Lady Liberty/Here You Are Free

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I can’t stop writing; I cried writing this.

. . .

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Or, on second thought, maybe not.
Take these tired and poor
and shut the door in their faces,
put them in their place,
it’s certainly not here.
Those refugees you speak of,
what regions do they come from?
Are they brown-skinned and Muslim?
Were they born into war-torn countries?
If they are these types of refugees
we have no use for them here.

You see,
our fear drives us these days
makes us behave in ways
our white ancestors did
when they tried to rid this land
of its rightful inhabitants
the indigenous people
who we still treat as less than equal
whose very existence makes us recoil,
“Let them drink oil!”
we cry, because the genocide
of old never really ended,
it’s simply extended in more covert
and sinister methods.

And the institution of slavery
we embraced for hundreds of years?
That’s still here too,
it too morphed and changed
the chains now more sophisticated,
the method now metal cages
and we still blame the rage
of black and brown faces
on their race and biology,
never acknowledging the racism
wrought within our economy,
psychology, institutions, foundations,
the very soul of this nation.

And let’s not forget the internment camps
that held thousands of Japanese Americans
for no other reason
than the “treason” of looking like the enemy.
So we took children and families,
and herded these like cattle
waging a battle against our own,
against the flesh, blood, and bone
of our fellow Americans
who emigrated, like us, to this land.

And now we look at the Mexicans,
which is what we call all Latino men,
women and children
because we do not actually care
where they came from
or what their nationality is
only that they exist in our midst
and we don’t think they should.
And if we could,
we’d deport them all
“Let’s build a damn wall!”
Make it as tall as the sky,
as wide as the southern border,
restore this nation to its proper order.
What’s more American than that?

And all the while lady liberty
screams in pain,
turns her face away from these shores
and implores us to reconsider.
We are better than this,
though past and present say otherwise.
But the tides are changing,
can you not feel them?
The cries of hate and lies
are at this moment being defied,
can you not feel them?
The people are marching,
can you not feel them? !

Throughout the tides of history
there has always been
and must always be
a strong undercurrent
of resistance.
For instance, the abolitionists
fighting for the end of slavery,
the Freedom Riders and their bravery,
the war resisters, pipeline protesters,
civil and gay rights leaders,
bleeders and sweaters and criers
who laid their lives on the line.
And the current time
beckons us to be on the right side,
the side of justice and mercy,
of love and acceptance and liberty,
of righteous anger and humility.

Pick up your torches,
you statues of liberty,
flood the shores of your city
open her doors wide
so all may come inside.
And together we will cry,
“Give us your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Welcome refugees, here you are free.
Here, you are free.”

The Day Hate Won

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I wrote this poem the day after the November 8, 2016 election. I had so much emotion surging through me and needed to release it on the page. Certainly there is much more nuance to why people voted the way they did and it is a bit simplistic to only name two categories, hate and love, and that is not recognized in full in this poem; however, the words I wrote still strike a chord within my heart and I still believe in their truth, even if they are only a piece of the truth. And these words are proven truer every day.

“The Day Hate Won”

On the day hate won
racists and white supremacists
xenophobes and homophobes
anti-immigrants and anti-Islamists
proudly walked the streets,
free to harass and scream as they pleased,
feeling they were backed
by one who also attacked
Blacks and Muslims,
Mexicans and women,
folks with disabilities
and different gender identities,
veterans and refugees,
treating all of these
and many other Americans
as if this was not their land.
And those who voted for hate
took their leader’s cue
and lashed out at these folks too.

The day hate won
people applauded and cheered,
mocking the despair and fear
reverberating through many.
Telling any who would listen
That those in fear were learning their “lesson.”
People praised and raised hate high,
denying and rejecting it as hate
but as justice that came late
but at just the right time.

The day hate won
children everywhere asked their parents
if they were safe
it they would be ok.
And parents asked each other the same
and this refrain
rippled throughout the terrain
of this broken land,
people desperate to understand
because no one knew
if what the tyrant said would come true
even though deep down
they had heard hate’s battle cry sound.

The day hate won
people hid behind religion
as their excuse for their decision.
Putting all the weight
on a single issue or stance,
saying now the unborn have a chance
to be safe.
But the trade they made
was for the lives and wellbeing
of many now living
outside the womb
who wonder if there ever was any room
for them in this society.

The day hate won
working folk who felt ostracized
and demonized
who’d been looking in from the outside
for years
felt they finally found one whose ears
heard their desperate pleas
but hate did not care about any of these
they were all part of hate’s strategy.

The day hate won
people said it was an election
like any other
With a winner and a loser.
But this was unprecedented,
in direct dissent
to the first Black President,
a call to white folks across the nation
to reclaim their “rightful station.”
And the winner that day was hate
and the loser was the entire nation-state.

