So Much for Peace II

As a result of the current CSAI (congregational study action issue) being "Peacemaking," there is now a Peacemaking list serve where people who are interested in the issue can communicate with each other.  I am on the list.

Not long ago, someone shared a hymn with the rest of us that expressed her sentiments about peace.  This Is My Song is one of my favorite hymns too.  That it refers to God is incidental to  its main point, which is the recognition that everyone everywhere loves their own country as much as we do and has the same hopes and desires that we have. I find the hymn so moving that even tho we've sung it in church many times now I still cry every time.  I appreciated her sharing her hope for peace with us and the contemplative state that reading the words to the hymn put me in.

Which is quite the opposite of what I felt when I read an email in response to her post - a bitter diatribe blaming religion and belief in God for all the wars in the world.  Suffice it to say that I don't agree with the second poster.  Religion has oft been used to justify wars but more often it's economics and power struggles that are its true cause. Not to mention that many many theists have, over time, felt their faith compels them to peace, not violence.

But even taking into account that we have different perspectives on the issue, what struck me the most was the negativity of the letter.  It totally killed the peace buzz that I had been feeling.  The first email expressed a hope for peace for everyone.  The second email expressed the sentiment that I have come to know and dread - the "It's all they're fault; if only they didn't exist everything would be great" sentiment.  Which to me is an anathema to peace.

Not only that but his response read like an attack on the first poster.  Whether he intended it as such, I do not know.  But I was left thinking, if we can't even respond to each other civilly, amongst UUs, on a list serve for Peace, well then, we've got a long way to go.  It's a good thing we have three more years to contemplate what it means to promote peace.

Desperately Seeking Habeas

I didn't get back from Portland until almost midnight last night, an entire day of sitting in planes and airports. And I came back to a steam bath.

Before I left for GA, I had made plans to have brunch with Miles and then together we would attend the "Day of Action (to Restore Law and Justice)" rally in Senate Park. Co-sponsored by the ACLU, Amnesty International, NRCAT (National Religious Coalition Against Torture), and others, the purpose of the rally was to protest the U.S. perpetrated torture in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and call for the reinstatement of Habeas corpus, which was effectively suspended with the passing of the Military Commissions Act.

The weather was SOOO hot and muggy, it was awful. The only thing that made the rally bearable was that the organizers did a fantastic job. First, they handed out cold bottles of water. Second, despite the long and cumbersome name, they kept the rally focused on this one issue, something we Libs have not been able to do lately. As speaker after speaker took the mic, the take home message was that protesting torture and the suspension of habeas corpus IS patriotic. One of our most basic American values is under siege by this administration and WE as citizens need to restore it.

Everyone was good, but the highlights for me were:

  • David Keene speaking for the American Conservative Union, showing that this is not a partisan issue
  • a trinity of religious representatives - a Muslim woman, a rabbi, and a Christian seminary professor (I think) - showing a united religious front against torture
  • Dennis Kucinich was a surprising engaging speaker, especially given the heat
  • Rev Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus rocked the house

There were a few sour notes. When a (presumably) Christian woman held up a sign saying that torture goes against Christianity, some dude wearing an "atheist" shirt heckled her. I heard one lone "boo" when the Conservative spoke, but for the most part he was warmly received, as he should have been. And when the rabbi spoke, again a couple of hecklers yelled about Palestine. It was aggravating - can we focus people, please?! But compared to other events it was mild.

Overall, it was a great rally, the kind that makes you proud to be involved. Now if only the press had shown up...

GA 06.23.07 - So Much For PeaceMaking

Last year at GA, the delegates voted to adopt "Peacemaking" as our Study Action Issue for the next four years.  Given that it was the only option, it showed that the SAI process was in need of revision.  Given that the language of the original text of the SAI was imo reactionary to the current war and potentially greatly divisive ("Let's decide once and for all whether UUs support "just war" or pacifism."), I was worried.  But I have been pleasantly surprised that the Commission on Social Witness and a core group of expert advisors have reframed the discussion, broadening it to encompass all aspects of Peacemaking, from the personal to the interpersonal to the international.

