Shootings during “Great March of Return”

May 16, 2018

An open letter to Senators Hassan and Shaheen and Congresswoman Kuster

This week the Israeli military fired from the Armistice Line across 300 yards of farmland in Gaza killing more than 60 and maiming over 2,700 unarmed Palestinian men, women, and children.  Since March 30 over 108 Palestinians have been killed participating in the “Great March of Return,” organized by the civil society in Gaza, not by Hamas.  70% of Palestinians in Gaza were forced from their homes in Israel 70 years ago.  Since then they have been seeking the right of return or reparation.  And they seek freedom.

Senators Hassan, Shaheen and Congresswoman Kuster:  we need your voices and your legislative initiative to counter President Trump, Ambassadors Friedman and Nikki Haley, as well as some Zionist Jews and Christians, who are saying these actions of the Israeli military are appropriate and OK. Their statements and United States complicity with the Israeli military are an embarrassment and an outrage to U.S. citizens and people of faith.  They are in violation of U.S. and international law and the values of compassion, human rights, freedom, and justice for all.

It is not OK to use “butterfly bullets” (bullets that explode on contact to tear flesh and fragment bone) fired from U.S. sniper rifles to kill unarmed people.  It is not OK to drop gas from drones on peaceful people seeking freedom. The gas has killed at least one young child with breathing problems.  It is not OK to kill people with high-powered rifles and artillery who farm and walk on their land near the Armistice Line or even kill young people who sling stones at the fence and armored vehicles.  There have been no reports of Israeli deaths or injuries.  It is not OK to imprison a whole people, bomb their infrastructure, hospitals and schools, and restrict their water, food, electricity, and supplies for rebuilding.  It is not OK to give billions of dollars in military aid to Israel that supports these abuses against people of the land.

It is an absolute a moral imperative that you speak out firmly against this Israeli military violence and seek legislation to end U.S. complicity.  Communicate with President Trump and our State Department that they must support UN resolutions condemning Israeli military action against Gaza, and also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Advocate for support of an impartial investigation of Israeli military action against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Initiate legislation to withhold all military assistance to Israel until there is an end to the immoral of use of lethal weapons against civilian Palestinians and innocent children and a path toward freedom, the right of return, and equal justice for all Palestinians and Israelis: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Seek action to eliminate the introduction of Israeli military tactics in the training of our local police forces by the Israeli military.

U.S. complicity with Israeli oppression challenges our sensitivity as people of goodwill, justice, and peace.  It risks a trend toward normalization of violence in the name of security against people who are not just like us.  We ask that you let your values of love, care, compassion, empathy, and justice for the powerless inform your actions and guide your positions on Israel – Palestine and on issues of white privilege in our own Country.

 

 

 

 

 

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Overcoming Bullying, Racism, Fear

View from Kalorama Guest House, Washington, DC

Recently my wife, Faye, and I spent a week in Washington, DC.  Our primary reason for the trip was the annual meeting of the national United Church of Christ Palestine – Israel Network (UCC PIN) Steering Committee. There were dozens of other groups meeting in the city planning to lobby their senators and representatives on issues driven by their convictions and passions.  These assorted groups included the annual “Ecumenical Advocacy Days” conference and J-Street.  As we went from appointment to appointment on the Hill, we overlapped with delegations from J-Street.  UCC PIN and J-Street have different positions on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. However, we learned that both were advocating for a vote against Senator Benjamin Cardin’s Israel Anti-Boycott Act, S720.  Both see the Act as a freedom of speech issue. This bill makes it a crime to support or advocate boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israeli products.  Also, both delegations were urging an end to the Israeli military shooting across the armistice line at un-armed demonstrators in Gaza.

In addition, UCC PIN was asking our Representatives to co-sponsor and support the Betty McCollun bill: H.R. 4391, Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act.  It extends an absolute prohibition against the torture and ill treatment of detained minors, in keeping with both U.S. and international law. It requires that the Secretary of State certify that American funds do not support Israeli military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill treatment of Palestinian children.

