Religious Community, Social Justice, Incarcerated Youth: An Interview with Terri Stewart

I “met” Terri Stewart online in 2011 when I visited her blog Beguine Again, which at that time was entitled Cloaked Monk. “Beguine” Again – after the Beguines, a lay semi-monastic Christian order of the 13th-16th centuries in Northern Europe. It was committed to – among other things – caring for the sick and the poor.

I was impressed with Terri’s commitment to spiritual ritual and her openness to the wisdom and beauty in religious traditions, including traditions other than her own. I valued her respect for diversity, both social and spiritual, so I eventually invited her to become the Sunday Chaplain for what was then a blog entitled Into the Bardo.

Since that time, we’ve evolved into a group (The Bardo Group) of clerics and poets, writers and other creatives representing varied traditions and cultures and sharing the core values of respect and nonviolence. We work in the interest of peace, sustainability and social justice. We publish The BeZine. Our thirteenth issue comes out on November 15th. The theme is At-risk Youth. Terri is taking the lead for that issue, making this the perfect time for readers and colleagues to get to know her better. Hence this interview … Enjoy!

Youth Chaplaincy Program Founder, Terri Stewart. Christmas at the King County Youth Detention Center, Seattle, Washington
Youth Chaplaincy Program Founder, Terri Stewart. Christmas at the King County Youth Detention Center, Seattle, Washington

Jamie: I have a sense that you were committed to social justice long before you decided to study theology and become a minister. Is that correct? What was the stimulus and what was the first project on which you worked?

Terri: When I first joined the church in 2001, I was looking for a connection to community. What I discovered was inequality in the church and an avoidance of social issues that drove wedges between people. It was like that uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner. Everybody is at the table, but only a few were allowed at the grown-up’s table. And! disagreements were glossed over for the sake of unity.

My biggest issue with the church was its lack of inclusion for LGBTQIAP individuals. In response to that, and as a mirror of the greater structure of the United Methodist Church (UMC) world-wide church, I founded the Church & Society committee. This was an attempt to get people talking and to be able to step into social issue learning and leadership. I soon found myself embroiled in controversy as two issues marched through Washington state. In 2004, there was a church trial in the town next to my home town that was an attempt to defrock a lesbian pastor. Also, just prior to the trial, I was involved in a march on the capitol in Olympia for marriage equality.

The upshot was that I was yelled at like I was a child! “Are you trying to destroy the church?”

Then, when I went to seminary, I chose a Jesuit (The Society of Jesus) institution. Liberation theology, post-colonial theology, process theology…all of these things continued to crack me open to the human condition and to the interconnectedness of all that is.

As my first forays into social justice was basically full inclusion for LGBTQIAP individuals within the UMC church, I would count myself unsuccessful. The UMC church continues to have harmful language in its official rulebook (the ominously named Book of Discipline). I continue to advocate and am on the national board of Reconciling Ministries Network. Our goal has been full inclusion. I think we are beginning to realize that we need a second goal, that of creating safe space.

Also! At the same time this was all swirling around, I started volunteering with Kairos Prison Ministry in 2003. Kairos provides spiritual renewal retreats within the prison setting. Working with Kairos (Ancient Greek for “the right time” as opposed to chronos which is “watch time”) started me on a path towards understanding the full systems that impact the lives of those who are incarcerated.

Jamie: How and when did the focus transition to incarcerated youth? What is the most important thing you would like us to understand about the youth being served?

Terri: As I worked with Kairos, I started out working with incarcerated men. Then with incarcerated women. And then with women whose loved ones were incarcerated. I worked my way into leadership positions. Eventually, we thought, “What about youth whose loved ones are incarcerated?” So we wrote a program just for them.

At the same time, I was called into ordained ministry. I went to seminary. In my second year of seminary, I was required to do an internship. My internship was at the King County Youth Detention Center (KCJDC), Seattle, Washington. I basically never left.

The thing to know about the youth at KCJDC and at the state level institutions I serve, is that they are traumatized youth. The average ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score for incarcerated youth is 92 out of 100. Most of us would be in therapy with that high of a score! Instead, these youth are incarcerated. We could change that by having trauma informed teaching practices in communities where generational trauma has occurred or by having mental health centers with trauma treatment available. Destigmatizing therapy would be grand!

