Let Your Circle Be Wide Enough to Let Others In

#PastorsCorner for Sunday, February 21, the First Sunday in Lent ~ Liturgical Year B

This past Wednesday more than forty of us from across MDI gathered together for a virtual Ash Wednesday Service coordinated by my colleague, the Rev. Dr. Janet Adair Hansen, Interim Pastor of the Somesville Union Meeting House UCC. Janet has been a wonderful addition to the local UCC Pastorate and this Lent it will be a joy to work alongside her and my dear friend, the Rev. Rob Benson of the Bar Harbor Congregational Church UCC once again. While we don’t always agree—no three adults do—and our ministries have taken various paths, it is a remarkable blessing to be able pastor alongside each other with a healthy respect for one another. As with any profession, but perhaps especially ministry (like teaching and medicine which can also place similar 24-hour stress on the practitioner), having colleagues of integrity, honesty, and reliability is vital for both personal and professional health. We do well when we seek out mentors and friends who round-out our own experience, inspire us by their own commitment, and challenge us to be who we are called to be.

The Rev. Douglas C. Horner has been one such person for me since our days at Yale Divinity School. Doug and I share essential things in common—a solid Northeast Ohio childhood, loving families, devotion to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth & the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, a life-long love of canoeing, and the willingness to speak truth to power—but we also complement each other: he’s a gifted mechanic, I’d rather plant a tree; Doug’s a former Marine with a passion for veterans, while I spent my time after our years in New Haven volunteering among immigrants & refugees in Rome; he works selflessly amidst the materially poor & socially marginalized in this country while my life has been largely dedicated to ensuring human flourishing in the international sphere. One thing is for sure. I would have never considered ordained ministry in the UCC if it weren’t for Doug example as my longtime Pastor at Saint Paul’s Community Church in Cleveland and someone who consistently reminds me of what it means to live out one’s calling in the day-to-day.

The past year has been difficult for all of us. Many of us have mourned the enforced distance from loved ones and mourned, as well, the loss of like. Doug’s dear mom, Betty, passed away this past year. She was an inspiration to Doug, his family, me, and literally thousands of others across the country for her lifelong commitment and how she challenged the UCC to be the Open & Affirming Denomination we have come to be. Today, we have the gift of Doug’s presence and wisdom with us in Worship. When he learned about Alyne’s recent, major surgery, he asked how he could help, and I told him preparing a Sermon for a Sunday morning would be a great relief! I’m thrilled he is able to be with us this morning as he reflects upon our scripture from Genesis & Mark in a Sermon entitled “Life Moving Forward”.

Throughout his preaching we will be posting this poem, entitled Outwitted by Edwin Markham, that Doug asked us to share: He drew a circle that shut me out –heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle and took him in. This Lenten Season, I pray that you will also find the comfort of shared commitment of dear friends. For each of us is called to love and to have circles wide enough to let others in!

Faithfully Yours, Joe

February 21, 2021

A Time To Give Thanks

Dear Friends,

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 Experience 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 spend 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. 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 pantries 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 of 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, 

Joseph F. Cistone
IPM Chief Executive Officer

November 25, 2020

Next Year’s Words Await

December 31, 2020

Dear Friends,

When I quoted from T.S. Eliot in our final E-Connections of 2019, who could have ever imagined what the year ahead would become?! The unprecedented cocktail of a pandemic, Presidential election, long overdue racial reckoning, and catastrophic climate change, has left us all reeling. As Eliot implied, we often need new voices and even new language to truthfully express all that has transpired.

But no matter what we’re feeling this New Year’s Eve, we know that that which unites us is infinitely stronger than that which divides. Throughout the past ten months, we have learned yet again that love & hope are the nexus of both human community & global possibility.

The IPM family has been honored to share so many prophetic stories & voices with you & our world this past year. We’ve been able to do so through the generosity & kindness that each of you provides unfailingly.

As we look forward to the promise of better health, global travel, and the reopening of so much that has been shut down, we know that our partnership with you is as important as ever.

I pray that 2021 is a time of renewal & rebirth for each of us; I look forward to being able to greet each of you personally when health & physical distancing permits. 

Happy New Year!

May Light Shine & Guide Our Righteous Path

Dear Friends,

In the midst of this Diwali Festival, it is hard to believe that the U.S. Presidential election was called a week ago tomorrow and yet so much tension remains. How I long for the days when coming together for the benefit of one’s nation was lived out as a humble calling and the politics of grievance weren’t so pervasive. Whether you are reading this from South Asia in the midst of Diwali or somewhere in the USA—or anywhere in between—I pray that each of you continues to remain focused on what you can do to bring light to our communities and world.

The Hindu Festival of Lights is an opportunity to recall the way each of us is called to be a light for the world. Light in times of darkness. Light in the face of despair. Light to lead us on a path to the deeper understanding that is born from love of self and love of neighbor.  

No matter what your partisan persuasion and, especially, in the face of so many autocrats in the countries in which IPM works, I trust we can all agree that fighting for the kind of society we want for our children and friends is a struggle worth engaging in. Our world is beset with pandemic, gender inequality, racial injustice, climate change, and so many other challenges; it can be more than a little daunting. 
And yet, each challenge is an opportunity to do more and to do it well. Each of us is ably equipped to be the light and leaven our sisters and brothers so desperately need.
As we join our Indian & Nepali colleagues & friends in commemorating Diwali, may we remain open to those with whom we disagree while remaining vigilant in the struggle for justice & peace. And may we find the courage to be a source of light in the midst of darkness and the resilience to speak & act for the dawn of a brighter day. 
In light, 

Joseph F. Cistone
IPM Chief Executive Officer

November 14, 2020


Dear Friends,

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 partisan installation of a Supreme Court Justice, the final Presidential debate, and vicious attack ads from all sides, poison our 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 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, 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,

Joseph F. Cistone
IPM Chief Executive Officer

Monday, November 2, 2020