A Call to Peace
October 22nd, 2017
This morning I drank tea out of a mug, as I do every morning.
My mugs are medium sized, not too big, not too small.
I recently learned that a mug of enriched uranium, the key ingredient in a nuclear weapon, is enough to kill 100,000 people, make terribly sick hundreds of thousands more, and contaminate a large amount of land for decades. (Erika Gregory, Ted Talk: The world doesn’t need more nuclear weapons).
A tea mug of uranium could destroy the world –so small, so powerful.
I add this to my increasing pile of Big Issues to Worry About.
It worries people everywhere.
The Nobel Peace Prize was recently awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons because of their work in helping craft an international treaty ban on these weapons.
In July of this year, 122 member states of the United Nations signed the treaty which bans the weapons under international law. This landmark victory is another step on the path towards global peace.
The 9 nations which have nuclear weapons did not sign the treaty, but the ban will allow for increased economic and political pressure on these nations.
We are living the legacy of the absurd political concept of “mutually assured destruction.”
This concept called for the United States and the Soviet Union to stockpile nuclear weapons, so that if one side began a war, the other side could strike back so hard that both would be destroyed.
Since both sides knew the other had enough fire power to back up their threats, they would remain at a stand off.
It is hard to see how a defence system that assures mutual destruction is actually protecting anything at all, but it did cool off the cold war.
And people around the world, including Unitarians, dedicated themselves to nuclear disarmament.
One of the peace visionaries was one of our founders, Helen Boorman Tucker. Stylish and charismatic, Tucker was known as the Hat Woman for her flamboyant head gear.
Tucker co-founded Voice of Women for Peace back in 1960. Several of our members, including Janis Alton, continue to be active in Voice for Women. Tucker was an intense and tireless advocate for peace and was involved in hundreds of international peace campaigns, from here in Mississauga to Bejing, China.
Helen Tucker was committed to living our principles.
We try to live by the concept of the inherent worth and dignity of each person.
Armed conflict perpetuates dehumanization – encouraging a sense that the enemy must be less worthy, more dangerous.
It is easier to kill when the enemy is the evil “other”, not a person like you with a family.
History shows that no one really “wins” in war. Even though the Allied Forces “won” World War II, the impact of the destruction was felt on both sides for generations.
Our first principle forces us to take seriously the human price of armed conflict.
Our sixth principle – the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all – asks us to take action.
The goal of world community can feel like a naïve ideal.
If one nation, like North Korea insists on pursuing deadly weapons, what are other nations to do?
It’s a complex challenge to navigate serious, deep disagreements between nations, between peoples, without resorting to armed conflict.
But I have hope that it is possible.
Research shows that as a whole – despite the news – the world is truly a more peaceful peace than any time in recent human history. Fewer wars are being waged and fewer people are killed in war.
With the nuclear ban treaty this summer, and the Nobel Peace Prize going to the International Campaign to abolish Nuclear Weapons, the balance might be shifting towards peace.
This doesn’t mean we can be complacent – to paraphrase Edmund Burke – all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.
This is the time to live our first and sixth principles, to see even “the enemy” as having worth, and to take action for a world of peace.
It is a worthy challenge for people of the chalice.
Peaceful resolutions are possible, not easy, not simple, but possible.
Peaceful resolutions take time, and they depend on everyone – or at least someone – being willing to sit at the table and talk.
Professor John Paul Lederach says that the first step is being able to imagine being at the table with “the enemy”. (The Art of Peace, On Being interview)
We stop “othering” and see that a relationship is possible. This is the first step towards peace.
It is not easy, with power imbalances, and the painful aftermath of violence making relationships after conflict challenging, whether between nations or individuals.
Violence, for both the survivor and perpetrator, can destroy their sense that they are part of an integrated whole.
Violence slices through connections.
It makes it difficult for people to see themselves as part of a web of relationships, a web that includes “the enemy” and “the enemies” grandchildren.
So to even step to the big table and take a seat is a great act of courage.
Secondly, the people at the table have to stop thinking in terms of either/or, for/against, or winners/losers.
There is no right side. The impulse to be right is often an impulse to protect the self.
Armouring up when sitting across from the opposition makes a lot of sense.
It takes time for everyone to trust enough to put down the armour.
But disarming is necessary in the long run, to sit at the table with open curiosity, aware of the complexity of the situation but not overwhelmed by it.
Besides a willingness to stay in relationship with “the enemy”, with open curiosity, creativity is needed.
By creativity Lederach means the ability to think differently about the situation.
Moving forward is rarely clear, unusual options which encourage new ways of thinking are often the way out of intractable situations.
Finally, besides the willingness to embark on a relationship, speaking from a place of curiosity, and commitment to creativity, people must be willing to risk.
It’s very possible that talking together might fail, that violence might erupt again, but it is only by risking a new approach that peace might prevail.
Relationships, curiosity, creativity, risk. These need to be on the menu if people are going to come to the table.
Peace takes time.
It takes time and effort to get people to the table, it takes time for relationships to build, for non-violent systems to develop, for patterns of conflict to fade away.
This perhaps is the hardest part of peace – it is not a quick fix.
The good news is that it is built through relationships, through ways of being. So we can practice peace in our own lives, in our communities, at national and international levels. Where ever we have connections or feel most needed.
And peace doesn’t require us to be calm and serene.
Which is a great relief to me, as I find myself dealing with a fair bit of anger at the people who run the world.
If sitting at the table requires inner peace, I may have to order take out.
This is why I appreciate the story this morning (Grandfather Gandhi).
Gandhi tells his grandson that anger is like electricity: it “can strike, like lightning, and split a living tree in two…. Or it can be channeled, transformed….it can shed light like a lamp.
Then anger can illuminate. It can turn the darkness into light.”
Kailash Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace prize in 2014 for his life dedicated to caring for children, women and the untouchable caste of India, who are shunned but are expected to do the dirty, menial work.
Satyarthi was inspired by Gandhi. To celebrate the centennial of Gandhi’s birth in 1969, he had the idea to ask the untouchables of his village to cook a feast for the elders.
This was a transgressive act, as no one sat at the table with untouchables, let alone eat their food.
Satyarthi went around to the elders, who had been speaking out in favour of Ghandi’s ideals and against the caste system. They agreed to come.
The night of the feast not a single elder arrived at the table. When Satyarthi went to their houses, excuses were made. He came back to the feast, and began to eat, disconsolate and upset.
One of the women came up to him and put her hand on his shoulder, and said “Kailash, why are you crying? You have done your bit. You have eaten the food cooked by untouchables, which has never happened in our memory.”
Satyarthi had come to the table and sat with “the other”.
It was a risk, the elders punished him and his family, which angered him greatly.
But the anger and the experience helped him choose a life of activism.
Satyarthi sees his anger as a power, as energy. His anger brings him to new ideas and to action.
He has spent his life rescuing children from work slavery and brothels.
Anger illuminated, turned from lightning into lamp.
We can choose the way of peace, even in our anger.
We can sit with those with whom we are in conflict, choosing curiosity and creativity.
It’s a risk, but one worthy of pursuit.
Choosing peace, accepting that we really are all in this world together, part of the whole, allows us to live our principles.
May we have the courage to acknowledge the inherent worth and dignity of all.
May we work towards a world where all are willing to sit at the table and talk.
May we seek peace.
May it be so.