Monday, May 1, 2017

The Language of the Unheard

I want to live so densely. lush. and slow in the next few years, that a year becomes ten years, and my past becomes only a page in the book of my life.
Nayyirah Waheed

Ojai, CA

This month delivered two important commemorations: the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "Time to Break the Silence" speech denouncing the war in Vietnam (April 4) and the 25th anniversary of the "L.A. Riots" (April 29).  We joined our sending organization Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries in the participation of two formal gatherings the first week in April with pastors and community organizers in L.A.  We attended an event at an old black Baptist church in Watts called "Acting in the Spirit of Dr. King: Now Is Our Time to Break Silence." Portions of the speech were read and a panel of leaders talked about the relevancy of King's words today.  We sang James Weldon Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the so-called "Black National Anthem," a song Tom first heard before the last college basketball game he ever played (at L.A. Southwest Community College, just a few miles from where we sang in Watts).  The service was a beautiful culmination to the daily Lenten devotional Tom had been organizing for the RadicalDiscipleship.Net blog that he and Lydia Wylie-Kellermann have been curating the last three years.

On Friday and Saturday of that week, we helped staff "Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the L.A. Uprising," co-organized by BCM and a group called ReconciliAsian, led by Sue and Hyun Hur, a Korean-American couple who pastor a church in Upland. This was, in many ways, a soul-deepening event, with plenty of time given for a range of story-telling from diverse leaders (black, Latina, Asian and white), bearing witness to what they were doing and seeing during those violent days in the aftermath of the acquittal of three police officers in the Rodney King beating trial.

Most of the analysis that I (Tom) remember from back in 1992 (as a high school senior, in that strange time just weeks after winning a CIF basketball championship and weeks before graduating) had racial overtones of "thuggish" black men "looting" stores and "burning down their own neighborhoods" while "hyper-vigilant" Korean business owners protected their stores on rooftops with rifles. The event a few weeks ago in Koreatown was powerful because it got to the roots of this social unrest.  Dr. King described a riot as "the language of the unheard." It is worth quoting a bit more from a speech he gave in Detroit ("The Other America") just three weeks before his assassination:

But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention.

The truth of the matter is that black and brown Americans have continued to endure injustice and oppression at the hands of police brutality, mass incarceration, housing, transportation and economic policies that have crippled any hope of having the same opportunities that we had growing up in what King called "the sunlight of opportunity" in Orange County.  The real history (that still affects the present) is that in 1930, city leaders boasted that L.A. was "the whitest, most Protestant city in America."  Black folks were not allowed to live north of Adams Blvd.  Latinos were banned from living west of the L.A. River.

As professor Young Lee Hertig said on the first night of this event, "the real perpetrator is always invisible."  Police caught on film brutalizing and/or fatalizing young black men walk. Banks charge skyrocketing interest rates for mortgages to black and brown families. Schools, largely funded by property taxes, are under-resourced. Jobs are few and prisons are aplenty. Voting rights and political representation are constrained.  The media suffers a vacuum, giving very little time to the perspectives of poor and oppressed people.   The roots of the riot (and all other "violent" acts) are not personal or cultural. They are political and economic.

Ten days ago, we drove down to L.A. to join an interfaith gathering, marching through the streets to protest ramped-up deportations.  We congregated in the street in front of Metro Detention Center, where ICE vans are parked in an underground garage.  We could hear dozens of undocumented folks knocking on the windows of their cells in the tower high above us.  Thirty-five religious leaders and community organizers got arrested in a sacred act of civil disobedience.  Photo below: our friend Grecia Reyes-Lopez (in red shirt), an organizer for Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, just minutes before arrest.

