Archive for May, 2011

Eastern Mennonite University professor of “peace-building” Lisa Schirch just completed a tour last month in Pakistan. (Peace-building is the term of art for an “overarching concept that includes conflict transformation, restorative justice, trauma healing, reconciliation, development, and leadership, undergirded by spirituality and religion.” – see website – http://www.emu.edu/cjp/about/mission-vision-values.) Schirch was visiting a variety of Pakistani peace groups. She brings home the message that much of the U.S. military effort is exacerbating rather than calming terrorist energies, fueling resentment about bombs rather than opening hearts to alternatives. (reported in Mennonite Weekly Review 5/16/11 pp. 1,2) This undergirds the argument that alternatives to war and violence are not only a matter of ethical commitment but also of sheer efficacy in pursuing the goal of a peaceful world. Such arguments bear close scrutiny because they are the kind of thing Mennonites tend to want to hear. But the evidence in support of such claims seem considerable. “Love your enemies” is a Jesus claim, and it increasingly appears to be deeply embedded in the way the world is put together and hardly wishful idealism.

The Catholic writer Judy Cannato speak directly out of the Jesus claim. She notes that this is one of Jesus’ most counter-cultural teachings. She immediately points out that it is especially demanding for those experiencing attack and oppression. How is “love your enemies” possible with people who seek your extinction, she asks. Without directly answering her question, she affirms that Jesus himself wove a conviction that love is central and essential into every part of his life. (Quantum Grace p52)

The practical and the ethical may come together from two directions, orbiting toward each other into a circle of possibility that a world of violence may find transformation toward a new approach that foregoes killing enemies, something as radical and new on the face of the globe as full equality for women or the end of slavery as a publicly-supported economic arrangement. Will giving up killing enemies become another quantum leap?

Coming next – a series on the Touchstones of Circles of Trust, based on the work of Parker Palmer.

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David Brooks in his excellent book The Social Animal writes about the “great river of knowledge” into which each of us is born and to which we in turn contribute. He writes

—“The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past, we call genetics.

—The information revealed thousands of years ago, we call religion.

—The information passed along from hundreds of years ago, we call culture.

—The information passed along from decades ago, we call family,

—and the information offered years, months, days, or hours ago, we call education and advice.

In my pastoral counseling with couples about to marry, I have long pointed out a similar insight based on family systems theory: to be in a family means to wake up in the middle of a great river and to be way downstream and completely soaked in it. Then you decide how you will swim. Maybe a more accurate but a bit more abstract metaphor would be “then you decide what sort of current you will be” in your river.

Awareness of what we “wake up into” – what is our “great river” – makes us mindful of our place in the world and helps us to form more accurate and useful concepts of what we are doing and what we want to do.

Brooks book is particularly about brain theory. The idea here is that our brains’ physiological make-up is shaped by this great river and what we choose to do with it. Our brains are a physical representation of what we were born into and the choices we have made: to rejoice in beauty, to live in fear, to hate, to show compassion, to kill, to plant and grow, to be fierce in a good cause, to slip through life in the passive lane, to have fun, to relax, to exert oneself. All these things come to us in our river. How we respond and choose becomes our contribution to the flow.

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President Obama’s amazing speech about events in what is commonly called “the middle-east”, (geographers don’t like the term overmuch), sparks these thoughts from my context as a Mennonite advocate of non-lethal but nevertheless vigorous engagement in global and personal conflict.

I think it would serve those who would transform conflict patterns in the world to be more angry and assertive in defense and protection of victim and at the same time be willing to support and develop forceful strategies to maintain order and at the same time prepare initiatives that radically appreciate and respect the heart of all the actors (nations, communities, individuals). Said another way, all actors in a conflict have a “divine intention” or a “holy interiority” or a “true soulfulness” that we who seek to transform conflict will want to nurture and support and call forth. What we fight is the suppression and distortion of that “heart” that is there in all things.

It is too common for some conflict workers to demonize the forces of order in favor of victims. But this really is only falling prey to the temptation to turn the tables on oppression. The can be no demonization, no turning the tables, no “taking turns” at the power table. Rather, as good transformers of conflict know, the conflict must be truly transformed. To do this means to seek the divine intention for all individuals and institutions.

For example, peacemakers will often demonize the Pentagon. But surely there is a divine intention for the forces of defense, just like our bodies need healthy skin and cell membranes to keep out pathogens. Defense is a legitimate and valuable move, deeply woven into the patterns of creation itself. The question is, how has this become distorted? And how may the divine intention be rediscovered and re-embraced?

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One of my favorite poems is “The Naming of Cats” by T.S. Eliot. In the poem, every cat has three names (quotes are from the poem): 1) “the name the family use daily” (ordinary names); 2) a “peculiar” name (“names that never belong to more than one cat”); and 3) a secret or inner name (“the name you never will guess but the cat himself knows”). What would your three names be? For me, perhaps: Vern, anglo male (ordinary), Tae Kwon Do blues-playing minister (peculiar). And then that third name, which I have long thought to be the name of the divine intention for me, the name of my soul, if soul ever has a name in all its ineffability (“effable, ineffable, effanineffable deep and inscrutable singular name”).

Again, what are your three names? When you meditate on that third name, what is some of the shape of it? What true inner intention do you detect. Is it hidden? Pressed down? Or are you feeling well connected with your soulfulness.

I think of our soul as the place where the divine in us meets the great divine that is the heart of all creation. It is a locus of power, of integration, of satisfaction and purpose.

What is your third name?

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It is often said: we don’t want to just talk; we want to act! But what exactly is the difference between words and action? Judy Cannato – Quantum Grace – writes that words are “powerful symbolic manifestations” of our true selves. So words do have an effect, in whatever way that symbols have an effect. They can reorient, motivate, offer perspective, enrage and enliven. In fact words often count as action if they represent new relationships, alliances, alignments and commitments. Especially this latter, I think. The difference between “just words” and “real action” is the question of commitment, and I would add, risk. When we speak, are we passing the time of day, offering pleasantries, reinforcing the comfort zone? All legitimate things to do from time to time. But of course to be people of life and Christ-like spirit we will also want to use words that risk disapproval and even attack. Or words that propel us forward in new public commitments to courses of action that will, being something new, have indeterminate outcomes. Talk between abortion proponents and opponents. Greeting the homeless addict. Offering the boss perspective on an ethically charged decision. Doing this for “all your bosses” if you’re a politician or principal or pastor (public “p”s). These are examples of words as commitments, words as risks. Some talk is cheap; some talk is really the heart of moving forward in action.

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Daily Meditation

“After two energy fields encounter one another they are forever connected,” writes Judy Cannato in her book Quantum Grace. She argues that this insight enriches our lived theological sense of being connected to everything and to “the light of who God is.” She notes that too often “Religion… intended to reconnect and bind us to the sacred, has… become an instrument for separation and oppression.”

Regarding “love your enemies”, the often-time subject of this blog, she says “Love means we must do what we must do with care and compassion, connected to others and to all creation in a grace-filled energy that will not allow for indifference.”

I think this is  a bit of a different way of saying something Mennonites have tried to say in various ways. Regarding enemies – no indifference. Grace-filled energy. Care and compassion. By my lights, this does not mean we let people do whatever they want to us, or hurt us at their whim, or that the only response to aggression is non-resistance. It does mean that whatever we do, it will arise from the graceful and deep sense of interconnection. This includes talking to someone, running away from them, physically intervening, even causing physical pain, even incarceration. None of these acts necessarily mean breach of communion.

I think that we will go much further with our sense of what might even be called communion with enemies if we articulate and plan for such strategies, rather than only committing to the amazing mediation arts and certainly rather than more or less saying “all you need is love” in a way that permits disconnection and passivity (“not my department”).

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Movie – Hanna

Just watched this. Saoirse Ronan plays a barely pre-teen girl raised in the woods 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle by her dad (Eric Bana). In her coming of age, she wishes to see the world. She has been home schooled on steroids by her dad who has suspiciously special-agent like fighting and survival skills which she has learned with flying colors. She’s an intuitive, unrelenting fighter and killer, but also really nice and thrilled with the modern world as only a pre-teen can be.

It turns out that there is a very dangerous special-agent bureaucrat (Cate Blanchett) dedicated to killing Hanna. And Hanna’s father un-ices a signal that lets the woman know where Hanna is and that she’s “coming out.” Why they signal this is unclear. It certainly jumps the plot forward, and maybe it was because you might as well get the fight over if you’re coming of age. Maybe that was it. But the action’s so awesome that who, really, cares?

So she is immediately captured by agents, but then immediately escapes an impenetrable (and inescapable) fortress in the middle of the middle-eastern desert. As things occur, her mad skills are displayed over and over, which is a lot of fun. And so with her dad. And the woman trying to kill her is no slouch in the field either, although mostly likes to point her shiny silver pistol (she also does OCD tooth self-care that draws blood – one great scene shows a small rivulet of her blood being pulled into the vortex of draining water in her sink – is that her life?).

Spoiler Alert!!!

So it turns out that Hanna is a child of a science project to breed a better soldier, more pitiless, relentless, etc. The program was shut down and the other subjects “terminated” at age 2. But her “dad” saved her and raised her. And the woman is after her to clean up a long lost loose end. She tries but…. At the beginning of the movie, Hanna shoots a reindeer(?) with an arrow. She comes up to the fallen beast, sees that it is still living, and says “I just missed your heart.” Then she shoots it with a pistol. Long story short: the evil special agent science project woman comes to the same end at the hands of Hanna. Be careful what you breed!

Hanna is kind of pitiless, as she was bred to be. But she stays in the “just war” limits of engagement, declaring that she’s tired of hurting people. She tries to get the woman to just leave. But the woman is obsessive (we can tell by her tooth care!). So Hanna becomes regretful in her killing. At least there’s that, in this day when some – although mostly not the killers themselves, I suspect – think bin Laden’s death is an occasion to party. Hanna would be relentless. But would not party. And think how awesome she’d be if she was dedicated to not killing; just fighting. She’d still get a lot done.

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