This year, I was really looking forward to a GA workshop called "The Theology of Peacemaking" with panelists Sharon Welch, soon to be Provost of Meadville Lombard, and Bill Schulz, former president of the UUA and former executive director of Amnesty International.  Really looking forward to it.  However, when I got there, I saw that the room was way too small for the crowd it had attracted.  Initially, I staked out some standing space by the back wall, but having lost it when I went to talk to the workshop moderator, Rev. Meg Riley, I decided to give up and go back to booth duty.  I was really disappointed, but these things happen.

What I heard later is that a riot nearly broke out at this workshop on Peacemaking.  (Can we say "irony," kids?)  All three staff members with whom I spoke afterwards looked shell-shocked.  People became loud and physically aggressive, reacting angrily when they tried to close the doors in an attempt at crowd control, getting in people's faces, and insisting that they move the workshop of 150+ people to another room in the middle of a session-packed General Assembly because (to paraphrase), "I paid for this conference so I am entitled."  

I'm sorry. I understand how frustrating it can be to not be able to see something that you really wanted to see, but if you can't be mindful of your own behavior towards others during a workshop on PEACEmaking then I don't know that you're really going to learn anything from the workshop anyway.  

The UU sense of entitlement may be our greatest barrier to peace.

Body Counts

As part of the content for's social justice pages, I created a little block that tells people about the cost of the war in Iraq - in dollars and lives, and also the estimated number of lives lost in Darfur.

For the dollars spent and civilian Iraqis killed, I could paste in some code that would automatically update the information from the source sites. But for the number of U.S. soldiers killed, does not offer that service. So if I am to keep the page up-to-date, every day I have to go to their website to get the latest information.

The truth is that despite my best intentions, with the automatic updates, sooner or later I would start ignoring the numbers. They become just background noise on my way to some other web page. But because I have to manually update the soldier death count, I actually pay attention. I've been doing it for a week and a half now and every single day the number has increased. On a couple of days the increase has been as low as +1. On one awful day, the increase was +14. At first I thought I had read the number wrong because I couldn't believe that 14 U.S. soldiers could die in one day and that not be plastered all over the news. But it was not a mistake; in some internet headline, mixed in with the other news, there was mention of it being one of the bloodiest days for the U.S. since the start of the war.

One of my memories as a kid was that every night the evening news gave us an update on the number of dead in Vietnam, along with images of flag-covered caskets. In my early life, I did not know a time when there wasn't war and Americans dying everyday on the tv. Then the war ended and we went through what seemed to be a time of relative peace, at least from the viewpoint of the U.S., and I couldn't imagine that we would ever go through the nightly body counts of Vietnam again. Well, we are and we aren't. The body counts are back, but instead of the news reporting it each night, along with images of flag-covered coffins, it's just people like me reading numbers off the internet.

This hardly seems like an appropriate way to respect our soldiers.

btw, 4 more dead today.

Peace & Human Rights

To the right you will find links to wizdUUm resources on issues of peace and human rights.  As always, you are invited to contribute to our collection.

In Our Name

Our church showed the HBO documentary, "The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" yesterday evening. As the film ended, Louise got up and voiced the same emotion that I had been feeling, shame.

The movie documents the torture of Iraqi prisoners held in Abu Ghraib prison by American soldiers - the torture of human beings putatively done for the sake of our American values.

In seeing the film I experienced the same frustration that I often feel when debating issues of social justice. While I do not in any way mean to let the individual soldiers off the hook - we are all responsible for our actions - in seeing things whole it is clear that those in command bear some responsibility too. They established the system and the attitude towards the prisoners that inevitably led to this atrocity committed by American hands. Yet the administration would break things into little pieces and focus on the end actions and not the systemic cause. In doing so the higher in command are not responsible, or so they say, because they did not authorize these specific actions. It was "a few bad soldiers who let the U.S. down."

In seeing things whole, it is clear that justice was not served by punishing only the individual soldiers. In seeing things whole, it is clear that breaking things up into little pieces is what allows torture to happen. The breakdown into "us" versus "them, the compartmentalizing of accountability. The lack of connection.

