Celebrating King, creating peace

The Jan. 21 national celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holidayis a compelling reminder of the power of nonviolence in sparking socialchange, said an Episcopal priest who conducts training sessions forCreating a Culture of Peace. Photo: Joe Gough
The Jan. 21 national celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holidayis a compelling reminder of the power of nonviolence in sparking socialchange, said an Episcopal priest who conducts training sessions forCreating a Culture of Peace. Photo: Joe Gough
Published January 21, 2013

One way to interrupt violence is simply to raise a hand as thoughwarding it away while simultaneously extending the other hand outwardsin invitation for peaceful engagement.

It may seem a symbolic gesture, but the upraised hand conveys “to anaggressor to stop what you are doing, [that] I refuse to honor the roleyou’re choosing to play,” said the Rev. Steve Shanks, a vocationaldeacon at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Trussville, Alabama.

“Then there’s the other outstretched hand, which is advocatingnonviolence. It expresses that I won’t let go of you, I’m not trying todehumanize you, I have faith you can make a better choice than you aremaking now, and I’ll be here when you’re ready,” said Shanks, whoteaches the gesture during training sessions for Creating a Culture of Peace, a national program founded by Janet Chisholm, a former a chair of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.

The Jan. 21 national celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr.holiday is a compelling reminder of the power of nonviolence in sparkingsocial change, said Shanks.

“Violence is an easy default for people to go to,” he said. “Itoccurs in so many different forms in society. So often we become inuredto it [so] that we don’t even realize we’re participating in a violentsystem.”

“We think we know what violence looks like, but … it occurs soinsidiously within our institutional structures, social structures,” hesaid. “It does terrible things to people. It can be so debilitating, andthat’s why the training evolved. Anything we can do to help transformthat, to interrupt those cycles, seems like good work.”

The CCP trainings incorporate “circles of truth” that group five orsix participants to tackle a controversial issue. With a topic like guncontrol, for example, each participant receives a few minutes torepresent to the others in the circle the viewpoint associated with agun control activist or a handgun owner or a media-relations person forthe National Rifle Association. Then each is asked to take a step to theright and repeat the exercise from the viewpoint of the person who hadbeen standing there.

“That way, everybody takes a turn standing in everybody else’s shoes”as a way of promoting dialogue and building community, Shanks said.

Elsewhere across the country, Episcopalians are tackling violence in various ways.

‘LOVE’ task force in New York
On Jan. 24, the Church of the Holy Trinityin New York will host a forum on interpersonal violence sponsored bythe congregation’s LOVE (Liberate Ourselves, Value Everyone) Task Forceon Nonviolent Living.

The session, third in the “Nonviolent Living: Made in the Image ofGod” series, aims to raise awareness and promote nonviolent living. “Itis about the abuse that can happen in all kinds of partnerships, notjust romantic or coupled. We’re looking at the impact of sacred vows on arelationship that has abuse in it,” said moderator Victoria Rollins,theologian and advocate.

Holy Trinity parishioner Yvonne O’Neal, a task force member, said theseries is important because “all of us have suffered violence in someform or another because it is so pervasive in our community.

“I have a child I adopted, who happened to be my great-nephew. Hismother was my niece, and his father killed her,” she said. “That wasquite an event in my family’s life, and it changed my life.”

While the task force seeks to create awareness, it’s time tore-envision King’s dream of the “beloved community” where nonviolencecomes into being from conscious awareness of choosing gentleness,thoughtfulness and hospitality, that we are one, Rollins said.

Seeking transformation in Milwaukee
Similarly, All Saints’ Cathedralin Milwaukee, Wisconsin, explored causes of violence during a yearlongseries of adult education and community events, “Living Without Fear, AChristian Response to Violence.”

“Milwaukee is a very racially divided and economically divided city,and there’s a great deal of violence,” said the Very Rev. Kevin Carroll,cathedral dean. That includes the Aug. 5 fatal shooting of sixworshippers at a Sikh temple, the fifth mass killing in the city inseven years, he said during a recent interview with Episcopal NewsService.

“One of the major conclusions we came to was that we can’t affect theworld but we can affect how we respond to the world as a faith-basedcommunity,” said Carroll.

“The Sikh community did an incredible job of that. Less than two daysafter it happened, they were praying for the guy who shot everybody.That had a profound impact on people here, that we are really learninghow to be good Christians from our Sikh brothers and sisters, who putprayer and forgiveness at the center of things and started working outfrom there.”

Transformation also happened in hearing the stories of others,including a Holocaust survivor “who bore no grudges,” Carroll said. “Hehad forgiven the people who had perpetrated these terrible things on himand his community.