The day hate won
the earth shook and cried
she knew that her fragile life
and the fragile lives
of all creatures in her care,
already damaged beyond repair,
were now at even greater risk
because hate denied her suffering,
denied that people were the cause of it.

The day hate won
love was shaken to its core.
In some places love was shocked,
in others, love was mocked.
In some, love was not surprised
but tears still fell from love’s eyes.
Love raged, love took to the streets.
Love disengaged, love hid under the sheets.

But love was not extinguished.
Deluded, yes.
Disoriented, a little.
Dismayed, a lot.
But love reached out to love
and love found itself in others,
in quite whispers,
and tender hugs,
in shared rage at the present danger,
in shared tears on the subway with strangers,
on social media posts and posters in the street.
Love was broken and bruised,
angry and hurt and sad and confused.
But love did not die.
Love organized.
Because love knew that hate may
have won the day.
But in the end
love
will have love’s way.

Privilege/Where You Began

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Blog posts two days in a row! I’ve had a lot on my mind since Saturday’s march. I’m sure some of you have seen a viral Facebook post by a woman who outlines why she didn’t march or support those who did. This is my response to her.

She said
I don’t need to march
or take to the streets
to meet my needs.
I can do it all on my own
with my own two hands
standing on my own two feet.
Look at these women,
they know nothing of poverty,
have they even heard of the Middle East?
Or Africa? (She probably thinks it’s a country)
They have food to eat,
shoes on their feet,
who are they to take to the street?

She said,
this woman isn’t buying it,
trying it, or supplying it.
I’m not a second-class citizen,
I’ve risen above all that nonsense
and noise.
I can make my own choice,
I can work, vote, defend my family
and myself.
And I don’t blame anyone else
for my problems,
I choose to solve them.
These American women
have no idea what they’ve been given.

And I say, that
is the problem.
I don’t think you realize
the prize your white skin supplies you,
the rise your social status provides you,
the sky’s the limit to you
because you were born in the clouds,
never able to see the ground
below and the crowds gathered there
trying to get their share
of this unequal American pie.
You never felt second class
because your opportunity glass
has always been half full
or more
while scores of other Americans
began their journey
having to make cups out of their hands.
Have you ever had to stand
in line for food stamps
or an affordable house?
Live paycheck to paycheck,
raise kids without a spouse?
You tell people like this
to rise up and get with it
but let me be explicit:
your starting block was near the finish,
you couldn’t see behind you
where the lines grew
but you see them now.
And it makes you angry
and indignant, you can’t
believe how ungrateful
and whiny our society is
while you’re the one who lives
off society’s back.
Yet you choose to attack
the marchers who are peaceful
and compare them to people
you’ve never even met
in lands you’ve never even stepped
foot on.

Yes, the world is suffering
and there is so much injustice
but when you can sit
and look at the world out your window
without seeing your neighbors below
then you are part of the problem.
When did we begin
comparing poverty to poverty,
hunger to hunger,
violence to violence?
Suffering is suffering is suffering
whether it brings despair
to the people over there
or right here.
Let me make the picture clear:
you may not feel like you need to march
or protest
but, at best, that is your experience
and yours alone,
yours.
Not hers, or theirs,
yours.

So before you turn your personal experience
into another platform to distance
yourself from other women and Americans,
take a second,
and remember just where you began.

Why I March

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They asked me why I march,
what it meant to me,
to be a protester,
a tester of the waters,
a woman and a daughter.
And the first thing I’ll say
is that my choice to march on Saturday
was so much bigger
than my gender identity or female-ness,
than the fact that I have breasts and a clitoris,
than the heartache
of coming so close to breaking
that last ceiling made of glass
only to have my hopes dashed
and shattered instead.

Yes those identities are important to me,
foundationally and otherwise,
and I realize my womanhood
is sacred, is holy.
It holds me
in connection with the tides and the moon,
the womb of Mother Earth
and all those who give birth to life.
Yes I am a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife
and damn proud to be all the above and more
but those aren’t the only things I march for.

I march because white women like me
voted this man into the presidency
and I can’t let that be our legacy.
White women like me
have chosen our racial identity
over the sisterhood,
have stood on the necks and backs
of our black and brown sisters
dismissed her and them when
our privilege felt threatened.
When we felt called out or outcast,
we cast the dice in favor of the color of our flesh,
neglecting our common female-ness.
We white women claimed feminism
and took offense when women of color
pointed out another one of our blind spots:
our lack of intersectionality,
the fact that we acted as if our reality
was the same for all women,
that we spoke for all of them.
And when reminded of how skin tone
and economics, sexual identity,
and body politics came into play
we white women got up and walked away.

