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, 

Joe

Father’s Day: Celebrating the Love that Our World so Desperately Needs

Dear Friends,

As my colleague Adela reminds us, fathers and fatherhood are complicated. Nothing is quite like the love of a good dad. Nothing can fully fill the void of an absent dad. And dad’s, as Zane Nicole Walters reminded me after an Immersion Experience together in Kenya (photo below), aren’t solely made of flesh and blood. No being a father is about so much more. First and foremost, it’s about love!

I am blessed to have a remarkable dad and lots of great grand-dads and mentors as well. Over the pst few years, I have also had the humble privilege of mourning the loss of loving fathers with too many of my colleagues and friends. With my travel schedule and work requirements, I struggle at times to be the best dad I can be, but my three kids remain the greatest joy of my life! For other children, a father’s absenteeism began at, or soon after, birth. Migration, armed conflict, divorce, and addiction force many fathers and children apart. Sometimes that may prove for the best, but such separation can harm a child in incalculable ways.

Thankfully, the IPM Family is full of all kinds of extraordinary dads. My colleagues Carlos, Doug, Himmat, Jared, Johnny, Mahesh, Martin, and Tim are just a few examples. Project Coordinators like Carlos, Hillary, and Rodrigo may not be biological fathers, but they’ve impacted more lives than just about anyone I know. And how many moms—padres de familia as they are somewhat ironically labeled in El Salvador—among IPM Project Partners have stepped up to be the “fathers” their communities need? If I started counting, I’d be here all day!

This is Father’s Day weekend in the USA. A chosen day different than in the majority of the world but an important one none less. In this time of economic crisis and social tumult, please consider making a gift in honor of all the fathers who made you who you are, so that the work of all the IPM fathers around the world can continue to model responsibility, nurture community, and embody the love our world so desperately needs.

Peace,

Joseph F. Cistone
IPM Chief Executive Officer

Friday, June 19, 2020

PRIDE: The Right to Love Freely

The following is my  E-Connections cover story for IPM (www.ipmconnect.org). It is also important for me to note that today (June 12) is also Loving Day–53 years ago today, the Supreme Court allowed Mildred & Richard Loving to marry, striking down 16 state bans on interracial marriage as unconstitutional. 

As far as I know, this is the first E-Connections in IPM’s history to focus on Pride Month and, as the headline suggests, the Right to Love Freely. To some of you this might seem an “odd” time or a “disconnected” topic to focus upon when our world is in the midst of a global pandemic and peaceful protests proclaiming Black Lives Matter are met with brutal suppression. In the midst of such tumult, it is heartening to remind ourselves that love is love and, God knows, we need as much love as we can get these days.

Intersectionality is a word that you may not have heard and it’s a concept that can be hard to define. But for IPM intersectionality is really at the center of all we do. We know well that people and communities aren’t solely composed of one race or religion. Nor are material poverty and social marginalization confined to one place in time. Oppression tends to encircle the poorest of the poor, but there are always ever more marginalized segments of society who are victimized further on the basis of ability, gender, gender identity, race, and sexuality. Time and again, we witness how LGBTQ+ folks—especially from caste, ethnic, and racial minority communities—are treated, if you will, the worst of the worst.

It is frankly long overdue that IPM not only support but uplift our Partners and friends who are doing courageous work at the intersection of gender, race, and sexuality. In India, Maya and Indira are two of the most remarkable people I have ever met. Their personal commitment and historic witness places them at great risk, just as their spirit inspires all whom they meet. In El Salvador, Tu Decides, is providing a platform for the young people of longstanding IPM Project Partner, il Patronato Lidia Coggiola, to make decisions about their bodies from a position of profound personal agency rather than succumbing to the machisto “norm”.

In finalizing this edition of E-Connections, I was particularly moved by my colleague, Victoria Jimenez’s, reflection on the 2016 Pulse Night Club Massacre. Vicki shares how her innate reaction to that hateful mass shooting awakened her humanity. And, in reading her words, I recalled the loss of my first dear friend to die of HIV/AIDS almost three decades ago. I still miss him. Knowing and loving John and his partner awakened me to the reality of intersectionality in all life and exposed the heterosexist biases so many of us still hold.

An essential component of IPM’s role in the world is to humbly lead one another to a deeper understanding of our shared aspirations and the inalienable rights we all share. To claim space where others might fear to tread, knowing that our inherent dignity is rooted in something much deeper than whom we love and the color of our skin. It is the very essence of our humanity and our right to openly proclaim pride in our work, our partnerships, and our love.

I pray that as you watch the Vikalp Women’s Group video, learn about the remarkable work of Tu Decides, and read Vicki’s personal testimony, you will feel emboldened to share in the pride of this month and continue to do all you can to help make IPM’s mission possible.

In Peace & Love, Joe

June 11, 2020

 

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]

IMG_4058

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