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Cultivating a Habit of Spiritually Grounded Activism
By Lisa Anderson, Auburn Theological Seminary

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In honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25), and in an attempt to infuse a new relevance into my usual observance of the Advent season I marked a portion of the four weeks that open the Christian liturgical year with the following blog entrees. During that time I committed to either begin or end each day with the discipline of not just thinking about or wishing for an end to violence against women, but I set out to compile a storehouse of resources to equip myself -- and others – with the kind of spiritual, intellectual and practical information required to act on behalf of a violence free world for women and girls.

While the process yielded many concrete pieces of advice, it was actually the habit of daily research and writing – of fixing my body, mind and spirit – on a discrete action for women, and anchoring that action within my own faith tradition that was as significant as the blog the resources themselves.

As you read through these entrees I hope you take advantage of whatever particular bit of content that is relevant to you. But I also hope you will consider where the disciplines and practices of your own spiritual lives meet a wider world of feminist action for social change.

Scroll to see Auburn's 16-day toolkit--one resource for each day from 11/25-12/10--to commemorate the women in your faith community. We invite you to share your comments, including resources and insights from your own tradition or perspective. 

Thursday, November 25th, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999, this day marks the beginning of sixteen days of activism against gender violence across the globe. It will culminate in the observance of Human Rights Day on December 10, 2010.

As a U.S. born Christian religious leader, the proximity of this day to Thanksgiving and its overlap into the Advent season is not lost on me. In fact, I am challenged by where this global commemoration sits in relation the so-called ‘holiday season.’ Is my ability to combat gender injustice as fine tuned as my ability to observe the rites and rituals of the season?’ How does my faith inform my activism on behalf of the elimination of violence against women? And what are some of the faith-based and other resources I can rely on in this effort?

From November 25th to December 10th I will interrupt the usual pre-occupations of the season with a response to these questions. For sixteen days I will begin to build up a store-house of scriptural references, prayers, links, or other resources designed to equip religious leaders with some of the basic tools they need in order to make the elimination of violence against women a reality.

December 8
Day 14 – Social Media and Social Change
No matter how many times it is said these days the importance of social media to our justice work cannot be stressed often enough. Similarly, recalling the pivotal role students and younger activists -- those in their teens and 20’s – play as thought-leaders and opinion-makers on the global scene today must never be far from the strategic and imaginative consciousness of activists of earlier generations.

When I visit Web sites like STANDnow.org I am reminded of these facts. STAND is the student-led division of the Genocide Intervention Network. Their mission is to envision and work for a world in which the international community protects civilians from genocidal violence. STAND empowers individuals and communities with the tools to prevent and stop genocide.

Click here to learn more about Stand's phenomenal work.

Learn more about Auburn's investment in and reliance on emerging leaders through our leadership development program, Face to Face/Faith to Faith.

Find Auburn on Facebook
and Twitter.

December 7, 2010
Day 12 – Recalling the Source of Our Strength
I have always loved writing and sharing prayers in community, and for three weeks this Fall I had the opportunity to do so for a film screening and discussion series I led at three local Manhattan churches.

Tell Me A Story: Women’s Experience as a Resource for Social Change explored the connection between women’s experiences of the divine and social justice. In particular the series focused on the role the rituals of religious life -- singing, praying and preaching -- play in transforming systems of injustice and oppression.

On this 12th day of activism for gender justice I offer one of the series three to the activist tool kit -- a reminder of the essential spiritual grounding our petitions, praises and intercessions provide for our social change work.

Merciful God, you hold us all in your loving arms, and see us all at once in the fullness of your being. Open us up to even a small measure of that expansive and embracing love. Help us to bridge the gaps of disconnection and unknowing that keep us apart and that block our vision of how richly and intimately interconnected we are with one another. Sometimes we look too high God, for a vision of that interconnectedness. Teach us to venture into the low and small places – recalling for us that it is always by You, and through You, and in You that the great good we long to effect in the world is born. Guide our feet Lord, in the work of love and justice, one small act at a time.  Amen.

Learn more about the films in the series
A Small Act
Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Pushing the Elephant

December 6 , 2010
Day 12- Creating Sustainable Global Women’s Movement!
In 2007 Auburn Seminary honored Zainab Salbi at our Lives of Commitment Breakfast, Auburn's annual signature event celebrating the activism of women of faith across traditions and generations.

