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Thursday, March 29, 2012

OnFire at Drew University!

At the beginning of the current university school year, me and one other Drew University seminary student were charged with creating a new United Methodist student organization as part of our internship. As time went on, Steve and I met with undergraduate students to hear from them about what kind of things they were looking for in a student group. It came out from many of them that they were looking for a space to discuss social issues. One student mentioned how each organization had their own social issue they cared about, but there was not one organization that cared about all social issues (whether that be sexuality, immigration, occupy wall street, etc).

It was then that I remembered the OnFire movement, and talked to Shannon about the possibility of creating an OnFire group at Drew University. That's how Drew OnFire was born.

We are a group of young seminarians and college undergraduates who meet weekly for "java and justice" -- a time to sit around, drink fair trade coffee, and discuss issues in the world.



Our first meeting we talked about Fair Trade, and the issues surrounding that. We are blessed to have a connection with the Sustainable Food group on campus, and are co-hosting a Fair Fest that is happening tonight, where local artisans will be selling their handmade goods.

The group is excited to begin on this new endeavor, and will be creating space to talk about issues of faith and justice. We will be creating a facebook page soon, so be sure and keep your eyes posted for that, and keep us in our thoughts!
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Kaleigh Hussey-Tomich is a seminary student at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and is pursuing ordination in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. She is a youth director at a local UMC, and loves all things about summer camp. She is one of the student leaders in the new Drew OnFire group for students at Drew. She blogs at Campy Living.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Showing Up, Standing Together

This post has been cross-posted with MFSA's blog, found at http://www.mfsaweb.org/.

Yesterday was the Prayerful Witness on Health Care at the Supreme Court building, and the staff of the Methodist Federation for Social Action made it a priority to be there. Yesterday (March 26) through Wednesday (March 28) the Supreme Court will be hearing challenges to the Affordable Care Act which, when fully implemented, would prevent insurance companies from charging women higher premiums than men and would ensure that access to healthcare is not determined by socioeconomic status.
This was my first time attending a witness event, so I have to admit that I was nervous as we approached the crowds. I didn’t participate as fully or as loudly as many people did, including my fellow staff members, but just having the chance to be there and to observe and reflect was the highlight of my day. I loved having the opportunity to watch hundreds of people stand up for what they believe is right and to ground it in the faith that is such an important part of their lives. Two things occurred to me as I listened to the speakers and watched the crowds sing and pray together.

The first thing struck me as I watched counter-protesters start to congregate and listened to arguments begin: it is so easy for us to fall into the trap of polarizing issues when there is so much that we could be agreeing on. I don’t think that anyone would argue that some people shouldn’t have access to healthcare, but we get sidetracked about controversial things like abortion and contraception and all progress gets suspended. This isn’t to say that the issues that divide us aren’t important—we wouldn’t be so defensive about them if they weren’t—but it struck me that even among people of faith we are quick to jump to disagreements rather than starting from a point of connection. As we get closer to what could be a particularly divisive General Conference I think this will be more important than ever.

The second thing I realized is how important it is just to show up. So much of the power of a witness really does lie in numbers, in people who show up to say that real people really do care about this issue. The decision made this week in the Supreme Court and the decisions made at General Conference this summer are going to affect countless lives in very real ways. Every person that decides that she or he doesn't need to show up to be seen and heard around the issues that are dear to them makes it just a little bit easier for those issues to be glossed over.

Whatever issues are near to your heart at General Conference or just in your everyday life, I hope that you find the strength to show up and talk about them. I hope that we as the Church can find the humility to start from a place of oneness and to share honestly our hopes and fears about our future. I hope that, wherever you are, you are fully present.

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Heather Kramer is a second year Masters of Divinity and Masters of Theological Studies student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC., where she is also the youth minister at Dumbarton United Methodist Church and an intern at the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). In her free time (ha!) she tries to read, work for justice, and blogs at The Story I Find Myself In.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The War Against Young Black Men


I feel like lately there is a war on African-American boys. I guess some would say this war has been ongoing back to slavery days, when African male slaves were seen merely as the property of white slave owners, used to do the grunt work in the fields or sire the female slaves. The present day war is a little more complex as seeing it's a war meant not to subjugate and break down the male physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

By now news of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Miami kid who was killed in a Sanford, Florida gated community has been widely circulated across the globe so I won't rehash the horrible details. What I will say is, more than ever, I fear for my life whenever I step out of my house and it's not the gang bangers I'm worried about.

