A Pentecost for Anti-Racists

This Sunday Christian’s worldwide celebrate Pentecost, the moment that God’s Holy Spirit is said to have come to the earliest disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. This Spirit transcends human flesh and frailties to bring Divine Wisdom—Sophia—to the human walk of faith. Sophia, like the analogies of the Creator God as a mother hen and nursing mother, importantly reminds us of some of the less acknowledged aspects of the Divine feminine.

Part of what the Sophia Spirit brings is the wisdom to see the difference between what is of God and what is not. To know more deeply where followers of Jesus should tread and on what ground we should stand. To fight power with truth-telling, no matter the cost. I couldn’t help but seek such wisdom in response to the murders and other ongoing expressions of racial bias that have reared their ugly heads again these past few weeks.

Lynchings, both real and symbolic, are not new to U.S. history. The threat of death, like the reality of mass incarceration, has been used for generations to demonstrate the power of our race-based state. Persons with the privilege of whiteness—including families who trace their histories back to colonization and those, like mine, who are more recent immigrants—typically fail to acknowledge how they benefit in every imaginable respect from a country founded on the belief that Africans were not fully human and that their enslavement was somehow justified by God.

For most of my life I counted myself as “progressive” and, as the grandchild of predominately Latin-European immigrants, not part of the WASP establishment. But deep within me, I held (and still hold) biases around race that were inculcated in me from my earliest days. I’ve come far but not far enough. If you know me, when you think of my education, my family, and my work, you likely don’t see a racist. And yet, there are myriad ways even now—after years of much intentional work and even more unintended experience—that I harbor notions of race and privilege that I know are wrong. No matter what work I do on me, they linger just below the surface, and rear their ugly biases at infrequent but unexpected times. I’m certainly not unique.

I write all this not as some sort of new-age, self-confession, but to be crystal clear that white folks in general have much more work to do than we readily acknowledge or that can be accomplished by simply wishing the structural sin of racism away. If we are to right the wrongs of our nation’s history and the animus that pervades so much of our political discourse and social reality today, we need to work hard and work, first and foremost, on us.

In the midst of a Pandemic, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd might seem just too much to handle or, for white folks, somehow unexpected. These modern-day lynchings are actually the norm. Apart from the fact that they were caught on video they would have likely gone unpunished, as they tragically may yet still.

The question now isn’t what black folks can or should do in response. Racism is a white invention. We therefore need white folks of good will across this nation to start acting as anti-racists by acknowledging our ancestral bias, nurturing multi-racial relationships rooted in our common humanity, and working tirelessly to upend the policies and procedures that have propped up white privilege at the expense of black lives for more than 400 years.

May the wisdom of Sophia guide our actions as the nation’s racist history and current injustice is laid bare. And may we find the strength within each of us to make possible the change we claim to seek in her name.

Peace, Joe

May 29, 2020

Shaping Who We Are ~ U.S. Mother’s Day, May 10, 2020

Dear Friends,

This weekend, Sunday, May 10th, many of us will celebrate Mother’s Day in addition to IPM’s 46th Anniversary. It will be especially difficult with many of us physically separate from our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, mentors, and all those women who have had such an impact on our lives.

There is nothing quite like the love of a good mom—biological or spiritual! They are confidants, mentors, and friends. More often than not, the first shoulder we learn to cry upon and the one we turn to when our emotions run amuck. The best moms shape who we are, what we believe in, and how we see our role in the world.

The IPM Family is full of countless examples of remarkable mothers who are often the foundation upon which our Project Partners build their programs. They inspire & lead as their lives speak to us about what it means to live in solidarity and to literally be the change they hope to see.

As we honor all moms during IPM’s past 46 years, please join us in supporting the work they make possible.

Peace, 

Joe

The 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, April 22, 2020

Today is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. 50 years…so hard to believe! It seems like only yesterday that I gathered with hundreds (if not thousands) on the New Haven Green to advocate for our Mother Earth—and that was 30 years ago!

IPM, like so many of our friends and community partners around the world, will commemorate this important anniversary in a variety of physically appropriate and Earth-friendly ways. Most importantly, our Project Partners and Indigenous Regional Staff remind us daily of the deep connections between justice for the Earth and for all its Creatures.

For us, an inclusive focus on Environmental Justice began at our founding and was codified with a special Environmental Justice Project Partner category some two decades ago. As you will read below, the Environmental Justice focus of our Partners continues to grow as the connections between social and environmental justice deepen.

