Tag Archives: Obama

Connecting our past to our future: Growing faith and community alongside food

Sheldon C. Good, Salford
shelds3@gmail.com

jill-1.jpgIn 1999, Kenny Chesney sang about why “she thinks my tractor’s sexy.” During the past decade, we’ve expanded Chesney’s claim – because now, farming is sexy.

Country music aside, Facebook, the Obama family, and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution all contribute to the recent popularity of farming. For many people, life doesn’t involve dirty fingernails, overalls, and an almanac. But for an increasing number, farming is cool again (though some have always thought so). Whether or not one actually digs in the dirt, something about rediscovering the spiritual value of God’s abundant earth stimulates heart, mind, body, and soul.

Years ago, people worked the fields from dusk till dawn. Now the closest many get to dirt is by playing Farmville on Facebook (long ago, we played SimFarm). But Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign is bringing healthy, local food back, with plans to eradicate childhood obesity. She recently described her “mission as first lady” as creating ways for families to make “manageable changes that fit with their schedules, their budgets, and their needs and tastes.”

Like Obama, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution TV series on ABC documents how a grassroots campaign to curb obesity starts with getting families excited about local farming. Though a classroom of first-graders can’t tell the difference between a tomato and a potato, they can all identify French fries. But days later, after a dose of the food revolution, the six-year olds can all identify an eggplant when they see one.

Part of the reason why our children can’t identify produce is because, over time, farming has become industrialized. As author Bill McKibben says, efficiency and growth have taken over our food system. “Our affluence isolates us ever more,” McKibben says in his book Deep Economy. “What ties are left to cut? We change religions, spouses, towns, professions with ease.” But at Living Hope Farm in Harleysville, Pa., my family is busy putting some of these ties back together.

I was recently led in an exercise to reclaim my personal heritage. I often think about my ancestral lineage in linear terms (birthdates, jobs, etc.) – data I basically memorized as an adolescent for my seemingly irrelevant school projects. However, I don’t usually consider how strands of my ancestral history are woven together, or how they intersect with other people’s strands. So as our country focuses on jobs, jobs, jobs – I too began reflecting on jobs, on the vocational history of my family.

From what I can gather, nearly all of my ancestors were farmers. Up until my grandparents, both sides of my family – whether living in Pennsylvania or Virginia – farmed small plots of land, which supplied them with much of their food and income. But then both of my grandfathers, Emory Good and Marvin Clemmer, traded in their tractors for automobiles and hit the road as businessmen. In 1947, Emory started a plumbing company. And after spending years selling produce and meat in Philadelphia, Marvin switched mid-course to join a direct-selling company. My extended family became successful entrepreneurs at the expense of being grounded in our backyards; we have benefited greatly.
So the generational story goes for many families living among the farmlands of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Shenandoah Valley. As the “Greatest Generation” (my grandparents) left farming, “Baby Boomers” (my parents) were raised with new vocational possibilities, and Millenials (me) haven’t looked back. Over the years, many of us have enjoyed the benefits of grocery stores, agribusiness, and Sunday afternoon shopping.

Until now.

Farming activists come in all varieties: an ignoramus addict of Facebook’s Farmville game; a twinkle-eyed Obama supporter; a dedicated vegetarian; or something in between. No matter where one lives, this nation is noticeably rediscovering its farming roots. Because after 500 years of rushed technological innovation, people are noticing that we’re standing on what author Bill McKibben calls “the shard ridge between the human past and the posthuman future.” Living Hope Farm is here to help reverse this trend, by growing faith, food, and community.

farm-2.jpgOver the past few months at the farm, a greenhouse and hoop house have both been installed. Jill Landes, the lead farmer, is currently working alongside her full-time interns, planting for an 80-member CSA. In addition, they are also growing for two families in the Bridge of Hope Program and making connections with the Germantown area of Philadelphia. Several regular volunteers have even graciously contributed countless hours to this mission.

Though it certainly exists on Indian Creek Road in Harleysville, Living Hope Farm is more than an earthly phenomenon. The farm is an opportunity for people to put faith into action. Farming can be spiritual. It’s a chance to rediscover values of corporate faith, local food, and loving community. And for many of us, it’s an opportunity to realize what it means to be living testimonies to our ancestral heritage of farming and entrepreneurship.

Ultimately, the best farming (including at Living Hope Farm) shifts our economy – and our relationships – away from hyper-individuality and towards each other. McKibben says this way of living requires us to “reorient your personal compass” and “live with a stronger sense of community in mind.”

There’s interest in growing food, faith, and community, so let’s get involved. May we all consider what it means to reconnect with our food, our families, and our farms.

photos provided by Living Hope Farrn
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God’s love has no borders

Ervin R. Stutzman, executive director, Mennonite Church USA
June 2010

In the last few weeks, debates about immigration have flared up all across the United States. The passage of the SB 1070 immigration law in Arizona has prompted other states to consider similar measures to control immigration. In response to the strong feelings across the nation, President Obama recently took action to secure the border between the U.S. and Mexico. I grieve that these actions deeply affect my brothers and sisters in the congregations of Iglesia Menonita Hispana, a valued part of Mennonite Church USA. I have been hearing stories from congregations that are losing many beloved members because of pressure from the government.

As a church leader, I rely on our denomination’s 2003 statement on immigration to guide my response to this situation. Also, the following words from hymn 374 in Hymnal: Worship Book, (a Mennonite Church USA English hymnbook) echo my own prayer for Mennonite Church USA and our nation: “Forbid false love of country, that blinds us to your call, who lifts above the nations the unity of all. Create in us the splendor that dawns when hearts are kind, that knows no race nor station as bound’ries of the mind; that learns to value beauty, in heart, or mind, or soul, and longs to bind God’s children into one perfect whole.”

The Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA recently voted to use money from the building campaign for Racial/Ethnic groups, including Hispanics. We will designate 10 percent of any money coming to our office building fund after the ground blessing, which took place on June 15. This money can be used for immigration concerns, education, or help with church facilities.

Currently, we have plans to meet in Phoenix, Ariz., for the 2013 convention of Mennonite Church USA. Because of the new law in Arizona, we are reconsidering this choice.

Glen Guyton, associate executive director of constituent resources, guides intercultural relations in our national conference. Glen has prepared the following announcement about the decision to be made:

Mennonite Church USA is very concerned about what is happening in the state of Arizona and the precedent it may set for other states. A just and humane immigration policy is needed in our nation and the passage of Arizona SB1070 may be a tipping point in our country. Only God knows which way our country will lean.

The question on the minds of many in the Hispanic community is, “Why hasn’t Mennonite Church USA made a decision to move the 2013 convention to another city?” To many of our Hispanic brothers and sisters, the decision is easy: “Don’t go to Phoenix, because we will not go. We do not feel safe.” Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH) has made its position clear, and the leadership of the church has heard the message. While we truly have love, respect and empathy for the Hispanic members of our church family, there are several reasons why the church has chosen to take some time to make a decision about the location.

1. Exposure to all Mennonite Church USA members. We believe the issue of immigration is far greater than the location of our 2013 churchwide convention. This decision will provide an opportunity to bring immigration to the forefront of our church. For many years, Mennonite churches in Arizona and in our Hispanic
communities have been dealing with immigration issues. Our Hispanic churches are losing members in great numbers because of the poor economy and the changing political climate. Deciding on a convention location will expose the
broader church to the negative effects of current U.S. immigration policy and the proposed Arizona law, which many feel will lead to racial profiling.

2. Discussion and discernment. Because this decision affects our entire church family, it requires discussion and discernment by leaders all across the church. A gathering called the Leaders Forum had already been planned for September 2010, and now the 2013 convention location will be a central topic of discussion and discernment. Nearly 250 leaders from conferences, agencies and Racial/Ethnic constituency groups will be involved. When we gather together face?to?face in worship and prayer to discuss things as Christian sisters and brothers, a clarity often comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to hear the hurts, fears, hopes and dreams of all who will be affected by the passage of this law in Arizona. The leadership of the church feels that using the next few months to discern and discuss immigration, the new Arizona law, and
the historical circumstances surrounding the passage of SB1070 will ultimately facilitate a sense of synergy around the final decision. It is important that we understand “why” when the final decision is announced.

3. Contracts. While some want a quick decision to send a message to the state of Arizona, the financial impact of staying in or leaving Phoenix will not be affected by a few months. The 2013 convention is more than three years away. Making an announcement now will not benefit our Hispanic community any more than
making an announcement in early 2011. A formal announcement would trigger contractual obligations, numerous inquires, and limit the ability of our staff to negotiate with the various entities involved. There is not just one contract to cancel, but multiple contracts that would need to be changed. The liquidated damages of canceling these contracts could possibly exceed $500,000. In addition, at least 10 other states are considering legislation similar to Arizona’s. In some ways, announcing a decision too early could be reckless. It is not as simple as picking another city. Currently, the convention planning staff and the Office of Intercultural Relations are exploring all options, so that everyone in our church understands the impact of the final decision. The decision, whether it is to stay in Phoenix or move to another city, will have a serious impact on the
church—spiritually, relationally, and fiscally.

4. City of Phoenix. The city of Phoenix is paying attention to Mennonite Church USA. Recently, I visited the city of Phoenix with Rachel Swartzendruber Miller, director of convention planning. We met with the city manager, the chief of police, the vice?mayor, the convention bureau, and the three hotels with whom
we have binding contracts. Since Iglesia Menonita Hispana forwarded its formal request to change the convention location, the staff of Mennonite Church USA has been working at providing information to everyone involved and seeking a solution that will benefit the entire Mennonite Church USA family, of which Iglesia Menonita Hispana is a very important part. We shared with the city officials the concerns of IMH. We explained to them the concern about safety and the fears of what the law will mean. The city of Phoenix and its large Hispanic population have great disdain for SB1070.

5. Next steps. In the next step of our discernment process, members of the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA and members of the Executive Committee of Iglesia Menonita Hispana will travel to Phoenix to meet with city officials and local Latino community leaders to assess what is happening in the area.

We have to trust God that our discernment process will work in this matter. As an African-American, I am no stranger to discrimination. I empathize with my Hispanic brothers and sisters, and I cannot imagine what it feels like to live in fear of being deported from the country I love and call my home. I hope that everyone in the church understands that the pain and fear felt by our Hispanic constituency will not end with the decision of where we hold our 2013 churchwide convention. No, in the grand scheme of things, the decision of whether or not to go to Phoenix is quite small.

The bigger issues are: What are the guiding principles that will help us make this decision? How do we resource and care for Hispanic Mennonite congregations who are losing hundreds of members? How do we as a church make tough decisions, even if they only directly affect a small percentage of our members? What can we as a church do about immigration reform and the care for the stranger in our land? How committed are we to the priority of anti?racism in the church? Are we willing to sacrifice to become an anti?racist church? Can we as Racial/Ethnic people and Anglos still walk together in love and trust one another after the final decision is made? Ultimately, the decision where to spend five days in July 2013 will not mean much if we don’t do the hard work now. Now is the time for wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 24:3). Now is the time for all members of Mennonite Church USA to dwell together in unity and in prayer to begin the journey toward sharing a holistic witness to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Glen and I welcome your response to this way of working to make this important decision about a possible change of location for the convention. If you have comments or questions, please contact Glen Guyton at GlenG@MennoniteUSA.org or 1?866?866?2872, ext. 23044.