Friday, August 31, 2012

RICHER FOR IT

In my imagination, the winds and rains
of what remains of Isaac falling on Indiana
carry in them the sands and elements of Africa.

Somehow, aloft throughout its 10,000 miles
of swirling rage, they now descend upon us,
imperceptibly mingling with our native air and soil.

And, just was unwittingly, we will be richer for it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

PREVENTIVE PEACE

If God is glorified in reconciliation after unimaginable destruction by violence, would not God be glorified all the more in preventive peacemaking?


I recently listened to a Vietnamese friend talk about the powerful ministry of reconciliation he is facilitating and witnessing in his country.  Deeply divided between north and south in that nation’s civil war—and with many in the south persecuted after the north prevailed—Vietnam is slowly healing from its deep internal wounds.  Likewise, more and more United States military veterans who served there in the 1960’s and early ‘70s are returning to Vietnam on reconciliation missions and I’m told the results are rather amazing.  Soldiers who’ve been haunted by open emotional wounds for 35 years or more are finding peace at last.

Having ridden a bicycle over 600 miles in Vietnam with my friend—some of it along the fabled and rugged Ho Chi Minh Trail, I confirm his words and commend his efforts.  I pray many more Vietnamese and US veterans will find reconciliation.  It is sacred work.  It is what is needed in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and all wars.

I worked directly with chronically homeless neighbors at a time when many veterans of Vietnam were still on the streets.  Even as a corner was being turned and we were seeing more and more vets find help and housing, the Persian Gulf War commenced.  And, now, the US has been sending troops to war in Afghanistan for 11 years and to Iraq for 9 years.  You can count on homeless services and shelters doing brisk business for the next 30 years just dealing with guys and gals haunted by their experiences of these protracted wars.

Of course, we won’t have 30 years to wait.  We don’t have a minute to spare.  Already, the number of Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans who have committed suicide outnumbers those who have died on battlefields.  Immediate and intensive intervention at community and church levels needs to support—even supersede—military interventions.

Reconciliation is needed.  Reconciliation will be needed.  And reconciliation will be possible.  I’m grateful for that.  I’m grateful for grace that reconciles.  I’m grateful for grace that is conveyed through people who assist in this process.  I’m grateful that wrecked lives and wrecked countries can heal.  I’m grateful that out of splintered lives and fragmented relationships, reason for hope and faith and love can be found.

But, whenever I hear someone declare how great it is that God brings beauty for ashes and reconciliation after deep division, I want to push back and say that God was able—and is able—to prevent such violence and destruction in the first place.

Many of our wars and much of our violence could have been--and can be--prevented.  Historically, if one would carefully trace the early developments of what resulted in wars in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq, one would find multiple points at which these conflicts in which the military choice resulted in multiple thousands of military and civilian casualties and losses beyond measure could have been prevented.  And that, too, would have glorified God.

While I am aware that grace restores, I am aware that grace also prevents strife and division and death.  While I am aware that God reconciles after unthinkable violent destruction, I am aware that God also works through people to bring reconciliation before troops are sent or bombs are dropped or blood is shed.

I am aware of a grace that is conveyed through those who pursue and persist in seeking peace in ways that prevent violent conflict.  And in them and through them God is glorified.

If it is blessed to help conflicts end, is it not just as blessed—or more so—to help prevent conflicts from reaching the point where lives are lost?  If it is blessed to reconcile once-warring people to one another, is it not just as blessed—or more so—to do everything within one’s power to help two disagreeing sides to come to some terms to prevent violence?

We have long thought of peacemaking as ending violent conflicts.  We have envisioned it as bringing an end to strife.  Often, leaders have seemed to wait until all-out war is raging before organizing peace missions, often to little avail.  They end up picking up the pieces and arranging for agreeable ends to destroyed lands and lives.

Let us try to reframe our understanding of peacemaking.  Let us impose the image of preventive peacemaking over our image of violence-ending peacemaking.  Let us invest ourselves and our resources in teaching peace and counseling peace.  Let us insert ourselves—welcome or not—into situations where conflict escalation is in its earliest stages.  Let us imagine and embrace and live a preemptive peace.  Let us anticipate what joy in God’s eyes and possibility in human relationships when violence is prevented in every small and large situation.

As I pedaled my bike through Vietnam, I witnessed a healing nation, but a nation that suffered needlessly, that lost 3,000,000 of its citizens in the war, was reduced to the lowest poverty and is still a generation behind its neighbors.  I saw a deeply scarred land and cautiously hopeful people.  And even as I celebrate reconciliation, I try imagine Vietnam without that war.

