The Peace and Justice Committee is collecting information from Peace Mennonite participants about how they are seeking to live out their faith and serve others during this time of Covid-19. Please email Karen Brown (ksb10 at juno.com) if you have a service story to share.
I heard a call in my soul, “What is a white ally?” I have tried to address my own White Fragility issues. I watched the events on the news and said that, as a white ally, it is my duty to watch and bear witness, but then something flashed on the news: it not enough for white allies to watch but they need to participate and be part of the Black Lives Movement. I was then moved to take action as I took strength from standing on the shoulders of those in past who stood solidly against state oppression.
I took Emma to school and with fear in my heart I fought the voices in my head saying “don’t do this” and listing every reason not to. I moved towards the barricades and there I stood looking down on Mass street from the North. I was fearful first of the tents and the other protestors. Who were these people? But soon my fears were calmed as they were all wearing masks and passing out waters. They had observers marked clearly with signs and neon masks. They had walkie talkies talking to each other. As cars approached we would raise our fist in sign of solidarity.
When I came home that afternoon before picking up Emma I went and bought more groceries for the protestors, especially thinking they needed water and first aid kits to help deal with the heat or minor injuries. The protester organizers always thanked me and were grateful that I came out.
I came home that day and read more about what they were protesting and learned even more about Mr. Rontarus Washington. The following day I returned. I had less fear in my heart but still felt the presence of those who went before me. I still asked, “What am I doing? Am I really putting myself in danger? What if a car attempts to drive through the barricades again or someone starts shooting?” A spiritual voice led me to the line in a hymn that says, “We shall not be moved.”
This time I stood on the south side of the entrance to South Park. As there seemed to be fewer people on this side and I thought there needed to be more people there. I tried to take comfort in my white skin armor. I never think of the color of my skin as a coat of armor, but it is a type of armor in our nation. There were again the safety monitoring people using clip boards to take down license plates and makes and models as well as walkie talkies to monitor any situation to help deescalate situations.
As cars drove by this second day, the situation was more frightening. As cars approached, drivers often made like they were going to crash into us before they would turn off, or yelled things like “White people are oppressed too,” or “God loves the KKK.” But despite these epithets, people who were with me were always calm. We raised our fists in solidarity and looked straight ahead, unmoved by their hatred. Other drivers honked and raised their fists and yelled back “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice, No Peace.”
People wore masks and remained far apart from each other. Some would come and offer water, others shared stories about how they had been involved in other protests. I know there is something in us that says, “This is not the time to protest; there is a pandemic,” or “Isn’t there a way to get attention without blocking the road?”. And I still hear “Don’t all live matters?”. Of course all lives matter; that is point of the hashtag Black Lives Matter. I am glad to say that Mr. Washington was released on $50,000 cash bond that was raised by a go fund me page; his legal team and the owner Raven bookstore put up collateral to secure his release. On the day he was released I walked to the Raven bookstore and purchased the book Song of Solmon by Toni Morrison. Work will still need to be done but it does seem the case is moving forward. Yes, as an ally witnessing is important, raising self-awareness to a cause is important, raising other people’s awareness to a cause is important, but standing in solidarity and taking action is even more important. While we deal with our internal white fragility, we have external strength and armor of our skin color that we can lend to the cause of the oppressed.
Ninemile Creek meanders through Lansing Correctional Facility, and on a ridge, the old limestone buildings of the East Unit became the home of an inmate choir in 1995. Elvira Voth, after a distinguished choral career in Alaska, retired to the KC area and saw the need for arts activities for inmates. The East Hills Singers were born and are now 25 years old.
Inmates in minimum security join community volunteers to prepare for two concerts a year outside the prison walls. The inmates have an opportunity for a positive accomplishment in singing and a window into the outside. Their partners, many of whom come from Rainbow Blvd
Mennonite and Southern Hills Mennonite, are also given the opportunity to sing and to join the relationship. Inmates introduce the music in the concerts and often tell of what the relationships mean to them. Some who are released to the area later become community volunteers themselves.
During each choir season, volunteers rehearse bi-weekly on Mondays in Shawnee Mission, and the men in blue rehearse weekly in Lansing. I and my friend, Bob Franz, choose to go to the Lansing rehearsals.
In December, the minimum security population was moved into new, but very cramped, quarters, where the flu already spread like wildfire in January. So the choir is shut down by the covid crisis and may be difficult to get started again. But when we do return, we will be looking for more volunteers, men who enjoy singing and will support the inmates. The virus crisis shut the choir down Arts in Prison at what would have been an exciting time. My fellow baritone, Daniel Ramos, had just been released and was looking forward to joining on the volunteer side. We were all excited about going to Europe virtually, singing the “Prisoner’s Chorus” from Beethoven’s Fidelio for an innovative New York opera company. When we restart is anyone’s guess. I’m looking forward to the restart, and I’m sure that our EHS colleagues are as well.