We are in Ojai for four more weeks and then we'll be returning to Detroit for the summer to re-connect and work with old friends in the city.  This weekend, we are hosting a MarriageStrong group for three couples in the area:  eight sessions in less than forty-eight hours!  It's intense, vulnerable, authentic and always life-giving for us.  Photo below: our Easter Sunday service in the backyard of Sarah, Adella and Erynn's, friends from the Abundant Table Farm Project.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Movement for a Moment

The only way to get change is not through the courts or — heaven forbid — the politicians, but through a change of human consciousness and through a change of heart. Only through the arts — music, poetry, dance, painting, writing — can we really reach each other.
Leslie Marmon Silko

Chumash Land. Ventura River Watershed. Ojai, CA.

One of the key emphases of this short residency with our sending organization (Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries) is the opportunity it affords us to study and experiment at one of the epicenters of the "watershed discipleship" movement. Ched Myers, the co-director of BCM, says that this isn't just "tree-hugger discipleship," but an apocalypse, the unveiling of a dire situation that demands a response ("response-ability") from people of faith and conscience.  It doesn't matter how much the U.S. President denies it, we are in the midst of a crisis of climate chaos and catastrophe.

Ched proposes that the start of global healing is rooted in a radical (Latin for "root") commitment to our watershed, a "region governed by Nature, not legislature." Thus Watershed Discipleship: an intentional double-entendre referring to this watershed moment (a crisis of global proportions) and a dignified and disciplined movement centered on the oldest way of understanding place: the watershed. This Moment requires a Movement.

As it turns out, when we reject political borders created by Empire, we can better examine the spiritually and physically sustainable ways of the indigenous who have always relied on their local Source of water for their survival & well-being. No water, no life. Yet our creeks are being drained and/or polluted while corporate media outlets obsess over celebrity meltdowns, stock market shakedowns and Presidential tax return takedowns.

Elaine Enns, also a co-director of BCM, brilliantly uses her experience and research in victim-offender analysis to engage with the exploitation of the Earth and her native children. The healing and reconciliation of this primal offense begins with the humble acknowledgement that we are all indicted, especially the Church which has blessed the extraction of precious resources, the exploitation of "the least of these," and the forced conversion of indigenous peoples. The rape and pillage of the Land and her people (for profit) is a multi-faceted offense that is coming back to haunt humanity, echoing the cry of the 12th century German mystic Hildegard of Bingen:

All of creation God gives to humankind to use. If this privilege is misused, God’s justice permits creation to punish humanity.

Or, from the late Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka:

If we throw Mother Nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork.

Watershed discipleship is a network of alternative Christian communities committed to Something bigger than big buildings and butts in the seats. These communities pledge allegiance to the fierce energy of indigenous people which always comes from a struggle for something: a place (for the latest example of this five-hundred-year tradition, just google "Standing Rock")! Watershed discipleship communities primarily ask questions in the positive:

What am I struggling for?
What am I saying "Yes" to?
What would I be willing to die for?

This prompts us all to ask very basic questions about our watershed:

-What time is sunset today?
-When you flush, where do the solids go? What happens to the waste water?
-Can we name five native edible plants in our watershed?
-Where does our garbage go?
-Who uses the paper/plastic we recycle from our neighborhood?
-Can we name five birds that live in our watershed?
-After the rain runs off our roof, where does it go?

These questions lead to answers that lead to more questions that lead to a deeper knowledge and love for place.

Watershed discipleship communities reject apathy, indifference, resignation and cynicism. It is a commitment to looking out for what is the very best for everyone and every living thing: from the homeless to the halibut, from gardens to grandmas.

We've come upon a watershed moment. The curse of civilization plagues us. As Dr. King lamented exactly fifty years ago next week (April 4, 1967), we continue to live in a situation where "machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people." We need a conversion of the imagination! It starts with our watershed.

