Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Contemplation or Action?

Following Fr. John Dear's challenging lecture last night on the Road to Peace, I offered the following reflection on the tension between contemplative and active forms of peacemaking in chapel at Drew this morning: 


  •  Are you an active or a contemplative Christian?
  • Are you an activist who prophetically speaks truth to the power…or a contemplative who prays for peace and tries to live a life of compassion? 
  • Are you a contemplative-active or an active contemplative?
(It’s complicated.  It’s a spectrum.  The two poles are in tension.)

Last night Fr. John Dear was in the house [at the annual Henri Nouwen Lecture at Drew].  We heard a radical gospel according John --the peace and justice activist.  We also heard him talk appreciatively about his friend, Fr Henri Nouwen, the more contemplative peacemaker—who died 14 years ago this week (Sept 21, 1996). 

Henri Nouwen is a well-known writer of 40+ books on contemplative spirituality, including The Return of the Prodigal Son and Life of the Beloved.  He was a professor of pastoral psychology at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard before moving to L’Arch Daybreak community of people with physical and mental disabilities as their pastor.

Fr. John Dear, SJ is a Jesuit priest, peacemaker, community organizer, author/editor of 25 books, including The God of Peace: Toward a Theology of Nonviolence. Nominated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008 for the Noble Peace Prize, Fr. John former executive director of Fellowship for Reconciliation, the largest interfaith peace organization in the United States where he ministered with the Berrigan brothers in direct actions of non-violent civil disobedience.  Currently, John is working on a nonviolent campaign to disarm Los Alamos, New Mexico, and shut down the government’s War Drone program in Nevada. 

John’s peace work has taken him to El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Middle East, Colombia, Philippines; Northern Ireland, and Iraq--Seeking to live out the radical Beatitudes of Jesus in every dimension of his life.

John believes that social change occurs when enough good people break bad laws.  Toward this end, he has been arrested over seventy-five times in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience for peace, spending more than a year of his life in jail.  He also has organized hundreds of demonstrations for peace and justice across the country over the last 25 years.

For example, after protesting housing cuts and lack of funding for the homeless in Washington DC in 1989, John was arrested again. Someone had given him a copy of Henri Nouwen’s little book, In the Name of Jesus.  A prophetic leadership book about the three temptations of Jesus (which also are common to leaders): 1) the temptation to be relevant (“turn these stones into bread”); 2) to be spectacular (“throw yourself down from the temple top and the let the angels catch you”); and 3) to be powerful (“rule the kingdoms of the world”). 

John had the book in his pocket when he was arrested, and he read that day in his cell.  “I was hooked on Henri Nouwen,” writes John. “I found the book both consoling and challenging.”  With paper and pencil provided by other cellmates, he wrote a book review which he later sent to Nouwen.  Thus began a 7-year, warm and engaging, regular, correspondence between a young and very active priest and an older more contemplative priest, as they exchanged ideas and admonitions. 

In 1992, Henri Nouwen sent John a copy of his latest book, Life of the Beloved, in which he writes: (quote p. 30-31)

John read the new book just after getting back from a peace mission in Haiti where he was trying to stop new waves of violence.  As he told us last night, the book made him angry, and he wrote an angry letter to his friend Henri about what the book left out: 

“I agree with you that we are all the beloved of God, but in a world of violence and injustice, we are required to work for justice, and this book neglects this crucial next step….We must seek justice…and oppose war, and any form of killing God’s other beloved children—or we renounce our  belovedness…” (The Road to Peace, p. xv).

Henri responded graciously to John’s challenging letter, and they continued writing.  (Knowing both Henri and John, I can feel the tension between them about whether it’s better to be an activist or a contemplative peacemaker.)

In 1993 at the Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, John was arrested again (with Fr. Philip Berrigan) for hammering on the head of an F-16 Air Force fighter bomber…in a demonstration of how to ‘beat your swords into plowshares, your spears into pruning hooks’ according to the prophet Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom.  The protesters were jailed, indicted, arraigned, tried, and convicted with a felony charge of destruction of government property. 

During their 8-month imprisonment, “we were never let out of our cells, never went outdoors,” John writes. “I received many letters of support, but Henri’s weekly letters…were particularly encouraging. He felt in solidarity with our peace witness, and read aloud my hand-written letters to him at Daybreak liturgies and community meetings, ‘so that our work for peace and your work for peace will be the same.’” (Road to Peace, p. xvii)

After the death of Henri Nouwen in 1996, John put together Henri's published and unpublished writings on peace and justice in one edited volume. The Road to Peace is one of the text books I use in my courses and seminars on the spirituality of Henri Nouwen.

