SermonsMennonite World Review

Goodbye to my column

In 1998, Paul Schrag from the Mennonite Weekly Review called me and asked if I would be interested in taking over the “World Neighbors” column from Willard Unruh.  Every month since that time, I have written a column about countries on five different continents.


I think doing so made me a better writer.  I found that I actually liked it when I was about twenty to thirty words over the limit, because cutting out those words invariably made the column tighter and stronger (Paul told me once that my columns were hard to cut, because I didn’t leave surplus words.)  I also enjoyed doing deeper research into regions that were in the news, and liked to look for the “behind the scenes” stories.  Once I had easy access to the internet (I take it for granted now, but I began this column at a time when I needed to go to the library to do web research) I would google “Mennonite” and the country involved to find out what Mennonite missionaries and aid and development workers were saying about political crises on the ground.  Then, I would look for other alternative news sources that were covering aspects of the story that the mainstream media was not.  (I remember once, in the buildup to the Iraq War, writing my column on Donald Rumsfeld’s friendly relations with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s.  After I sent it in, it turned out to be Newsweek’s cover story for the week.  When I wrote that I was bummed Newsweek had scooped me to assistant editor, Robert Rhodes, he said something along the lines of, “Don’t worry; no one reads that rag.”)

During the first week in December, I was at Evangelicals for Social Action conference, where I learned that Israeli authorities had just denied entry to one of my colleagues into Palestine.  I was also feeling anxious about my own entry, wondering whether Israeli authorities would give me a hard time because I had just left the country six weeks earlier in October.  And I was agonizing over a contest I had entered my novel, The Price We Paid, in, hoping in an almost sickening way that it would bring the manuscript to the attention of an agent.

Then I got the e-mail.  When the Mennonite Weekly Review had become the Mennonite World Review, I had been informed that my column would now be shared with two other people and I would thus be writing only three times a year.  This e-mail informed me that some plural entity had decided that World Neighbors needed a more “consistent voice” and they were asking another person to write it.

My first reaction was more annoyance than anything else.  My column had been taken from Willard Unruh and given to me (and I could tell from his final column that he had been a little hurt by it.) The editor could have just told me that he thought it was time for someone else to write it.  In a follow-up e-mail, he told me that he was trying to be diplomatic and that at fifteen years, I had been the longest running columnist in the history of the Mennonite Weekly/World Review.  And although I thought “diplomatic” was not the right word at all, the follow-up e-mail did make me feel better.ada91b0e4a970a7f023524.L._SX80_

The Mennonite Weekly Review giveth and the Mennonite World Review taketh away. Blessed be the Mennonite World Review.



RCMP attack on anti-fracking blockade in Elsipogtog

Below is the original version of my November column for Mennonite World Review.  The edited version is available here.

On October 17, shortly before CPT’s Hebron team sat down to dinner, I checked my Twitter feed.  I saw that something was happening in Elsipogtog—a community in Maritime Canada that CPT’s Aboriginal Justice team is accompanying as it resists fracking by SWN Resources on its traditional lands.  When I checked the #Elsipogtog hashtag, hundreds of comments began streaming out about arrests, snipers, rubber bullets, teargas, and vehicles on fire.  I realized that thousands of miles away in Occupied Palestine I was watching live, via Twitter, an attack by the Canadian police on the Elsipogtog blockade in New Brunswick.  And so as we sat down to eat, in the relative quiet of Hebron that evening, we prayed for Elsipogtog—and our tweets about the ongoing attack on the encampment were later retweeted by some of the Palestinian activists who follow the Hebron team’s account.

The blurry red hat is being worn by one of my CPT colleagues.  The policeman with the attack dog was very unhappy about her videotaping him.

The blurry red hat is on the head of one of my CPT colleagues. The policeman with the attack dog is very unhappy about her videotaping him.

Because of the chaos caused by the attack, even now, some of its details are unclear, but what basically happened is this: Canadian police, some heavily armed and in military-style camouflage, arrested Chief Arren Sock and dozens of other protesters, while they ransacked the camp and dispersed protestors using teargas and rubber-coated metal bullets.  Some of the protestors responded by setting the police cars on fire and throwing things at the police.  What had been a nonviolent witness until that moment fell apart.

In the aftermath of the incident, the KAIROS coalition (of which MCC Canada is a member), Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Friends Service Committee published an open letter to David Alward, the Premier of New Brunswick.  In the opening paragraph, the organizations noted, “it is our view that this clash could have been avoided had the province acted in a manner consistent with its obligations to respect the human rights of Indigenous peoples under Canadian and international law.”

The letter then highlights four areas in which the province of New Brunswick could do more to rebuild just relations with Indigenous peoples:

  1.    Acknowledge that Indigenous peoples have rights to their lands, territories, and resources that predate the creation of the Canadian state.  International human rights bodies, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have repeatedly condemned Canada’s failure to protect these rights.
  2.   Stop ignoring the land rights of Aboriginal peoples in day-to-day operations of the government.  Canadian courts have decreed that governments must consult with Indigenous Peoples before making decisions that affect their rights.  “Accordingly,” the letter says, “our organizations urge your government to retract statements indicating that the province is already committed to shale gas development, regardless of opposition.”
  3.   Acknowledge that the province must obtain “free, prior and informed consent” (FPIC) of Indigenous peoples when a proposed project has the potential to affect their cultures, livelihoods, health, and well-being.  “Our organizations call on New Brunswick to acknowledge that shale gas exploration and development on or near the traditional lands of Indigenous peoples is clearly an example where the safeguard of free, prior and informed consent is appropriate and necessary.”
  4.  Deploy police with the understanding that they have a clear responsibility to respect and protect human rights, including the lives and safety of those involved in protests.  “Use of force must always be a last resort and the scale and nature of the force deployed must be in proportion to the need to protect public safety.”