Photos below (from top to bottom): Lindsay works the Ojai farmers market on a Sunday morning with Sarah Nolan, the director of the Abundant Table Farm Project; a Sunday afternoon Farm Church gathering, a stone's throw from the Ventura River; a "stations of the cross" Sunday service in solidarity with all our immigrant neighbors at the Abundant Table Farm in Camarillo; Lindsay shoveling wood chips during one of our Friday afternoon garden sessions in the backyard of Ched and Elaine's home (affectionately called "Casa Anna Schultz," it is a demonstration plot for foods and plants native to this watershed).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Keeping One Another's Courage Up

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Beyond Vietnam," April 4, 1967

Ojai, CA

Yet again, we've weathered the storm. Back in early October, we got more than a foot of snow in Saskatoon, just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving. Then, in early January, we got snowed out of our place just outside of Portland. This time, the Ojai Valley got pounded with six inches of wind-gusting rain for twenty-four hours. The tree outside our little apartment came crashing down, ripping down power lines with it. Amazingly, we only lost power for eight hours (we went dark for three full days in Detroit back in the Fall of 2014).

Our time up here, one hundred miles north of downtown L.A., has started with a bang. Last week, we staffed the annual Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries Institute, a gathering of leaders from all over North America. It is a blessed space committed to alternative theological education, uniquely intersecting the seminary, sanctuary, street and soil. Starting just a month after the inauguration of a new President, the timing couldn't have been more important. As Ched Myers proclaimed, "This is not just another conference, but a family meeting to deal with this unique historical moment." Elaine Enns called it "a brave space, a kindred space for tending and befriending." What we need now, these organizers said, was a gathering dedicated to keeping one another's courage up.

Really, the Institute is part-church, part-strategy brain-storm, part-therapy session, part-recovery meeting, part-spiritual retreat. Lindsay served as the gathering's therapist and many attendees signed up for time with her. She also helped facilitate the "Feminary" cohort of six women who studied and corresponded throughout the year, and acted on the side as ad-hoc child care guru and playmate. Tom was a chaplain and helped facilitate a workshop on the importance (both spiritually and politically) of grief work. Both of us were tasked with all sorts of logistical endeavors, from making meals to setting up for plenary sessions to staffing the book table to transportation needs.

The Institute focused on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech as a sacred text to help guide us during this time. The prophetic speech was honest and forthright and more than 150 newspapers editorialized against King the next day. It was written by Vincent Harding, who decades later wrote "the un-tranquil King and his peace-disturbing vision, words, and deeds hold the key to the future of America." History often forgets just how much opposition King experienced from every angle. His political vision was what he called "the militant middle:" participating in both strategic, organized nonviolent civil disobedience and a continuing quest to win electoral power.

King was wedged between the black nationalists who believed King was a sell-out and the white moderates in Birmingham calling his protests “unwise and untimely” (and white Evangelical Billy Graham telling him to “put on the brakes”). Many “people of conscience” believed King was too radical, trying to move too fast and furious on issues of race, poverty and the war. Dr. King, most certainly, was not what we would call “moderate” or “centrist” today. He was very much like the radical Jesus of the Gospels, himself squeezed into “the militant middle” between the fiery zealots advocating violence against Rome and the religious elites seeking compromise to sustain their power and privilege.

Our gathering focused on play and creativity too, exercising the right side of the brain. One morning, Lindsay got swept up into a spontaneous parade with the Carnival de Resistance, complete with song, dance, games and plenty of face-paint. Over the course of the week, many participants worked together (animated by the work & vision of Resident Artist Chris Wight) to build up a lego Trump Tower of Babel (Genesis 11)…

...and then transformed it into a Tree of Life whose leaves are for "the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2).

It is with this "revolutionary spirit" that we move forward into this season. Fifty years ago, Dr. King pleaded with people of faith and conscience to "make America the truly great America that it is called to be." He proposed that the main obstacle to this vision wasn't "the bad people," but instead the good people who were staying "silent about the things that matter most." He called upon "discipline non-conformists" and "creative extremists" to organize and strategize for a whole new world.