I march for clarity of vision
because the incision the election left
cut too deep, too close to the bone.
Because the backbone of Congress is weak
and broken and until the people have spoken-
not the electoral college,
not the white men who lack knowledge
and restraint, who paint
this nation as an island, a citadel,
in whose bowels dwell the beast
unleashed to expel all infidels
and come hell or high water,
slaughter the American dreams
of anyone who seems too dangerous,
too threatening,
be it the deafening cries of the refugee fleeing violence,
the undocumented worker forced to feast on silence
the black woman raising her fist in defiance,
the Muslim who prays five times a day that they
won’t be seen as a terrorist,
the trans person who has to continually insist
on their right to piss in their restroom
and the list
goes on.

I march for freedom and unity,
like this brave little state taught me,
because this, all of this,
is so much bigger than me.
It’s about human dignity,
solidarity,
you and me,
intersectionality,
the reality that we all share the same home
and we can’t progress
when we walk alone.

I march because I refuse to believe
that the fight is over and done with,
with all due respect,
that notion is bullshit.
I know who won the presidency
and he does not represent me
or the millions in the human family
around the world
who unfurled banners and sheets
and took to the streets to march too.

We march because we believe
in the ability of one, of two,
of a thousand or just a few
to shake things up and upend the system,
turn walls into bridges and ridges into cisterns,
to reverse the world order,
reach across human-made borders
to shift the axes of power
make the powerful cower
and build the kind of movement
not even the strongest hate can devour.

I march not because it is the best I can do
but because it’s what I can do
right now
and the rest is still coming,
this is just the first test,
just you wait and see what’s next.

A House Divided

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I know my posts have become more and more sporadic on this little blog as I’ve started grad school but I’m breaking my silence by sharing some important work I’ve been a part of this past month.

This U.S. election season has brought up a lot of emotions, rifts, and challenges for folks across the country, no matter who you voted (or didn’t vote) for. In response to the fear, pain, surprise, and divisiveness this election brought out of us, a group of activists from Brattleboro, VT created a post-election action to generate conversation across the lines that divide us.

Featuring the spoken word poems “Masquerade” (by Prosperous) and “A House Divided” (by me), this action incorporates masks and movement as we reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, how we got here, and where we are going. We performed the action in the beginning of December at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, VT and in downtown Brattleboro.

Watch the videos of the performances here:

Buzzfeed Community

Youtube

Read my spoken word, “A House Divided”, below. Share it, perform it, use it to start conversations as we figure out how we move forward, together, from here.

Thank you.

In solidarity,

Megan

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“A House Divided”

Division existed from the beginning,

with people whose lives were deemed less than worth living.

There’s always been an upper caste

and a lower class

and hordes of people in between.

And what remained unseen

were the ways in which we

were pitted against each other,

outfitted with weapons to wage war against each other,

taught to mistrust, fear, and hate each other.

Deceived until we believed

both consciously and unconsciously

that for you to be free

meant that I would not be.

That for you to have

meant that I would have not.

That for you to be able to rise

meant that I would be denied.

That you were taking from me,

that you were making me less free,

that you were the problem

because you were here, in my sights.

You were the easiest barrier to fight

because you were in my face

trying to take my place

at the table of freedom and opportunity.

But it didn’t occur to me

that the table was big enough for all of us,

that there was room for all to eat.

I only saw what I wanted to see.

You were the representation

of all my anger and frustration.

And at first it was your group of people

and then you were deemed acceptable

so some other segment of society

had to justifiably take your place

to be the face

of the other

to be “those people”

to be less than people

to be the epitome of evil

to be broken until they were spent

and so on and so forth we went

years upon years

tears upon tears

backs upon backs

until someone said, “Stand up, fight back!”

And we began to rise,

slowly at first, one at a time,

reaching to the person behind us

saying, “Who can break the ties that bind us?”

Praying, “Let love be the tie that binds us.”

We started to see through the haze

began to recognize the ways

we were hurting each other

smothering each other’s souls

with the soles of our feet

as we scrambled up the ladder to be free.

But we didn’t know what to do about it

how do get around it

so the masks came out.

Sometimes they were about protection

sometimes deflection,

a way to face rejection

without having to reveal our brokenness.

Sometimes we didn’t know we were wearing them

they felt like our own skin,

the way they molded to our faces,

fitting in all the right places.

Sometimes we were told to wear them

and then they didn’t fit so well

but we obeyed because they would yell,

“No one would love you

if they knew you.”

Or more calmly they’d say,

“It’s better this way.”

