Subject: NCC Weekly News: Paul, Silas, and Mass Incarceration

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From Jim: Paul, Silas, and a Personal Experience of Imprisonment
Last weekend nearly 1000 Christians gathered at Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, DC, many of them from member communions of the National Council of Churches, to focus on the problem of mass incarceration.

The roots of EAD go back to the 1960s when it was known as the Washington Churchmen's Seminar and was sponsored by the NCC, as EAD is today. In the 1970s and for many years it was known as the National IMPACT briefing.

This year the opening preacher was Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri. Traci spoke to the NCC Governing Board last November and shared her insights about the pain and suffering occurring in the Ferguson, Missouri area in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown.

At EAD Traci took as her text Acts 16:16-28, the story of Paul and Silas in prison. What I appreciated about Traci's sermon was that, while not ignoring at all the powerful aspect of Paul and Silas' witness in the face of persecution, she highlighted the role of the slave girl.

Traci recounted that a slave girl, who had a spirit of fortune-telling, repeatedly followed them for days through the house of prayer to announce that Paul and Silas were servants of the Most High God.  She so annoyed Paul that he turned to her and commanded the spirit in the name of Jesus to depart from her.

Suddenly, her fortune-telling ability disappeared and her owners, who had made a great deal of money off of her, were infuriated and had Paul and Silas beaten and thrown in prison. Traci pointed out that we know nothing else of this slave girl and yet she was key to the story.

Traci helped us see the profitability of slavery, how disruption of that profit so upset the economic system that Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned and how fresh the story is today in the light of the legacy of racism and the prison-industrial complex that has imprisoned vast numbers of poor people of color in the United States.

On the final day of EAD, the New York Times ran an article entitled, "1.5 Million Missing Black Men" which described how because of early deaths, because they are in prison, and because of deep disparities, vast numbers of African American men are missing from everyday life. The implications of this are astonishing.

For every 100 black women not in prison, 83 black men are not in prison. The equivalent number of white men is 99. And of all cities of at least 10,000 people the city with the most missing black men is none other than Ferguson, Missouri
where there are 60 black men for every 100 black women not in prison. Stop for a moment to consider this breathtaking statistic.

On the second day of EAD, I was asked by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) to spend one hour in an amazingly realistic mock solitary confinement cell. Beforehand, tongue-in-cheek, I told my daughter I would be going to jail that day. "Again?", she asked.

So, while I knew what NRCAT was doing was quite serious I thought little of my hour-long time in solitary until I found myself inside armed only with a Bible. This brief period permitted me to have a tiny glimpse of how disorienting and awful the experience of solitary confinement must be for those who must endure it.

Experts estimate some 80,000 people are in solitary every day and it is known the use of solitary confinement has greatly increased in recent years. It is known, as well, that solitary confinement creates psychological damage, it is more costly, and it may lead to greater recidivism.

Although I was treated with the utmost kindness and solicitation by my 'jailers,' I still felt forgotten as the soundtrack of screaming, moaning, and yelling assaulted me. Near the end of the hour I wondered if just maybe those who had closed the cell door behind me had forgotten about me and had wandered off to lunch or were engrossed in conversations with passersby.

It must have looked odd for me to emerge from the cell with a smile on my face but I was relieved to see friendly welcoming faces on the other side. May that be so for those we punish every day.


Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2015 – Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration & Systems of Exploitation

Hundreds of Christian advocates were fired up for justice in the light of the difficult issues and injustices in domestic U.S. and international criminal justice and immigrant detention system at the 13th Annual National Gathering of Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) for Global Peace with Justice. The annual event and Congressional advocacy day, held in Washington, D.C. from April 17-20, 2015, was entitled, “Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation.”

“Together we have joined in a movement to shake the foundations of systems of human exploitation, including a prison-industrial system that incarcerates millions of people in the U.S. and abroad,” said Doug Grace, Executive Director of EAD. “A world that incarcerates so many and allows some to profit from the exploitation of slave, trafficked and forced labor remains far from the ‘beloved community’ which we are all called to seek.”
EARTH DAY: Blob of warm Pacific water threatens ecosystem, may intensify drought

Marine life seen swimming in unusual places. Water temperatures warmer than they should be. No snow where there should be feet of it.

Some scientists are saying "The Blob" could be playing a factor.

As monikers go, the blob doesn't sound very worrisome.

But if you're a salmon fisherman in Washington or a California resident hoping to see the end of the drought, the blob could become an enemy of top concern.

A University of Washington climate scientist and his associates have been studying the blob -- a huge area of unusually warm water in the Pacific -- for months.
New Mexico Church Begins Solar Panel Installation On Earth Day

Over the next 25 years, the United Church of Santa Fe United Church of Christ will save 30 million gallons of water and 50,000 gallons of gasoline, take the equivalent of 105 vehicles off the road, and provide the carbon dioxide sequestration of 13,000 trees. This Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, the church in Santa Fe, N.M., breaks ground on the 44-panel solar array that will allow the congregation to accomplish all of this and more as the church begins generating its own electricity using nothing but the clean, renewable desert sunshine.

"We are moving ahead and thought Earth Day would be a good day to get started," said the Rev. Talitha Arnold, pastor of United Church of Santa Fe. "Not only does this project save energy, but the amount of water being saved from coal energy production, trees being saved, all of that is phenomenal."

"Seizing an Alternative," A Global Conference for the Planet

Nearly 1,000 presenters from some 30 countries and as many as 80 areas of specialty are coming together in Claremont, CA on June 4-7 for the most ambitious transdisciplinary conference ever held on behalf of the planet. All are invited to attend.

Titled “Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization,” the conference focuses on the big ideas that matter for a thriving biosphere. Attendees can join working groups to explore the foundations needed for an ecological civilization.
Christian Unity Gathering dates are coming up FAST!

The 2015 NCC's signature event, the annual Christian Unity Gathering, will again be held outside of Washington, DC at the Hilton Washington Dulles International Airport. This year's gathering will continue our focus on Mass Incarceration as well as spend significant time examining NCC's second priority area, Interfaith Relations with a Focus on Peace. In addition, there will be a special service of commemoration for the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide held at the Washington National Cathedral. This service will include visitors from around the world and from many levels of government as well.

Thursday's keynote address will be given by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee. During the Liberian civil war, Gbowee organized Christian and Muslim women to demonstrate together, founding Liberian Mass Action for Peace and launching protests and a sex strike. Gbowee's part in helping to oust Charles Taylor was featured in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. This will be a powerful event you will not want to miss!
Employment Opportunities

Riverside Church, New York City

Director of Children & Families: In working towards forming a community centered on becoming "One Riverside," the Director of Children and Families will oversee our ministry for welcoming youth into The Riverside Church while accompanying them along the path of discipleship. The Director of Children and Families will develop a vision for a vibrant ministry that extends beyond the walls of our building into our neighborhood of Harlem and actively engages laity, community partners, and volunteers in pursuit of that goal. He/She will provide support to our children and their families while creating pathways for them to experience belonging, nurture, and a relationship with God through Jesus Christ within our community.