We visited the offices of Senator Shaheen, Senator Hassan, and Representative Kuster.  We met with Legislative Assistants and a Senior National Security Advisor. We were warmly welcomed and given ample time for a thorough discussion of our “asks” and the reasons for supporting them.  Information was shared, questions were asked, and the developing positions of our legislators were explained.  They received our background literature and promised to consider the contents.  Each session ended with encouragement to keep in touch and offer any additional information that might develop.  Noticing the rain outside, one aide even offered to arrange a ride for us to our next appointment on the far side of the Capital building.

However, also included in these visits and throughout our five days in Washington was a cloud of apprehension. The infusion of power abuse, hegemony, lies, and bullying tactics of President Trump and some others in the administration infected the mood and spirit of the city.  Conversations contained hints of caution and despair. We heard it in congressional offices, in the voices at a demonstration on the lawns around the Capital, and in overheard discussions in the street, on the Metro, or in a cafeteria.  Several times we heard the words, “In this political climate it is not possible…” Lobbying groups exhibited anxiety and caution. Friends hesitated to delve into controversial issues.

Therefore, we were surprised by an experience at Kalomara Guest House.  Early in the morning six sleep-deprive strangers straggled in and pulled up chairs around the breakfast table laden with eggs, potato cakes, bacon, cereal, coffee, tea, and orange juice.  There was even a plate of home-baked chocolate chip cookies sitting on a side table! Cautiously we tested each other’s tolerance for early breakfast conversation. Names were exchanged. Hometowns revealed. Comfortable accommodations and a good, if short, nights sleep were affirmed.  Then the more courageous among us began to ask about why each of us was visiting Washington, D.C.  The conversation soon became energized.  Interest blossomed.  Awkwardness disappeared as we shared our stories.

During the next hour, regional accents from the South, Midwest, New Hampshire and Maine blended into the conversation.  Four of the people around the table were in D.C. to meet with their Congressional delegations or to testify at Congressional hearings. The other two were a daughter and mother visiting the college where the daughter had been accepted for the fall term.

One by one the breakfast guests expressed their commitment for improving the human condition.  The student from a small town in Maine was seeking to expand her horizons, study with other young people from a variety of ethnic and cultural origins.  The woman at the end of the table was scheduled to testify at a Senate hearing. Her organization advocates for immigrant children, as young as four, who have crossed the Mexican border and been separated from their parents or other adults.  By executive order, President Trump has taken away their grant funds. She is asking for funds to defend these children at risk.  The man sitting across from me was lobbying for convenient, affordable mass transportation by financing improvements in the rail system.

When our turn came, we explained our membership on the Steering Committee of UCC PIN and our efforts to lobby for the protection of Palestinian children living in the occupied Palestinian territory. Then the man sitting across from me said, “I am Jewish.”  After a pause he smiled and acknowledged the difficult struggle in Israel and Palestine.  For the next 20 minutes we shared our positions and passions concerning the Israeli – Palestine situation. Around that breakfast table grew trust and respect for the honesty of our varied convictions.

I give thanks for that early morning breakfast at Kalorama Guest House. The conversation among six strangers affirmed that the lies, bullying, racism, and all the current phobias have not won the day.  The Greek root of “kalorama” means “beautiful, wide view.”  Our day of advocacy on the Hill was validated by this small group of strangers who were willing to take in the wide view of listening to one another and extending love, care, and peace with justice for all human beings.  It is a beautiful view when walls come down to reveal honest sharing among neighbors, no matter from where they come.

Abandon Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons,

Like plump poisonous mushrooms

Lure humans toward death.

 

Outside my window is a Hawthorn tree covered with bunches of red berries supporting dollops of new snow. Every year in the middle of January thirty or forty Canadian robins will flock to its branches. After two or three days the birds will move on, every berry eaten, leaving the branches empty, colorless, and grey. Thus will be the end and the beginning of New England’s life cycle: barren branches soon bursting with buds announcing spring, the shade of green leaves softening the summer heat, followed by speckled leaves and emerging berries of frosty Fall nights.

Over breakfast and coffee last Sunday the dependability and joy of this view was overshadowed with two articles in the Concord Monitor. The first was a report of the missile alert mistake in Hawaii that sent the population scrambling for cover. The second article reported plans to increase the number of long-range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads on Trident submarines.

These articles followed earlier news reports that over the coming years the Pentagon plans to spend another $1 trillion to build a new generation of nuclear bombs and delivery systems. All of this is in the context of the debate over the wisdom of a President being able to make the unilateral decision to launch a nuclear attack.

There also is Congressional legislation being offered to control the use of nuclear weapons. Senator Edward Markey and Representative Ted Lieu have introduced HR 669 and S. 200 Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. It “prohibits the President from using Armed Forces to conduct first-use nuclear strike unless such strike is pursuant to a congressional declaration of war expressly authorizing such strike” (Congress.Gov).

Senator Edward Markey and Representative John Conyers have introduced S. 216 and HR 4140, No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act of 2017. It seeks “to prohibit the introduction of Armed Forces into hostilities in North Korea without declaration of war or explicit statutory authorization and for other purposes” (Congress.Gov).

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, NPT, prohibits all but five states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—from possessing nuclear weapons. However, India, Israel, and Pakistan also possess nuclear weapons but are not signatories of the NPT.

The reality is that these proposed congressional bills and the nuclear nonproliferation treaty leave the United States with approximately 2122 deployed nuclear weapons. They include 470 ICBM warheads, 1,152 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, 300 bombs, and 200 air launched missiles. Also, there are 2530 more nuclear warheads on reserve and 2530 waiting dismantling. Many of these US warheads have explosive yields 20 to 40 times larger than those of the warheads that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 (Union of Concerned Scientists). These numbers do not include the nuclear weapons held at the ready by the six other countries known to possess them.

The reality is that “half of 1% of the explosive power of the deployed nuclear arsenal can create nuclear darkness. 100 Hiroshima-size weapons exploded… would put 5 million tons of smoke in the stratosphere and drop average global temperatures to Little Ice Age levels. Shortened growing seasons could cause up to 1 billion people to starve to death” (nucleardarkness .org). A nuclear war would result in “widespread damage to human health, agriculture, and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Killing frosts would reduce growing seasons by 10–40 days per year for 5 years. Surface temperatures would be reduced for more than 25 years due to thermal inertia and albedo effects in the ocean and expanded sea ice. The combined cooling and enhanced UV would put significant pressures on global food supplies and could trigger a global nuclear famine” (American Geophysical Union). And my hawthorn tree would be a leafless, berryless, spiky skeleton.

I write this not to create fear. I write to suggest that for the past 73 years we have been living as a nation with a psychological blind spot: living with the belief that we can use nuclear weapons to protect life. We are like a person with a bomb strapped to their body believing that setting it off will kill the enemy but save the individual who explodes the bomb. Our nation is tied to nuclear weapons. We do not see that the emperor wears the clothes of death.

The Union of Concern Scientists calls on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:  “renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first; ending the sole, unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack; taking US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; cancelling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons; and actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.”

These methods to prevent nuclear war are important to support. However, they divert from the reality that any use of nuclear weapons: response strike, first strike, or threatened strike; will not save us. Believing that possession of nuclear weapons contributes to our safety is a national psychosis. The use of nuclear weapons is a suicidal mission contributing to the death of the world. There are no winners.

Our national leaders need to focus on the realistic humanitarian choice of eliminating all of our nation’s nuclear weapons, now. This will free up the $1 trillion dollars currently planned for nuclear weapons. This money could be used for foreign long-term development and humanitarian aid. In 2015 the United States allocated 26 billion to development and humanitarian foreign aid.   Imagine what an additional $1 trillion would do for U.S. relationships with people in need around the world. We would not only be refusing to be complicit in the mutual assured destruction of the world, we would also be contributing to the health, nourishment, and safety for the people of the world. At the least, we would not be participating in our own nuclear destruction and at best, other peoples and nations would be reluctant to destroy a country committed to the wellbeing of all people.

How would that be for money well spent? And perhaps, just perhaps, other nuclear weapons nations would follow the U.S. lead. Then perhaps, just perhaps, my hawthorn tree will stand laden with berries to feed those robins for another cold New England winter.

December 2017

December 2017                   (Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor)

One of the readings from the Psalms during the Advent season leading up to Christmas includes the lines, “(The ones) who go out weeping, carrying their bag of seed, will come back with songs of joy, carrying home their sheaves.” (Psalm 126: 6)

As a sandy soil gardener, I live through each growing season with the awareness that my ability to coax flowers to bloom and plants to produce vegetables is limited by the whims of weather, climate change, and the cycles of the moon! This past spring, summer, and fall have been especially challenging. I’ve watered, composted, mulched, staked, weeded, and chanted encouraging words over anemic faltering plants. My harvest songs of joy have been strained and muted as I have given thanks for the one meal of green beans, three tomatoes, a couple dozen cherry tomatoes, five stubby cucumbers, a few stalks of scraggly broccoli, and several snippets from stunted basil. Now the frost has frozen in place the pea-sized brussels sprouts. The garden, cleared of debris, sleeps under a protective blanket of snow.

It occurs to me that my gardening struggle may be a living metaphor that reflects the governmental and social malaise currently infecting our wellbeing. Many weep as they sow seeds of non-violence, seeds of welcome to the immigrant and refugee, seeds of healthcare for all, and seeds of economic justice; only to see them sprout and fall to the blight of lies, the drought of empathy, the derision of care for neighbor, and the domination of coercive power. Many “suffer the insults of the arrogant, the contempt of the proud,” and the patronizing of the rich. (Psalm 123: 3-4)

The burden of these struggles and the creeping December darkness bring out the curmudgeon in me. I don’t reach the extreme of a Grinch or a Scrooge or Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. But I am mired in a desperate void empty of the bright spirit of the Winter Solstice, Hanukkah lights, and the shining star of the Christmas nativity. Everywhere I turn the holiday spirit is overshadowed with discount purchase opportunities; new movies filled with explosions and violent solutions to evil; congressional legislation focused on accumulating wealth and human beings as commodities; and a regurgitation of verbal attacks among political and cultural adversaries.

Particularly egregious this holiday season has been President Trump’s announcement defying the wisdom of the nations of the world by declaring Jerusalem the Capital of Israel. He has totally missed the nuance of Jerusalem’s political history and its significance not only to Jews, but also for Palestinian Christians and Muslims. In 1947 the United Nations supported a divided Jerusalem, which held until the six-day war when Israel annexed East Jerusalem on June 18, 1967.  And in 1980 Israel enacted the Basic Jerusalem Law declaring a unified Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal and indivisible capital.” The United Nations Security Council resolution 478 declared this law a violation of international law. Throughout this history, Palestinians have held on to their vision to have East Jerusalem as their Capital.

President Trump’s support of Israel’s claim on West and East Jerusalem has not only limited the possibilities for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians: Jews, Christians, and Muslims; but has also spawned violent reactions during this season of “Peace on Earth and good will toward all people.” Making his announcement just prior to Hanukah and Christmas has emboldened the Israeli military to increase restrictions on Palestinian Christians seeking to cross the barrier wall from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to observe Christmas services. These tightened military actions have also restricted Muslims from their holy sites and their places of work. And so this season of joy has been corrupted with tears of many peace-seeking Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Christians, and Muslims; who have been working for so long to sow seeds of love and justice in a social and political climate of distrust, aggression, and fear. They are two peoples and three faiths, seeking the political presence of two nations and access to their holy sites in the historic city of Jerusalem.

However, to complete the garden metaphor, on the edge of our fatigued garden grows a thriving five-foot blue spruce tree. It stands strong through this winter of struggles in our country and in the holy places of Hanukah and Christmas. The two hundred tiny white lights sparkling in its branches on cold winter nights join with Hanukah lights and winter solstice fires to testify that darkness will not prevail.   The persistent presence of our evergreen tree of life in our depleted garden proclaims the reality in the promise of a future proclaimed by Mary, mother of Jesus, “God has brought down monarchs from their thrones, and raised on high the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” The presence of this tiny blue spruce with its shining lights declare with Isaiah, “As the earth puts forth her blossom or plants in the garden burst into flower, so will the Sovereign God make God’s victory…blossom before all the nations.”

May the seeds of justice and peace be sown among us this holiday season to be nourished and blossom in our lives, in Jerusalem, and in all the nations of the world.

 

 

Shooting in Houses of Worship Dilemma

Shootings in Houses of Worship Create a Dilemma

On November 4, Americans again came face to face with an insidious climate of violence when a man fired guns into the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The next day, November 5, there was a deadly shooting at the Fresno, California St. Alphonsus Church. These two events were preceded by gun deaths in places of worship in the Antioch, Tennessee Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in September, 2017; at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center on January 29, 2017; in the Charleston, South Carolina African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015; at Overland Park, Kansas Jewish Community Center in April 2014; and in the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Sikh Temple on August 2012.

This latest mass killing in Southern Springs, Texas has filled the news media with questions to church members about gun violence and security. After expressing a commitment to prayer, continued trust in God, grief for those who have lost their lives, and care for those who have been injured or who have lost a loved one; the conversation moves toward ways to prevent future violent events. Over and over we hear the conviction that restrictions on gun possession are not realistic, possible, or even acceptable. Finally the conversation turns to contemplate ways to increase security: hiring security guards, training church leaders to discern dangerous people entering church, and encouraging all people to be trained and carry guns to worship for self defense.

This focus on security in response to these shootings in Synagogues, Churches, Mosques, and Temples has revealed a dilemma. For many Christians, as well as other people of faith, the invasion of gun violence into worship centers has challenged part of their mission: to welcome the stranger and those who are hurting. Many religious centers host substance abuse support groups, homeless people, refugees and undocumented people, food banks, and provide space for counseling centers. Therefore, it is conflicting to seek ways to restrict some people while at the same time maintaining a welcoming place for all people. It is also a predicament for worshippers to seek security from gun violence by carrying guns into worship settings. For example, Christian Scriptures record an episode where one of Jesus’ disciples draws his sword and cuts off the ear of a Roman soldier who is attempting to arrest Jesus. Jesus responds, “Put your sword back in its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” He then touches the soldier’s ear and heals him. It seems violence only breeds more violence and never accomplishes true security.

Consequently, some faith communities are becoming venues for exploring ways to resist the conventional responses to violence and the conventional view of security. The Reverend William Sloan Coffin wrote in his book, Credo, “Will we be scared to death or scared to life? (Religious communities) being challenged to live with enormous insecurity… could become centers of creative and courageous thinking.” This potential of creative and courageous thinking suggests that there are no guarantees in security devised by human beings. There is always risk that cannot be eliminated by cordoning off property, asking for I.D. and fingerprinting. Also, it is incongruous to the mission of communities of faith to hire armed security, encourage looking for suspicious persons, and carry personal guns into worship services. The choice between stringent security and a welcoming community for all people seems to be a choice between death and life: death to a humane society or life-risking love of neighbor.

Religious communities understand that a valued life faces into the insecurities of welcoming the stranger and extending love to enemies. There is a saying of Jesus, “Any who would gain their life will loose it. Any who would loose their life (following me) will gain it.” Other faith communities have similar understandings. Muslims have a commitment to give to those in need. Jewish Scripture calls upon people to welcome the stranger into the land.

People in our churches, synagogues, and mosques are being challenged to demonstrate to the wider society life-enhancing ways to face into fear, hate, and violence. They are exploring alternatives to force and defensive security as instruments of persuasion. For example, it is disarming to greet people in the parking lot and the worship space with a warm welcome rather than a cautious reserve. Some religious centers have already declared themselves “gun free zones.” I was once in a church that gave its keys to the leaders of substance abuse support groups for access into the building every day of the week. These groups cared for the building as if it was their own. And they greeted each person who came through the door. All were welcomed. All became known and included.

None of this will guarantee the end to future acts of violence invading worship space. But previous attacks on religious communities may be the fuel to move people of faith to substitute ineffective security for courageous actions of love of neighbor. Jews, Christians, Muslims and other faith communities have the guiding principles and historical narratives to transform the future of human interaction. They can choose, in the words of William Sloane Coffin, “not to mirror but to challenge culture, not to sustain but to upend the status quo…” We have models from great leaders of the past who were willing to live non-violently in harms way that others may live in the way of justice and peace. Even as I write this essay, a report comes in of yet another random shooting that included a school. In this environment we need leaders and a movement that forgoes a focus on security and gives meaning to the risk of transforming the human condition.

 

Thoughts for Veterans Day 2017

Thoughts for Veterans Day 2017

Each year, in preparation for a Veterans Day program, the newsletter of my community asks that all veterans confirm the community’s record of their branch of service and “war time service location.” Upon reading this year’s request, it occurred to me that “war time” has become normal time. At least since the Viet Nam era the United States has been involved in perpetual war fought in one country or another against a diversity of “terrorists” and their supporters. This brave new world is rife with fear, suspicion, and hegemony.

Since the end of World War I United States international policy has been split into two opposing movements. The first movement embraces non-violence, negotiation, and amenable resolutions as instruments of peace. It was launched with the U.S. Senate ratification of the international Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact, signed by President Calvin Coolidge on January 17, 1929. The Pact reads in part that the signers, “Condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.” It also adds that the parties agree, “that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means.”

The primary instrument of the second movement is military power. Its mantra is “peace through strength” backed by superior weapons and a warrior class. This movement is sustained by a professionalized military and by words such as those sung in our National Anthem, “rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air… Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us as a nation.  Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just…”  This movement has reached a pinnacle of coercive power in the bluster of implied threats from President Trump toward North Korea and Iran.

The primacy of U.S. military power to settle disputes has been perpetuated with the deployment of military units in over fifty countries. U.S. citizens and sometimes members of Congress are unaware of military activity in some of these countries. For example, Senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer say they did not know there were 1000 U.S. troops in Niger. Their presence came to public attention with the notification of the deaths of 4 soldiers who were among a 12-member Army Special Forces unit accompanying Nigerien forces near the village of Tongo Tongo on October 3. It seems the United States has become a warrior nation.

It is apparent that the arc of the pendulum has swung from its peak amplitude of Armistice Day and the “pacific means” movement of the late 1920’s to the opposite peak of the early 21st century movement of “Warriors” as the salvation of the nation. Armistice Day has been coopted by Veterans Day, conceived to celebrate and honor men and women warriors who are put into harms way with the tools of war to solve international conflicts.

However, the focus of Veterans Day can be redirected. It may be the time to support military veterans with the acknowledgement that it has been a great tragedy to entice these women and men into participating in military solutions when there are other ways to make international friends, become good neighbors, and offer transforming love to enemies. It may be the time to offer our apology for luring them into experiences of maiming, death, and a lifetime of dreadful memories. It may become a day to pledge a “welcome home,” care for their wounds, and commit to a policy that condemns a normal recourse to war.

A step toward the transformation of the Veterans Day celebration is to include the many thousands of civilian veterans who have volunteered to go into harms way without weapons of destruction.

Veterans who have marched for civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, rights of GLBTQ people; thank you for your service.

Veterans who have served as fire fighters, medics, miners, social workers; thank you for your service.

Veterans who have served with Doctors without Borders, as aid workers with Syrian and Myranmar Muslims refugees, as workers with the Red Cross and Red Crescent; thank you for your service.

Veterans who have served in the Press Corps, for the World Council of Churches, in the Peace Corps, and as state department workers in embassies and consulates; thank you for your service.

Veteran volunteers who have searched, rescued, and rebuilt after earthquakes, landslides, fires, floods; thank you for your service.

Thank you, all who have non violently sacrificed and sometimes risked your lives to advance the swing toward good neighbors, peace, and reconciliation. You are riding the wave of a movement toward a future humanity where coercive violence will be unacceptable among people and among nations. As John F. Kennedy said, “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” It is a brave new paradigm, yet unnoticed by many. It transforms the nature of human beings. Thank you for leading the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choose Hospitality not Walls

My Turn                                                                                             August 30, 2017

Choose Hospitality, not Walls

Recently, a woman stopped me on Elm Street in downtown Manchester and asked, “Do you have a dollar? It’s all I need to make up enough money for a cup of coffee.”

This unnamed woman interrupted our dash to a sandwich shop for a strategy session to prepare for a meeting with our U.S. Senator. We were to plan effective advocacy against a bill to come before the Senate. Our presentation was to be based upon a humanitarian and justice foundation. I was mentally pacing out the steps of our approach to the issue as we walked by the entreating woman. I completely missed the connection between our urgency to advance our humanitarian case to the Senator and the immediacy of the woman’s request for a dollar.