We invite everyone, people of faith and conscience, both the spiritual and the religious, to join us in journeying through the forty days of Lent, starting tomorrow (what Christians call "Ash Wednesday"). Tom and Lydia Wylie-Kellermann have organized a daily devotional on Dr. King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech on RadicalDiscipleship.Net. Every day, there will be a couple paragraphs of King's speech with a short devotional from a long-distance runner for justice. We hope it helps to inspire and challenge and, above all else, to keep one another's courage up.

*Lastly: mark your calendars for April 7-8. BCM and our dear friends Hyun and Sue Park-Hur of ReconciliAsian are teaming up to organize a commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the L.A. Uprising (what we used to call "riot"). See below for more info on this two-day forum called "429: Remembearing and Renewal."

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A New Season

I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,A Time To Break The Silence” (1967)

Clackamas River, Oregon

We are one-month into our year in the wilderness, an ongoing experiment of learning from beloved communities all over the North American continent.  We flew to Orange County for the memorial service for Mark Thornton, Tom’s high school basketball coach.  It was supposed to be a thirty-six hour trip, but ended up being a whole week away from our sabbatical retreat.  We got snowed out!  After a two-day delay, we landed on Tuesday night: in Seattle.  We booked train tickets for the next day and that trip was cancelled.  When we finally arrived back on the Clackamas River, Lindsay got a horrific sinus infection that lasted these past two weeks.  If you’re going to get sick, this is probably the best place for it—a beautiful view through the front window: trees, sky and a beautiful variety of birds. 

Our next stop is the Ventura River watershed, home of the headquarters of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, our sending organization directed by mentors and bosses Ched Myers and Elaine Enns (photo below with Ched and Elaine 200 kilometers north of Saskatoon). We’ll be posting up there from February to June, working closer with the organization, staffing the big annual institute in late February, hosting a marriage retreat in late April, helping facilitate a weekly Sabbath Economics group and working on various writing and editing projects.  Somehow we got a fully furnished one-bedroom apartment in Ojai, a stone’s throw from downtown.  Call it divine intervention.  

This, of course, is a new season for all of us.  The Trump presidency started with a bang just ten days ago.  We are grateful to be living in this country, but we believe there are many deep structural problems that dehumanize women, immigrants, people of color and poor and working people.   We do not pledge allegiance to any political party.  We campaigned for Obama, but were vocal from the get-go in 2009 when he filled his cabinet with leaders who were dedicated to economic policies that would benefit Wall Street over everyday, ordinary people, let alone for those Jesus called “the least of these.”  We protested and marched when he escalated drone warfare and deportations of immigrants and never closed Guantanamo Bay prison (as promised).  We were deeply frustrated that he did nothing for the people of Flint and Detroit who continue to suffer from poisoned or shut-off water. 

The Trump presidency magnifies these issues (and plenty more) to exponential degrees.  He is following through with campaign promises of building the border wall, accelerating deportations, blocking refugees, openly discriminating against Muslims and Latinos, and much more.  This is all seasoned with a bitter string of lies about a whole slew of subjects.   Again, these issues aren’t new to our country—just expanded and deepened.  We are thrilled that Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries is choosing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech (also called "A Time to Break the Silence") for the annual institute next month.  This is a proud text that is incredibly relevant in this season of life for all of us.  What King named as the giant triplets of evil (racism, militarism and materialism) are alive and well in Trump’s America.  It will be a spiritually and emotionally enriching time to spend with dozens of leaders from around the country.  We invite you to join us (all information here...registration closes Feb 3rd)! 

For us, this is not just political.  It’s personal.  The current “issues” making headlines are affecting actual human beings that we are deeply grateful for.  The undocumented immigrants that we know are far from "criminals" and "rapists."  We admire and love them dearly. In fact, they are some of our heroes. With the odds stacked against them, so many of the undocumented students that were in Tom’s class are thriving as leaders. Their parents came north for opportunity, to do jobs that white suburbanites refuse to work (this is documented with legitimate studies).  We think of Marco, Yesenia, Aida, Ana Karen, Lupita, Roberto and plenty of others. They've made our life (and our culture) richer and deeper.  So have the victims of abject poverty who we met in Detroit, somehow holding out hope as they search desperately for jobs that do not exist: Deborah, Byron, Ann, Jasmine, Matthew, Ike, Fletcher, Donna and so many others.   

