I was deeply affected by a presentation given by Barbara Wein during an adult forum after church at St. Alban’s yesterday. Barbara teaches in the Master’s Program in International Peace and Conflict Resolution in American University’s School of International Service.
Actually, deeply affected doesn’t quite describe the experience. I was moved. You know the feeling. A sensation that is intellectual, physical and spiritual all at once; a feeling that seizes your mind and your gut and your heart all at once. When moved one doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry – all one knows is what they have just experienced is the absolute truth. Not just that something is true but absolute. My post on Martin Buber a few Monday’s ago addressed this. The absolute is abiding. God is absolute. God is abiding. God is love. God’s love is abiding and absolute. After experiencing the absolute we are transformed and our relationship with the world – everything and everyone in it – is changed forever: “When our relationship with the world is absolute we are compelled to responsibility and relationship (love) with all of the created order… A just and loving society is only possible when everyone sees the world as You.”
I was moved when Barbara did what every Christian is called to do – she bore witness. Barbara described the work of Peace Brigades International as she explained how unarmed soldiers for peace support and protect those that stand up for human rights around the world. The moving moment came when Barbara described stories of death squads approaching communities with the intent of killing them and Peace Brigade workers standing in between the aggressors and the innocent, holding their passports (and all that they represent) in the air and declaring their willingness to be the first to die. Willing to die in the name of the absolute truth. The reason that we don’t hear about events like these is precisely because they work – because people don’t end up dead. How do you measure how many people have not died?
We live in a world that teaches us that war is the only answer – that conflict is inevitable. 40 wars are being fought in this world right now and much of what I learned yesterday was disheartening, especially because they are all things most of us already “know.” The US Military, in one minute, spends $1.2 million; that President Obama’s 2014 federal discretionary budget request sent to Congress in 2013 asked for 57% of the budget to be spent on the Department of Defense, War and Nuclear Weapons Programs (while 6% is allotted for education and 3% for Energy and the Environment).
But much of what I learned was heartening: That when Barbara began her work there were something like 4o programs in Conflict Resolution being taught at Universities in the US and today there are more than 500 – that thousands of young people are graduating with degrees that give them the tools to disarm the paradigm that peace is not possible; that the success of the Civil Rights Movement in the US was the result of the active participation of the equivalent of approximately 1% of the population; and that in Israel today there are initiatives like Neve Shalom – Wahat al-Salam:
Barbara concluded her presentation yesterday by asking us to think about times in the history of the world when paradigms were overturned. Someone mentioned Galileo. Another Copernicus. She mentioned Jesus.
You can learn more about PBI here: http://www.peacebrigades.org/ Be sure to check out the video “Bearing Witness” on the bottom of the main page. For the cost of one hundred dollars any of us can audit classes on Conflict Resolution at AU and start overturning our own paradigms. As I left the forum three parishioners were talking about auditing these classes. Hooray.
Happy Monday, and “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead