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.

 

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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)

 

Palestinian Schools Threatened

As the school year begins in New Hampshire the headline news seems to be the inability to find enough school bus drivers, especially to transport our grade school children to school. Districts having difficulty are offering signing bonuses to driver applicants, modifying start and dismissal school schedules, and delaying openings by a few days. Beyond efforts to provide transportation to all children there is also the on going goal of fulfilling the value of equal access to quality education once children arrive at the school building. This goal is far from fulfilled in New Hampshire and across our country. However, we cling to the value and persist in the search for solutions.

In contrast, on August 22 Ma’an News wrote Israeli military forces reportedly seized eight mobile classrooms from the village of Jubbet al-Dib, near Bethlehem and a neighbor of the illegal Noqedim Israeli settlement. The classrooms were donated by an Italian NGO for 64 students from the first to the fourth grade. Although disputed by village leaders, a spokesperson for the Israeli civil administration contested that the structures had not received the necessary permits, and that the construction was “illegal.”  The Norwegian Council Policy Manager Itay Epshtain said, “It was heart breaking to see children and their teachers turning up for their first day of school under the blazing sun, with no classrooms or anywhere to seek shelter in, while in the immediate vicinity the work to expand illegal settlements goes on uninterrupted.”

Another school, a kindergarten, was demolished in the Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba on August 21. According to The Norwegian Refugee Council, NRC, some 55 schools in the occupied West Bank are threatened with demolition and stop-work orders by Israeli authorities, many of them built with funding from the European Union states and other donors. “In the first three months of this year there were 24 cases of direct attacks against schools, including incidents where tear gas canisters and sound bombs were fired at students on their way to or from school. Last year, four communities’ educational facilities were demolished or confiscated and 256 education-related violations were documented in the West Bank, affecting over 29,000 students,” NRC’s statement said.

It seems, while we in New Hampshire seek ways to keep our children in school, our Israeli military ally is initiating ways to keep Palestinian children away from school. These actions by the Israeli military fly in the face of one of our cherished values: the right to access to quality education for every child.

The Israeli military attack on Palestinian children’s access to schools in order to make room for Israeli settlements and their infrastructure motivates people around the globe to boycott Israeli illegal settlement goods. It is an illegal Israeli settlement, Noqedim, that encroaches on Palestinian land where those mobile classrooms were situated. Senator Maggie Hassan’s opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement needs to take into consideration Israel’s anti-education activity toward Palestinian children as well as the United States complicity with its military financial aid to the Israeli military that enforces this injustice.

Senator Hassan believes the roots of the BDS movement spring from an intention to harm Israel. However, she misses the understanding that non-violent boycotts are an acceptable action for change acknowledge by our Supreme Court. In addition, she does not take into consideration that any movement includes a spectrum of advocates. In this case the vast majority of supporters of BDS recognize Israel’s right to exist as they call for the humanitarian administration of the occupied territories and a return to negotiations between Israel and Palestine. And even though it is becoming less and less realistic, many still support the goal of a two-state solution.  Also, Senator Hassan perceives BDS as an impediment to a return to negotiations and a two-state solution. However, BDS can just as easily be considered a non-violent lever to motivate to start negotiations. In contrast, Israel, with its military, political, and economic dominance uses harsh treatment of Palestinians and their children, as well as expansions of settlements, as pressure to force the Palestinians to the table.

And most of all, it is important that the United States be true to its value of education for every child, not only in our country but around the world. Our country can not credibly advocate for that value while at the same time being complicit with the Israeli military who violates that value in its treatment of Palestinian schools and children. U.S. complicity is evidenced by its more than $3.1 billion annual aid to the Israeli military.

There are three ways that Senator Hassan and Senator Shaheen can influence the United States to be a justice-seeking nation as well as to stand for the humanitarian value of dignity and respect for children and their education.

1.Vote “no” on S.720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act and pledge to reject all amendments, and Senator Hassan to withdraw her co-sponsorship of S.720.

2.  Seek legislation to withhold military financial aid assistance to the State of Israel due to its military practices of injustice in the occupied Palestinian territories including impediments to education as well as arrests and detention of Palestinian children.

