Peacemaking

The Tragedy of Self-Appointed Prophets

Pepgooner / Shutterstock.com

Pepgooner / Shutterstock.com

The world is swirling with issues.

Picking up my phone and opening my news app each morning is being met with more and more dread each day.

When something hits the news, it is fascinating to watch people jump onto social media and begin “yelling" out their answers for how to heal our broken systems.

Of course, there are almost always at least two completely different opinions for how these problems should be fixed, which typically leads to people drawing lines in the sand, picking their stance, and not budging. Relationships often fracture and a polarized a world gets more polarized, rendering it immobilized for the work of reconciliation.

Whether it’s on our Facebook page, Twitter feed, or around our table, I assume most of us can think of an interaction where this unhelpful and potentially destructive reality played out.

So, does this “yelling” of our opinions actually help heal the broken systems and the people whom those systems are breaking?

Bonds of Brotherhood

PARDEEP KALEKA and former white supremacist Arno Michaelis clasped hands during a radio interview on the first anniversary of a mass shooting that changed both of their lives. Their embrace was the ultimate symbol of brotherhood—two starkly different backgrounds united by a common goal of peace and understanding in an oftentimes cruel and unforgiving world.

Pardeep Kaleka is a member of the Sikh faith community. His father was one of the six worshippers killed on Aug. 5, 2012, at the Sikh temple, or gurdwara, in Oak Creek, Wis. Three more were injured that day before the man opening fire on the temple was wounded by the police. The gunman then prepared for one final pull of the trigger, taking his own life.

The shooter was Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist, acting on his own volition that Sunday morning. He had spent his life practicing violence and hatred toward all kinds of people he felt to be “different” from him. This hatred culminated in a final unthinkable act, killing six people in cold blood at their holy place of worship.

There was angst, confusion, and grief among the Wisconsin Sikh community after this terrible tragedy. But where many may have expected anger from those most deeply affected, the Sikhs responded with something thoroughly refreshing: peace.

IN THE 21ST CENTURY, peace seems to be more of a mental construct than a state of being. The world around us is filled with conflict, struggle, and anguish. But when the Oak Creek Sikh community had an opportunity to respond likewise to an act of hatred, they refused.

Instead, the Sikhs reached out to the world with a passion to promote peace. The Sikhs took the opportunity to educate the world about who they are—a faith community filled with peace and devotion. But more important, they taught the world an incredibly valuable lesson: Answering hate with more hate leads nowhere. Love and understanding is the only path forward.

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From the Archives: December 1990

THE ODDS that this note will arrive for your birthday are poor, but know that I’m with you in spirit as you celebrate 16 big ones. ... What I want to say—some of it isn’t too jolly birthday talk, but it’s real.

Yesterday I stood looking down at a 16-year-old who had been killed a few hours earlier. I know a lot of kids even younger who are dead. This is a terrible time in El Salvador for youth. A lot of idealism and commitment are getting snuffed out here now.

The reasons why so many people are being killed are quite complicated, yet there are some clear, simple strands. One is that many people have found a meaning to life, to sacrifice, struggle, and even to death. And whether their life span is 16 years, 60, or 90—for them, their life has had a purpose. In many ways, they are fortunate people.

Brooklyn is not passing through the drama of El Salvador, but some things hold true wherever one is, and at whatever age. What I’m saying is, I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you—something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for—something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what that might be—that’s for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search. 

Sister Ita Ford was a Maryknoll missionary in El Salvador when she wrote this letter in August 1980 to her 16-year-old niece, who lived in Brooklyn. Ford was killed three months later by a right-wing death squad.

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Season of Disruption

WHEN JOHANNES BRAHMS first played his German Requiem in Vienna in 1867, the audience was shocked. In fact, scholars report that some “hissed and booed and behaved quite boorishly.”

This October, when the St. Louis Symphony performed the same piece along with German composer Detlev Glanert’s arrangement of Brahms’ Four Preludes and Serious Songs, it elicited a similar response.

Not to the work itself, but to what occurred during intermission.

As conductor Markus Stenz took the stage, two audience members began to sing. In strong, clear voices, they performed Florence Patton Reece’s famous justice hymn: “Which side are you on, friend? Which side are you on?” Nearly a dozen more scattered throughout Powell Hall joined in. While the audience watched in stunned silence, a banner unfurled from the balcony with a silhouette of a man’s face. It said: Requiem for Mike Brown 1996-2014.

As in Vienna, there were some boos from the audience and a few expletives—more disruption following the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, by white police officer Darren Wilson. While the Vienna audience complained that Brahms’ music was too religious for a secular setting, one St. Louis symphony-goer asked, “Is Powell Hall a proper venue for a protest?” And a Catholic priest challenged: “Instead of chanting ‘Which side are you on?’ further dividing the community, try singing ‘How can we heal?’”

“A concert hall is a public place, and public protest is possible there,” composer Glanert told Sojourners. “Perhaps [Brahms] would have quoted the Bible: ‘Whoever hates his brother is a murderer ... no murderer has eternal life within him.’”

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'Don't Get Weary Though The Way Be Long'

IN JANUARY 2012, I was driving in the flatlands of northern Indiana with historian and democracy activist Vincent G. Harding. I was Harding’s tour guide and chauffer for the week. As we drove he asked me what I hoped to happen at an upcoming meeting. “We’re open to whatever you feel inspired to share with us,” I responded. He replied, “Joanna, this is your community. I want to hear from you what is important in this conversation. You know better than I what your community needs to be discussing right now.”

This was the organizational formula Vincent Harding had been using for more than 50 years: Bring people together, remind them of the strength of their roots, listen to their wisdom, and connect them to a broader biblical and historical movement.

Harding, who died May 19, 2014, was a lifelong activist for the development of a compassionate, multireligious, multiracial democracy and a leading historian in the black-led freedom struggle in the U.S. Harding and his spouse, Rosemarie Freeney Harding, who died in 2004, had been colleagues of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in the 1960s, and Vincent later became the first director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta.

When historian, author, and longtime friend P. Sterling Stuckey heard about Harding’s death, he said he found it hard to believe because “Vincent was larger than life.” Harding’s effect on movements for justice in the U.S. was far-reaching. He was a convener of scholars, activists, artists, youth, and people of faith. He believed that transformation happened when everyone was engaged and contributing—and he believed that everyone had something to offer in the creation of a compassionate, multiracial democracy.

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How To Overcome Evil

LIKE MUCH OF the world, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about ISIS over the past few months. I’ve been horrified by the accounts of the so-called Islamic State’s barbarism, and I lament their perversion of one of the world’s great religions.

Most of all, I’m outraged at their disregard for human life—at their wanton killing of Shia Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and anyone else who doesn’t share their radical vision. Pope Francis has said that it’s legitimate to act to protect innocent lives in this case, and I don’t disagree with him.

Yet I believe that Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, which requires us to think beyond short-term military solutions and address the systemic issues that breed crises like this one. And I strongly believe that to have any moral authority in the current crisis, we must first confess the Western policies and attitudes that have contributed to where we find ourselves today—and then repent of those policies and attitudes.

The first thing we need to confess is a shallow and, at best, incomplete understanding of ISIS. Alireza Doostdar of the University of Chicago Divinity School wrote, “[We] seem to assume that ISIS ... has suddenly materialized out of the thin ether of an evil doctrine. But ISIS emerged from the fires of war, occupation, killing, torture, and disenfranchisement. It did not need to sell its doctrine to win recruits. It needed above all to prove itself effective against its foes.”

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'Reconcile:' Interview with Peace Activist John Paul Lederach

The cover of "Reconcile" by John Paul Lederach. Image courtesy Christian Piatt/P

The cover of "Reconcile" by John Paul Lederach. Image courtesy Christian Piatt/Patheos.