So we masked up and added on the layers

sometimes finding another player

in this game of life

who we felt was just right,

was worth the risk,

worth the immense task

of taking off that first mask.

It was slow progress we made

and with each new wave

another group found themselves welcomed

and loved and affirmed and held.

Yet with each new mask unveiled

those old fears started to resurface

the old voices whispered,

“They don’t deserve this.”

We looked around and didn’t recognize each other

so we put on more masks which made us bolder

to say things we didn’t think we’d say

to change in ways we didn’t think we’d change

to hate people we didn’t think we’d hate.

What some saw as progress

others so as regress.

What some saw as freedom

others saw as a prison.

And so we hid behind our politics and positions,

our old habits and new superstitions

and we went back to people who were like us

who lived in places we lived

who had the same faces we did

who believed what we believed

who felt the same kinds of fears

who cried the same kinds of tears

who prayed like us

who ate like us

who felt rage like us.

And we forgot about everyone else.

It became us and them once again.

Division existed from the beginning,

it’s always been a part of our story

but it doesn’t have to continue to be,

we have another choice.

What’s done is done but we still have our voice.

Find one person who hasn’t felt pain,

who hasn’t felt fear, anger, or shame

who hasn’t hated or been hated

who hasn’t cried or known someone who died.

Find me someone who hasn’t felt hunger

who hasn’t felt alone, misunderstood

Stood upon, stepped on.

Honestly, find me someone who doesn’t bleed

like you do

who doesn’t need to breathe

like you do

who doesn’t need to eat

like you do.

who doesn’t want to be freed

like you do.

Find me someone who isn’t perfectly imperfect

who isn’t flesh and blood and bones and tissue

who isn’t at the molecular level the same as you.

Find me someone who doesn’t have needs

they would do almost anything to meet.

Find me someone right here in this street

that when you look into their eyes

you can deny their humanity,

their dignity, their right to be.

Seek the hand of someone beside you.

Welcome the hand of someone behind you.

This is the start of something new,

a safe place in the midst of the chaos,

a proclamation that it begins with us.

Do we move forward in fear?

We decide.

Do we move forward in love?

We decide

Do we move forward alone?

We decide.

Do we move forward together?

We decide.

These are your neighbors,

these are your people.

These are your neighbors,

these are your people.

Say it, “You are my neighbors,

you are my people.”

All we have is each other.

All we have is moving forward.

There is no going back.

Let’s get off the attack.

Chins up, shoulders back.

It’s time to take off

These masks.

I am from

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This is a poem I wrote for one of my classes exploring my view of change using the common “I am from” format. I’ve included an audio file because I feel that poetry is more powerful when it’s read aloud. Please feel free to listen while you read. 

 

I am from Pennsylvania farm land,
and the smell of fresh spread manure
sure to burn nostrils
on the school playground
where uniforms marked gender, age, space, time
stood still, moved slowly,
too fast and not fast enough.

I am from mountains
valleys, hills, meadows
toes digging deep into grass and dirt
earth and green spaces that called
to my heart, spirit, lungs, legs
begged me to be free
green spaces that call to me still.

I am from East Baltimore Street
the white house with the pines
behind whose blinds love resided
confided in the strong arms of family
that pulled me in
held me close
hold me still.

I am from playing in the trees, bruised knees
“It’s getting dark come inside please”
Mom says.
her voice made everything all right
despite when it could not
give an answer for why cancer
tried to rob her of her light.

I am from questions
of an eight year old’s fears
tears betraying my façade of strength
as I tried to emulate hers
“Will you die?” “Will you lose your hair?”
I could not bear
the thought of it.

I am from family
and love above all else
from grandmas’ kisses and pappys’ laughter
after family dinners around the table
unable even now to admit
that death comes too quickly
to those we love most.

I am from Mennonite land
of peace and nonresistance
insistence on four-part harmony singing
bringing casseroles and baked goods
and, my goodness, how can a denomination
with foundations of peace
leave my childhood church in shambles.

I am from community
bonded by common threads
of reds and blues and yellow hues
all the bright and dark colors
of seeking, searching, longing
finally belonging
here.

I am from the city
the rumblings of subways and trolleys
all these familiar sounds and sight
seeing people in all their vibrancy
curiosity, diversity, rawness
all this
is life.

I am from women
whose bodies were commodities
kept hidden forbidden sin ridden
until that holiest day of days
when she trades in her purity prize
and the guise
is lifted.

I am from contradictions
convictions
women who refused to be victims
even when our sacred souls, bleeding
were greedily ripped out,
screaming
from between our very legs.

I am from dark places
hollow spaces
shoe laces dangling
over a subway platform, canyon,
bridge over a stream
dreaming of jumping
but still afraid to fall.

