Archive for December, 2008
Commentary by Mary Liston Liepold
As 2009 approaches, I have been entertaining a fantasy that is altogether too delicious to keep to myself. What if this is the year when the world’s heads of states decide they can no longer afford to fight wars? It seems so clear and logical that it just has to be more than a fantasy. Is it mine alone?
Scanning the internet, it’s easy to find lists of the lessons of 2008 in every area from energy policy to Indian electoral politics to soccer in South Africa. The lessons that seem blindingly obvious to me aren’t on any of them. Maybe they’re too obvious? Just in case anyone has missed them, this year’s events show two things quite clearly:
- The rich and powerful aren’t any smarter than the rest of us. They just make their mistakes on a larger scale.
- There are no borders of any real significance in the world of the 21st century.
With a global economic crisis making it harder for millions of the earth’s people to meet their basic needs, one pointless war is winding down in Iraq and another is heating up in the Gaza Strip. The Iraq war is such old news that the media have almost stopped covering it, but it’s still costing $500,000 a minute—enough every day to fund 35,000 four-year college scholarships, or Head Start for more than a million pre-schoolers. Those same pre-schoolers are going to lack lots of essential services if we keep this up—or we move the troops and dollars to Afghanistan—while also continuing to fund “bottomless bailouts” for multinational corporations with no accountability to any nation. And this is the world’s richest government. What about the rest? Isn’t it high time we all turn our attention to solving the environmental, educational, and health challenges that cross every border, and can only be solved by concerted global action?
I’m not the only one who’s choosing the start of the new year to visualize peace. Pope Paul VI declared January 1 the World Day of Peace in 1967, and his successors have proclaimed it again each year. New Years Day is also Global Family Day, set aside for recognizing our common humanity. Ironically, given this week’s news, Global Family Day was first celebrated by Palestinians and Israelis in Nablus in 2000, after an uncommonly peaceful 1999, as One Day of Peace and Sharing. It was taken up by the United Nations and given its new name in 2001. US ex-president Bill Clinton and President George Bush were among sponsors representing 20 nations.
So, how would YOU like to start the new year? Why make timid, personal resolutions like losing 10 pounds when we could resolve together to end the madness forever? We are half the human race, after all. Peace on earth will begin with us, the women.
Please share your 2009 resolutions on this blog. And watch the Peace X Peace website for the Peace Action of the Week, a new program that invites you to join a Super Circle of thousands of women, all taking action for peace together.
For today’s peace action, consider asking the Obama administration or your own government to create a cabinet position dedicated to ending violence against women. Or ask them to end one war without escalating another. Change.com has 34 pages of peace ideas already. My fantasy is gaining ground!
Comment by Mary Liston Liepold
It’s Christmas Eve, or the eve of the eve, depending on where you are. The world at large takes note of the coming holiday, even where other holidays matter more, because of British, Dutch, French, Spanish, and American colonization and our global media culture. So for all of us at Peace X Peace, I send warm wishes for the day when Christians celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace—and for Hanukah, Kwanzaa, al-Hijira, the Islamic new year, and every other festival that lights your life.
Christmas Eve is the last day of Advent, the month-long period of prayerful preparation for the reign of God. Advent is a kind of pregnancy: a time to take extra good care of ourselves as we wait for something wonderful. It’s a time of openness, disponibilité. Since I first ran across that French word in a passage of Simone Weil 45 years ago, it has been a kind of personal touchstone. I forget many times every day, but I try to hold onto an attitude of being available to grace, believing that God has a plan for me, trying to stay out of God’s way and my own.
It’s not a coincidence that most of the peacebuilders I know cultivate openness and awareness through yoga or other mind-body disciplines. It’s not a coincidence that nine times out of ten, when I ask a person I admire to define peace, she or he tells me that it begins within and radiates out. The number of Americans who are being drawn to practice mindfulness is growing by leaps and bounds. Yoga has moved in my lifetime from something perceived as strange and cultish to a staple in community centers and even shopping malls across the US.
For anyone who still thinks it’s strange, or simply selfish, I offer a practical example. Earlier this year, the Wilson Center and its partners brought a dozen key Iraqi women to the US for two weeks to share their experience with each other, to meet people in organizations that can help them practice their professions, and to interact with experts in various areas. One of the women reported near the end of their stay that the most valuable experience had been a daylong workshop on breathing. She is a physician practicing medicine in an environment where drugs, equipment, and medical personnel are all in woefully short supply and post-traumatic stress afflicts 100% of the population. As she felt her own stress abate in the relaxation exercises, she realized this was something she could take back and train others to do. Together, they could help people cope and even energize them to take control of their situation.
It’s a situation that exists largely because 2,000-some years after the holy night, we still seem not to have heard the angels’ message of peace. It’s easy to wonder how our so-called Christian civilization got so far off track. But the number of those who believe peace is possible is steadily, irreversibly increasing. We believe it both because we experience it within ourselves and because we interact with a wider and wider global circle of friends who have become as dear as family.
In these last minutes before Christmas, then, let’s dwell in possibility; in the not yet, but soon. It is the darkest time of the year, in the Western hemisphere. We are waiting, together, for the light to dawn. We reach within ourselves; we reach out to each other; and peace by peace, we will reach a brighter day.
– Commentary by Mary Liston Liepold
I learned to read at three, and I set my hair on fire reading under the covers, with a swiped cigarette lighter, before I turned four. Fortunately, my big sister was nearby to quench the flames, and hair grows back. My passion for print burned on.
All I’ve ever wanted to do is read. When I look back over 6 and a half decades, I’m rather amazed that I’ve managed to do anything else. But reading does lead to action. I read about people whose lives were harder than mine, and I wanted to help them. I read about families and careers, and I wanted at least one of each. Children need reading to, after all! And there are jobs tailor-made for bookworms.
Blogging is one of them. I get to read about what’s going on in the world and weave the story strands together into a narrative of my own. And I can invite YOU, Dear Reader, to offer your opinions on the joyful news items we celebrate this season, including the hope that good may come out of evil in New York City and elsewhere and continuing awards and media coverage for our founder Patricia Smith Melton and her stunning new book, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women. Please comment on the disheartening stories as well: retribution, civic unrest (and nature’s too) in Greece, the saga of the shoes, and ongoing femicide in the DRC. There’s so much more than we can begin to cover that I’m always grateful to those of you who respond with your own news and perspectives.
So please, do tell me what you think about these stories. But most important, tell me what YOU love to read. If you hurry – and skillfully delegate all the tasks that are calling you out of your cozy chair – there’s still time to buy a few delicious new books, read them very gently, and offer them up as pre-tested, sure-to-please holiday gifts to fortunate friends and family members. Shopping less this year? An old book, lovingly inscribed, can be a true gift from the heart.
I’m both too snobbish and too thrifty to buy lots of best-sellers. I’m still happily working my way through the best of last year’s bests, and those of the year before. (If you still haven’t read the 2006 Three Cups of Tea, by the way, put down whatever you’re doing and find a library.) Oprah’s Book Club generally picks titles worth checking out, though I have found a few of them disappointing.
The year 2000 brought out the millennial urge to list best books of all time, and most of the US lists were sadly ethnocentric, like this one from Time. Eight years into the internet age, we have no excuse to limit ourselves to what’s written and reviewed in our own language. Friends in other countries can offer suggestions, and if the translators oblige—or, if, unlike most Americans, we read more than one language—we can share and discuss our favorites inside the Peace X Peace Global Network.
What are the books you’d take along to the proverbial desert island? What books and fictional characters have stayed with you from your childhood? Will Kindle and its kin ever replace printed books? Please tell us what you think. I’m all on fire to hear.
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
Today is the third and final day of Eid al Adha, the Muslim holiday of the sacrifice. Here in Sudan, as in most of the Muslim world, it is the biggest holiday of the year—indeed it is sometimes also called Eid al Kabir, “the Big Holiday.” This week we were invited to the home of some dear local friends to join with them in the holiday festivities.
Eid al Adha occurs at the end of Hajj and commemorates the near-sacrifice of Abraham’s son. In Islam, that son is Ishmael. In Christian and Jewish traditions, it’s Isaac. Either way, the point is the same: Abraham is venerated because he was prepared to sacrifice his son, even though his son meant everything to him. Then at the last minute, God intervened and sent a lamb for the sacrifice. So this is a holiday about faith—faith that the sacrifices we make, or are prepared to make, are worth it.
Our holy books don’t tell us how the boy’s mother felt about all this. Mothers have been “sacrificing” their sons and daughters without being consulted for a long time now—mostly in the ungodly cause of war and conflict. But these days women are working together to end war, and some of them put themselves on the line in heroic ways. Take Aung San Suu Kyi, whose seemingly unending confinement has diminished neither her commitment to a free Burma or her power to inspire. Or the recently abducted Zimbabwean activist Jestina Mukoko. Benazir Bhutto also dedicated herself to the cause of others. Ordinary extraordinary women everywhere are taking actions great and small to build peace—at great personal risk. Today, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we pause to remember those who have gone before, and those who are still struggling today, so we can have dignity, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of movement and of religion, and the freedom to choose our sacrifices for ourselves.
So as we gathered around the Eid feast of lamb with our friends this week, I was pondering in my heart the contemporary meaning of a holiday about sacrifices. And it brought me to recognize generosity, hope, and equality, as well as faith, as the core values for these days of celebration.
At Eid, each Muslim family sacrifices a lamb or a goat—they do much of the intensive butchering themselves, often in the yards of their homes—and for those days, no one goes hungry. Rich share their meals with poor, Christians are invited to join with Muslims, educated elites feast alongside their illiterate neighbors. The lines that divide us become thin and permeable. During this sacred time we feel united. We are united, and that is the true power of such festivals.
Of course, bridging divides can happen outside of holy days as well, as in this story about young Muslims in New York City finding a place to pray in a nearby synagogue. I grew up in a church like that—different Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities used our Lutheran church according to their worship and prayer needs. It was in that community that I was first exposed to other world religions. When our traditions, holidays, and sacrifices help us erase or overcome the lines that divide us, we experience the sacred, and that is truly worth celebrating.
Eid Mubarak! (Blessed Eid!)
Kul sena wa entum bikher! (Every year may you be well!)
Commentary by Mary Liston Liepold
After Thanksgiving, appropriately enough, comes giving. In the US and nations with similar calendars and customs, the harvest festival leads straight into the making of lists and checking them twice. We plan celebrations, send out greetings, and select the perfect gifts for family members, friends, neighbors, and others who have blessed our lives, some of whom we only connect with at this time of year.
Many rightly deplore the frenzy of materialism that grips Americans each December and propose inspired alternatives, including hand-made, simple gifts and contributions to top-flight nonprofits. Shoppers, non-shoppers, and anti-shopping activists like Reverend Billy all make donations, so civil society organizations like Peace X Peace receive the largest share of their life-giving contributions at year’s end.
This year, as recession tilts toward depression, donors are deciding how much they can afford to give and which charities to choose from, among the nearly 1.5 million in the US alone. Desperate situations cry out for our attention, from those closest to home (no matter where on earth that is) to cholera in Zimbabwe and HIV/AIDS around the world.
I’ll make some gifts to relieve suffering this year, and you probably will too. But the plain truth is that if I provide food for hungry people or medicine for the sick, I may restore them to the condition they were in earlier, but I do nothing to change the conditions that cause their pain. If we envision a different world—not just the old one with patches on the worn places—we have to uproot the domination paradigm and work for a future where war does not consume the largest share of the world’s resources.
The status quo works for some people. I guess that’s why disasters claim a larger share of the charity pie than opportunities for real change. It doesn’t work for women. Peace X Peace builds a world where women claim their full and equal share of resources and share equally in decisions at every level. And the first step toward that goal is supporting each other. Did you know that as of 2007, less than 7% of grants from major US foundations went to organizations working on women’s and girls’ issues? Yet women are on the leading edge where change is happening.
No matter where in the world you live, I think you’ll agree that it is time to support women-led change. As Yukika Sohma, who founded Japan’s first NGO, once said, “We all come from developing nations in the moral and spiritual sense.”