What Mean These Stones?

IMG_9484 2Piles of rocks like this one mark the pathways I follow on my long daily uphill trudges deep into the forested mountains near my home here in Germany. Today, I felt to stop at this one. I spotted a small angular stone at my feet and placed it without ceremony on the very top of the heap. Then, tugging my red neoprene jacket closed across my chest, I sat down cross-legged in my gray jogging tights right there on the bed of pine needles and gravel.

Under a shroud of birdsong, the following lyrics came to my mind:

“Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither to thy help I’ve come
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home…”

That verse from the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is one I recall mumbling through when I was younger because, honestly, I wasn’t sure why we were singing about Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge in an otherwise lovely anthem to Christ. The word “ebenezer,” I’ve since learned, means “stone of help” (stone=eben; help=ezer), and holds a key to our spiritual steadiness. It might also unlock greater understanding of who we women are and what we are doing with our gifts, resources, time, lives.

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“Ebenezer”, or stone of help, appears twenty-four times in the Old Testament. In 1 Samuel 7:12, for instance, after intervening in and winning Israel’s battles for them, God commands his followers to raise stones and stack them, therewith constructing a lasting memorial commemorating the miracle he has wrought in their lives. In Samuel we read:

“Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

And in Joshua 4:21-23, after the Israelites cross the Jordan whose river bed has been miraculously rendered dry by God’s hand, God again commands his people to raise or stack stones as a lasting monument to the wonder they have witnessed.

“And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.”

With a simple stack of stones not only would the eyewitnesses of God’s help be reminded of what they knew of God’s power, but generations yet to come would be reminded of what God had done for their fathers and, in turn, could do in their lives.

Of course, God didn’t need these monuments. Man did. God knew man’s nature then as he does now. He knew that once our crisis passes and our adrenalin levels have normalized; once our howling prayers of fear or desperation have faded to a whimper, then a drone, then to vain repetitions; once we’ve stepped on safe dry ground and slid back into daily distractions; once we don’t need him quite as acutely as we maybe once did, we quickly, tragically and cyclically forget him. Without deliberate mortal markers that cause us to remember him, we will forget.

Poor creatures! We all seem destined to die of spiritual Alzheimers.

Against such disease, God commands us to do the unlikely: grab some rocks. Stack stones. The point here, significantly, is not that men, as slaves, build some monument of vanity to God. Nor is the point for man to construct a Tower of Babel to physically ascend to God. The object of the stones is simply to take the time to remember. It’s not complicated or sophisticated work. Anyone can do it. But raising rocks of remembrance will do our eternal spirits the ultimate good. Simply remembering God and connections with him will invite him into our very immediate and intimate midst. We will meet and be one with him exactly where and when we remember him. This is the sublime and simple promise we hear weekly in the sacraments prayers: If we will  but remember him, we will have God with us.

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What might this all mean for women specifically?

While “ebenezer” is used twenty-four times in the Old Testament, (out of which sixteen times it refers to God as our ultimate and divine “helper”), it is only used twice to refer to Eve. When God presents Adam with an “ezer k’negdo”, God gives man not a “helpmate”, as the word has traditionally been mistranslated. Rather, God is blessing Adam with a mighty help — a help meet or equal to Adam’s needs. Eve is given to man and the sons of Adam as a protector against mankind’s enemy. Woman is a formidable partner who comforts, strengthens, and helps win humanity’s most fierce battles. She saves.

We women are all Eves. Women are charged with the holy mission to identify the enemy of mankind in all its forms and lead out in this tired world’s battle. For my work with Their Story is Our Story (or TSOS Refugees, a grassroots NGO where I am a founding member), I am fighting to give voice to my oppressed, persecuted, and voiceless refuge sisters and brothers the world over. And at Mormon Women for Ethical Government, (a non-partisan, peacemaking political activism NGO for which I am also a founding member), we aim to harness our covenant power, wrapping it up in our natural sisterly unity in order to identify, confront, and defeat darkness within government.

