By Jim Segaar
When art and life collide under precisely correct conditions, a spiritual explosion can happen. That happened for me last night during a performance of Dr. Atomic at the Santa Fe Opera. I can’t tell yet whether the experience will be life-changing, but I can’t stop - and don’t want to stop - thinking about it.
Dr. Atomic, an opera by composer John Adams and librettist Peter Sellars, focuses on a life-changing experience for our entire planet – the first successful test of a nuclear weapon which occurred on July 16, 1945 near Los Alamos, New Mexico. Last night, from some seats in the outdoor Santa Fe Opera House, we could see the lights of Los Alamos about 40 miles beyond the stage.
How does one write an opera about a nuclear explosion? By focusing on the people, their relationships with each other, and their pseudo-worship of a pseudo-god, their “gadget,” the bomb.
Last night’s production, with a strong supporting performance by the local weather, was immense. Our evening began with a picnic near the opera house, and then we attended a pre-performance “conversation.” It was a chance to hear from librettist Sellars. He mentioned how officials characterized the atomic test as happening in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but sand for miles around. And then we met people whose families lived within 20 miles of the site in 1945. One man’s family homesteaded there in the 1800s, and Pueblo families have lived in the area for generations. These are some of the people that the government decided to ignore, to pretend they didn’t exist. In the opera General Leslie Groves refuses to evacuate these nobodies because it would alert the media that something was going on and might “compromise security.” That compromised security consisted mainly of fear of negative press coverage if the test fizzled.
After the conversation we moved from the lecture hall to the opera house itself for the performance. As we took our seats – safely covered by a huge, sweeping roof but with minimal walls – dark clouds rolled in and it started to drizzle. As a prelude we witnessed a Corn Dance performed by residents of four pueblos in the area. The participants included elders with drums and young people – some who looked no older than five – representing those “nobodies” that the government has done its best to forget.
The opera focuses on a few people – most notably Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, his wife Kitty, and Pasqualita, their Tewa housekeeper. Other scientists and military men swirl around the central characters. A key story line is the angst of scientists on the Manhattan Project who began working on an atomic bomb as a defensive measure against Nazi Germany, which was also working on an A-bomb. But by the summer of 1945 Germany had surrendered, and the scientists struggled to justify their continuing work on what now they feared was an offensive weapon. Many of the scientists lived to regret their “success.” Oppenheimer became a passionate proponent of disarmament after the war.
As the countdown toward the test proceeds we see Oppenheimer and his wife struggling to deal with their new reality. As they cry to the heavens and drink vodka for solace Pasqualita comforts their infant child, singing an ancient song of her people. Emotional chaos builds and builds through the opera, but Pasqualita continues to sing her song to the end. As the music and action swelled, so did the actual weather. And then an actual storm blew in, with winds ruffling the costumes of the performers. It added thunder, lightning, and heavy rain to the experience.
It was a long evening – five hours from start of picnic to end of opera – but I was transfixed throughout. And now, nearly 24 hours later, I keep thinking about what we experienced.
We humans have made war a staple of our shared lives. In school we learn about winners and losers – the winners being US and the losers being THEM. But the truth is hardly that straightforward. My mother told me about living through World War II trying to raise a growing family in rural Minnesota. Life was hard. Money was scarce. Food and shelter were not guaranteed. She prayed and prayed for an end to the war, for an end to her family’s crushing poverty. Meanwhile in New Mexico, generations of “non-existent” people lived through the scarcity of war only to encounter a future dominated by thyroid disease and bone cancer. And the Oppenheimers of the world watched their work morph into visions of horror. And other citizens of the USA, more of US, suffered. I will never forget Pastor Jennifer Ikoma-Motzko telling her family’s story of being interred in Idaho, and then struggling even after the war to figure out what they had done wrong to deserve such punishment. After all, how could simply being of Japanese descent possibly negate their rights as US citizens?
