Christian Peacemaker Teams wish to celebrate this Advent season by sharing the reflections and experiences of CPTers who carry out the work of transforming oppression.
Week to week, we will introduce you to a CPT Reservist who will share their story through the symbols of each Advent candle in honor of the season and invite you to take action to support transforming oppression.
In preparation for the last Sunday of Advent, we explore the theme of Love.
Tell us a bit about yourselves:
We love people, the planet, and powerful peacemaking! Also we love ice cream, sunshine, and "building partnerships to transform violence and oppression." For real! We didn't just write that because it's CPT's mission statement. Like our time with CPT, this phrase continues to inform us as we work with many communities to deepen their spiritual activism. We met in 2013 through CPT work in Bethlehem. Sarah was Outreach Coordinator then and continued as CPT executive director through 2017. Jonathan was a Palestine team member, and after he was devastatingly denied entry to continue his on-the-ground work there he returned home, and advocated for Palestinian rights, connecting the Palestinian struggle for justice with local efforts to make positive change in the US. We married in 2018, and were Rotary Peace Fellowship scholars in Thailand and Southeast Asia for the first part of 2019. We returned to the beloved Midwest U.S. to help in the start-up phase of a program for people re-entering the community after incarceration. We currently live in Syracuse, New York (Haudenosaunee traditional territory) where Sarah is pursuing a joint PhD in Religion and Environmental Studies, and Jonathan organizes locally for decolonization, racial and economic justice, and a free Palestine.
What year did you join CPT?
Sarah: 2010 as a Steering Committee member, 2012 as a Corps member.
Jonathan: Summer 2012.
What motivated you to join CPT?
Jonathan: As a Palestinian-American Mennonite, CPT was an obvious choice because of its long and storied work in Palestine, as well as its roots with Anabaptists. Through my time with CPT I have come to appreciate deeply the undoing oppressions focus CPT brings to its work, as well as the many ways CPT has chosen to listen to and support local partners, even when that was not the most expedient choice. I really enjoy seeing other individuals in the CPT network as we travel around the world and our advocacy work overlaps.
Sarah: I attended the CPT Peacemaker Congress in 2000 in Washington, DC. CPT Reservist Rich Meyer helped organize a carpool from my high school. This was such a moving and educational experience! My information got into CPT's database from that event, and I have received the newsletter ever since! I read it quarterly through college and years of ecological black feminist antiwar scholar-activism. Tim Nafziger recruited me to the Steering Committee while I was in seminary. Years later, I learned about a CPT position opening that could combine my passions of redistributive justice (a.k.a. fundraising), undoing oppressions, and frontline activist support. It has been a great honor to serve the organization, our partners, and our constituents in a variety of capacities over the years.
How do you experience LOVE while you work at transforming oppression in your CPT context?
Justice is what love looks like in public --Cornell West.
Just the other night we assisted student protesters at Syracuse University who were dismantling their sit-in/encampment site. They had just won a campaign for systemic reforms, in response to multiple incidences of racist hate speech on campus. The space was abuzz with joy, camaraderie, and LOVE. We reflected on what it felt like--a specific feeling that we experience in spaces where people come together to courageously create the world they want to see. It's the feeling we had at Standing Rock, in At-Tuwani, and the School of the Americas protest. It's a LOVE that is simultaneously gentle enough to extend compassion for the world, fierce enough to not retreat in the face of disappointment, overwhelm, and suffering, and expansive enough to champion the inherent dignity of ourselves and our opponents.
We lead three to five trainings a year for communities who are facing systemic oppression. In our training we do meaningful activities we learned over the years from many sources, including from CPT materials. Our trainings are best when we begin by building a foundation for the work we do in a deep sense of LOVE, and return to that LOVE when things get hard. We are committed to undoing oppressions because of the LOVE we have received, and feel for others.
Please share a short prayer or reflection for advent, which has helped guide/motivate/inspire/sustain your transforming oppression work:
A Franciscan Blessing is one we love. We know so many radical Franciscan monks and nuns who, powered by liberating love and a sense of humor, have risked their lives for justice, leveraging their status to make a difference.
May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly
and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you really can make a difference in this world,
so that you are able to do what others claim cannot be done.