Fast forward to April 9, 2009: John Dear and 14 others are arrested for “criminal trespassing” at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada (headquarters of the U.S. drones), for protesting “remote-controlled warfare.” 

Their trial ended just last week in Las Vegas.  Expert witnesses, including former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark and others, argued that
·       Intentional killing is a war crime, as embodied in U.S. constitutional law.
·       Drone strikes by U.S. and coalition forces kill a disproportionate number of civilians. (John referred to a finding that 9 out of 10 people killed by war drones are bystanders--‘collateral damage’)
·       People have the right, even the duty, to stop war crimes.
·       According to the Nuremberg principles, individuals are required to disobey domestic orders that cause crimes against humanity (including trespassing on government property).
·       And when enough good people break bad laws, social systems change.

The Judge announced that he needed three months to “think about all of this” before he could render a verdict. “There is more at stake here than the usual meaning of trespassing,” he noted. The Creech 14 were assigned a court date of January 27, 2011 to hear the verdict.

The Gospel according to John (Dear) addresses the global crises of war drones, nuclear weapons, poverty, hunger, AIDS, and the threat of environmental destruction:  “Jesus dedicated himself passionately to justice for the poor and a global vision of God’s reign of peace on earth, and he gave his life to the formation of a community of peacemakers who would confront institutionalized, imperial injustice head on, just as he did.”

Blessed are the peacemakers (in the active sense of that work) for they shall be called the children of God. (Foreword, Peacework, p. 8)

The Gospel according to Henri Nouwen is simply that “you and I are the beloved children of God. That we are loved by God from eternity to eternity.  Long before we were born, we were held in the palm of God’s hand.  And long after we die, we will be embraced by the God of love.  The voice that Jesus heard at his baptism—You are my beloved child—is the same inner voice of love that calls us Beloved.  Prayer and meditation connects us to the truth of who we are, and this deeper truth is what sets us free to love ourselves and others.   It doesn’t matter how short or long our life is.  We’re only here a short time-10-20-30-40-60-80 years on earth.  But long enough to come to know that we are loved, and to say back to God: I love you too!”

John’s Gospel is more activist:  By social analysis and speaking truth to power, by community organizing and non-violent civil disobedience, we call forth the Beloved Community of peace and justice.  And if you as a follower of Jesus Christ are not living on the prophetic edge, you’re taking up too much room.

So how do we live in the tension between contemplation and action in a world of violence and injustice?

Here’s a two minute video clip about John Dear’s active approach to ministry in his book “A Persistent Peace”; followed by a video clip about Henri Nouwen’s contemplative approach to being a peacemaker.  Somewhere on the spectrum may we find our gift and calling. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hosting Fr. John Dear at Drew tonight

One of the endowed lectures series at Drew University is the Henri Nouwen Lecture in Classical Christian Spirituality, which provides means to invite to campus note-worthy practitioners of contemplative spirituality and active ministry as embodied in the life and works of Henri Nouwen.
This year's distinguished lecturer is Fr. John Dear--an internationally known activist for peace and nonviolence, and friend of Henri Nouwen.   And someone whom I've known for many years and deeply respect. His lecture on the spirituality of peace-making is on Monday, Sept. 27, at 7:30pm in Craig Chapel of Drew Theological School.

Fr. John Dear is a Jesuit priest, pastor to the poor, peacemaker, organizer, lecturer, and author/editor of 25 books, including The God of Peace: Toward a Theology of Nonviolence, and his autobiography, “A Persistent Peace.”  

John is former executive director of Fellowship for Reconciliation, the largest interfaith peace organization in the United States.  He served as pastor of several parishes in northeastern New Mexico, co-founded Pax Christi New Mexico, and continues to work on a nonviolent campaign to disarm Los Alamos.  He has graduate degrees in theology from the GTU in Berkeley, CA, and has taught theology at Fordham University in New York.  Today, he lectures to tens of thousands of people each year in churches and schools across the country and the world. He also writes a weekly column for the “National Catholic Reporter.”

After the death of Henri Nouwen in 1996, John put together Henri's published and unpublished writings on peace in one edited volume. The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice by Henri Nouwen, edited by Fr. John Dear, SJ. is one of the text books I use in my courses and seminars on the spirituality of Henri Nouwen.

What I like most about this book is how John knitted together the various strands of Henri Nouwen’s experiences and reflections on social justice and peacemaking, including:
  • marching with Martin Luther King Jr, from Selma to Montgomery in 1965
  • speaking at a moratorium rally against the Vietnam War in 1972;
  • his Good Friday Peace Action –a prayer vigil at Groton, CT, in protest to the christening of the navy’s new Trident nuclear submarine called the ‘Corpus Christi’ (when I attended Yale in 1980);
  • his participation in public protests at Nevada Test Sites calling for nuclear disarmament and nonviolent direct action against militarism;
  • his ministry of solidarity with the poor in Peru and Guatemala (1981-82);
  • his participation with Witnesses for Peace on the border of Honduras and Nicaragua (1983);
  • his six-week national Peacemaking tour in north America seeking to raise public support to change US policies in Latin America under the Regan Administration (1983);
  • living and working among the poor and broken in Latin American and at L’Arche community in Canada from 1986-1996).
  • his prophetic call for inclusion and embrace of people with HIV/AIDS as beloved children of God in the 1980’s and 1990’s. 
Nominated by ArchBishop Desmond Tutu in 2008 for the Noble Peace Prize, Fr. John Dear--peacemaker and beloved child of God--will be a Drew tonight.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hope Initiatives Blog Launched

Friends of Mzuzu,

I'm happy to inform you that Copeland and the UMC of Mzuzu, Malawi, has just launched a blog on the Hope Initiatives we support:  

Hope Scholarships
Hope Tailoring School
Hope Homes for Orphan Care
Shalom Zone Pig Project

Rev. Copeland reports:

Rev Michael,
Greeting of grace to you
The volume of our gratitude and appreciation is so inconceivable and we owe it all to GOD who has raised you up for a time such as this for our sake.
Success stories continue to flood our report desk and you will be glad to hear that the new tailoring class has made many dresses and other items are now being displayed for sale. The creations are pretty and eye catching. The young ladies are learning too quickly. Thank God. We appreciate for the excellent support.  

Love from Copeland


Names of Hope scholarship students

SECONDARY HOOL                                                                    



New Hope Tailoring School Students-Charter class

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shalom for the City

For those interested in Communities of Shalom, here are my sermon notes for the Shalom Chapel today at Drew Theological School, celebrating our 12 student interns who spent 4-10 weeks working in Shalom Zones from Buffalo to LA, from Haiti to Malawi,  in the summer of 2010.

Seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord in its behalf, for in its shalom, you will find your shalom.” –Jeremiah 29:7

We all know what Shalom is Not… The Bible is full of descriptions of systems gone wrong, of sin and dysfunction and injustice. Our focus today is on God’s intentions for Shalom as revealed by the prophets (Isa, Jer. Amos and Micah) who offered not only social analysis and judgment, but practical strategies of renewal.
Shalom and the Prophets:

Isa 61—the familiar passage Jesus quoted in his inaugural sermon in Nazareth. 

In verses 1-3 Messiah speaks about what he is called to do:

"The Spirit is upon me, and anointed me, to bring good news to the poor and oppressed, bind up the broken hearted, proclaim liberty to captives, release prisoners, proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the year of Jubilee."

Then, in verses 4-6 the prophet says: 
“THEY…will rebuild ancient ruins, 
THEY will restore places of devastation, 
THEY will repair ruined cities…

Who are “THEY”?  Precisely those who have received the good news, those who will inhabit those ruined and devastated places and.   The people of God, residents of the city, members of the community, stakeholders in the neighborhood.  (c.f. Isa. 65:17-25)

“They” is us!

And it is the work of Shalom ministers to organize the community and empower the people.

Build…Plant…Restore…Renew…Reweave…Seek Shalom….

Shalom is God’s ultimate desire realized, God’s deepest dream come true.

Twelve students from Drew Theological School this summer took the threads of shalom in their hands, and worked with others in their communities, to reweave and rebuild, restore and renew, the broken textures of communities, transforming the world one community at a time.

Haiti (Josh) bebuilding houses destroyed by earthquake, restoring sense of safety and security, creating opportunities of economic development.

Pharr, Tx (Yvette) venturing out into unincorporated areas on the border of Mexico—colonias—and organizing residents (both legal and undocumented) to claim their shalom.  Raising hope.

Echo Park, Los Angles (Gaius) embracing immigration reform, not just as social policy advocacy but up close and personal through nurturing relationships with kids and families in the neighborhood.

