You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘interview’ tag.

Not long ago, I posted my interview with Disciples theologian and author Rita Nakashima Brock, founder of Faith Voices for the Common Good and a member of the Axis of Friendship — a coalition of individuals and groups reaching out in solidarity with the people of Iran.

With the visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the U.N. this week and the ongoing concerns about its nuclear aims, the spotlight is once again on Iran, as it has been off and on since the highly-contested elections of this summer.

On Wednesday,  Brock and fellow Axis of Friendship member Amir Soltani had an opinion piece, “An Empty Roar from the Lion of Islam,” published as an op-ed in The Boston Globe.

In another article, published the same day on the Dog Canyon blog, Brock asks “What has Christianity to do with Iran?” and answers “A lot, it turns out.”   Her article there, “Iran and our Axis of Friendship,” is a fascinating look at the role of Persia (now Iran) in the world at the time of Jesus’ birth.

What are your thoughts on Iran, and on Ahmadinejad’s visit and speech?

Photo: kkalyan (Creative Commons license)

Photo: kkalyan (Creative Commons license)


On September 12, 2001, thousands of people around the world lit candles in solidarity with the United States following the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Recently, the 2009 General Assembly adopted a resolution supporting the Axis of Friendship initiative encouraging Disciples to light a candle on September 12, and to hold services of candle-lighting and peacemaking in local churches. Disciples of Christ theologian, scholar and activist Rita Nakashima Brock, of Faith Voices for the Common Good, was a catalyst behind launching the Axis of Friendship in 2008. Brock is in London, but had an email conversation with Rebecca Bowman Woods, DisciplesWorld news and website editor, this week.


Rebecca Bowman Woods: How did the Axis of Friendship begin?

Rita Nakashima Brock: Last July, Rev. Pat DeJong [senior minister] at First Congregational Church in Berkeley, Calif. (FCCB) and I met to discuss what we could do about the demonization of Iran, and HR 362 making its way through the House, which included a naval blockade against Iran, an act of war under international law. It was clear the US military was in trouble in Iraq, so starting a war with a country 3 times its size whose legally elected government the US overthrew in 1953 was of great concern to us.

We decided to meet with others in the East Bay we had worked with previously in trying to stop the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. At that meeting, I suggested that another war protest would not be news and we needed to include some Iranian Americans to create a strategy they could support. We invited leaders of the Iranian Student Association at Cal Berkeley, an organizer for Iranian voters in the South Bay, and a friend of mine, Amir Soltani, with whom I’d shared a Harvard connection and with whom begun to work on poverty in Oakland.

The Iranian Americans said no one from their communities would show up for a political protest (because of danger to their families and themselves, and disillusionment with such protests), but they love festivals. We decided to hold a US-Iran friendship festival in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza with food, music, art, and speakers, ending with taking children’s peace art to Nancy Pelosi’s office near the Plaza. We had the speakers first (nine leaders from various faiths and communities, plus a middle school group, which read peace poetry) and called a press conference (excerpts from the event are at http://www.axisoffriendship.org).

Faith Voices for the Common Good [which Brock founded] is the fiscal home for the Axis of Friendship, but a number of churches and organizations are part of the network that supports the work of it that joined together last summer.

RW: How did you settle on September 12 as the date?

RB: The first feasible date for the event last year, given all the political conventions that summer, was September 12, a Friday afternoon. Amir, who had worked as a journalist, pointed out that on that day in 2001, 10,000 people had stood with candles in the streets of Tehran in solidarity and sorrow with the tragedy of 9/11. So, our choice of date seemed ideal to point to the global friendship that emerged that day all over the world. After discussing what to call it, we settled on the Axis of Friendship. A Festival of Friendship seemed to vague and general and needed explaining. Whereas Axis of Friendship directly linked the festival to the aftermath of 9/11 and the invention of an “axis of evil” in January of 2002, which was used to launch “preemptive” wars of aggression.

We decided to hold a candle lighting vigil as the conclusion of our festival and invited other communities to do so. Both Chapman University’s church relations office and the community at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, Calif., decided to hold vigils, and our festival in San Francisco was very successful.

RW: Who was involved in writing and submitting resolutions to the Disciples’ General Assembly and the UCC’s General Synod in support of Axis of Friendship Day?