This year, Earth Day comes right on the heels of Passover & Easter. The proximity, in the midst of continued physical distancing from one another, reminds us in a truly Franciscan sense that justice and liberation (and I don’t mean of Virginia!) is a communal endeavor grounded in our care for one another and all that our Mother Earth, Father Sky, Sister Moon, and Brother Sun provide.[1]

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During this time of deep sadness and decreased human activity we continue to witness acts of heroic human action. And as most of us keep our physical distance from one another, we have witnessed the Earth and its creatures springing back to life. Cormorants fishing in the canals of Venice, lions lazily lying on the roadsides in Kenya, pigeons taking over El Salvador’s plazas, and a smog-free blue sky in Delhi, are reminders of the resilience of the natural world if we will only commit to lessening our human impact through a depending of our shared commitment.

Earth Day—like Passover & Easter—is a reminder of what is possible if we are willing risk personal transformation. Risking to provide quality medical care for all our world’s citizens as created equal in God’s eyes. Risking to imagine what it means to spend more time at home with those we love than off at work chasing financial success. Risking to adopt sustainable practices that will ensure the Earth’s viability for our children and generations to come.

I hope you will take a moment to commemorate Earth Day in your own way this year. May you find time to nourish yourself in the midst of our Mother Earth, our Brother Air, and Our Sister Water while responding appropriately to the continued threat of COVID-19.

Earthly Yours,  Joe Cistone

1. Special thanks to my Franciscan Brother and IPM International Executive Board Member, Rodrigo de Castro Amede Peret OFM, for always reminding me of the prophetic nature of Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creation.

#HolyDaysAndPhysicalDistancing #Passover #Easter

#Passover & #Easter

Many of us we are now in the midst a sacred time. While it is certainly hard to believe it’s already Passover & Easter, it may be harder still to come to terms with remaining in the continued fast of physical distancing.

For a hugger like me, the challenge of physical distancing is profound. While I have been blessed with the ability to work from home and the added blessing of extended time with Alyne & the kids, I—like you I’m sure—miss being with everyone else. Facebook, Skype, Zoom, YouTube and the rest can be wonderful vehicles for staying socially connected and getting work done, but nothing can replace physical presence.

It was the same physical presence, or lack thereof, that our faith traditions commemorates this week. From a Passover meal to murder for standing up to Empire… From Mary Magdalene discovering an empty tomb to #Liberation from bondage in a foreign land. What these last holy days highlight most deeply, is the importance of #SacredPresence in our lives.

For the followers of Moses & Miriam: no journey was too far if taken together in faith. For those of us who follow Jesus of Nazareth: while we may continue to debate the actual physical nature of Resurrection, we know that Jesus’ resurrected physical presence among them was at the very heart of early Christian community and belief.

These days many of us are obliged to worship remotely once again, but the simple truth is that the Peace that Passes All Understanding will be with us no matter where and how we gather.

I pray that you will continue to feel and be emboldened by the presence of God’s Spirit in your life during these #HolyDays, as we each look forward to the day when we can be physically present with one another once again.

Amani/Pace/Paix/Paz/Peace/Namaste/Shalom, Joe

Pandemia

Pandemia

from Italia to where I sit

Friends and loved ones

caught in a web

Tangle of misunderstanding

of fear and othering

Inability to take heart

to take responsibility

Where O God

to find peace at times like this

Where O Soul

burdened down

Where O Lungs

longing for breath

Where O Heart

reaching out to others

Hands that cross the divide

spreading to feel as one

Novel Coronavirus

infection in the millions

Deaths untold

no means to say goodbye

COVID-19

disease eating the heart of America

Facemasks lacking

Gowns sodden

Ventilators broken

Cries unheard

The times are heavy

the light is darkened

The rain offers cleansing

the sky a ray of possibility

Here in the silence of the morning

in the messages of friends far and wide

We find some peace

a deeper sense of belonging

a strengthening of spirit

a burgeoning of will

 

© Joe Cistone, 3 April 2020

What is Most Important: IPM & COVID-19

!!!15 IPM logo high DPI for printing

March 20, 2020

Dear Friends,

I write this special note to you after having spent much of the past two weeks in Texas for a family memorial. While gathered there in the midst of an expanding pandemic, I was touched by the myriad conversations with friends from across the IPM Family and the times of reflection spent with family & friends from across the globe.

We gathered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area just as the virulence of COVID-19 was being belatedly acknowledged and in the midst of draconian measures being implemented in Brasil, India, Kenya, and the other countries where IPM has a long-standing and important presence. I have been particularly shaken by what is transpiring in Italy—a country I called home for many years and where I first encountered IPM—and in El Salvador, where our Project Partners and local Staff are having to cope with the kind of armed police presence not seen since the Civil War.

