Social Justice

How You Can Build a Better Peace



I thought I would start 2016 with a list of single steps any one of us can take towards building a better peace.

1. Quit watching the news.

Whether you get your news online, from the TV, out of a local newspaper or via NPR on the morning commute, just turn it off. You don’t need to listen to it or watch it. The really big things are beyond your control anyway, and the vast majority of your day really doesn’t need to have an opinion on most of what you get from the news. (Seriously, you already know who you intend to vote for in the next election, and no amount of amazing punditry is going to change your mind.) If you can’t quit cold turkey, I suggest limiting your exposure to “the news” to 1 single source (newspaper, TV station, or online blog) and to only allow yourself two 15 minute sessions with it a day. Try it for 28 days and see whether you feel better or worse. 

2. Pay attention to your metaphors.

If you stop and pay attention to what you both say and hear, you might be surprised to discover how many violent metaphors American English uses: “That doughnut sure hit the spot.” “Our project is right on target.” “I always aim for the highest goal.” “Shoot me an email, and I will tackle it right away.” It might be interesting to simply record the violent images and metaphors you hear during a coffee break. I have also found it to be really challenging to monitor my own speech and intentionally choose away from a violent image or metaphor.

3. Speak up for the humanness of people.

Speak up for the humanness of groups and the humanness behind actions when others refer to them as evil. By acknowledging that those we most fear and whose actions we most abhor are human beings, we admit the depth of our own capacity for wrongdoing.  When the rhetoric is high on your facebook feed, simply remind folks of their shared humanity with the Democrats or Anglicans who drive them crazy.

This practice is particularly important to me, as in my identity as a Christian I find that demonizing other people gives me an excuse to avoid my responsibility to express mercy, offer grace, and expect redemption. It also allows me to live in the illusion that there is no hope for reconciliation. For me, not speaking up for another’s humanness is extremely damaging to both my faith and my soul. 

4. Pray for someone you actually don’t like.

This is great because no one has to know you are doing it. It can be just between you and Divinity. In whatever way it is meaningful to you, pray for a person who gets under your skin a little bit. Don’t focus on an enemy or even try to tell yourself that you want there to be a good relationship with the person. Simply pray for their well-being. 

5. Take someone who scares the hell out of you to lunch.

You remember when Shane L. Windmeyer went to a football game with Dan Cathy? Or remember when Bob Vander Plaats and Donna Red Wing met for coffee in Urbandale? Like that. Meet in a public place. Pay for the meal. Listen more than you talk.

6. Volunteer.

You don’t need the news to encounter violence in your community. All you have to do is slip under the fences surrounding your life.

  • Volunteer as victim advocate for the court system or with your local domestic violence and sexual assault service center.
  • Find out what it would take to be a Stephen Minister for the local police department.
  • Provide some sort of ongoing assistance for a family with a member in prison. Contact Women@the Well to find out how.
  • Deliver care packages to those working in the ER at 2:00 in the morning.
  • Eat one meal a month at a soup kitchen and get to know someone there.

7. Lead a book or movie conversation group.

What are some of the topics which seem to divide people around you? Find a movie or a book which addresses those topics and lead a discussion group. I recommend The Color Purple (Alice Walker), The Milagro Beanfield War (John Nichols), Mi Familia, Fruitvale Station, Indian Killer (Sherman Alexie) and The Faith Club (Ranya Idliby) The United Methodist Church provides many materials to help people lead these kinds of groups:

8. Read Fieldnotes on the Compassionate Life by Marc Ian Barasch.

9. Form an intervention group.

Gather a group of other peacemakers. Get trained in intervention, and attend school events, community meetings, and sports competitions together. Notice the gatherings of people where bullying often occurs, and practice stepping up. Not sure where to start? Look into Soulforce, the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center or contact Alan Feirer at Group Dynamic 

10. Join a singing group.

Not a rock band. Not a talent show. Not a competition like The Voice, or America’s Got Talent. Join a singing group. Singing in a group has significant physical and psychological benefits. Socially, group singing (or drumming, or dancing, or playing instruments) is a great way to play cooperatively with other people. It builds connection, social awareness and cultural competency.

As you enter into 2016, I hope this list gives you one or two ideas for ways you can cultivate peace. If you are already an experienced producer of peace, I would love to hear your best practices.

Social Justice


I recently wrote an email to one of my state legislators, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, asking him not to let fear get the better of compassion, by slowing and stopping the immigration process for refugees fleeing war in Syria. I received a written response from Senator Grassley, for which I am thankful. His letter closes with the following:

“America’s humanitarian principles haven’t changed. The times have changed . . . The United States is the greatest nation on earth, and we have consistently demonstrated our generosity and compassion towards those fleeing persecution. Yet, we must not let this compassion overshadow the safety of the American people in this time of crisis.”

Senator Grassley expresses an opinion that I often hear from people. It is the opinion that certain principles, like compassion and justness, are fair weather friends; that they are like rain coats and umbrellas in a world ravaged by a hurricane; that, when the real world invades our fantasies, we can no longer rely on kindness, hospitality, and mercy to see us through; the idea that peace is only possible because of those who are willing to kill to maintain it.

In 2015, I was asked to present some thoughts on the theme “Go, Be Peacemakers,” for the annual Peace with Justice March which happens during the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Below is a short speech I wrote that I did not end up giving. I have included a picture of the stole I intended to wear.

I think Senator Grassley is wrong. I don’t think the times have changed all that much at all, and I give this to him, and to you, as my response:



This word. This simple, easy word. One vowel sound. One syllable. All these fat, rounded curves. What does it mean? What do the doves mean? The olive branches? The whole thing is so . . .pretty.

Isn’t it, though? Isn’t it nice? Doesn’t it make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Like a dream of a garden full of lazy bees and butterflies, where honey drips from the comb and flute-like music plays on the breeze?

Is it still nice word when you learn that this word was stitched in Bosnia-Herzegovina? After the war there? By a woman who is selling her sewing talents so she can eat? What does this word mean in Ukraine, where our United Methodist Churches are doing all they can to house, feed and tend those fleeing conflict there? What does this word mean in Democratic Republic of Congo, in Ferguson, in Baltimore, and in Garland, Texas? What does this word mean to you and me, here on this day in Des Moines Iowa?

What does it mean to call God the Prince of Peace and Lord of the Sabbath? Especially if we believe, as many of us here at least claim to, that Jesus is not merely a Lord among Lords, but THE Lord of all Lords, warlords included. Who are we to stand by and let them, then, the Masters of War tell us that peace is not possible. That peace is not politically feasible? That national security requires a standing army, an armed militia, militarized policing forces and borders with just enough permeability not to slow down the export flow of guns and other weapons to our neighbors, friends and enemies around the globe?

It may be that you don’t want to “take sides” in the ongoing feud in the Middle East, to choose Palestine or Israel, Syria or Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran. and I can understand that. Conflict is complicated. We like things to be simple.

Like taking sides, for instance, instead of loving people. Loving people, strangers, outcasts, criminals, and enemies such that we invest at least as much in building up their lives and infrastructure as we do in our own defense Research and Development. Loving people, strangers, outcasts, criminals and enemies such that we don’t care what political agenda actually wins the day as long as it guarantees neighbors have the safety and freedom to eat dinner together, and that Romeos and Juliets don’t have to lock their relationships into closets and drink public poison simply to be together. 

Because as I stand here in this garment of peace, stitched together by hands and a heart shaped and changed by the mindless fury of war, I can’t help but believe that peace can’t be some sort of light, fluffy, Kum-ba-Yah moment of sisterly love.I can’t help but believe that peace isn’t some layer of frosting on the celebration cake we bake at the end of time, but that it is instead our Jesus Christ Christian call in the here and now, in the day to day, in the moment by moment choices we  make with every single breath. It is our response to the sighing, dying, killing, hating, hurting question, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

So I would like to issue a challenge to all of us gathered here today. I challenge us to GO! To be peacemakers. To go, to do, to be whatever it takes to make this word, this simple, single-syllable word actually mean something. 