Jamie: Tell us about Youth Chaplaincy Coalition, how other ministers may get involved and what the public can do to help.

Terri: The Youth Chaplaincy Coalition developed out of my internship at KCJDC. We realized that there was a need to organize, train, and supervise religious volunteers so that the youth would get the best care possible.

While we started at KCJDC, we now are state-wide. I run a mentoring program called MAP that aids youth in developing transition plans for when they go home. Since the kids go home all over Washington, I need volunteers in every city!

My dream is to teach people across the world how the MAP program works and how easy it is to walk with those affected by incarceration. There is also a training called “Healing Communities” that teaches communities how to use their gifts in aid of those affected by incarceration. If every church was a Healing Community and every city had trained mentors, we could transform the world! Well, we could at least change one child’s life. If you want to be involved or talk to me, you can email me at YCC-Chaplain@thechurchcouncil.org

My biggest need is financial support. I take a very small stipend and am responsible for all my own fundraising needs. I often make decisions this way, “Should I do my work today? Or should I do fundraising today?” Although I should view fundraising as work, I often give it a lower prioritization! So donations would be especially appreciated. I persuaded the Church Council of Greater Seattle to adopt the organization so we are a legit 501c3 and we have an accountant doing all the financial stuff! That is a great gift to me!

Donations can be sent to:
Youth Chaplaincy Coalition
PO Box 18467
Seattle, WA 98118

Be sure and put YCC or Youth Chaplaincy on the memo line.

Jamie: What made you decide to go into ministry? What is the most rewarding aspect of that commitment?

Terri: When I first experienced a call to ministry, I thought I was going bananas. My first reaction was, “Who me?” or “I must be over-tired!” The call I experienced felt like a direct communication from the Divine telling me to go deeper. As I went deeper into understanding the call of ministry, I discovered it was a call to ordained ministry.

The most rewarding part of the commitment to a sacramental ministry is when I see a person’s eyes light up with the understanding that they are, indeed, holy and good—a living sacrament.

Jamie: Tell us about “cloaked monk” and the place of ritual in our lives.

The Cloaked Monk developed out of a commitment to daily spiritual practices in ordinary life (the monk part) and that I was kind of disguised—like wearing a cloak!

I believe that ritual marks out sacramentality in our daily lives. Sacramentality is that connection to one another and to the Divine. It is a way of marking time that moves away from chronological time (Greek: chronos) and into marking the fullness of time (Greek: kairos). It also allows us to fully be present without living in the past or rushing into the future. This is especially important in our transient age of moving here and there faster and faster. Rituals grounded in generational practices connect us through time and space to another age. There is also the place for new rituals created that uplift new and modern experiences that our ancestors would never have imagined. They can be a celebration, a grounding, a remembering, or a lament.

The ancient Celts had thin places. They were places that the veil between the earth and beyond seem especially vulnerable to one another. Places where the things of heaven could pass to the earth and where things of the earth could pass to heaven. Stonehenge is one such place. Or labyrinths. Ritual, when it is meaningful, creates this thin place.

Jamie: Why should readers care about people and issues that don’t seem to touch their lives directly?

Terri: Unfortunately, it seems that issues of justice and mercy do not intersect with ordinary lives. Incarceration seems far away from us. Refugees in Syria seem far away. Violence in Palestine seems so very far away. But it all tangles together like my bag of knitting yarn. I am a very poor knitter. My yarns always get tangled and I don’t know what to do. And when it is in my bag, it will suck in all the other little things in there! Resources or things I might need become tangled up in the yarn. Those are resources that I need. They might be resources that others need.

In Washington, we spend about $9,600 per student to educate them. We spend about $45,000 per prisoner to incarcerate them. What we know is that by reading scores in the 4th grade, we can predict incarceration rates because we do not fully fund our schools. What if we were able to direct our resources into education? All students would benefit.

I imagine that it is like boats rising in a tide. A rising tide raises all boats. Yours, mine, everyone’s!