RB: In its aftermath, Pat, Amir, and I thought we needed to do further work on education about the people and country of Iran (Pat had visited Iran with the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Iran program). Amir and I had written an op ed, published Sept 11 in the Boston Globe, about the Axis of Friendship, and Pat and I used it as a basis for creating a resolution to go to the United Church of Christ General Synod. She invited other churches to get involved.

I approached the Oakland congregation to see if we might do something similar with the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). They jumped on board with enthusiasm, so I invited DJAN [Disciples Justice Action Network] to provide some support. I also knew that Park Avenue Christian Church [in New York City] had a strong peace program, and they too supported the initiative and joined as another church sponsor of the resolution.

Amir, in the meantime, both became a member of our Faith Voices board and was recruited to become the operations director for Omid for Iran. We continue to work on ways to further the work of the Axis of Friendship.

We are pleased that both the UCC and Disciples passed resolutions in support of Axis of Friendship Day and will continue with ways to promote it in the future, including adding more organizational members. While we are currently focused on Iran, the Axis is not limited to friendship with Iran.

RW: Things have changed in Iran, and here in the US, since last year. Do you feel more hopeful that we can foster diplomatic relations with Iran, and avoid the alternative of conflict or war? And with Iran’s recent elections and the accusations over the outcome, what role can friendships and an Axis of Friendship play in making the voices of the people of Iran heard and in learning what’s happening there?

RB: One of our objectives last summer was to put a human face on Iran and to de-demonize its people (who were demonized during the hostage crisis under Carter). The aftermath of the June election fraud in Iran this summer did this. I think many Americans could identify with their struggle, after our own difficult elections. But the courage of the Iranian people who continue to work for democracy has its own amazing and inspiring power.

We hope via the Axis of Friendship to keep Iran in the U.S. public consciousness and to create new ways to develop people-to-people exchanges to other countries where people struggle for human rights and dignity, especially as opportunities develop via Global Ministries’ work in many such places.

RW: What else is important for people to know?

RB: I think there are many ways for Christians to promote peace. The work of overseas ministries is an underappreciated and underutilized avenue for positive work for peace. At the same time, we have an increasingly diverse society and amazing opportunities to strengthen the Axis of Friendship with people in our own regions. We need to be reaching out to Iraqis, Afghanis, and Iranians who are our neighbors, and befriending them.

I first came to appreciate Iran in college because of work I did in Biblical studies and the impact of Persia on Isaiah and on Christianity. Then over a decade ago I met an Iranian Muslim feminist in London, Roxanne Zand, who introduced me to feminist writings she translated and to modern Iranian artists she was supporting as an art curator. And, of course, I have learned a great deal from Amir and the Iranian Americans I have come to know in the East Bay.

Audrey Borschel, Disciples of Christ pastor and author

Audrey Borschel, Disciples of Christ pastor and author

Audrey Borschel is an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, and the author of Preaching Prophetically When the News Disturbs: Interpreting the Media (Chalice Press, 2009) During the upcoming General Assembly, she’ll lead a resource group on Saturday, August 1 from 3:45 to 5:15 p.m.

Rebecca Woods, DisciplesWorld news and website editor, spoke with Audrey in late May.

RW: So what will you be talking about during the resource group?

AB: The focus will be on media literacy — helping people to understand how the news is produced, how stories are framed, how biases creep in inadvertently, and what gets left out. We need some tools to understand this, and to get a bigger picture.

Here’s a good example — I agreed to be a community blogger for the Indianapolis Star. I’d been doing this for a couple of months, and I noticed one story they ran about recycling. It said that three percent of our stuff in Indianapolis gets recycled, while in other places, it’s 30 percent. They quoted Mother Jones [magazine] and called it a ‘progressive liberal’ magazine. So I went to the source, and I found out they [the Star] were quoting a waste management newsletter that Mother Jones had quoted in full.

RW: So there was a difference between the information the newspaper presented, and how Mother Jones presented it?

AB: Yes. We almost have to be investigative journalists….And then it gets into the definition of ‘political’ — a term that’s misused so much.