3.  Vote for the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, which has been ratified by 194 countries including Israel.

The second and third actions were affirmed by a 79% majority by the delegates to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ at their meeting in July, 2017.

Children in Palestine have been under duress for over fifty years. They witness daily barriers to their education and constant anxiety concerning their vulnerability to institutionalized violations of their legal rights. Therefore, calling our ally and friend, Israel, to account for its use of power is the right thing to do. It’s how friends support each other.

Politically Correct

July 27, 2017

From twitter and Facebook to discussions in meetings or among friends there are more and more people interjecting into their communications, “I may come off as abrasive and insensitive, but you just have to accept me the way I am. I refuse to be “politically correct.” I’m an honest person who tells it like it is.”  The implication seems to be that others are too cautious, too accommodating, and too willing to soften the truth for the sake of maintaining comfortable relationships.

Upon closer examination, it seems there are two sources for this aversion to the political correctness. One source erupts from a sense of superiority over others; often expressed by people with economic and political power. These people are convinced that they have the ability to be more effective and make better decisions than co-workers, political leaders, or the general population. In the name of honesty they feel free to label others inept and use images denigrating their character.

The second source is the opposite of overactive superiority. It is the feeling of powerlessness. It is fed by frustrations of economic, political, or social impingements on daily living. Sometimes it’s change that threatens dependable and trusted rules and established ethics. At other times it’s distress over inadequate health insurance coverage or a bill collector demanding money that’s been allocated for the basics of food, shelter, and the children’s education. A demand to work overtime may overpower the promise to be at a daughter’s school play. And at other times the power of a government official, a national corporation, or the cable company overwhelms. This sense of powerlessness may erupt into anger toward a stranger or an immigrant perceived to threaten job opportunities, local customs, or to compromise privileges of citizenship.

At these times, angry words, labels, and accusations seem like a good idea. There is a sense of power engendered through name-calling, invective, derision, as well as with ethnic, religious, racial, or gender slander. How good it would feel to let it all out! And there is always the alternative option of associating with someone rich enough and brazen enough to hurl derogatory epithets without consequences!

However, I would suggest that these actions of bravado and unbounded ranting and raving never trump empathy, humility, and clear thinking. In fact, “political correctness” may not be pejorative. It may simply mean recognizing and honoring people’s sensitivities and dignity. Political correctness invites people into discussion: listening to concerns, discovering differences, and seeking ways to create common understanding. It includes the hospitality of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, or Sesame Street. It recalls the stories of Dr. Seuss or watching the recently released film, Zootopia.   Basically, it doesn’t take a college degree or accumulation of wealth or the credentials of a “winner” to initiate these concepts we learned as children. And what about that old adage, “Count to ten before speaking?” This approach is not naive, weak, or gullible. One of the ways to make America still greater is to resurrect impulse control, particularly control of the mouth! To make America still greater is to do the work of a good neighbor.

The world is watching. Handala, a ten-year-old Palestinian boy, shows up in every political cartoon of Naji al-Ali. Handala stands with his hands clasped behind his back, looking with the viewer’s perspective, at each political cartoon. He is watching depictions of injustice in Israel, Palestine, the United States, and around the world. He’s the constant witness to the suffering of oppressed people everywhere. Al-Ali says that Handala will not grow up or turn around until there is peace and justice in the world. He is the conscience of the world.

What might Handala see in our country: an entourage speaking out with belligerence, belittling others unlike themselves, and relishing the bluster of bullies? Or will Handala witness evidence of the making of a still greater America?  I hope he will see my college cross country coach who insisted that whenever we passed an opposing team member during a race we talk to him, encourage him, and challenge him to pick up his pace and run with us. The result was we all ran faster, made personal bests, and contributed to a great race for all of us.

And I hope he will see the small discussion group of Muslims, Jews, and Christians meeting monthly in Concord exploring ways of justice and peace for all people. Perhaps he will see the Palestinian college students living in the West Bank seeking nonviolent ways to claim dignity while under Israeli occupation. And he will see a group of New Hampshire church people joining Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum’s initiative to write to President Trump, asking him to appoint a Special Envoy for 440 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention.