War is not about US – the winners – and THEM – the losers. War is about power, and people who have it taking the opportunity to cause immeasurable suffering while exercising it. Wars do have winners. The rich get richer. Politicians hang onto their positions longer than they might otherwise. The powerful on all sides get to have their savage way with the world for a while.
Last night’s opera ended with a “successful” test of the gadget, the bomb, the angry new god on the scene. The characters looked on in wonder, and in horror waiting for that first explosion. The last voice heard was that of a Japanese woman, searching for her husband and children, pleading for water.
Oh that life would mimic art. That we would learn as a country, and as humans, that war only works for the wealthiest, the most powerful. That the rest of us would be better off if we were left to our everyday lives, our corn, our rain, our dancing, our music, our art. Left with our love for each other.
The following "Evening at the Santa Fe Opera" photos are by Jim Segaar
By Lupe Carlos III
Good morning church. My name is Lupe Carlos. I was on the search committee for our new associate pastor.
I’ve been given the privilege of introducing Anita today.
I want to start by asking how many people here are 50-ish or older, show of hands.
I’m old enough that I marched in Denver’s first civil rights march in 1968.
I’ve been marching for 50 years.
But I am NOT broken.
I know that, by the grace of GOD, and so help us -Advil and support hose, you and I can march another thousand miles if we have to.
And we will have to.
But…Church, I bring good news today!
There’s a NEW generation coming of age. Or as we’ve come to call them, THE NEXT GENERATION.
This next generation of young people are filled with passion, compassion, intelligence and they have fresh legs.
They’re well educated and highly motivated.
They have the means and the will to protect our planet and turn the page on hate.
They have a one-word motto- ENOUGH!
They’re on their way.
There are millions upon millions of them. 3 billion people in the world are 25 or younger.
And they’re just over that hill. Right there.
In fact, the first ones are already here.
Have you met them?
Have you sat and talked with them?
Have you gotten to know them?
Karen and I were fortunate to have 4 of them at our home for a week this spring.
They have new ideas, new perspectives, they’ll engineer new technologies, and they have global connectivity.
They’ve studied us and they’re watching us.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that they are the next evolution of human kind. They have no choice, do they?
Evolution has instructed us to reproduce as fast as possible, take as much territory as we can- as fast as possible, to hoard as many resources as possible and eliminate all competition. So that our tribe survives- without regard for other people or our precious planet.
This is a spiritually infantile way to live. To that these young people say, ENOUGH.
When looking for a new associate pastor we gave a lot of thought to OUR next generation.
During our exhaustive first year of searching we looked at dozens of applicants. We had skyped interviews and even had a couple of them fly out. None of them were exactly what we wanted for Seattle First Baptist Church.
At the end of the first year we re-wrote our job description and included our list of vales. We asked the applicants to give examples of how their lives reflect each of these values. Very few applicants could do that. But when we read Anita’s application we were in tears.
As I read Anita’s resume and heard her answer our questions I became more and more excited at the prospect of having this amazing young person support all members of SFBC, but especially our young people. Anita IS the person we want to pass our values on to OUR next generation.
How blessed are we to have on our leadership team this amazing young leader?
My next few miles on this road will be dedicated to learning humility and growing my faith so I can take just a half step back and be willing to be led by these breathtaking young people. To suspend judgement, and give deep thought and prayer before I utter these words, “because that’s how we’ve always done it”.
I commit to approach Anita with a generous heart and make a gift to her- the gifts that life has given me.
I have a little about Anita I’d like to read to Y’ALL.
· Anita is a native of Michigan
· Did her undergraduate work at Oberlin in Ohio
· Completed Seminary at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tennessee
· Recently ordained at the Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville
Please welcome our New
Associate Pastor of Next Generation Ministries.
The REVEREND Anita Peebles.
The most eventful thing that happened on July 5 was that I was honored to officiate my first wedding for two friends at Peace Camp. Did I know that I'd be marrying folks this week? Nope! Tuesday night came around, and as I was sitting eating dessert with some members of the Board of Directors of Bautistas por la Paz, one friend said, "Well, we went to Dollar General today. Then we went to the county clerk and picked up a marriage license. We might get married this week. What would you think about officiating it?" And then last night, Thursday the 5th, about 30 friends gathered on the porch behind the chapel, overlooking beautiful Keuka Lake and blessed the union of two beloved ones. We even had them do an "exchanging of wings" (children's fairy wings) and a sparkler send-off. One of my college pastors from Oberlin, Steve Hammond, was the wedding photographer, and that was pretty fun. So, needless to say, this week has been full of surprises and unforeseen joys, including planning a wedding ceremony for two ornery Baptists in less than two days!
Other joys this week included listening to the Executive Director of Bautistas por la Paz, LeDayne McLeese Polaski, give her "farewell address." If y'all haven't heard, LeDayne will be stepping down from the Executive Director role after 20 years of service (in different positions) for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. She will be pursuing other hopes and dreams and looks forward to continuing the work of peacemaking and doing whatever is hers to do. We are incredibly grateful for her service and leadership and love and support. However, she is not done until May 31, 2019, so if you want to wish her well on her next journey, you have time to send her an email!
During an afternoon excursion, some seminarians from the USA, Cuba and Puerto Rico discussed theologies of blessing. Ree_Bell, one of our speakers from earlier in the week, shared that she doesn't often use language of blessing anymore because often it's hard to distinguish God's favor from our systemic privilege as evidenced through our material possessions. This was very challenging to me, as I feel the language of blessing expresses a deep and important revelation about the abundance of God. However, I understand how thinking of the ways I've been blessed in my life can easily get complicated with social systems. For example, I'm grateful to have met these fellow seminarians from Puerto Rico and Cuba, Yaheli and Ernesto, but we are only able to meet because I have the privilege (monetarily, in time, with my work) to be able to be present at this camp. Lots to consider and chew over. Join me in thinking about this, won't you?
One of my favorite nights of Peace Camp is the Friday night youth-led worship service. These youth tonight were PREACHING! Besides sharing some amazing music that fit the theme of "let's go back to the water," including a wonderful mash-up of "Wade in the Water" with a song by Rochester, NY-area singer-songwriter couple Leslie Lee and Steve Gretz. Some of the youth shared about the need to balance telling people about our faith as progressive Baptists with showing people our faith. They invited the gathered congregation to really see them not as "the church of the future" but "the church RIGHT NOW." They shared how important it has been in their lives for people to get to know them deeply before making judgments about them, and how the judgments we make have justice consequences. The three youth speakers got a standing ovation from the entire crowd. (And, as you can see in one of these photos, some of the youth had fun creating the slide show!)
Photos include: LeDayne preaching on Mark 2, folks remembering our baptisms outside the Keuka chapel, a silly slide from the youth worship service, and one of the many mysterious natural art installations that have been popping up around campus this week.
I will see you on Sunday!
Peace be with you,
Peace Camp Day 3 and 4
As the jet lag sets in and the community of Baptist Peacemakers gets a little tired, we are exploring the roots and consequences of colonization in the Americas. I say "the Americas" because "America" truly refers to North AND South America and Central America. Our friends from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Panama are continuing to remind those of us from the United States of America and Canada of this. So when we talk about "American," we are talking about many more people than consider the United States our home. That is important. I often say USAmerican when I refer to people who live in this country as recognition that Americans are far more expansive than what we commonly think.
It was appropriate that the theme of yesterday (July 4th) was "Decolonizing the Americas." My friend Eleazar Encino, an indigenous Mayan eco-justice activist, farmer and seminarian from Chiapas, Mexico, led the morning Bible study. He shared about his experience of the racism in Mexico, the discrimination against indigenous peoples that becomes internalized and replicated within the indigenous community. He said, “They called us savages even though we already had a great culture. They Christianized us and destroyed our future. They destroyed the natural world. This should worry us all...The scripture from Peter should remind us God made all people and we don’t need to generalize other people and be the rock that crushes others. The Rock of Jesus can become a weapon. Rocks can be used in good and bad ways. Jesus said ‘if you remain silent the stones will cry out.'...It’s not a Hollywood movie where the good guys always win, but the Indigenous continue to fight. The Peter scripture is the history of the people who struggle to proclaim who they are. They give hope to all the people who want a better world. They help us decolonize our minds.”
