Peacemaker – heal thyself.

I am feeling very grateful and blessed right now. I’ve just been granted the opportunity to take a class in nonviolent conflict resolution at a price I can afford. Then when I mentioned it to a member of the library administration, he suggested it may be possible to do it for free, with the library paying the difference. And then facilitate such meetings for the library. Basically, get paid to make peace and foster understanding, right where I am.

I feel like a door is opening.

It isn’t opening on its own. I’ve done a lot of work to get here.

Many years ago I was afraid to go anywhere but my neighborhood. I was afraid of driving. My bipolar disorder had scared me into staying close to home. I’d gone a few hours away from home years ago and had enough of a problem with my disorder that all my stuff had to be packed up for me and I had to be driven home. It was embarrassing. It was frightening. It was enough to keep me from traveling by myself for many years.

And then I decided that I could not let this diagnosis define me. I could not let it tell me what to do. So I started pushing myself. I started taking classes, on my own, downtown. Sure, it isn’t another city, but downtown Nashville has always scared me. Well, really it is the drivers and not the destination, but you get the point.

So I took a class called “Diversity in Dialogue” through the Scarritt Bennett center. That introduced me to the circle process, where people learn how to listen to each other openly. I took a second class to try to understand how the process works. I think that this kind of open, honest communication is what the world most needs.

I also took a class on Pastoral Care. That was far more intensive, but added to my training. It too was downtown, and it challenged me even further.

I attended a “Southern Sulha” – based on the Middle Eastern conflict resolution process.

I tutor students with learning disabilities and/or have English. I’ve done this for at least five years, most recently kindergartners.

I’ve read dozens of books to help me understand different perspectives, different cultures, and how to relate to people.

I keep taking classes and going to events that are all leading toward this goal.

It is like I am doing an independent study, and creating my own curriculum. Some of the classes have been paid for by work or my former church.

What is the thing that unites them?

Peace. Peaceful understanding. People actually listening to each other. Not debating. Being OK with having different viewpoints. There’s more, but that is a good start.

The irony? I don’t talk to my brother. Long time readers of this blog know the story. It was more peaceful to sever the relationship than to continue it. Every time we talked there was a huge misunderstanding and fight. No matter what I said he twisted it into something malicious. It seemed healthier to quit than continue.

Sometimes you have to know how not to do something in order to know how to do it. I know what peaceful communication isn’t. I know what pain results from it. And I also know it takes two to communicate.

V F W

We have meeting halls for veterans of foreign wars. But I’m a little weird – I hear the opposite sometimes. Why are there no halls for veterans of local wars? And why are there no meeting halls to honor peacemakers? Surely those people who have dedicated their time to ensure peace are important. Surely they need places to meet to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time at Civil War memorial sites. There were huge obelisks dedicated to the dead, mostly young boys. There was a park just up the street from where I lived in Chattanooga. I played there often, climbing on the monuments and sitting on the cannons. Those marble soldiers were my companions.

The glorification of war has never made sense to me.

Sign up to be a soldier and we will pay for your education and give you discounts on home loans and at the hardware store. Sign up to fight and we will pay for your healthcare for life. Sign right here on the dotted line and everything will be fine.

Except it isn’t.

Soldiers die. If they don’t die in battle at the wrong end of an enemy weapon, they die from “friendly fire.” They die at their own hands from suicide. If they don’t die they are wounded so badly that they are disabled or disfigured irreparably.

If they make it back home in one piece they live a half life, haunted by demons in the night, nightmares and fears of being hunted. Depression, stress, and dysfunction follow them like feral wolves, ready to tear them to pieces.

We glorify war because it isn’t glorious. We sell this dream of honor to our children not because we love them, but because we need them. We need them to do our dirty work. We need them to go into danger and risk their lives, their bodies, their minds because we haven’t come up with a good alternative.

And we’ll keep building meeting halls and monuments for them. We’ll keep coming up with discounts and promotions to sweeten the deal.

We’ll keep dangling the carrot of free education and special holidays just for them, and they will keep reaching for that carrot, only to realize too late that it is booby trapped.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t have any alternatives. If we quit training soldiers, we will still have enemies. We will still have countries that hate us so much that the only way they know how to express their hatred is to harm us. I can’t see that dropping our guard will do us any good.

But I do think it is time to rethink America’s role in the world. I think it is time for us to stop acting like we are the policemen or the hall monitors of the world. I think that our incessant interfering in the internal affairs of other countries is what causes them to hate us so much, and is what causes them to target us.

Until we teach peace more than we teach war, we’ll continue to build meeting halls for the wounded and monuments for the dead.

I think we owe our children more.

Building bridges rather than bombs.

I read a headline recently. “What are the West’s military options in Syria?”

Why military? Why not diplomatic? This is in a time where we celebrate the lady who talked down the gunman at the school. No weapons, just words.

Why can’t we be known for our peace rather than our pistols? Why do we have to be the policemen of the world?

I think there are many Americans who are tired of our tax money being spent on the military, and would rather money be spent on education, or food, or infrastructure. I think there are many of us who would rather our money be spent on filling people up with food rather than blowing them up with bombs.

Give peace a chance, indeed. Teach compassion. Teach people how to talk with each other. Teach love. And I don’t mean love under duress. I mean love that comes from a place where people are comfortable being themselves, and comfortable with other people being themselves. There is more to peace than getting everybody to be the same. That isn’t the goal. Peace that way is false.

How about peace that involves everybody being able to say what they feel from a position of safety and trust? They don’t have to agree, just listen, and agree to disagree. There is a lot of maturity in that.

How about peace that means that everybody has their basic needs met first – like food, and water, and housing, and energy, and education?

Peace that comes at the end of a gun isn’t. It creates secrecy, and resentment, and fear. It creates lies.

Peace that comes from books and knowledge is real.

It is time to rethink the way we have always done things, because it hasn’t worked.

A study of suffering, and a call to love it.

Something I’ve gleaned from reading Buddhist texts is that the way to move past suffering is to study it. Don’t avoid it. Go to the source of it and really dig down. Ask yourself “Why do I feel this way? Where does this feeling come from?” Find the source and root it out. This is opposite how the Western world thinks. We are more into the idea of not talking about it and it will go away. Sometimes we think we’ll be better off if we deal with it another day – and we think that every day. In that way you never make time to work on the problem so it just keeps getting bigger.

The idea of reincarnation that is offered to us in Hinduism tells us that if you don’t fix it you will live it again. Every new lifetime is the sum of all the past lifetimes. If you live selfishly you will not have a very good rebirth. Another way of thinking that they offer us is an aspect of the Divine called Ganesh. He has the head of an elephant. He is known as the remover of obstacles. He doesn’t walk around the problem – he goes right through it. By going right through it, he makes it possible to have a better rebirth. We are to follow his example and not avoid problems.

What if your next life is really tomorrow? What if instead of focusing on an afterlife, we use these ideas to work on the current one we have? Heaven isn’t a proven thing. But this life is – so it seems useful to try to make the best of it here. We are told that those who don’t study history are condemned to repeat it. Why not study your own history to see if there are any trends that keep popping up that aren’t helpful?

This is totally not the Western way. It also seems counterintuitive to turn into our own pain and our own problems. It seems like human nature to turn away from pain and seek pleasure. But what if the turning away ends up creating even more pain in the future? Scientists have shown that all the foods we crave when we are depressed actually make us more depressed. To get out of that rut we have to fight against part of our hard-wiring. Instead of reaching for potatoes and macaroni and cheese when we are down, we are better off if we go for a walk and eat an apple.

Jesus said to love your enemies. What if that also meant to love what is dark about yourself? Look at what you turn away from. Study it. Go into this with the knowledge that you are loved and forgiven – you are not alone. Whatever you find there in those dark spots may be scary at first, but if you stay with that feeling and really study what you find there you’ll find it isn’t as bad as you thought. Ignorance isn’t bliss. The more you do this the easier it gets. It creates its own energy. It is like cleaning house, but for your soul.

One great way to study these dark places is to journal. Julia Cameron talked about the idea of “morning pages” in her book “The Artist’s Way.” She says that you should write three pages every morning, without fail. Write about anything. Write about how much you hate to write. Write about what you see jumbled around you in your bedroom. Write about what you hope the day will be like. But just write, and write three pages. This exercise really shakes things loose and gets things started.

Writing a few pages every day is one of the most helpful ways to really dig into things. It is also a great way to see trends. If you are constantly writing that it is time to start that project, then you will notice that you need to put a little more energy into it. If you are constantly writing that your friend is always lying and stealing from you then it is time to find a new friend. Journaling is a good way to unwind and a great way to plan ahead. It is good for stress reduction and stress prevention.

Another way to work on problems is to doodle. “Praying in Color” by Sybil MacBeth introduces the idea that you can pray while drawing. Praying is a way of connecting with Truth. Praying is a way of understanding things in a deeper way. It is a way of getting outside of your own head and connecting with something a lot bigger. Praying is about digging deeper.

