By Valerie Elverton Dixon
Seminary Professor, Writer
Frailty, vulnerability and powerless are facts of the human condition. We look at the world that surrounds us and see such suffering that it can leave us stunned into paralysis. Blood and tears are shed in war. People die in Darfur while the leader of Sudan defies an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court and, in retaliation, expels aid organizations from his country. Drug gangs out gun police in Mexico, and the nation just south of our border teeters on the brink of becoming a failed state. The bodies of women are battle grounds as rape yet again becomes a tactic of war. And beauty, youth, talent, wealth and fame are not shelters from violence as the case of Chris Brown and Rihanna shows. It seems that we are helpless to stop any of this.
Imagination, determination and the power to choose are also facts of the human condition. Some ordinary people in the world today have decided to respond to violence in the world with efforts to build peace. The Courage of Conscience Speaking Tour is an example. September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, the Peace Abbey, and The Rebuilding Alliance, are bringing members of Combatants for Peace to several cities on the east coast between February 27 and March 27. Combatants for Peace is an organization of some 600 former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fights who are working together to make peace in Israel/Palestine.
Yaniv Reshef is a former Israeli soldier whose house is vulnerable to missiles from Gaza. He served in the sabotage unit of the Israeli army. Bassam Aramin served seven years in prison for planning an attack against Israeli soldiers. He decided on the nonviolent way, but this decision could not protect his daughter from a bullet shot by an Israeli soldier that killed her. Reshef and Aramin are now working together to build playgrounds.
We are too frail to stop much of what happens to us. Our response to what happens is a moral choice that is within our strength to make. H. Richard Niebuhr, a Christian moral philosopher, taught that when life happens the moral question to ask is: what is the fitting response? Humankind is a maker, a citizen, an answerer. We have the power to build, to create, to manufacture, to craft laws that bring justice and to pose and answer the right questions. We interpret our reality and act in time and history. Our actions can change reality.
For the Combatants for Peace and others, the fitting response to the violence that intrudes upon their lives is to build playgrounds. They look into the face of the next generation and do not see more war, more terror, more suffering. They see play and laughter and trees and flowers and Israelis and Palestinians living in peace. They see the necessity for justice, in all its iterations, as requisite for peace.
We are powerless to turn time back to September 10, 2001 and act to stop the horror of the next bright blue late summer day. But, the September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows have chosen to respond to that awful day by doing what they can to end cycles of violence. We are vulnerable to thinking that military power is the only power to solve conflict. The Peace Abbey responds with promoting strategies of peacemaking. We cannot snap our fingers or click our heals or chant some incantation to start or stop wars in the Middle East and around the globe, but the Rebuilding Alliance works to help rebuild war torn areas.
We can help Combatants for Peace build playgrounds. They have already built one in Anata, a neighborhood of Jerusalem on the West Bank. They are now working on one in Se’ir near Hebron. This is a fitting response to violence. This is creative, imaginative, determined power that can create a better reality and a better world.
Full disclosure: My church, Union Baptist Church in Montclair, NJ, will host the Courage of Conscience Speaking Tour on March 21.
Valerie Elverton Dixon was on the faculty at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Mass.