Everything is political, if you think about it. The case for Jesus’ ministry was overtly political. He wanted to evoke change among the people and he wanted people to continue that change. In our society — a democratic society — it’s all about this.

RW: Do you find that people in congregations want to hear about things that are perceived as ‘political,’ or do they want to avoid the subject?

AB: As far as people coming to church and what they expect, I’ve heard it both ways. In one congregation I was accused of being too political. I realized that I needed to do more educating. In other places, I’ve found that people really thirst for connecting the world and their faith. They wonder where the nexus is between the faith and culture.

As far as awakening a congregation to social justice issues — it’s not so difficult if people understand that social justice is all over the gospel.

RW: Your book is about preaching. What do you see in today’s preaching that causes you to be concerned?

Complacency and fear. Those are two instances when preachers don’t attend to the task of bringing the scriptures to life, and engaging the people actively — helping them think about the scriptures and the relationship to their way of living.

And a lot of preachers will stay away from the big news stories, even though they intersect really well with the scriptures. On the other hand there are people who are fearless, and if they see that something needs to be said, they’ll go ahead and say it.

RW: Are some clergy worried about the legalities of preaching on social justice issues?

AB: There’s probably some confusion — about the IRS, about the First Amendment — I cover this in a section of the book. Once people know that clergy are free to speak on many subjects and once people know what they can’t do — that should help some of the pastors who would like to preach on justice issues.

RW: Do Disciples have any particular challenges?

AB: One of the challenges, among Disciples, is in identifying the audience. Even though we purport to be pretty progressive, there are many congregations that haven’t had the exposure to a lot of the conversations that others of us have had. Because of that, they don’t have the background to understand some of the material that a preacher who might be an activist would try to convey.

Take Jeremiah Wright. That was obviously an example where a little sound bite caused terrible commotion and harm. My advice is to hear the entire story, and if it’s visual, then hear and watch the entire thing and understand the context. It’s all about context. When I saw [Wright’s] preaching, I could understand [his comments] because I understand the context of black preaching and theology.

The same for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. From the get go, I knew people would cherry pick her ‘wise Latina’ comment about making decisions at the appellate level. But we need to be able to look for context.

RW: Do you think most journalists would prefer a media literate audience? Are there some who perpetuate media illiteracy?

AB: I’m not sure that journalists don’t want people to be media literate. I might question some of the radio personalities or blog commentators who are so biased that they want their point of view to be the dominant one.

But in my book, there’s a chapter about op-ed writers. There is a lot we can learn from op-ed writers when we compose our preaching. The way that some of the commentators use images and structure, cinema, all kinds of things — it’s great. And they want to be understood.

I haven’t really become cynical through this process of learning and teaching media literacy, but I do tend to look at some news stories and wonder, what are the facts, what’s missing, and why are they framing it in this particular way?

RW: What about blogs?

AB: As a blogger, I’m well aware that bloggers are criticized for being inaccurate. Some of them do misuse information. For example, using e-mails as source of information can be misleading.

RW: How did you become interested in media literacy?

AB: When I was doctoral student at the Aquinas Institute of Theology, somehow I had this idea about the intersection between preaching and ‘disturbing’ news, and about doing theological reflection on the news. An advisor hooked me up with someone who had done a lot of work with the news. The framework for my doctoral thesis was media literacy for preachers.

RW: What will people learn by coming to your resource group during General Assembly?

AB: I’ll be trying to lay the groundwork for why [media literacy] is important. I will be giving some of the tools for media literacy — how to identify pieces of stories, for example. We’ll discuss the different types of news media, so that people see that there’s a variety of print and electronic sources, not only newspapers. I want to make people aware of how they get the news, and how the new sources of news can be intimidating, and sometimes misleading.

They’ll also gain insights that will be helpful not only for preaching but for pastoral care. When we do preaching, we are doing mass pastoral care from the pulpit. If there’s a crisis for the community, preaching on it can be a way to help people understand the relationship between their faith and the events that happen around them. There are great pastoral implications for it.

——

Audrey Borschel’s book, Preaching Prophetically When the News Disturbs, is available through Chalice Press. She will be doing a book signing right after the August 1 Resource Group. Audrey is also a member of The Intersection.

On Twitter:

Categories

Archives

February 2017
S M T W T F S
« Nov    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728