But as with anything that has great potential for power, there will be opposition. The danger, as I have observed it in myself, that threatens our effectiveness is if we rely on ourselves or any other faulty source of guidance and forget God. If we rush into our days, not with soothing scripture but with scathing news headlines blazing in our minds. If we, in all our passion for what is good and light, drive ourselves into the ground, cynical and depleted and empty in the end. If we catch ourselves feeling mostly frantic or furious, overextended or overburdened, exhausted or even excessively excitable. If we “feel dark clouds of trouble hang o’r us” which “threaten our peace to destroy”, then we must stop.

We must find a stone.

We must bow our heads.

We must remember him.

We must remind ourselves that in this battle — like all the others since before the world’s foundation — he has been our Savior:

“We doubt not the Lord nor his goodness/
We have proved him in days that are past.”

So sisters, raise your ebenezer! Stack stone upon stone upon stone. Take slow, systematic inventory of your intimate history with God. Reflect on him and his unspeakable love until your entire body feels refreshed, renewed. Write down that witness you have until tears mix with ink. Read it out loud until your throat constricts with gratitude and awe. Share that belief with someone, without shame or exaggeration. Remember stone by stone by stone what he already has wrought in your life and then witness to someone else that he will do just the same in theirs.

Here is just the start of my stack:

I remember when peace extinguished bone-crushing anguish
I remember inexplicable moments of epiphany
I remember a burning prayer answered in the cool of the night
I remember impossible insights via the spirit
I remember dreams that warned and instructed
I remember dreams that were more visitation
I remember his voice and his hands on my troubled head
I remember a-ha! revelations and slow-melt awakenings
I remember pounding my fists on the tiled kitchen floor. And his patience.
I remember holes and hunger filled
I remember the right person saying the right thing at the right moment
I remember when I knew. I simply knew.
I remember he has always, unfailingly remembered me.

IMG_9462(A version of this piece was published on June 24th, 2018 as one of the weekly Sabbath Devotionals for the members of MWEG, or Mormon Women for Ethical Government.)

 

© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2018.  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

How Our Covenant Community Could Save the World: Feature Article in Meridian Magazine

My piece. My peace.

Click on these words and follow straight to my heart.

Hands Of Young People On Stack At Beach

Image: Meridian Magazine

I have never felt the need or desire to hide my religious feelings. My devotion to my faith has never been questioned by anyone who knows me. On the contrary. I am what they call “all in.”

I have, however, sometimes felt the need to hide my political feelings —but only since November, 20016, and significantly, only within my religious community, my beloved tribe. It ought no be so. It must not be so

So please, read. Share. Let’s talk openly, friends. I’d be thrilled if you left your thoughts.

Mormon Women for Ethical Government: We Will Not Be Complicit by Being Complacent

Karl Marx famously called religion the opiate of the masses. Yet history provides us with numerous examples of individuals and groups who, far from being oppressed or subdued by religion, are empowered by it. Think St. Paul, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, Elizabeth Fry, the abolitionists, or Martin Luther King, Jr.  For these deep believers, religion wasn’t a sedative, but a stimulant–a tremendous motivator that stirred up an extraordinary alchemy of spiritual authority and political activity. When brought toe-to-toe with institutional and individual abuses of power, the believers prevailed, leading to significant and lasting change that shaped generations. Undeniably, every one of us is in one way or another a beneficiary of faith-fueled political activism.

Not unlike the deep believers of history, there are people joining forces today to form a human retaining wall against the moral and ethical mudslide threatening the stability of our City on the Hill. A wave of religio-political activism is gathering. People of faith — and of many diverse faiths — are galvanizing a growing resistance to what they deem are multiple offenses perpetrated in the highest office of the land. Citizens from across the political, geographic, and religious landscapes—progressives, conservatives, moderates; urban, coastal, Midwestern, southern, expatriated; Jews, Catholics, Baptists, Protestants, Muslims—are rallying in the defense of democracy and decency, calling for a return to dignity and integrity in our government. 21192527_10103761050860899_2196911460872549044_n

One such activist group is Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG), founded in response to the current administration’s first executive orders calling for The Wall and The Ban. From its conception by six founding associates, all of whom affirm abiding devotion to their Christian faith, MWEG has grown with wildfire speed, drawing thousands into its ranks in only its first few weeks of existence. Members come from diverse backgrounds ranging from Ivy League university professors, lawyers, and political scientists to grandmothers who place daily telephone calls to their elected officials; from seasoned political advocates based in Washington D.C., to women across the world who call themselves “accidental activists.” Despite the widespread perception that Mormons are doggedly conservative and overwhelmingly loyal to the Republican party, MWEG’s membership demonstrates a much wider range of political thinking, from those who opted for Mormon outsider candidate Evan McMullin to others who felt the Bern; from liberals who stumped for Hillary in red pantsuits to true blue Republicans who voted for Trump and have since become bitterly disillusioned.

MWEG members are united not only by their opposition to what is happening in US politics (which sends its repercussions across the globe), but also by adherence to the Six Principles of Nonviolent Resistance as modeled by Gandhi and Dr. King. Their peacefulness should not be misconstrued as apathy, however; they march under a banner that states: “We will not be complicit by being complacent.”

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Even more fundamental is their discipleship to Jesus Christ. It is faith’s trumpet that ought to reduce to rubble the walls of our echo chambers, calling us out of confining poverty or privilege and propelling us to act. As one MWEG member recently wrote: “Religion is not the opiate that keeps true disciples slumbering, it is the spark, or catalyst for courage in action. My religion does not pacify my worries, it fuels my drive to go harder, faster, longer, clinging to my faith in Christ to strengthen me, to lead me, to prevail when my own human weakness threatens to destroy.” Another member concurs: “It is my faith in my Savior Jesus Christ and my lifelong devotion to Mormonism that inspire my activism. It is the keen leadership and organizational skills I’ve learned as a Mormon woman that have empowered me and thousands of others like me to get major stuff done.”

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And what has MWEG done?

MWEG has organized 38 state, regional, and international chapters, in addition to 32 committees and subcommittees focusing on specific issues such as anti-discrimination, education, environment, healthcare, and immigration. In less than six months, this network of women has created an impressive structure that already has facilitated fleet responses to both local and national crises.

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MWEG members have held press conferences and staged vigils drawing attention to unethical deportations of Dreamers and other non-criminal immigrants; published op-eds and open letters calling for reform, for action from elected leaders, and opposing measures or bills they consider unethical; sponsored postcard blitzes and phone campaigns to members of Congress; hosted bridge-building events with Muslims, refugees, and others in their communities; actively opposed racism in all its forms; and partnered with other organizations to send aid to refugees and to fight poverty. On their website and other social media platforms, they post daily calls to action targeting issues such as Russian ties to the current administration, conflicts of interest, and healthcare. They have joined with other nonpartisan groups to form coalitions, encouraged and helped train women to run for local and state offices, and sponsored lectures to better inform the general public. Eschewing profanity, vulgarity, and violent confrontation, this battalion of Mormon women continues to quietly, confidently stand fast against unethical governance.

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Should that surprise? Not really. Since Mormonism’s fragile infancy, when its adherents were targeted for deportation and even extermination, when they were cruelly chased out of their homes and eventually into the deserts of the far west, political engagement has often dovetailed with Mormon women’s church affiliation.

Thanks primarily to early Mormon suffragists who befriended Susan B. Anthony and marched with her for gender equality, Utah was the second territory in the Union to give women the vote. Their faith did not leave them void of critical thought, wringing (or sitting on) their hands. Despite what Marx and other anti-religionists would argue, those church ladies’ focus on the hereafter did not detach them from the hardscrabble here-and-now. They not only marched; they wrote treatises, spoke publicly, and met with lawmakers. They owned their innate moral force, and were confident in their ability to use it–not for self-promotion, but for the preservation of their families and society; not for some short-lived triumph, but for the well-being and blessing of all humankind for generations to come.

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And so it is with today’s Mormon Women for Ethical Government. They call on all citizens to rise up against corruption, in a movement free from the corruptive agents of violence, fear-mongering and self-service. They understand that no movement, as no person, can hope to combat the suffering that evil men cause by descending to that same evil. They are committed to fight without hypocrisy, but with dignity, self-restraint, and charity.

The moral bedrock upon which our nation was built is being compromised. The foundation of democracy and dignity feel  sandy and unstable beneath our feet. The tide of deteriorating ethics is rising too close to the City on the Hill. This is the time for righteous outrage to find its spine and spirit, and for ethical, principled integrity to be the least–not the most–we demand of ourselves and our leaders.