I grew up in Florida as a young African-American teen who faced some of the discrimination Trayvon faced. When I got tinted windows on my older model Chevy, two cops made it a point to pull me despite my driving the speed limit. It was 11 p.m. and I was driving a "ghetto" car through an affluent mostly white neighborhood. Enough reason to pull me over.

When the officers stopped me with their lights blaring and siren whirring, I literally started shaking. I was not speeding nor was I driving under the influence. My license was legal and I was returning home from my crappy mall job, tired and hungry. I was about five minutes from my house, but that didn't matter to the cops. I probably looked suspicious to them and it was enough reason to pull me over.

Both cops made it a point to come to my car and treated me as if I was a cocaine runner for Scarface. I was forced out of the car and as they searched my vehicle, I silently prayed that I could end the night alive in my bed.

I did...with fairly little incidence, but it was enough to shake me up and feel a little wary about Florida cops and rightly so. I had two more similar situations after the first incident.

The truth of the matter is, it doesn't matter if a young black male is looking for trouble or acting "suspicious", as evidenced by another recent news story out of Northern Virginia. An African-American teen was told by his English teacher to read a Langston Hughes poem "blacker". The boy rightly refused to read the poem and was even reprimanded when he questioned his teacher's motives. Though this did not end with the young man dead or imprisioned, it did end with a very loud and silent admonition: "No matter how you dress, speak or act, you will always be seen as just another one of those blacks." I wonder if any of his teacher's Irish-American students had to read James Joyce with an Irish accent or her Anglo-Saxon students read Charles Dickens with a British accent.

The Methodist Church can definitely play a key role in stopping this injustice against otherwise well-adjusted African-American young men. Just because a young guy is wearing a hoodie, fitted cap and baggy jeans (which honestly aren't even in style or worn by much youth anymore), think twice before you automatically assume he is up to no good. Before you decide you know everything about said teen because you have watched Boyz in the Hood, listened to a few Tupac songs and heard about the plight of the urban African-American male in the news, stop and find out what else is on his mind. Chances are you'll connect with an intelligent, driven, passionate young person like any other young person you'd meet in church and in the process bridge relationships that will eradicate negative stereotypes and ease fears on both sides.

Ty is a junior, computer science major at the University of Maryland. He attends Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Suffering Christ in Lent

Most United Methodists understand the most important part of Jesus' life as the resurrection. Our salvation is made possible through resurrection, not death. Death needed to happen merely because that is required for resurrection. To say this sells short the power of the crucifixion.

During Lent especially, we also need to think about the suffering and passion of Jesus as a significant theological event for one very important reason. That event is the most significant biblical example of God suffering for the people. This echoes Hebrew Bible understandings that God suffers for, with, and because of the people of Israel. What the suffering on the cross really demonstrates is that God suffers with us in our suffering. One of Jesus' powerful messages was that God was now completely with the people. The profound relationship was solidified on the Cross.

In the world today, we are faced with suffering, especially because we know more about human suffering globally probably better than any time in the history of the world. We know about Syria, Palestine, and Uganda. We can get information faster about something around the world than we can about our own family sometimes. This access to information has led us to believe that suffering is something more intense in our own age. We seem to feel the world is going to hell in a hand basket. We as Christians can affirm that suffering is not something new, but rather Jesus suffers with the whole world daily, that the crucifixion was not a singular event but an ongoing one. God remains with the people even today.

But how is this lenten? In Lent we take up disciplines or fasts. We limit ourselves. We renew piety. We turn back to God. This is a time to reestablish that relationship our God has been so desperately trying to create. During Lent we may not suffer, but in our fast we may recreate that suffering. Our fellowship with God can be actualized in our solidarity with Jesus, and Jesus' solidarity with us. So as we look forward to resurrection Sunday, we also must remember that Good Friday must come first. We must suffer likewise before we can be resurrected. Here is the Good News: in our suffering we have a God that fully understands, fully desires us, fully wants us. Our goal is to strive on, making a way for the Kingdom to come. Our God is right there with us.

In my own life, I know that in my lenten fast, my hunger is a mere choice. While I joyfully do it, I recognize that over a billion world wide don't choose to go hungry. In recreating their suffering it is difficult to fully empathize with their daily struggle, but I know that Jesus is the most powerful one, who understands hunger and suffering better than I ever will.

Paul Richards is a certified candidate from the Texas Conference and a Senior Religious Studies Major at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. Next year he will start at his M.Div. at Duke Divinity School. An intern at First UMC Conway in the College Ministry and an avid Ultimate Frisbee player, he enjoys sports and reading in his free time. He is excited about doing Pastoral Ministry in the future and working towards economic and social Justice in the United States and all over the world.