Embracing Diversity

Embracing Diversity

*In this moment of embracing diversity, I am reposting my words from March 2012, about the power of coming together in love.*

Building peace means sometimes being uncomfortable. It requires listening to the other side with respect and being civil when telling others about your beliefs. Peace often means compromise, allowing differences to exist side by side. This can be uncomfortable and it can also be freeing and expansive.

Agree with Me

City of Toronto's Coat of Arms and MottoMany proverbs tell us that it is worthwhile to come together with each our unique perspectives: “united we stand, divided we fall” (Aesop); “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” (Helen Keller); and “diversity our strength,” the motto of the City of Toronto (my home of three years now).

I was recently shaken by a discussion with someone about interdenominational Christian nonprofits. He works for a non-denominational organization but was concerned about working with Spirit in Action because I didn’t agree with his interpretation of a particular bible verse. That he wanted to limit his interactions based on beliefs, albeit sharing the foundation of our mutual Christian faith, shocked me.

I understood that for him, to “agree to disagree” on a point of faith would necessarily mean compromise and, therefore, loss; that this compromise of beliefs would make a group weaker. However, I have found that requiring everyone to agree on specific, narrow rules does not bring strength. Welcoming multiple views breeds flexibility and trust, rather than shutting conversation down with only one way to view things.

Diversity our Strength

Women from many walks of life lead the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members in song at the beginning of our meeting. (Malawi, 2014)

Women from many walks of life lead the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative members in song at the beginning of our meeting. (Malawi, 2014)

The strength of Spirit in Action is bringing people together from many different traditions for a higher good overall rather than separating people along dogmatic lines.

In fact, our missions of compassion and social justice require us to see God in all people and to serve our neighbor as we serve God. This also frees us all to do our work of fostering prosperity, rather than spend energy forcing people to believe a specific doctrine. This openness then actively encourages personal exploration of each person’s relationship and path with the Divine.

When I visited SIA partners in Malawi in 2011, I asked about the variety of denominations represented in the group. “SIA is the one place where Catholics and Protestants come together,” was the answer I got from Canaan Gondwe, the local Small Business Fund Coordinator. This response brought a sense of pride. Inter-denominational collaboration allows each person to respond to the call to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God, rather than the call to shun those who are different.

Spirit in Action local coordinators; building peace

SIA Small Business Fund Conference, Kenya 2011

Similarly, Benoit Malenge, a former Small Business Fund Coordinator in Rwanda, reported that people of many beliefs came together, “sharing a meal, without discrimination since they are all members of Spirit in Action, who came to share the gifts.” This place of openness brought a community together, beginning to build peace after years of war in the area. 

In the words of Thomas Merton, the great Christian mystic, “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.” Can we embrace people who are different – who live and express themselves in different ways – and proceed as the peacemakers we were called to be?

Peace and “Soul Force”

Peace and “Soul Force”

In the swirling midst of on-going protest and the struggle for justice, I am reposting an essay I wrote for Memorial Day in 2010 about the power of nonviolent peace-building. I still believe peace is possible and worth striving for.

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I have long been intrigued by the connection between peace and prosperity. When people are safe and free I believe they are better able to participate in their local communities and economies. As they become involved, they create prosperity and security for themselves and those around them. It all starts with peace.

Del Anderson, Spirit in Action’s founder, wrote often about finding peace within oneself and sharing it with others. In 2002 Del wrote, “Being and expressing this peace and participating with God in bringing peace here on earth as it is in heaven is an activity of being a co-creator with GodBringing peace on earth is being in God’s grace activity and also brings forth a flow of health to mind and body.” In other words peace brings empowerment.

How do we begin to think about peace in a world so full of conflict? Mark Kurlansky’s book, Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea starts by exploring the concept of nonviolence – choosing to explain nonviolence as not merely opposition to violence but also as a positive action towards social change and equality. This is similar to what Martin Luther King, Jr. is advocating for when he says in his “I Have a Dream” speech“Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” Oftentimes a violent person expects the victim to react with violence, however, if one can react by standing firm in love and peace it catches the aggressor off-guard, creating space for social progress.

I know this all sounds like a far-fetched dream but Kurlansky makes a great case for the possibility of nonviolent revolution. Also, The Friends Committee on National Legislation provides some great information about the effectiveness of diplomacy and development for the “peaceful prevention of deadly conflict”. Similarly, I am encouraged when I read about the work of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, which sends trained peacekeepers into conflict areas to encourage productive discussion and protect citizens. They point out that peace and diplomacy are much cheaper than war and armies.

Creating peace is a difficult and important job! At Spirit in Action we pray and act for peace with this thing Martin Luther King, Jr. calls “soul force”. We call on the spirit inside each of us to be put to action, which creates a positive force toward understanding, support, and empowerment. On this Memorial Day I hope you will join me in celebrating those brave souls who have stood up for a better world through nonviolence and the promotion of peace.

I will end with a blessing my Grandma Barbara often says: “May peace prevail on earth and in your heart.”

[Pictured above: We met this girl at a local water borehole in Kasozi Village, Uganda. She was pumping water as our group of SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators – on our tour of local SIA groups – passed by her. We paused, and Ofonime Nkoko from Nigeria helped her pump the water.]

Wisdom from Del: Co-creators with the Divine

Wisdom from Del: Co-creators with the Divine

“God will not do for us what we can do for ourselves.  We are not created as puppets to be manipulated and controlled.  The Holy One does not force us to make certain decisions or to take specific actions, but honors us as co-workers and gives us free will.

