Like millions around the world, I, too, was touched by the recent YouTube video of 18-year-old Ben Breedlove, filmed one week before he died of a heart attack on Christmas Day in Austin, Texas. In the simple, short, silent film, he holds small, white notecards in front of his face, describing his serious heart ailment, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which makes it difficult for his heart to pump blood normally. He tells of several near-death experiences and the supernatural peace he felt when he almost died last month at school.
On the Road to Peace
On the Road to Peace is a column on nonviolence from Jesuit Fr. John Dear, a peace activist and the author of more than 20 books.
"When a person claims to be nonviolent, he is expected not to be angry with one who has injured him," Gandhi wrote. "He will not wish him harm. He will wish him well. He will not swear at him. He will not cause him any physical hurt. He will put up with all the injury to which he is subjected by the wrongdoer. Thus nonviolence is complete innocence."
That was Gandhi's editorial message on Sept. 3, 1922, in his newspaper, Young India. He was trying to inspire his nation to reach the highest ideal of peace, love and nonviolence as they resisted British imperialism.
Who could possibly be that nonviolent? Most of us get angry and vengeful at the slightest put-down. I know I do. If I'm disrespected or attacked for one reason or another -- and that happens frequently to anyone who speaks against war -- I feel hurt, then get angry, then want to retaliate with a verbal attack or worse. If I repress those feelings, I end up with a pool of resentment that eventually needs to be addressed or it will lead to even greater judgmentalism, self-righteousness or explosive violence.
There is much to celebrate this Christmas. The Arab Spring, the millions who marched for justice and democracy throughout the Arab world, and the fall of various dictatorships; the ongoing campaign to protect the environment, including the Keystone Tar Sands pipeline protests and last week's protests at the U.N. Global Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa; upcoming elections for Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma; the three heroic African women who won the Nobel Peace Prize; and closer to home, the amazing Occupy movement that has exposed the class warfare by the 1 percent against the 99 percent. The struggle for justice and peace goes on. Millions are engaged. The movements are moving.
A few weeks ago at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant near Amarillo, Texas, the United States dismantled its last B53 bomb. There was no fanfare and little publicity. Some people were probably sad to see it go.
Some reports called the B53 "the most powerful bomb" in our arsenal. It certainly was one of the most destructive weapons ever created, the bad fruit of Gen. Curtis LeMay and his insane nuclear club.
I'll be in Santa Cruz, Calif., this week to join hundreds of friends at a memorial for my friend and colleague Scott Kennedy, who died suddenly a few weeks ago.
Scott, 62, was one of the most steadfast, determined and active peacemakers I have ever known. The former mayor of Santa Cruz, a founder of the Resource Center for Nonviolence and a longtime leader within the Fellowship of Reconciliation, he had just returned from leading his 36th delegation to Palestine, this one a grueling two weeks in Gaza. He and his wife, Kris, went to bed that Friday night, but on Saturday, Nov. 19, Scott never woke up. He died peacefully of natural causes.
Every peacemaker should know about Scott. He had something to teach us all. He believed there was always work to be done for justice and peace, that none of us are helpless, that every one of us can play our part in disarming the world. In the face of war, injustice, poverty and nuclear weapons development, we can meet, organize and take action that will make a difference. Scott certainly made a difference in the world, and in the lives of many of us, including mine.
It's common here in North Carolina's Outer Banks to see pelicans glide effortlessly in single file a foot above the breaking waves along the coastline. On occasion, I've seen a hundred pelicans circle over a dark area in the ocean. One by one, they dive straight down into the water to feed off a school of fish.
I never intended to become a writer -- and I certainly don't claim any special talent in that department. Thirty years ago, I looked around and saw that Gandhi, Dr. King, Dorothy Day, the Berrigans, Merton and nearly all the saints from Paul of Tarsus to Therese of Lisieux wrote regularly. I naively thought that writing was a requirement of Gospel peacemaking. Remembering the old adage "The pen is mightier than the sword," I started writing -- and never stopped.
Once, a journalist asked Leo Tolstoy who he thought the greatest American writer was.
"Adin Ballou," Tolstoy answered.
The journalist was puzzled. Who? He had never heard of Adin Ballou. Few people had.
Unfortunately, even today, few people know about Adin Ballou.
"I hope my life tries to give testimony to the message of the Gospel, above all that God loves the world and loves those who are poorest within it."
That's the recent summation of his life by 83-year-old Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez, founder of liberation theology and its central tenet, "the preferential option for the poor."
Just back from two weeks in Ireland with my friends Fr. Bill and Fr. Patrick, where I went to get some perspective on life and the world, including recent events such as the U.S. killing of Gaddafi, the ending of the U.S. war in Iraq and the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Ever since I lived in Derry for a year, I've been returning to the old sod as often as possible to visit friends and catch that healing Celtic spirit. For some reason, that magical mystical landscape opens new insight into the inner landscape of my soul.
It was, of course, cold and rainy, but the green hills, white clouds, traditional music and witty, friendly people worked their magic.
In Ireland, when asked, for example, "How ya been keepin?", the answer is: "Poorly, thank God."