The Cranberry Bitterness That Absence Brings

We’ve arrived at the U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday once again and what a year it’s been. While it seems like only yesterday my colleagues Alyssa Bovell, Jared Odiambo, and I welcomed my Yale Divinity School students on an early January Immersion Experience to Kenya, I am well aware of how much the world has changed since then. 

As we traversed Kenya—and our colleagues Adela Zayas & Victoria Jimenez welcomed a delegation from Holy Cross to Colombia—we had no idea what the months ahead would hold. And, when my family and I travelled to the March Memorial for my late Father-in-law in Texas, we had only begun to suspect where the newest Novel virus would lead. Our last in-person Immersion Experience was here in Maine with the Wabanaki Peoples as two new colleagues—Vicky and Enyeda Ramos found themselves left-behind in the Dominican Republic as the first Immersion was postponed. Soon thereafter, travel to Italy for a Global Citizenship Conference and Immersions to El Salvador, India, and Kenya were put off. Ilze and all of us knew it was time to buckle-down and reinvent. 

Words cannot express how proud I am for what my colleagues and our Board have accomplished in the midst of a still peeking pandemic. No tears will ever be enough for the pain our Project Partners have shared in the intimate moments we have been forced to share over WhatsApp and Zoom. Their remarkable commitment lightens my soul in the midst of the death of loved ones and the lingering illness of so many dear friends. Perhaps more than any other year in my tenure with IPM, I’ve learned so much more than I can ever hope to give.

Like so many of our Project & Community Partners, IPM is not “out of the woods” yet. One can’t simply replace the loss of our signature Immersion Experience Program, no matter how thrilled I am with what we have been able to create and deliver virtually in the time since we first heard the words COVID-19.  No matter how much I’ve enjoyed the extended time at home with our “little” ones, nothing can replace the early morning coffee and late night reflections with friends and loved ones worldwide. A virtual International Executive Board Meeting from India—thank you Mahesh, Himat, & Bindiya!—while wonderful, can never replace being there hand-in-hand.

If you know me well, you’re well aware that I’m always conflicted about the myth behind Thanksgiving. Gratitude is one thing, but disavowing genocide while wallowing in gluttony invariably sets me off. Last year, IPM’s Fulbright Scholar Fatima Pacas,  my son JJ, our pup Dozzi, and I took advantage of a Thanksgiving morning to wander the Cleveland Metroparks’ North Chagrin Reservation to recluse ourselves, even briefly, from the hypocrisy of the holiday. This year there won’t be a hike or run with family & friends in Northeast Ohio, nor a series of in-person year-end meetings with IPM’s dearest donor-friends in my hometown. The turkey will be served at distance and the cranberry will remind me of the bitterness that absence brings. 

But this year I’m perhaps more thankful than ever. For gardens that still leave much to harvest. For food pantrys full of the love we share with neighbors. For a dear friend, Grace Weber, who confidently left a transformative Estate gift in IPM’s hands. 

Thankful not for conquest or false narratives, but for the promise of partnership and the myriad opportunities presented for each of us to begin again. 

May the Peace that Passes all Understanding hold you tight in these tumultuous times. 

Faithfully Yours, Joe 

VOTE for Hope!

Monday, November 2, 2020

Having grown up with the tragic histories of Bonhoeffer vs. Hitler, Silone vs. Mussolini, King vs. Wallace, and having witnessed personally the devastating effects of fraudulent elections coupled with violent transfers of power from Bosnia to Rwanda, Kenya to El Salvador; I find it almost impossible to believe that I have to write this about my own nation.

Perhaps those of us in the USA should not be surprised that we have arrived at the current crossroads given our recent history of hanging chads, Bush v Gore, unfounded allegations about the birth location of our nation’s first black president, and the last four years. 

This past week has seen the continued ratcheting-up of the partisan divide and political rancor that continues to plague the USA. The rushed installation of a Supreme Court Justice, the final Presidential debate, and vicious attack ads from all sides, poison airwaves and harden many hearts. The simple public-health act of wearing a mask to protect our neighbors as well as ourselves remains highly politicized even as the spread of COVID-19 is hitting new peaks nationwide. 

And yet, as of this morning almost one hundred million of us have voted in one way or another. And tomorrow the rest—or at least a significant portion thereof—will head to the polls. The tension around this election is palpable. Mistrust and conspiracy theories are being sewn by politicians and across the internet. We are called not to focus on such nonsense, but to remain true to our nation’s founding aspirations. To do so, as faithful citizens, requires us to VOTE!

And while IPM cannot legally take a stance in a partisan election we can and do advocate unswervingly for environmental justice, gender & racial equity, multi-faith collaboration, refugees & forced migrants, and the rights of the child. Our “politics” are rooted in justice, inclusion, and the passionate enunciation of inherent dignity of each and every human being.

Over the past few years, autocrats have again returned to power in many of the countries where our Project Partners struggle to bring dignity and hope to their communities. But political systems that are poisoned by fraud, rooted in divisiveness, and grounded in a maldistribution of power are inevitably doomed to fail. So tomorrow, with democracy itself on the ballot, we cross our fingers, bend our knees, pound the pavement, and unify our voices so that this election takes place without fraud, with all the ballots counted, and the appropriate concession. 

The USA, despite all its faults has a choice to make, I pray that you will join with me in affirming your commitment to the very basic principles on which IPM was founded almost 47 years ago. Together we’ll stand firm to ensure that this election does not become an American model of the very injustice we so rightfully condemn in other nations around the world. 

I hope and trust that if you are voting you will do so faithfully supporting those candidates that reflect the values of common decency, love of neighbor, and belief in a better world. And no matter what happens this week, that you will join with us in each moment ahead to nurture love & joy in a world that is hurting & overcome with fear. 

May the arc of our traditions continue to bend toward justice and may the hope promised at the time of our founding continue to resonate in our hearts & our actions in the world. 

Stay safe, vote if you can, and may the peace that passes all understanding be with us all this week. 

Faithfully Yours,