There is collateral beauty, though, at the advent of the Trump era.  People are waking up all over the place.  They are aware, alert and ready to get involved with a movement dedicated to restoring love and dignity to all those Howard Thurman described as "having their backs against the wall"--in our country and the world.  This is our prayer: that a spiritual and political movement will grow bountifully.  The mustard seed was planted in the 50s and 60s, as the Civil Rights Movement of Dr. King and so many others set out on a mission that was far bigger than just rights and freedoms for black people.  It was nothing less than “to save the soul of America.”  This is going to be a wild ride.  

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016: A Fond Farewell

The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.
Francis Weller, "The Geography of Sorrow"

Clackamas River, Oregon

Happy New Year from the The Rice Place up here in the Pacific Northwest. We are spending some quality time recovering, writing and reflecting over the past 2+ years in Detroit and beyond. In the midst of this season of transition, we are discovering so much grief and gratitude overflowing from within. Here are Ten Deep Things we've experienced this year:

1. Celebrating the Cycle of Life: the birth of our nephew Mason Thomas Orr and godson Cedar Martin Wylie-Fahey (photos: Mason's big brother Riley watching over him in Orange County; Cedar's big brother Isaac protects with the hug on Larkins)

2. Telling "the other side" of Detroit's Comeback story: in workshops, on tours, over meals with friends and family (photo: Lindsay takes the junior highers from U of D Jesuit in Detroit on a tour of the 3rd floor of the Peace and Justice Hive at St. Peter's; we join good friends at St. Peter's during a Joe Reilly benefit concert)

3. Bearing witness to water shut-offs, organizing 25-40 gallon deliveries and advocating for policy change (photo: delivering 1000 gallons to the St. Peter's water station)

4. Staffing Bartimaeus Institutes in Oak View, CA and Saskatoon, SK (photo: with ReconciliAsian's Sue Park-Hur; the Institute after-party in Saskatoon--read Tom's review here)

5. Traveling the continent--from Quebec to Atlanta, Whidbey Island, WA to Minneapolis, MN (photo: five miles from Coulee Dam, WA, the birthplace of Tom's dad)

6. Hosting Marriage Strong retreats and officiating weddings together (photo: the wedding of Eliisa Bojanic and Peter Croce on Belle Isle in Detroit)

7. Cultivating friendships and mentorships, old and new (photo: Lindsay and Solveig Nilsen-Goodin on a Sunday hike in Portland with the Wilderness Way Community; with Detroit Jyarland Daniels of Harriet Speaks)

8. Our bodies and emotions breaking down! Two surgeries for Tom, traumatic mouse sightings for Lindsay, bike accidents, sprained ankles, chronic back pain, and wrestling the demons of fatigue and despair in the wake of personal and communal loss.
(photo: our friend Cait's car on Cecil Avenue in Detoit--a metaphor for some of the agony experienced this year)

9. (semi)Weekly sabbath treks to Ypsilanti on Thursdays to sit by the Huron River and celebrate life with Happy Hour (photo: Mustard!)

10. Getting the opportunity to write about our adventures:

From the conclusion of Lindsay's RadicalDiscipleship.Net post on the "Persistent Widow" of Luke 18:2-5:

Another way is possible. It is the way of hope-inspired, self-loving, gritty resistance—offering us a liberating detour from the tired road of resigned, hardened and complicit cynicism trod by the Judge and his good ole’ boys club. It is up to us (as it always has been) whether we will count the costs and consider ourselves, along with every other living being, worthy enough to throw in with those making a beautiful, more just way out of no way.

