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Beauty Beneath the Brokenness: International Day of Peace Reflection

Today is International Day of Peace. As we speak, hundreds of thousands of people around the globe are gathering to say something is wrong in our world.

Something is wrong in a world where we have money for war but not for the poor. A world that spends its resources on weapons rather then wind turbines. A broken world that is being crushed by the rapacious greed of a few. A world where everything is up for sale and nothing is sacred.

Here in Detroit, we gather to say that something is wrong in our city. Something is wrong when democracy gives way to deal making. When schools are stolen out from under the students they are supposed to serve. When water sprays profusely in downtown fountains while being shutoff on babies and elders in distant neighborhoods.

Yes, on this International Day of Peace, we know that something is terribly, terribly wrong in our world, our nation, our city.

We feel the brokenness, the cruelty, the inhumanity of so much injustice in our collective gut. When we enter deeply into the grief of our world, we feel as if our hearts are literally breaking. It feels like teetering on a tightrope that is tightly strung between the beautiful dance of activism and the deadly abyss of despair.

At times, it feels a little like dying.

I know this feeling well as a result of my work with Meta Peace Team, formerly Michigan Peace Team. During my time with MPT, I have served on peace teams both domestically and internationally that have brought me face to face with profound hatred and gross injustice.

Although I carry privilege as a white, employed, U.S. citizen, I have witnessed – close up – the indignities visited upon those with whom I have stood in solidarity.

There is a horror to systemic injustice that those coming from privilege can, to a large extent, choose not to see. Once having seen the profound evil of such violence, however, one cannot unsee. Nor can one easily walk away from suffering.

For some, the wound of reality is something they are born into; for others, it is chosen from a position of privilege. For many, it is something to be avoided at all costs. Rather than look at reality, at the pain in our world, it is easier to run to a thousand and one distractions and addictions – television, booze, sports, work, money. Anything to keep from looking at our aching world or from feeling our own pain and the pain of others.

For those who do look deeply, however, there is a persistent pain that never really goes away – the pain of a broken heart.

The older I get the more I believe that our hearts are broken by the injustices of the world only to the extent that we see the breathtaking beauty of our world and that the intersection of the two is the place where real activism is born.

Which is another way of saying that to be an activist for peace and justice is to be a lover, a poet, an artist rather than an ideologue. That being an activist is, in fact, is as much a matter of seeing as doing.

Only the one who sees the holiness of the forest can give his energy to preserving it.

Only the one who sees the sacredness of water can sacrifice her time to keeping it a sacred trust.

Only the one who sees the Divine mirrored in a child’s eyes can offer her life to creating a world free from war.

In other words, the more we open ourselves to beauty, the more we open ourselves to seeing and experiencing the brokenness that violates that beauty.

We may shout slogans in the streets or take on the scoundrels in power, but underneath it all is a righteous anger that cannot bear to see beauty attacked. We can only sing that our feet shall not be moved after we agree to let our hearts be moved by what we see.

And today we see that things are very, very wrong.

I am speaking today as one of the Michigan Promoters for Campaign Nonviolence, a national initiative started over a year ago that is culminating in hundreds of actions around the world all this week. The idea behind Campaign Nonviolence is to connect the dots between poverty, climate change, and war, or, as I like to say, between people, planet, and peace.

blog 191We can no longer afford to have movements that are separated, territorial, disconnected. We can no longer talk about poverty without talking about environmental justice. We can no longer talk about war without talking about racism.

We must come to see that drones and disease and coke piles and Koch brothers and weapons in Iraq and water in Detroit and pensions and prisons and education and privatization are all of a piece. We must come to see that all of these connected struggles are calling us to a radically different way of being and doing.

Dr. King often wrote of the interconnectedness of life as well as the interconnectedness of struggle. As he stated in his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech at Riverside Church exactly one year to the date before his martydom: We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Those of us who see the beauty in our world and in one another, beauty that is threatened by racism and poverty, environmental degradation and consumerism, war and militarism are called to be healers in our world. Called to connect the dots between movements and called to connect the dots between all living beings and creation itself.

This was the call of Dr. King almost 50 years ago and it is our call today. All of the wisdom teachings agree that the call to heal is a holy call – a sacred duty – an awesome trust. Only those who are awake to both beauty and brokenness can heal themselves, others, and this precious planet that we share.

Practically speaking, this means we engage in active nonviolence as a bold and creative act of love by putting our bodies and our hearts on the line.

It means seeing the wisdom in our elders and sitting at their feet to learn the deep ways of peace; it means seeing the intelligence in our youth and letting them lead; it means seeing the vulnerability of the newborn and the dying and learning from them what it means to be powerless.

It means learning the truth that a life based on “I” – I want, I know, I demand – leads to spiritual illness. It means realizing that when the letter “i” in “illness” is replaced with the letters “w” and “e” – We – the word is transformed from “illness” to “wellness.” A profound meditation on the power of community.

On this International Day of Peace, the call to heal is the call to look deeply, connect the dots, sit with the pain, and then move into action. It means learning to grieve rather than run to the addictive drug of violence, the drug of choice for so many people and nations, including our own.

There was a breathtaking and palpable pause in the days following 9-11 when the world held its breath as it awaited our nation’s response to the attacks. It was a surreal moment pregnant with the possibility of peace, a peace that comes from holding grief and the awful beauty of life’s fragility. It was no surprise, when our country decided that it was more blessed to make war than to mourn.

And so the cycle continues.

And we are part of this cycle.

Before we can work against violence in our world, we need to first look inward and wrestle with the violence inside ourselves. As Representative Barbara Lee said before casting her lone vote against the authorization of military action only three days after 9-11, Let us not become the evil that we deplore. That means we must refuse to do violence against ourselves or others.

Whether we neglect taking care of ourselves out of the mistaken belief that the realization of world peace rests on our shoulders, or whether we harbor hatred in our hearts toward those who are causing so much pain in our world, violence is violence.

While acquiescing to the evil of injustice is never an option, as Gandhi and King taught, hatred only brings about more hatred. The challenge is to find the grace and strength within our selves and our communities to despise the oppression rather than the oppressor. To attack the injustice rather than the one perpetrating the injustice.

This is hard to do when we look at the wars, the water shutoffs, the theft of the commons, and the emergence of strange and destructive weather patterns. The greed that is fueling this suffering is making all of us, including Mother Earth, sick in ways that are unimaginable and not yet fully understood.

We are living in a time when our world is in desperate need of healers who can move us from illness to wellness.

Today, people are gathering around the world not only to say no to the many things that are wrong in our world, but also to say yes to beauty. Beauty that is worth fighting for. As Detroit water warrior Charity Hicks reminded us, It is time to wage love.

On this International Day of Peace, let us recommit ourselves to waging love and peace and goodness with all the courage and compassion our broken hearts can muster. Let us look deeply and unflinchingly at all that is broken and beautiful and give ourselves over to the work of healing our aching world.

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Reflection prepared for International Day of Peace Gathering at Belle Isle, Detroit, September 21, 2014.