We are created as junior-partners, ambassadors, and co-creators with the Almighty.  The work is not complete until we fulfill God’s divine plan and destiny in our lives by expressing and manifesting “God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.”

As we pray, listen, hear and act, we receive the abundant life; all the good our Father/Mother God has already provided (created) for us, and whose “good pleasure it is to give us the kingdom.”

Let us fulfill God’s divine plan for us. Let us pray, listen and work, resting in the Holy One, waiting confidently and expectantly, alert and doing our part. Thus we discover that we are God’s answer to the needs of humankind.

It is our joy, privilege and responsibility to transform God’s dream for us into a working, living reality.

You are greater than you know. You are of more value to God than you believe possible.

Let us believe enough to act, to start now on a holy journey of love and faith, obeying our Lord Jesus’ commands, “Feed the hungry” and “Only believe (and act as though you believe) and you shall see the glory of God” manifested in and through you.”

Ruth shows us one of the mats she's made to sell. Before the Small Business Fund grant the family was just subsistence farming, now their farm has grown so that they have enough to sell. (Uganda)

Ruth shows us one of the mats she’s made to sell. Before the Small Business Fund grant the family was just subsistence farming, now their farm has grown so that they have enough to sell. (Uganda)

For more from Del Anderson, see Del’s Writings. Join the Del Anderson Legacy Circle by becoming a monthly/quarterly SIA supporter.

Dreaming of Spring

Dreaming of Spring

“What are those crazy things hanging in the tree?” I asked the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators when we saw them on the site of our conference in Uganda last summer. Most of us didn’t know what it was since Uganda is much more tropical than where the rest of us live. We did get to try the jackfruit before the end of the week and it was a nice mellow melon flavor. I was at a restaurant in Toronto recently that served jackfruit and it brought back good memories of being together with all our wonderful Small Business Fund leaders.

Much of the country is buried in snow this week and it has me dreaming of spring – of warm earth, budding leaves, and seeds sprouting. I also heard from a new friend in Malawi that most farmers there planted their crops last month, so things should be growing already!

With those thoughts in mind, here are some seed-related inspiration and photos from my trip last summer!

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” — Mexican Proverb

“Who would put a seed in the ground and then plant a stalk in the ground above the seed? For the stalk grows out of the seed – from within it, never from without; So the answer grows out of the question, the fulfillment out of the need, and the Love out of the yearning.” — Glenn Clark, “The Soul’s Sincere Desire”

“A seed never has any doubts as to what it is going to grow into, therefore you must have no doubts whatsoever about the seed which I have planted into your consciousness. Simply know it will grow and flourish and will be perfect.” — Eileen Caddy

Kubadwa's stand of winter maize in Malawi. The winter crop (July, in the southern hemisphere) is very profitable, since it is out of the normal growing season. Canaan Gondwe, the local coordinator, told us that "it is hot cake," selling quickly in the markets - and fetching a good price! The Small Business Fund program and the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative loans help farmers invest in winter crops.

We visited Kubadwa’s stand of winter maize in Malawi. The winter crop (July, in the southern hemisphere) is very profitable, since it is out of the normal growing season. Canaan Gondwe, the local coordinator, told us that “it is hot cake,” selling quickly in the markets – and fetching a good price! The Small Business Fund program and the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative loans help farmers invest in winter crops.

Kubadwa (left) has shared the gift with Kamanya Zuru. He gave him two plates of bean seed and showed him about how to plant  the seeds, use compost manure and double dig the beds to prep them for planing.

Kubadwa (left) has shared the gift with Kamanya Zuru. He gave him two plates of bean seed and showed him about how to plant the seeds, use compost manure and double dig the beds to prep them for planing.

Called to action – now

Called to action – now

Yesterday, Boyd and I took our lunch break to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail aloud to each other. Reading it in its entirety, rather than in a series of quotes, I was impressed by frequent references to God, Jesus, and Biblical figures. There are many deeply moving quotes from King about the arc of justice, about how we are all inter-connected, about expressing compassion to each other, about love and hatred. These are quotes that stem from and refer to the deep truths of his Christian faith without always mentioning his faith.

King’s letter quoted Amos and made more than a few references to Paul and the early Christians. He seemed to take courage from those first Christians who were radical in their faith and who didn’t settle for the status quo. Churches today, King lamented, were afraid to be labeled as “nonconformist” and were shying away from the important work of challenging injustice and structural prejudice. He asks: “Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”

This letter is a call to action, now. Not to wait. Not to be afraid to be different or radical or uncomfortable. People of faith must be people who stand up for justice, for moral rights, for the inherent dignity of all people.

Some of the team in Manyamula Village in Malawi that is standing up for justice and hope in their community.

Some of the team in Manyamula Village in Malawi that is standing up for justice and hope in their community.

Spirit in Action is not just a “spirit” organization. It is also an “action” organization. We see light and value and hope and possibility in the poor, in people of distant communities. We see that organizations that do not allow people to be actors in their own future, in their own prosperity, perpetuate an unsettling hierarchy of those who are helpers and those who need help. Action is confronting people who make statements that lump all of Africa into a uniform culture, who distrust all people who are poor. I know that is my great privilege to serve others, to give and encourage so that they can realize their own dreams for a better future.

We may not be able to help everyone. But we are not waiting until we can to solve all problems before we serve one person. We are not waiting to be a perfect organization before we dive into action to co-create with God for a better world.

Thank you for joining me on this path, in this action, in this service, and in using the power of God for good.

I sign off my post today with the same words as Martin Luther King, Jr. used in his letter from the Birmingham jail:

Yours for the cause of Peace and [Sister/]Brotherhood,
Tanya

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