Entering Into a Call to Justice: An Introduction to Megan Bender, Justice Associate

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It is with great joy in my heart to begin my work here in the Justice Office with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates as Justice Associate. I would like to take the opportunity to share a bit of my journey to this work by introducing myself to the Justice Matters Blog. I am so glad to enter in this virtual sphere alongside the inspiring wisdom of Jackie Salas, Ginger Hedstrom and all of the great Justice Matters bloggers before my time.

I am the youngest daughter of Joseph and Michelle Bender, sibling of Samantha Bender and “adopted” child of the Olsen/Windfeld-Hansen family that continues to love me like their daughter and sister well beyond my year abroad in Denmark. I consider myself a pseudo-Dane and a proud native born Minnesotan. Hygge is a Danish philosophy I internalized (directly translated to English as “cozy”). If I could summarize this feeling it is a bit like residing in a state of happiness in community with those who surround you. The boundaries are not distinct, and the translation is somewhat limiting. That warm fuzzy feeling you get when you relate to your neighbor in the spirit of equanimity is one way of experiencing hygge. This has come to mean a lot to me when I think about my relationship to work and community.

Nearly a year ago I graduated from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota with a B.A in Communication Studies, Religion and a certificate in International Journalism. Family members and friends would often ask me, “what work can you do with the combination of those majors?” I never quite had a clear idea of how that would manifest in my post-graduate life, so I would evade the questions concerning a career and retreated to seek insight from the poets. Quaker writer and activist, Parker Palmer, and his work around vocation spoke to me. This quote directed me towards finding life-giving work …

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks — we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.

Perhaps I wasn’t far off the beaten path when I ventured to pursue a career in journalism. But I didn’t want to just contribute to the heightened narratives of perceived religious war. I wanted to muddle the news stories that too effortlessly normalized violence in religion or presented some manufactured controversy that directly impacted the lives of religious communities. This demand is often motivated by breaking a story. That model upset me. Fortunately paired with (tempered) unrest it served as a strong motivating factor to engage my interest around social justice and peace journalism.

One place this pull led me was to become the first intern at the Peabody award-winning public radio show “On Being” with Krista Tippett. The opportunity to work alongside committed media makers who believed in complicating the conversation was profoundly impactful on both my professional and personal work. My dear friend and mentor, Lily Percy, serves as the brilliant and bold senior producer. I consider Lily my confidant in creatively challenging my ability to see my place in this work. Lily and I worked closely to publish a blog on the radical feminists and talented artists of the freaky folk duo CocoRosie. The development of this piece allowed me to investigate individual narratives on spiritual experience through the lens of identity. Bianca and Sierra Casady of CocoRosie believed to experience religion through patriarchal oppression, and their creative catharsis born out of that trauma has continued to be music. Without going on too much further (which I can so easily do when it comes to feminist thought), I see this as the beginning of acknowledging the authenticity for individual self-expression at the heart of this work.

My friends at On Being taught me that in the realm of journalism and mass media there is no place for accepting the tip of the iceberg when navigating the waters of complex issues. We need to plunge boldly beyond the surface of the issues, and survey the vastness of our time without flouting the rough edges. Yet, all the while we should take the time to stand in awe of the smooth curves and natural developments. No one angle of a colossal issue will give us the definite answers we may hope for, but we continuously engage our questions and emphasize the importance of storytelling. This brings me to why I find the CSJ way of social justice to be a direct vocational call to the needs of this time.

When I was offered the position as Justice Associate, I must admit I was concerned my uncontrollable adolescent excitement over the phone would appear unprofessional! The sisters and their work had been integrated in my coursework at Hamline, and after the intentional and inviting interview process I knew this was a call to enter into a vocation. I moved the career narrative I was sold into to the periphery. This call to work in the Justice Office wasn’t garish or hasty; it was a temperate and cozy awakening rooted in the charism. The emphasis on love drew me in closer to the impact of this work.

My sticky childish right hand would press firmly to become a part of a rhythm heavy in my chest, and with my heartbeat I routinely recited words I couldn’t understand in elementary school to the Pledge of Allegiance. Amongst countless words in the English language, “justice” is one that we hold dearly in our country … “With liberty and justice for all” is an oath we all make when we choose to identify ourselves as American. What does justice look like today? What does it mean to work for justice and create systemic change? With this community’s blessing and support in one another, the authentic calling to service is a threshold we actively choose to cross for work around justice everyday.

Recently someone asked me what I do. I smiled with the true spirit of hygge just at the thought of the CSJ community and I said, “I am one of many in the community of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates that answers to the needs of our time by moving always and intentionally towards the profound love of God and neighbor without distinction”.

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This post was written by Megan Bender, Justice Associate

Let Us Remember What We Sometimes Forget.

It has been a week and a half since the al-Shabab attack on Garissa Univeristy’s campus in Northern Kenya. 147 students were killed and over 79 more students were injured in the attacks. The al-Shabab, an Islamist group that operates out of the rural regions of Somalia, claimed responsibility for the attack that was religiously motivated as the tension between Muslims and Christians in the area heighten.

The Kenyan-Somali border has been a place of gruesome conflict for decades, tracing back to the colonial period. Ethnic and religious tension has plagued both nations for years. And the divide between the people continues to grow as the core of the ongoing conflict remains suppressed and unattended–reconciliation, healing, and unity for a community of people that have been told they were “other”.

I’ve been reading news articles that have publicized potential solutions and/or counter measures that are likely to be taken. They include but are not limited to:

~The need for more security forces in Kenya

~ A stronger and more expansive border dividing the two nations

~Repercussions for the al-Shabab Islamist group

As I reflect on the atrocity of the Garissa attack, I can’t help but think of the turmoil in Ukraine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the 50 girls missing in Nigeria, the oppression and violence against women in India….the list goes on and on and on…..My mind races and my heart aches as I think about the brokenness and disconnectedness that defines the current state of our global society. I can’t help but ask, “Why?” I can’t help but wonder if there will ever be peace…..

Mother Teresa has always been my source of wisdom….She says, and I believe,

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

We have forgotten… Our downfall as a society of people is simply that WE have forgotten that we belong to each other. It isn’t the fact that we have a diversity of religion, culture, or tradition. It isn’t the fact that some people have different skin tones from others. It isn’t that some people come from the south and others the north or that some come from the east and others from the west. It isn’t that some are poor and some are rich. It isn’t that some come from developing nations and others from developed nations. None of this matters….

Our downfall as a society is that we have forgotten. And if we can only try to remember that we are one people, that we aren’t “other”, that we really do belong to each other–we will have achieved peace.

Complexity is part of our human nature. This often times prevents us from seeing the simplicity that is the solution. So as we move into our days, weeks, and months, let us try and embrace all that is simple. Let us remember what we sometimes forget–that we truly do belong to each other.

In Peace,
Jackie Salas, SJW Justice Office Program Assistant