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If you are interested in joining or finding out more about our organization, visit http://www.mormonwomenforethicalgovernment.org/  or our Facebook page.  You needn’t be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to join us. However, you must be a woman.

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Contributing authors:Melissa Dalton-Bradford, Nancy Tubbs Harward, Sharlee Mullins Glenn and Linda Hoffman Kimball

©Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2017. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.

© All images courtesy of Megan Lagerberg for MWEG

 

Giving Up Historical Fiction for the Current Reality: Being a Refugee Advocate and Accidental Activist

When this popped up on my Facebook page today, I felt two years collapse in a blink.

August 22, 2015

Research begins in earnest for my next book, an historical novel — first in a series of six– this first one spanning several generations of one family across three countries: Norway, Denmark and the USA. Here’s a little nugget you might not have known. But now you do.

“Viking king Harald Blåtand [Bluetooth] … had an uncanny ability to bring people together in non-violent negotiations. His way with words and communication went so far as uniting Denmark and Norway as a single territory. … The name stuck, and Bluetooth’s modern day symbol depicts Blåtand’s initials inscribed in Runic symbols.”

      That morning, as I recall, I had snuggled up to my writing desk here in our new home of Frankfurt where, a year before we had moved from Geneva. We’d never targeted moving here, but followed an unlikely job offer and clear spiritual nudges to do so, and were now watching for that invisible ink of God’s signature on the bottom line of this deal to slowly appear. Why Frankfurt? Why now?

To finally write my novels, of course. So, I spread out my notes, my six-generation timeline, my character sketches, and my stacks of Ibsen and Undset. Cradling my Bluetooth device in my palm, I mused about a certain Viking leader with a blue tooth and a legendary gift for diplomacy. This was no clichéd mouth-frothing marauder smashing open skulls with an axe, but a radical unifier, a Viking Dr. King or a Gandhi Norseman, if you will.

(Strange mental picture, I know, but stick with me here.)

Bluetooth the Negotiator, I decided, who unified warring factions, who brought peace not through sword but through words was going to be a governing spirit in my first novel. And so I announced it on Facebook.

I set seriously forth.

For 48 hours.

Until August 24’s headline:

Germany Opens its Gates. Berlin Says All Syrian Asylum Seekers Are Welcome

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(Image: America.AlJazeera.Com)

With those words, the world tilted on its side. Germany—and especially my new home of Frankfurt—became a sort of Grand Central Station for the refugee crisis, a clearing house for the hundreds of thousands (and over a year 1.6 million) desperate souls streaming to the west for safety from extremist terror. Busloads, in fact, arrived right in my little town of Bad Homburg, where a high school gym was turned overnight to emergency refugee center and where beleaguered men, women and children from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran sat on the bleachers while I taught them (cheer-led them) German.

Only a few months of intensive volunteering later, six friends and I had formed Their Story is Our Story (TSOS), a nonprofit dedicated to collecting and disseminating refugee stories in photograph, painting, film, and in word. We stood not in front of bleachers full of Middle Easterners, but in front of western audiences giving presentations hoping to humanize a situation that had split the West into fierce pro and con camps. In the US media especially, we noted, blared inflammatory, fear-stoking messaging, messaging that did not match the reality we volunteers were experiencing in the camps every day. Loud voices fostered fear about these refugees, people we knew as peaceful and faith-filled, people who were becoming our friends. This is an invasion, the voices cried. Think of our fair daughters. They will take them, then our jobs, then our liberty, then us all. They will impose sharia law. This will mean cultural extinction. This is the Islamification of the West. Christianity will die. We will all die.

Undaunted, we wrote and spoke everywhere. People listened. We became refugee advocates.

Since 2015/2016, more good and beautiful has happened than I can possibly tell here. I have been trying to tell it in person and in writing elsewhere, however, just not here. Which explains my eight-month absence on the blog.

Much has also happened that has driven even wider those cultural and political divisions that pit humankind in an endless war against itself. Countries threw up walls. Greece clamped down. And TSOS witnessed hot turbulence that gained momentum from the blistering updraft rising from a raging US presidential campaign.

