Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wes Granberg-Michaelson to Call People of Faith to Renewal of Creation

GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN (February 24)--The challenge to care for creation will come to the Micah Center on Tuesday, March 3rd, for a 7 p.m. lecture entitled, "Renewing the Earth." "If creation is a gift--which, from a Biblical understanding, it is--" declares scheduled speaker Wes Granberg-Michaelson, "then we are called to care for it." Furthermore, Granberg-Michaelson sees environmental matters as integral to the broader pursuit of social justice. Referring to scientists' findings regarding global warming, he notes that "people often think of Manhattan and the outer banks of North Carolina (in relation to global warming and rising ocean levels), but changes in climate have a very devastating effect on the poor and the marginalized. If (creation) is desecrated, the people who suffer the most are those who have the least." Thus, the Christian imperative to renew and restore the earth.

Granberg-Michaelson is entering his sixteenth year as general secretary of the Reformed Church of America (RCA). His responsibilties with RCA include fostering church develoment and revitalization as well as promoting a broader expression of faith within RCA congregations, one that views justice and faith to be intimately related. 

No stranger to faith and justice matters, Granberg-Michaelson has long promoted social justice as an act of faith. His resume features roles as managing editor of the social action periodical, Sojourners; founder of New Creation Institute in Missoula, Montana, an organization emphasizing Christian responsibility to the environment; and chairman of the ecumenical faith and justice movement, Call to Renewal. In addition, Granberg-Michaelson has authored and edited several books addressing social justice.

His tenure in Montana was eye-opening. "Environmentalists had little good to say about the church," he recalls. While in Montana and thereafter, Granberg-Michaelson has sought to enlighten churches to the what he terms a "deep and persuasive Biblical mandate to care for creation." His Tuesday lecture will persist in proclaiming that message to the greater Christian community.

An interdenominational gathering of people of faith committed to social justice, The Micah Center convenes on the first and third Tuesday of each month at Hope Reformed Church, located at 2010 Kalamazoo SE, in Grand Rapids. The lecture, scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3, is free and open to the public.

Brian Paff, The Micah Center

Friday, February 20, 2009

Local Immigration Prayer Vigil Attracts National Spotlight

GRAND RAPIDS (February 20, 2009) -- The prayer vigil for immigration reform held on Monday, February 16, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has caught the attention of leading justice advocates nationwide.   Sojourners, the nation's premier social justice periodical, mentioned the West Michigan gathering in its blog feature on "Prayer, Renewal, and Action on Immigration Week." The feature can be found on "God's Politics," a weblog managed by Jim Wallis and others at Sojourners, and it offers readers a link to the vigil article posted on the Micah Center's blog.

The vigil, which was co-sponsored by the CRC Office of Social Justice, Michigan Organizing Project, the Micah Center, and Justice for Our Neighbors, drew a multi-ethnic crowd of more than 100 people of faith from West Michigan. A great amount of energy and hope circulated through Grand Rapids' La Iglesia Metodista Unida La Nueva Esperanza on Monday night. It represented a small step in the long journey toward immigration reform and justice for the sojourners in our midst, but it was nevertheless a significant one.

Those interested in contributing to West Michigan's efforts to bring resolution to the immigration crisis can find more information from the CRC Office of Social Justice, Michigan Organizing Projectthe Micah Center, or Justice for Our Neighbors.

Brian Paff, The Micah Center

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Micah Center Unveils New Website

GRAND RAPIDS, February 17, 2009--The Micah Center is pleased to announce the arrival of its new website, located on the Internet at www.themicahcenter.com. This online resource will offer users insight into the objectives and actions of the Micah Center, a grassroots social justice movement of people of faith in West Michigan. The site introduces newcomers to the Center's five action groups and provides a variety of resources for justice-seekers in the community.

This development represents a significant "next step" the Micah Center resolved to make in order to strengthen internal and external communication efforts.  The Center hopes to utilize the site to facilitate growth both in numbers and in impact on the local and broader communities in the name of Shalom, God's peace and justice on earth.

The Micah Center is comprised of a growing number of Christians from varying backgrounds interested in matters of faith and justice. The Center hosts monthly lectures relating to social justice and supports five action groups addressing five distinct yet often interconnected aspects of justice: poverty and hunger, health care, environment/creation care, immigration, and restorative justice.  Meetings are held at 7 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month at Hope Reformed Church, 2010 Kalamazoo SE, in Grand Rapids.

Brian Paff, The Micah Center

Monday, February 16, 2009

Candlelight Vigil Draws Diverse Gathering to Pray for Immigration Reform

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (February 16, 2009) -- A prayer vigil sponsored by the CRC Office of Social Justice, Michigan Organizing Project (M.O.P.), the Micah Center, and Justice for Our Neighbors, attracted Latinos and non-Latinos alike to La Igelsia Metodista Unida La Nueva Esperanza (New Hope United Methodist Church), located at 100 Burton SE in Grand Rapids. The multi-ethnic gathering of more than 100 people settled into a cozy, candlelit sanctuary on Monday evening to sing and pray around the issue of immigration reform.

"It is necessary to recognize immigration as God's concern," commented Jordan Bruxvoort, a community worker with M.O.P. out of Kalamazoo, MI, who helped execute the event. "God is attentive to the vulnerable in society. He upholds them; the people of God must also uphold them." Bruxvoort has worked with the Micah Center in past months and looks forward to strengthening ties between M.O.P. and other social justice movements like the Micah Center in West Michigan.

Kate Kooyman, leader of the Micah Center's Immigration Action Group and representative of the Christian Reformed Church's Social Justice office, also contributed to the vigil's planning and implementation. She was encouraged by the energy and diversity present in La Nueva Esperanza's sanctuary. "A next step is possibly to create a better dialogue between races," she said, observing the lines already being crossed Monday evening at the church that sits on the back doorstep of a racial divide.

La Nueva Esperanza's pastor, Oscar Ventura, was present for the vigil and offered a benediction in Spanish to conclude the event. Ventura, a Dominican-born pastor with decades of experience in the pulpit in Latino communities, was pleased with the turnout. "It was good to see so many people come. We have an opportunity for change right now," he said. Ventura noted that current U.S. Immigration policy can often tear families apart and diminish the quality of life immigrants seek so desperately; he is hopeful that a strong, united voice--such as the one heard on Monday--might influence those in power to show compassion and justice to the nation's immigrant population.

The vigil was purposefully bilingual, with participants singing hymns and reading a litany in both English and Spanish. It drew people from the local congregation and community as well as justice-seekers from as far away as Kalamazoo. Litany readings focused on the multiplicity of aspects that accompany immigration issues in the United States, including family stability, worker's rights, social services, and dignity. Honduran-American Ruth Gutierrez Van Beek smiled at the event's conclusion. "It went really well," she said in Spanish, glancing around the room. "I was very happy (to see so many people present)."

The next challenge, of course, is to translate Monday's energy into tomorrow's social action. The Micah Center's Immigration Action Group will continue to look for creative ways to speak out for justice on behalf of the sojourner, Kooyman declared. By all accounts, it seems that uniting voices from different backgrounds and experiences as it did Monday night is an excellent place to start.

Brian Paff, The Micah Center

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Micah Center members interested in joining the WAGE PEACE campaign, initiated by Rev. Doug Van Doren's Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ congregation, can obtain lawn signs, car decals and clothing items at the next Micah Center meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, February 17, at 7:00 p.m. Members of Plymouth Congregational UCC will accept donations and distribute the WAGE PEACE tools in order to promote God's call for Christians to act as peacemakers. Suggested donations for each item are as follows: $1.00 for cling-on decals, $3.00 for lawn signs, and $12.00 and $15.00 for eco-friendly hemp/cotton blend T-shirts and jerseys, respectively. The offer is not meant to be a marketing ploy but rather a creative way to spread the message of peace and justice.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bread for the World Mobilizes West Michigan Gathering at Calvin College

GRAND RAPIDS, February 8 -- A collective South African voice for peace and justice set the tone for the occasion as a recorded Ladysmith Black Mambazo track softly serenaded more than thirty people of faith in a Calvin College meeting room on Sunday afternoon. It marked the conclusion of a Bread for the World Offering of Letters (OL) workshop, and those in attendance attentively penned handwritten letters to Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan), urging him to take action to reform the U.S. Foreign Assistance policy.

Bread for the World is a Washington-based advocacy group addressing issues of poverty and hunger at home and abroad. Founded in 1971, Bread has established itself over the past four decades as one of the most influential Christian activist groups in the capital. Bread President, Reverend David Beckman, introduced his organization's greatest need in a DVD that was aired during the workshop. "We are seeking an offering, but not an offering of money," he said. "We are seeking an offering of letters."

The workshop was led by two regional representatives, Larry Hollar and Sarah Rohrer, and was held in conjunction with the Calvin College Faith and International Development Conference. Attendees arrived from communities throughout West Michigan, from as near as Calvin's campus to as far away as Kalamazoo and Lansing. The OL workshop aimed to introduce the gathering to Bread for the World and its objectives and to empower participants to initiate letter-writing campaigns in their respective churches or justice organizations. "Bread for the World sees people who are near and far away that are hungry as our neighbors," explained Hollar. "We are a collective Christian voice urging advocacy."

