathered together to break a different kind of silence. At 11:20am, during the weekly chapel service, members of Dr. Traci West’s class, “Ethically Responding to Violence Against Women” broke the silence surrounding violence against not only women, but also men and transgendered individuals. Students in the class offered various reflections surrounding the issue of violence. One student shared the concerns they had of offering pastoral care to female victims of male violence when they themselves were male. Another student shared her story of being raped by her boyfriend in undergraduate school, and the ways in which her religious upbringing had kept her from seeking help. A third student shared a story that reflected the complicated experiences of immigrant women who are victims of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, whose stories are often not believed. After each reflection a piece of pottery was broken, symbolizing not only the violence that had been done but also the power of breaking the silence surrounding these multiple forms of violence (click to see parts 1, 2, and 3 of the service)

That very same evening students, faculty, and even the dean of the theological school performed Eve Ensler’s A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer, a collection of monologues that told stories of violence against women and girls. Stories of young adolescent girls who were nearly sexually assaulted at parties. Stories of women pulling the trigger during times of war. Stories of girls who were hidden in vats of banana beer to protect them from soldiers looking to rape and kill them during civil war. Story after story after story... stories that, when seen in the paper or on the internet may be glossed over, maybe not as an idle tale, but as something that happens somewhere else. Something that happens to other people. Something that is far removed from many of our experiences. But that night, in that space, as these stories were embodied by the men and women of the Drew Theological School community, the truth came out. These stories were not idle tales. They were believed.

Sometimes it is easier to believe that the truth is nothing but an idle tale, to remain in denial. Like the disciples on that first Easter it can be easier to not believe the women’s stories, because if we were to believe them... then we would have to do something.

In verse 12 the story continues: But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened. The note in my study bible says that “other ancient authorities lack verse 12”[2] which causes me to ask, why was this part of the story added? Is it perhaps because a later community was uncomfortable with the disciple’s lack of belief? Did they need to have someone in the story believe that the women could have been telling the truth? Like Peter in the story, something about these women’s stories seems to be more than an idle tale. And like Peter, we find ourselves in a place of needing to know the truth for ourselves, leading us to the tomb, to the source of the story. What we find is that the story is true: the tomb is empty, the body is gone, the silence has been broken.

Peter goes home, amazed. But we cannot simply go home, not after hearing the truth. There are other silences that need to be broken, other bodies to stand in solidarity with, other stories that need to be told again and again until the truth is revealed. We must break the silence surrounding violence against women, be it by praying and preaching, or listening and speaking, or even dancing in the street as a part of One Billion Rising, the "biggest mass global action to end violence against women and girls in the history of humankind."
Perhaps most importantly, we must have ears and hearts open to hearing the stories. We must hear the truth in what the women say; we must believe. And then we must run, to see and share the truth for ourselves, breaking the silence, re-envisioning the world.

[1] I am indebted to fellow classmate Kelly Lee (Drew Theological School, ‘13) who made the connection between the women’s resurrection story not being believed and the way in which women’s stories of abuse are often not believed.
[2] The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible, NRSV


Amanda Rohrs-Dodge is the student assistant pastor at The United Methodist Church in Madison, located next to Drew University. She graduated with her M.Div. from Drew Theological in Dec. 2012, and is currently an MA student at Drew, focusing on the New Testament and women's and gender studies. She lives with her husband who is a United Methodist pastor and their three cats, Vinny, Yoko, and Tebogo.