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!



Losing My Childlike Innocence

As the violence in Gaza picks-up again, I continue my search for answers to this conflict and solutions to make the madness end once and for all………

I’ve got nothin’!

In 2009 Israel launched an attack on Gaza called “Operation Cast Lead.”  That Israeli “defense” against Palestinian rock-throwers killed over 1,400 civilians.  More than 400 of those killed were children. Today we have not only reached that appalling number again, we’ve surpassed it. Truces, or cease-fires, are called for “humanitarian” reasons and then broken within hours; each side blaming the other.  It’s beyond depressing & frustrating!  It reminds me of my childhood when all the neighborhood kids would get together to play.  We played games like Freeze-tag, Kick-the-Can, Street Hockey, or (in the winter) we’d build snow forts & have snowball battles.  When a “cease-fire” or an “alle, alle, umption free” was called it was usually because someone got hurt or it got late and some of us had to go home for dinner.  So, yet again, another “time-out” in Gaza has ended and the playground bullies have learned nothing.  Nothing’s changed, and the violence goes merrily on with children and innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.  To me the solutions seem obvious, but not to those at the negotiation tables (the Egyptian “principal’s office”).  The whole thing has me feeling overwhelmingly hopeless.

As an artist I inevitably look to the art world for solace, insight, and perspective.  Artists have a way of seeing that goes beyond the surface, and sometimes pushes us out of our comfort zones.  Artists have the ability to stretch our minds in ways we never dreamed possible.  A blessing and a curse to be sure.  In light of this summer’s latest assault on Gaza by the IDF, I am reminded of the 2009 play by Caryl Churchill, “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,” and the controversy that surrounded it’s shows in London and the US (This is a link to Part One of Two of the presentation at Rooms Productions in Chicago, March 14, 2009.  In my opinion, one of the better and more compassionate interpretations of Churchill’s play).

To summarize, the play is about 10 minutes long and pretty much slaps you in the face and leaves you gaping at the mouth.  Most of the lines begin with “Tell her” or “Don’t tell her” and the actors are adults engaged in conversation about what to tell a Jewish child, either theirs or a member of the family. There are 7 scenes, or sequences, that lead us in time from the Holocaust to the establishment of the State of Israel, to the 2009 violence in Gaza.  I have revisited this play, its message, and its unfortunate timelessness in relation to this latest eruption of violence in Gaza as a way of looking at the conflict with fresh, compassionate, and impartial eyes (although I anticipate some negative comments for this post).  Tony Kushner and Elisa Solomon wrote an amazing, thoughtful, and scholarly article in response to some of the harsh criticism Churchill received for this work.  In it they comment, “Any play about the crisis in the Middle East that doesn’t arouse anger and distress has missed the point.”  I agree.  When I create political art it is always my intent to arouse emotions.  That’s what artists do!  I am impressed with their analysis of the last lines of that damning monologue that gets the most attention and criticism for being anti-Semitic.  They assert that the following line is not evidence of blood-libel, “Tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel?  Tell her all I feel is I’m happy it’s not her.”  It is, in the words of Kushner & Solomon, a warning:  “You can’t protect your children by being indifferent to the children of others.”

No matter what you think about this conflict, no matter how the IDF spins their right to defend Israel, and no matter how you feel about Hamas, the fact remains that Palestinian children are being killed along with innocent civilians.  This alone is a human rights violation, and what the UN would classify as war-crimes, or crimes against humanity. This “open-air prison” is an oppressive and inhumane reality that needs to end, and both “sides” need to make this happen now!

For me this is just common sense, but there’s my childlike innocence (or is it naivete?) again.  How did Americans in the Jim Crow South or Afrikaaners in South Africa rationalize their dualistic “kissy-smiley-face” with cute little black babies against their brutality of adult people of color?  If you are a dualistic thinker then you will forever be stuck in an “either/or” mentality that supports conflict and the killing of innocents with the mantra “better them than us.”  I think this is where most of our administrators, governments, political & religious extremists, and all rebel/extremist groups are stuck.  Unfortunately for the rest of us, these are the ones with all the weapons and the most power (the bullies on the playground).  We do outnumber them, but we’ve got to get on the “Yes!  We can make change” train, and, like the tired & oppressed people in places like the Warsaw Ghetto, South Africa, Rwanda and Bosnia, and now Gaza and Iraq, we’ve got to demand peace & justice.  Demand it with our whole heart and soul!

I am losing my childlike innocence in the face of all the world’s violence & genocide, but I’m also beginning to see and understand better the practice of non-violence in the face of such extreme violence, hopelessness, and inhumanity.  It really is the only way.  I don’t like it, but this is work, real work!  I’m not Gandhi, King, Merton, or the Dalai Lama, and I’m certainly no Mother Teresa or Dorothy Day, but there is so much to learn from these great saints of peace, justice, and non-violent action.  I only hope that my innocence and idealistic tendencies for a better future, a better planet, and a better humanity are not counted among the casualties of war.

Although “I’ve got nothin’ ” in the way of answers to all of the violence around the world, I have found some helpful resources & organizations on the web.  Jewish Voice for Peace in the US is doing a great job of getting information out about events, actions, and ways to help in Gaza and the West Bank. Other groups are working hard doing the same in other areas of conflict. Follow the links below to their sites to help spread peace and work hard for justice, for (believe me!), it is hard work!  Please add any organizations that I’ve missed in the comments below.

International Crisis Group; Belgium.

SURF/Survivors Fund/UK; Survivors of the Rwandan Genocide.

Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation; USA.  This site is full of good information about the Holocaust; an excellent resource for teachers.

United to End Genocide; USA Network.

If Americans Knew; now here’s a list & a 1/2, and other good info!

Seeds of Peace; based in the US, working with youths from 27 countries suffering the effects of ongoing conflict.

And, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanctions) site offers much in the way of Palestinian non-violent efforts to gain self-determination, freedom, peace and justice.

Summer Break? Not for the Oppressed. Not for Victims of Violence.

Summer break for students and teachers means quality down-time, and this teacher looks forward to summer break even more so than my students. My childhood memories of summer are full of trips to the shore, the neighborhood public pool, bike riding, my dad’s garden, my mom’s freezing & canning assembly line in the kitchen, and just hanging out with friends and family (usually outside). This year’s summer break for me has included swimming, gardening, reading, drawing, and a visit from my daughter who lives very far away. I have been blessed by visits from her once a year since she moved, so when she said she wanted to go to the Keys with my mother and me we made it happen.  Despite the rainy afternoons & evenings we enjoyed our “girl-time” together.  Yesterday my son and daughter and I spent the day at the Rapids Water Park in Florida; my first time at a water park & the first time I’ve been to an “amusement” park in 15 years.  I know!  Shameful!!!  Again, we enjoyed this family time together in spite of the two “storm-delays” that disrupted our pursuit of water-based-thrills.  Rain when we want sunshine is truly a “first world problem” when put in proper perspective.

Summer break for most Americans means some kind of break from the “usual.”  It is a time when we can plan a family vacation, relax, and do things that are enjoyable and, yes, peaceful.  Amidst the news out of Gaza, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine…. (you name a place of conflict, violence, and fear), it’s hard to enjoy such fun and relaxation when you know so much of the world is living in a constant state of violence, terror, anxiety, grief, and oppression.  At least I have a hard time enjoying such tranquility.  As a Justice & Peace Promoter for my community (Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates), it’s become impossible for me to do anything without considering the environmental and human consequences of my actions, inaction, &/or consumption habits.

By the time we returned from our mini-vacation in Key Largo I learned about the tragedy of the Malaysian flight that was shot down in Ukraine, and the escalating violence in Gaza.  I consider it both a blessing and a curse that I empathize so deeply with the victims of such horrific violence.  I cannot hear about such things without shutting down; it’s difficult for me not to feel depressed, powerless, and hopeless.  If just hearing about the horrors of war has this effect on me, I can’t imagine how millions of people the world over endure this kind of existence day after day, year after year.  I have learned how to allow myself the luxury of depression and tears for a day or two, but then I turn to those emotions I call positive anger and outrage.  I believe that when anger’s energy is harnessed to create change or an end to an injustice, then anger can be a highly useful emotion.  Unfortunately for those who live with violence and oppression with no end in sight, they don’t have access to such luxuries as vacations, breaks, or just a day to mourn.

The ongoing oppression in Gaza is most distressing to me, so I began searching for organizations that promote peace and coexistence in Gaza, otherwise known as the world’s largest open-air prison. I have been struck by just how many groups are out there that have been working for peace for years, and how many new ones are being created since this latest crisis between Israel and Hamas erupted.  Many of these groups were created by Jews in America (Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No!), Jews in Israel, and (my favorite partnership) Jews and Palestinians working together for reconciliation, an end to violence, occupation, and oppression in Gaza.  Thank you, Sweden and the Middle East Views for the heads-up on a new Facebook page.  The two groups The Jewish Voice of Peace, and Jews Say No! were again in the news for occupying the NY based offices of the Friends of Israel Defense Force (FIDF).  They sang songs, handed out leaflets, and read the names of the 600 innocent Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli bombs in the past two weeks (as of this date, 7-28-14, the number of civilian deaths in Gaza has risen to over 1,000!).  Several of the activists refused to vacate the premises and were then arrested. Just last night about 7,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv to protest Israel’s aggression in Gaza.  Pax Christi shared an article posted in The Plough, written by Izzeldin Abuelaish.  Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor who lost 3 of his daughters and a niece when their apartment building was shelled by an Israeli tank in 2009.  What courage in the face of such pain and loss!  I often tell my art students, “You are only limited by your imagination.”  Imagine what kind of a peaceful world is possible if we could all be more dedicated to peace and love rather than violence and hatred.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it is absolutely essential to know the history of the conflict in order to understand the current situation and the violence that continues to spin out of control.  In my understanding of the conflict there hasn’t been a “summer break” in Gaza or the West Bank in more than 60 years, and it’s long overdue.  So many Israeli’s and Palestinians, as well as citizens across the globe, are calling for peace, a two-state solution, and a return of stolen lands to the Palestinian people.  How is it the so-called leaders of nations and the UN can’t seem to make this happen?

And now the latest cease fire has collapsed into more violence, death, and destruction on both sides; although each side blames the other.  As always in cases of occupier vs. oppressed, Israel wants Hamas to give up their weapons while the IDF retains theirs.  When will this insanity end?  When will this conflict be peacefully resolved so that we can all enjoy a summer break that lasts a lifetime?

Archbishop Romero’s Call to Serve

This week marks the 34th anniversary of the martyrdom/assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. I find that the more I read and learn about horrific wars, massacres, and violence in places like El Salvador, Colombia, Syria, Venezuela, the Middle East, and the many other places both in the news and those suffering silently beyond the media spotlight, the more I doubt myself. I doubt that I can have any affect on any of it. I feel hopeless some days, and frustrated at the complacency of the people around me. I also feel a great sense of sadness and shame for being a citizen of a nation in the grip of a culture of violence and whose government is obsessed with war: The United States of America.

In a post by Pax Christi, this quote by Romero hits home for me:

“There is no doubt whatsoever that here there is no room for neutrality. We are either at the service of the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death. And it is here that we are faced with the most fundamental reality of the historical mediation of faith: either we believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death.”

There is no room for “neutrality.”  I like Paul’s description of the church as the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12-31), and I believe we are all indeed parts of the one body, but with different gifts and functions, yet I struggle within myself on what God has planned for me.  I have been blessed with many gifts, but I still struggle with how best to use them.  As Paul continues in 1 Cor. 13 (the famous “love is patient, love is kind” discourse), I do not want to be just another “resounding gong,” and yet, so often, I feel like a voice in the wilderness that no one hears.  So how can I help end violence & injustice in the world?  How can I help & be of service to my brothers & sisters in need?

Perhaps it all boils down to that pesky thing we call “free-will.”  What do I choose for myself?  If, as Romero put it, I believe in a “God of life” (and I do!), then I choose life.  I choose life, love, and compassion!  I know that I can only change myself, and I think that’s how nonviolent leaders like Romero help bring about systemic changes.  By changing my response to the “idols of death,” I pray that my life may be an affirmation of nonviolence and love, too.  As Paul’s letter to the Corinthians sums it up, “So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

Conflict of Interest/Not Losing Hope

What defines me as an individual is what finds me in conflict with much of the world around me and with some of the people in my life.  As a Catholic and an Adrian Dominican Associate I am called to a life of non-violence, love, peace, and truth.  As an artist I oftentimes see the world and all in it differently.  Sometimes I see things in such beautiful and unusual ways, and other times I see the horror, the inhumanity, and the injustice of a world full of despair and losing hope.  But I am a hopeful person.

This weekend our country will honor its veterans & my son is among them.  Ah-ha, the conflict!  We definitely do not see eye-to-eye on the military and this country’s obsession with guns, wars, and violence.  I love him and respect his opinions, but I don’t think I will ever change his mind or make him see how violence only begets violence and that this “war on terror” will never be won.  He no longer goes to church and seems to have rejected everything of the Catholic faith he was raised on.  But I am a hopeful person.

I struggle, too, with this notion of “conservative catholicism.”  It’s a contradiction in terms. I encounter so many Catholics that describe themselves this way, and with a sense of pride. I think they are missing something very basic about our faith and about Jesus’ message.  Jesus was a radical, a hippie, a rebel who questioned the status quo and preached non-violence and love. His teachings and actions lead those “in charge” to conspire to have him killed. People like that are still being killed, locked-up, and silenced for daring to work for a more just and peaceful world.  So imagine my surprise & disgust at learning of the US Bishops’ recent vote to hold collections for the Archdiocese of Military Services.  Talk about your conflicts of interest!  I am supportive of  the needs of our vets when they return and the pastoral work that the priests are doing, but I cannot support the war machine that this military has become.  As a faith community we cannot, and should not, continue to support military conflicts, and that the US Conference of Bishops is asking us to is simply wrong and immoral.  But, I am hopeful.

I am hopeful in people of courage like Fr. Taugher who stand up and say “No!”  I am hopeful when children like Malala demonstrate determination with acts of non-violent resistance in the face of terror.  I am hopeful when people organize and are not afraid to speak truth to power and point out the flaws in their policies.  And, I am hopeful when I plant a seed with my students.  I may not be around to see the fruits of my labor, but that shouldn’t discourage me from the effort.  I am hopeful in a world full of conflicts.


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?

Wrestling With a Violent Faith

Now that summer is here I am enjoying my favorite summer routine:  my morning swim with the Masters at the college, the drive to church for Liturgy of the Hours followed by morning mass, then home for breakfast in my backyard.  It’s a great way to start the day!  I enjoy reflecting on scripture while sitting in the midst of my garden, but the readings lately (mostly about mercy, forgiveness, & being perfect; Mt 5:38-42; Mt 5:43-48) have me pondering the more violent nature of the Bible & the role of God in some of the more gruesome stories.  If we are all children of God, and we are all loved and treasured, then how can “God” be on one side against another in so many violent conflicts?  I’m not a theology major, but my gut instinct says, “I don’t buy it.”  I feel a bit like Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord (Gn 32:23-33), but I firmly believe that a strong faith in anything becomes stronger by wrestling with the tough questions; even if that means wrestling with God herself!

Pax Christi’s blog posts very good articles on a variety of topics, and lately there seem to be a growing number of posts about drones.  In a recent post by Bishop Richard Pates I was struck by the idea that we (people in general, but especially people who like to bury their heads in the sand) like our conflicts to be neat, clean, & tidy. We choose not to think about the ugly, dirty horrors associated with war. Instead we want to feel justified in our part in it so that we can continue to enjoy our lifestyle & still sleep at night.  In his article, Drones Aren’t the Murky Moral Subject We Pretend, Bishop Pates raises an important question that Western Society never seems to consider, and that is, “What if Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia used drones for targeted killings here in the US?”  According to one Mother Jones report there are 11 countries with armed drones and about 76 countries with drone technology.

So, here we go again.  Just yesterday we learned that yet another drone strike has killed 17 people in Pakistan.  So many thoughts racing through my head right now, but the bottom line for me is this:  Violence begets violence, and, no matter where you stand on the issue of drone use or the so-called “war on terror”, there are 17 dead & there are now 17 families that have good reason to hate Americans.  And don’t even get me started on the number of innocent lives lost because men, women & children just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or because the “intelligence” was wrong!  This is not part of a foreign policy that will ever produce peace; it will only ever produce greater violence here on American soil & throughout the world.  Maybe that sounds a little melo-dramatic, but my mind races to see the big picture in the immediate future & way down the road.  Sorry.  It’s a character flaw.

If “wrestling with God” on tough issues strengthens my faith, then wrestling with tough questions in the political arena should strengthen my political opinions (if it doesn’t just push me right over the deep end!).  Reconciling faith & politics is always a challenge.  I’ve never been the kind of Catholic that “follows blindly” everything that comes out of the Vatican or the USCCB, especially when it drips of exclusionary, or overtly warmongering-patriotic language.  Forming political opinions, likewise, shouldn’t just be regurgitated partisan rhetoric.  When I compare the many different world religions I am always drawn to the simple fact that all of them have at their core a call to “love your neighbor as yourself”, and a call to peaceful coexistence.  So why can’t we just practice that?  Why do people & governments continue to perpetuate mistrust, violence, and hatred?  I know I’m being naive here, but it should really be this simple.

Certainly I do not have any answers or solutions (I’m still busy wrestling), but I think that the starting point must be simply seeing the other person/nation as human, flawed, and deserving of respect, if not love.  I agree with something Col. Potter once said in “M*A*S*H*” (my favorite TV series), “I think there should be a rule of war saying you have to see someone up close and get to know ’em before it’s ok to shoot ’em.”  Maybe then we’d have a better chance for real & lasting peace in the world.