I arrived at Justice Camp in Peterborough just in time for the welcome and community-building exercises. I was drawn into the room by the music played by “The Wine Before Breakfast” band from Wycliffe College, who provided music for the gathering and worship.
Who knew how hard it would be to think of songs with the words justice and peace in them? If your table could think of one that no other table had thought of and sing it, you got a point. It became a competitive and amusing way to work together and a get a sense of the others at your table.
The worship drew us together through readings, music and Eucharist into a community that will learn, live, and laugh together for the next five days. Archbishop Colin Johnson preached about the complexity of justice, of how keeping the sheep and goats on the right (or is it the left) can be tricky. We are called into creating justice with God, to bring who we are and what we have into this time and place and offer it to God. Justice will be done with this offering.
The bus ride from the Trent University residence to the church downtown was a much chattier affair this morning. Our Justice Camp small group, on political advocacy strategies, is clearly ready for challenges and engagement. We began the morning with a worship of lament. What role have we humans played in the unravelling of the covenant? Where are our moments of disobedience? Our oversights of those actions that we should have recognized as wrong?
Theologian and environmental advocate Stephen Scharper provided us with hope through stories of environmental pioneers and the context of shalom in their actions. Through news clips, videos, images, and stories, we learned about “the chain of courage.” One person can have a conviction, but the process of sharing it requires a community to listen and methods like media or print.
Sylvia Keesmaat’s romp through the Bible showed us the key moments of shalom and the moments when it was thoroughly destroyed, only to be re-introduced or emerge in a new place or community.
Exploring the scriptures of shalom on the streets of Peterborough was a revealing experience. Hearing the creation story within the context of a city park and trying to see how shalom was or might be made present there made both the scripture and the park more real and relevant. When scripture intersects with our current experience and speaks to it, both experiences become more alive.
One of our stops was to be the bus station where we were to read about the story of Jacob’s flight from Esau. We followed another camp group, and when we settled down in the station, we were asked to leave. This provided even more fodder for the discussion of who travels by bus, who welcomes them and how could shalom be created in that place.
The earlier part of the day has created context. We have a clear sense of shalom and some of the people working towards it. After supper, Lutheran justice advocate David Pfrimmer introduced some institutional actors and a few good news stories where communities of faith influenced policies and practices. (Download Mr. Pfrimmer’s presentation in pdf format.)
Our immersion group was introduced to political advocacy strategies within the context of Peterborough by a long-time advocate and popular educator, Linda Slavin. Advocacy was defined as working for those things necessary for a quality life. A key way of achieving this is finding common voice and using strong language to articulate the issues and solutions. This can be done using mainstream techniques and programs like Peterborough GreenUp and The Public Health Unit, or more cutting edge activities like the Transition Town movement and the Raging Grannies.
What is the scriptural basis for political advocacy? Sylvia Keesmaat took us through an exploration of passages. For some people, really understanding the Biblical basis enables them to engage in advocacy in ways they might not otherwise be able to. It is a step beyond simply caring for, to actually speaking out with persons. Former politician Ruth Grier, and Amanda Sussman, an activist and former government policy advisor (see her presentation on the TEDx 2012 website), shared their perspectives on what works and how best to build relationships and campaigns to achieve your objectives. Amanda’s book, The Art of the Possible, should be on all church library shelves. It breaks down the task of advocacy into manageable pieces that she and others have used to make change in the world.
This was a practical application day for our group. We hosted a roundtable conversation with several of the immersion groups, local activists, politicians and people of faith to hear stories that worked and explore applications of what our group had learned. Other groups painted a Habitat for Humanity House, harvested food on a local farm, sorted food at a food bank, and participated in care for fish and their habitat in a local river. Shalom Justice Camp is definitely about active learning.
We all came back together to hear from each of the groups. We were encouraged to seek creative ways of sharing what we learned, and could not use a PowerPoint. Incredibly engaging presentations resulted: poetry, creative story-telling, music, drumming, drama, and ritual. Our group had been struck by our participation in a Raging Grannies rehearsal and so followed in their footsteps by writing a song, Our Favourite Things, to share our experience.
(Tune: My Favorite Things)
Meeting with Linda, with movers & shakers,
Activists, greenies, and health-and peace-makers,
MP’s and editors, right on the ball,
Help us respond to our fai-aithful call.
Postcards and letters and online petitions,
Rallies and sit-ins with local musicians,
Scripture reminds us to take care of all-
Working for justice can be such a ball!
When our greed strikes,
When our fears roar,
When we’re feeling proud,
We simply remember our fai-aithful call –
And then we can speak out loud!
Ruth & Amanda said, “MPs will hear ya,
But missing deadlines and dates won’t endear ya,
Start with small steps and do homework, you-all,
If you’d be faithful to Jesus Christ’s call.
Issues of justice and tools to affect them,
Singular voices connect good intentions,
Sacrifice, courage, the zeal of St. Paul,
Help us respond to our God’s faithful call
Coming from churches both rural and urban,
We’ve heard of problems both dark & disturbin’,
But with the expertise here in this hall,
We’ll start the healing that answers God’s call.
Beth Baskin is a member of Church of The Holy Trinity, Toronto and staff for The Social Justice Project, Toronto Southeast Presbytery, United Church of Canada.