I am from desperation
from a handful of pills
hospital bills
cold floors, metal doors
and therapists’ offices where
questions like “Now what do you want me to do for you?”
rang hollow in my ears.

I am from acceptance
of myself
esteemed in my eyes
sure of my worth
while being grounded
astounded, unbounded
by loving me
he’s free to love me too.

I am from liminal space
somewhere between wounded and whole
Wholly succumbing or coming alive
between inward loathing and outward exploding
between knowing and not
between wanderlust
and lusting for home.

I am from love
and all its questions, suggestions, reflections
of what was, what is, and what could be
and that is home
home is love
and there is no other place
I’d rather be from.

What you gave

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I do not recall
the slightest bit of hesitation
or fear
or weakness
in you
when I whispered,
Come with me.
You said yes
and in saying yes
you gave
up the warmth
of loved ones
the comfort of home
the security of work
all that was known
for me
for us
for the cold thrill
of adventure
for the uncertainty of partnership
for the insecurity of a new life
for the great unknown.
And for that gift
I
am eternally
humbly
abundantly
grateful.

 

 

Reflecting on Rwanda

*This brief reflection is a small glimpse into the 8 day field study course I engaged in this past January with the CONTACT (Conflict Transformation Across Cultures) program and SIT Graduate Institute in Rwanda. The purpose of the course was to study a society rebuilding itself post-conflict. Rwanda taught me so much…and left me more confused than ever. This post is for those of you asking to hear about my experience. Some of this may not make sense so please ask questions and I will try to answer them. Also, I’d love a phone call or face to face conversation about it all. Also, it goes without saying that I am NOT an expert on peacebuilding or Rwanda by any means; these are simply my initial thoughts and reactions. Thank you, friends. -Megan*

When I reflect on my time in Rwanda, I find myself breaking the my learnings into two categories: the work of the people and the work of the government. On one hand, I see incredible individuals and organizations working on reconciliation, peace education, eradicating gender based violence, telling stories of forgiveness, and so on and it gives me so much hope for this country and its people. But then I hear about the government’s lack of tolerance toward opposition, whether it’s an opposing political party or a critique of the government’s narrative of the genocide, and its restrictions on society, organizations, and individuals and I wonder if it’s all a façade. It feels like the peace that exists is so fragile, just dangling in the balance. I see truth in the words of Pastor Antoine, who leads a multi-ethnic congregation: “We have succeeded in creating peaceful cohabitation but we are still in the process of creating lasting reconciliation.”

Peacebuilding is a complex, active process that involves commitment and input from people at all levels of society. In a country like Rwanda, where there are so many restrictions enforced by the government, peacebuilding can lose its robustness and sincerity when mandated by the government; particularly when those mandates include pardons for confession of crime. At the same time, while communities are engaging actively in peacebuilding, reconciliation, and forgiveness, the government’s lack of support and/or the government’s mandated confessions can impede the effectiveness of these community programs. As someone who intends to focus my peacebuilding work at the community level, this trip has caused me to consider, yet again, how robust community programs can be without the support of the government. I certainly believe these programs can, should, and do exist whether the government supports them or not but is their effectiveness impeded by the government?

I am currently in the process of trying to hold multiple truths at once. When I find myself wrestling with binary conclusions, for example is Kagame good or bad?, I take a step back and remind myself that he has done good things and bad things and many things in between. I also remind myself that my beliefs and values come from my Western, White, American upbringing and, while I know that I do not fully understand the Rwandan culture and context, I recognize that my innate values and biases still creep into my thoughts.

As Honorable John of Parliament strongly reminded us: “Whatever you [study], make sure you put it in the cultural context of where you are studying,” On the field study, I kept asking myself, Do I truly believe that Rwandans know what is best for Rwandans or am I engaging with this process in a way that assumes Rwandans are not capable of deciding for themselves due to their history? Am I asking questions as a critically thinking student or out of a lack of trust in the storyteller and their capacities? In essence, are my actions living up to what I say I value? I’m still asking these questions.

Finally, I reflect on the wounds that are still healing in Rwanda. As a Parliamentarian lamented, “Rwandans are wounded people. We are not yet free of the wounds.” And Pastor Antoine reminded us that, “Repetitive wounding makes it hard to forgive and forget.” All Rwandans were affected by the genocide which means everyone carries some kind of trauma. How do you heal a traumatized nation, especially when the wound is still so fresh? Individual acts of apology and forgiveness are a start but is everyone capable of this? As we asked in our group discussions, does forgiving atrocities of this magnitude require divine intervention and does it require an apology from the perpetrator? The old man whose house I ate lunch at in Save implored, “How can I forgive unless the perpetrator asks me to forgive them?” My immediate thought was, Why do you need to be asked to forgive? And then I come back to this: many truths can exist at once. For this man, this is one of his truths at this time in his life. For me, I am still discovering what I believe to be my truths. Murakose cyane, Rwanda. Thank you very much, Rwanda, for the chance to learn a bit more of your truths.