There were workshops presented about Hurricane Maria and the lasting effects of colonization in Puerto Rico, where the colonial status of this island directly impacted the deaths of 5,000 people; indigenous struggles in British Columbia; the status of women's empowerment in Colombia and across Latin America; and "Beyond Good Intentions: Embodying Our Faith Statements By Unmasking Our Hidden Patterns of Privilege." Throughout the day, we kept calling out ways that white supremacy is perpetuated and USAmerican supremacy dominates the world stage.
We are having the great privilege this week of learning from Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza (they/them/theirs) and Ree_Belle (she/her/hers), practitioners of the Activist Theology Project. I can't share too much about what they are talking about because there is a book forthcoming (which we will surely get copies of for SFBC!) but here are a couple quotes from Thursday morning's discussion. "White supremacy invades every institution in this country, even institutions of color." Ree_Belle. "We must look for leadership at the grassroots level in growing leaders from our communities because when we expect leadership from the denominations it will always be rooted in supremacy culture." Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza. The speakers are also sharing videos of the Ferguson Uprising, in which Ree_Belle participated, which share a window into how several black women activists think about the interconnectedness of white supremacy, police violence, the importance of white allies' following black leadership, and the spiritual aspect of activism.
The photos are of a Peace flag from the last Global Baptist Peace Conference in Rome in 2012, and an invitation to the next Global Baptist Peace Conference in Cali, Colombia which will be next year, July 15-20, 2019.
Peace be with you.
Day 2 Part 1: Hard and Necessary Learnings re: white supremacy, complicity and deconstruction
Peace Camp/El Campamento de Paz made a whirlwind start this morning as we dove into a racial justice training on the theme of “The Center and the Borderlands” with Jessica Vazquez Torres, a Puerto Rican native and organizer and trainer with Crossroads Anti-Racism Trainings. Though her native tongue is Spanish, she informed the group that she would be speaking in English, the language of the colonizer and the language of capitalistic economy. She helped us learn about Courageous Space (as opposed to “Safe Space”) through some guidelines for dialogue, a photo of which I will include here. Drawing upon the work of ethicist Miguel de la Torre, Jessica prompted us to consider the cycle of learning (which professionally is called the “hermeneutical circle”) that operates in the following way: to see-to reflect-to pray-to act-to evaluate-to celebrate. She encouraged us to notice the importance of prayer in this cycle: prayer is a bridge between reflection and action. It is imperative for Christian communities who do racial justice work to commit ourselves to prayer among many other education initiatives and actions because that is what grounds us and keeps us accountable to our religious leaders and spiritual guides. She also adds that the “celebration” aspect of learning about racial justice has to be included, because it is this very human desire to connect and get to know and rejoice in our community that gives us the strength and the courage to go on. Celebration is necessary when one is engaged in deconstructing the power and privilege which one has (often unknowingly) carried throughout one’s life. Celebration is also that which keeps us going towards reconstruction, when we are ready to emerge into something new.
Jessica asked the gathered community to name evidences for oppression being alive and well in our churches and in our world. A person of color said, “it feels like the 1950s again.” A young queer person said they don’t know what will happen when they try a new church: will it only say the congregation is welcoming and affirming or will the congregation actually know how to live it?
Jessica reminded us that we need to acknowledge the complicity of the church in the roots of white supremacist ideology. The church has been the architect of the moral justification for heinous acts of colonization, enslavement, genocide and so much more. For an example, we explored Pope Nicholas V’s papal bull concerning the “Doctrine of Discovery” from 1452, which gave Portugal (and following countries) religious permission to “invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens [Muslims] and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ” on their quest to West Africa. Look it up. And as you read it, know that the last time it was cited as precedent in a United States court of law was 2005. The Supreme Court of the United States of America cited this papal bull in 1823 as they sought justification for the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands. We must know and name the histories so that we can disabuse ourselves of the various complicities we have in perpetuating white supremacy. The danger is not only those who dress in white pointed garments and burn crosses, the danger is also those of us who know we are complicit, deny it, and seek to appease the powers-that-be because we ourselves are comfortable.
