Friday, August 19, 2011

Speaking a message of peace at a Swedenborgian chapel

This Sunday at 10 AM I will be giving a message at Wayfarers’ Chapel, a beautiful all-glass church designed by Frank Lloyd Wright's son, in Palos Verde. It's one of the most beautiful spiritual venues I've ever seen, with vistas that are unbelievable. See   I will be speaking there along with my dear Jewish friend Roni Love, who is a teacher, and Tony Lee, a Bahai college professor who writes poetry and teaches African American Studies. It should be a lovely time of interfaith fellowship. In the afternoon, I will help facilitate an interfaith cafe at St Margaret's Catholic Church in Lomita from 2-5 PM.

Here's what I plan to share at the Wayfarer's Chapel:

Thank you for inviting me to speak about peace, a subject that is dear to my heart. For the past 25 years I have been a Quaker peace activist and have been involved in numerous peace projects and several peace organizations, including the American Friends Service Committee and, most recently, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace. I firmly believe that war is not only morally wrong but it should also be abolished, like slavery.

I am convinced that war is a social disease, one that destroys the soul as well as the body. It has been estimated that between 100 and 150 million people were killed in the 20th century due to war. (See In addition to war’s physical death toll, hundreds of millions of survivors of war have been left psychologically traumatized. Suicide, chemical addiction, spousal abuse and similar signs of post-traumatic stress disorder are the fruits of war.

Even though we know how destructive and evil war is, many people continue to harbor the delusion that we can somehow end war by increasing our military budget. This is like a drug addict thinking he can solve his problems simply by using more and more drugs.

For those who imagine that there is a good war, or good excuse for war, I recommend a book by David Swanson called “War is a Lie.” In this book, Swanson brilliantly exposes the myths used by war-makers to justify their deadly trade.

If war is a disease more dangerous than drug addiction or any natural plague, is there a cure, and what is it?

I believer our addiction to war is curable, but we must be willing to devote the same kind of attention to ending war that we do to ending AIDs or cancer. Just as we have war colleges, we need peace colleges. We need young men and women trained in the arts of peace and nonviolent conflict resolution. We need to make a serious commitment to the United Nations and to the international court of justice: we can’t be the “exceptional nation” that ignores international law while requiring others to follow it. We need to slash our military budget and devote our resources to nonviolent ways to promote peace and end conflict.

As you can see, I am passionate about peace, and that’s what drew me to Quakerism. Quakers have been consistently opposed to war during their 350-year history. Quakers have sought both practical and spiritual ways to promote peace. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, came up with the idea of a United Nations of Europe to resolve conflicts in the 17th century and Quakers have supported organizations like the League of Nations and the United Nations ever since. Quakers started organizations like the American Friends Service Committee to provide an alternative to military service. Many Quakers, like Elise Boulding, have been on the forefront of peace studies.

The Quaker peace testimony derives from the teachings of Christ, who says: “Love your enemy.” Most Christians feel this is a worthwhile goal, but not necessarily practical when we are confronted with men like Adolph Hitler or Saddam Hussein or others deemed to be evil. A movement called “Christian realism” rose up in the 20th century to argue that we cannot really put into practice the hard teachings of Jesus because this is a fallen world—a world of moral ambiguity as well as of evil.

Many people of faith still believe that war is part of human nature (even though most psychologists say otherwise) and therefore war will always be with us. But evidence shows that war is a man-made institution, like slavery, and therefore it can be unmade by those who have the determination to end it.

Ending war won’t be easy, but it is possible, even in the most difficult of situations.

If you have any doubts about whether nonviolent resistance can work to end war, I urge you to see a documentary called “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.” This amazing film was produced by the grand daughter of Walt Disney and documents the struggles of women in Liberia to end the bloody conflict that plague their nation for almost a decade. War lords not only fought amongst themselves, they trained young boys to rape and pillage and use drugs. The situation was so horrific that Christian and Muslim women banded together and declared, “We want peace, no more war.” They used Gandhian techniques, plus some creative ideas of their own. When the war lords refused to take peace negotiations seriously, the women barricaded the doors of their hotel rooms and wouldn’t let the men leave until they agreed to bargain in good faith. When the men continued, one of the leaders of the women threatened to take off her clothes—which would have disgraced the men according to African custom. So the war lords finally agreed to make peace. The women helped the boy soldiers to reintegrate into society. And when a democratic election was held, a woman named Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia. She is a brilliant woman---Harvard-educated—and she’s still in office. This amazingf story has received very little attention in the media, perhaps because it shows the power of the people, especially religious people. It also shows what can happen when Christians and Muslims work together for peace.

If the women of Liberia could end war in their country, surely we Americans could end war here in the United States.

So if ending war is possible, how do we become peace-makers?

There are two aspects of peace: inner peace and peace in the world.

For Friends, inner peace comes when we put aside worldly distractions and seek to discern and do the Divine Will. Our spiritual practice is to sit in silence, without any prearranged sermon or order of worship, and to wait for Divine Guidance. Sometimes someone is led to give vocal ministry out of the silence. Sometimes we simply sit and feel the Divine Presence. Our worship practice has been been called “group mysticism.” The goal of our worship is summed up in the Psalm that says: “Be still and know that I am God.”

The Psalmist goes on to say that if we are still and know God, war will cease.

Quakers apply the principle of “waiting upon the Lord” to our decision-making process. When we gather together for a business meeting, we begin with silent worship and seek to do our business in a contemplative spirit. We don’t vote. We don’t argue with each other. We speak our truth from the heart, and we try to hear the truth in others. Through the practice of compassionate listening, we seek to come to unity in the Spirit.

This, I believe, is the basis of true Peace. When we experience a measure of inner peace, when we live a life based on peaceful principles, we become empowered to work for peace in the world. That’s why many Quakers have become committed and effective peace activists.

My hope and prayer is that more and more people will gather together in contemplative silence and listen to that “still, small voice” that spoke to the prophets of old. If we truly listen, and are faithful to the Spirit, we can realize the dream of the prophets: a world without war, a world of justice and peace.

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