Monday, July 7, 2014

The 4th from afar

YAGM Hungary meeting with the Phiren Amenca coordination team
The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. I’ve always been particularly glad that the founding fathers declared independence in mid-summer, and I’m equally happy that it’s usually a big family holiday for me.  
Of course, this year was different. On the morning of the 4th I took a 4:30am bus that would connect me to a 5:15am train to get into Budapest for a 10am meeting.  I’ve written before about Phiren Amenca—a dialogue, education, and voluntary service network that connects Roma and non-Roma.  Phiren Amenca and its people have been an important part of this year for me in terms of understanding my community seeing it within the broader context of Roma in Hungary, Roma in Europe, and ongoing human rights activism.  What I’ve learned through Phiren Amenca undoubtedly has applications with marginalized peoples at home, but that’s a discussion for another time.
So we were happy to have this final meeting with Phiren Amenca to share stories and approach the question of “what do we do with this?”  As I said to the group that gathered, often times the moments that test our ability to truly dialogue with others are when people disagree and don't equally acknowledge the reality or complexity of pluralism. I would argue those types of dialogues are more important, albeit difficult. But there is also something energizing and hopeful about talking with others who, although we don’t agree on everything, are willing to approach pluralism and and social justice with openness and eagerness.

                      YAGM Hungary meeting with the Phiren Amenca coordination team

As chance would have it, we were able to join a group of young volunteers and activists who were attending a student session at Budapest's European Youth Center on the role of religious communities in Roma and anti-discrimination work.  Around the table were representatives from the UK, US, Canada, Ireland, Cyprus, Bangladesh, Romania, Hungary, France, Germany.  
The conversation was especially rich because we could share stories, and then others could respond with questions and reactions from their perspective. Some of what came out of the meeting will appear in my newsletter (coming soon!), but I want to share one particular point here.  The convener, Richard Otterness, said that he hopes addressing hate, poverty, discrimination, and violence aren’t specialties of any one person, or one organization.  In other words, we need to be alert and intentional about safeguarding and advocating for others in all realms of life. To do this, as we discussed, relationships have to come before “projects” that fight injustices.  And we need to work with others, and not merely do things for them.  It sounds simple—maybe too simple—but it demands time and emotional energy that, I think inevitably, we lead to all of us learning from and serving each other.
A participant from Ireland had a great call to action as it relates to the role of churches in social justice: too often, people, churches, organizations, governments provide tangible and sometimes immediate aid to people in need.  While we’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, it seems that there is also a call to address underlying reasons why people are hungry or naked in the first place.
In the evening, Ole and I joined Meredith, her American family, and her Hungarian host families for a typical 4th of July BBQ.  It was great to share this holiday with so many new people.  So many things about the celebration were so typically American—fireworks, s’mores, potato salad, obnoxious red white and blue decorations—while other things were so typically Hungarian—palinka, soccer match on TV, folk music and dancing.
Here’s to a great 4th of July in Hungary, and a word of thanks for people in uniform who are also away from home, perhaps in dangerous places, who keep us safe and allow us to wander this world as free people free to love and serve each other.


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