In 1991, as the U.S. bombed Baghdad, the phone rang at the Jesuit community house in Oakland where I was living. It was an English professor at Stanford. Would I speak about peacemaking to her classes? she asked. Of course, I answered. In particular, she asked that I might speak against the war on Iraq, and help them launch a chapter of Pax Christi. Fine, I said. We spoke for several minutes more before I asked her name. "Denise Levertov," she answered.
On the Road to Peace
I think we've entered well into Orwell's nightmare of a post-modern, post-Christian era of permanent war. We have a war president, a Congress that writes blank checks for war, an enthralled media that trumpets war, a sheepish citizenry that lets itself get fleeced for war, churches that confer their blessings on war, and courts that legalize weapons and imprison those who say no to war. Our war isn't only permanent, but universal -- we make war on the poor, on children, on the earth, on humanity, on God.
over the years, in my search for clues as to the ways of the God of peace, I've inquired of a great many people about their experience of God. Jesuits, religious, monks, prisoners, street people, and on occasion or two, spiritual leaders such as Dom Helder Camara, Mother Theresa, Cesar Chavez, and Phil and Dan Berrigan. I've spent countless hours with books -- Gandhi's books, Dorothy Day's, Oscar Romero's -- the questions always before my eyes: How do the great ones experience God? What of the marginalized ones? What more can I learn of this God who calls us to make peace?
Just before Christmas, Daniel Berrigan and I spent an evening with Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr at the new Catholic Worker house in Albuquerque, N.M. A blizzard swirled outside, and the conversation inside swirled nearly as briskly. Dan and I had spent the day touring Los Alamos. And we came away shocked by business as usual, an entire culture, a worldview, a way of being, built around the Bomb.
New Year's weekend brought three and a half feet of snow to the mesa high in the New Mexico desert where I live. So I've been sitting by a fire, trying to keep warm, reading and reflecting, enjoying the silence and solitude. The beginning of a new year is a good time for resolutions, but I think, given the world, we need more than resolutions, even good intentions -- we need solemn, religious vows, a whole new commitment to God's way of peace and love.
Jesus came into the world to homeless refugees, into abject poverty, on the outskirts of a brutal empire, and the story goes that on that night, a chorus of angels appeared to impoverished shepherds, singing "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth!" The child grew up to become, in Gandhi's words, "the greatest nonviolent resister in the history of the world."
The news out of Iraq is grim, and I believe it will get grimmer, despite what the Bush Administration says, as long as our troops are there. I want the troops to come home. I want the United Nations to step in, actively and nonviolently, with a considered plan to rebuild political and social trust. And I want Congress to start a massive Marshall plan to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure.
Dec. 2 was the 26th anniversary of the death of four North American churchwomen, killed in El Salvador in 1980 by U.S.-trained death squads. I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I was in my frat house at Duke University, bright and early. I stepped out of my room and reached down for the Durham Morning Herald and blanched at the headline: "Four churchwomen killed in El Salvador." Their bodies had been found in a shallow grave in a barren region some 15 miles from the San Salvador airport.
Advent renews my spirit every year because it invites new hope for a world in despair, light for a world in darkness, and peace for a world at war. Advent calls us to prepare anew for the coming of the God of peace and God's reign of peace on earth. We do that by working to end war and the causes of war, and making peace with everyone.
Open your Bible to Matthew 5 and you will never be the same. Gandhi and King called those passages the grandest manifesto of non-violence ever written -- beginning with the storied Beatitudes. Grand for a number of reasons -- for their poignancy and conciseness, for their sheer poetics, for their morality and practicality. But grand, too, for a subtle reason -- for the furtive critique that lay behind them. Namely, every culture of war, such as the one Jesus lived and died in, fuels itself by an antithetical set of maxims. One might name them the "anti-beatitudes."
They are easily reconstructed, because, alas, they're all too familiar We've been tutored in them all our lives; they hang in the air, live in our very bones. This false spirituality of violence, injustice and war is what Jesus spoke out against: