Posts Tagged 'peace'

Leadership for Peace

Photo Credit: Bradley Weber via flickr

As I prepare to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi in six weeks, I’m immersing myself in his life.  At this time in the life of our world, I’m finding myself drawn to Francis’s peacemaking skills.

St. Francis exercised peace leadership.  In the early thirteenth century, when Pope Innocent III rallied the troops for another Crusade against the Muslims in the Holy Land, Francis was appalled.  The Crusades broke his heart.

As Francis prayed about what part he was called to play, he felt moved to travel to Egypt where the Crusaders’ army found itself at a standoff with Sultan Malik Al Kamil’s army.  In the midst of the conflict, Francis felt called to cross battle lines and meet with the Sultan himself.

Cardinal Pelagius, the commander of the Crusaders’ army, at first refused Francis’s request to meet the Sultan, fearing that Francis would be killed attempting to cross to the other side.  At last he relented, in part because of his calculation that Francis might be better dead than alive, no longer pestering him about making peace, when Pelagius was committed to the path of war.

Miraculously, largely due to the openness of the Sultan, Francis crossed the battle line and survived.  Against the counsel of some of his generals, Sultan Malik Al Kamil agreed to meet Francis, and they had a mutually respectful conversation.  While Francis, not an official representative of Cardinal Pelagius, couldn’t formally respond to the Sultan’s proposal for compromise, Francis spoke of his desire for peace and affirmed the humanity of the Sultan and his people.

Cardinal Pelagius refused Malik Al Kamil’s proposal for compromise and continued his siege of the fortress city of Damietta until its inhabitants had died of starvation or by the sword.  Then he turned his face toward Cairo, ambitious to conquer that city.

Malik Al Kamil opened the sluice gates of the Nile, stranding the Crusaders’ army in the middle of the flood plain.  As the days on the plain stretched into weeks, Pelagius’s army ran out of food and began to starve.  Malik Al Kamil’s generals advised him to take advantage of the Crusaders and kill them while they were weak, just as Pelagius had done with the inhabitants of Damietta.  Instead, Malik Al Kamil retired to pray and returned with a different response.  He fed the Crusaders so they wouldn’t starve.  Shocked that the Sultan’s army brought them bread instead of killing them, the Crusaders began to see Malik Al Kamil and his people as human beings, and lost the will to fight them.  Subsequently, as word spread, Pope Innocent III had more difficulty mustering up an army to fight the Crusade, and the Crusade gradually sputtered out.

Because both Francis and Malik Al Kamil recognized in the other a person of deep faith and a person of peace, a way forward emerged when it had appeared there was no way.

How can the example of St. Francis and Sultan Malik Al Kamil enlighten us? How can their decision to seek peaceful resolutions within a world intent on war inspire us during the conflicts in our current world? Might we resolve to recognize the humanity in those whom we have been taught to view as “enemies” and together contemplate a better path ahead through dialogue and a commitment to work toward peace? The brave determination of the thirteenth-century peacemakers leads me to ask, “What is mine to do?” in the midst of conflict between Christians and Muslims today.

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Soulful Leadership in Ukraine

Photo credit: Ray_from_LA, flickr

Photo credit: Ray_from_LA, flickr

While the U.S. government bills the tension between Russia and Ukraine as “big bully annexing small sovereign state,” this view belies the complexity of the situation. Admittedly, Putin has broken international law. At the same time, the leaders of the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine took down a democratically elected government and are increasingly demonstrating fascist leanings. While the U.S. is citing international law to criticize Putin, our country has repeatedly broken international law by intervening in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen without the backing of the U.N. security council. With U.S. oil interests in the mix, the seeds of war have been sown. Furthermore, the mainstream media waters and fertilizes the seeds of war.

In the midst of these flourishing weeds of war, is anyone sowing seeds of peace? Is anyone leading with soul? Thankfully, yes. Since 2004, Quakers have been quietly training people in Ukraine in nonviolence through the Alternatives to Violence Project. AVP provides the tools and training to help people defuse conflicts large and small. In the past ten years, AVP teams in Ukraine have worked in prisons, detention centers, orphanages, foster homes, and with the military. More recently, AVP facilitators worked with citizens on both sides of the conflict in Kiev, helping them see the humanity in one another in order to break the cycle of violence. As Alla Soroka, one of the facilitators reported:

Peacemaking now in Ukraine is expressed in a particular way. We are happy that people are aware of the power of peace, and they are patient—not with their heads hanging but patient and speaking out. All of us here are learning how to be free. I think it is possible to compare Soviet times with slavery. Previously, some people still believed in a good ruler and wanted him to resolve all their problems. I think for most people, this is a time of lost illusions, and there is a new understanding of the importance of actively creating the world we all want, in which to live and breathe freely! Most people understand that this is only achieved by peaceful means.”

