The Dynamics of Compassion


Mother’s Day Book Feature Friday: It Runs In The Family by Frida Berrigan

Berrigan book 2I am a stay-at-home mom, and I consider myself an aspiring peacemaker. It often feels like a strange, paradoxical life. At any given moment, when my mind is filled with the major challenges of the 21st-century world – a constant “war on terror,” environmental degradation, racism, sexism, and homophobia in all of their violent manifestations – my hands are filled with a squirming toddler demanding, and deserving, my undivided attention. Or I’ll find myself writing an article on forgiveness and empathy, only to see the latest “experiment” of my six-year-old leave a mess of flower petals and water strewn across the bathroom sink, feel tempted to lash out, and struggle to live up to my own rhetoric. How do I strive to make some small difference in a desperate and vulnerable world, and remember that the most important difference I can make is in the lives of two small, vulnerable human beings? How do I strike the best balance for the world, my children and myself?

My answers will differ from those of Frida Berrigan, but her witness as an activist, a peacemaker, and a mother of three children, makes her a powerful role model for me. Her autobiography It Runs In The Family: On Being Raised By Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood is filled with deep wisdom of dedicated, faithful activists and humbling, humorous lessons learned through trial and error to which any parent can relate. With the blood of renowned peacemakers Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAlister running through her veins, Frida’s own life is a credit to the inspiring activism of her parents. She and her sister and brother are living proof that one of the most important tasks of a peacemaker is helping to inspire the next generation, those who must continue the work of healing this bruised and battered world.

But the task of raising conscientious, dedicated persons – aware of but undeterred by the many troubles of the day – is difficult and complicated. The urgency of the world’s needs often clash with the need to stop everything and nurse or change a diaper. The mimetic pressure to throw our children the perfect birthday party to fit in with other kids (and for us to fit in with their parents) clashes with a desire to teach them not to be materialistic and to live with an awareness of others in true need. And knowledge of the importance of modeling peaceful behavior does not stop the occasional outburst when they push all our buttons in the ways that only our own offspring can. Seeing Frida Berrigan – whose last name is synonymous with the peace movement – struggle with all of these matters is deeply comforting. Within the pages of her autobiography, I have found someone that I can relate to in addition to a model I would like to try to emulate.

Relatable though she is, however, I confess that, had I not learned about her life through the lens of motherhood, I might have been a little intimidated by Frida Berrigan. I look at her activism – cofounding Witness Against Torture, traveling to Guantanamo, at the forefront of peace and social justice issues long before I found my voice on such matters – and I feel a sense of awe. I cannot help being impressed by someone who was out on picket lines since she was in cloth diapers, raised in a counter-cultural commune by a small village that helped to care for her and her siblings when her parents served jail sentences for witness against war. I admit it is a little hard to read this book and not feel like my own witness is far behind. At the same time, Frida’s wise and compassionate words help me to realize that what I am doing right now – beyond writing, beyond any volunteering or marching or petitioning I may find time to do – this crazy, messy, sometimes unpredictable job called motherhood – is one of the most important and meaningful ways I will ever make a difference for peace, not only for the way I am shaping my children, but for the way I am letting them shape me. So as I read, I strive to keep my model from becoming my obstacle by recognizing all the challenges and opportunities for nonviolent witness that motherhood provides.

Frida herself, of course, provides a wonderful model of resistance to the scandal of model-obstacle relationships! After all, her parents gave her “big shoes to fill.” “I know I can’t match their intensity or their dogged pursuit of peace,” she writes. “So what can I offer my own children?” Exchanging communal life for a single-family home but still participating in co-ops and community gardens, avoiding arrest for civil disobedience but being a legal war tax resister, Frida Berrigan has learned from her own upbringing without replicating it. Grateful to her parents and the many role models who inspired her, she and her family are making their way in the world as peacemakers in their own right, inspired but not burdened by the examples of a generation gone before.

I am not ready to become a war tax resister. I am not even ready to trade in the convenience of disposable diapers for the environmentalism of cloth. But with the help of this book I am inspired to explore nonviolent living and parenting in more holistic, integrated ways than ever before. I am ready to cut back on waste and materialism and consumption, and teach my children to do the same. I am inspired to be more present with my children and fully listen, reducing the distractions of technology. I want to help them become more involved with our communities and more aware of the world around them. I want to teach them how to respond to the troubles of our time with determination and compassion. Frida Berrigan may not have all the answers, but seeing her ask the same questions is encouraging.

But above all, I am encouraged and humbled by the reminder that activism and peacemaking are not “put on hold” for raising children. Rather, it is in raising children that peacemaking and activism take on their most complex, integrated, and authentic forms. In our relationships with the most vulnerable members of our community, we have the opportunity and awesome responsibility to model compassion and humility. My knowledge of mimetic theory makes me even more aware of how much children are influenced by the examples of their surrounding adults. Showing them that they are loved by modeling conscientiousness and compassion to them is perhaps the most important way I can influence peace. It will certainly leave its impact after I am gone in a way that nothing else can. Motherhood is but one manifestation of this responsibility that we all have to children; in whatever capacity we relate to them, we have a duty to model the kindness and compassion that we wish for the world when it is in their hands. And in modeling such kindness, we can begin to create such a world today.

But as Frida and my own children constantly remind me, the peacemakers in the child-parent relationships are not exclusively or even primarily the parents!

Children are little insurrectionists. They turn our lives upside down and they insist we see it through their eyes—and they care more than anything about fairness and friendship. Maybe we have more to learn than to teach.

I consider myself an aspiring peacemaker, but It Runs In The Family reminds me that in truth, as a mother, I am a peacemaker, at least when I am at my best. I add Frida Berrigan to a growing list of role models who bring out the peacemaker in me, including my own parents, my patient and compassionate husband, and my wonderful, world-upending daughters, who have shown me new dimensions of unconditional love.

Editor’s Note: You can read more about rebellious motherhood by following Frida Berrigan’s column “Little Insurrections” at





When Even Pope Francis Is Wrong: True Peacemaking And The Futility of Violence

Image from Flickr

Image from Flickr

Raven friend Michael Hardin of Preaching Peace recently declared, “Here is a place Pope Francis just does not get it,” regarding a New York Post article that stated, “the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics has said the international community would be justified in using military force as a last resort to stop “unjust aggression” perpetrated by Islamic State militants.”

To say that Pope Francis “doesn’t get it” with regard to the use of military force, especially considering that this pope has named himself after an icon of Christian peacemaking and has been outspoken for peace in unprecedented ways, is to make quite a bold proclamation indeed. When such a well-known voice for peace concedes to the use of force, it is clear that he did not come to such a conclusion lightly, and that the situation must be dire. To disagree with the Pope’s reluctant concession is to say, as clearly as possible, that under no circumstances is the use of violence ever acceptable. This radical statement can only be made in light of Christ’s nonviolent, merciful Love as the full revelation of God. Convinced by this world-upending love that turns our logic of redemptive violence upside-down, I must agree with Michael Hardin. In conceding to violence, even to put an end to persecutions, Pope Francis is wrong.

This is not at all to say that the pope is wrong to decry apathy and call for action. It is only to deny that there is any moral or practical value to returning violence for violence. Even with occasional temporal success, violence always exacerbates suffering in the long run. As Walter Wink has said, “Violence can never stop violence because its very success leads others to imitate it. Ironically, violence is most dangerous when it succeeds.”

Jesus was not apathetic but deeply empathetic in the face of suffering. But rather than take up arms on behalf of those he came to save, he stretched out his arms and died at our hands to expose our violence to us and transform us from the inside out by forgiveness. Salvation from our own violence wasn’t what anyone expected or wanted, but it is what a world sick with violence desperately needed, and it is what we still need today.

The Futility of Violence

The cessation of all violence, theirs and ours, is necessary for a world without oppression and the desperation that leads to terror. Furthermore, tangible actions with the hope of helping persecuted Christians (and all persecuted people everywhere) and stopping aggression are possible only without violence.

I know that sounds woefully naïve, as the question of how to stop aggression without counter-aggression always arises. And the truth is, we cannot guarantee that nonviolent actions will stop any particular aggressor. But there will always be more aggressors, and violent action is guaranteed to spur further violence from those who are not stopped. Further, in modern warfare, even with “precision” missiles and other high-technology weapons, we are guaranteed to kill civilians and non-combatants, further entrenching the cycle of terror and vengeance. Considering that the evidence for this is the very cycle of violence that has waxed and waned since the foundation of the world, the notion that “good” violence can stop (rather than merely postpone or simply continue to fuel) “bad” violence is the true naivety.

