Dear Friends & Partners,
Wow, what a stormy year it has been! Between the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season and the spade of mass shootings, 2017 will long be remembered as one of the “most destructive hurricane seasons on record” as well as the most deadly year for mass killings in more than a decade.
As we head into this holiday season, wild fires and storms both natural and political hover menacingly in the backdrop of our holiday cards. And wow, #MeToo – like the trees which toppled during all these storms, one by one, beloved and powerful patriarchal giants are falling from their respectable perches as stunning revelations of normalized sexual assault continue to come out into the light of day…
In his post Amid Chaos, Staying Rooted Is a Radical Act, Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojouners speaks what many feel as we look back on stormy 2017:
“These are the times in which we now live. The turbulence of this year has left many of us feeling buffeted by constant storms in politics, society, and nature.”
Not exactly the most upbeat opening to a holiday post!
As we journey this December through both the Christian season of Advent and the Jewish season of Hanukkah, we are reminded that the “glad tidings” of peace and joy that we all seek this time of year is a gift that requires a little something more from all of us. As the great Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote:
“We are indifferent to the [Advent] message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.”
I do love the spiritual themes of this season of the light shining in the darkness of our world and find great parallels across faith lines. A good friend from college captures beautifully the universal themes of watchful courageousness that he draws from Hanukkah:
“Hanukkah begins tonight. I wish a joyous festival of lights to all. If you celebrate, enjoy the beauty of the candles, the taste of the latkes, and the sound of presents being opened. The miracle of Hanukkah was not the military victory of the Jews over the vastly superior Greek army. The miracle was that a small portion of oil that should have lasted for only one night kept the flame lit for eight days. I find a lesson in that. Light the light, even if you do not think that you have enough to keep it lit. Sometimes, our insufficiency turns out to be sufficient to get the job done.” ~ Mitch Epner
As we draw to the end of this dark and stormy year, we are grateful for you our friends and partners who wake up every day and “light the light” and encourage others to do the same during these tenuous, stormy times where we don’t know which way the winds are blowing.
In his post, Wallis offers a helpful yet sort of strange mix of courageous acceptance – these are the times in which we now live – combined with a “radically rooted” dissent:
“Amid this daily chaos, fear, and pain, one thing is clear: The role of faith leaders across society is more important than ever. Our call and our ministry requires us to stay radically rooted.”
Whether you use the language of faith or not, this image of being rooted in something deep and steady that holds in the face of life’s buffeting storms is something we all seek, particularly now as we gather for the holidays. “Radical” is not a word everyone identifies with but, dang it, we all can be a little more courageous. And if not now, when?
As I look back on 2017, a lurking sense of dark foreboding has again and again been lifted and lightened by rubbing shoulders with so many courageous people like you, our partners and friends, who are radically rooted in something – a current of timeless and universal values – that gives you a steady resolve and a brightness in your work to do your part to create the “peace on earth” we write and sing about this time of year.
Were there not so many incredible displays of courage and solidarity that marked and shaped 2017? Pause for a moment to look back on big and small, individual and collective acts of courage that have shaped our collective consciousness this past year. Amidst the stormy tumult, where have you seen a courageous rootedness in the midst of the reality TV show engulfing our country? Where have you seen a light of clarity and solidarity emerging in the face of these winds of ideological and political polarization?
As I look back on the year, so many big courageous moments have marked my own personal path. These two images from my own city of Boston – one from the Women’s March in January and the other from a counter march in August to fend off a white supremacy parade from visiting our city – and the #MeToo Time Person of the Year cover give me faith that the small acts of courage do lead to collective impact.
This time last year, I found myself channeling waves of existential angst by digging out my knitting needles and losing myself in a big pile of pink yarn which would become eight pink hats. It didn’t at the time necessarily feel like “courage”, but looking back it was a simple way for me to settle into a simple project that helped me clarify and tap into the “roots of the tree” as I processed the political winds of the election and connected locally with a courageous global movement which would become the largest coordinated march in history and which continues today in this brave “me too” movement that is still unfolding before our eyes.
Courageous “lighting the light” more often than not is in the small and ordinary of our individual day-to-day lives, but then there are those incredible moments where our own little flame becomes a clarion blaze.
Staying “radically rooted” sounds poetic and inspiring but requires a careful and courageous discernment process to sort through all of the competing winds of ideology, theology, and identity politics that surround us and fill our heads to discern in what soil to be radically rooted. Without courage, we all too easily assert comfortable spiritual and political maxims which make us feel secure and like we are on the right side or in the right tribe but can all too easily be swept up by inflammatory and divisive political winds that are creating a trail of storms more menacing than 2017’s Atlantic hurricane season.
As I read Wallis’ post this past week, I felt reaffirmed in one thread woven throughout the tapestry of our work at the Imago Dei Fund which is intentionally supporting not only the outer programmatic work of the incredible organizations in our portfolio but also the more hidden, inner roots of this work that is what fuels and sustains any meaningful social transformation.