Where is conflict brewing but not open? Let us go there.  Where is disagreement escalating to enemy formation?  Let us speak peace into it.  Where are academies teaching their students the practices of war?  Let us insist that peace becomes essential curriculum.  Where are skills lacking to solve household and interpersonal problems amicably?  Let us be there and show the better way.

Perhaps there is no more holy work in our world than this: to seek peace and pursuit.  So, help me, God.

John Franklin Hay
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
www.indybikehiker.com
Twitter @indybikehiker
indybikehiker@gmail.com

Monday, August 20, 2012

PEACEABLENESS TOWARD ENEMIES

Wendell Berry offers an alternative to the age-old violence begets violence cycle: "escape from the logic of retribution"


Once again, I came across an essay by Wendell Berry by the title “Peaceableness Toward Enemies.”  Found in his book Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community, it is a reflection on America’s role in the Persian Gulf War (way back when).  Berry perceived then that war was unnecessary and more costly to global politics and ecology than we have yet to realize.

I think of this as the USA has surpassed 5000 troop deaths, more troop deaths by suicide, multiple thousands of casualties, and well over $1 trillion (and counting...) spent waging war in Afghanistan and Iraq:

“The idea of peaceableness toward enemies is a religious principle.  Whether or not it could be believed, much less practiced apart from authentic religious faith, I do not know.  I can only point out that the idea of the ultimate importance of individual lives is also a religious principle and that it finally became a political principle of significant power and influence.”

“Peaceableness toward enemies is an idea that will, of course, continue to be denounced as impractical.  It has been too little tried by individuals, much less by nations.  It will not readily or easily serve those who are greedy for power.  It cannot be effectively used for bad ends.  It could not be used as the basis of an empire.  It does not afford opportunities for profit.  It involves danger to practitioners.  It requires sacrifice.  And yet it seems to me that it is practical, for it offers the only escape from the logic retribution.  It is the only way by which we can cease to look to war for peace.”

“The essential point is the ancient one: that to be peaceable is, by definition, to be peaceable in time of conflict.  Peaceableness is not the amity that exists between people who agree, nor is it the exhaustion or jubilation that follows war.  It is not passive.  It is the ability to act to resolve conflict without violence.  If it is not a practical and a practicable method, it is nothing.  As a practicable method, it reduces helplessness in the face of conflict. In the face of conflict, the peaceable person may find several solutions, the violent person only one."

Monday, August 13, 2012

IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED


May the high-flying exploits of adventurer Steve Fossett (1944-2007) continue to inspire us.

SOLO FLIGHT AROUND THE WORLD.  When Steve Fossett successfully circled the globe in July of 2002, his feat didn’t make much of a news media impact.  It should have.  Steve Fossett had just overcome five previous failed attempts to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe solo in a balloon.  He had launched in Australia, flown all around the southern hemisphere, and landed well beyond his outback starting point.  He endured nearly fifteen days alone and aloft, traveling over 34,000 miles.  It wasn’t Fossett’s first great adventure, nor would it be his last.

JUST AN AVERAGE JOE.  By appearances and background, Fossett was an unlikely hero.  At the time, he was a 58-year old white male, a multi-millionaire businessman from Chicago.  He was a hefty fellow; not your athletic, mountain-climbing physique.  No folk hero or populist firebrand.  And yet, in 1985, Fossett swam the English Channel.  In 1992, he competed in the Alaskan Iditarod dog sled race.  He completed the Ironman triathlon. And, in 1996, he took part in the 24 hours Le Mans Car race.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

SAILOR, PILOT, BALLOONIST…  No doubt, his adventures may have cost him much of the fortune he made.  But, before the tragic single-engine aircraft crash in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in September of 2007 that claimed his life, Fossett held world records in long distance for solo ballooning, duration for solo ballooning, first balloon crossings of Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, South Atlantic, South Pacific, and Indian Oceans, seven fastest speed sailing titles, 13 World Sailing Speed Record Council titles, fastest trans-Atlantic sailing, round-the-world titles for medium airplanes, and US trans-continental titles for non-military aircraft.

NEW HEIGHTS I'M GAINING EVERYDAY.  On August 11, 2002, Fossett attempted to fly a glider (a nonpropelled aircraft) to the highest altitude ever.  He spent nearly three weeks waiting in New Zealand for the right conditions to fly a custom-built glider above 49,007 feet.  His hope was to ride the updrafting lenticular cloud currents, which occur over mountains and create winds above 150 miles per hour, up into the stratosphere.  But conditions weren’t quite right.  After soaring all day with a 70-year old flying companion, he had to land the craft.  And, as usual, Fossett vowed to try, try again.