The Destruction of “Good” Violence

Furthermore, our misguided faith in our own “good” violence serves as a veil to blind us from our bad violence, which feeds violence against us and those whom we try to protect. (For now, although I know the pope’s words addressed Christians all over the world, I am addressing primarily believers in the United States who would be inclined to support military action out of concern that stems from faith. For citizens of other countries, it is worth learning about the violence in which any state participates, although I am well aware that the United States has had more blood on its hands than any other nation for several generations.) Indeed, our violent policies have spurned the very terror groups against which we are now called to act. The destruction wrought in Iraq, primarily since September 11, 2001 but also more or less continuously since January 1991, has led to such poverty, devastation, destruction of land, displacement, loss of life and desire for vengeance, that members of ISIS, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who was tortured at Abu Ghraib, have learned to survive through solidarity of the like-minded and cruelty and brutality toward others. ISIS would not exist apart from the destruction wrought by our own “noble” violence. Our violence does not excuse that of anyone else, but it does fuel it.

Likewise, the Somali group al-Shabaab cites the violent and oppressive policies of the Kenyan government, acting according to the interests of the United States, as their reasoning behind the April 2nd massacre of 147 Christian students at a Kenyan university. Al-Shabaab holds Kenyan civilians responsible for the death of Somalis by virtue of their election of a government that, in their words, has “embarked on a series of mass killings, torture and systematic rape of the Muslim women in Somalia.” No doubt they also hold the United States responsible for the destruction of land, livestock, and the “dreams and hopes of an entire generation,” but unable to reach the United States, they take their violence out on the citizens of governments aligned with ours, as Margaret Kimberly, of Black Agenda Report, says. The United States, meanwhile, not only continues to drone the citizens of Somalia, but in February cut off the ability of any American bank to transfer funds from Somalia. Somalis living here to support their families are now unable to do so legally, and Kimberly cites that about half of Somalia’s gross national income comes from citizens working abroad. The dire poverty is as lethal as drone strikes, and far more wide-spread.

Our faith in our good motives and a context-obscuring media blind us to our violence. And the truth is, even if we advocate limited military intervention, once the United States military is involved (whether or not we are part of an international coalition) it will always try to use force to advance, if not the interests of American citizens, then the interests of profiteers. Any violence we engage in, no matter how noble the cause, will simply harden the resolve of our enemies, who feel just as righteous and justified in their own brutality. It does no good to say that we do not “aim” for civilians when not only do civilians die, but we deliberately obscure the civilian death count by counting all military-aged males as combatants. It does no good to point toward the violence of others while ignoring our own policies of targeting funerals and rescue workers. Furthermore, Christian citizens are called to remove the sequoia of the military industrial complex from our own eyes before we can see to extract the splinters (in relative size) from the eyes of those whose aggression we seek to stop. That sequoia is blinding us to the fact that we are taking more innocent life than our enemies, and we only further enrage our enemies when we kill. We cannot wash the blood from our hands with more weapons.

Alternatives to Violence

The pope is absolutely right to call for tangible help to those suffering from persecution, but armed force would exacerbate rather than ameliorate suffering. What then can be done to stop the devastating violence? Recognizing and ceasing our own would destroy much of the motivation of those who engage in terror, but in and of itself it would not save immediate victims of terrorist aggression. Much more must be done.

There are nonviolent actions that can provide tangible help to the immediate victims. While most of us reading this are far from the “front lines” of Christian persecution, those who would be willing to travel to fight to protect those suffering from persecution might seek peaceful alternatives such as Christian Peacemaker Teams, Nonviolent Peaceforce, or other nonviolent coalitions. We can always support them financially, spread the message of their mission and tell encouraging success stories. All of these things would provide immediate support to those in the region who are working hard to dispel violence and protect the people. Supporting these organizations will further the cause of peacemaking in the long-term as well. We can learn from their model of training and discipline in peacemaking and try to replicate it in schools, churches and other organizations in our lives. By encouraging peacemaking in any context, we encourage faith in the peaceful resolution to even the most discouraging conflicts abroad, and we reshape our culture toward peacemaking so that more people are willing to join peacemaking teams in the future.