As the year draws to a close, we are mindful of the challenging winds that surround and lie before all of us. Who knows what 2018 has in store but it doesn’t feel like we as a country and a globe are on a path of peace. In the midst of the unpredictability and uncertainty of these stormy times, we draw strength and courage from you our partners and friends who remind us to stay courageously rooted in the deeper well of Spirit and the shared values and ideals which bind us together as Americans and as a human family. The work that you and so many are doing to build up a healthy and interdependent civil society is such a needed antidote to the rising tide of political authoritarianism and nationalism sweeping our world.
So this year we hope for peace but, as the French say, we wish you bon courage as we turn the page on this stormy year and look ahead to the unknowns that await us in the new year. “Bon Courage” is a word of luck or encouragement before a big endeavor begins – take courage!, good luck! – or spoken during an endeavor means something akin to keep going, you’ve got this…
Thank you for being a courageous light in these stormy times and for bravely and faithfully standing against forces of authoritarianism and division to hold fast to the daring notion that underlies our democracy, the work of human rights and global development, and the essence of what both philanthropy and faith is all about: a shared human quest to live together as a free people.
As the more blatant and emboldened displays of white and male supremacy vividly reveal, we as a human family have work to do at the base of our collective tree to uproot and shed the supremacy systems of the past which undermine the health of our democracy and our shared wellbeing on this planet. As troubling as these storms can feel, they are signs of the process of change that is happening beneath the roots of the soil to uproot and shed the imperial, colonial, and patriarchal systems of the past for a more mutual and human way of living together as human beings.
As we look ahead to 2018, we are committed to doing our part to keep tending to the base of the tree where rotten roots lie hidden beneath the surface of the visible progress that we have made as a human family to shed the underlying ancient supremacy systems which again and again have caused us to deny to our sister and brother the very freedom and flourishing we seek for ourselves. There is something distressing yet clarifying about seeing the vivid, shocking flair up of supremacy systems – racial, gender, and economic – which in different yet eerily similar ways across too many centuries have said and continue to say your kind exists to serve and submit to my mine.
It doesn’t exactly take much courage to denounce white nationalists and sexual assault. But it does take some bon courage to let these more overt displays of entitled and presumptuous power over to get each of us to look inward into the roots under our tree to discern where we ourselves have been complicit in unjust systems which harm the image of God in our neighbor, our sister or brother.
Some of the most courageous work we have had the privilege of being part of is the work of faith-inspired change agents working here and abroad to uproot and till the deep patriarchal roots that have been growing for too many centuries within the very faith traditions which are a source of hope, strength, and joy for so many. On behalf of all of us at IDF, a particular bon courage!!! to everyone who in this political moment is bravely speaking up within their own faith ponds to address the deep theological beliefs, attitudes, and systems which have for too long enabled and silenced so many of these #MeToo stories within our own pews. #ChurchToo.
Together with so many brave evangelical dissenting voices, like Jen Hatmaker, who are bravely speaking up and stayed rooted in their deep spiritual values in the midst of all these stormy regressive winds, we say:
“We will not forget. Nor will we forget the Christian leaders that betrayed their sisters in Christ for power.”
As we head into 2018, we will keep doing our part to double down on the deeper transformative work of racial, gender, and economic reconciliation that needs to happen to heal the rot beneath the tree which is causing so much needless human suffering. As a foundation, we are committed to a “radical rootedness” in holism which avoids programmatic silos and false dichotomies (e.g. secular/religious, conservative/liberal, etc) to join hand and heart with others across all dividing lines to have each other’s back and work together to repair the “hidden wholeness” (Thomas Merton) which is present at all times quietly yet powerfully mending the fractures of imperialist systems which make the “imago dei’ that we all possess as human beings so threatened and vulnerable around the world.
Three initiatives which we’d like to call your attention to as ways to lean in and do something courageous to repair this hidden wholeness as this #MeToo movement continues to unfold:
1.) If you are part of the evangelical “tribe”, consider signing the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual statement to get the church more fully on board in addressing the systems and the silence surrounding untold stories of sexual violence.
2.) Gender Equity and Reconciliation International is convening a series of conversations/retreats in 2018 to bring the men’s and women’s movements together to heal and mend the deeper roots of sexual harassment/violence. Consider joining one or maybe even hosting one in your city! Let us know if this interests you!
3.) Consider adding However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph to your 2018 reading pile! In honor of Tostan’s founder Molly Melching’s passing of the torch to the organization’s new leader, Elena Bonometti, we are helping to disseminate this book about her transformative work in Senegal to empower and enable whole communities to do the long work of transforming the deeper roots of harmful gender norms which persist everywhere in our world. Email and let us know if you’d like a copy and consider reading it with a book club.
As we look ahead to 2018 we are committed to deepening our ties with you our partners and supporting the deeper roots of transformation that are co-creating the better, more just world we all seek for ourselves and our neighbors around the world.
Bon courage and a joy-filled holiday season – Keep lighting the light. Keep tending to those deeper roots, together.