In the heart of that vortex stood a peculiar candidate.  Describing him, one Muslim refugee friend, a refined and reserved former translator for the US military who had seen footage of a rally speech, said the man looked and sounded “Very American,” as he called it, “but not the good kind.” It goes without saying that this candidate was no Harald Bluetooth. Indeed, he seemed to delight in stirring up division. He swung poisonous rhetoric like a hand-hewn axe. Like a Viking from your corniest junior high school documentary, this man seemed to gloat and gurgle, his face flushing with smugness as some of his most ardent tribesmen barked hatred. Hatred of the Other. Hatred, even, of their own.

That campaign was a crucible. Throughout it, I taught my refugee students the German words for “dangerous”, “corrupt”, “artificial”, “deceitful”, “reality TV”, “adultery”, “racism”, and assured them (while reassuring myself) that, in spite of his overblown persona, this man lacked all qualifications, self- control, intelligence, or basic morals to ascend to office. His fire and brimstone notwithstanding, this man was not the Savior he peddled himself as being. On the contrary. He did not represent America, and good, decent Americans would give him zero chance of sitting in the most powerful office on earth.

On the morning of November 8th, I drove weary and dumbstruck through a slate gray drizzle to the refugee camp. Huddled in a tent, a group of us — volunteers and Afghan and Syrian women alike — sat wrapped in coats and blankets at a picnic table. No one spoke. From an old transistor radio, someone played Afghan music. Its wailing lament swirled above us like the tendriled mandalas we painted on donated canvas. Elbow-to-elbow I sat next to an elegantly mannered young woman. I had sworn to her that this Muslim-hater and woman abuser would never be elected leader of the free world.

She was silent.

I was burning.

We dipped our brushes in red, blue, aqua, ochre acrylics, painting twin petals on the same big flower. Her hands were younger and more slender than mine, and steadier. She’d seen far worse in her life than the likes of this election. Still, I knew this morning she had fresh worries.  Would the politics in the US—the prejudices of this man — set a precedent for politics everywhere? Would he set in motion a wave that would wash over Germany and send her to Afghanistan? Would she be deported back home?

Home? I knew the secret she had told only a German judge and a few witnesses. Home was where she had been abducted in broad daylight by a band of Taliban devils who had tied a grain bag over her head before dragging her into an abandoned hovel where all eight of them raped and tortured her around the clock for four days straight. Home was where, were they to ever lay eyes on her again, her village elders who were outraged that her rape had “dishonored” them, would publicly stone her to death.

On January 25th, the man who had boasted of sexually assaulting women assumed the sacred office of President of the United States of America. His first executive order was also an assault, an act of prejudicial dissection. He called for a ban against all Muslims.

And on January 26th, this refugee advocate became a political activist. Together with some of my closest friends, we founded a nonpartisan nonprofit committed, (in good Bluetooth fashion), to the principles of non-violence for the healing of our government, our communities, and our very selves. Mormon Women for Ethical Government (MWEG), is dedicated to challenging the unethical, illegal, indecent and the corrupt in government, while also identifying and rewarding government’s ethical, honest, and noble.  Though we launched as a couple of dozen women watch-dogging the fallout of those first two unethical executive orders, we have grown in number, (MWEG now numbers in the thousands), and scope, (we are 38 committees covering everything from Refugees and Immigrants to Health Care, Education, Discrimination, Conflict of Interest, Environment, etc.), and vision, (we are not a temporary resistance to any single administration, but a movement that will be around for generations to school women in civic engagement and for public office.)

We have been working doggedly alongside several other advocacy and activist groups under the hammering downpour of unethical practices issuing from this particular oval office.  There has not been a single week of calm. (You’ve noticed?) So, while it’s been eight months of soundproofed crickets here on the blog, it’s been nothing but Sturm und Drang turbo boosters everywhere else.

You might ask when I will return to writing things besides letters to politicians, news releases, OpEds, media pieces, explanations of policy, or blog posts on ethics in politics and refugees in their ongoing plight? I can’t say exactly. But when my inward Harald Bluetooth has sufficiently used her words to sow peace and sew together the factions warring in her world, when I am convinced I have accomplished with my simple words the most I can to make of current realities a history my children and their children and all children can live with, then I will snuggle up to my desk. I will pull out my reams of notes. I will breathe in my many peaceful (and some not-so-peaceful) Viking ancestors. And I will write fiction that rings, I pray, with relevance, depth, dignity, love and above all, truth.

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© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2017.  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.