Sister Patricia Chappell
Executive Director
Pax Christi USA
October 21, 2017
Call To Action – East Coast Conference 2017

Sr. Patricia Chappell, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA
Sr. Patricia Chappell, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA

The teacher picked up on our emotional state and weariness that night and gave us one of the most poignant teachings on what turned out to be the last night we were all together.  Jesus said:  “this is my parting gift to you, my farewell gift.  It is PEACE.  Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”  With all of our confusion…not sure what would happen next…Jesus zooms in on what we most need.  PEACE.   That was the night that Pax Christi was handed on to us…AS GIFT.

Jesus then goes on to proclaim one of the greatest understatements in all of recorded literature when he said:  “the kind of peace I give you is not the world’s peace.” What a bold, wise, true, and insightful statement.  It has withstood the test of time down through the centuries…even to and especially, today.

WE ARE CALLED TO BE A PEOPLE OF PEACE.

I ask, what does that mean and how does that happen?
I recall a wonderful fable told by Anthony de Mello.  It is called ‘THE LITTLE FISH.’
‘Excuse me,” said an ocean fish.  “You are older than I, so can you tell me where to find this thing they call the ocean?
“The ocean,” said the older fish…”is the thing you are in now.”
“Oh, this?  But this is water.  What I am seeking is the ocean,” said the disappointed fish as it swam away to search elsewhere.

My sisters and brothers…this is the ocean in which we live:  It is a world in which we believe that our labors for justice and peace will not be in vain…it is a world where we dare to dream of a life both here and beyond the grave…it is a world chocked full of brave, simple and courageous women, men and children, people of all ages who struggle each and every day to make ends meet, to raise their children and grandchildren with dignity and respect for themselves and others.

If we are to keep it real, we also have to admit that It is also a world that is hell-bent on violence, bullying, threats, retaliation and revenge.  It is a world which belittles efforts to bring about peace in families, neighborhoods and between cultures and countries.  It is a world like the ocean with its tides, undertows, currents and seasons.  Like the ocean our world is beautiful in its ability to reflect sun and moon and stars alike, and it is a world, like the ocean that can also be dangerous and treacherous.  It is teeming with life and it can also take lives.  Marine life is a world of balance, symmetry and relationships.  Yet the ocean and our world hold secret treasures that we are meant to explore.

Keep this metaphor in mind as we examine together… that being and becoming a people of peace is a CALL.

Anyone who has stood in the scorching August sun clearing a drug and condom infested field in downtown Baltimore so as to make it a neighborhood park…has to believe that this is a call.  Anyone standing in the pouring rain with a sign for justice for immigrants and refugees…has to believe that this is a call.   Anyone who speaks out for the human rights and dignity of the LGBTQ community and the full inclusion of our brothers and sisters in both society and in our beloved church…has to believe that this is a call.    Anyone who weeps from a broken heart at the systemic violence done down through the ages to communities of color AND tries to address their own white privilege…has to believe that this is a call.  Anyone who has crafted a well written letter to the editors about the environmental poisoning of the planet, only to have that letter rejected…has to believe that this is a call.  Anyone who stood to denounce racial hatred and bigotry in Charlottesville and was showered with racial slurs…has to believe that this is a call.  And anyone who has reached out with a plant, a note, or attendance at a Vigil to mourn the desecration of a Muslim holy place…has to believe that this is a call.  It is a call in response to the gift, the Pax Christi…the Peace of Christ. 

We are called TO BE a People of Peace.

To be does not mean:  I’ll think about it…it does not mean to dabble…it does not mean to be about peace when I feel like it…or when it is convenient.  It does not mean something to ‘do’ when I’m done with going to school, raising my kids, or retired.  To be means asking myself and others daily, the stark question of the poet Mary Oliver:  “What is it you plan to do with your one, wild and precious life?”  If you are called, than there is just one answer and it is to put your hands to the proverbial, Scriptural plow…and NOT look back looking for answers elsewhere.  It is to stay in the ocean we are swimming in and not to go looking for water elsewhere.

We are called to be a People of Peace.  What does that look like now?  What could it look like if we took our call intentionally to become the Beloved Community?

At this moment, People of Peace march under different banners:

Just Peace
Issues of drones and war
Human trafficking
Immigrants and Refugees issues
Nuclear abolition
Prison reform
Global and environmental issues
Restorative justice
Military budget
Peace tax
Racial Equity
and the issues go on and on.

We look upon these and so many other peace issues as silos, individual concerns of concerned individuals.  We fail to see the connections between all of the life issues that tear at and compete for our commitment to peace with justice.  Again, we don’t see (and often, don’t want to see) the connections, because to see and to make the connections is to realize my own complicity in sustaining the systems that destroy.