Jessica moved on to share some quotes from Gloria Anzaldua, an American scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory and queer theory. My favorite part of the morning was learning that Anzaldua wrote in three languages: Spanish, English and then a mix of the two. She did not always translate the Spanish words because she believed it was the job of native English-speakers to do our own work and learn to translate. Anzaldua originated the “center and borderlands” theory, which you can see some of in these pictures. (The white words within the black box are the descriptors of the "center," the "normal" way of living in the world within USAmerican culture. The white circle with the black words are the descriptors of the "borderlands" which the center has created to differentiate itself from "others." this is the "them" outside of the "us.")
WHEW! Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. What do you hope we do with these learnings at SFBC?
Peace to all.
Note: Pastor Anita Peebles sent this update from Peace Camp with the Baptist Peace Fellowship:
After a few days of settling in to my new Seattle life, I headed back east to attend the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America~Bautistas por la Paz Summer Conference (affectionately called “Peace Camp.”) My Nashville pastor Rev. April Baker picked me up from the airport in Cleveland and I joined a group from my Glendale Baptist Church congregation on the way to Keuka College in Keuka Park, NY. Keuka Lake is one of the Finger Lakes in the southern part of New York and the college is absolutely lovely sitting on its shore.
The theme of this summer conference is “Decentering Power and Privilege: Becoming a Peculiar People.” Our theme text for the week is 1 Peter 2:4-10, which has been used (and mis-used) in many different contexts. Look it up and see what comes to mind for you! How have you heard this text preached? How does it speak to you?
Throughout the week we will read scripture from various translations, in (at least) English and Spanish. We will also have worship, plenary sessions and workshops with both English and Spanish translation. Our worship leaders are Rev. Gerardo Oberman and Horacio Vivares from the Argentinian creative organization called Red Crearte, a group of songwriters and liturgists who seek to create accessible worship experiences for all people within and beyond Latin America. Together they wrote the lyrics for and composed our camp theme song drawing from the 1 Peter text as well as current politics facing the Americas.
Worship tonight began after a delicious dinner provided by Keuka College staff, including many greetings in multiple languages and hugging friends far and near. Peace Camp always feels like a big ole family reunion, as perhaps some of you who have attended prior camps can attest. The worship space is a beautiful chapel with stained glass art much like the parable windows at SFBC. Cheryl Bear, a Nadleh Whut'en singer-songwriter from the Dakelh Nation in central British Columbia, shared a story about God’s protection and solidarity with the oppressed.
The sermon this evening was shared by Rev. George Oliver and Elivette Mendez Angulo, the two summer conference coordinators. They preached from Mark 3:1-6, 20-35 on the topic of “When there is a conspiracy against doing good.” Some highlights included exhorting those gathered to continue in the journey towards justice, though we may struggle with those around us, including even our own families (as Jesus asked, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?”) The preachers lifted up Jesus as someone who amplified the voices of those marginalized by the Roman Empire, speaking the Good News the empire didn’t want them speaking, always sharing the gospel of life everlasting. Rev. Oliver also said, “Jesus didn’t want us to learn a simple religion…Jesus decided in his time, when he saw people who were hurting, he was gonna heal them. He used his power and privilege to make the world better.” It is time for us now, to decide what we do when we encounter those who are hurting. We must build communities to amplify the voice of Jesus in our time. We also must publicly recognize our membership in God’s family, sometimes even asking “Who is included in my family?” and living in solidarity with those some might label “the least of these.”
That’s just a little taste of Day 1 at Peace Camp. Here are some photos of the beautiful chapel, the gorgeous sunset after a thunderstorm, the words to our camp theme song and my edited name tag!
Peace be with you.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist