instruments of peace

At the high school where I work we begin we begin every day with prayer.

On Fridays the entire school says the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.

The words weren’t written by St. Francis. The Peace Prayer of St. Francis was written in the 1900s and became popular during World War II. The words remain bold and powerful for the wars of our time.

God bless us, and may we truly be peacemakers. Amen.

stories that shoot the truth

Last week there was a shooting at the Walgreen’s near the school where I work.  I couldn’t find stories about it online and it didn’t make the evening news. It probably will never make the news at all because the victim, a teenage boy, survived.

I found out about the shooting because it happened after school and one of my students went to the store to buy a poster board to make a project I had assigned.  “Sister, there was a shooting in the Walgreen’s before I got there. I saw the boy go off on the stretcher. He’s okay, his eyes were open, he just looked scared.”

I listened and was amazed. I was very upset, as I am every time my students tell such stories.  Every time I learn the truth about the violence my students live with I am stunned, speechless, scared and angry. I cry with sorrow and pain when I get home from work.  I am shot down by the stories; I am disarmed and powerless.

I know most of my students know someone who has been shot.  Many of them know someone who has been killed. Several of them know someone who is in jail.  When I learn the truth, I want to share it. I really want to survey all the students and uncover the statistics so I could publicize them to the entire world and compel others to care and pray and work for change.

A while ago I asked a group of my students how they felt about my survey idea.  I said I wanted to tell the world about what they have to live through.  I was surprised with their response.  They were very unenthused by the idea, not because it was unimportant to them or insulting, but because they didn’t think that it would change anything.

“Sister,” I heard, “if you really want people to know about the violence we live with, then gather a group of us and let us tell our stories.”

Of course!  Duh me!  I know that stories are more important than statistics.  I know compassion is developed through relationships.  I believe that Jesus modeled how to listen and to teach through storytelling.  When we serve and love we need to know the people we are concerned about.  This is ancient history:

The LORD said to Moses,
“Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.

“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen,
do not incur sin because of him.God is with you statue
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.”Lv 19:1-2, 17-18

And then of course Jesus inspires us:

““You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?”    –Mt 5:43-46

We can’t love our enemies unless we really know who they are.  Once we really know someone and have heard what they have lived through — no matter what they have done — it is hard not to love.  God’s designs are perfect.  If we heed the words and the ways, the world will surely be changed. The kingdom of God will come.

In my classroom we discuss the challenge of loving our enemies, like Jesus and the Bible teach us.  The students understand the theories of non-violence very well, much better than I did at their age.  As they walk through real battlefields between school and home, their youthful ideals are challenged.

Yet, I know storytelling changes things.  My senior Peace and Justice students have been examining the influence and the power of non-violence by watching a documentary that tells stories, not statistics.  Through media, we are meeting people around the world who have really changed the oppressive systems by loving their enemies.   The film is appropriately called A Force More Powerful.

I admire my students very much.  Their hearts have been broken, yet they believe in the power of love.  I asked the students to tell  me why non-violence is called a force more powerful.  Here is a sampling of their responses:

“Non-violence makes the people who are hitting them feel bad because they are not being hit back.”

“Non-violence is more powerful than any other method of difference-making because it requires the most discipline, endurance and mental strength.”

“Non-violence is a force more powerful because it is showing ultimate love and resistance towards evil and violence.”

“Non-violence is more powerful because it makes people look at the opposed as if they are wrong when they become violent.”

“Why is non-violence a force more powerful? Because it makes a social revolution in the lives of everyone through reason and dignity.  Violence cannot do this.”

I teach non-violence in the middle of a war-zone.  Our entire globe is at war too, fighting for rights and freedom.  The cries for democracy in the middle-east and protests at state capitols cause us to wonder how peace and justice can truly emerge.Peace sign

What will it take for our rage to transform into love?  Parker Palmer, modern-day prophet, says that it is storytelling.  I agree.  When the real truth shoots us down, we have to reach to the other to rise up into change.

Compass

Compass by guest blogger, Sister Sarah Hennessey

http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/102384

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d like a compass

with you to the north

and my sister to the west.


 

I’d keep it in my pocket

and take it out

when I can’t remember the skin 

I’m in or the rhythm of my song.