Social Justice

Scattered and Sown

I made a decision today. I made the decision to shut down a website related to a consulting business I tried, half-heartedly, to get off the ground. The whole endeavor was kind of like the seeds in the parable: I just tossed them out, sprinkled them with a little bit of water and let the ground decide whether or not they would grow. And the ground decided they would not grow.

I am alright with that. Some things that are good things aren’t ready to be born yet, and when the time is right, my guess is my heart will decide to actually nurture and incubate that dream.

Meanwhile, my life has undergone a large number of changes in the past year. I adopted a new dog. I quit a job. I moved. And while I had specific goals and ideas for how I would start over here, I was sick for the first 2 months and have not yet gotten my feet under me.

What’s more, it turns out my new town is very different from my old town. While I knew who I was and what I could offer there-here, I am not so sure.

To some extent, I have arrived. I am fully-fledged with skills and techniques, with gifts and ideas, with resources and possibilities. I know who I am and what I can do. I know what the world is and what it needs. But everything works differently here, and I haven’t yet found the right connections. I keep getting distracted by new and shiny things, and temptations to return to dreams I thought had died.

And, in the midst of this uncertainty, ambiguity and possibility, the world around me has gone completely mad.

I often wondered about tipping points in history. What it must have been like when the French Revolution actually ignited. Or what series of decisions led to the rise of fascism in Europe over the first half of the 20th-century. Or whether the Civil Rights Movement just spontaneously erupted around people; Or what it was like to live through Vietnam War protests that were so extreme, our armies came home.

It seems, suddenly, that I am living in the midst of just such a moment-an American moment of toppling social structures, widespread anxiety, and bursts of vicious societal aggression that are downright incomprehensible.

So I made a decision today. I made a decision to close a chapter on my life. To quietly shut the door on a possibility, knowing I can probably come back and open it again later. I made a decision to settle one piece of business-to take control of one thing that belongs to me. When the world stops making sense, it helps to ground yourself. It helps to touch familiar things. It helps to pay bills and clean the house. It helps to exert power and control in the places where  you rightfully have power and control.

In that process, I will be moving some reflections I have shared about worship over to this blog, while reimagining the purpose of Sown In Peace. Luckily, I think it is all part of the same big thing-singing, faith, liberation, justice, and peace. I think it is all part of a call to help remake the life of this world. To build a house, to plant a garden, to eat the produce of the land, to marry, carry, and bury-even when I find myself living in a land of exile and oppression, of fear and despair, of violence, hatred, racism and war.

We’ll see what delicious thing the ground will decide to yield.





Social Justice

A Way Forward Which Isn’t “A Way Forward”

In the face of deep divisions and a pattern of alienations among Iowa UM clergy, it is not enough simply to say we need to love one another.

We have obviously forgotten how.

We need to identify a group of our most influential clergy leaders in the Iowa Annual Conference.

We need to afford them the opportunity to attend 9 weeks of classes learning the skills they need to love better-skills which are built through deepening competencies in democracy, pluralism, gender equities, environmental conservation, the rule of law, and human rights. These competencies are the bedrock on which to build language for shared values and civil theological critique.

We need to host this training at a UM owned/affiliated facility in Iowa-camp, college campus or church.

In the classroom, the dividing lines need to be made visible so each of them can start out among their own camp and literally see that there are other camps and who is living in them. This means that the clergy persons need to be honest about the animosities and reservations they have with one another. They have to be willing to own their own feelings related to other clergy in the class.