Osman Benk Sankoh 4

Photo credit: Osman Benk Sankoh; Photo of our group of students hearing genocide stories of healing and reconciliation from a community in southern Rwanda

 

“A Holy Rest” (Sermon from July 19, 2015)

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I was so honored when Pastor Lorie asked me if I’d like to preach again before I move. For those of you who don’t know, I am moving, today actually, to pursue a master’s degree in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation in Vermont. So when Lorie asked me to preach, I excitedly agreed. I began looking at the lectionary texts for this Sunday and praying over what the spirit might be putting on my heart to speak about. Often, when I agree to preach or give a talk, I have an idea already taking shape in my head and often it’s about peacebuilding or activism or righteous indignation surrounding some current oppressive system. But this time, I did not have anything already stirring.

And then two weeks ago I went backpacking with some friends from WPMF. High on the ridge of a mountain, where the cloud coverage laid heavy upon us and the rocks slippery below us, I fell and hit my head. Panic and tears ensued as I repeatedly clutched the side of my head, asking, “Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding?” Thankfully I was not and my friends helped me out of my backpack and onto my bottom and gave me water as I rested. I felt nauseous and in pain but was mostly in shock at what had just happened and incredibly grateful that the fall had not been worse. We continued hiking that day and the next. The following day I discovered I had suffered a concussion.

The remedy? Rest, and lots of it. And not just the “take it easy,” “don’t exert too much energy” rest but the “lay prostrate in a dark room, avoid computers, texting, tv, reading, concentrating, stimulation” rest. And this lasted nearly all week last week– the week I was to be writing my sermon and finishing up at my job and packing to move and planning my last minute wedding in August. But all I was supposed to do, and, indeed, all I really could do, was rest.

And it came to me that that was what the spirit wanted me to speak about today: resting– finding, creating, and cultivating those moments of holy rest in our lives. The work we do as the body of Christ, especially these two congregations of Calvary UMC and WPMF, is such necessary, beautiful, powerful work, that it is imperative that our bodies and spirits receive the nourishment they need to continue living out the Spirit’s welcome, Jesus’ call to social justice and peace, and God’s kindom here on earth.

In her book, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Formation, Ruth Haley Barton explores the need for sabbath, a holy rest, that is threefold: resting the body, replenishing the spirit, and restoring the soul.

Now my rest these past weeks have been mostly about resting the body, giving my brain a break from working so hard, allowing my exhausted body to heal. And I often find that in my life I do not take these physical rests unless mandated by a doctor or unless I physically cannot get out of bed or make my body do what it needs to do or unless I feel like I have some good reason or excuse– “I worked really hard this week,: “I’ve been sick,” “I have a concussion.”

Somehow it seems that explaining to others why I feel the need to rest is necessary for legitimizing it. And the same goes for spiritual, mental, and emotional rest. I feel like I need to reason it to others, as if it is not something that we all deeply need in our lives. As if rest, restoration, replenishment is not something that each of our bodies, minds, and spirits require in order for us to be nurtured, healthy, and vibrant.

I reread several Scripture passages about rest and renewal this week, some from this Sunday’s lectionary texts. I had read and heard all these passages before but they came to me fresh and new as I was healing from my concussion. I read one after the other, in different translations and versions, each speaking to me in different ways and I’d like to share them with you this morning.

I invite you to listen intently, closing your eyes if you wish or listening in whatever way you receive best, as I read both passages three times, each in a slightly different version, starting with Psalm 23:1-4:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

God makes me lie down in green pastures,

God leads me beside quiet waters,

God refreshes my soul.

The Lord guides me along the right paths

for God’s name’s sake.

Even though I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me. (NIV)

YHWH you are my shepherd–

I want nothing more.

You let me lie down in green meadows;

you lead me beside restful waters:

you refresh my soul.

You guide me to lush pastures

for the sake of your Name.

Even if I’m surrounded by the shadows of Death,

I fear no danger, for you are with me.

Your rod and your staff–

they give me courage. (Inclusive Bible)

God, my shepherd!

I don’t need a thing.

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,

you find me quiet pools to drink from.

True to your word,

you let me catch my breath

and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through Death Valley,

I’m not afraid

when you walk at my side.

