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Peace, Social Justice and Integrity of Creation

Promoting inclusive security – Cross cultural understanding and engagement

The following talk was presented by Marie Dennis
at Ecumenical Advocacy Days, March 20, 2010

Available as a PDF document

For several years – but especially since 9/11, we (Maryknoll) and many others have been deeply distressed by what we have seen to be an orchestration of fear as the ground of U.S. foreign and military policy and of much of our domestic policy as well. With very limited connection to reality, we have been led, both openly and by implication, to believe that “the other” is someone to fear, someone who is going to take our jobs, overwhelm our public services, take away the familiar and the good from our daily lives.

As missioners, Maryknollers find that characterization to be highly objectionable. Their experiences of crossing borders to encounter “the other” – other cultures, other languages, other ideas, other ways of life – has been deeply life-giving.

So, I would like to begin our conversation about migration/immigration on the one hand and peace and global security on the other by briefly exploring three topics:

  1. the beauty and value of diversity, of crossing borders to encounter difference
  2. impact of this kind of experience on our worldview
  3. inclusion, our essential one-ness and its consequences
  • The beauty and value of diversity, of crossing borders to encounter difference
  • Washington, D.C. is a great place to begin this conversation. Think of the many, many different ethnic restaurants in Washington – how we enjoy that culinary diversity and how it makes us a more attractive metropolitan area in which to live.

    And if you have spent much time in this or other cities – or travelled around the world, you can also remember

      1. The beauty of textile art– Appalachian quilts, Guatemalan and Bolivian and Peruvian weavings, Hmong quilts – each so unique and beautiful
      2. Musical instruments -- from Mali or Bolivia or China
      3. Music itself – haunting melodies from Andean pipes and the rhythm of African drums to the South American churango or Venezuelan cuatro or Guatemala marimba
      4. Languages – ability to communicate in so many different ways – and to speak of God using so many different words

    But diversity has other dimensions as well –

    Social scientist Riane Eisler reminds us about the diversity of roles that are essential to the functioning of our societies. Teaching the children, caring for the elderly, collecting the garbage and growing the food are as essential to our well-being as are the so-called “professional responsibilities” of lawyers and doctors and investment counselors, though one would never know that from their relative places on the pay scale.

    Diversity is also essential to our very survival and to that of the whole earth community.

    More and more clearly we understand Earth as a massive living organism comprised of millions of different but interdependent species. We know that our own survival may very well depend on the survival of honey bees. We know that maintaining a diversity of crops and a variety of seeds is essential to future food security. Genetic diversity enables species to adapt to new pests and diseases and to new climatic conditions.

    Vandana Shiva, in her writing and speaking, emphasizes the importance of biological and cultural diversity. Seeds, she says, are life in diverse expression, an embodiment of cultural diversity.

    People of faith, who experience God’s presence in this spectacularly diverse planet, this amazing unfolding universe, and who believe that each person carries within himself, within herself elements of the divine – that each one in her or his uniqueness, is of utmost value in the eyes of God – will treasure the gift of diversity as a manifestation of God’s work and presence – will value each encounter with “the other” as a way to see a new facet of the divine.

    Diversity – essential, beautiful, life giving, life saving …

  • Impact of this kind of experience on our worldview
  • Crossing borders – dwelling with diversity - also gives us, I believe, a greater reason and capacity for wisdom and empathy. We literally see with new eyes, like Bartimeus.

    In the past 25 years in perhaps 45 countries I have seen – as you have – the most devastating poverty, environmental destruction, vicious human rights violations, brutal wars. Like so many of you, by these experiences, I have gleaned an inkling of why millions of people are on the move around the world and why so many try to come here or to European countries or to Japan or to any country where there might be a modicum of safety or an economy with a little “fat” or a little “room in the inn.” Like you, I know that the hundreds of men from around the world who wait every morning outside Home Depots or 7-11s are “just like us” – that they have loved ones thousands of miles away trying to survive; that they can and do bring much that is positive to our neighborhoods.

    I have spent time with people sitting in frustration in refugee camps and yearning to go home. I carry with me all the time powerful images

      1. of Salvadoran campesinos sitting, just sitting in Calle Real refugee camp in San Salvador – men who were used to working hard day after day in their fields just sitting – for seven years – in frustration.
      2. of a circle of angry Palestinian Authority representatives who met with three of us from a peace delegation to the Middle East right after the first Gulf War – men who had lived in Palestinian refugee camp outside Amman for decades
      3. of Iraqis displaced by war upon war upon war.

    I have accompanied communities going home into situations of great danger and witnessed their willingness to risk everything just to get back to their land or village after living in exile. I remember the people of

      1. El Barillo in El Salvador, whom I accompanied back to their cooperative in a war zone many years ago. I remember
      2. Afghans moving back into a still-mined area of the Xamali Valley, where the white half of rocks painted half red and half white were supposed to keep children out of danger. I remember the people of
      3. Bor, Sudan driving their cattle back home after years of war, knowing there was nothing there.

    I have also had the enormous gift of seeing great wisdom and commitment to peace almost everywhere I’ve gone. Many of you have as well.