No matter how shaken those of us who call the USA home may be, we know that the situation is much worse in other, poorer, countries and marginalized communities around the world. For more than a month now, our Project Partners have been expressing their own concern about what is transpiring in and around them. Inadequate health care systems, the scapegoating of minority ethnic & racial communities, the loss of work, militarization, and the closing of borders, has everyone on edge.

Times like these challenge us all to be our better selves, not giving into the fear and “othering” that is the easy way out when we feel threatened or alone. Times like these—and the very possible sense that this Pandemic will dominate much of the coming year(s)—force us to re-evaluate what is most important and how we will make it through.

For IPM, a global pandemic—like 9/11 and the great recession before it—cut right to the heart of our mission, vision, and values. Who do we claim to be when our global community is divided amongst itself? What can we do to bridge the new boundaries being forced between us? How can we best respond?

An essential part of imagining our response is being real about what this means to our day-to-day. The abrupt cancellation or postponement of Immersion Experience Programs has already led to the loss of more than $150,000 in projected income, hindering our mission and programs. It’s likely that number will double, perhaps even triple, in the coming months. The loss of such income and the opportunity for our North American friends and supporters to sojourn among our Partners will have an incalculable impact upon them. If IPM is unable to compensate our indigenous Staff, unable to plan the programming our Partners depend upon, even unable to make the Project Partner payments expected this year we are forced to ask exactly what we can be?

Thankfully, a handful of committed friends of IPM have taken the time to speak with me about how they might help us get through this challenging time. They have committed more than US$50,000 to help us cope in the short term. We, in turn, are asking you to match their commitments up to $100,000 (50cent on the US$1) so that we can continue operating at a streamlined level this year. Please consider making a gift at this time via the enclosed envelope or on-line at www.ipmconnect.org.

Times like these force us to re-think how we prioritize both our time and our lives. I believe deeply that they are also, as Oscar Romero said, a time for God’s grace to enter and do the rest. May the Peace that Passes all Understanding be with you and those you love in these trying times. Thank you for your willingness to step up and make IPM a priority for your giving right now.

Faithfully Yours,

Joseph F. Cistone
Chief Executive Officer

A Wall for Ahmedabad

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A Wall for Ahmedabad
 
In the rush of news related to the spread of the Coronavirus, you may have missed the recent visit by the current US President to India. In preparation for his visit to Ahmedabad, a literal wall was built for the distance that the President was traveling, in order to hide poor slums where many Muslims are forced to eke out a living. This wall was positioned far enough from the US caravan’s eyes and further ostracized the families who live there from civil society. The 6-7 feet high wall on an estimated 600-meter stretch was constructed in barely 10 days to block his view of the slum area where some 5,000 people live in 700 odd “kaccha” houses. The community barely has basic amenities such as water supply, electricity, and sanitation, limited water supply and access to only two common washrooms outside the slum area, Many residents are forced to walk over 1km to bathe and to defecate in the open near a river.

Despite the expressions of mutual admiration at a particularly large stadium rally, the real impact of the President’s visit fell hardest on the poorest of the poor—particularly the Muslim communities in Ahmedabad and Delhi. Coming alongside anti-Muslim citizenship policies recently introduced by the Indian government and the fermenting of anti-Muslim sentiment by the Hindu nationalist governing party, many took to the streets and their protests were brutally repressed. Muslim citizens, shop owners, and the Dalit community were targeted throughout the State of Gujarat and the Capital of Delhi. The town of Khambat in the Gulf of Cambay and a few miles from Golana, where the Pochabai Foundation is based, was singled out. Fear and memories of the earlier 2002 riots caused panic among members of HUM who continue to work collaboratively as Hindu & Muslim women. By the end of the President’s visit, hundreds had lost their lives and tens of thousands had lost their homes and businesses. 

As IPM’s Mahesh Upadhyaya has said, there was much crowing about the US President’s visit being a meeting of the two “greatest” democracies in the world: one, the oldest, the other the largest. But the meeting between the President and Prime Minister in the Indian Capital of Delhi highlighted the ongoing betrayal of democratic values and constitutional governance in both countries. As Delhi burned just a few miles from the summit, the President and Prime Minister expressed their admiration for the “toughness” of each other and announced a huge sale of weapons of war to India—cynically ironic in light of their time together at Ahmedabad’s famous Gandhi Ashram where that icon of non-violence conceived some of his most important positions in favor of peace over war and unity rather than division on the Indian sub-Continent. In the end, despite the heroic efforts of our Partners and so many committed Indians, hate trumped love leading to death and destruction for the ordinary citizens of Delhi and Khambat. 