Handala will see people from many walks of life forming food co-ops and farmers’ markets to access affordable healthy food. He will see the hospitality Concord citizens extend to our refugee community and the help struggling people give to each other.   He will also see courageous volunteers from our country serving in Doctors without Borders, the Peace Corps, and working with refugees in Lebanon.

No matter who we are, how much or little education we have, to what social or economic class we belong; no matter our race, ethnicity, gender orientation, religious belief, or what skills we have or lack, we have contributions to make for a greater America. We belong to a people of dignity, each contributing out of our great diversity of beliefs, visions, and hopes. By sharing our insights, our struggles and successes, and voting for people who work for justice and dignity for every human being worldwide, we can make America still greater. If this describes “political correctness,” sign me up.

 

 

Humility

Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor, May 21, 2017

Greatness Manifests Humility                                                                      May 15, 2017

A recent White House dinner included several journalists as invited guests. They reported that guests were served water while President Trump received a diet coke. Guests were served chicken as the main course. President Trump’s chicken came with a side of extra gravy. And for dessert the guests were served one scoop of ice cream while Trump received two scoops, whipped cream, and a cherry.

This White House meal with the President is in sharp contrast with a meal my colleagues and I experienced in a village of impoverished indigenous Mayans in Chiapas, Mexico. The hosts insisted that we sit in places of honor at their table. They then served us the only chicken available in the village while they were content to eat rice and beans.

These contrasting meal experiences illustrate a growing tension in our country between attitudes of arrogance and expressions of humility. It seems there is a growing affinity for people manifesting over-large egos. Led by our President and some national and state elected officials, we are becoming a nation that values bluster and consolidation of coercive power over discernment and collaboration. Associating with “winners” has become more important than attending to refugees, the impoverished, and the sick. There is a burgeoning disrespect toward differing cultures, religions, and lifestyles. Effective leaders are expected to be able to force their will on others – particularly at the beckoned call of wealthy Special Interests. Internationally, The United States is expected to assert absolute dominance over the nations of the world: the strongest military, the most prosperous economy, a superior culture, and the most successful political system.

It is essential that such popular bluster be mitigated by a sense of humility. In English, the word “humility” comes from the Latin root word, “ground.” To have humility is to be grounded in a way that does not need to prove self-worth or to claim superiority over others.

The primacy of humility is advocated in many of the major religions. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks states, “In Judaism humility is an appreciation of oneself, one’s talents, skills, and virtues. It is not meekness or self-deprecating thought, but the effacing of oneself to something higher. Humility is not to think lowly of ones self, but to appreciate the self one has received. In recognition of the mysteries and complexities of life, one becomes humbled to the awesomeness one is and what one can achieve.”

In Christianity, Jesus says, “When you are invited… to a banquet… sit down at the lowest place…” From there, you may be honored with an invitation to move up higher. “For all,” he said, “who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” C. S. Lewis states that, in Christian moral teaching, the opposite of pride is humility. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

In Islam it is said, The Prophet did not behave towards others as if he was better than they were, nor did he spurn manual work.  One of his companions reported that Prophet Muhammad worked happily with servants or workers.  Other companions related that the Prophet tidied his house, tied camels, fed animals, ate meals with his servants, and helped them in kneading dough and bringing provisions from the market.  It was also reported that he used to visit the sick, attend funerals, ride on a donkey, slow down his pace for the sake of the weak and accept invitations from the poor.

Lao-Tzu said, “humility … keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men (sic).”

People of privilege, including our President and elected leaders, have advantages over the general public that demand a serious dose of humility. Imagine these privileged people leading our nation toward a growing awareness that “Fullness of knowledge always and necessarily means some understanding of the depths of our ignorance, and that is always conducive to humility ” (Robert A. Millikan). Imagine people expecting a semblance of humility among members of Congress, in the office of President, and in our relationships with other nations. Imagine humility influencing our relationships with one another. Imagine what we could learn from one another, the respect that could be generated, and the problems that could be solved. Imagine electing people who are strong not by being proud and arrogant but by being humble and respectful. Imagine the impact on international leaders at a White House dinner where the host took only one scoop of ice cream so that the guests could each have two!

