On the Saturday night before the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) the stewards gathered for a cultural night, where we shared songs, poems and dances from our local cultures. Hung Pham, a recent graduate of the Jesuit Theological Seminary in Berkley California and I represented America among the thirty-six stewards. We sang a few Appalachian folk songs; American enough that everyone sang along.
Since I was coming to Jamaica having just defended my thesis, I hadn’t put any thought into the presentation. Hung and I had thrown something together at the last minute with only a few emails exchanged in prior planning. As the other stewards performed and many of them expressed concerns for indigenous communities, I grew ashamed. I realized that I should have not only put much more effort into the presentation but I should have uplifted so many more voices; Native American, Hispanic, Migrant, Refugee…etc.
When the event was over, I thanked one of the stewards who was from an indigenous community in Australia. ‘Thank you’ I said, ‘Thank you for reminding me of who makes up my country.’ What does it mean to be American in an international context? Whose voices am I representing? How could I have done things differently?
My 2nd chance at representing the U.S. came a few days later. About half way through the IEPC, the young adults organized a youth night where we not only taught songs and dances to the audience (both the young and young at heart), but we also selected someone from each region to talk about that region and/or the youth present there.
After checking in with the other Americans and Canadians present, I gained their permission and support to speak, as a young American for one of these presentations. Here was my 2nd chance to represent America at this International Ecumenical Peace Convocation where so many of the problems discussed were the fault of my country. I worked on my piece throughout the day before the youth night and what resulted was a poetic representation of my struggles as an American working on Just Peace. It was difficult to deliver but in the end well received:
Lord Have Mercy
A Statement from a Young American at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation of the World Council of Churches.
By Rachel Stacy, member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) and steward for the WCC-IEPC
A small group of people sit in a circle, in a church basement, hidden away from the world. The concrete walls are void of images; the space is empty and hollow. The small group huddles together, trying to block out the surroundings.
This circle is a support group, like any other support group,
Of addicts, of perpetrators,
Of those guilty of hurting others,
Of those guilty of hurting themselves
These are the oppressors.
These are the oppressed.
My country sits among this support group. My country sits among this confession. Addicted to the sweet stickiness of power, guilty of grave injustices, my country suffers.
My country suffers as its hatred, the poison drunk
in pursuit of revenge, dominance, and righteousness sinks deeply through its veins and murders not only the indigenous, the immigrant, the union worker and the poor…
But also taints the very Living Water of Christ which each of us drinks.
My country cannot be cleansed –
such language is destructive.
No fire will purge the evil from our lips.
We carry the poison in our veins from
one generation to the next –
it is our history, it can never be forgotten.
The sins of my ancestors are with me but their sins have made me strong.
My arms are strong to link with my neighbors to change, to heal, to seek that which is life-giving and transform the past.
My legs are strong to move forward to accompany not only those of other countries suffering from injustice, violence, and poverty but also to accompany those of my own country:
The women at the welfare office
The immigrant in the desert
The unemployed at the picket line
My immune system is strong to face the injustices of my faith and seek deeply compassionate ways to be with others and with God.
My country’s journey must begin now. Into the support group, into the experience o f healing from the trauma it has caused to others and to itself.
Lord have mercy.