    • In Iraq last September I observed the impressive rapport and mutual commitment to peace of the Catholic bishop of Kirkuk, Louis Sako, and Muslim leaders from that troubled city, including Sunni and Shi’ia. Their experience of interfaith cooperation is real and deep and, I am sure, carries important lessons for the world.
    • More recently I saw communities in South Sudan working to recover from decades of war and to stop ongoing armed violence; I saw the governor of Jonglei state, the Anglican archbishop, and hundreds upon hundreds of local people initiate a campaign to stop gun violence and to think in new ways about security. Their horrific experience of war and their frustration with the plethora of small arms flooding their communities just might help us think about gun control in new ways.

    These are the people who arrive in our cities, our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches. They are real people with stories and relation ships, dreams and frustrations, hopes and fears. They are also the people we now can “encounter” who still live on the other side of the world, but whose lives are profoundly affected by our own. We are not innocent of planting some of the roots of their displacement.

    We have witnessed, for example, in recent years an acceleration of the process of global integration unthinkable 50 years ago. Some of that process has been positive – we know each other’s differences and can grow from encounters with the other. But we also know the destruction wrought by the global shopping mall, the global cultural bazaar, the global financial markets and the global labor pool.

    I remember several years ago being in the altiplano of Peru between Puno and Juli just as they were putting up poles for electrification. People had had some televisions hooked up to car batteries, but I wondered if they were prepared for the assault on their beautiful culture and traditions that was about to occur. Or if people in other corners of the world were prepared for the radical shift of their economies that came with global economic integration.

    Indigenous people (thank God) are engaged in a great struggle to preserve their cultures. If they are lost, we know that in this age of nearly breaking relationships between humans and the rest of the earth community, we will all be more insecure … we will have lost ways to live that could have saved the planet.

    Encountering “the other” with open eyes, honesty, deep understanding prepares the soil for more peaceful and secure communities and a more peaceful and secure world.

  • Inclusion, our essential one-ness
  • With the essential diversity of a seemingly infinite number of different “moving parts,” we are beginning to see Earth as a single living organism.

    Contemporary science is helping us also to understand that at a quantum level, everything is the “other” and equally, everything is “the same.” The manifestation of that insight at a larger level is that all are one, but only can be one because there is an “other” to be one with. The entire planet is designed to function harmoniously as one, with every piece essential to the existence of the whole.

    Joyce Rupp writes, “There are many ways to speak of the oneness that people have with all of human kind. Scientists describe this communion as the comingling and dancing of atoms one with another in people who are formed of the same stardust, breathe the same recycled air and drink from the same streams of life. Christian theologians present this oneness as humanity’s participation in the body of Christ. Buddhists speak of it as the practice of compassion which views all beings as one. Native Americans approach this same oneness in their understanding of each person as their brother or sister.”

    An enormous challenge for all of us is to interpret this insight, this reality into the construct of human relationships, into the political arena, into our definition of peace and security. .

    I believe this can only be done if we are willing to risk crossing the political, cultural, social, economic and religious barriers we have raised between ourselves and “others” – close to home and on the other side of the world – and open ourselves to be changed by those we encounter. Then, perhaps, we can then bring the fragments of these enriching experiences into the global reality where hatred and fear are so often engendered.

    Ubuntu, according to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “speaks of the very essence of being human … It is to say, ‘My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.’ We belong in a bundle of life. We say, ‘A person is a person through other persons.’ It is not ‘I think therefore I am.’ It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.’”

    In the Christian tradition, each person is unique and deeply valued as an individual, but is also a person in community – now, global community. I think the essential one-ness of everything that I was describing a minute ago goes in this same direction, but is much, much deeper than we’ve grasped before. Perhaps it is more visible now because we can see on the not too distant horizon the consequence for all life if some life disappears, the consequences for all of us if our planet is irrevocably damaged.

    Many years ago, Thomas Merton wrote, “Violence rests on the assumption that the enemy and I are entirely different: the enemy is evil, I am good. The enemy must be destroyed, but I must be saved … Love sees things differently. It sees that even the enemy suffers from the same sorrows and limitation that I do. That we both have the same hopes, the same needs, the same aspiration fro peaceful and harmonious life. And that death is the same for both of us.” (No Man is an Island, 1955)

    “It is less and less possible to live as isolated human being on our planet. Yet the differences among people continue to bring division rather than harmony, to produce domination struggles and war rather than enrichment, strength and peacefulness.”(Rupp)

    This one-ness we now see; the consequences of exclusion we are beginning to understand; and the absolute necessity of inclusion and diversity are so profoundly important to the future of the human race, yet so elusive and complex, that perhaps they can only really be expressed in symbols and liturgy and sacrament. Here and there, that’s happening.

    Joyce Rupp again –

    “We are one vast web of intimate connection, all sailing on the same planet, in a universe threaded with the wonder of enriching diversity
    I cannot understand what it is like
    To be another race, color, nationality,
    But I can turn my heart
    Toward awareness of our oneness
    And accept the beauty of diversity.”

    Namaste – “I greet the sacred in you. I look beyond the external judgments I might make about you. I see more deeply that you are a sacred being.”


    Marie Dennis
    Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
    Co-President, Pax Christi International


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