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Fig Tree’s 25 years are about people, stories and hope

In reviewing 25 years of Fig Trees, I saw the pictures of many people, reminding me that The Fig Tree is more than paper or digital images.

It’s the people we have interviewed, people whose stories we have shared,  people who read or view them,  people who connect with other people to do something to make a difference, inspired and empowered by the stories.

We seek to offer responsible media, modeling what is now called in academic circles “peace journalism,” communicating credibly with diverse people about diverse people.

In the fall of 1983, the former Spokane Christian Coalition decided to publish a newspaper to cover religion news.  In March, I moved to Spokane to help start it.  With modest funding from a few denominations, donors and advertisers, we published the early issues, keeping in mind then and through the years that our readers are busy and value that we offer just “enough” stories to inform, inspire and engage them, so they know they are not alone. 

We share stories of everyday folks who in everyday ways care about people, justice, relationships, reconciliation, faith, creation and making peace.

Lack of awareness keeps people apart, fearful and subject to stereotypes, rather than relishing the joy and richness of differences and conflicts as gifts given by God to open us to new ways to see life and to learn to love our enemies. 

We present a variety of perspectives along the continuum between the over-covered extremes.  Our media engage us with diverse cultures, races, religions, ages, genders, approaches and solutions.  Our stories help us see each person as an asset or gift, honoring what each has to offer.

Communication historically empowers social movements to overcome injustice, and empowers survivors of genocide, violence, abuse, poverty and war to be resilient and to act.  What a different society and world we would have if more media found nuances of peace and justice as compelling and exciting as war and violence.

We tell of people who visit global partners, build Habitat houses, house people in their churches, challenge poverty, farm sustainably and are moved to life-giving generosity.  Our sense of community extends locally to globally as we hear personal and communal stories of suffering and overcoming, forgiveness and healing, and people intervening to reconcile conflicts and resolve problems.

We have helped nurture various ministries, following them through the years to keep people informed.

With few grants, we build sustainable support with ads, bulk orders, donors and a benefit.  In faith, we have added new freelance writers, editors, a website coordinator, a directory editor and a community outreach coordinator. We rely on their dedication and that of many volunteers assisting on the board, and with delivery, displays and office work. 

On the web, we continue to add features and now have a page ready for content from Western Washington.

Since 2007, we have been publishing the Directory of Congregations and Community Resources, an example of how simple communication among people transforms.  The directory began 37 years ago to encourage churches to work together.  It has grown more inclusive, listing all faiths and mirroring our diversity. Under “B” there are Baha’i, Baptist, Buddhist, Bible, Byzantine and Brethren.

In 2009, we will print 10,000 copies, as we integrate the Community Colleges of Spokane Head Start/ECEAP directory.

Peace journalism connects people, builds understanding, fosters dialogue, gives voice to the oppressed, and stirs awareness of avenues for common action. 

Yes, some people fail to live their faiths, but in the midst of those who fall short, we tell of people who care and act because of their faith and values. 

In the midst of institutions that oppress, countries at war and systems that fail us, we tell of institutions, governments and faith groups working for justice, healing and reconciliation.

Despite differences, we know people of faith are working together in the region and world.    Their stories of hope empower us to envision everyone living under their own vines and fig trees in peace and unafraid.

Mary Stamp - Editor

SOUNDING BOARD - reflections on The Fig Tree's impact

In honor of The Fig Tree’s 25th anniversary marked at the 2009 Benefit Breakfast in March at Gonzaga University, we share in this Sounding Board reflections on the impact of The Fig Tree on lives, communities and the world.

Shahrokh Nikfar
Shahrokh Nikfar

When I was 16 in Iran, the revolution started.  My parents wanted to send me somewhere safe.  They sent me to Texas.  In the early 1980s when U.S. hostages were taken in Iran, I was at Gonzaga University.  About 20 people threw food at me because I was Iranian.
I learned from that horrible experience that when we create awareness and understanding, hate and fear go away.  After Sept. 11 there was also much demonizing of Middle Easterners, so I started the Persian Hour on KYRS radio to share Persian stories, songs, culture, recipes and guests.
I love how The Fig Tree takes a proactive role trying to create awareness and understanding. Nazi Germany used media to create fear and violence, but media can be used for good things.  It’s our choice.
Shahrokh Nikfar - Fair Housing
Alliance and the Persian Hour


