We Are Crying Out ‘Help Me’: A Look At Nonviolence As An Alternative

Thursday, December 20th, 2012


(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

I went to see Anne Lamott speak last Tuesday.  Her new book on prayer is called Help.  Thanks.  WOW.  In her own indomitable style, she delighted a standing room crowd of over 500 at a local community church.  I thought to myself that night:  we as a people are surely hungry for something.  Our souls must really need nourishment.  Over 500 people came out a day after a foot of snow fell and roads were still almost impassible.

“Help Me,” Lamott said is the first part of individual prayer.  I thought as she talked directly to each of us there: we, too, as a country need to scream out to whatever higher power we believe in, “Help Me.”  It’s as if whatever is left of our national soul is making one final plea for help.  We have sold out to the snake-oil salesmen for the last 30 years who have told us to war against each other, to fear, to hate, to believe that if we care for one another, it is somehow a bad thing.  We have allowed corporations and their greed to destroy the middle class.  We cast out the hungry, those who seek medical care, and those who ask for work. We turn our backs on one another and bury our faces in texting, video games and walled communities.  We think somehow our souls can be fed by things instead of human interaction.  We are silly enough to think money is the be-all and end-all of our existence on this earth.  That’s what I was thinking as Lamott spoke.

And then three days later, the all too familiar sound of shots fired, children dead and a country hurting, crying out, “Help Me.”

Yes, yes, yes.  The discussion on gun control has to happen…now, tomorrow and always.  But so too does the discussion of how we as a people, a nation, have allowed those who sell us fear and hatred for profit to dominate our lives and our culture.

The snake oil salesmen who laugh all the way to the bank.  Fox News who tells us 24×7 to hate and fear.  The gun industry whohas fattened bank accounts with the blood of our neighbors and children.  The military contractors who scorn the talk of peace while their corporate profits soar.  The video game makers who delight in producing games that show nothing but how to kill and destroy.  Even Catholic archbishops who pocket millions of dollars to drive campaigns aimed at enshrining hatred in state constitutions. Where are we to speak up and say, “No more.”

I wondered as I watched as this latest tragedy unfolded in Connecticut:  Were we as outraged by the deaths of innocent Iraqi children when we went to war for oil and profit?  Are we even aware that drones are being used in our name to kill innocent Afghan children?  Are we incensed that our country puts profits ahead of universal health care for its citizens?  What do we do when state legislatures meet in the dark of night to pass laws that destroy human dignity and the right to collectively bargain?

We as a nation have bought into fear – it’s us against ‘them.’  What is always so surprising is that we also want to call ourselves a “Christian” nation.  The loudest message proclaimed by this Jesus of Nazareth is, “love one another,” “fear not.”  And we refuse to hear those words or think they were meant for us. We here in Minnesota are still sorting through the story of a pastor who shot his granddaughter in the dark of night thinking she was an intruder.  What was he so afraid of – this man of God?

We cannot arm ourselves out of fear.  No amount of security, guns or bombs will ever be the answer.  It is only by turning inward, calling out “Help Me,” and embracing the concepts of love and nonviolence that will bring about any real change.

The choice is ours.  We can continue to live in fear and line the pockets of those who sell us “easy answers” while they profit from our fear.  Or we can choose to change – as individuals, as a community, as a country, as a world.  The human soul longs for connections to other human beings (aka, love and acceptance), not text messages, video games, and flat screen TVs.

John Dear, more than any of the many people I interviewed in 2012, comes to mind today.  Few among us have dedicated their life to nonviolence in the way that this remarkable man has.  People laugh and jeer at him for his message of nonviolence and yet today, his words are the only ones that make sense to me or can provide salve for my wounded soul. If you missed our interview, I invite you to check it out here.

You may think it naïve or impossible, or laughable.  I think of the number of adults who laughed in my face when I would tell them that our youngest daughter was graduating with a minor in Peace Studies.  When did peace and nonviolence become laughable matters?

Without a change of heart, a change of direction – a cry for help, our nation, our communities, our families will be doomed to more violence.  How do we stop that violence?  I offer up the wisdom voice of John Dear, from his book A Persistent Peace, when he discussed his decision to dedicate his life to nonviolence (Defer to whatever higher power you call your god):

“And what has that road taught me?  That Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Dr. King, theBerrigans, and (Thomas) Merton were right:  Gospel nonviolence holds the key to personal, social, and global transformation. The future will be afuture of peace, if we dare seek it, sacrifice for it, and enact it – a new world without war, poverty, or nuclear weapons…

This is a precious hope. But realizing it requires a few things. First, that our hearts and minds fill with a new mystical awareness, namely that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God. The God of peace love us infinitely, loves us wildly, crazily….All we have to do is let God love us, and live in that love more and more every moment….it empowers us, fills us with happiness, meaning, and purpose – and sends us forth on the road to peace….

This truth leads us to a second realization.  Because each of us is the beloved, apple of God’s eye, then east to west, north to south, each one of us is a beloved sister and brother to one another.  Every human being on the planet is equal to every other human being…called to live in peace and nonviolence….that all life is sacred, lovable, called into God’s reign of nonviolent love….

Finally from this vocation of love, a new culture of peace and nonviolence will flower and grow and multiply.  We know who we are: God’s beloved sons and daughters.  We know who everyone else is:  our beloved sister and brother.  And so it follows precisely – we will never hurt another again.  Moreover we will renounce every trace of violence and war.  We’ll forsake corporate greed and nuclear weapons.  We’ll refuse to be silent or passive or afraid or complicit with the world of violence.  We’ll get involved, and give our lives so that every human being on the planet can live in peace with justice, with food, housing, healthcare, education, employment, and dignity.

We as a people and as a nation are hurting beyond measure.  Without a change of heart and soul, we are doomed to repeat the cycle of violence and fear that we have allowed to overtake our lives in a way unseen or felt in our lifetime.

Bobby Kennedy – He Spoke for the Disaffected, the Impoverished, and the Excluded

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

This past week would have been the 87th birthday of one of my true heroes, Bobby Kennedy, who was born on November 20, 1925.  Although far from perfect – like all of us – his genuine compassion for people and his belief that government could make a positive difference is people’s lives has never been duplicated since his tragic death on June 6, 1968.

Bobby Kennedy offered hope to a divided country in 1968 that the progressive spirit would once again resurrect in full force.  For those of us who lived through the assassination of John F. Kennedy – that anniversary just a few days ago – it was Bobby’s run for president during a time of war that made the prospect for peace and justice a possibility.  During a time of division, he suggested a way for healing.

His fervor for Civil Rights, and his commitment to racial equality,was rooted in a firm sense of social justice.  As Senator, Kennedy visited apartheid-ruled South Africa and at the University of Cape Town he delivered the Annual Day of Affirmation speech. A quote from this address appears on his memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”

He spoke forcefully in favor of what he called the “disaffected, the impoverished, and the excluded.”  Where were those topics in this past presidential election?

For those of us old enough to remember the 1960s, November can be a tough month – with the birthdate of Robert Kennedy and the anniversary of the date that was a defining moment for a generation/era (November 22, 1963).  For all their imperfections, the Kennedys reminded us that we could think outside of our self-interests and that traveling the road of possibilities for good was the far better road to be on.  Both are featured in our book Wisdom of Progressive Voices.

In honor of Bobby’s birthday, here are a few of his great quotes.

“As our nation—and its problems – have grown, we seem to have grown apart from one another.  We seem, through no fault of our own, to look only the short distance; to turn away from the far horizon; to work, each of us, on building a piece of our country.  And the pieces do not match…We became separated from one another, treating those of different races, or religions, or calling, as adversaries instead of allies…the first step in this task is to remember what our government should be…a reflection of common effort, a means of aspiring greater individual opportunity to our citizens.”

–Scottsbluff, Nebraska, April 20, 1968

“I have seen the people of the black ghetto, listening to ever-greater promises of equality and justice, as they sit in the same decaying schools and huddle in the same filthy rooms, without heat, warding off the cold and warding off the rats.  If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us.  We must begin to end the disgrace of the other America.”

– University of Kansas, March 18, 1968

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”

– Indianapolis, Indiana, April 4, 1968

Honor Our Veterans By Supporting Them and Working For Peace

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Eisenhow I Hate WarThe past more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have served as a stark reminder of the immense costs that war imposes on our troops, their families, and society.  The best way to honor our veterans this Veterans’ Day, and every day, is to work to ensure that we send our soldiers into harms way only when there are compelling reasons and no better option, and that we fully support our troops and their families while at war and after they return home.

Many of the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been documented in a June 2011 report titled Costs of War by the Eisenhower Study Group, which is based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.  As that report documents, the impacts of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the men and women who serve our country in the military include:

* more than 6,000 US troops killed, 99,000 injured, and 552,000 disability claims

* rates of suicide, divorce, and spousal or child abuse have doubled or more among military families since the wars began

* Other reports have found that at least 217,000 of the 1.6 million troops that have returned from the wars suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome (“PTSD”), 165,000 have been diagnosed with depression, and 1,600 have lost at least one limb.

The impacts of these deaths, suicides, injuries, divorces, etc. are magnified, as it is not only the soldier who is affected, but also their spouse, children, parents, etc.  And, of course, war also imposes a huge economic toll on our society which, in turn, uses up resources that could otherwise be spent creating jobs, alleviating poverty, expanding health insurance coverage, or strengthening the safety net.  According to the National Priorities Project, we have spent more than $1.33 trillion on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to date ($803 billion on Iraq, $532 billion on Afghanistan), while total economic cost for the US of those wars is estimated at $3.2 to $4 trillion once interests payments, veterans’ benefits, etc. are accounted for.

Given the immense individual and societal impacts of war, we share President Dwight Eisenhower’s sentiments when he said “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”  There are times, however, that war may be necessary, such as to rein in one country from invading another or to stop genocide.  As such, we believe that the best way to honor our brave men and women in uniform is to:

* avoid putting our troops in harms way unless compelling circumstances require it and there are no better options

* provide our troops with the resources they need to do their jobs

* provide for our troops and their families financially, medically, and psychologically when at war

* support our veterans by providing the medical and mental health services they need, and easing the return to civilian life with financial and other assistance

One way to help achieve these goals is to get involved with the following organizations that are working to promote peace, avoid unnecessary military conflicts, and support our troops and their families.

Veterans For Peace – an organization of veterans from all eras working to promote peace, increase public awareness of the costs of war, and seek justice for veterans and victims of war.

Military Families Speak Out – an organization of the families and loved ones of troops who have served since September 11, 2001 that is working to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, prevent a war with Iran, and support our troops when they come home.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America – an organization that works to assist veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, increase public awareness of the challenges facing those veterans, and advocate for policies that benefit veterans’ health, education, employment, and community.

These goals can also be advanced by ensuring that we withdraw all US combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014; not get mired in unnecessary military action against Iran or Syria; fully fund the Veteran’s Health Administration, G.I. Bill, and other programs designed to assist soldiers after they return from war; and oppose proposals to privatize veteran’s health programs and replace them with vouchers.

On this Veterans’ Day, let’s truly honor our veterans’ service by contacting our Congresspeople and writing letters to the editor at our local newspaper to urge our elected officials to send our soldiers into harms way only when there are compelling reasons and no better option, and to fully support our troops and their families while at war and after they return home.

God Bless Those “Nuns on the Bus”

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

“Fear – in all faiths – is something to be avoided. It is detrimental and it leads to what I’m calling an ‘unpatriotic lie’ about who we are as a country. The idea that our country is based in individualism, that it’s every person for him or herself and the rhetoric that is evident in the Ryan House Budget is wrong. It is not who we are as a nation. It is unpatriotic, and it is a lie.

“The foundation of who we are – civilly as well as people of faith – is evident in the first three words of the Constitution – ‘We The People.’ We are in this together. I think the selling of fear and the marketing of fear is done because when people are afraid it’s easier to control them.”

Those powerful words that cut to the heart of the divide in our country today were spoken with courage and conviction by Sister Simone Campbell, SSS the “driving” force behind the recently completed Nuns On The Bus tour. The nine-state tour, which ended July 2 in Washington, D.C., was the work of NETWORK, a 40-year-old organization with a rich history of fighting for federal policies and legislation that promote economic and social justice. The goal of the bus tour was two-fold: to speak out against the Paul Ryan budget proposal, which favors wealthy Americans at the expense of the poor, and to help build a sense of community among people as a reminder that we are all in the struggle for social and economic justice together.

“I had a meeting with Paul Ryan (R-Wis., and the architect of the budget plan that calls for cuts to the social safety net while still maintaining tax breaks for the wealthiest citizens), and he said the only reason he talks about individual responsibility and not about community is because the ‘other side’ talks about community,” Sister Simone said. “But you see, I can talk about individual responsibility. We have an individual responsibility to build up community. We are in relationship with everyone else. That’s how it works.

“We urged people to speak up, to connect and to talk to one another and we tried to tell them we would be supportive if they kept it going. It’s up to each one of us to contribute. Therein lays the individual responsibility – to participate.”

The tour not only spoke to the corporal needs of people, but also to the soul of who we are as individuals and as a nation. Each stop, which was met with great enthusiasm and little push back from either political or religious protest, included a “friend raiser” which allowed individuals the opportunity to connect, converse, and share stories.

“At every stop we met people who cared deeply about our nation who cared deeply about their state and in so many ways were suffering about where we are as a nation. I was so lifted by the valiant work being done in so many places to remedy some of the problems that exist and at the same time when we went to these “friend raisers” I was deeply aware of how folks in the middle class feel so isolated and so alone, so left out of a sense of relationship. They were just really hungry for it. Somehow what we did on the bus trip, raised hope for them that was profound.

“I had one women come up to me in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and said if she joined NETWORK, would she receive names of people that it would be OK for her to talk to. That hunger for connection is so real. People don’t know each other and so often you run into the buzz saw of partisan rhetoric and judgment that people are reluctant to have real conversations with each other. And that’s something that has gotten much worse over the last 10-15 years.

“One of the reasons we did these ‘friend raisers’ was so that people could follow-up and be in relationship and care about our nation so that we can have reasonable revenue for responsible programs. We must raise taxes. That is just a given if we’re going to have anything that is a sane democracy. We went too many years with these incredible tax cuts. We waged two wars that were never paid for and then we’re facing the baby boomers retiring. And we think we can get away from it without paying for it?”

Fighting for economic and social justice is nothing new for NETWORK. In 2010 they signed on to the support of President Obama’s health care reform and just weeks before the scheduled Nuns On The Bus tour began, the Vatican censured the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and NETWORK for focusing too much on poverty and economic justice while remaining silent on abortion and same sex marriage. The Vatican’s action proved to be just the catalyst needed for national attention to the bus tour.

“We had an amazing opportunity, Sister Simone said, noting also that the censor came at a time when NETWORK was discussing how to revamp its 40 year old mission and how to get more people to participate. “We got into this bus trip because I asked for help. We had a 40-year-old imagination that we needed to look at. This has been all about the Holy Spirit moving. It’s way beyond anyone’s control. Right now I’m trying to be faithful to prayer as we look at what the next steps will be. We have to stay focused on the Ryan Budget because the discussion and the possibility of what that Budget means is only going to get worse between now and January. We have to remain vigilant and engaged.

“How do we do that? We’ll be doing a lot of state-based advocacy working with interfaith communities and talking about our Faithful Budget, which is our alternative to the Ryan Budget. We will have nun-leadership teams meet with governors and congressional delegations urging them to take care of their people. And we will be doing a lot of work around the Medicaid expansion of the ACA (Affordable Care Act). I believe it is a sin for states to choose not to expand their Medicaid coverage (which would include health care coverage for those who fall within certain federal guidelines of the poverty level). This is a pro life issue.”

A native of California, politics and caring passionately about others was at the core of her life’s learning experiences. “I so admired those who worked in the Civil Rights movement and all they did to fight for integration.

“Jesus is all about justice. That’s the Jesus I know. I don’t understand the institution of the Catholic Church. All those decisions are made at a higher pay level than mine. I’m just trying to be faithful to the gospel.

“My sense of hope comes from prayer. What I do know is that in all of creation we remain one body. I can only do my part. I have a lot of ideas, but I know I don’t control the outcomes. I describe my spirituality as ‘walking willingly’ and by that I mean I don’t have the whole picture; I just try to do my part. As long as I’m not seduced by controlling the whole thing then I can trust that the Holy Spirit will move.

“The struggle right now is for the soul of our nation. Are we going to continue to be fearful individuals who don’t look out for one another? Frankly, only rich people can pander to individualism because poor people know you have to work together. You have to cooperate. We found much more community among low income people, where our sisters work than even what we found even in our ‘friend raisers’ where we found middle class folks who felt so isolated and adrift. The response to our bus tour was so overwhelmingly positive. It was awesome. The $64,000 question of course is, what happens next?”