The image of the woman seeking a cup of coffee stayed with me for the next few days. It brought back a memory of my years as a welfare officer in a small New Hampshire town. The people I had assisted taught me that behind every crisis requiring immediate financial aid was the critical need to have someone listen to their story and empathize with their suffering, anger, fear, and frustration with the entanglements and injustices of government regulations and social systems.

That memory morphed into missed possibilities of interaction with the woman who met us on the street. We could have invited her to walk with us to the sandwich shop to buy her a cup of coffee and perhaps a sandwich or a pastry to go with it. Or, I thought, we could have invited her to sit with our planning group and listen in on our conversation over coffee and breakfast. Perhaps she could even have contributed her understanding of injustice, abuse, and destruction of dignity to the issues that were motivating our advocacy concerning the Senate bill.

Or even more compelling, perhaps her story would have been important for our U.S. Senator to hear. We had been promised an hour. Giving up fifteen minutes of our time to the woman may have affirmed her dignity and ability to advocate for herself. As people of privilege, we have access to our Senator’s office and the ability to speak to the power of our U.S. Senate that may not be easily available to her.

I’m not asking us to condemn ourselves for walking by a person panhandling when we are on the way to work, shopping, or to pick up one of our children from school. (However, for those who are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, as well as many other faith traditions, there is Scriptural precedent for stopping to give help). I use the story only to illustrate our country’s widening communication gaps among people with differing life experiences. Frequently people do not notice or even acknowledge the existence of other people living in different environments, cultures, or economic circumstances. However, when we do notice one another it is often when needs, values, or identities come into conflict. Every day we read in newspapers, tweets, and on Facebook derogatory labels attached to rival individuals and organizations. There is name-calling, suspicion, misunderstanding, and sometimes hate and violence. We hear them on radio and TV news as well as on entertainment venues and talk shows. They come from some of our nations leaders, hate groups, and occasionally from some more moderate advocacy organizations. I’ll not give credence to those labels by using them as examples here.   Unfortunately many of them are already imprinted into our consciousness.

This widening communication gap calls forth the worst within us. It revives old prejudices and misunderstandings about classifications of human beings. A recent United States map drawn by the Southern Poverty Law Center illustrates geographical divides, some back to the Civil War, that are being actively promoted by separatist groups. The White House is reviving the divide between Americans and all others: insisting on a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and creating barriers to immigration and even tourism. Legislative leadership, state and national, tends to pit economic considerations against human needs.

The pathway toward a more humane society includes advocating for legislation that breaks down the separation barriers of widening disparities in income, education, cultures, religion, ethnic origins, and the differences in accents and traditions of people living in rural and urban settings as well as from different regions of the country. It also involves courage and the risk of hospitality that welcomes together people from all strata of our society. Everyone is invited to the table: those who eat with spoons, or forks, or fingers, or chopsticks – with their left hands or their right hands. Our differences are real. Some people are very conscious of rank and respect, insisting on “sir and ma’am.” Others are more comfortable with informal expressions of equality. Some value avoiding conflict at all cost. While others value a good debate. Some always look for ways to give praise and support. Others are more economical with their compliments. Some are enthusiastic, boisterous, and chaotic while others are more comfortable in a climate of soft-spoken reason. Geography and personal history influence temperament as well as the status and meaning of our lives. Some speak slowly and smoothly. Others speak with clipped staccato consonants. Some values are almost universally accepted. Others are diverse and in conflict.

The pathway toward a more open, just, and peaceful society is not easy, particularly amidst the fabricated divisiveness flaunted all around us. The pathway begins modestly, in our neighborhoods and communities. It begins at the coffee shop or the bookstore, at the ballpark or during intermission at a concert, in the grocery store or the dentist’s waiting room. It begins by listening to each other for understanding, to nurture empathy, to create dignity, and to inspire advocacy for the well being of one another.

For me, the journey down the pathway to increasing awareness and hospitality opened up with the invitation, “Do you have a dollar to complete the cost for a cup of coffee?”

(Published:  My Turn, Concord Monitor (NH), September 18, 2017)