Social Justice Session: Place and Space

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Chloe continued the series by sharing about Place and Space.  


Place and Space

“How could our hearts be large enough for heaven if they are not large enough for earth?” – Scott Russell Sanders

Close your eyes and think of your favorite place besides your home in a town, city, or village that you’ve spent a lot of time in.

Open your eyes and reflect on the place you chose. Why did you choose it? Do you have a memory or memories associated with that place? What makes that place comforting, exciting, or necessary to you?

When geographers talk about “place,” they aren’t just talking about a physical location. In fact, there are three fundamental aspects that create a “place.” First, there is the fixed, objective aspect of place: it is a location that can be found on a map. Second, there is the “locale” of place. Locale refers to both the materials that make up the place whether that be bricks and mortar or grass and swing-sets as well as the history of the place.  And finally there is the “sense” of place: the subjective, emotional, and personal attachment that individuals have for that place. Place is a meaningful location formed through ritual and routine. It is the local library down the road or the grassy public park behind the school. Space, on the other hand, is an undefined area without these layers of personal and shared meaning.

When we think about “environmental issues,” sometimes our minds go straight to Nature, or the idea of wild animals living in far-away lands untouched by humans.  When we think about Creation Care, we might think about protecting endangered species or national parks. It isn’t about people.

In his essay “Buckeye,” Scott Russell Sanders describes his childhood home in rural Ohio, now scarred and polluted. Grieving for the destruction of this place he loves, Sanders says:

“We had no shared lore, no literature, no art to root us there, to give us courage, to help us stand our ground. The only maps we had were those issued by the state, showing a maze of numbered lines stretched over emptiness. The Ohio landscape never showed up on postcards or posters, never unfurled like tapestry in films, rarely filled even a paragraph in books.”

This destruction of places is deeply connected to our nation’s racist history. White settlers, for example, saw this land as empty space, while the Native Americans that already lived here saw the land as a place, full of memory and meaning. What might be empty space for us, might be a sacred place for someone else.

The way that we see place and space has everything to do with the racism and ecological devastation built into our system. The theologian and pastor, Dr. Willie Jennings describes in his lecture “The Origin of Race,” the relationship between race and place, and he reveals the Church’s involvement in creating the current system of injustice. Sanctioned by the Church, White settlers forcibly displaced both Native Americans and the Africans that were brought to the Americas as slaves, violently separating them from the places that were steeped in generations of meaning and cultural identity. Jennings says this trauma has become a part of the land itself as well as generational trauma of those peoples. And he reveals what our role can be in addressing this injustice and generational trauma.

First, he tells us to both learn the history of our places and the spaces and to tell their stories. We must start asking questions like, who lived here before I did? What was this building before it was a library or a church? And who are my neighbors, past and present? Through her placement at Messiah College’s Center for Public Humanities, corps member Elisabeth connects with students who work on a project called Digital Harrisburg, an online curation of the social history of Harrisburg, which includes interactive historical maps of the city as well as a series of place-based oral histories called the “Finding Home Collection.” You can learn more about the history of Harrisburg as a place and the ongoing efforts to tell those stories here: https://digitalharrisburg.com/

Second, Jennings urges us to involve ourselves in what he calls the geographic shaping of our cities, towns, and villages. The fact that poverty can lie across train tracks, or a river, or sometimes just a few streets over from wealth is no accident. It is all based on human-made decisions that become policy through city planning and zoning. And because they are human-made, we can speak out and change them. You can learn more about racially-discriminating practices like redlining here: https://smartasset.com/mortgage/what-is-redlining, or find a City of Harrisburg planning commission or zoning hearing board meeting here: https://cityofharrisburg.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/115002346628-2019-HARB-ZHB-and-Planning-Commission-Schedule

And finally, Jennings says that we must reframe our theological and cultural ideas around Christian discipleship to focus on the here and now of place. He asserts that the Church’s historical emphasis on time and God’s kingdom as a future reality in a “New Heaven and Earth” is a heresy, declaring that space and place are just as important to God as time. Because of this, we need to develop a vision for the redemption of our spaces and places, of cities like Harrisburg. For Episcopalians, we have spiritual disciplines and practices, like prayer in the Daily Office or the liturgical calendar, that focus on the temporal aspect of our incarnate faith. But what about the spatial? How do we embrace our local places and spaces? What can you do now in the season of Lent to learn, confess, or fight the injustice within your city, town, or village?

If you have any comments or questions, be sure to start the discussion below. We will be continuing our social justice session next week with a discussion led by Katie about mental health.


Dr. Willie Jenning’s lecture “The Origin of Race” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5ZGwuwcHV0&t=2542s

Scott Russell Sanders, “Buckeye,” https://www.terrain.org/essays/29/sanders.htm

Tim Cresswell, Place: an Introduction

Above image by Manchester Archives+ in the public domain.

Behind the Placement: Madi

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


Hello, Sycamore Blog Reader!

It’s hard to believe that we’re nearly halfway through our service year here in Harrisburg. It feels like just yesterday that I moved to Front Street and began waking up each morning to the sight of the beautiful Susquehanna. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on all of the projects and tasks I’ve completed since beginning my placement at the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project (PULP) and the Community Justice Project (CJP).

PULP and CJP are both legal aid organizations, which represent both individual and groups of clients that would not otherwise be able to afford an attorney. PULP helps low-income electricity, gas, and water customers who have difficulty affording their bills or have recently been terminated. Much of PULP’s work centers on statewide issues related to access to utility services. CJP focuses on the civil rights of low-income communities, and their cases involve anything from domestic violence law to immigration law.

My job has a lot of variation, depending on the number of projects or meetings I have each day. I started off the year helping with research for a couple of big utility rate cases. When utility companies raise their rates, there is often a chunk of their customer base that cannot afford their higher bills. They may be on a fixed income or working a job with a low hourly wage, and if their electricity or heat bills are raised, they are at higher risk of service termination. This is a huge problem because it is difficult to have a happy and healthy home without electricity, heat, or water.

Contrary to what is shown in TV shows and movies, utility rate cases do not often involve glamorous and emotion-packed courtroom speeches or debates. Instead, there are hours and hours of behind-the-scenes work involving tedious reading just to get one citation’s worth of supporting evidence in a three hundred page-long written testimony. Perhaps this sounds like boring work to you, but to me, it is an exciting treasure hunt. I get to learn a lot while reading through different studies and laws and the pages and pages of reading are always worth the golden nugget of evidence that I’m looking for. I enjoy long-term, in-depth projects that require a lot of creative problem solving and critical thinking—and legal research certainly checks off boxes in all of those categories.

That’s not to say that my placement only involves staring at a screen for hours at a time. I have had many wonderful opportunities to go to conferences and meetings to learn more about other areas of law and government. In the fall, I was able to attend the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network’s annual conference, where legal aid attorneys from across the state came to Harrisburg and spent a day attending and presenting on their areas of legal expertise. I’ve been able to attend brainstorming policy sessions, presentations on housing law, and webinars about current legal issues. I’ve even been able to network with lawyers across the East Coast practicing the types of law and winning cases that I can only dream of.

However, my favorite tasks at my placements involve community engagement. At CJP, I’ve had many opportunities to mail letters to potential clients and create advertisements for free events offering legal advice. One long-term project at PULP serves the community members of Schuylkill County, where a disproportionate number of citizens are finding it difficult to afford water service. We are working with local community organizations and governments to collectively brainstorm and implement solutions to make water more affordable. PULP also has an advisory group made up mostly of former clients. They give meaningful insight about what’s going on in their communities and help PULP to decide what cases and projects to pursue.

Before my year with the Episcopal Service Corps, I was on the fence about law school. Now, halfway through my service year, I have since hopped off the fence and took off running towards preparations for the LSATs. I find great urgency and importance in the work being done at my placements, and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience so many sides of the practice of law, as well as to finally have discernment for my future vocation.

-Madi Keaton


Above image by Amy, used with permission under a Creative Commons License. No changes were made.

The Struggle and Hope of Advent

art blur bright candlelight
Photo by Hakan Erenler on Pexels.com

It is the end of the first week of Advent, and, as St. Stephen’s wonderful curate, Rev. Shayna Watson, reminded us last Sunday, we light the candle of Hope this week.

Advent is a time of waiting, anticipation, and joy. But, as one of our Corps Members, Chloe, said recently, it is also a time of facing the darkness of this season and learning to embrace it and the beauty within it, as well as the hope that comes out of it.

We wrestle with the difficult signs of our times- news reports about natural disasters and the realities of climate change, a difficult political climate, and the repercussions of a society that often does not prioritize those in need, to name just a few.

And yet, we people of faith must also find ways to have hope. As Corps Member Elisabeth said in a recent reflection, we wrestle with how to engage with the tragedies of our world, and in wrestling we come into contact with God, just as Jacob who wrestled the angel was touched by God (Genesis 32).

So, we struggle, and we also find ways to act. As author and professor Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Learning to walk in the dark is an especially valuable skill in times like these—or maybe I should say remembering how to walk in the dark, since people of faith have deep pockets of wisdom about how to live through long nights of the wilderness.”

Rev. Shayna also reminded us that, though we are overwhelmed by the problems of the world, we must take small steps. We join in evening prayer each Wednesday evening in December in solidarity with LGBTQ individuals. We are present at the anti- white supremacy rally at the Capitol that occurred on Sunday. We meet with others concerned about climate change at St. Stephen’s and the local community. We invite friends, neighbors, and church members to join with us and celebrate the season at “Cookies, Cocoa and Community” last Friday evening. And we keep the long, slow work of change through our Friday formation times and at our partner organizations: Capital Area Head Start, the Episcopal Diocese of Central PA, Beacon Clinic, Habitat for Humanity, the Sierra Club, The Pennsylvania Utility Law Project and the Community Justice Project, and the Messiah College Office of Public Humanities. The work that each of these organizations is doing contributes to our hope, and helps us to keep going.