Zainab’s work as the founder of Women to Women International made her an obvious choice and marks her as a key leader in the battle for gender justice. The mission of Women to Women International is to provide women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency.

While the issues confronting women in situations of conflict and crisis require myriad approaches and solutions, according to Zainab, the attainment of true and lasting economic empowerment at all levels, is what binds all of the issues impacting women's lives together.

Hear Zainab reflect the economics of gender justice at the 2010 Women Moving Millions conference.

Click here to learn more about the work of Women Moving Millions.

December 5
Day 11- Staying in the Loop
Staying informed about the realities of women’s lives on a small and grand scale is essential in the fight for gender justice. Women’s eNews is an essential source for access to the kind of substantive reporting needed for equipping leaders of intellectual rigor and spiritual depth – two of the qualities Auburn believes 21st century change agents must possess in abundance.

The religion page of Women’s eNews is especially noteworthy. Click here to explore the site. 

Other Web sites worth adding to the favorites column on your toolbar -

National Council for Research on Women

Women of Color Policy Forum

December 4
Day 10 – Feminist Theology and Gender Justice
Although often unknown outside of the academy feminist theologians and ethicists have long been at the forefront of the fight for gender justice. The uniqueness of their contribution rests not only in the powerful ways in which they allow women’s experience to inform their critique of traditions, but in how they enliven and renew those traditions for individuals and communities. 

Learn about the remarkable scholarship and activism of some of Auburn's 'favorite feminists.'

Rev. Dr. Traci West
Dr. Anne Joh
Rabbi Amy Kalmanofsky
Dr.Jamillah Karim

December 3
Day 9 – Everyday Holiness
A woman to watch in the fight for gender justice is Rabbi Sharon Brous. Rabbi Brous is the founder of Ikar, a Jewish spiritual community that stands at the intersection of spirituality and social justice. Based in Los Angeles, the uniqueness of Ikar’s mission, like the impact of Rabbi Brous, pivots around what she calls a commitment to ‘everyday holiness.’
How we pray, work, play and engage each in life’s most mundane moments is as critical to creating communities of lasting healing and wholeness in the world as our grandest, most heroic gestures.

Read Rabbi Brous’s Hanukkah reflections on the necessity of cultivating everyday activism. 

Rabbi Brous participated in the 2010 Auburn program, How Women Will Change the World in the 21st Century. She has also been featured as an Auburn Religious Leader of the week.

December 2
Day 8 – Reflecting on Love at the Mid-point
Sometimes, what ‘women are up against’ in the world can feel overwhelming – the statistics that accompany a clear-eyed
understanding of what violence against women actually involves often rendering one speechless. And yet the hope and the joy, the beauty and the commitment to loving and being loved women have embodied throughout the ages renders the temptation to despair untenable.

Eight days into the sixteen days of activism against gender violence reminds me that achieving gender justice is as much about celebrating what 2010 Lives of Commitment honoree, Nurah Amat’ullah described ‘the pleasure’ of being a [Muslim] woman, as it is about railing against the myriad ways in which that pleasure would go unnoticed by the world!

And so in that spirit here are but a few resources to infuse our passion for justice for women with the witness of women embracing beauty, wonder and goodness!

Hear about and then subscribe to Aziazh Magazine, the quarterly celebrating the leadership and beauty of Muslim women.

Support the beauty and capacity of an emerging young woman leader.

December 1
Day 7- World AIDS Day
Today is World AIDS Day, and the theme of this year’s international time of awareness and activism against the global pandemic is ‘universal access and human rights.’ This means global leaders across the spectrum are committing themselves to making education and resources dedicated to the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS a basic human right for all.

For women, global action in this direction translates into more deliberate efforts to combat the underlying abuses against the rights of women that have long made them an especially vulnerable population. A religious leader currently on the forefront of such efforts is Bishop Yvette Flunder.

A long-time activist for LGBT communities of color, Bishop Flunder is the founder of Hazard-Ashley House and Walker House in Oakland and Restoration House in San Francisco. Both facilities are run through the Ark of Refuge, Inc., a non-profit agency which provides housing, direct services, education and training for persons affected by HIV/AIDS in the Bay Area, throughout the USA and in three countries in Africa. Restoration House is a dual-diagnosis residential facility for African-American women and the first of its kind in San Francisco. Walker House serves persons in recovery and living with HIV in Oakland, CA. The Ark provides HIV/AIDS education and prevention services targeting the African American and African faith community. 