 

To the south

are the mountains,

pink rhododendrons and sweet tea.


 

And to the east–

east is where the sun rises

and the Christ-light

finds me always

on the way home.

 

 


passing things around in the USA

Brace yourself. This video may make you laugh or cringe.

This sampling got me thinking about the general values of our country.  I remembered that a couple years ago there was some fascinating debate about whether the USA is really a Christian nation.  In the current climate of political unrest, I believe it is a conversation worth repeating.  What are the main principles and values that guide this country?

My historical analysis notices webs of influence created by our Puritan roots.  Our founding fathers- and mothers- were guided by Christian ideals.  Certainly us Christians are very vocal and influential in the political arena.  And, it seems hard to be “successful” in our country if you’re not Christian.

Yet, writer Jon Meacham suggests that “As crucial as religion has been and is to the life of the nation, America’s unifying force has never been a specific faith, but a commitment to freedom—not least freedom of conscience.”

Are we okay with people freely following their conscience to dangerous addictions, just as long as they don’t harm others and are having fun?

Thanks! And, God bless the United States of America- and the whole world! Amen!

encouragement

 

“Sunrise at Trout Lake” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

it’s morning, I wake

in dreams and prayers, I roll around

overwhelmed, I wonder

gazing out the window, I sigh

“encouragement- thanks God,” I acknowledge

bowing to the beauty and mystery, I move into the day.

Tell us:  How has God encouraged you lately?

nourished by disturbance

O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?  I want to learn only this from you: did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard? Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Galatians 3:1-3 

There is no doubt that Paul’s words were meant to disturb the community at Galatia. I am sure that I would be disturbed if I was called stupid and bewitched by someone I look up to. “Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending in the flesh,” or in New Jerusalem translation, “After beginning with the Spirit, you now end in observances.” A message like that cannot help but shake people in their ego! It cannot help but wake people from their sleep. That was true then but is it true now?

I am willing to bet that most people today skim over this text paying very little attention to it. I know that I have heard it many times and I have become accustomed to it. If we are honest with ourselves, are there any Bible passages that have the power to disturb us, to shake us out of our own selves, lives, problems, and egos? We claim to be Christians; does the gospel message disturb us? Or have we grown accustomed to almost sleep walk through reading the scriptures, mass, or prayers? Has the Christian life become a passive comfortable existence? Have we been sleeping through our spiritual lives? I know I can get into a pattern, a routine; I can be comfortable with framing the world with what I already know. We can feel worlds apart from the moments where Jesus rocked our world. I am talking about that moment when we stood at the edge of the vast ocean and yelled “YES” to the radical call of discipleship. I am talking about the moment when the thought of leaving everything to follow Jesus disturbed us but we wanted it anyway, the moment when the radical love of God challenged us but we desired it anyway. I am talking about the moment when we stood before the deep blue sea and we were scared but we knew we must dive in anyway. At times we can feel so far from that moment, that person we were, the openness and trust we had. Instead we have been lulled into the routine.We build expectations around what little we already have and know. We have forgotten how to dream. We follow rules and do practices yet they seem to mean nothing to us. We are no longer disturbed by the eating and drinking of the flesh and blood of Jesus. Even Jesus no longer disturbs and following him follows.

“Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, you now end in observances.”

The reality is that we will not alone be disturbed by Jesus in the Gospels, we will not be disturbed by Jesus on the cross or on the altar, Jesus becoming the bread and the wine, or by anything else in church. We will not be disturbed here at church until we are disturbed there in the world. Until we are disturbed by the grave injustice done to people in this world, the pain of peoples’ lives, and the kingdom that is not yet here, we will not be disturbed here in church. There is nothing strong enough other than the suffering of others to pull us out of ourselves, to tear us from our own self-centered world, and to free us from our smallness. But, if we are honest in this moment then we can honestly answer the question: have we not been sleep walking through this also? Have we not become accustomed to the brutality of war, the sin done against our earth, and the injustice that surrounds us? Is it true that we are no longer surprised by homelessness and disturbed by our own neighborhood evils? We sleep walk through the pain of the world and it is no surprise that we do the same with our spiritual lives.

Do we connect the pain of this world to the pain within our own hearts, the suffering of our past, the longing, and the desires for the kingdom? Do we allow the needs of this world to mirror the needs of our own souls? Are we disturbed by what we find within ourselves? Does the need for the kingdom penetrate our own souls so that we long to be freed, to be healed, and to hear the good news? If the world out there doesn’t disturb us and the world within our hearts doesn’t disturb us then the gospel will fall upon deaf ears. If there is no need to transform the world and our lives, then the altar will not disturb us.

But, if we allow the world to disturb us, the pain of others to rip our hearts out, if we allow the broken world to show us our own brokenness, then the message of Jesus will disturb is. It is in that hunger that eating His body and blood we will be transformed. And as we become what we eat, the transformed will transform and we who have been disturbed will be sent out to disturb the world.

 

Art, photography and writing are property of the author and have been previously published. All have been used with permission. To learn more about this week’s guest blogger visit his January post.

 

 

you are the light of the world

with innocence spark
leaps fearlessly from
the fire deep inside
where bread breaks and
desire is hot.

spark, simple and pure,
whispers her destiny
“I’m going to Love!”

parent flames are
reminded of their
source and purpose and
so beam out peace.

spark returns as
quickly as she left,
greatly changed.
Now she’s a gust of
energizing wind.

"Bonfire" by Angela Cruz

so spark soars, moves and
dances into the creative community
gusting breathing life
into oppressive systems and uncomfortable truth.

grabbing the hands,
holding the pain,
breaking bread and
uniting in the struggle
all become one.

groaning, hoping, praying,
together they are the heat of the Fire
“Jesus we hear you.
Your Kingdom come.
Your will be done.”

 

churches get out of the way, go to The Way

Christians, I think we have a lot of growing to do!

It’s embarrassing to admit that I can totally relate to the awkwardness featured in that video.  For a period of my life, before I settled into Catholicism, I was a seeker.  I visited a lot of brands of Christianity and tried to find a community that seemed like they were on fire for Jesus, service and social justice in the ways I wanted to be.

It was a lot of fun to bounce into worship services and jump up and down for Jesus.   X-games athletes might have used the events as warm-ups.  There were quiet times, too.  It was fascinating to attend Bible studies after Christian yoga.  I confronted pastors and asked hard questions then went home with a cool new bracelet and a headache.

My church-hopping days were adventurous. Certainly, they were also confusing and painful.  I was pretty young and I didn’t yet understand what I was experiencing or feeling.  I couldn’t even describe what I was looking for, but now I know it was something deep, lasting and radical.

Sometimes my searching brought me to Christian churches where I tried to find an easy escape because there was more of a cult-like mood than a Christ-like one.  It scared me a lot.  In general, whenever I am around groups that are very focused on themselves- and getting more people to be like them- I become concerned.

True, Christ told us to baptize others and bring more into the flock.  It seems to me, though, that if we were to truly live the gospel by working for justice and peace and loving and including all, then expansion would be natural.

But all Christians- myself included- can grow and improve as we seek to live the gospel.  As we try, we must keep looking in the mirror and paying attention to the realities we create.

I wonder: When we’ve been stuck in tunnel for a long time, how could we ever know when our vision has become too narrow?  Can we be trapped in a cave of comfortableness without even knowing it?  How many times do new people get creeped out when they come to our churches?  Do our lingo and ways make people feel awkward instead of at home?

I pray often that we can have open hearts and minds. I pray that we don’t get stuck in what’s comfortable for us and become stubborn about our convictions.

Like the disciples, we don’t really have a clue about where we’re going and what we’re up to.

Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  -John  14:5-7

I pray that we freely understand and follow Jesus, The Way, instead of our own worldly and churchy ways.  I pray that as we continually look around and let the Spirit guide us, we still have bold faith and deep trust in God. I pray that we can let go of what we’re used to when it’s no longer helpful.  I think it’s healthy to do this as individuals and as communities.

