An open letter to Rev. Kristin Stoneking

kristin-stonekingDuring the first week of August, we at Rainbow have the great honor of hosting Executive Director of Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Rev. Kristin Stoneking.

Her schedule is as follows on Wednesday, August 3:

5-6:30 pm: Young Adult potluck with Kristin at the Mennonite Voluntary Service house

7-9 pm: Community wide meet and greet reception in Kristin’s Honor in Wesley Room

In addition, Kristin will preach and preside over communion on Sunday, August 7 followed by a catered Freedom School fundraiser Brunch.

In preparation for Kristin’s visit, I encouraged church member Joshua Chittum to write a letter addressing some of his concerns, especially as it relates to current national politics. In addition to sending this to Kristin, Joshua gave me permission to share his letter here. I trust many of us will relate to Joshua’s mind tangles and questions.  “We are in a challenging time,” wrote Kristin in response, “but one of the beautiful things about it is that people are talking, people are “woke” as the saying goes to more questions about freedom and action and choice and repentance and power and peace. I look forward to carrying on the conversation next month in KC.”

Hi Rev. Stoneking,

Ruth Harder and I are having an on-going conversation about the violent state of our national politics. She suggested I send you a note. Perhaps you have some thoughts to share. Perhaps we will have opportunity to visit while you are in Kansas City.

Beyond the current demagoguery, my concern extends to the reaction of certain factions within the disorganized opposition. In the midst of the violence, I find myself perseverating on the successes of evil when the motor of the good runs idle. There is a swelling urge to move the vehicle forward by any means necessary. It can be done with or without others, by brute force or by intellect, with careful thought or animalistic reactivity. The method doesn’t matter to me; we cannot stay stuck in the road. I know I may push for no other reason than ego. I know the car may not budge no matter how loud I scream or how hard I strain. I know I could drop the delicate egg of peace and make matters worse. But we cannot stay stuck in the road; I must slow down, but slowing down can mean coming to an inadvertent stop. I want to move forward with equilibrium. Equilibrium is what I struggle with at this point in time.

Quiet/Loud: My default is to want to rise above the clamor of the agitators and the anxiety they produce. But I’m reminded of my experience teaching in the elementary classroom when students became rambunctious and loud. The most useful strategy was not to exceed their chaos, but counter it with calm. I wonder if there is space for a similar approach in a democracy as big as ours. Scale is the struggle here. In my mind, quietude denotes small. The latest nationalized fever in a long line of episodic delirium needs more than small acts. Painting the word love on the trunk of a tree is nice, but I don’t see how that is enough antibiotic to cure or weaken the disease of violence, hate, and mistrust. Is a muted response the best approach and how can it reach the vast numbers needed, including our so called enemies?

Inward/Outward: I feel called, either divinely or through the arbitrary firing of synapses, to own and monitor my thoughts and actions that are counter to a peaceful word. But when bans on Muslims becomes a rallying cry and when White Nationalists are attacked with knives by those more aligned with my politics than not, it seems the flames outside are much more pressing than the smell of burning in my own kitchen. I seek to turn outward. To make myself vulnerable. To empathize with The Other and build a better way. The flames will not extinguish themselves with one group doing all the work or one group thinking no one else is capable of participating. But the struggle is how to engage in the outward world without losing sight of internal imperfections.

Slogans/Hard Slogs:  I am ill suited for messaging in the twitter-verse age. To cleanse these historical wounds, to look at ourselves in the mirror without makeup or flattering light, to proclaim the power of peace, to elevate a better way – I don’t think a hashtag would do. But people need a tangible thing to hold, to see, to follow if they are going to engage. And getting people to stay, to feel uncomfortable, to grapple with solutions that are not clear, is the task at hand. #Prepareforthehardslog does not roll off the tongue. Do I slide backward and try to push the car forward myself?

Thank you for giving time to someone you have not met. Writing this has helped sort out tangles in my mind.

Take Care,

Joshua Chittum

Rainbow Mennonite Church (KCKS)

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One Response to An open letter to Rev. Kristin Stoneking

  1. pip1943 says:

    Ruth — Amazing! Joshua — Wonder-Full! Let more ideas roll down like a river!

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