To learn more about Bishop Flunder and her multifaceted, radically inclusive AIDS outreach work click here.

Meet Bishop Flunder at the upcoming Auburn event, The Calling on Tuesday, December 7, 2010. Click here to register.

November 30
Day 6 – Poverty Breeds Violence; Poverty IS Violence!

The connections between ending violence against women and the implementation of just economic policy is an obvious one, but as the debates rage on in the US over extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest American’s while also ending unemployment benefits for the poor – the point cannot be made often enough.

According to UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women), women make up 70% of the world’s poor. And ‘gender-based violence not only violates human rights, but also hampers productivity, reduces human capital and undermines economic growth.

In the face of such stark realities religious leaders from across the country, including Auburn’s president, the Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson -- are taking a stand.

Click here to sign onto the letter to President Obama opposing tax cuts for the wealthy, and to share it with your networks via Facebook and Twitter.

Hear honorees from the 2010 Lives of Commitment Breakfast reflect on Women, God and Money 

November 29
Day 5 – An Activist Profile
This morning as I headed into work after the long holiday weekend I thought about the many inspiring women out there working for the kind of systemic change necessary to end violence against women the world over. The inspiration such women provide is one of the prime motivators of my own work – the realization that the community of committed and impassioned activists is always on the move – keeping me focused for the long-haul that is social justice work.

Alisa Del Tufo is one such motivating woman. A social justice entrepreneur of long-standing, Alisa has changed the debate on family violence and other deep social challenges by shifting attention and resources to root causes. She is committed to the development of community engagement strategies, prevention and participant driven solutions rather than services and crisis intervention. As the founder of Threshold Collaborative she is helping others learn to solve their challenges by using these methods. Threshold’s mission is to build a more caring, just and engaged society. Using narrative, opinion gathering and civic engagement, Threshold seeks to enhance empathy and action, helping to make individuals and communities more peaceful, strong and healthy.

After founding Sanctuary for Families in 1983 she began using narrative and constituent focused, social change strategies in 1992. Del Tufo founded CONNECT (1993) to end family and gender violence by transforming the beliefs that fuel abusive behavior, and empowering those closest to the problem to come together to find solutions. CONNECT supports men and boys as well as women, and encourages self and community empowerment to break the cycle of violence. She has continued to refine and develop community engagement approaches to serious social challenges through Threshold Collaborative, which has addressed issues as diverse as school failure, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, economic disparity and child abuse.

To learn more about Threshold Collaborative click here.

Watch for Alisa’s contributions to Auburn’s ongoing work in the Women’s Multifaith Program in the coming months.November 30

November 28
Day 4 – Longing for Peaceful Families During this Advent Season
Today is the first Sunday of Advent and alongside of my weekly candle-lighting ritual I mark this period of longing and preparation for birth of the Christ child and the end of violence against women by celebrating the work of the Peaceful Families Project.

PFP is a national organization devoted to ending domestic violence in Muslim families. Founded in 2000 by anti-violence pioneer, Sharifa Alkhateeb, (1946-2004), PFP facilitates awareness workshops for Muslim leaders and communities, provides cultural sensitivity trainings for professionals, conducts research, and develops a wide range of resources and tools usable within and outside of Muslim communities.

PFP offers many ways for individuals and communities to become involved in their work. One of the most exciting is their Take a Stand Video Campaign. Spearheaded by Sharifa’s daughter, photographer, author, and PFP co-director, Maha Alkhateeb, the campaign provides a platform for folks of all ages, backgrounds and perspectives within the Muslim community to ‘speak, sing, act and pray’ for an end to domestic violence.

To learn more about Peaceful Families Project, including how you can become a part of the video campaign, click here.

November 27, 2010
Day Three – Your Silence Will Not Protect You
In her ground-breaking essay, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, the late poet Audre Lorde wrote, ‘I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared…’ These words leap to mind as on day three of the sixteen days of activism against gender violence, I recall the recent launch of the Voices of Our Future Speaking and Media Tour sponsored by World Pulse.

World Pulse is a global media and communication network devoted to bringing women a global voice. Through broadcasts, blogs, citizen journalism, a magazine and numerous other action projects, World Pulse unites women's voices from around the world into a powerful force for social change. The Voices of Our Future Speaking and Media Tour highlights the citizen journalism of spokeswomen from the Philippines, Nepal and Bolivia.

To learn more about World Pulse, including how you can become a part of the movement to amplify the voices of women committed to social change, click here.

The full text of Audre Lorde’s essay appears in her book, Sister Outsider.

November 26, 2010
Day Two – Activism in Daily Life
Day two of the sixteen and an important post-Thanksgiving Day activity will include watching and discussing the film, Pushing the Elephant with family and friends. Pushing the Elephant chronicles the story of Rose Mapendo and how she escaped the ethnic violence of the Democratic Republic of Congo to become a vital voice for healing and reconciliation. The mother of ten children, Rose’s story is of particular significance in this countdown to Human Rights Day, as the intimate and tender nature of her account puts flesh on the bones of the suffering of literally millions of men, women and children in this war-torn region.

I am inspired to share this film with the people closest to me during a time of ordinary celebration because one of the things that makes Pushing the Elephant so powerful is how seamlessly Rose’s commitment to end rape and repression in the Congo is woven into the life she now leads with her family in Arizona. ‘Activism demystified,’ is how I like to think of it.

To learn more about Pushing the Elephant and Mapendo International click here.

Stay tuned for prayers and study questions about the film series developed for the Women’s Multifaith Program entitled Tell Me A Story.

November 25, 2010
Day One – Recalling an Early Feminist Mentor

Day one of the blog series inspired by the sixteen days of activism against gender violence puts me in mind of a choice bit of essential reading from my seminary days. Texts of Terror, written by feminist biblical scholar, Dr. Phyllis Trible is an excellent resource for religious leaders interested in exploring how the story of violence against women is rendered in sacred texts.

In it Trible interrogates some of the most unsettling stories of female suffering in Hebrew and Christian scripture, recalling the stories of Hagar (Genesis 4:21-5:1), Tamar (Genesis 38), the Unnamed Woman in the book of Judges (Judges 19:1-30) and the story of Jephthath’s daughter (Judges11:1-12:7). Alongside of her piercing analysis Trible challenges readers to wrestle with the place such stories can and should occupy within our faith communities.

Written more than two decades ago her insights continue to enlighten and compel a new generation of theological thinkers and activists.

To read an excerpt from Texts of Terror click here. 

Phyllis Trible is Professor of Biblical Studies at Wake Forest University. In 2009 she was a part of the teaching team for Auburn’s first Seminarian Program on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. 

Lisa Anderson is Associate Director of Educational Programs and Director of the Women’s Multifaith Program at Auburn Theological Seminary. As an institute for religious leadership, Auburn equips bold and resilient leaders with the tools and resources they need to bridge religious divides, build community, pursue justice, and heal the world. Lisa’s work with the Women’s Multifaith Program focuses on identifying the specific ways in which this broad vision can address the particular leadership needs and challenges women face. A trained theologian, Lisa holds a Masters of Divinity and Masters of Philosophy degree from Union Theological Seminary. Currently, she is a Union Ph.D candidate in systematic theology specializing in Christian doctrines and liberation theologies. Lisa has taught courses in Black, Womanist, LGBT theologies, Christian ethics and liturgy, and designed and led seminars on the connection between faith and social justice. Her dissertation, entitled, On Love, Liberation and Original Sin: A Black Queer Meditation explores how LGBT communities of color can critically interrogate and radically integrate classical conceptions of sin and grace into an emerging perspective informed by the particularity of their encounter with the Divine.


Auburn Theological Seminary is an institute for religious leadership that faces the challenges of our fragmented, complex, and violent time. We envision religion as a catalyst and resource for a new world—one in which difference is celebrated, abundance is shared, and people are hopeful, working for a future that is better than today.

Auburn equips bold and resilient leaders—religious and secular, women and men, adults and teens—with the tools and resources they need for our multifaith world.We provide them with education, research, support, and media savvy, so that they can bridge religious divides, build community, pursue justice, and heal the world.

To learn more about Auburn, visit our Web site at www.AuburnSeminary.org.

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