Jordan’s Stormy Banks

Posted June 16th, 2012 by

Salt Lake City, Utah. I sit in the terminal for an almost-four-hour layover thinking about the past week at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute, Healing the Wounds of History through the use of Transformative Theater, and how deep the traumatic wounds can be that impact all of us.

I plan to write about the class I just experienced, which was profoundly moving in many ways, but I need more time to absorb and ponder the past week, and have a bit more context to share.

Class ended Friday afternoon around 4:00pm. Warm goodbyes were shared. Scratch that. Warm “see you again” messages were shared. In my experience with SPI over the past six years, these are not idle words. I remain in touch with many friends from virtually all the classes I’ve taken over the years; many through Facebook and other social media, and others through actual contact; through ongoing work we do together that results in multiple, intersecting paths.

Last night, after many SPI students had departed for their homes around the globe, and others packed or gathered for one last dinner with friends, I went to a play that was being performed on campus with Roya, one of my classmates.

As I wrote in “Their blood flows in the streets” a few days ago, our class was powerfully impacted by the death of Odell Brown, a neighbor of one of our class members. This senseless death represents present-day, horrific trauma; trauma that is rooted in the history and systems of oppression and terror in the United States.

Jordan’s Stormy Banks tells a story of historic trauma; wounds that were inflicted long ago, but that continue to impact the United States 150 years after the fictionalized events took place. During the Civil War, members of the Mennonite and Brethren churches in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia were caught in the middle of that horrible war facing conflicts of their own on what to do. How does one remain true to one’s faith, in which an unyielding commitment to peace means rejection of war, when circumstances bring violence and danger to your family to your very doorstep? How does one remain true to one’s country when your country is split asunder? How does one remain true to one’s family when different family members make choices about the war that stand in stark contrast to what you know is right and true?

Through this wonderful production (which was directed by one of my classmates this week, Heidi Winters Vogel), I was asked to view the Civil War from a very personal and human perspective. I learned more about the Anabaptist (Mennonite and Brethren) faith and the challenges of staying committed to peace in a world that is not very peaceful. It reminded me again that as I stand at the top of the hill above campus as sunrise looking down over the beautiful and peaceful Shenandoah Valley, this was a site of war, of horror, of death, and of impossible choices.

Jordan’s Stormy Banks offered this student of peace another perspective (several, actually) to consider as I think about all I’ve learned this week at EMU.

2 responses to “Jordan’s Stormy Banks”

  1. Phil says:

    great reports from the week, Tom. Resonates with me, as one who grew up in the Mennonite (Brethren in Christ) tradition. Question for all of us is do we have the resolve today. This is not just a theoretical question of how we would respond in the physical face of violence were it to be at our doorstep – an important question. But more importantly, what is our resolve to stand for the injustice, systemic or otherwise, that we see in our communities, country, and around the world. Even though we're seemingly sheltered from it, will we stand silently, passively, comfortably, safely on the sidelines, or will our resolve translate into action. As one who follows Christ, a tough and compelling question for me. Tom, I glad you've chosen not to sit comfortably on the sidelines!
    (By the way, as I don't attend a Brethren in Christ church now, but did growing up, I miss the 4 part harmonies bellowing out accapello.)
    Your friend,

    • thomasdewolf says:

      Thanks, Phil. Your words mean a great deal to me here. I think of you often as a result of all the time I spend with people from the Anabaptist tradition. Yours was the first Brethren family I ever knew. I believe that for larger and more sustained positive change to occur, more people who are "sheltered" as you describe, must resolve to take action. Having found such people through Coming to the Table, which began at Eastern Mennonite University, I remain hopeful. I look forward to our paths crossing in person again, Phil. I look forward to a warm hug and a deep conversation.

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