The content of this collective voice is very specific. "Bread for the World aims to encourage U.S. diplomats to legislate for more self-sufficient, country-owned, holistic foreign assistance," said Rohrer. The reduction of global poverty, she insisted, is contingent not on more funding but rather on a more consistent, flexible, and efficient allocation of resources. Letters, therefore, must be directed at urging Congress to pursue reform, not increase, in foreign assistance spending.

Its advocacy efforts have not been in vain. Bread for the World has urged the U.S. Government to elevate foreign assistance alongside defense and diplomacy as keys to creating a more harmonious global community, and Washington seems to be listening. Hollar and Rohrer cited a shift in fund allocation in the Defense Department's budget over the past six years. In 2002, only six percent of the budget was devoted to aid and development in foreign countries; today, that figure has risen to twenty-five percent. Even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Rohrer noted, has recognized the intricate relationship between justice and peace, referring to Gates' call for increased aid and development spending. The next step is to ensure that this aid is well-organized. "The money we're spending needs to be spent well, be spent wisely, and we need to know where it's going."

Workshop participants responded well to the agenda set forth by Bread for the World. "[Foreign assistance reform] seems complex, but it's a no-brainer," commented Grand Rapids resident Dave Treul.  Tera Dent, a member of the West Michigan grassroots social justice movement, the Micah Center, and a Bread for the World-trained Hunger Justice Leader, was also among those in attendance on Sunday afternoon. "Bread focuses on holding our government accountable to focus its efforts on improved development assistance in areas of poverty," she said. Dent referred to the world economic crisis and pointed out,"We're not asking to send more money overseas but rather making sure that money that is already being sent is put to good use." A Christian with a self-assessed passion for the world's poor and marginalized, Dent expressed desire to replicate the Bread workshop during a Micah Center gathering with hopes of mobilizing a greater number of advocates in the West Michigan community. 

Bread for the World offers resources on its web site (www.bread.org) that can guide individuals and groups through their advocacy efforts. OL participants were encouraged to take the information they received during the workshop back to their home congregations and justice organizations. Taking the time and making the effort to write a letter to one's congressional respresentative(s), Hollar asserted, can have a profound impact on the country's response to world's needy. With Bread's leadership, advocates' action, and the growing national climate of hope, that impacted response may be in the very near future.

Brian Paff, The Micah Center

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Reverend Doug Van Doren Implores Micah Center Gathering to Wage Peace

GRAND RAPIDS -- When members of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ resolved in the fall of 2002 to place a sign reading WAGE PEACE on the front lawn of their church, they may never have imagined what would become of their humble act. Over 5,000 distributed signs and car window decals later, the church maintains its stance on issues of war and peace.

Plymouth's pastor, Reverend Doug Van Doren, addressed an interdenominational gathering of people of faith Tuesday evening at the Micah Center, a grassroots social justice movement that convenes at Hope Reformed Church, on the corner of Burton and Kalamazoo. "(The WAGE PEACE campaign) didn't spring from nothing," Van Doren explained. "One of the principles of the Church is to listen to the marginalized."

Only months prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Plymouth Congregational UCC determined to use the signs to promote peacemaking while the nation teetered on the brink of war. Nearly seven years later, the Grand Rapids church continues to promote waging peace instead of war. On Tuesday, Van Doren suggested that peacemaking is no easy task. It might appear differently in different contexts, but it centers on the notion of providing social services--food programs, education, health initiatives, and the like--for under-resourced and under-served populations.

Van Doren was quick to distance himself from outright pacifism, identifying his personal response to conflict and injustice as "somewhere in between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X," but he affirmed that the Church must find a way to more proactively seek peace. "The Church is a formidable force," Van Doren explained, "but it has held itself back." In his mind, the unique element the Church can bring to the conflict resolution table is what he described as "justice tempered by mercy and forgiveness." Justice without mercy, Van Doren warned, leads to vengeance and retribution.

Rev. Van Doren conceded that his church's campaign did not prevent the Iraqi invasion, nor did it shorten its length. What it did do, however, was challenge his congregants and community to think of innovative ways in which they might "wage peace" in the world. Van Doren similarly challenged those in attendance on Tuesday to likewise consider how to creatively respond to war and conflict. In his parting remarks, he quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, when he said, "Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war."

Brian Paff, The Micah Center 

Wes Granberg-Michaelson, 3/3/09

On March 3 2009, the Reformed Church of America's general secretary, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, will address the Micah Center social justice group on the issue of creation care and environmental sustainability from a Christian perspective. The meeting will take place at Hope Reformed Church (corner of Burton and Kalamazoo in Grand Rapids, MI) at 7:00 pm.