Reflections On Peace Day 2014

Last summer I visited the Motherhouse in Adrian, Michigan for the first time. I was there again last month for the annual Justice & Peace Promoters meeting, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and sharing with the other promoters whom I had only seen or heard through our web-ex meetings. I arrived Saturday afternoon just in time for supper. Afterwards I went on one of the nature trails and saw a Blue Heron, a family of ducks and their four little ducklings, and two doe who gracefully pranced by me as I picked some wildflowers. They were about 20 feet away and just about the most peaceful creatures I had ever seen! With the conflicts, wars, violence, and overall un-peacefulness of the world these days, I felt a little guilty at being blessed enough to be in this place. It was a great opportunity to be at rest and at peace with my thoughts in such a beautiful place. I rarely get to relax at home once school starts, so I welcomed the tranquility.

Still, my thoughts in that God-kissed place turned to those who are displaced in Iraq because of their faith or religious sect.  Those who are persecuted for their faith by ISIS or oppressive dictators or regimes. I think of them, and I think of the Palestinians, the people of Ukraine, Syria, Immigrants in the US facing uncertainty & deportation, and those suffering with the fear and loss that comes with Ebola. Where is their opportunity for retreat, peace, and sanctuary? When will they get relief from fear, anxiety, suffering, and death?

On the first day of our meeting we talked a lot about Immigration Reform in the US.  We watched the movie “Who Is Dayani Cristal?” This powerful film “tells the story of a migrant who found himself in the deadly stretch of desert known as ‘the corridor of death’ and shows how one life becomes testimony to the tragic results of the U.S. war on immigration. As the real-life drama unfolds we see this John Doe, denied an identity at his point of death, become a living and breathing human being with an important life story.”  I recommend this film to anyone who works with Immigrants, supports Immigration Reform, and to anyone who thinks of these people as anything less than our brothers and sisters.  There was one man in the film who said basically, “What number of dead is the ‘magic number’ that will make us sit up and take notice?  What number of dead will make us care?”

Day two of our meeting focused on Environmental Justice, War & Peace, and Conflict Zones (specifically Iraq, Gaza, and Ukraine).  Yep.  We crammed a lot in!  So often I get overwhelmed by all the devastation in our world and I’m left feeling numb.  Meetings like this can make me feel hopeless, except it didn’t.  In such a place of peace & hope, I left feeling energized and full of promise.  We made some decisions on actions to take, projects to share, and avenues to pursue in our ongoing work for peace and justice.  I can’t change the world alone, but (cliche as it sounds) together we can make a difference.

With International Day of Peace coming up next Sunday, September 21st, there are lots of opportunities to make a difference and bring a bit of peace & justice into your corner of the world.  Peace One Day is a site full of ideas, resources, and inspiration!   Started in 1999 by Jeremy Gilley Peace One Day strives to raise awareness of International Day of Peace through coalitions, the arts, and education.  If you can, join the thousands of people who will be in NYC for the People’s Climate March.  Oh, how I wish I could be there!  Some Adrian Dominican Sisters will be there with the LCWR.  I will be sending my ribbon along to be part of the “Tree of Life” installation. You might want to do this; there’s still time to mail it!  Just write what you don’t want to lose to climate chaos on a two-foot length of ribbon & include your name, age, & where you’re from.  Of course, one of my favorite Peace Day activities is the Pinwheels for Peace!  I’ll be planting pinwheels in my yard while praying for peace and the success of those marching in NYC.

And in the coming year, when I’m feeling overwhelmed and a bit hopeless, my peace a bit shaken, I’ll reflect again on my mini-retreat in Adrian, and the good we do working for peace and justice.

Peace to everyone!



Practicing Non-violence with 85 Billionaires on a Bus

Is it possible that western society has become so self-absorbed that we are blind to our own self-destructive behavior? While the rich get richer (apparently there are 85 that make up the 1% & they could all fit on a double-decker bus!) they seem to keep this plastic carrot hanging out there for the rest of us 99%-ers. You know the one, the carrot that says “if you work hard enough & long enough you can be wealthy like us.” And I call it a “plastic carrot” because it is a false dream. Not only is it a false dream, it is an unrealistic & unhealthy one, and a plastic carrot can’t possible be good for you!

I don’t know, maybe I’m becoming more & more contemplative in the midst of my mid-life crisis, or maybe just a little cynical.  Or maybe I’ve just never really bought into the “keeping up with the Jones'” mentality. If I allowed myself to be seduced by that plastic carrot I probably would have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and be in debt beyond belief!  So why do so many of the so-called 99% want what the 85 on the bus have?  The only thing that the 85 on the bus have that I might want is control over our systems of governance.  But, wait!  How can a handful of people with money, jets, and mansions have more control over our lives when we outnumber them by, um, 99%???  (Ok, I am being cynical now, and a bit sarcastic!).

In the last several years we have all seen, and maybe even participated in, grassroots movements working for change.  Some have sprung up after one individual stood up & said “NO!” to injustice. Some movements were in response to violence that is symptomatic of a long accepted culture of violence against women. Other groups like the CIW have been around for more than 20 years, yet are still counting their victories.  Still other uprisings have been in response to oppressive regimes, violence, terror, &/or uninvited occupying countries.  Who were the people behind these powerful movements?  Us!  Ordinary people with absolutely nothing to lose & everything to gain!  People who decided that they would speak truth to power because it was what needed to be done.

On a day when we remember Martin Luther King, Jr., one can’t help but think of non-violent resistance.  But how do we practice non-violence in the face of deadly terror or the everyday evils of oppression, violence & poverty?  How do we practice non-violence without becoming so angry & frustrated that we become violent ourselves?  I found Scilla Elworthy’s Ted-Talk answered these questions with clarity & wisdom.  She’s right, I think we are finally “getting it” as humans.  Scilla, MLK, and countless other peaceful people throughout history have come to realize this basic truth: Violence begets violence, but non-violence is a game-changer.

Whether it’s fighting oppression, violence, poverty, GMO’s, fracking, Big-Ag, modern day slavery, or any number of social justice & environmental issues, get out there & fight the good fight!  We have voices that cannot be silenced. Find your niche & practice non-violence with the rest of us.  Be a game-changer & get on the bus!

Considering Peace in Syria

Pope Francis invited Catholics, people of other faiths, and all people of good will (I like that!) to join him yesterday in prayer & fasting.  He held a vigil at the Vatican to pray for peace in Syria.  Yesterday I attended a friend’s Ordination to the Deaconate.  This joyous occasion and the celebrations that followed were in stark contrast to the prayer vigils going on in Rome & around the world.  Today and every day I will offer my thoughts and prayers for peace.  Peace in our homes, in our schools, our workplaces, our nations, and especially peace in our own hearts.  So often I hear fatalists say, “What’s the point?  People are always going to hate, kill, and find reasons to go to war.  You’ll never have world peace.”  I believe that’s a cop-out for doing nothing while maintaining the status quo.  I choose to “picket & pray.”  I also agree with Pope Francis (and everyone else who has ever uttered these words), “Violence only begets violence.”

Fr. John Dear just posted a reflection, in response to the Syrian crisis, on the Pax Christi USA blog on living nonviolently in a violent world .  [Ignore the part where he plugs his new book!]  He talks about being nonviolent with ourselves first.  Always an excellent place to start if we want to change the world for the better.  I recently picked up Fr. Dear’s other book Put Down Your Sword; Answering the Gospel Call to Creative Nonviolence, and in Chapter 2 he offers the “anti-Beatitudes.”  The list is a real slap-in-the-face to our culture of violence, imperialism, and our consumer driven mentality.   The one that hit me is what he calls the “motto of every warlike culture:  Blessed are the violent and the invincible, the proud and the powerful, the domineering and the oppressive.”  Jesus says, the meek, the gentle, and the nonviolent will inherit the Earth.  This “anti-Beatitude” suggests that the violent will “inherit nothing but blood and destruction.”  Personally, I’d rather be labeled a “bleeding heart liberal” who advocates for peace & justice, than a war-monger who causes hearts to bleed in the name of homeland security or some twisted idea of peace in the Middle East.

In the next couple of weeks many people all over the world will be preparing to celebrate International Day of Peace on Saturday, September 21st (my school marks this day with the Pinwheels for Peace project).  With the 12th anniversary of the attacks on 9-11 coming up this week, in the shadows of yet another International debate over possible war in yet another country in the Middle East, my heart is heavy & torn.

As the world considers war in Syria, I consider her refugees, her victims, her dead.  I consider the many victims of wars & conflicts in the last 100+ years.  I want to inherit a world of peace, but I also want to bequeath one to the next generation.  If war begets war, & violence begets violence, then shouldn’t it hold true that peace begets peace, & nonviolence begets nonviolence?  We seem to have mastered the ways of violence; when will we ever learn the ways of peace?

Holy Week Reflection: Contemplation to Action

I’ve been in “contemplative-mode” these last few days.  It seems like everywhere I look social media, news media, and politics across the globe are all a-buzz with commentary, actions & petitions, and legal battles on everything from gay marriage, & the environment to sequestration, & gun violence. Some of what I’ve read is very good; some of it, not so much.  As someone who advocates for peace & justice, I cannot approach any of these issues from my initial feelings of anger & frustration, or from a position of self-righteous indignation.  I must take time to reflect or my action degrades into nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction.

In a recent Lenten reflection on the example of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Fr. John Dear, S.J. writes about many examples of Archbishop Romero’s actions and includes stories from the new book Monsenor Romero: Memories in Mosaic by Maria Lopez Vigil (Orbis, 2013).  I have not read the book yet, but I was struck more by one of Fr. Dear’s thoughts:

“It’s important not to love ourselves so much that we’re not willing to take the risks that history demands of us,” Romero said in his last homily, one minute before he was assassinated at the altar. That’s an important lesson for all of us — laypeople, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes included. History, and the Christ of history, demand we take risks on behalf of suffering humanity and creation itself. Romero shows us we do not have to be afraid. We, too, can go forward, do what we can, speak out as best we can, and try to make a difference.

When I consider what is taking place inside the Supreme Court this week, or in the Oval Office, or the “back rooms” of Congress with the lobbyists from Monsanto, or what is happening in war-torn places like Aleppo, Syria, or in ordinary places like the kitchens & living rooms of activists, I am overwhelmed with humanity and a sense of humility.  I can read one article and feel angry that such things could happen or that such people could act this way or that.  Then I read another article about something else and I am filled with joy, delight, or a feeling of hope in the basic goodness to be found in people here in the US & around the world.  But then I read yet another article, tweet or news report about more acts of violence involving drones or a handgun and I am filled with despair again.  I either have to stop reading all of this, cut myself off from the world, or I have to adopt a healthier way of responding to it; without fear as Archbishop Romero’s example suggests.

Burying my head in the sand is not an option if I am to “move forward, and try to make a difference”, so I must develop a healthy alternative to riding this emotional roller-coaster.  As an activist & advocate for peace & justice there are many amazing examples of men & women who can inspire me; Archbishop Romero, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Fr. Thomas Merton, Fr. Richard Rohr, those I marched with during the CIW march last week, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, and countless others who make headlines only as “protestors”, “occupiers”, or “insurgents”.  I believe it is necessary to feel angry, hopeless, or frustrated at first when faced with injustice, but then I have to reflect, contemplate, and/or pray about how to respond to it in a positive way.  If I don’t reflect and pray first, then I am no better in my reaction than those who perpetuate the injustices that outrage me.

Words are important.  Activists take action against injustices, they do not just react.  There is considerable thought behind their actions so that their efforts do make a difference and affect a positive & just change.  That, I believe, is why non-violence is the key to successful activism.  When we react to injustice without thinking, our words & actions can appear or sound aggressive or violent.

Simplicity is important, too; it is also sometimes the most challenging thing to put into practice.  I like reading Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily reflections (the Center for Action & Contemplation).  His insights are often simple and obvious, but always rooted in love, contemplation, & non-violence.  Fr. Dear’s reflections are also a call to fearless contemplation, non-violence, and action (Pax Christi).

As Christians around the world enter into the Triduum of Holy Week my prayer is that we all reflect on the Passion of Christ, the injustices and pain present in our world today, and how we can respond to God’s call to action on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized of our societies.  I hope I don’t ever have to be as fearless as Archbishop Romero or a Syrian freedom fighter, but if I am called to take a great risk, I trust that God will be in it with me.