Much of the anxiety stems directly from the Indian Government’s proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) that provides a fast track path to citizenship for migrants from India’s 3 neighboring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan belonging to the Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi communities. To be eligible for the fast track citizenship, such migrants should have arrived in India before December 31, 2014. Notably, migrants from the Muslim community are not covered under CAA. The CAA is intended to protect persecuted minorities from Muslim majority / Islamic countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who had fled to India. The ongoing, justifiable protest against CAA is rooted in the argument that providing citizenship based on religion violates the Indian constitution, specifically the right to equality before the law, and the principles of secularism on which India was created. 

When the US supports such laws and the authoritarian leaders behind them, while looking the other way when communities are persecuted solely on the basis of their religious belief, we betray not only our historically espoused values but our standing in the world. Participating in such violence is not the only wrong. Looking the other way in the face of such discrimination and violence poisons the soul of each and every one of us—Indian and US citizens alike. As Eina Ahluwalia said: “To the chanting, burning, stabbing, bearing, acid and petrol bomb-throwing mobs, I have just one reminder—that there may be many kinds of Indians right now, but there is only one kind of human being, and your brutal attacks are on your own soul.” And, similarly, the US President’s divisive rhetoric has all too often resulted in attacks against minority communities and compromises our country’s values. We need to speak up and work for the change we want to see in the world. 

Throughout India today, there are countless stories of Hindu Temples being saved by Muslims, Muslim Mosques being saved by Hindus. Stories of young people joining together to prevent violence and imagine another way. Stories from IPM Partners and Colleagues who continue to live compassionately in their quest for peace and harmony among both Hindus and Muslims. This is what we are about!

This issue of E-Connections provides additional background on the recent violence in India and how our Partners there are responding. We also touch on the worrying developments in El Salvador where another authoritarian leader endorsed by the US administration is violating constitutional norms and harkening back to the violence of the ’80s. Sometimes it’s hard to believe we are actually living in 2020! And yet, the work of our Indian and Salvadoran Staff, Fellows, and Partners continue to inspire us. HUM is just one remarkable example! We invite you to learn more about their remarkable work and consider the difference you can make. 

Unfortunately, as I write this, the growing risks associated with the spread of the Coronavirus are beginning to impact IPM directly. An international conference I was scheduled to attend has been canceled and at least one upcoming Immersion was postponed by an academic institution. Any radical disruption of global travel, and especially the Immersion Experience Program, would have a dramatic impact upon IPM’s ability to operate effectively and, as is usually the case when it comes to global pandemics, the impact will be felt most acutely by those already marginalized by our global society. Please do all you can to stifle the spread of this new pandemic and feel free to contact me if you’d like to offer advice and/or support to our response. 

No matter what walls our politicians build and/or seek to create between us, the mission of IPM to work across borders of culture, faith, and economic circumstance envisions another way. Thank you for caring enough to review this E-Connections and continuing to share your generosity with the IPM Family.



Joseph F. Cistone
Chief Executive Officer
5 March 2020

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Another Voice for the New Year!

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.” — T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot’s words remind us that as the year—and decade—changes, it’s a time for each of us to leave some words behind and find another voice.

The voice of IPM has been counter-cultural since our founding. Accompaniment, Hope, Partnership, Solidarity, and Trust aren’t necessarily words the peoples of the colonized world historically associated with “mission.” Our founders new the world and the work of mission needed to change. They envisioned a small organization that acknowledged the Divine Spirit within all of us while nurturing partnerships that ensured the inherent human dignity so often denied. Admitting that we had much more to learn than we could ever offer from our material abundance, was a completely radical idea that resonate even more powerfully today.

Together with your support, IPM developed its own language, giving life and substance to terms that have more recently been co-opted in the corporate and political realms. But partnership is more than how one relates to their personal banker. Solidarity is about radical change that few political leaders have the stomach for.

Here on the dawn of a new decade, our Partners continue to give voice to the voiceless and our eyes remain keenly focused on IPM’s 50th Anniversary to come!  IPM—a small but mighty organization that is rooted in our Partners’ language and accompanying them where they lead.

A new voice grounded in the same core values IPM espoused in 1974. Another voice that nurtures the love we have for one another. The language of justice, peace, and hope, that are the greatest gifts we can offer each other in the coming New Year.

Happy 2020, Joe