Teaching peacemaking in Ukraine not only provides people with tools to douse the flames of war, but also helps bring about a much-needed cultural shift toward taking responsibility for creating a better world.

Which seeds will prevail? It depends on which ones we nurture. Will we buy into the simplistic view presented by the mainstream media, or will we support peacemaking efforts like AVP? Will we speak up when others promote the U.S. government’s party line? The weeds of war may appear numerous and hardy, while the flowers of peace appear few and fragile. But history has demonstrated (through South Africa and the Berlin Wall, for example) that the flowers of peace can flourish when patiently tended. Peace is possible. Let us choose to lead with soul and nurture the seeds of peace in Ukraine.

 

A Veterans’ Day for Peace

Veterans for Peace – Veteran’s Day Parade
photo by Cloud2013, flickr

The hostilities of WWI ceased at 11 AM on the 11th day of the 11th month, Armistice Day, 1918.  Dubbed “The war to end all wars,” WWI closed with a commitment to peace.  A year later, American President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 the first commemoration of Armistice Day, a day for America “to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations. . .”

When, in 1926, the U. S. Congress officially recognized the commemoration, it proclaimed, “the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”  Armistice Day became a legal holiday in 1938, as a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.

What better way to honor our veterans and their sacrifices today than to take leadership in  recognizing the origins of Veterans’ Day as a day of peace?

The organization Veterans for Peace knows this.  Committed to “building a culture of peace,” VFP recognizes this origin of Veterans’ Day each year by informing the public of “the true causes of war and the enormous costs of wars.”  Today, Veterans for Peace, with over 140 chapters worldwide, will organize peace marches, Veterans’ Day parades, and commemorations. They will stage public readings of wartime letters and names of fallen soldiers, and hold exhibits and musical performances to honor and celebrate veterans.

Massachusetts Veterans for Peace are encouraging congregations across the state to revive the tradition of ringing their bells at 11 AM on Veterans’ Day for the cause of peace.

In London, “In opposition to the pro-war tone of the state parade,” Veterans for Peace will meet in Trafalgar Square and march under a banner which “reflects the original sentiment of the Armistice, ‘NEVER AGAIN.’”

What about you?  What can you do?  How can you exercise leadership in taking a stand for peace in the midst of the many conflicts in today’s world?  This Veterans’ Day might provide the opportunity for you to support diplomacy with Iran.  Or perhaps your leading is to support humanitarian aid for Syrians caught in the middle of the fighting between government and rebel forces, or to advocate for the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.  Or perhaps you can join Veterans for Peace as one of their allies in your locale.

On this Veterans’ Day, it behooves us to consider how we can honor our veterans and their sacrifices by reclaiming the holiday and taking a stand for peace.  Let us join the efforts of those who understand the origins of the holiday and want to work for peace in this war-ravaged world.

Soulful Leadership for Peace in Syria

Photo Credit: flickr, DFID – UK Dept. for International Development

Time and again I hear friends say, “The situation in Syria is terrible. We have to do something. What if we had just stood by and let Hitler take over Europe? It’s time to send in U.S. troops.” On the other hand, I also hear friends say, “The U.S. is not the world’s policeman. This is a civil war in Syria. We need to stay out of it.”

Are there only two choices? Are we stuck with the options of either military intervention or a refusal to be involved?

In Engaging the Powers, Walter Wink points out that our natural responses to conflict are either flight or fight.  When faced with a threat, we think there are only two choices: fight or run away.  Yet Wink demonstrates that there is always a third way, and that creative leaders like Jesus, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King have always pointed the way toward it.

What if we stood up and said, “We want to find creative ways to help the Syrian people that will stop this terrible cycle of violence, not exacerbate it?”

This is exactly what a courageous few have been saying.  Soulful leadership in this situation means having compassion for the victims of violence in Syria while at the same time finding a third way forward. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, for example, points to a third way, a way of nonviolent engagement.

Friends Committee on National Legislation, too, has articulated what diplomacy in this situation could look like. Furthermore, FCNL points out the great harm that a military attack could cause, exacerbating the conflict and broadening it beyond Syria.

There are more than two choices. Neither choice in the mainstream public debate is acceptable. We need a third way that shows care for the victims while at the same time breaking the cycle of violence. We must learn not to add fuel to the fire of violence but instead to douse its flames.

How can we work together to find a better way forward? What will you do to explore an alternate approach in Syria? How will you call others to a third way?