Here we are at the end of another heart-wrenching year! Yet unlike the end of 2016, when many of us were experiencing huge amounts of disbelief, sadness and weariness at the outcome of a very contentious US political season, 2017, as difficult as it has been, has borne witness to the birth of new life for our organization in ways that we have not experienced before. The agony and intensity of this year has come with unexpected turns and amazing surprises on a very difficult road that, at the end of 2016, mostly predicted more grief, polarization and violence in the US and throughout the world. Here is where the real miracle lies! In a year when our political structures have again proven their limitations at promoting long lasting social transformation for peace rooted in justice, people of faith from all corners of the world, from varying backgrounds and different spiritual, religious and theological perspectives have been moved to prayerful and courageous action in very creative ways. Our organization of peacemakers, BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz, has been one of these groups.
At the end of 2016 I said to you that I believe God is calling us to face our fears as an organization and to recommit to the kind of love that endures all things because the path of transformation is always the result of painful journeying, dislocating and relocating in ways that grow our hearts to love more as God loves. Transformation is an act of courage!
I recently learned that the word courage derives from the Latin cor and French corage both words for “heart” or “corazón” in Spanish. Thus the English word courage translates into Spanish as “coraje” which means “with heart.” This is perfectly fitting because, as an organization, we are being called to be courageous or “[email protected]” (more commonly translated into Spanish as “[email protected]”) which means we are being called to be a community of people who are moved into risky action by the depth of our love and hearts.
Exciting things have happened for the work of the board throughout 2017. In March the board met in Tucson, Arizona and engaged in a difficult conversation and training about the ways in which white power and privilege have affected our peacemaking efforts and prevented our organization from expanding its mission. We were together for an extended period of time recognizing how these structural patterns are still present in our beloved organization, even if unconsciously, and we began to consider ways that may allow us to move forward in our commitment to decentering white supremacy and centering marginalized voices and perspectives. We began this work with the help and guidance from the Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training community, which is an organization working with institutions to dismantle systemic racism and to build antiracist multicultural diverse communities. It was an amazing time of hard work that took a lot of energy and commitment from board members and staff. As participants, we were asked to be courageous as we work toward building and sustaining our hopes and dreams for our future. By the end of our meeting, the board affirmed its commitment to help our organization dismantle its own systemic racism and build an antiracist community of peacemakers.
Moreover, we learned that living into this commitment requires time and patient endurance because we will need to let go of many good things that have sustained our organizational structure for many years to embrace new ones. This process of letting go of the old and embracing the new is filled with uncertainty, anxiety and expectations that need to be held together by our community in a contemplative and non-dualistic stance. As we grow in this commitment, we need to resist the temptation to revert back to our old patterns because they are familiar and give us comfort, and/or to become polarized within our community as a way of managing our fears, uncertainties and pain. At our 2018 Summer Conference in Keuka Park, NY we will be engaging this theme of decentering power and privilege more fully and learn together how to move forward with courage and determination.
Though this process may sound scary to many of you -- at least it is to me -- I believe God has given us a sign of what is to come through the celebration of our 2017 Summer Conference in Campo Mazahua, Mexico. For the first time in the life of our organization we have dared to go where we have not gone before for our Summer Conference! If you were at this year’s Summer Conference you know what I am talking about. This Summer Conference was a magical and awesome experience in the life of our organization that, in the words of many of our long-time Conference attendees, has not been seen before. The Summer Conference brought together all sorts of diversity (ethnic, linguistic, theological and cultural along with a diversity of age, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), which was one of the major reasons for our excitement and concern. The possibilities for clashes and polarization among the different groups we represent were endless. Furthermore, we did not have time to prepare everyone in the way we would have wanted for our time together.
Thus, we did what we could in organizing the Conference and gathering the necessary support from churches, communities, old time members and new friends. We invited everyone who knew us and those who did not, and we arrived together at Campo Mazahua, Mexico. The rest of the story happened as we bore witness to radical and courageous love manifested in the way in which we -- old time attendees and new friends -- related to one another throughout the week.
What made this Summer Conference special and unforgettable was the kind of love that the community and each person exuded throughout our time together. There was so much good will and disposition to accommodate and let go of our privileged ways of thinking and behaving that it was contagious and awesome. The Summer Conference program was great, but the way in which each of us showed up at the Conference was remarkable! People who have never attended the Summer Conference and did not know about BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz commented on it as well. They felt loved and welcomed because the community that gathered there was not about “us” inviting “them” to join “our” organization. It was about all of us — old and new — figuring out how much we belonged together as a community of peacemakers!
If the great love of God abiding in each one of us made such transformation possible in a summer gathering, it will continue to make it possible throughout a new year that, while it appears to promise just as much heartache, will also provide opportunities for practicing courageous love that moves us deeper and wider into new expressions of peacemaking.
This is the season of advent in which we celebrate love that waits kindly and patiently to become incarnate because love does not force itself, it is not self-seeking, rude, resentful, or arrogant. On the contrary, love is patient, kind, forgiving and willing to bear and believe all things (1 Cor. 13: 4-7). God, the big Love, waits for all of us -- God’s loved ones -- to fall freely into love that brings divine and human presence into union.
We remember that a baby was born into the world as an expression of the beautiful vulnerability and power of the divine and human connection that we call love; we remember that God waits kindly and patiently for all of us to grow into a courageous community that embodies peace and justice even more; and we remember that we need to wait for each member of our peacemaking community to grow courageously into the kind of love that makes room for the birth of new life that is a deeper reflection of God in the world. This is the miracle of love incarnate!
My dear friends, God in us and us in God will make this possible one more time!