We need to use a peace education curriculum and outside instructors to promote the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values needed to bring about behavior changes that will enable students to prevent conflict and violence, both overt and structural; to resolve conflict peacefully; and to create the conditions conducive to peace, whether at an intrapersonal, interpersonal, intergroup, national or international level

We need to do this not to solve our incompatibilities but to show them to be false and to be roadblocks to working together out of values that are held in common.

This needs to happen in the kind of space where the students HAVE to connect with and rely on one another. It needs to be clear that the playground is too small to field another teammate if anybody decides to quit the team.

The teachers need to be people with NO stake in denominational outcomes- parties uninvolved in United Methodist culture whose goals are positive peace and conflict transformation.

The students will then be tasked with bringing their school sense of unity and togetherness (their beginning sense of mutual respect and love) to their various communities to bridge the communal divide outside the classes.

Their job will be to craft and commit to framing the theological, religious and denominational dialogue and behavior in their personal communities-specifically to those other clergy with whom they associate and to those congregations or conference systems to which they primarily relate-towards increasing mutuality, respect, and love.

Maybe, with a few years and sustained commitment to expanding this kind of strategy, love can be what sustains the bridges we’ve built between us.

-I owe some of the phrases and most of the structures outlined above to Dr. Asna Husin in her essay Islamic Peace Education, Changing Hearts and Minds published in “Crescent and Dove; Conflict and Resolution in Islam” (Qamar-al Huda, editor).-

-The definition for peace education comes from a working paper produced by UNICEF Peace Education Working Group-

Faith, Health, Poverty, Reconciliation, Social Justice, Transforming the World, Whole Community

Hard Peace

Grace Des Moines PeaceI keep coming back to this idea of a “hard peace.” Maybe it is because I am a hard-headed person that I am dissatisfied with the ways people talk (write) about peace and conflict within the United Methodist Church. There are all these “family” metaphors. We are told to rely on our “unity of spirit” and also there is a kind of playground dialogue which ends, “I am taking my toys and heading home. So there!”

While I often wish I was the kind of person who can say “Look! We are going to end malaria. We are feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Isn’t that good enough? Isn’t that all the proof we need of the Holy Spirit fire igniting this church?” I simply am not.

I don’t think the most important question is how much service work are we doing as a church  but rather, how are we doing that work? Who is being ground down, beaten up, cast aside and left to die in the ditch while we are so focused on ending “poverty;” a concept with which we start to divide people into opposing groups of rich and poor, have and have not, hungry and fed, check-writers and service receivers, fit and broken, able and disabled. We are definitely doing our best to alleviate hunger and disease, but still, there is no peace.

I think we have to work for the harder peace-the peace of justice. It is not a peace that says “Can’t we simply get along?” It is not a peace that says, “Oh, never mind him, that is simply Crazy Uncle Zee.” It is not a peace that says that families are safe, open, affirming, caring, loving, capable, and simply organized places in which to grow, but recognizes that first families are often the places where we learn how to hit, hate, deny, degrade, and destroy.

When Paul tells us we are brothers and sisters in Christ, he is not suggesting that we Christians get along with people the way we relate to our own siblings. In my family that looks like an awful lot of wrestling, name-calling, door-slamming, practical jokes and hand-me-downs. Instead, Paul is telling us we participate in a different kind of family, one where we have to get along with one another the way Christ gets along with us.

And that means we have to work at kindness, gentleness, peacefulness, faithfulness, joyfulness, loveliness, patience, goodness, and self-control. But those fruit are hard to nurture. They are hard to water and they are hard to grow. They don’t come naturally, simply, or easily, and evidence of their existence can be in short supply.

So, I don’t buy it. I don’t think there is a really a way for us to simply ignore our very real disagreements with others while we go about the service work of the church. Because, Christ didn’t really plant us here to provide services for those poor unfortunate souls. Instead, he tried to cultivate the soil of our souls, and he planted the seeds of God’s Mercy and Rightness, and he watered those seeds with Faithfulness, his own belief in us, that out of those souls might grow the Garden of God in the midst of a ground left salted and sere by the warring passions of people estranged from Love.