Peace Center at USC, LA (Summer) introducing children to real peace-makers and teaching them how to resolve conflicts at home and in the community.

Spokane, WA (Catherine) planting gardens and gleaning produce, securing donated food, and mobilizing volunteers to feed hungry people on the streets in the Shalom Dining Room.  Helping the church downtown become a neighborhood parish, including folks on the street (recovering addicts and runaway youth) in the worshipping life of the congregation.

Rosebud, SD (Narshonna) listening to the stories and wisdom of the elders, recording their oral history to preserve the traditions, and connecting with the youth through fitness and hip hop aerobics.

Buffalo, NY (Geralda) mobilizing volunteers for multicultural ministry in a tuff neighborhood for youth at risk.

Monclair, NJ (Barnaby) community organizing against all odds and deep pockets of resistence.

Dallas, Tx (Renee) helping a social justice focused church develop shalom strategies for community transformation

Mzuzu, Malawi (Katrina) empowering women, and focusing on economic development of young women learning to be tailors, to support not only themselves but the AIDS orphans in their care.

Macon, GA, (Dawrell) working through the Mayor’s Office to help neighborhood coalitions design Shalom Plans to reduce crime, improve schools, and rebuild dilapidated houses into homes, creating what the Mayor of Macon calls “A City of Shalom”.   

Shalom Zones are one way to fulfill God's dream for Shalom in the family and community. 

Closing:  Jeremiah 29

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Not just hope and a future for you, but for your family
Not just for your family but for the city
Not just the city, but for every nation
Not just for the nations of the world, but for the planet as a whole.  And not just for planet earth, but the whole cosmos of God. 

So, seek the Shalom of the community where you have been sent, and pray to the Lord is its behalf.  For in it’s shalom, you will find your shalom.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sept. 11 and the End of the World

I read today in the New York Times of President Obama’s impassioned call for social and religious tolerance between Muslims, Christians and Jews amid protests and violence in Afghanistan, “set off by a Florida pastor’s plans, now suspended, to burn Korans [today], the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and against the backdrop of the controversy in New York over a proposed Islamic center near ground zero.” (p.1)

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, I’ve been feeling like the world is coming apart at the seams.  The world I was born in is the not the world I will die in, in fact the world (as I knew it) already has come to an end.  It ended on September 11, 2001, when the Terrorists succeeded in paralyzing Americans with fear, distrust and division that nine years later has erupted into cultural and religious wars at home and abroad.

I’m old enough to remember how divided Americans were over the war in Viet Nam, and how the so-called ‘generational gap’ kept my family from appreciating my tastes in rock music, clothing and hair, and how the preachers kept saying that we were living in the last days of planet earth.  Whether we are better or worse off as a nation in 2010 than we were 40 or 50 years ago I cannot say.  What I do know is that apocalyptic times are here again.

Once again, there are ‘wars and rumors of wars’ looming on the horizon.  The world is a dangerous place: Osama ben laden and company are still at large and planning new punishments for the West; the War on Terrorism is a 24/7 exhausting effort; Iran and North Korea are still pursuing a nuclear weapons programs; Palestinians and Israelis continue to say the other has no right to exist as a nation. And more hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural and technological disasters may be on the way.

"Apocalypse Now" could happen in our lifetime!  Apocalyptic preachers and prophets predicted the end of the world back in 1971 and again in 1984, and I feared the worst as the year 2000 approached.  But the End of the World was delayed from Y2K to 9/11/01.  If the world did not end then, perhaps it will before the end of apocalyptic year 2012.

But here we are today on the anniversary of 9/11, still alive on planet earth, but deeply anxious and culturally divided, easily provoked by ‘the other side’, partisan in our politics, dualistic in our either/or black/white thinking, and unable to trust those who are different or do not agree with our social or religious point of view. 

Okay, that’s a generalization.  But consider the fact that substantial numbers of Americans believe the President of the United States is a Muslim, that most Muslims are terrorists, and that a Muslim mosque and community center should be prevented from being built near Ground Zero in New York.  Consider the fact that Americans are irreconcilably divided over the role of government and social issues such as healthcare, immigration, abortion, homosexuality, religious liberties and constitutional rights.  (The current controversy over the proposed mosque in NYC and the burning of the Koran in Florida are just tip of the iceberg).

Signs of the Times or Signs of the End?

In my Fall course at Drew University on apocalyptic eschatology, I hope to put the end of the world in perspective.  I'll post a few excerpts from my lectures on this blog in the coming  days and weeks.  In the meantime, shalom!  "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."