“We walked away with the feeling that justice and reconciliation arenot mutually exclusive. Justice is how the world deals with violence.Peace and forgiveness is how we deal with it. Not until we choose toforgive and move on can we facilitate peace in the world.”

Some participants were inspired to get involved in community serviceand outreach ministries, as well as developed the awareness that “wedon’t start from a place of fear, we start from a place of prayer,”Carroll said. “Even in the midst of great violence, forgiveness is key.”

Peace project in Rochester, New York
The Rev. Pat Cashman wanted to strengthen community bonds by offering the Church of the Ascension for a daylong peace project last August.

Located in a Rochester, New York, community undergoing tremendouschange and escalating violence, the church is becoming a peace center.

“Once we know each other, respect each other, delight in each other,that bond decreases our unrest and chance of violence, plus we werelearning specific skills also,” Cashman said during a recent telephoneinterview. “We wanted to create a positive feeling that we can dosomething so we don’t despair.”

The August peace-teaching event included music, dance, art and drama.About 45 people created a 14-car “peace train” made of plyboardpaneling and brightly painted. Carrying the cars, they marched throughthe city streets to a nearby park.

“We were chanting, singing peace songs. People drove by, saw thetrain and honked. We had a skit, and a dance, the song and rap fromteenagers. We all pulled together and worked. It was total strangerscoming together, a plain human bond of people who desire peace,” Cashmansaid. “By the end of the day we knew so many more people than when westarted. And that was a good feeling.”

Discovering and implementing ways to interrupt and redirect violenceis difficult, however, “because we don’t have too much education aboutour inner life,” she said. “It’s called shadow work. So within us wehave a whole complement of human behavior of violence and … we have tounderstand ourselves better, becoming much more self-aware of our ownmessages and how we send them.”

An antiviolence group meets at the church each month, and upcomingLenten classes will teach mindful communication, she added. “I want toencourage people to do everything they can to increase the bonds ofcommunity between people and not to let overwork and isolation keep usapart.”

Recovering creative nonviolence
The Rev. Jeremy Lucas, vicar of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Battle Ground, Washington, has lived the power of nonviolent resistance.

“I grew up in Birmingham [Alabama], although I wasn’t of age duringthe civil rights movement,” Lucas said during a recent telephoneinterview. “I was born in 1971, but that spirit permeated Birmingham. Ifever there was a place that you thought would not be desegregated andwould not be somewhere that Dr. King’s message would come true, it wouldhave been in Birmingham.”

The movement there happened when television coverage raised awarenessof the violence leveled against civil rights workers, and all over thecountry “people rallied to the cause,” he said.

With the gun-control debate, “we have to attack this problem ofviolence, to use a rather aggressive metaphor descriptor,” said Lucas,who also participates in CCP training. “But we have to go at it in manydifferent ways.

“Individually, we have to find those places in ourselves that areviolent and pray for their redemption and work in a way that leads us tosee that there is another way.”

The CCP training “seeks to change minds, to change attitudes, to really step out in a new way,” he said.

“Our culture right now has a lack of imagination and a lack ofcreative thinking around how to deal with violence. Something about oursociety says: If you step out of line, if you don’t follow the waythings are, you’re going to get ostracized, you’re not going to be ableto change the system. And we remain isolated in spite of all the newconnections of technology.

“We do live in isolation and small pockets in individual homes, noteven knowing our neighbors,” he said. “It makes it hard to believe that,if you want something to change, it can.”

Building community is the bottom line, he said. “Although individualactions had to be made, individual decisions had to be taken, the firstaction was to get involved with other people doing the same thing and towork in community and to work with others struggling along the samepath to help one another.”

“We get so individualized and individualistic about our thinking,that this is a private action and I need to be a better person, buttruly Christianity at its very heart is about living community, livingand working and growing together as a wholeness that is beyond any of usas individuals.

Lucas said that King was a great leader in the civil rights movement.“But if we define the civil rights movement as just Dr. King and hisspeeches and the things he did, we miss most of the civil rightsmovement. We miss most of those people on the ground who risked life andlimb and many who gave their lives in the struggle for equality.”

He added, “When we can stop long enough to say, hey, I don’t want todo this any more. I don’t believe that this is the way Jesus calls us ashis disciples in the world to live, we say, this is not going to makeour lives immediately easier. But what it will do is it will allow us tolive with integrity about who we are and what we believe. It’s justthat one action: of not cutting somebody off in traffic in anger or nottelling somebody who’s told you to shut up to go jump off a bridge.Whatever that small action is, small actions build into bigger actions.”

Information about the CCP trainings and other resources on nonviolence are available at the Episcopal Peace Fellowship website. EPF interim executive director, the Rev. Allison Sandlin Liles, could not be reached for comment.

– The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.



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