“Unless the province adopts an approach consistent with these obligations, further clashes may occur,” the letter notes.

Chief Sock

Chief Sock

Chief Arren Sock released a written statement on October 18, saying “Chief and Council of the Elsipogtog First Nation wish to state clearly that guns and bombs, if any, have no place in our peaceful efforts.”  On October 21, Justice George Rideout denied the request by SWN Resources to extend its court injunction to prevent the Elsipogtog protesters from blocking its storage facility.  But on November 18, the activists suffered a setback when Judge Judy Clendenning dismissed an application from the Elsipogtog First Nation for an injunction to stop seismic testing for shale gas.The story is still unfolding, streaming, and tweeting.

My Mennonite World Review column on Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Below is my July column for the Mennonite World Review. My organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, and I did not attend the Mennonite Convention in Phoenix this year to be in solidarity with Latin@ Mennonites who were observing the boycott on Arizona because of its racist immigration laws.

An old sheriff in town
By Kathleen Kern Christian Peacemaker Teams

In May, U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow handed down a 142-page ruling that concluded Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s policy of detaining people who looked Latino violated the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

In his ruling, Judge Snow noted Arpaio routinely violated federal law and the constitutional rights of Latinos in his county — of which Phoenix is the county seat — and blatantly violated terms of a prior court order that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office stop engaging in immigration-related enforcement operations. It said the sheriff’s office had institutionalized the consideration of race in law enforcement decision-making, tried to hide the discriminatory nature of officers’ actions and showed an overall lack of professionalism in determining whether they could legally do what they wanted in spite of court orders.

Arpaio (in car) and Lombardi

Arpaio (in car) and Lombardi

Those who accuse Arpaio of racial profiling are using a sanitized term for a man who, in 2009, allowed his picture to be taken with neo-Nazi Vito Lombardi and gave the organizers of a neo-Nazi counterdemonstration intelligence on a pro-civil rights march that would be passing them soon.

In 2007, in an interview with Lou Dobbs on CNN, he said a comparison with the Ku Klux Klan was an honor.

Racial profiling is not the only controversy surrounding Arpaio and his office. He has been investigated for unconstitutional jail conditions, improper clearance of cases and failure to investigate sex crimes — especially the molestation of undocumented immigrants’ children, election law violations, targeting political enemies with criminal investigations, misuse of funds, a staged assassination plot and lack of cooperation with the Department of Justice.

Arpaio said he is going to appeal Snow’s ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which means Maricopa County taxpayers will be spending more money in defense of this man and his policies. Yet, last November, the people of Maricopa County re-elected Arpaio for the fifth time.

I wrote this column before a group of Mennonite Church USA youth from Ohio visited Arpaio with the intention of engaging him in dialogue and instead became used by him as a propaganda tool when he posted their picture with him on the Internet. I understand that the youth went to the meeting without the knowledge or approval of MC USA or the convention planners.

Mennonite Youth from Phoenix Convention with Joe Arpaio (center)

But Arpaio and the laws in Arizona that make Latino Mennonites unsafe there are why Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church, or IMH) asked that the church observe a boycott of Arizona. I truly believe convention organizers made the decision to hold the convention there prayerfully. I believe the decision wasn’t easy. I know we can point at Arpaio and say, “We’re not like him” and dismiss him as a bully and a clown.

But the fact is, the convention was in an Arizona county that re-elected him five times, and most attendees will never have to worry about the consequences of being visible there.

They chose to leave their Mennonite brothers and sisters who would be targeted by Arpaio and his deputies behind. And they ended up with a photo of their (mostly white) youth smiling with one of the most outspokenly racist sheriffs in the U.S. (For a more detailed analysis of this event, see this reflection by Marty Troyer) I hope that some day true reconciliation between IMH and MCUSA for that decision will occur — the sort of reconciliation that will prevent other decisions like it in the future. But I and other Mennonite brothers and sisters like me will always remember why we did not go to Phoenix.

Kathleen Kern, of Rochester, N.Y., serves with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

To Do list

I’ve been running a low-grade fever the last couple days and have had accompanying cankerimages sores that took over half my mouth and restricted to me to a liquid or very soft food diet.  I was kind of stressing out over my To-Do list, but then I thought that my To-Do list, unlike my pre-sabbatical lists, was a real writer’s To-do list:

  • Sketch out an outline of questions for the friend whose memoir I will be working on with her in Los Angeles from February 25-March 13, to get her thinking
  • Get my column for Mennonite World Review done before then (Writing on the Idle No More movement currently sweeping across Canada, and implications for White settler Mennonites.)
  • Get the first 50 pages and an outline of my novel ready for the James Jones novel contest before then
  • Get the query letter for the agency I really want to represent my third novel polished and ready to go
  • Get a more generic query letter for agencies ready to go
  • Check out some Samurai Champloo and Joss Whedon sites for Because the Angels promotion.

When I go back to work for Christian Peacemaker Teams in June, it will be nice to look back on this list, and remember there was a time when I really spent most of my creative energy on writing.