Category Archives: Essays

Why I’m Giving Up on Peace

Earth-Torn by kmls(Reprinted from July 21, 2014 and edited for current events).

Things don’t look so good right now.

Today’s paper (which is not much diiferent than yesterday’s paper) lists the grisly news. A car bombing in Egypt. Another kid shot and killed in SE DC. Loan defaults. Terrorist strikes. Retaliations. We are a world at war with itself, with around 50 conflicts globally as of this writing. The majority of deaths are civilian, “collateral damage” as it were, a dehumanizing term if ever there was one.

Here, our borders teem with desperate children. The gap between rich and poor widens. Solutions are short-sighted and generally involve some band-aid fix, like a new gadget, another casino, or more guns on the street. Congress is a bastion of impotence and hubris. We scrabble over issues that mean nothing like dogs after crumbs while the country and the world burns around us.

While we laud our technological advances, it seems the one thing we are most adept at is killing each other.

So one night, my wife and I, as we are wont to do each evening, talked about our days and the state of this spinning sphere like some morbid carousel we find ourselves stuck on. We both have been at this so-called peace work for most of our lives. At times we wonder why. We went to bed rather depressed.

I awoke to a text message from her. She was sharing a scripture she read that morning.

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10). As she said in her text, pretty apropos.

Some things jumped out at me right away. We do good simply because it is the right thing to do. We do not limit who we do good to – “everyone” is pretty clear. Those closest to us, within the same family of faith, who sometimes are the hardest to do good to, are not to be left out either. Tenacity and obedience can overcome despair. We don’t give up. There is an end, a flowering of planted seed, a reaping of glorious fruit.

Our fight is not against flesh and blood. Nor should our faith and ultimate allegiance be in and to such. Despair arises when we are inundated with bad news and when our trust in human leadership and institutions has been broken yet again.

Rather we wage a war against the principalities and powers, the spiritual forces of evil in high places. Such a battle requires divine help and divine eyes to see the opportunities to do good as well as the Good News (gospel) occurring around us everyday.

So I’ve given up on peace.

But I have not given up on the good – doing it and being a part of it.

The rest I leave in the hands of the One who continues to hold this broken world in loving, gentle hands.

Strange how little things help

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Things haven’t been really happy around here lately.

I will spare you all of the gory details but needless to say the frustrations kept me awake for another night last evening.

I can see the issues and the problems and yet there does not seem to be any way out of them at least in the short term. That gets pretty overwhelming and it’s hard to find time in the midst of all of the stuff for self-care or to even think.

But it is strange how little things help.

I get a few hours break from a taxing relationship.

I finally have a moment to shave.

I can take my first real shower in weeks because I don’t have to wear a ziplock bag over my broken finger.

I receive a brief email of empathy and understanding from someone who loves me.

A lunch date is confirmed for later on in the week.

A red Finch comes to the bird feeder outside my window.

Nothing has really changed. The problems still exist and I still do not see any solutions to them. I don’t know where or if change will come.

But it is strange how little things help.

Midweek Essays are posted every Wednesday. Please see publication schedule page for more information.

Street Secrets Redux

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Today, at this moment, I sit on the bench in the park where I walked 20 years ago. Back then I captured the place with a piece I wrote called Street Secrets.

This neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant has changed. But this park beneath the church towers has stayed the same, right down to the graffiti-scrawled benches and gum-stained paver stones. I wonder if the homeless men still gather here at night for a meal.

The pedestrians seem younger and of a paler hue. La Raza is represented but not like it used to be.

Do these newcomers know the history of this place that they now call home?

Here is where I told the man to let her go.

Here is where I stood between two gangs at the drop in center.

Here is where I taught them to play chess.

Here is where I mourned Walter.

Here is where the cop cars were torched.

Here is where the tear gas fell as I kept the youth at bay.

Here is where I walked 20 years ago past the bench where I sit today.

Serenity. Courage. Wisdom.

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I must admit that for me all three of these seem to be in rather short supply.

They are found in the familiar Serenity Prayer.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Serenity is a form of peace, a sense of calm and contentment in the midst of chaos. I find this nigh impossible. It seems that change is all around me except in the places where I most covet change, whether that be in myself, in others, or in the world.

I must admit that I am not very good at accepting that which I cannot change. Or even discerning what the unchangeable may be. Too often I have banged my head against an unyielding wall in the hopes that the wall will somehow give way before my hard head. If one door opens when another door closes, why do I insist on trying to walk through the closed door?

And as for courage. I am tenacious to a fault, but I do not know if tenacity is the same as courage. It is far easier to spend time fighting those things that I cannot change rather than striding forth to face those things that I can change. It is similar I think to loving someone from afar who you know you have no chance of having a relationship with rather than building a real relationship with a person close to you who you know deep down inside is the one for you. The one in the distance is always beautiful and can do no wrong. The closest one is revealed in all of their warts and worries. But which one is more real? Which relationship takes more courage to be a part of?

Ah, and wisdom, so chronically underrated in this day and age. We are so knowledge-driven that somehow we think that knowledge is synonymous with wisdom. If knowledge is power then wisdom is the engine that allows that power to be actualized in the best way.

Wisdom is the key to serenity and courage. It is the only way to discern between what I should put my energy toward and what I should be at peace about. So how do I develop this wisdom? Can I develop it? Is it a gift? And if so where does it come from?

Some clues (from James 1): The trials I face create a strength in me to persevere. If I continue to persevere in the midst of whatever occurs then I become mature and lack nothing. But if I lack wisdom all I have to do is ask and it will be given to me.

You see the thing that I forget so often is the first word in the Serenity Prayer. That word or person is God. Too often I rely on my own understanding to determine whether something can be changed or not. I forget to ask for the wisdom to know the difference.

So I am to persevere but not in my own strength can I do so. It is as simple and as difficult as taking the time to stop in the midst of my head banging and simply ask for what I lack. If it is wisdom and I do not make the request, then I will continue to spin my wheels fighting those thing that are simply a waste of my time. As I result, I am unavailable to fight to change those things that I am called to change.

I have not because I ask not. And I, like all of us, have only a limited amount of time to affect real change.

Wisdom is crying out in the streets.

Will I listen?

(Author’s Note: The midweek essay is a regular feature every Wednesday. More information can be found on the publication schedule page).

Beyond Abracadabra – Peace Through Intentional Action – Changing Bullets to Wizards

One of the professional sport franchise owners I deeply respect and admire is the late Abe Pollin, former owner of the NBA’s Washington Wizards. While he led the efforts to bring professional sports back into city centers to help revitalize downtowns rather than suburbs, I am most appreciative of the amazing stand he took against violence.

Most owners, and people for that matter, don’t like to go against the status quo. Change is scary. “Tradition! Tradition!” goes the Fiddler on the Roof anthem. Pollin was the exception.

He had been thinking about changing the name of the Washington Bullets for many years. He felt like it sent the wrong message in a city that was dubbed the murder capital of the world.

“I’ve thought about it for 31 years….Bullets connote killing, violence, death. Our slogan used to be, ‘Faster than a speeding bullet.’ That is no longer appropriate,” Pollin said in an interview with the New York Times.

But it was the assassination of his friend Yitzhak Rabin in Israel that brought Pollin from an idea to action.

“I just came back from Israel, where I attended the funeral of my good friend, Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Rabin,” Pollin said. “My friend was shot in the back by bullets. The name Bullets for a sports team is no longer appropriate…..”

“It was a peace gathering. He was about to leave, but he walked back again. They were rejoicing for peace. I walked those steps. I realized it was time to get this done.”

“I have asked our staff to implement an entirely new community relations program, an anti-violence initiative that will begin this season,” Pollin said. “All that we do in the community will be focused on an anti-violence message with a conflict resolution theme. Our name change will go hand-in-hand with the Bullets’ anti-violence campaign.”

So Pollin and his staff sponsored a naming contest and the Bullets became the Wizards.

There is nothing magical here. The switch was a matter of image, yes, and a chance for the team to turn over a new leaf, to start anew. But I admire Pollin for his willingness to act, to move beyond tradition to a place more reflective of peace and justice.

As the late owner said, “If I save one life, make a change in one life, it’ll be worth it. The Bible says that if you save one life, you save the world. Hopefully, we’ll save many more than that.”

(Another owner of a professional franchise in Washington would do well to follow Mr. Pollin’s example).

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dcsportsbog/2010/02/why_abe_pollin_went_from_bulle.html

Reprinted from original post from 02/29/2012