I’ve had the chance to speak with author and international peace activist John Paul Lederach about his book, Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians. The book, updated from an earlier edition with a new introduction from Bill and Lynne Hybels and additional stories, is a powerful guide on how to seek and realize peace among us on both local and global scales.

Having traveled the world brokering peace agreements between governments and rebel groups, and having risked his own lives and that of his family for the sake of reconciliation, Lederach speaks prophetically to difficult issues facing us today in a way that few can.

From Gaza to Iraq and even Ferguson, Mo., we want to know: what do we do now? Thankfully John Paul Lederach offers us both the hope and the tools to begin achieving reconciliation, wherever we are. In our discussion below we talk about his book, which is capturing the attention and imaginations of leaders everywhere.

Michael Brown, Iraq, Putin, Gaza: How to Reconcile the Brokenness?

qvist / Shutterstock.com

qvist / Shutterstock.com

A soon-to-be college-bound Michael Brown is shot by Missouri police, reportedly while holding his hands above himself in surrender and while unarmed. The resulting protests turn violent, leading ultimately to police setting up barricades, complete with snipers, tear gas, and flash grenades. Local stores are decimated and scores are injured in the resulting tensions.

Not long ago, Eric Garner, another African-American man, died of suffocation while being submitted to a choke submission hold by a New York policeman.

Last year in North Carolina, a black man was shot 10 times by a policeman. And all of this is in the shadow the Trayvon Martin, whose tragic and unnecessary death, is still fresh in our minds and hearts.

As cited on the Economist website , it’s enough to elicit a grim question from Delores Jones-Brown, director of the John Jay College on Race, Crime and Justice. “People are asking,” she says, “Is it open season on us?”

Meanwhile, half a world away in Iraq, ISIS continues to wreak havoc, and the United States has resumed an airstrike campaign after a decade of military force trying to maintain a tentative peace in a fractured nation. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t have reports of more Israeli and Palestinian blood spilled over the historic Gaza conflict, and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to — in the words of a recent TIME Magazine article — “create problems only he can solve.” All the while, he stokes resentments between east and west not seen since the Cold War, seeking, too, to weaken the cohesive strength of NATO and to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies in Europe.

What’s happening to us?

A Summit for Change

IN JUNE, SOJOURNERS decided to take part in a little experiment. What would happen if 300 faith and social justice leaders gathered together for a few days to discuss some of the most pressing issues of our time? Our first ever Summit, under the leadership of chief strategy officer Timothy King, had as its tagline: “World Change through Faith and Justice.” Only time will tell how this experiment will play out in the long run, but in the short term I would consider it a great success.

Held over four days in June at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the conference brought together 296 leaders from churches, faith-based organizations, NGOs, media outlets, business, and politics. Fifty-three percent of attendees were female, and half were people of color; they were drawn from a wide range of Christian and other religious and spiritual backgrounds.

On the first night, when I saw who was there, I knew the Summit was going to be a powerful and wonderful time. Some participants were local Washingtonians. Others came from as far away as Ethiopia to attend. The group included icons of the social justice movement such as Ron Sider, Marie Dennis, Yvonne Delk, Otis Moss Jr., and Tony Campolo as well as newer leaders such as Otis Moss III, Rachel Marie Stone, and Daniel Varghese, a Georgetown undergraduate who celebrated the Summit’s “radical egalitarianism.” As Timothy King mentioned in our opening session, the group looked a lot like the kingdom of God!

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Silence for Peace

Irish countryside, Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH / Shutterstock.com

Irish countryside, Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH / Shutterstock.com

“If, as Christians, we believe that peace is rooted in Christ, then how we build that peace within us, in one way, is through the disciplines of solitude and silence; through spending time with God. Solitude is not necessarily extremely easy process, because it will bring to the fore all sorts of things that are within us. We will get to know ourselves in a fuller way. In solitude, where you know that God is with you, you can just be with God, and there is no need for a mask. Also, your humility might grow because you will see yourself as you really are — in a way that needs to be healed and transformed.”

 

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