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© 2015, most words and all photographs, Terri Stewart, All rights reserved

The BeZine, June 2015, Vol. 1, Issue 8, Table of Contents with Links

June 15, 2015

 DIVERSITY/INCLUSION

The evolution will be poemed, painted, photographed, documented, blogged, set to music and told in story.

The evolution will be delivered by a rainbow of human beings, everyday sort of folk ….  

The evolution will not be televised.

There are people for whom the arts exists almost exclusively as an aid to social change, to political discourse– not as some sort of didacticism – but as a discussion, a wake up call, a way of approaching some truth, finding some meaning, encouraging resolution. Many of us here number among them. All of us hope for kind, just and rational social change.

We write and dream about an inclusive appreciation of diversity that will promote a world without war, a world that respects all sentient life, all humans no matter their race or national origin, religion or lack thereof, economic or social status, mental or physical disability, age or sex, or sexual preference or gender orientation. We dream of a humanity that recognizes itself as an element of the natural environment not something apart from and over it.

We may be inspired by personal experience like Colin Stewart – our youngest ever contributor – who bravely articulates his experience of being bullied and marginalized in school in No Child Is Safe. Michael Watson, a therapist, a Native American shaman and a polio victim brings us  Still Here: Meditations on Disabilism and Lara/Trace Writes About Residential Schools, those schools established ” to save the person by removing the Indian.”

For some people the impetus is the direct experience of war, which is the ultimate expression of hate and exclusion. Silva Merjanian gifts us with an essay this month, As with any war …  Silva grew up in a war-torn Beirut. And, new to us is Michael Dickel, an American-Israeli who offers three poems from his new book War Surrounds Us.

Priscilla Galasso, whose appreciation for nature has birthed so many wonderful essays here, askes us to consider the diversity in nature, worthy of nurture and celebration not for ourselves but for its very isness in her essay Diversity and Car(ry)ing Capacity — Spiritual Lessons from Nature. 

The love of our children is a sure motivation to write about and work for respect and inclusion. We see this in Naomi Baltuck’s touching Mine (yours, ours), the second of our two lead features.

The muse is inspired by empathy and ideals, observation and proximity. Terri Stewart gives us one of our lead pieces this month, a moving poem, Created to Be Included. Sharon Frye shows a tender understanding of a Vietnamese refugee in her poem At Model Nails. This is the first time Sharon’s work is included here, but her poetry has found a home in many other publications including The Galway Review, The Portuguese journal, “O Equador das Coisas,” Mad Swirl, and The Blue Max Review (Ireland).

Sometimes the lives and work of  people who lived at other times and/or other places resonates for us. Roses and Their Homilies is an homage to Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, the stellar poet of 17th Century New Spain. The clerical authority of her day simply could not put  her intellect together with her womanhood. Tragically for her and for us, this caused her to give up her writing five years before her death.

Each month the core team picks a theme.  We don’t dictate the slant.  We give everyone free rein. It’s always a surprise to see how the theme is addressed, who will hammer the theme dead on and who will address it obliquely. This month, when all the work was read, sorted and organized, most of us chose to “celebrate” diversity by illustrating just how slow and insufficient are the reforms and just how resistant humanity can be to inclusion. There is some deeply passionate work here.

I can’t help but think that the justice so many of us seek is rooted in transforming values. Hence, it is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Perhaps it is most evident in our blogosphere and social networking, in the heart-born prose and poems of simple folk like you and me with nary a politician or corporatist among us.

Perhaps the true evolution – the one that will foster permanent transformation – is a bottom-up thing, more likely to be blogged than broadcast, rising from homespun poetry and outsider art – sometimes rudimentary and awkward, but always quiet and true and slow like a secret whispered from one person to the next. It is something stewing even as we write, paint, make music, read and encourage one another. There is bone and muscle in what we do. Individually we have small “audiences.” Collectively we speak to enormous and geographically diverse populations.