Humility is an amazing tool to complement the economic, military, and political strength of our country. A humble America could advance trustworthy creative relationships between our country and other nations in our troubled world.

Advantaged and influential people exercising humility could break down the economic, racial, ethnic, and gender identity barriers among us. Modeling humility could enhance the effectiveness of our democratic system. Bluster, arrogance and coercion have been tried. It’s time to give humility a chance.

No More War

Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor, May 28, 2017

MEMORIAL DAY 2017

Study War No More

Each spring, on a sunny day before Memorial Day, our family visits the graves of our parents to clean away the weeds and plant flowers. As we clean the headstone, we remind each other of the struggles and good times we had shared with our parents. The view from the family plot in this small country cemetery includes small American flags waving in the spring breeze next to grave markers of military veterans. Some had lived long lives while others had fallen in battle, much too young. There were veterans from many past wars. However, as I took in this scene, a cloud settled over the cemetery and the wind ceased to blow. The flags fell limp as if grieving with the discovery that for the past fifty years there has been perpetual war creating more veterans, more wounds, and more graves.

I was reminded again of our country’s never-ending war when I viewed a new memorial to veterans in the community where I live. There is a plaque embedded into concrete for each branch of the military. Written into the concrete are the words, “In honor of all veterans past, present, and future.” Has war become so much a part of our lives that we accept its inevitable extension into the future of our country?

The normalization of perpetual war has seeped into our society unnoticed. We have professionalized our armed forces. During World War II, military personnel were called “our boys in uniform.” Now we call them “warriors.” Joining the military is a job and a career choice. In March of this year there were United States Special Operation Forces deployed in 102 countries around the globe. Often our country leads with military action or the threat of action before initiating diplomacy. The military industrial complex drives our country’s economic health. To seek an end to war is to jeopardize the stock market and to be against good civilian jobs needed to keep the military supplied with weapons and all the materials that keep an army running.

The best way to honor our war veterans this Memorial Day is to reject the notion that it is normal to live in a time of perpetual war. In the Memorial Day ceremonies in every city, village, and town let us sing “I ain’t gonna study war no more.” Let us pledge to take military recruiters and organizations out of our high schools. Further, as a veteran, I do not need praise for being a “warrior.” Nor do I need medals and speeches for bravery or praises for my sacrifice. I need people to confess that there is no glory in war. There may be times when our country finds itself in a defensive war. But do not deny that war is a horror and a corrupter of young lives wrenched out of their home cities, villages and farmlands. Some are killed. Some are permanently disabled. PTSD is another result of sending people into a war environment that is alien to all they’ve been taught about relationships, citizenship and rule of law.

Therefore, this Memorial Day, I seek to honor veterans of past wars with my own confession. I served as an Army Medic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 1962 through the beginning of the Viet Nam war in 1965. Later, one of my brothers served as a cook in Viet Nam. I was never on a battlefield. But I confess we’ve both contributed to the carnage of war by our participation in support systems that make it possible to send men and women into harms way, some to their deaths. In retrospect, I’m sorry that I chose that path when other ways were available to me. I am unable to justify participating in the precursor of what has become perpetual war.

And so I grieve over the flag marked graves of our veterans. I seek reconciliation with those women and men who have been injured and killed during the last fifty years. I also seek to reconcile with veterans who gave up portions of their lives to military deployment. The first step is for us to commit to extracting our country from the bravado and profits of war.

We can begin by becoming a people who honor those who non-violently risk and sometimes sacrifice their lives as volunteers in risky areas and situations in our world: people who bear the name of our country as they serve through non governmental agencies such as Doctors Without Borders and journalists; serve in refugee aid projects and rehabilitation projects after floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes; and serve through organizations like UNICEF, United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and the Peace Corps. These are sometimes dangerous and radical alternatives to war and aggression. Thank them for their courage and commitment.

Finally, this Memorial Day let us say over the graves of the fallen, ‘in our grief we commit to a future where we teach the ways of peace with justice. You have not died in vain. You have created among us abhorrence for the ways of war and a passion for diplomacy and reconciliation with our neighbors.”  Then perhaps we shall notice the clouds pass away and the wind stir the flags marking the resting places of our war veterans.