While we need specialists in so many of the issues that come at us, the result of silo thinking is unnecessary and unhealthy conflict:

  • The African American community is perceived at odds with the African born community
  • The Latino/a and Mexican communities in competition with each other
  • The Pacific Islanders with the Puerto Rican and Cuban communities
  • The Vietnamese with the Korean
  • The Right to life folks with the Respect Life and Consistent Life Ethic people
  • The divorced and re-married Catholics and their right to the sacraments
  • The women and the establishments of church and society that practice their policies of exclusion
  • The LGBTQ and straight folks who do not perceive their human rights as being the same

And, here again, the list goes on…

If we truly were A PEOPLE, we would be there for and with each other.  We would recognize that we are all on the same human journey to wholeness and holiness.  We would gather together to marvel at and accept the rich tapestry of life experiences that each one brings to the human endeavor.  Why can’t we gather together, organize and work together…for each other…believing that the diminishment of one person, one community, is the diminishment of all of us?

Working together, we would empower one another to the fullness of life that Jesus tells us is our birthright.  We would struggle with each other to provide affordable housing, decent jobs, quality schools and welcoming churches.  We would take the lead in our efforts from people who have lived on the periphery and the margins of society and listen to their stories, reverence their lives and organize together.  We would take the outrage, and anger, the sorrow and sadness and work for justice, so that other human beings would not have to experience the same thing.  What is holding us back?

One of the bedrocks on which our American way of life is built is the myth of ‘rugged individualism’.  It is a lie, a falsehood that we have been taught, told about, and have internalized and believe in whether we want to admit it or not.  We all tell the stories about grandparents who made it here the hard way…who struggled yet, pulled themselves by their bootstraps…who lived through Irish, Italian, Jewish bigotry and “made it.”  We are quick to make judgements about those we perceive as ‘lazy, good for nothings, not motivated, who love being on State aid, who fake disability and like handouts and food stamps’.  We fail to see the systemic issues involved in those comments, all the while calling ourselves good Christians, and muttering under our breaths ‘thank God I’m not one of “them”.

When we see acts of violence against communities of color, we persist in believing they are isolated, separate incidents…and often react negatively when it is pointed out that these events are part of a systemic evil that is embedded in our economic, legal, and political systems.  Our belief in our rugged individualism mitigates our believing that we are a PEOPLE.

Yet, we are called to be a People of PEACE.

Peacemakers are not ones to engage in escapist fantasy or fairy tale pipe dreams.  We are not believers in some utopian political vision that promises to make us great again, to build a perfect society of law and order, a world where those who don’t look like us are hidden behind a wall or incarcerated.  We are not proponents of the ideology that more guns make us safer and that the ‘mother of all guns’ is a stockpile and arsenal of  nuclear  weapons waiting to cast fire upon the ‘enemy.’  THAT IS THE PEACE THAT THE WORLD GIVES AND WANTS US TO BELIEVE IN.  THIS IS THE PEACE THAT JESUS SPECIFICALLY, SAID WAS NOT THE GIFT HE WAS GIVING US.

We possess no psychic ability to look into the future, nor do we possess a clairvoyant power of our own…yet we dare to believe in peace.  We are perceived as naïve, fools, sadly disillusioned, mis-guided, not believing in reality and best of all ‘dangerous’.  We believe that the seemingly Impossible  Is Possible.

We follow a religious history where impossible things become possible.  Think for a moment how our Biblical family tree is filled with messes, scandals, murders, betrayals.  The Greek Testament  has an assorted cast of characters who took ladders to heaven, spoke to angels, worship gold calves, took each other’s wives, killed their brothers, vacationed in the belly of whales, used rocks for pillows, heard fiery bushes talk and ate mythical fruit from mystical trees.

The Hebrew Testament is not much better:  One brother preferring his sister-in-law for a wife, heads on platters, more betrayals, women asking for crumbs from the table, little food yielding lots and lots to eat, people being brought back to life after being dead and buried, and everyone working in a vineyard for the same salary, regardless of when they began their day.

AND ALL THESE ARE BUT A TINY PART OF THE CLOUD OF WITNESSES CHEERING US ON TODAY.

However, our greatest motivation to answering the CALL TO BE A PEOPLE OF PEACE is Jesus himself…the way he lived, the roads he walked, the words he spoke, the way he died, AND most importantly, the way he LIVES today.

Throughout his life Jesus challenged the status quo of both his society and his religious tradition:

  • he broke chains of those who were imprisoned by culture or circumstance
  • he fed those who did not realize how hungry they were
  • he gave mercy to those who did not deserve it
  • he comforted those who thought they were grieving for their dead
  • he taught those who HE even wondered if they would ever understand
  • he healed those with both visible and invisible wounds
  • he became the disturber of a false peace, confronting the comfortable, the complacent, and those who thought they had it made
  • Jesus got angry and frustrated…but did not resort to violence. Remember the incident in the Temple where he overturned tables, broke up Bingo games, sent pigeons flying and reminded the crowd the purpose of a Temple was for prayer and not for profit.
  • When Peter wanted to play the super hero in the Garden by slicing off the ear of one of the guards, Jesus tells him unequivocally ‘put the sword away’

In Jesus, we start to see the beginnings of a people and a world that was broken become whole again.  We see that death can become new life.  We see a Jesus, a man of peace, seeing reality squarely as it is with its contradictions and misguided ways…yet he is not daunted, or overcome by fear, or defined by what is all around him.  Rather, Jesus, sometimes needing a little prompting, offers fresh hope and invites us to a way of life that is possible.

