Outward and Inward

I am thinking about this crazy dream of peace I have again.

I spent the past 5 days with 5 others committed to justice-creating and peace-pursuing –  all under the umbrella of our call as Christians. We were planning an upcoming national peace conference in the beauty of the New Mexico high desert. It is Georgia O’Keefe country: rustic, sparse, rabbit brush and ravens, red rock canyons and a night sky you could just fall into. http://www.ghostranch.org/

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? It was. But, let me just say up front, it wasn’t all peace pipes and Kum Bah Yah.

Peace work is hard work. Simply because we have similar beliefs doesn’t mean we either 1) agree with each other or 2) work in the same way. Every person there was gifted, strong, and passionate. Thankfully,  Jesus did not say, “blessed are the conflict avoiders.”

Here’s one thing I have found: people who work for justice and peace can be a little edgy sometimes.

And why shouldn’t they be? They work on poverty inequalities, human trafficking, Palestinian rights, and other “impossible” situations because of their outrage about how things are.  This anger calls them to the margins either because of their personal experience being marginalized or because of their privilege. Read: we are all in process of making sense out of life. They invest themselves in the work they do and the people they love. They have a deep, heart-breaking belief that somehow – in some way – they are asked to be part of righting things, though they infrequently see any big change.

It ain’t easy. It makes the mind and heart weary. And just plain ticked sometimes. Wouldn’t you be angry? And tired? This is a long haul, being a justice-seeker.

Eventually, peacemakers decide (if they are going to be with it for the long haul) that even if nothing changes, they will stand out in the cold with those who are outcast because it is the right thing to do. And they come to understand that being angry at “God,” the government, the rich, “the church,” the system, or anything else outside of them does little good if it does not move them to two things. It must lead to both peaceful action and to inner peace. As hard as that sounds, it is imperative. And  it does not “happen.” It becomes an intentional spiritual path.

Today a great justice-seeker and peace-builder died.

Scott Kennedy http://www.mercurynews.com/central-coast/ci_19373837 was a long time activist on economic justice, justice for Palestinians, and many other critical issues. He was the mayor of Santa Cruz. And, he established an enviable peace center in Santa Cruz http://rcnv.org/ that became a hub of activity around non-violence. I only met him once. But I remember him as a peace-full man.

He was angry. Outraged, even. He channeled all of that negative energy into his work with people, educational trips to the Middle East and a community nonviolence center that people from around the world benefited from. He was good at what he did because he recognized and practiced what I believe is the most important factor to avoid burn out: He worked at both the outward and inward aspects of peace and justice. One can’t be committed to nonviolence without it eventually permeating all of who we are. The only way to create it is to access and strengthen peace internally – in the day-to-dayness of living as we work for peace outwardly.

If we pursue a predominantly outward path, which is for some the easier way, we do not develop the emotional and spiritual resources we need to attend to the issue(s) that move us most without becoming our issue. And if we do not make room for the outward path, we become about little more than our own spiritual growth.

Anger and disappointment are integral to the path we walk. Somehow these two unwanted emotions need to become our friends on the journey. I have seen more than a few good people become so absorbed in their rage that they became ineffective in sharing the story or winning friends for their cause. (When I worked heavily on Middle East issues, I joked that the goal was to keep the advocates from re-enacting the Middle East conflict in their group dynamics.)

Pema Chodron speaks about the internal part of dealing with our anger.

“So when you’re like a keg of dynamite just about to go off, patience means just slowing down at that point- just pausing- instead of immediatly acting on your usual, habitual response. You refrain from acting, you stop talking to yourself, and then you connect with the soft spot. But at the same time you are completely and totally honest with yourself about what you are feeling. You’re not suppressing anything; patience has nothing to do with suppression. In fact, it has everything to do with a gentle, honest relationship with yourself. If you wait and don’t fuel the rage with your thoughts, you can be very honest about the fact that you long for revenge; nevertheless, you keep interupting the torturous story line and stay with the underlying vulnerabilty. That frustration, that uneasiness and vulnerabilty is nothing solid. And yet it is painful to experience. Still, just wait and be patient with your anguish and with the discomfort of it. This means relaxing with that restless, hot energy- knowing it’s the only way to find peace for ourselves or the world.”  from Practicing Peace in Times of War.

There is so much truth in this. This is exactly the practice we peacemakers need. I hope that as we “relax with that restless hot energy,” we make room for looking kindly at ourselves and others. Slowly, painstakingly, we find ourselves living deeper into the peace we pray for.

Give me a group of people who are willing to go both inward and outward, and I swear we will change the world. We may even be the peace we pray for. Wouldn’t that be something?

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