After Louise spoke, two Muslim men bore witness to the torture that continues in the name of democracy, freedom, and justice. In telling their stories they educate us on what our government is doing in our names. But in telling their stories they make themselves more suspicious to our government. One spoke of a fear of being too active in their mosques, lest they be suspected of being Islamic extremists. The idea that someone would be considered suspicious for being active in a house of worship just floored me. Between committee meetings and classes, I'm in my church up to 4 times a week. Imagine a devout Christian being accused of terrorism for attending church.

What difference does it make?

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?

- Mahatma Gandhi

Cindy Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan quit yesterday as the "head" of the Peace Movement. The mother of Casey Sheehan, who died at the age of 24 in Iraq, gained national attention as she camped outside of Bush's Crawford Ranch, waiting for an explanation for the war. Since then, she has been the "face" and "voice" of the Peace movement. Even while others work for Peace, the media has mainly paid attention only to her. There is no disputing that Ms. Sheehan's story is compelling and that she has poured her soul into her cause. And as she cites criticism against her as the reason for her quiting, I feel slight reluctance in piling on a little more. But only slight.

Cindy Sheehan was not a peace activist before Casey's death. Motivated by a mother's grief, the main driving force behind her anti-war activities has been anger. She is anti-war, not pro-peace. This was obvious at a Peace Vigil lead by the Network of Spiritual Progressives about a year ago. Rabbi Lerner had started by saying that the NSP is not the liberal counter-part of the Religious Right, but rather seeks to work for a positive vision of society, not simply against the Bush administration and the Religious Right. Immediately following him, Cindy Sheehan got up and launched into a diatribe of insults against Bush and Cheney.

Given her loss it is totally understandable. Nevertheless, motivation from anger and hate cannot sustain someone for the long haul. That kind of motivation will burn you up and wring you out. When the Democrats did not act as resolutely as she wanted - frankly they did not act as resolutely as any of us wanted - her anger turned to them and to our country. In her final entry on the Daily Kos, she writes:

"Good-bye America ... you are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can't make you be that country unless you want it."

It is hard to love when one is continually disappointed. Nevertheless, love is the only option if one is to achieve the Beloved Community. The spiritual challenge is to love BOTH that which is and that which should be at the same time.

I am not at all surprised that Cindy Sheehan has quit the Peace movement. And frankly, in the long run it's the best thing for both. She says that she is going home to California in order to "be a mother to my surviving children," and I think this is a good idea. May she find the inner peace that she needs to be whole again.

In Memoriam

To all those who died, or who were injured, both physically and psychologically, my gratitude.

For every moment when I've forgotten your sacrifices, my deepest apologies.

Karmic Lessons in Peacemaking

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

- Mahatma Gandhi

Like many realizations that I have, it takes me a long time to get to them and then once I do, it seems so obvious that I'm embarrassed that I hadn't realized it before.  That's how I feel about a recent epiphany with respect to karma.

I have argued for a while now that karma is not just the Western conception of punishment and reward - if you do good, good will come to you, if you do evil, evil will come to you.  More than that, karma says that if you do good, it will be easier for you to do good again in the future, and if you do evil it will be easier to do evil again in the future.  The law of karma says that <strong>what you do will actually change who you are</strong>.  You cannot be unaffected by your actions.  

So many times, when confronted with what we perceive to be violence and hatred, we are tempted to resort to violence in response.   Surely, we argue, it is justified to use violence to get rid of something that causes suffering.  A greater good will come from this temporary violence.  The ends justify the means.  

As with many of these kinds of things, I've known in my gut that the ends do not justify the means, but I didn't fully grasp why.  Karma tells me why.   What you do will actually change who you are.  In seeking to rid the world of violence through violence, we become the source of violence ourselves.  And not just temporarily.  That last bit is what I had been missing.

We send soldiers to war in order to fight for justice (or so we say). We expect them to kill other human beings, and then, if they live, to come back to us and take their place in society as if nothing has changed.

We kill people who have murdered, and expect that somehow reduces the propensity for murder.

And hardest of all to understand for many of us liberals.... we hate people who hate and expect that somehow reduces the amount of hatred in the world.

Hate has never dispelled hate.

Only love dispels hate.

This is the eternal law.

- Dhammapada 1:5

Karma says that the only way to rid the world of hatred is to love.  The only way to achieve peace is to be peaceful.  The only way to realize the Beloved Community is to live it.


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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative