Strategies for Peace

A sermon by Phillip Schulman

Here I am giving a sermon entitled "Strategies For Peace" one week after US military began bombing Afganistan? This has been a very difficult topic for me to address. Politics can be divisive. I wanted to address this issue with integrity and still deliver something that might inspire and challenge us all. I have spent many hours reading, reflecting, discussing. I ask your help in combatting the seriousness of this topic. If at any point you are having a hard time with anything I am saying or if you get bored, I invite you to stick your toungue out at me. Or try dropping your jaw or making a face. I think this will help to keep us all loose.

Peacemaking in a time of war is a fine art. The tendency to unite against a common invader or perceived common threat, is a natural phenomena. So to is it natural to retaliate or go on the offensive against a real or perceived threat. There tendency to fight for survival even to the point of aggressiveness is a basic and even beautiful characteristic of nature.

However there is something in human nature that becons to us to rise above the cycle of violence, of fight and flight. There is something that calls us to recognize and become aware of life rather than to be driven by it. There is something that calls us to our human being-ness rather than our human doing- ness. Something which leads us to lay down in green pastures to praise Creator and creation. There is something which draws us into awareness of power greater than ego- to see ourselves as part of the interconnected web of life. Something calls us to transcend tribal identities, fear and greed. Something leads us to offer compassion to our enemies. Something calls us to bend swords into plowshares.

That something is the force that gives meaning to our lives. It is the power that creates and sustains us. That something is Love.

I am not here today to divide us into those who believe that violence is neccessary and those who do not. The fact of the matter is that our lives show that all of us believe in force and violence. Who is never motivated by a desire to destroy or dominate another? All of us kill in order to eat. Bring to me someone who would never call the police- for are not the police trained to kill and use force necessary to subdue? And how far removed is the willingness to kill from the willingness to lord over, to see others as less worthy of the resources which sustain life and health?

I do not say this to humiliate or depress us, but to invite us to humility. If we acknowledge in ourselves the tendency to do violence, we can more honestly and freely begin to figure strategies for peace. Let us approach this project with humility and hope so that we might begin to think freshly. That we might think, and think again -continually crafting more effective strategies for waging peace. Let us not be too quick to dismiss nonviolence. Daily, Let us give peace a chance. Let us try- try again and again and again and again and again. Until we are masters of peace, rather than masters of war.

Let us begin by admitting that violence has a sacred place in our culture. Our culture says that it is wrong to use violence for selfish ends, but imperative to use violence to stop the bad guys. The result is that we hide our desire for power behind language of what is right.

Before we reject nonviolence, Let's admit that we have little experience or training in conflict resolution that seeks a win- win scenario. We are trained to be loyal to our team and beat the other team. We are reared in competition for the best grades, encouraged to fight and climb our way up the social ladder. As history students we are asked to memorize dates of wars and names of war heroes. The same import hasn't been given to the many heroes who led nonviolent struggles for peace and social justice.

Not only are we unschooled in nonviolence, we are inculcated to ignore the violence that exists in our society. Each of us is socialized to accept our place in a hierachical and class society, where resources are controlled and consumed by a small number of elite. We are taught that Columbus discovered America, not that Europeans conquered, pillaged and decimated nature, and nearly genocided indigenous people. We are not taught that the accumulation of wealth in the USA was built upon the dominance and degredation of Africans and that to a large extent this wealth is still not shared by them. We are taught to be blind to the violence of our society and are shocked when it repeatedly is acted out by those most often violated by it.

We have become numb, desensitized to the violence in our culture. Our children spend huge portions of their life in front of tv and movie screens where they are entertained by violence and domination. In video games, our children are asked to score points by killing and destroying. Consumers of mass quantities of violence can hardly keep from viewing people as expendable. The entertainment industry has also made violence seem sexy.

In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the USA the greatest perpetrators of violence on Earth. That is so far from how we see ourselves. We forget that our country is the #1 exporter of arms in the world. We tell ourselves that we are policing the bad guys and moving the globe towards democracy. We rarely consider that our wielding the greatest military and destructive power is done in order to keep the rest of the world from our accumulated wealth.

Some people feel that those like myself who talk about America's violent past and present are engaging in an excercise of blaming the victim. If it sounds as if I believe the USA is to blame for the terrorist attacks, I apologize. It is painfully obvious to us that the terrorism of 9-11 was barbarous, heinous, callous, cruel, unjustifiied and foolish. The entire weight of my words is intended to say that violence does not bring about peace. It tends to lead to more violence.

Nonviolence does not mean giving in to the demands of terrorists. Actually we have heard no demands. It appears to me that we were being provoked , baited into a war. The network of terrorists likely hoped that we would turn the muslim world against us.

I am delighted that we were not quick to retaliate. I am grateful for our efforts to differentiate between the terrorists and the rest of the muslim world. I am proud and pleased of the way Americans called for restraint. We do not want our hurt and anger to lead to harm and killing of innocent Afganis. The US public made clear that it did not want to imitate the villanous acts of 9-11.

That the sympathies of the US public are being extended to Afganistan is nothing short of miraculous. It is not normal for a country to express such concern for the people of the country they are bombing. I am very encouraged by this. However, I expect that our president will continue to exploit and coopt this sympathy for the purpose of maintaining public support for war. He have would like us to believe that we can bomb Afganistan without increasing starvation, disease, destruction death and suffering there. Still, I pray that public concern will help limit the extent of civilian death and public destruction.

Of course we want the terrorists removed from power. We want something to be done to restore our safety and sense of security. Towards this end, our president began invasion of Afganistan. The decision to use military action has been widely supported, protests notwithstanding. I believe that nonviolent means could be used more effectively to restore safety and peace to our world.

I am not such an idealogue as to say that nothing desirable has ever been acheived by force or violence. I am saying that we have consistantly overstated the benefits and denied the costs of waging war. I am wary of the mob mindset whenever patriotism is whooped up. We forget that our military helped create Bin Laden as it did Hussein and Noriega. We are so quick to laugh at our enemy's propaganda. We don't listen for the kernals of truth, and we do not seriously challenge our own biased views. Such is the nature of war.

Let us examine where it is we are placing our faith. Let us not lose our faith in peace, or set ourselves apart from foreign brothers and sisters. Let us question when we are told that violence is the only way to make things better for the US or for the world. My experience in Crisis work showed me that perpetrators of violence often claim that they had no choice, no alternative. Perpetrators of violence will frequently cut off their nose to spite their face. Perpetrators of violence see themselves as victims who must have justice.

President Bush has promised to bring Bin Laden to justice. Ironically, one reason that the Bin Ladens of the world gain sway is due to the frustration of the poor whose demand for justice is aimed at the USA. We, the US have been wronged, have been attacked and we want to remove the terrorists from power. Many would support using any means neccessary to achieve this end. I pray that we might hold all people's desire for justice as worthwhile as own. I pray that we do not create more enemies.

I propose that we seek nonviolent means to reach our goals. Nonviolence requires us to act in a way that exemplifies our values and goals. Nonviolence requires courage. It swears off actions which are motivated by anger and a desire to destroy. It requires us to maintain a respect for all life.

The Dalai Lama said that "unfortunate events, though potentially a source of anger and despair, have equal potential to be a source of spiritual growth. Whether or not this is the outcome depends on our response." Current events challenge us with an opportunity to live up to our principles and purposes.

Trying to maintain our espoused peace values can be difficult in wartime. Everything we hear suggests that it might be nice to talk peace, but come on, sometimes there is no choice. Military action is the only thing that will stop the terrorists. This strategy hasn't seemed to work very well in Israel.

Evergreen College Professor of Middle East Studies Steve Niva says; "terrorism is a phenomenon that can be defeated only by better ideas, by persuasion and, most importantly, by amelioration of the conditions that inspire it. Terrorism's best asset, in the final analysis, is the fire in the bellies of its young men. That fire cannot be extinguished by Tomahawk missiles or military operations." We would enjoy a global consensus of support for our right to apprehend the criminals behind the mass murders of September 11. Waging war threatens to weaken this global support, How about really getting behind global cooperation through a United Nations effort to eradicate terrorism. We could unite diverse peoples behind common values if we value peace and justice rather than merely getting our own way.

We could also have so fun and unleash effective creativity, if we would get out of the reactive mode and throw off the limited thinking which says violence is the only way. That editorial cartoon that I passed out reminded of when Saul Alinsky was called in to help break racist practices at Kodak. For years, organizers had gotten no where. It seemed that nothing could be done to force this powerful firm to change its hiring practices. Then Alinsky got creative. He realized an achilles heal in Kodak's PR jewel -its funding of the Rochester Symphony. The plan- buy several hundred tickets and distributed them to the black community. Prior to the concert, ticket holders would be invited to a dinner consisting of beans and more beans. Believe it or not, this threat of public ridicule shifted Kodak to make concessions and began changing hiring practices.

If we were creative and if we thought with concern for all people, we could swing Arab support away from Bin Laden or any who advocate terrorism. We could unite muslims, Christians and Jews around common values that abhor terrorism.

Who wants us to believe that violence is the only way? One major force is the military industrial complex and its disciples? That industry wants to stay alive, stay in business too. Military leaders want to use their weapons. Use it or lose it. The military industry needs us to believe that we couldn't be safe without them. Our war policy consistantly advances the war industry far more than it does the stated ideals that we fight for. Believing that war is the only way has led us to our current world conditions.

It will take creativity to reverse the momentum of war. It will take holy joy to become peacemakers. Peacemaking is not only a practical task it is a spiritual one. It is spiritual because it calls us to grow in our awareness of truth and of divinity. Making peace, seeking peace, choosing peace, these tasks are essential to every aspect of spirituality. . Being a peacemaker requires seeing the inherent worth and dignity in persons who have been disenfranchised and devalued.

To be peacemakers is to answer the spiritual call to love our enemies. To grow in skill as a peacemaker moves us to develop affinity for that which we perceive as foreign. Loving our enemies enables us to begin to love ourselves. Our enemies serve as mirrors reflecting back aspects of ourselves that need healing, aspects that we are unwilling to face. The judgements we hold against our enemies reflect judgments that we maintain against ourselves. In Love Without Conditions, Paul Ferrini writes that "if we don't love our enemies we will not be able to receive the gifts they bring to us." Loving our enemies makes healing, peace and reconciliation possible.

Through love and peacemaking is truth discovered. Gandhi's word for non-violence, ahimsa means truth- force. In order to become peacemakers, we must become willing to be honest and look at our motivation to do violence.

Of course we benefit from using violence and force, why else would we do it? The problem is that there is a great need to rationalize, defend and justify our use of violence. This leads us away from truth. In the movie "The Big Chill" Jeff Goldblum's and another man were discussing what it was that was hardest to live without. The first guy says "sex'. Goldblum responds "oh please, we can go weeks even months without sex. Try making it through a day without a rationalization."

Try using violence without a rationalization that distances from truth. This then is why worship of truth will lead us to a greater practice of nonviolence. Untruth leads us away from ourselves, away from what is. How can we have peace when we are separated from the truth?

Perhaps the primary reason we existence is the purpose of making peace, of healing, of growing in the spiritual awareness of truth, divinity and our interconnectedness. It seems to me that everyone on this planet is suffering to one degree or another from a lack of peace. Each of us suffers from being out of sorts with life- suffers from lack of harmony with the source and unity of life. The problem is characterized if not caused by a lack of love and acceptance. Fear, hate and judgement keep us from truth. Lack of self love inhibits our ability to love God, the Universe or Life itself. Each of us has so many ways that our ego, our separate sense of self struggles to assert its importance through separateness. Our egos, our attachment and our fear keep us suffering in separateness and keep us on the offensive against perceived threats.

In fear and separateness, we are bound to attack. However, there is something in human nature that becons to us to rise above the cycle of violence, of fight and flight. There is something that leads us to lay down in green pastures for the purpose of praising Creator and creation. There is something which draws us into awareness of a power greater than ego- Something in us becons us to see ourselves as part of the interconnected web of life. Something which calls us to transcend our tribal identities, fear and greed; to extend compassion to our enemies. There is something in us which calls us to bend swords into plowshares.

That something is the force that gives meaning to our lives. It is the power that creates and sustains us. That something is Love.

May we all be blessed by Love that we might be peacemakers.