From Tom's article "Thirsty in Detroit: Water Shutoffs and Baptismal Witness" in The Christian Century Magazine:

The real Detroit is, and always has been, its neighborhoods, the familial and communal incubators of those who, two generations ago, put America on wheels and manufactured the arsenal of democracy. What ultimately happens to their children and grandchildren will measure whether Detroit is making a comeback or not.

The complexity of this social analysis beckons Christian disciples back to the simple, sacred waters of baptism. At the font, followers of Jesus hear the messianic commission of Psalm 2, “You are my beloved child,” alongside Isaiah’s prophetic blessing of the suffering servant, “with you I am well-pleased.” Like Jesus, we are challenged with the conviction that royal personhood is bestowed upon all humanity and commissioned to give our lives to self-donating service.

See you SOON in 2017!!!!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Up (and Down) the West Coast

Laughter isn't even the other side of tears. It is tears turned inside out. Truly the suffering is great, here on earth. We blunder along, shredded by our mistakes, bludgeoned by our faults. Not having a clue where the dark path leads us. But on the whole, we stumble along bravely, don't you think?
Alice Walker

November brought us all the way down the West Coast: from Seattle to Portland to Bend, OR to Sacramento to the Bay Area and into Orange County, CA. Our time has been dedicated to celebrating life with friends and family. Specifically, we danced to the music of the birth of yet another precious nephew, memorialized Tom's dad Dennis, one year after his sudden death, with a long hike down the Oso Creek Trail with Tom's Aunt Sandy, his mom Sue and her perra loca Sophie. We celebrated Thanksgiving with Lindsay's family and have had a plethora of meet-ups with so many beautiful people who have supported us on this Journey the past two years.

We are preparing our hearts, minds and bodies for the next stages of the Journey into 2017. On December 11, we will leave for a 50-day sabbatical at a writing retreat just outside of Portland. We will be reflecting on all that has happened in the past two years and working on a book project, in addition to some online articles. We plan on going to some counseling sessions and al-anon recovery meetings in the city--a great opportunity to keep learning more about our pain and undoing old patterns!

From Portland, we will move to Southern California for our first "residency" of 2017. Most of our time will be spent in the Ojai Valley, working closely with Ched Myers & Elaine Enns, the co-directors of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries. We also look forward to spending some time in Los Angeles with a few interesting experiments in Beloved Community!

Some of our recent highlights...

A throwback to Saskatoon in mid-October, the "Feminarians," a group of women that Lindsay is helping facilitate this year. This is the second year that BCM has offered a cohort to study a “hybrid” course (online and in person) that engages the dynamic "radical discipleship" theology and ethics of Elaine and Ched.

In Seattle, we had pizza with former Capo Valley Cougar cross country runner Mikaela Mulhull:

In Portland, we survived Halloween with the Nilsen-Goodins:

In Berkeley, we got a campus tour from Natalie Herberg (aka, "Herbie"), now a Political Econ major at Cal and getting ready to compete in the steeplechase:

In Upland, we attended the ordination of Sue Hur at Mountain View Mennonite Church:

In San Clemente, we spent time with Kyle & Courtney Rutenbar and their 4 beautiful children. Great to be re-united with 5 of our former roommates from The Manna & Mercy House...and to get to know their new(est) addition: Baby Mabel (not really a baby, as she is already keeping up with the big kids)!

...and (Surprise!), Beloved Detroiter Jyarland Daniels of Harriet Speaks (and fellow 1996 University of Kansas grad) took us out for Happy Hour in Laguna Hills (she was in town doing a diversity training at a local car dealership).

Tom wrote this little poem just a few hours after the birth of our brand new nephew: Mason Thomas Orr

Four full days after we got trumped
upside the head, dizzy spinning
confusion, weighing us down with the
dead weight of a scapegoat
infusion, she texted: “in labor.”

Four full days: only one day short of
a resurrection but it’s still the miracle of
new life, one more striving heart beating
for justice, living one day at a time is a
must, about to get raised up to never
say it’s about “just us,” another
nephew on the Way to bless us.
Introducing: Mason Thomas.