Christians cannot control the state, but we can influence it through peaceful witness. Those convinced of the centrality of nonviolence to Jesus’ mission and ministry of love should continue to learn, teach and model a nonviolent understanding of scripture and doctrine, in order to spread the leaven of peacemaking. Just war tradition Christians can partner with pacifist Christians in advocating alternative forms of peacemaking beyond force as well. Imagine what would happen if Christians worldwide wrote to their representatives to advocate for real aid (not military aid, but food, medicine, and help with agricultural, industrial and technological development) for war-devastated countries. Imagine if our collective repentance for the destruction of nations on behalf of our government translated to petition for reparations, recognizing and willingly accepting any economic cost that might incur for ourselves. Real help for people living in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, and countless other nations would deter the desperation and desire for vengeance that is the lifeblood of violent organizations.

It is true that terror organizations use propaganda to recruit children and under-educated adults. Encouraging and helping to give access to education would thus also deter terrorism. However, we must be equally concerned with our own education. In order to recognize our violence, we must re-educate ourselves and be willing to learn from those who have been devastated at our hands. Learning the “intelligence of the victim” goes against the national interest of Empire, but it is imperative for us to do so if we truly wish to help support the education of those who might otherwise become victims or enemies (or both). Supporting their education cannot mean trying to indoctrinate them with our own understanding of history and culture; this would only be seen as imperialist propaganda. We must acknowledge that we also have much to learn, and support the development of a peaceful, prosperous environment where education is universally available and valued. Using our resources to repair rather than destroy these nations is one way to do that.

Another way to educate ourselves and thus become true partners in peace is to open ourselves to learning and partnering with peaceful Muslims. The majority of Muslims worldwide are devastated by the violence committed in the name of Islam. However, it is also true that Muslims who invoke terror in the name of Islam usually believe that they are right to do so in order to defend the lives of other Muslims. They see violence being waged not only under the flags of foreign nations, but also under the cross of Christ. Any time God’s name is invoked when a gun is fired or a bomb is dropped, incalculable damage is done not only to the people and land that are destroyed, but to the faith of the perpetrators in their own souls and in the eyes of the survivors. Partnering with peaceful Muslims is, I believe, a moral imperative for Christians in the name of the One who calls us to be peacemakers. To be in Christ is to be yoked to the one whose love is all inclusive, to reject the concept of enmity, and to find God’s living image in all people regardless of creed. It is also a practical necessity that would benefit Christians living under Muslim persecution. It is harder to enforce a militant, exclusivist interpretation of Islam when Muslims see members of the Ummah partnering with “People of the Book” for the sake of peacemaking. Saving Christians from persecution must necessarily mean saving Muslims from persecution as well, and that entails delegitimizing violent interpretations of both Islam and Christianity. Partnership between peaceful Christians and Muslims is the best way I know to do just that.

These suggestions are risky. Re-educating ourselves about the violence done in the name or our nation and even in the name of our faith means re-thinking our identities and opening ourselves to repentance. Making reparations may mean changing our own lifestyles, especially to the extent that we profit from exploitation of others. And putting ourselves on the front lines in peacemaker teams could involve risking our lives. I will admit I do not have the faith to do all of this, but I pray for the faith to do what I can, and for my capacity for peacemaking to grow as I grow in assurance of the security of the only power that can conquer death: Love. This is my prayer for us all.


Our Prince of Peace turned the world upside-down by exposing the truth about all violence. Any violence done to another human being is violence done to God. Therefore, we have a duty as followers of Christ to reject all violence. Tertullian said that when Christ disarmed Peter, he disarmed the church. Our current manifestation of Peter, Pope Francis, is a model of peace to the world, but in the most dire of circumstances, even he has his moments of temptation, as Peter did in Gethsamane. It is time for the Church to remember the answer our Savior gave, that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Let us instead follow the path of mercy that leads to peace that surpasses understanding and eternal life.

Attn SBNR: Biblical Violence Matters to Peace

Storytelling, music, art and peace in Ireland

Storytelling, music, art and peace in Ireland

It baffles me when people who are deeply concerned about peace and peacemaking define themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” In pursuit of personal and/ or global peace, they shun organized religion in favor of indigenous spirituality. Celtic music, eastern spiritual disciplines like yoga and meditation, and the Native American relationship with nature all seem so attractive and obviously non-violent. I actually have nothing against any of those expressions of spirituality – allow me to offer as proof the trip my husband and I will be taking in July. We will be touring Northern Ireland to enjoy the “storytelling, music, art and peace” of Celtic culture “ancient and new. Great food, inspiring art, and beautiful journeys on foot will form the heart of this soulfully unique and transforming experience.” Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Normally this sort of description would not entice me. It sounds vaguely new age-y, all too “spiritual but not religious”. So why am I going? Because one of the tour leaders is my friend and brilliant cultural critic, the founder of the Wild Goose Festival, Gareth Higgins. Gareth understands that alternative forms of religiosity and spirituality are a necessary part of the revival of Christianity that is going on today, but he also understands that without “religion”, the pursuit of peace is at a serious disadvantage.

I am aware that such a claim runs counter to the primary reason many people give for being spiritual but not religious. They blame religion for violence and war, and there is no denying that many people have killed in the name of their beliefs. Somehow those who abandon organized religion believe that the cure for violence is to purge themselves of religious texts and doctrines that have any reference to violence in them. Why read the Old Testament or believe in a God who requires the death of an innocent victim to be reconciled to us? How could that possibly lead to a more peaceful world?

Gareth Higgins is also a movie critic, and author of Cinematic States: Stories We Tell, the American Dreamlife, and How to Understand Everything. One thing he has taught me is that there is a world of difference between movies with violence in them and movies about violence. By that he means that some movies use violence in an unthinking way, to be provocative and scandalous. But there are movies about violence that challenge our thinking and challenge myths we hold dear. Those movies undo our ability to distance ourselves from complicity in violence. But they can only challenge what we think and believe about violence if they have violence in them! Movies about violence that were perfectly cleansed of violence, would be as impossible as teaching about cooking without reference to food.

This is why there is so much violence in Judeo-Christian scriptures and theologies. Ours is a religion about violence, our violence. Religion can be defined as the practices and beliefs employed by humans to contain our violence. If you are a spiritual but not religious seeker after peace, please do not deceive yourself into thinking that if you ignore the problem of violence it will go away. It will only go away if you learn all you can about it, if you read those bloody, ancient texts and learn to spot in them the great human sin of justifying our violence by blaming God for it. Because these texts are both diagnosis and warning, our shame is all the greater for interpreting the Cross as evidence of God’s violence.

Gareth and I both work with mimetic theory which is an anthropological theory of human violence. What it has taught us is that you don’t need fancy theologies to explain Jesus death because the violence at the Cross can be explained entirely in human terms. The Cross represents what humans have always done:  habitually scapegoated innocent victims in order to keep and maintain the peace in our communities. That is violent atonement: it’s what we do. Reading those violent Scriptures through the lens of this anthropological understanding allows us to see the truth about ourselves and why God’s intervention in human affairs was so very necessary to our survival as a species. Without God’s patient suffering of our violence, even unto death, we would never have been able to see what we were involved in. In fact, Jesus acknowledges that even as we crucify him, he must intercede for us begging his father to forgive us for “we know not what we do.”

If you desire peace, but reject the knowledge about human violence that religion offers, I’m afraid that your project will fail. Which is not to say that religion’s truth about human violence offers us any guarantees of success. Jesus himself vacillated between hope and despair on this point. That is what the apocalyptic texts in the Gospels are all about. Visions of wars and plagues are not about God coming to destroy the earth at the end of days, but about us destroying ourselves. Because I know that Gareth knows this, I am looking forward to engaging with Celtic spirituality in the hands of a peacemaker whose eyes are wide open. The world is full of beautiful expressions of God’s presence and human creativity. Coupled with religious truth they can be invaluable tools for remaking ourselves and our world into a more peaceful place.


If you’d like to check out the Ireland 2014 tour with Gareth, Storytelling, Music, Art and Peace, you can get more information here or by emailing Karen at

vets for peace

Warriors and Peacemakers: Honoring Veterans for Peace

Some think you can either be a warrior or a peacemaker, and that a “warrior-peacemaker” is a contradiction in terms. They see warriors as brave, realistic, self-sacrificing and peacemakers as cowardly, naïve, and gullible. From this perspective, warriors understand what peacemakers fail to see, that peace will never come cheaply. We will always need to rely on violence to defeat the evil doers bent on our destruction because it’s the only language the bad guys understand. Peacemakers are too trusting to see that if we don’t meet aggression with force we will lose everything we have, including the peace we so treasure.

But there’s a courageous group of warriors who are also peacemakers. They are Veterans for Peace, men and women who cannot be accused of being naïve or cowardly, but whose goal is to challenge our faith in violence as a means to achieve a peaceful end. They say that they aim to “build a culture” by informing “the public of the true causes of war and the enormous costs of wars, with an obligation to heal the wounds of wars.” On this Veterans Day 2013 they want us to remember that the original act of Congress in 1938 established A day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.” It wasn’t until 1954 that Congress exchanged the word “Veterans” for “Armistice” shifting the focus from ending war to honoring warriors. The Veterans for Peace deplore the change and who are we to argue with them. In calling on all Americans to renew the original intent of the holiday their proclamation reads in part:

Whereas that November date symbolized the nation’s desire to hold to a peaceful future and away from war, and

Whereas, too often rhetoric and patriotic symbols are used instead of genuine compensation for the extraordinary sacrifices and services of military personnel, and

Whereas 90% of victims of wars are now civilians and by honoring only veterans, the public is distracted from the awful price paid by those other than military members

Whereas these Veterans for Peace cannot be accused of being naïve about the costs or the effectiveness of violence to achieve peace, I suggest that we honor their service and sacrifice by honoring their request to work for a culture of peace. Rather than rhetoric or flag waving, consider making a donation to support their goal to end the scourge and suffering of war, a reality they know too well. By the way, if you visit their website you will see a disturbing ticker calculating the cost in dollars of US wars since 2001. At the time of this writing the number was growing so frantically I could barely read it, but here’s what I caught: $1,488,112,040,142. That’s over a trillion dollars spent in twelve years on a military solution to violence and threats to peace still abound. Whose naïve now?

Revisiting the Buddha: Checking in with Indira Johnson

photo 2A year after we awarded the 2012 Raven Award for Excellence in Arts and Entertainment to Chicago artist Indira Johnson, we thought we’d bring you an update on her work. We honored Indira for her use of public art to address issues of urban violence. The project began about 5 years ago, when she became preoccupied by a radical thought.  “How would it change an urban space,” she wondered, “if a Buddha head was in an empty lot, under an El track or on a street corner? What conversations might begin to take place that had not seemed possible before?” Indira dared to imagine installing 100 fiberglass and resin Buddha head sculptures in 10 Chicago communities as a catalyst to community generated peace building programs. For Indira, the Buddha head represents a “societal longing for peace” and over the years people had responded to being in the presence of her Buddha head photo 4sculptures with unexpected feelings of serenity. So it seemed natural to her to use the image of the Buddha to create opportunities for peace in neighborhoods longing for a respite from urban violence.

She called her vision Ten Thousand Ripples. A year ago, she began turning her dream into reality with the help of Changing Worlds and community representatives from around Chicago. Now you can stumble upon her sculptures as you travel through the city. And as the first year of the project comes to a close you can visit the exhibit now through November 3 at Chicago’s Loyola University Museum of Art. The exhibit chronicles the community-building conversations and art projects that her sculptures helped spark. As Indira took me and my husband Keith on a tour of the LUMA exhibit, our friend Peter asked what made her think that her Buddha head project had made a difference for peace. Peter lives and photo 3works in Chicago and he is well aware that in 2012 Chicago recorded over 500 deaths from gun violence. That’s a big problem to tackle, even for the Buddha! Indira answered by explaining that she thinks peace happens in small ways between people, one interaction at a time. “When I am out walking and someone I pass smiles at me, I feel happy, more peaceful,” she explains. She believes that the more we learn about one another and hear one another’s stories, the better chance there is for peaceful relationships to take shape. And that’s exactly what happened with the community projects that took shape around the Buddha sculptures.

The peace building projects ran the gamut from small group discussions to interactive art projects in public parks to helping a young child grieve the photoloss of his mother. One boy sculpted his own Buddha head, but his head had a hole in it left by the bullet that killed his mom. Indira explained that the group gathered around him to help him think of something that would fill the hole, and he decided on a light bulb because of the light his mother was, and still is, in his life. It is the hundreds of small stories like that one that took place in the past year that convince Indira that her Ten Thousand Ripples project did indeed cause ripples of peace throughout the city. Of course, the work is not over. During the coming year Indira and her team will continue their work with the Chicago communities to sustain the momentum for peace that their engagement with the Buddha heads began. If you’d like to help support Indira and Ten Thousand Ripples, you can make a tax deductible donation to Changing Worlds or purchase your own Buddha head for your home garden. And I suppose it couldn’t hurt to smile at strangers a little more often, too.


Seeking a Visa for Dr. Wee Teck Young

Raven Foundation friend Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, requests our help on behalf of Afghan Peacemaker Dr. Wee  Teck Young, a.k.a., Hakim. Hakim has been invited to tour the United  States but has been denied a visa. Read about his work, his predicament,  and how you can help this inspiring activist share his story in the  U.S. Kathy Kelly was a recent guest on Playing for Keeps during the NATO Summit in Chicago. Listen to the interview about her inspiring career in nonviolence here.

Written on July 1, 2012

“We love you!”

“Stay Out!”

Yesterday, Americans sent two very important and very different communications to our friend Dr. Wee Teck Young, a Singaporean physician and activist who lives and works in Kabul, Afghanistan.  The “We love you!” was a press release announcing that the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) had awarded him their “International Pfeffer Peace Prize” in recognition of his contributions to peace working with dedicated young Afghans in Kabul. The “Stay out!” was from the American government, refusing him a visa to enter the United States with these young people, in the furtherance of this work.

It seems all too likely that the actions and choices which have earned him his well-deserved award are the same factors that persuaded U.S. consular officials to deny him entry to the United States. The question is whether we can be a voice to affirm that his work, and the work of the young Afghans working with him, has value in the United States, where awareness of the costs of war, and of the lives of ordinary Afghans, is desperately needed.

U.S. consular officials considering a visa application want, perhaps above all, strong assurances that prospective travelers will have compelling interests calling them back home when their visa expires. They look for conventional signs of a family, an income, a job – all of which our friend Dr. Wee Teck Young has given up in the cause of peace.

Although a qualified physician fluent in several languages and educated in leading Singaporean schools, Dr. Wee Teck Young earns no income, has no more personal belongings ( except his guitar ) than will fill a duffel bag and his family, for all intents and purposes, has been the small community of young Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs)  with whom he has shared quarters nearly identical to those of Afghan villagers well below the poverty line.  He shuns his official title, preferring “Hakim,” the name bestowed on him after he had served as a public health doctor among refugees on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the Dari language, “Hakim” means “learned one and local healer.”

In his work over the past decade he’s been guided by people such as Leo Tolstoy, Khalil Gibran, Mohandas Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, studying and sharing their teachings on nonviolence. FOR’s 2012 press release says that award recipients are “change-makers” whose grassroots efforts have “inspired countless others to join the cause to end war and strengthen peace.” Hakim’s efforts with the Afghan Peace Volunteers have reached people around Afghanistan and around the world with courageous interethnic solidarity walks, a campaign of internet video messaging, monthly  “Global Days of Listening” phone conferences conducted via skype and the hosting of scores of international visitors in Kabul.

Having built strong bonds with peace activists all over the world, including several of them making a 21 day trip to India in 2011 to visit Indian peace groups, the logical next step is for them to visit the United States. The APV’s aims are simple. They want other people to understand why they want to live without war. They don’t want their futures to be dictated by others, and they are tired of being defined as people dominated by a desire for revenge and retaliation. They prefer forgiveness and love.

Theirs is a message which U.S. people should hear. A first step toward bringing even a few of the APVs to the U.S. involves gaining the confidence of the U.S. consular officials that Hakim does not plan to abandon the APVs and his work and come chase a comfortable lifestyle in the U.S. We can be of signal use in easing U.S. authorities of any such concern, given Hakim’s history of consistent commitment to his values and work.

This is the community Hakim loves: When I last visited the dozen-strong APV family in Kabul, a small “school” was already flourishing in the yard of their four-room house. Children who the APVs have encouraged to stop working as street vendors are now enrolled in public schools and participating in an after-school tutoring program with the APVs as their tutors. Mothers of the children will soon be coming to the APV home for seamstress training. Meanwhile, the APVs themselves are attending secondary school and university courses, all the while working to encourage newcomers to nurture self-reliant inter-ethnic communities.

The APV Kabul community today stems from an experiment that Hakim worked out when he was teaching a workshop at the Bamiyan University in 2008. He had invited a multiethnic group of Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Turkmen to live together for a semester. The experiment stirred up conversations in the community, but it was enough of a success to inspire Hakim to gather more young volunteers. The group that formed in 2008, originally called Our Journey to Smile, later became the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, now the APVs. As the FOR award press release stresses, “Hakim humbly attributes the APVs’ creation and sustaining energy to the young people themselves. The compassionate message from their hearts, evident as they spoke to him of their wish to live without war, continues to be his inspiration.”

After learning that FOR had chosen to honor them, Hakim and the APVs graciously declined to participate in a public award ceremony.  They feel grateful for the affirmation of their work, but they want all Afghan workers for peace to be celebrated for their common struggle.

Here are some links to videos and articles about the APVs:

The APVs’ interest in coming to the U.S. stems from an invitation they’ve received to accompany the U.S.-Mexico “Caravan of Peace” which is traveling across Mexico and the U.S. later this summer, campaigning for an end to drug wars and the violence they entail. Hakim and the APVs have been in contact with internationally renowned poet-activist Dr. Javier Sicilia who is leading the caravan after losing his son to Mexico’s drug war. Sicilia’s son, who was near completion of his studies to be a public health care professional, was found smothered to death in the trunk of a car after a murder attributed to drug war violence. Sicilia wrote a poem in homage to his son and then declared that it was the last poem he would ever write. Instead, he vowed to dedicate himself to nonviolently resisting drug wars and drug related violence.

We want the APVs to be able to work with him, and speak to Americans on this issue. Hakim has known since his past volunteer work with Singapore’s Anti-Narcotics Association and Teen Challenge (a drug rehabilitation center), that criminalizing drug use and building even more prisons around the addicted only exacerbates what is a medical and not a judicial (or military) problem. Now we have an opportunity to bring Hakim for a ten-day stretch of the Caravan through Midwestern and northeastern U.S. cities, ending in Washington, D.C.

Singaporeans are not required to obtain a visa for entry to the U.S. However, Hakim had previously chosen to forego the waiver right, in 2010, and applied for a visa along with two Afghan Peace Volunteers, Abdulhai and Faiz, hoping that if he accompanied them, they would be less intimidated by the application process and the interview which is held inside a labyrinthine U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.   In retrospect, it might have been an unfortunate choice. The U.S. consular official in Kabul rejected all three of their applications, and once you’ve been rejected, it’s quite difficult to obtain a visa the next time you apply. Hakim reflects, “I remember the three of us walking out of the Embassy onto the guarded streets feeling dejected. I noticed 13 year old Abdulhai’s despondence and heavy feet; it hurt me that young Afghan students who were trying to figure out a non-violent way of life were quickly getting discouraged. Reconciliation work isn’t easy.”

On Friday, June 29, 2012, Hakim’s visa application in Singapore was again refused. Now, with two rejections, the likelihood of Hakim arriving in the U. S. on time to be part of the Peace Caravan seems slim.

And yet, the State Department or a U.S. consular office does listen and, with sufficient appeals, has been known to grant subsequent visas upon reapplication. And so we urge readers hopeful for Hakim’s work, and any of their contacts that they feel will be supportive of and inspired by it, to immediately email the following, asking that Dr. Wee Teck Young be issued a non-immigrant U.S. visa.

Please visit the Voices for Creative Nonviolence website for sample letters of support and addresses to which they can be sent.

Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a Chicago based campaign to end military and economic violence.


Voices of Peace Talk Radio with theologian James Alison

Theologian James Alison joined the Voices of Peace Talk Radio (formerly called Playing for Keeps) on May 4, 2012 to explore how The Hunger Games and chapter 7 of the Old Testament book of Joshua have something very important in common: a lottery in which the winners get to die for the sake of the community. Many people joined Adam and Bob in the discussion with James to explore how lotteries are used as violent tools for peace.

Listen to this engaging conversation or read the transcript.


Voices of Peace Talk Radio with Ted Wachtel

Adam and Bob’s guest on Voices of Peace Talk Radio (formerly known as Playing for Keeps), Ted Wachtel is the president of the  International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) and author of Toughlove, Toughlove Solutions and Real Justice. IIRP is the world’s first graduate school devoted entirely to the teaching, research and dissemination of restorative practices. At the school’s model programs, CSF Buxmont schools for at-risk youth, the use of restorative practices has been shown to significantly reduce offending rates and improve youth attitudes. During the show, Ted provides a series of simple questions that can be used to defuse a situation and bring understanding to parties in conflict.

Listen to this lively conversation.