I pray that we become authentically loving Christ-like communities of inclusion, peace and justice.  I pray that our responses to seekers are kind and real.  I pray that modern Christianity looks more like this:

‘Come and See’: A reflection from Afghanistan

Guest blogger: Jerica Arents

“Tell them to come and see who we are.” Almost every Afghan we met said that. Tell them to come and see.  While my mind flashed to nightly news programs that portray all Afghans as dark, bearded men with big guns, ordinary Afghans told me that they want Americans to see them as just that: ordinary people. In October, I participated in a Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegationto Afghanistan. Kathy Kelly, David Smith-Ferri, and I spent almost a month in Afghanistan, joining the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Bamiyan for a week and spending the rest of the trip in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul. The purpose of the delegation was to make human connections with those people who are bearing the brunt of our country’s policies of warmaking. Entering the 10th year of U.S. occupation, and after 30 years of almost constant war, ordinary Afghans want the 43 occupying countries and the greater international community to stop the fighting. Come and see, the Afghans would ask wearily. We are human beings.

Jerica, Kathy Kelly and David Smith-Ferri with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Band-i-Amir, Afghanistan

We were welcomed into the country by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV), a group of young men in Bamiyan, an Afghan province directly west of Kabul. Bamiyan is a relatively stable area of the country with a large population of ethnic Hazaras and Tajiks. While we were there, the young men invited us into their daily lives. They work at small shops and in the fields, harvesting potatoes or hauling water by donkey. Their large families welcomed us into their homes with smiles and nods and messages of peace. We shared simple meals over food and with laughter, and seemingly insurmountable differences grew negligible.

A man and his son originally from Helmand Province, now living in an internally displaced persons camp in Kabul.

All of the families in the surrounding villages of Bamiyan share memories of fleeing the Taliban during their reign in the late 1990s — stories of large groups running down mountains in the dark, clutching small children and any possessions they could grab. Many of the very young and very old didn’t survive. Countless women and men in Bamiyan suffer from depression after experiencing the ravaging nature of war. “We age very quickly here,” reflected the mother of one of the AYPVs. Noting her weathered hands and worn eyes, I assumed she was in her late-50s. But the translator, after explaining that most women there suffer from anemia, persistent headaches, and debilitating depression, told us that the mother was only 38 years old. She went on, concluding: “I have experienced 30 years of war in less than 40 years of life.”

As the days passed, we started to weave together each young man’s story — stories experienced in the midst of lifelong war that have forced these teenagers to age quickly, too. Abdulai, a bright-eyed and generous 15-year-old member of the AYPV, lived through the Taliban’s abduction and murder of his father. Others told stories of witnessing their loved ones die, seizing the bullet-ridden bodies of their uncles and brothers. Faiz’s parents both died from illness before he turned 7. “When I remember my childhood,” he said, “tears come to my eyes.” But still, their hope was infectious. During a phone call with a young Gazan, 12-year-old Ghulamai, we heard words of encouragement that bridged the miles between these two occupied lands. “Please remain strong and brave,” pleaded Ghulamai. “We will endure this together, with you. If it’s beyond enduring, please call us. Life will pass, but if it’s beyond enduring, call us.”

The history of Afghanistan, I am learning, is a complicated web of interlocking systems of violence — a murder mystery-like story with warlords, ethnic oppression, drug rings, shadow governments, and corruption. But I am struck with the wisdom that was shared with us over tea in a Kabul café from a Western woman who has lived in the country for the last decade: There is not a military solution to the problems of Afghanistan. Forty billion dollars of U.S. humanitarian aid since the invasion in 2001 has done nothing for the poor. Policies to pump the country with even more weapons will never result in lasting peace. Young men with little education and no opportunity to provide food for their fatherless families will continue to join the Taliban for a meager salary. Come and see, the boys beg us. As they continue to bear the brunt of our military machine, may we hear them.

Jerica and the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Bamiyan, Afghanistan

Original post: http://blog.sojo.net/2011/01/04/come-and-see-a-reflection-from-afghanistan/

This week’s guest blogger, Jerica Arents,  is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies.  Jerica lives in the White Rose Catholic Worker in Chicago where Sister Julia loves to hang out to play games, sing songs, pray for peace and justice and eat dumpster-dived food.

All photos are the property of Jerica Arents. For permission to reprint please comment on this blog entry.