Mary Rathert
Mary Rathert

The Fig Tree’s impact on the community and on me has been both constant and changing.  It’s constant in its commitment to tell stories of ordinary people who, out of their faith, do extraordinary things to create a more holy and just world for all. 
Recent articles highlighted a human rights activist, a youth mentor, a rural pastor-mayor, a young architect committed to green building, a woman who went to Romania on a mission trip.  The diversity of people and issues represent the local and global involvement of these people. 
I have seen The Fig Tree grow from a strong ecumenical voice highlighting Christian denominations to embracing an interfaith mission, sharing news and stories from all faith traditions and promoting understanding and dialogue among them. 
“Peace Journalism,” speaks to the heart of what the Fig Tree does and is.  It means raising one’s voice for justice, for those who are most vulnerable.  Frequently articles inform us of legislative issues, speakers and events that address justice concerns. Peace journalism helps us find what we have in common, what unites us rather than divides us.  It means we are in dialogue over our differences and come to common understanding.
The stories remind me of the strong community we have in Spokane, of the many people involved in worthwhile projects at the local and global levels.  The Fig Tree connects us.  It gives me a sense that none of us is alone.  The work we are about is bigger than any one of us can do, but together we can be about changing our world.  I’m thankful for The Fig Tree calling us to be people of peace.
Mary Rathert - director of
Transitions and Women’s Hearth


Steve  Blewett
Steve Blewett

I became associated with The Fig Tree when I began teaching and was looking for places for students to do internships and for resources to tell how journalism is done.  When we think of journalism and news we think of major media, but in the history of our country, the alternative press has been an essential, vibrant part of the media mix, an important part of informing us of who we are. 
When we look at the evolution of journalism, the advocacy journalism The Fig Tree does is perhaps the most authentic type of journalism, because it gets to the heart of who we are as a people and a culture, to the heart of what news is and what reality is.  When we think of the most vilified journalists who engaged in yellow journalism, most started as sincere honest crusading journalists trying to protect the masses, but somehow lost their way.
That has not happened with The Fig Tree these 25 years.  It has been an advocate for peace and justice, and it has not lost its way.  It has found the way for many people. 
As we move into a new world of cyber journalism and virtual reality, we see major media stressed to the point that daily newspapers are on the verge of disappearing. TV news is becoming a carnival.
As we negotiate this new reality of what is news, publications such as The Fig Tree will be absolutely essential to maintaining our sense of who we are.  It comes down to the stories we tell about each other.  A survey of Christians on why they came to the faith and why they fell away revealed in each case it was the people they knew, the stories they told and the example they gave about their faith.
This is what The Fig Tree is about. It’s not just the Christian faith, but the sense that God’s work is in the world and is empowering and informing each of us—whatever faith we are. 
That is the work of The Fig Tree and why it is so essential in this day. We need that authentic journalism to inform us about what is going on in our community and no one does it better than The Fig Tree.
Steve Blewett - former director of the Eastern Washington University Journalism Department

Kim Harmson
Kim Harmson

Fifteen years ago a group of visionaries in Spokane started a fair trade store to offer an exchange with artisans so they could be assured a fair wage and desirable working conditions where they could work in respect and preserve their cultures.  Global Folk Art started and was volunteer run.  When they decided to close, I decided to start a for-profit store, Kizuri. 
As my plans progressed over the summer, the economy was progressively tanking.  That’s when Mary called to do a story about the store. She published a story several weeks before the store opened. 
I was in a grocery store parking lot one day, and a woman walking out with her cart said, “I can’t wait to come to the store!” I didn’t know who it was.  I asked how she heard about it.  She said she read about it in The Fig Tree.
Two weeks after the store opened, a woman called.  She had read about candles made by Palestinian and Israeli women to create a peaceful relationship.  She called to see if I had any.  The next day she drove from Coeur
d’Alene to buy these candles as an expression of her solidarity with women in the Middle East, something she could do to promote peaceful reconciliation there.
About 10 weeks after the store opened a woman walked in. She opened her purse and pulled out the neatly folded page from The Fig Tree with the article.  She had been saving it to give it to me. 
These may seem like trivial encounters, but they are significant.  Stories in The Fig Tree inspire us to reach out to each other and connect.  They inspire us to be proactive and intentional, and to live the peace and justice ideals we have in our daily lives. I thank The Fig Tree for all the stories of hope and action that you bring to us.
Kim Harmson - owner of Kizuri, Spokane’s fair trade store

Deidre Jacobson
Deidre Jacobson

We are growing.  We have more readers, more writers, more staff and more volunteers.  The vision behind the Fig Tree is coming to fruition.  The Fig Tree has been about peace journalism long before the term existed.   Since its small beginning, the dream of opening doors, windows and tiny spaces, allowing communication, understanding and compassion has been The Fig Tree’s business. 
The term ‘peace journalism’ was coined in 1997 when Norwegian sociologist and peace studies founder, Johan Galtung, gave a series of lectures at the “Conflict and Peace Journalism” summer school in the United Kingdom.
He described mainstream, dominant journalism as war-and-violence journalism.  He said it increases tensions among the many sides of a conflict. 
Peace journalism is truth oriented, people oriented and solution oriented.  It strives to open discourse to a more inclusive range of people, ideas and visions that includes space for voices of peace.  It seeks a common ground that unifies.
The truth is that the Fig Tree is about the reader and the person whose story is printed.  It is about the quiet ways people serve, teach, listen and inspire.
Deidre Jacobson - Fig Tree Board co-chair and counselor
at Miryam’s House