IN COMPANY WITH LINDBERGH.  The Spirit of America, the name of his record-breaking balloon, is now displayed next to Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.  Not bad company!  Fossett hoped that his flight and efforts would serve as inspiration to others.  After landing the Spirit of America in Australia, he said “I hope that it’s some example, not that people will try ballooning, but that they will try and achieve something [important to them]."

DIVINELY FOOLISH THINGS.  With the feats and spirit of Steve Fossett in mind, Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press quoted the words Walter Lippmann penned the week Amelia Earhart’s plane vanished near New Guinea:

"The best things of mankind are as useless as Amelia Earhart's adventure.  In such persons mankind overcomes the inertia which would keep it earthbound forever in its habitual ways. . . .They do the useless, brave, noble, the divinely foolish and the very wisest things that are done by man.  And what they prove to themselves and to others is that man is no mere automaton in his routine, no mere cog in the collective machine, but that in the dust of which he is made there is also fire, lit now and then by great winds from the sky."

ADVENTURER FOR TODAY.  I want my children and grandchildren (should I be blessed to have them) to know of Steve Fossett.  The Fossett saga is one that deserves to be lifted up to the hearts and imaginations of all.  Youth, yes, but also older “children,” too.  For those who would mostly look back toward "the good ol’ days," thinking there are no new frontiers or that everyone has capitulated to consumerism, Fossett was a 21st-century adventurer who still saw and pursued new frontiers.  Amid the cynicism of market-driven, tunnel-vision media, his was—and is—a story that breaks the bounds of predictability and formula.  And the spirit of Steve Fossett is a renewed expression of something I recall as pervasive in my childhood.

Rest in peace, Steve, and may your kind ever be reborn and flourish.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

TOP 10 WAYS TO RESPOND TO POVERTY


In an international development context, child sponsorship is a highly effective investment for hope and change 

Christianity Today recently published research by Bruce Wydick that rates the ten most cost-effective ways to help neighbors in developing nations in which poverty too often defines life and leads to premature death.

The entire article is quite insightful.  The strategies are not relief-based, but change-focused.  They move well beyond traditional charity to investing in decisions and priorities established at local levels by those most able to affect change and bear hope. They address big challenges in practical ways. 

As an advocate of international child sponsorship, I note that sponsoring a child is number 4 on the list.

The researcher declares:

"Of all the long-term development interventions, child sponsorship received the highest rating... Development economists today favor interventions like child sponsorship that remove practical constraints to education while building a child's self-esteem, aspirations, and goals.  In this way, sponsorship relieves both external and internal poverty constraints."

Centering on education, international child sponsorship brings together critical life-giving interventions and sustains them over time with an investment in a child in the context of their family, school, church and community.  Often, child sponsorship includes a number of the other "Top 10" strategic actions.

Here are the top 10 ways, according to the CT article, by which people are making a difference through international charitable giving:

1. Get clean water to rural villages.
2. Fund de-worming treatments for children.
3. Provide mosquito nets.
4. Sponsor a child.
5. Give a wood-burning stove.
6. Give a microfinance loan.
7. Fund reparative surgeries.
8. Donate a farm animal.
9. Drink fair-trade coffee.
10. Give a kid a laptop. 

Read the full CT online article at this link.

I'm pleased to recommend International Child Care Ministries (ICCM) as an effective child sponsorship initiative. 

While our family has sponsored children through ICCM for years, it wasn't until I rode a bicycle 2,000 miles through India that I saw firsthand the hopeful impact of ICCM in the faces and lives of hundreds of children at the hostels and churches we visited.  I have since directly witnessed ICCM's commendable work in Haiti, Vietnam and Kenya.

The 20,000+ children in 30 nations ICCM is privileged to invest in through one-on-one sponsorships or scholarships are part of local Free Methodist faith communities.  That's what makes ICCM sponsorship unique among others: in addition to education, food, clothing and basic medical care, ICCM-sponsored kids are surrounded by caring Christians we know and trust.  Accountability and life-long care make a huge difference.

I invite you to explore ICCM: www.childcareministries.org.  You might even consider selecting and beginning to sponsor a child online.  That would be one of the Top 10 ways you could make a practical, forward-lookng difference in the world today.