I’m just not that crazy about salad, but I grow lettuce anyway, and sometimes I eat it, and sometimes I sell it at the Farmers Market. That’s what I was going to do this spring—the selling part, I mean. And then Covid-19 presented itself just after I planted my seeds.
My growing of lettuce has become somewhat of a ritual, an annual exercise in humility and awe. I am somehow proud of it, even though the burying of a seed, the transplanting of a seedling, the harvesting of a whole, beautiful head has very little to do with me. I’m really just an interested front-row bystander who has an appetite for being amazed over and over again.
That a tiny sliver of seed can grow into a big, beautiful salad, night after night, just astonishes me and makes my thoughts turn to things holy and sacred and beyond my understanding.
I have raised two teenage boys by myself. At their ugliest, both boys have been hard to like, at times, and routinely turned up questions in my mind about love, too. Attempts to express my love for them were mostly irrelevant. But in both cases, along about their fifteenth or sixteenth year, the daily regimen of cooking a good evening meal stopped being the production and serving of nutrition and became, instead, the only remaining way I could think of to let them know that they were loved. And so I served them, mindful of Jesus who lovingly served the throng, and said a silent prayer that someday they could recognize my meal as symbolic of my desire to be in loving communion with them.
So, Covid-19, miracles in a seed, and the giving of food as an expression of love. All have been relevant as I have sought and found a place for my lettuce this year, given the late start of the Farmers Market. The Ladybird Diner, which happens to be owned and operated by a former fifth grade student of mine, serves 200 sack lunches everyday, and is handing out 10 Pantry Boxes every week to people who have lost their jobs or are otherwise in crisis because of the virus. And I am thrilled that the lettuce I have given is being distributed to those who are hungry this year. It’s a very small thing in the overall picture, like a lost seed in the dirt, but I’m glad to have found a way, however small, to help.
- Mission to support others during this critical time: I have not been actively involved in my community. I think that boils down to my mission being to Stay Home. I know there are many people who can’t stay home, because of their work or their need to keep feeding their families. Some, frankly, don’t have the cognitive ability to understand that they need to stay home. I can’t change anyone else’s actions or mindset, but I can control my own. I have the luxury of being able to stay home, with my work and my stable living situation and my ability to keep food on the table and cat food in the dish and my ability to connect with people electronically. So I am resolved to stay out of other people’s way. I stay home as much to protect others as to protect myself. This also extends to leisure activity. I would love to be going for walks at Baker Wetlands and the Arboretum. But I am doing OK without those things. I don’t have bored children to entertain. So again I do my part by staying away from places that become less safe the more people are at them. I also use my voice and my words wherever and whenever I can. I see myself as a calm presence in a time when that quality is much needed. I try to be informed and to share what I know and what I believe to be true in a calm yet authoritative way, in a variety of situations (mostly in social media). I believe that is also a contribution. And I am trying to be aware of needs that I can help meet through financial or material donation.
- Any reflections you have–theological, biblical, or otherwise, about your service: It seems like a passive form of service, to Stay Home, but I am looking at it as a sacred duty to avoid harming someone else. That seems at the heart of “love your neighbor,” and if it’s what is called for now, it is what I can do.
Sewing comes naturally to me. My mother was an accomplished seamstress; she worked from home and taught me the basics. I was blessed with four daughters and kept them in homemade clothes throughout their childhood. My oldest daughter studied fashion design and passed many useful hints on to me. So, when I became aware of the current need for face masks, it didn’t take me long to decide to get busy. Youtube provides plenty of tutorials, I have a large stash of fabric and, last not least, I am doing what I love and, hopefully, am helping out a little. So far, the masks have gone to my family and their friends and acquaintances. But, I have built up a stock and will gladly take requests.
“… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”. Matthew 25, 40
THE PEACE AND JUSTICE COMMITTEE knows very well that the many members of the church expand the vision of mission through their commitment to serving in the broader community. Please take a moment to share your personal mission in the community and the world. If you would, please start with the way you have committed to assist your neighbors or others during this time of stress with the pandemic. I think the smallest efforts like checking in on others are so appreciated. Then if you would, describe your involvement in Lawrence and perhaps the world. Peace and Justice would like to share mission moments with the congregation on our church web site and as part of our weekly worship. Please email the following information to Karen Brown (ksb10 at juno.com).
- Mission to support others during this critical time:
- Ways in which you generally contribute in the community through
- service projects
- neighbor to neighbor
- missions of Mennonite church
- Any reflections you have–theological, biblical, or otherwise, about your service.