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Lifetime Peacemaker AwardSpeech given by Gene Stoltzfus when The Peace and Justice Support Network of Mennonite Church USA recognized Stoltzfus for his lifelong commitment to peace work.
Monday, July 7, 2003
I accept this Peacemaker Award in the name of all my coworkers, some of whom live in very dangerous situations, and who have been sustained by the water of this earth, the water that sustains life in all of us. So, thank you, and it will be shared with them.
Forty years ago yesterday, I arrived in Vietnam and I went from the Saigon Airport to the International Voluntary Service headquarters and then by bus to My Tho, a city in the Mekong Delta to study Vietnamese. The first day off from study was a Sunday. And that Sunday morning, I heard helicopters overhead. I walked to the city's athletic field where helicopters were landing and disgorging Vietnamese soldiers, who had been killed and wounded in a battle 25 kilometers to the west.
This was my introduction to war. It was the beginning of a journey that has lasted 40 years - a journey to understand what it means to be a person of peace in the midst of wars.
Now, here we are in 2003, and our nation is trying to complete the conquest of Iraq, a land that was conquered and pillaged 2300 years ago by Alexander the Great, then by Persia, earlier also by Assyria, and then by the Ottoman Empire. We are part of a long history of conquest and pillaging. One hundred years ago this summer, our nation invaded the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba, not in self-defense, but for economic advantage.
The Christian Peacemaker Team office which I work out of is located in a country where it has become legitimate to discuss being an empire. Last year, I attended a peace meeting where the senior ethicist of the Army War College explained that it was better to do empire, like Pax Romana tried to do, than not do it at all, because Pax Romana brought peace to the Mediterranean and to the entire known world then -- and the U.S. can do it, too.
This is the ideology of our time. And it's an ideology based on three components.
When CPT began fifteen years ago, in 1988 _ after a long and very healthy discussion in our churches _ I was asked to be a half-time conductor of the process. I decided at that time that I was not going to worry about that part of the church that didn't aprove of active peacemaking. And I believed at that time _ and I'm glad I did _ that 20 percent of our people would be convinced or have some sense that this might be a good idea to try, or could be tapped for some support. That was about right, I think.
Now the central idea that we eventually assembled was that disciplined and trained teams of people could be put together, could enter into highly charged, critical situations and make a difference - make a differnce in terms of individual lives, in terms of human rights, and, perhaps, even in terms of the larger fundamental world issues of structural violence. We have done all of those things. Not , of course, without ongoing reflection and the necessary gorwth and improvement of our work.
Now, I'd like to talk about the 20 percent, the people who want to work from the foundation of active enemy-loving and nonviolence. This perspective and commitment has to literally permeate our lives and, certainly if we went around the room we could point at every one of us and say, "You're not living up to it." But we could also go around the room and cheer one another on, invite each other through our own example to take one more step of faith in the power of love.
Let's remember one piece of our common tradition here _ the revival tradition. Now the revival tradition had an invitation. And it's true in that invitation, people were sometimes cajoled,sometimes shamed, and sometimes guilted into getting right with God.
Now in peace work and in CPT, we don't want anybody who is too burdened with guilt or shame. But we too issue an invitation to people to come to the table, join the peacemaking party if that's what makes their heart sing. We have fun working together and we don't use "shoulds" and "oughts" and "musts" and "have-tos." We leave that language to Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush, Colin Powell and their aides. And they use that language a lot. Just listen to the news.
It is all a matter of perspective. We can look around and say, "There's only 30 of us here at this Mennonite peace gathering." Or we can say. "There are only 30 here tonight, but in fact there are thousands of Mennonites who are working at this peace agenda." Which is in fact true.
They are in all kinds of places - in kindergartens, schools, colleges and universities, in community activist groups, in congregations where they sometimes feel lonely. There are pastors who carry the message in their sermons and counselling or try to do their part in organizing. There are people doing liturgies in local actions, joining CPT teams, people working in Washington, people working through the formal structure of the church. There are thousands of us.
Now I want to share a secret. This is really a good time to be a Mennonite. That might be hard for us to accept, we're supposed to be so humble. But I tell you, it's very good to go around the world and say you're a Mennonite _ it really works, it helps. There might come a time when it doesn't help, we don't know, yet. But right now, it works!
So, maybe we were put here for just such a time as this. And if that is the case _ and I happen to believe it is _ let's do our work because this window of opportunity won't last forever.
We're in 2003, and as we look out and try to grasp this opportunity, please understand - WE HAVE POWER. As a matter of fact _ it's hard for you to believe this _ we have more power than George Bush. We have more power! We simply have to organize it! And then take on the discipline to stick with it day after day, month after month, year after year! (Bush has only a four year term, we have our lifetime.) .
Now let's go back to the 20 percent within our churches and the discipline and organization we will need. I'm really very serious about this. We start with shifting our own perspective from saying, "Oh, woe is us. Our church doesn't work hard enough for peace." to "Praise God for all the thousands of people who are working!" We know we have colleagues, 20, maybe 30 percent of our congregations are really serious about peace. Perhaps it's hard for them to get organized though. Some pastors are good speakers and preachers and counselors and other things, but they're not necessarily organizers.
Our challenge now is to figure out ways in these coming years to assemble ourselves in disciplined ways. The one thing we've learned in Christian Peacemaker Teams is that when we put ourselves together and train ourselves and then sustain the work over a period of time, we can make a difference! And we are prepared to share that.
I will dare you now to think in terms of 20 percent of our congregations so well organized. I know there are criticisms of CPT, I can name them all! I can give all the problems. Nevertheless, I dare us to really get organized for active enemy loving. If we do, I promise you _ now, I won't be around to have to honor this promise _ there won't be future Iraqs, smart bombs will end and the guns will go to the smelters by the end of the century. It is possible! I have been involved in many places over the years where I've seen the transformation and the hope.
Now there are many fronts for struggle, all part of the process of transformation - law, culture, health, environment, theology and many other pieces. So the people around us with a diversity of gifts and callings deserve our best support. And we will naturally become more diverse than we are now because it's the only way we can do the job well.
The opening for transformation often comes when we're most discouraged. That's what we experience in CPT! Fifteen months ago, most of our people in Colombia were ordered out of the country. As I was flying there, I thought, "We're going to have to close this program and the people we have been trying to protect, some of them are going to get killed. And the other stuff that we've been doing is going to come to an end and we came here and made a promise and we're not keeping our promise." That's very hard to face. And then, a kind of calmness came to my heart, because I knew -- and I know from experience, it's times like this, when it feels like there is no hope, that the miracles will get started. It will happen. I promise you, it will happen. The transformation is possible.
And it's for those miracles of grace and also for the regular, well-planned work that we have to do complement those miracles, that we are here. WE ARE HERE FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS. Thank you for being co-workers in this time of opportunity.