 

May we continue to struggle and hope throughout this Advent season.

-Micalagh Moritz, Program Director

Social Justice Session: School to Prison Pipeline

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Ben started us out by providing insight into the School to Prison Pipeline cycle. 


School To Prison Pipeline

What is the School to Prison Pipeline?

  • A national trend where children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
  • Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline

Disparities this Creates:

  • One report found that black children constitute 18 percent of students, but they account for 46 percent of those suspended more than once
  • Another report found that while 8.6 percent of public school children have been identified as having disabilities that affect their ability to learn, these students make up 32 percent of youth in juvenile detention centers.

What is Causing This Epidemic?

  • Inadequate resources in public schools
  • Zero-tolerance policies that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of circumstances
  • School resource officers patrolling school hallways, often with little or no training in working with youth

Ways to Avoid the Pipeline:

  • Create supportive, healthy environments in schools
  • Provide flexible ways of intervention that account for the unique backgrounds that these children come from
  • Train teachers on the use of positive behavior support for at-risk student

Have Any Questions or Comments? Join the discussion in our comments section! 


Ben Shao, Sycamore House MemberBen Shao is a Corps Member with the Sycamore House for the 2018-19 year. His placements are at Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Harrisburg Area and Beacon Clinic. Read more about him here: Meet Ben.

 

Above image by Ken Teegardin, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

A Few of Our Favorite Things

Over the past few weeks, you’ve gotten a glimpse into each member of the Sycamore House, and we hope that we’ll have many more opportunities to share who we are and learn about you, the people who support and pour into us. Reflecting on the past (almost) two months since we’ve arrived, we wanted to share some of our favorite moments since being members of the Sycamore House. 


A Few of Our Favorite Things

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A photo of the Sycamore House members gardening at the Catholic Worker House.

#1. Our week of orientation was packed. We got to meet Sycamore House board members while also exploring Harrisburg, and one of the places we visited was the Catholic Worker House, which held a spot in Madi’s mind:

My favorite moment so far has been serving at the Catholic Worker house during the first week of Orientation. I love Naed and the work that he’s committed to. It’s also refreshing to be surrounded by so many plants in the middle of the city! It just feels like such holy ground and I can’t help but feel at peace and closer to God every time I enter that space.

 

#2. Church Service at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral

At the very end of the week, we attended our first service at St. Stephen’s. Here’s a reflection from Ben:

One moment that impacted me since my time in the Sycamore House was the first church service I attended to with my Corps members. It was amazing to be a part of the St. Stephen’s community and seeing all the warmth and generosity towards us from all of the church members. It was a great feeling to feel loved and welcomed by many, and it affirmed my decision to join the Sycamore House!

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Two Sycamore House members clearing away weeds. 

#3. Rising Sun Acres Farm

For one Friday afternoon out of each month, we come together for a service opportunity. We’ve been able to meet so many individuals who are invested in the flourishing of this community, and we hope that we can be some small part of that in our year here.

Read more about why this was Shannon’s favorite moment:

I enjoyed this event, because after moving to an urban area, it was fun to play in the dirt and get our hands dirty!

#4. The Ordination

By attending St. Stephen’s, we have begun to know the people in that community, and one of the members who’s had an impact on us is Shayna Watson, who serves the church as a curate. Some of us got to attend her ordination to become a Deacon, and this became Chloe’s favorite moment:

On the last Sunday of September, St. Stephen’s held an ordination service. The pews were full with clergy, church members, and the friends and family of Shayna and Eric. The sanctuary was full with the vivid red of vestments, bright smiles of loved ones, and the rich sounds of music. And the day was full with smiling at Amy, hugging Shayna, eating homemade chili, and dancing in the basement with my house mates.

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Five Sycamore House member standing around a bushel of apples.

#5. Apple Picking

For another Friday afternoon in the month, we get to spend time together doing whatever we want to do as a group. For our October activity, we decided to venture out to Strites’ Orchard and go apple-picking. It was an especially fun time for Katie:

A moment that has been impactful since arriving at Sycamore House was apple picking with my housemates at Strites’ Orchard! It was great to spend time together and do something I’ve never had the opportunity to do before.

#6. Undoing Racism Workshop

This past weekend, all of us took part in an undoing racism workshop with over 40 other people. Over the course of two and a half days, we explored the history and definition of racism in the United States, challenging ourselves to commit to the work of undoing racism and restoring human dignity for all. Here is Elisabeth’s reflection from that weekend:

I’ll admit that I wasn’t looking forward to the workshop about undoing racism. While I care deeply about racial reconciliation, my journey has been confusing and messy over the past few years. But during this workshop, I had space to share vulnerably about my struggle in a large group for the first time. I felt heard, and the encouragement and validation I received in the wake of that experience confirmed the decision I made to be honest.



We look forward to many more moments and interactions that contribute to fond memories. Thank you for being a part of that!