There are signs in our world today that new hope is rising.  Perhaps it has taken our recent election for people to wake up, speak up and show up.  After listening to an interminably long, negative and shallow pre-election campaign process, seeing with our eyes, hearing with our own ears and feeling with our hearts the rhetoric of mockery, bigotry, racism, hatred of women, Muslims and immigrants,  and this list could go on…people  of all backgrounds are now saying that the portrait of America that is being shown by the current occupant in the White House is NOT us.

People of peace speak up and show up and do so nonviolently.

A great example is that on Inauguration Day, according to the DC Park Police, 598,000 people showed up for the March and there was NOT a single arrest.   This number is in addition to the 1 million people who gathered in 8 major US cities and does not count the thousands of other peaceful demonstrations that were held around the country.

On a large scale, conflict is a part of life and always has been.  Creation was born out of chaos and conflict.

On a smaller scale…Because all of our needs and expectations are different…conflict arises when 2 or more people think, act or express themselves differently based on their own needs and/or expectations.

Conflict is a great motivator that can be productive.  Conflict is necessary for any change to happen.  Conflict can renew relationships and be instrumental in our growth. In fact, creation and transformation only happens when there is conflict.     I repeat: creation and transformation only happens when there is conflict.

How we handle conflict is the challenge:

  • Do we do everything to avoid it? Peace at all costs?
  • Are we accommodating in the face of conflict knowing that the relationship with the individual and/or group is more important than the issue at hand?
  • Do we thrive on conflict? Keeping it going?  Looking to start it?
  • In the face of conflict, are we compromising, believing that listening is more important than having it our way?

People of Peace too often equate nonviolence with doing nothing… of living in a state of comfort, tranquility, praying that the bad will go away.  Let me be clear…I believe in PRAYER.  It is the foundation of my life and I suspect yours also.  But prayer without action is sterile and goes no where.  We believe that People of Peace need to be committed to Active Nonviolence.  Active nonviolence is the use of peaceful means in an active, persistent manner to bring about social change and a means of building a community committed to the well-being of all.

Some of us may not be able to march in a demonstration, but we surely can pick up a phone to call an elected official and let them know that we stand for peace with justice and that if they want to be re-elected, they had better start listening to their people.  If the switchboard is jammed with other calls, rejoice  and keep calling until you get through

Some of us may be college and/or high school students who don’t have a lot of time for extra work, but we sure can show up and speak up when someone holds a vigil on campus about some form of injustice that is roaming and infecting the campus.

From the time we were in the 5th grade, we learned how to write a letter…there is no reason why anyone in here cannot write a letter to the editor, or to a city, county or district official telling them the same message that the phone caller gave:  ‘I stand for peace with justice…and if you want to be re-elected, you’d better start listening to your people.’

I purposely use the phrase ‘peace with justice’ because I believe that they cannot be separated.  If there is no justice…there is no peace.  If there is no peace…it is because there is no justice.

I was asked to lay before you a challenge to action before ending this presentation and taking questions.  I propose an action that has the possibility of transforming  you as a people…as a collective.  Listen closely…We have all reacted in one way or another to the August violence that took place in Charlottesville, VA.

We have also been taught that what we dislike in others is what we do not want to see that exists in us.

Consider this: The White Supremacy that we have seen so plainly and visibly around this country is the belief system and power that sustains white privilege and which continues to hold communities of color enslaved.

Do you as white members of the Call to Action community, have the courage to take a long and loving look at your inherited and internalized white racial superiority and to delve, with great courage, into that pain so as to know redemption?

Do we as communities of color of the Call to Action community have the courage to take a long and loving look at our inherited and internalized racial oppression and to delve, with great courage, into that pain so to know redemption?

This will take intentionality, deep motivation, honesty and facing conflict squarely.

It will be like the opening metaphor of the little fish…swimming into the ocean looking for water.

We will be like the salt doll journeying for thousands of miles over land until it finally came to the sea.  It was fascinated by this strange moving mass, quite unlike anything it had ever seen.

  • “Who are you?” said the salt doll to the ocean
  • The ocean smiled and replied, “Come in and see.”

So the doll waded in. The farther it walked into the sea, the more it dissolved, until there was only very little of it left.

Before that last bit dissolved, the doll exclaimed in wonder:  “Now I know what and who I am.”

In our journey through life, may our efforts to be Peacemakers with and for one another in this vast ocean/world we live in, lead us to be the ‘Balm in Gilead’ with and for one another.  We all need to be whole, we all need to be healed, we all need to be forgiven and to ask for forgiveness.  We all need to be honest, we all need one another…if one day we are to taste redemption.

I close inviting you to pray in song, with me, this ancient, ever new Spiritual from the heritage of my people.  (Sing:  ‘There is a balm in Gilead’)

Let us be that balm for and to one another.

Thank you.