MacBeth says that you don’t have to be an artist at all to do this. You can take colored pencils or markers and just start making marks on the paper. There doesn’t have to be a plan for it. In fact, it is better if there is no plan. This isn’t about what you draw, but about what goes on in your head while you draw. The lines are not a map so much as the vehicle itself. Just think about the issue. Hold it in your head. And start drawing. Doodle around. Let the lines go where they will. Pick up another color if feel like it. See where the lines and your thoughts go. If you notice that you are going off from the subject, gently draw yourself back. One helpful thing is to write the intention in the center of the page and doodle around it. Something will come to you that will help you.

Walking is helpful too. I’ve learned that often things sort themselves out while I’m walking. This has to be walking that has no other distractions. Listening to an iPod is a distraction. I’m starting to think that reading fiction or watching movies all the time is also a distraction. It feels like they are ways to avoid dealing with what is here right now.

Nothing solves itself instantly. There are very few sudden insights to be found where the problem is instantly solved. But this is more like water working on a stone. The problem has grown over the years due to inattention. It will take a while to dislodge. But the more you work on it, gently, consistently, the more it will get smaller and more manageable. It is worth the effort.

Broken? Perhaps it is an opening.

I’ve read that the Japanese like to take an old clay pot or cup that has chips and cracks and “aggrandize” it by adding gold to the cracks. This doesn’t hide the cracks at all – but it certainly makes the pot or cup stronger. It makes the item more beautiful as well. I’ve also read that they also have an idea called “wabi-sabi” where things that are a little “off” are seen as more beautiful than things that are perfect. The idea is that old, worn, slightly unbalanced or otherwise imperfect items have more charm than mass-produced, exactly similar items. I’m totally going by memory here on these things, so if you want more info, please look it up.
And I was also thinking about “Ephphtha” – “Be opened” that Jesus said to a blind man.

I feel that our burdens are the way for God to get in.

I’m reminded of the story of another blind man, one who was blind since birth. Jesus healed him, and his disciples said “Who sinned, him or his parents?” and Jesus said that “No one sinned. He was born blind so that God’s will
might be made manifest in him.”

I’m intrigued by the idea is that this guy’s weakness/disability/burden turned out to be a way for God to get in and show how awesome God is. Sounds a little weird – this guy suffered with blindness, and in those days most likely social ostracism, just so God could show off. This is something I am still working on.
However, where I’m going right now with this is that it also shows that weakness can be what gets us to ask for help.

I’ve read recently “When our burdens bring us to our knees, we are in the perfect position to pray.”
I’ve realized that we usually call for help when we are over our heads. We call when there is a big storm coming – a tornado threatening to tear down our houses. We call when there is a diagnosis of a chronic disease – that too threatens us in the same way. Our well-laid plans for our futures are looking a little shaky. Our goals and dreams that we built as walls against boredom and obscurity are about to be swept up like so much drywall and vinyl siding in a Tennessee summer storm.

We are really good at calling for help when we feel threatened. We often make promises while hiding in the basement during the storm, or laying on the hospital bed in the ER. I promise to be nicer to my neighbors. I promise to stop smoking and start exercising. I promise to be more generous.
When the storm passes and the diagnosis comes back to be not so bad, do we remember those promises? Do we honor them? How many of those conversations are we going to have with our Creator/our conscience that don’t result in change?

Then I see people who are really burdened. It looks like the weight of the world is on them. Obese, reeking of alcohol, angry at their children and spouse. Some people just seem like they walked off the set of Jerry Springer. I used to look at them and think “why can’t you just pull yourself together? “ I saw their “sins”, their weaknesses, as signs of a lack of willpower.

I had a lot of the same problems. I was not just overweight. I was obese. I smoked pot up to three times a day. I’d gotten to the point that I couldn’t fall asleep without smoking. I smoked clove cigarettes too. I ate fried foods and if I ate vegetables, they were fried too. Exercise? Hah! How could I afford that? How could I do it, when my knees hurt so much?

Then something happened. I’m going to say it was the grace of God. Somehow, in the middle of all that mess, God woke me up and showed me a new way. I discovered water aerobics at the Y. I figured out that if I ate 2 frozen dinners a week at work instead of eating lunch out, I’d have the money to afford to go. I decided to have organic vegetarian dinners, so that added to the benefit. Then I realized that the extra time I got from not driving to a restaurant meant I had a longer lunch. I started walking for 20 minutes at lunch. I’m grateful there is a nice little park just out the back door of my work. It has always been there – I just never took advantage of it. It is as if I didn’t have eyes to see it. I was blind too, in my own way.

Now I see the burdens people have as their way out.

They aren’t stumbling blocks, so much as stepping stones. They can trip us up, or raise us higher.