Your trusty shepherd’s crook

makes me feel secure. (The Message)

And, now, Matthew 11:28-30:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

“Come to me, all you who labor and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Here you will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

“You’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” How many of us long for that in our daily lives, in the midst of our routines and commitments and strivings? How often do we prioritize rest the body, replenishing the spirit, and restoring the soul? We so often ask, how can we rest when there is work to be done? Who will pick up the slack where we left off? If I don’t do this, speak out, act, who will? How can we be silent in the midst of all that is going on?

I do not equate a holy rest with silence or slacking off but rather as an important part of soul tending. The work that we are called to do as the body of Christ, to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, care for the sick, visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger, extend the hand of friendship, requires moments of holy respite to renew ourselves. If we are burned out and weary we cannot possibly offer the hope, joy, and love the world deeply needs when our own souls are parched for lack of nourishment.

In Donald Clymer and Sharon Clymer Landis’s book, The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening, the following story is told:

“In July 2009, the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) was held in Asuncion, Paraguay. Among those in attendance was an indigenous Guarani man who had traveled from his remote village in Chaco to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, for the first time in his life. He came by bus, a nearly four-hour ride from his isolated village. Upon arrival, he was found sitting by himself in a corner. After nearly an hour had passed, a group of curious church leaders, wondering why this normally sociable man was so quiet, approached him to ask him if he needed anything. ‘No, I don’t, thank you,’ he said. ‘It’s just that the ride from my village to Asuncion was so fast and and furious that I am sitting here waiting for my soul to catch up with the rest of me.’”

I love that illustration: “Waiting for my soul to catch up with the rest of me.” As a person who is led by passion and emotion, most of the things I fill my time with are things that I care deeply about and things that better my community, my church, my world. And that is great. But it also means that as my schedule fills up and I make less time for rest and renewal, my soul stops being the guiding force of my work and, instead, the work carries on with my weary soul lagging behind, ragged and burnt out.

Several nights ago I was talking with my fiance about the the things I need to do before I move and I was telling him how my sermon just wasn’t quite coming together. “Oh Megan,” he said, “Most people would not have picked the Sunday they were moving to preach.” And he’s right. Sometimes my fervor and passion leads me to make decisions that may be a bit ill advised. But praise God she is not done with me yet and continues to teach me and mold me. I actually found that resting all week last week was in fact just what I needed most and all the things I was worried about were still able to get done, with the help of my wonderful family and church family.

I want to share a large excerpt from an essay by Wayne Muller entitled “Whatever Happened to Sunday” that I found poignant when preparing this sermon:

“In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between action and rest. As the founder of a public charity, I visit the offices of wealthy donors, crowded social-service agencies and the small homes of the poorest families. Remarkably, within this mosaic there is a universal refrain: ‘I am so busy.’ I speak with people in business and education, doctors and day-care workers, shopkeepers and social workers, parents and teachers, nurses and lawyers, students and therapists, community activists and cooks. The more our life speeds up, the more we feel weary, overwhelmed and lost. Despite our good hearts and equally good intentions, our life and work rarely feel light, pleasant or healing. Instead, as it all piles endlessly upon itself, the whole experience of being alive begins to melt into one enormous obligation. It becomes the standard greeting everywhere: ‘I am so busy.’ We say this to one another with no small degree of pride, as if our exhaustion were a trophy, our ability to withstand stress a mark of real character. The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know that the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a single mindful breath — this has become the model of a successful life.

“Because we do not rest, we lose our way. We miss the compass points that show us where to go. We lose the nourishment that gives us succor. We miss the quiet that gives us wisdom. Poisoned by the hypnotic belief that good things come only through tireless effort, we never truly rest. And for want of rest, our lives are in danger.”

Often the biggest reason we do not rest and restore our bodies and souls is because we do not make time or feel like we have time to do so. But there are other reasons. Perhaps we do not rest because we have a compulsion to be perfect. Perhaps we are afraid that if we stop “doing” we will have to start sitting with the difficult thoughts we are trying to keep at bay. Perhaps we feel like we are failing if we admit the need to rest, as if needing rest is a weakness and not part of being human. Perhaps we fear what we may discover about ourselves or our vocation. Perhaps we fear silence. Perhaps we feel there is too much to do and not enough others to pick up where we left off.

Rest is not just ceasing from all activity and stimulation while this may sometimes be what is most needed. But a holy rest can entail participating in activities “that renew you and bring you joy.” It can mean contemplative praying, it can mean taking a mental health or spiritual retreat day to tend to the needs of your soul, it can mean going for a run to clear your mind, sitting in the park, playing with your kids. It can be as simple as taking some time to breathe. Look around you right now. We are worshipping our Creator in the midst of creation! What a beautiful space to rest and listen.

It is in these moments of holy rest and replenishment that we receive nourishment for our souls. It is in these moments that, if we are open and ready to receive, we will sense the spirit speaking to us. And I use the word “moments” because, at times, that is all we can muster. When there are kids to care for, hurts to heal, and responsibilities to tend to, sometimes we can only pause for a moment in the midst of it. But our soul needs these moments deeply.

I’ve been practicing listening to my body and these past few weeks have been an abrupt awakening in that practice. I’m amazed at times by the correlation between stress and trauma in our lives with pain in the body and vice versa. Our souls, minds, and bodies to not act independently from one another– they are all integral parts of the whole that require equal tending and care. A holy rest nourishes all three.

What is preventing you you from taking moments of holy rest? What is keeping you from to listening for what the spirit is speaking into your life? Are you waiting for life to force you into a space of rest? Or, if you have created the time and space for rest, how can you deepen it? How can you live into that rest and renewal more fully?

Listen to Jesus calling you, earnestly seeking you, saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

A Change is Gonna Come

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I’m proud, I am so proud. I nearly burst with joy to tell people that I live in Philly, West Philly. This place, these people, have become more dear to me than I could have ever imagined. This place, these people, feel like HOME. A home I am about to leave.

I don’t want to, God knows I don’t want to leave. But a change has got to come and this what I believe to be the best way to do that in this moment, at this time in my life. But does it ever come with a price!

It took me a while to adjust to Philly when I first moved here in September 2012, fresh from a year of volunteering in NYC. I had longed for Philly’s embrace after a difficult year in the Big Apple but a few months after moving into my studio apartment I felt more lonely than ever.

Enter West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, the congregation and community that absolutely changed my life. I never thought I would find a church I could call home or a community that would show me what Christ would act like, a place that would teach me what it means to love and be loved.

And love and be loved I did, with such abandon that now, as I picture leaving this place, my heart feels raw with emotion, like it could burst within me. Indeed my tears already have– if this was a piece of paper it would be covered in tear stains, the letters barely legible.

WPMF and the broader West Philly community has given me life, made my heart beat. These people have walked beside me, affirmed my gifts and dreams, counseled me, consoled me, advised me, loved me, held me, laughed with me, questioned me, prodded me, trusted me, sang with me, lifted me up, provided things for me, showed me what true community can be. And I hope I’ve been the same to them.

All of this, and yet I choose to leave? Yes, it is one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. In many ways Philly has been so good to me except for one major area: work. Since graduating college I’ve found myself in administrative job after administrative job, most with little to no work to do an a daily basis. For someone who longs for productivity, meaningful work, and fulfillment you have no idea how mentally, emotionally, and physically draining it has been to spend 40 hours a week on a computer just staring at the screen (actually, if you’ve ever read my blog you probably do have an idea since I rant about it often, but I digress), especially when my heart longs to be doing peace, conflict transformation, and facilitation work.

I’ve wanted to go back to school for years now but have let my student loan debt nearly completely dictate my life. In fact, that’s part of the reason I’ve ended up in the jobs I have– I need a certain amount of money to pay off my loans so I take what I can get, often out of desperation. I’ve finally come to a place of loosening the grip these chains of debt have had on my life.

Yes, the debt is still there and I am being responsible about it but I cannot continue waiting until it’s gone to go after my dreams. I need more experience and education and working in dead end administrative jobs will not get me there. Enter grad school. After auditing a course in facilitation at the University of Pennsylvania this past semester, I realized just how much I’d been craving knowledge and education. It felt like the right time to start looking at schools and in many ways it was, except for that it was April and rather late to apply for fall. But apply I did.

One of the schools I was accepted to was the School for International Training in Brattleboro Vermont. SIT’s MA program in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation was something I’d looked into for several years and finally doors were opening for me to attend, one of which was the professor of the course I audited had gone there and highly recommended the program to me and me to the program.

In a matter of weeks I fought for more financial award money, visited Vermont with my dear selfless mother who suggested the idea of a quick road trip up there on Memorial Day weekend, and discerned the option with nearly every significant person in my life. And all this led me here, to this decision: I am going to Vermont!

As the excitement set in, so did the fear and the guilt and the sense of loss. I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was choosing to leave something before its natural ending. High school, college, and my year volunteering all had an expiration date, a natural ending at which most people in those communities dispersed and moved on. In Philly, I am choosing to leave something on my own, no end date, and there is no dispersing of community. My people will stay.

Change is never easy. As Heraclitus wrote, “Change is the only constant in life.” Some change is small, some, like this, is large but all change is necessary for growth. I’ve felt myself on the edge of birthing something new in my life for a while now and the time has finally come to bring it into the world. With Philly in my heart and mind and the support of my loving community, Vermont here I come!