Return to Pacifism

Watching the news in recent weeks and months, I find myself searching for that small space inside me that once held a faith in pacifism. Today, I felt a hope of renewal as I read a reflection by Richard Rohr. Lately he has been writing about mystics, perhaps for the same reason that I have had this yearning. Today he highlighted Catholic priest and peace activist, John Dear. He quotes Dear in his explanation of what it means to be a pacifist:

“What does it mean to be nonviolent? Coming from the Hindu/Sanskrit word ahimsa, nonviolence was defined long ago as ‘causing no harm, no injury,no violence to any living creature.’ But Mohandas Gandhi insisted that it means much more than that. He said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical  forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation….”

Rohr suggests another way understand nonviolence by claiming our fundamental identity  as the beloved (children) of the God of peace….This is what Jesus taught: “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the sons and daughters of God…Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors, then you shall be sons and daughters of the God who makes the sun rise  on the good and the bad, and causes rain to fall on the just and unjust.

If we believe that we are all children of God, then every human being is our sibling, he says, “then we can never hurt anyone on the earth ever again, much less be silent in the face of war, starvation, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons, systemic injustice and environmental destruction…”

When I meditate on the words that Jesus spoke and the life he lived, it baffles me that any acts of violence, ANY harmful acts against other human beings can be justified in his name. I feel the light again, a tiny flame now, but I hope that in finding others who believe in peace as a way of life, it will burn brightly once again.

Loving Kindness Meditation Part 1.

I am reading a book by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, How God Changes Your Brain. Because it has been the case for myself, I agree with the authors who maintain the importance of meditation in achieving changes in one’s brain. These scientists share the technicalities of actual changes that occur in the brain when one meditates. Fear and anger can be transformed into serenity and love for those who regularly practice meditation. I have been practicing meditation for years and I can assure you that the person who interacts with the world is far different than she was before she began.

The meditation I read about this morning is especially powerful and I would like to share it as background before I share how to do the practice which I first knew as the Loving Kindness Meditation. These authors entitle the section “Sending Kindness and Forgiveness to Others”. They suggest a person use this meditation when one is feeling dislike or hate toward another person. The people in my life that fall into this category are few these days, but when I get outside my own circle there are individuals that fit. Today, politicians are for sure on my list. I will start by saying that hatred for particular political leaders or people who disagree with us politically is an epidemic today and a real danger to the future of the human race. Let me be clear. It isn’t the differences between people that are dangerous, but their hatred. Hatred goes beyond discomfort and dislike in that one wishes harm to come to the one hated. When hate occurs in masses, it can lead to war and genocides. This is why the authors suggest that Loving Kindness meditation may be the most important, yet the most difficult, form of meditation. When we practice Loving Kindness meditation we are changing the world.

The meditation is the most difficult, not because it is so complex, but because of what it demands. It is the cornerstone of every religious tradition – the golden rule, loving your neighbor as yourself. But Jesus and the Buddha went one step further. They taught that we should love our enemies as well. This is where the difficulty lies.

Ghandi once counseled a Hindu whose child was killed during a religious war suggesting that the man adopt an orphan, but he was to raise the child as Muslim. He knew that this would eventually alleviate the man’s religious hatred.

What the meditation helps with is forgiveness. Forgiveness improves family relationships, decreases depressive symptoms while enhancing empathy and life satisfaction. Even the act of choosing to replace an unforgiving attitude with a forgiving one affects the peripheral and central nervous systems in ways that promote physical and psychological health. 

The authors suggest that we take a moment to think about a person we hate and imagine sending him or her love. I once set out to pray for each person serving in the U.S. Congress in this way. I completed the Senate but was unable to get through all of the members of the House. I found some politicians easy to think of kindly, but others, I struggled with. I was able to give my words, but my heart was resistant.

If you are one who hates a particular person or political party, or ethnic or racial group, imagine the difference your achieving a change of heart does for world peace. This was the teaching of Peace Pilgrim who inspired this blog.

In my next blog, I will share with you the meditation.

Why I argue on Facebook

I am reading Love Your Enemies by Arthur C. Brooks. It is the first book I have read by a person on the conservative right that I can get excited about. Read it, especially if you are a liberal.

The subtitle is “How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt”. I wish Brooks were sitting with me on my back porch as I read so I could throw out my ideas. I throw them out anyway even though he is not here. Sometimes I bring them onto Facebook or into my blog where at least someone is listening. I hope to do some writing about his ideas. Actually I have, though not in reference to Brooks’ book.

The title of this blog is “My Thoughts on Peace”. It was inspired by Peace Pilgrim, a woman who walked across the United States on foot carrying only a tooth brush, a comb, a pencil and pad of paper, stamps and envelopes, and two documents: a message to the United Nations and another to the United States Congress. As she traveled, she stopped and spoke wherever she was invited and she collected signatures for her documents. This is what she did for peace. I use my blog to share a message of peace.

My belief in peace is grounded in my Christian faith. Jesus’ words are my foundation, just as they were for Peace. I am not alone in my convictions. Quakers are pacifists, for example. Among their ranks have been conscientious objectors and people who served as medics in the military because they believed in the cause of their country but cannot support killing.

Quakers also believe in equality. They have been beheaded for refusing to bow down to the king because, in their belief, the king is just another equal human being with a job to do. Their basic belief is that we are all equally children of a loving God which forms the bases of their non-violence as well. They believe that there is “that of God” in everyone.

Simplicity is another of their values. I aspire to simplicity to the point of annoyance to friends and family. It is okay. I annoy myself, as well.

I try to promote peace here on my blog but also in other media such as Facebook. If I read an attack by a person with my own political views upon someone with an opposing view, I attack the attack. Everyone has a right, even a responsibility, to express their opinion about issues. We all see things from a different perspective and as we talk and listen, we become more aware of the limitations of our own perspective. At the same time, we are influencing another. But this exchange can only happen in a spirit of mutuality. When we attack another or attack their group, we put up walls instead of tearing them down. We accomplish nothing except contempt and broken relationships.

Mothers Day began when a woman in America took a stand for peace, Julia Ward Howe, who served as a nurse during the Civil War. She wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” calling all mothers to work toward world peace. Ann Jarvice, another Civil War activist, organized “Mother’s Friendship Day” to foster reconciliation between Union and Confederate soldiers. The work of these and other women led to the official declaration by Congress establishing Mother’s Day as a national holiday.

Over the years, Mother’s Day has been redirected to honor mothers, but I have not forgotten its origins. I have chosen to unite myself with its original intent: to promote peace in the world.

I think Arthur Brooks’ book Love Your Enemies will go far in promoting peace, especially in our own nation. His principles can help families and sectors of our society find peace, as well. I am delighted to share the book with you. I am delighted to be hearing his words from a conservative. It really pokes a hole in the demonizing that comes from the political left. Good! A step toward peace!

Politics and a Higher View

I am reading a book by one of my favorite writers, Parker Palmer. Like many of the books I have visited lately, On the Brink of Everything, deals with getting old. It is a collection of some of his writings over the years, including articles, speeches and poetry. Through these, he brings his message to the world almost as a last testament. As a writer, I understand exactly what he is doing. My book, The Memorial of Jesus, is less about Jesus and more about what I want to pass on to my loved ones and to the world.

This morning I read two pieces Palmer wrote after the last national election: “What’s an Angry Quaker to Do?” and “The Soul of a Patriot”. I have been hesitant to write my thoughts about the current president or about what is happening in congress. This is because I view politics as an enlarged view of what goes on within each of us or in the relationships we have each day. I have this idea, perhaps an illusion, that if we only understood the battle that goes on within, we would understand the other battles that go on in families and communities throughout the world.

I find myself not able to  avoid all political discussion, however. There are certain issues that come up on Facebook that are so  important to me that have to jump into the discussion. My intention has not been so much to debate issues but to present a deeper view or, as the Eagle flies, a higher one. I like to assume the good intentions in those who take views different than my own. I know and love conservatives and see their innate goodness. I may question their knowledge but I never question their intentions.

The higher view I try to project is this: our national problem is not that we see things differently. Our national problem is that our differences are degenerating into self-righteousness, hatred, fear and violence. I believe that if Satan is real and has a mission in this earthly realm, it is to divide us. Because of this, my attack when I engage in political discourse, is against words that divide such as name-calling, judgment, and stereotyping. Jesus’ words about loving our enemies, forgiveness and our oneness come flying at me when I hear them. The more we contribute to the divide, the more distant is the Kingdom that Jesus came to establish.

When a Legislator Puts Her Foot in Her Mouth

Wow, U.S. Representative from Minnesota Ilhan Omar really got herself into trouble. Some might accuse her of having a big mouth. I think one lesson to be learned is that when someone takes on a public office, their freedom of speech is put on hold. I think this is probably a good thing. When one gains the power of office, including the power to influence people’s thinking, one needs to be cautious.

One of the human characteristics that drives me crazy is when someone hears a statement about one person in a group they assume that it applies to everyone in that group. This is what happens to statements about Muslims. Omar should understand this. Even if what she said is true, she must realize that those who are already anti-Semitic will fly with it. This is why those in leadership have to be careful about their words. It is one thing to talk about a particular criminal act by an organization such a lobbying group. It is another to make general statements about their over-all activities or intentions. She did the latter.

There is another issue here that is more important to me than people putting their feet in their mouths. It is the issue of what it means for the United States to have allies in the world. I have been to Israel and stayed behind the wall built to contain the Palestinian people. There I heard many stories about abuses against innocent people simply because they were Palestinian. Our group witnessed abuses by Israeli police against teenage boys who were doing nothing but heading off to school. The room I occupied at St. George’s College overlooked the parking lot where Palestinians had to leave their cars and walk through the gate into Israeli territory to bus or take a cab to their jobs. I have also read extensively about the history of Zionism and how it led to the establishment of Israel as a nation over the objection of those occupying the land at the time.

In short, I think the solution of Israel to build a wall around the Palestinian district of Israel is appalling. It is akin to us building a wall around a Chicago neighborhood because of the gang violence there and condemn the innocent families that live there to suffer the punishment that should be aimed at those who actually do the violent acts. I get steamy thinking about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

But Israel is our ally. We pledged to defend them when they need it. We help them out in numerous ways. We share Intelligence for mutual protections. We do the same with other allies but our bond with Israel seems especially strong. I won’t get into why this is true because that isn’t related the point I want to make. My point is this: does being an ally with another nation mean that we have to put a stamp of approval on all of their actions or on their policies? We establish sanctions against human life abuses in the countries we consider our enemies, yet we turn our eyes away when these are done by our allies. I compare it to friendship. Those with whom I have a deep friendship, if they see me doing something harmful to myself or others, would tell me. I in turn would be honest with them. We have not been honest, it appears to me, with Israel. They have been oppressing the Palestinian people and it is wrong.

Having said all this, I appreciate that slapping an ally on the hands should not necessarily be done in public. I like to think that our leaders who deal with foreign relations hold high American values in all situation and call out human abuses when they see them…behind closed doors. But we need to be firm and at least not support abusive actions, even establishing some sanctions. I think what Ilhan Omar needs to learn is the power of her new office to influence people including the power to reinforce preexisting prejudices. But, while surrendering the right to speak her mind in all situations, she is now in a position to effect change that she didn’t have before. I hope she listens to the wisdom of those who have already learned the lesson of when to speak and when to keep your thoughts to yourself.

Comments on the Cohen Hearing

Just a couple of comments about the hearings yesterday when Michael Cohen appeared before the senate committee once again. Yesterday was the only day when the public could listen and watch. I was on the go but I watched it in the morning on TV and whenever I was in my car after that. Anyone who listened probably could memorize the Republican questions. They basically said one thing, “You are an admitted liar. You are going to prison for lying. Once a liar always a liar. Therefore you are lying now and we should not believe a thing you say.”

I suppose there is something to that. except that I know that “Once a liar always a liar” is a lie in itself. Anyone who is in a recovery program will tell you that liars can indeed become non-liars. Around the tables of AA or NA, you will hear stories of men and women whose whole lives were a lie in which they spoke lie after lie, usually to keep their stash in tact or to keep family and employers off their backs. Once they came to the truth, not only did they change, but those who stayed sober often turned into the most honest of people. Anyone who has had or witnessed a spiritual conversion knows this as well. People are capable of change. In fact, I would say change is inevitable. Change goes with maturing. One could say Cohen’s mind before was that of a seven-year-old until he faced some fierce consequences that shook him to the core. In recovery programs that is called “hitting bottom”.

The second comment I want to make is that there is an assumption that a person who lies about one thing will lie about everything else.  In a court of law, this is why statements made by witnesses have to be corroborated. That is, there need to be other things that point to the truth or non truth of what a witness is saying. These could include phone calls, texts, e-mails, bank statements, travel or hospital records, other witnesses, DNA tests – the list goes on. Cohen had documents with him and he named individuals who he said could prove the truth of what he was telling the committee. I don’t know whether the committee will follow through on these to find out if they are legit. This was done by the courts who already dealt with Cohen and will continue in the State of New York.

One more observation. I have thought a lot about what judgment means. I try to call it out when I see it. Judgment means getting into the intent of another person, into their thoughts and motives. We don’t yet have the scientific capacity to figure out what a person is actually thinking. The world of our thoughts remains a secret place. There are tools, such as a lie detector, but these don’t see thoughts, they just measure bodily activity. They are based on the assumption that people have physical reactions when they know they are lying.

Judgment looks like this: “You don’t care about me.” That is a judgment because it speaks to what is going on in a person’s mind. A non-judgmental statement has to do with actions or words. “You didn’t give me a gift for my birthday.” Judgmental: “You only cleaned the house to get something out of me.” A non-judgmental statement is “You cleaned the house.” Here is another one, “Your motive is to get a book deal that will make your rich”. A non-judgmental statement is: “You made a deal with a publisher.”

God only knows what comes next. There was one highlight of the hearings yesterday that I almost missed, but someone posted on Facebook. It was the closing remarks by Representative Elijah Cummins, the moderator of the hearings. First he spoke amazing truth to Cohen about the choices he’d made and how it harmed his family and his country. Then he appealed for a return to normalcy in America where people can disagree without demonizing one another and where rhetoric is respectful. “We are better than this,” he said. I yearn for such a day.



On Negative Posts on Facebook

It has happened only a couple of times since I began blogging that I began a response to a comment and decided that the response is a blog. This blog is one of these. The person who comment was kind. She was concerned that I was taking negativity too personally, messing with my own sense of peace. If you want to see what she said, look at the comment section in yesterday’s blog. Here is my response to her:

Thanks for the constructive suggestion. The fact is that I am not personally bothered by the kind of posting I talk about here. If you note the topics I choose to write about on my blog, you can see that I am very interested in politics and religion. I don’t even mind extremist views. Extremists actually help me think. I ask myself questions like “Is there some truth in their position?” or “Why are they so angry?” But extreme and negative statements like the ones I cited in my blog fail to solve any problems. They only push people to further extremes because they are on the defensive.

The really strange thing is that often people have no clue they are doing this. They see a post that is a bit sarcastic, maybe funny, and post it. The problem is that they may be bashing people that they actually like in their day-to-day goings-on. I read over and over again statements that demonize liberals. I mean, DEMONIZE. I am a liberal. I think I am a nice person. Those who know me might even say that I am a loving person. I just have a particular opinion on ways to solve some of our social problems. To me that is what liberal and conservative or libertarian is about…problem solving.

In my blog writings, I often address the issue of extremism, usually launching from a particular situation. I do this a lot during campaigns. As we gear up for another election, i anticipate a lot of hate speech to fly around again. I try to use my writing as a way to make people think about what they are actually saying. We need to be conscious of the words we use and who they hurt. This time, I thought I would just tackle a whole bunch at a time. I want people to see what they are doing when they post things that demonize others. Just because they are wrapped in humor or pictures of animals or babies doesn’t mean they can’t be used to reinforce hatred and fear that is festering in peoples’ hearts.

Some of the people who post these kinds of things are dear friends or relatives. Often I don’t respond at all. Occasionally I comment but try to be as respectful as possible. I do my best.