I think I hear keyboards clicking and bare feet marching. Or perhaps poetic fancy has caught my spirit tonight and all is dream …I hope not. Write on … Read on … and be the peace …

So let some impact from my words echo resonance 
lend impulse to the bright looming dawn

Dennis Brutus (1924-2009), South African poet, journalist, activist and educator

In the spirit of peace, love and community,
Jamie Dedes

TABLE OF CONTENTS WITH LINKS

Diversity/Inclusion

Lead Features

Created To Be Included, Terri Stewart
Mine (yours, ours), Naomi Baltuck

LGBT

Darkness,  Colin Jon david Stewart
No Child Is Safe, Terri Stewart and Colin Jon david Stewart

Nature

Diversity and Car(ry)ing Capacity, Priscilla Galasso
Putting the “Action” in Activism, Corina Ravenscraft
The Clearest Way to the Universe, James Cowles

Native American

Lara/Trace Writes About Residential Schools, Michael Watson

Disabled

Still Here: Writing Against Disablism, Michael Watson

Refugee

At Model Nails, Sharon Frye

War/Conflict

Again, Michael Dickel
Musical Meditations, Michael Dickel
The Roses, Michael Dickel
As with any war …, Silva Merjanian
Borrowed Sugar, Silva Merjanian

Women

Roses and Their Homilies, Jamie Dedes

General Interest

Essay

British Bulldogs, Great Speeches … and poetry, John Anstie

Poetry

Rooftop Icarus, Joeseph Hesch
Prelude, Voice Aquiver, Sharon Frye
Growth Ring, Sharon Frye
Time Lapse, Liliana Negoi
for us, Liliana Negoi
dancing toward infinity, Jamie Dedes

Photo Stories

An Open Book, Naomi Baltuck
If Not for His Wife, Naomi Baltuck

OUR FABULOUS HEADER PHOTOGRAPH THIS MONTH IS THE WORK OF TERRI STEWART UNDER CC (BY-NC) LICENSE.

BIOS WITH LINKS TO OTHER WORKS BY OUR CORE TEAM AND GUEST WRITERS

FOR UPDATES AND INSPIRATION “LIKE” OUR FACEBOOK PAGE, THE BARDO GROUP/BEGUINE AGAIN

MISSION STATEMENT

Back Issues Archive
October/November 2014, First Issue
December 2014, Preparation
January 2015, The Divine Feminine
February 2015, Abundance/Lack of Abundance
March 2015, Renewal
April 2015, interNational Poetry Month
May 2015, Storytelling

We are celebrating diversity … and inclusion …

AT THE BeZINE OUR THEME FOR JUNE IS DIVERSITY and we are celebrating – we are celebrating diversity in all its manifestations: sexual/gender orientation, race, religion, culture, national origin … even nature. What we are truly celebrating is respect – as inclusion – as a big step toward peace, understanding, justice … even environmental stewardship. The June issue of The BeZine is in process and will publish on June 15th. Please join us then. It’s an exciting issue. You won’t be disappointed. Meanwhile, we bring you this feature from the U.S. Library of Congress. 

Warmly,
Jamie

Originally published on The Bardo Group/Beguine Again blog, June 13, 2015.

This flag celebrates LGBT pride. Photo courtesy of Ludovic Bertron under CC BY 2.0 license.
This flag celebrates LGBT pride. Photo courtesy of Ludovic Bertron under CC BY 2.0 license.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT Pride Month) is currently celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. The Stonewall riots were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. In the United States the last Sunday in June was initially celebrated as “Gay Pride Day,” but the actual day was flexible. In major cities across the nation the “day” soon grew to encompass a month-long series of events. Today, celebrations include pride parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia and concerts, and LGBT Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Memorials are held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes or HIV/AIDS. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

In 1994, a coalition of education-based organizations in the United States designated October as LGBT History Month. In 1995, a resolution passed by the General Assembly of the National Education Association included LGBT History Month within a list of commemorative months.

LGBT History Month  is also celebrated with annual month-long observances of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, along with the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements. National Coming Out Day (October 11), as well as the first “March on Washington” in 1979, are commemorated in the LGBT community during LGBT History Month.

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Executive and Legislative Documents
The Law Library of Congress has compiled guides to commemorative observations, including a comprehensive inventory of the Public Laws, Presidential Proclamations and congressional resolutions related to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month Pride.

– The United States Library of Congress