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Being anti-war is not enough.
Addressing the Spiritual Activism Conference in Washington, DC. , Cindy Sheehan describes how her religious views evolved after her son was killed.
Make Me an Instrument of Peace
Address to the Spiritual Activism Conference, Washington, DC. 05/18/06
By Cindy Sheehan
05/19/06 --- Not too long ago, I was listening to Air America when a caller to the religious right of war supporter/evangelist Pat Robertson said it didn't bother him that George Bush doesn't follow the law of our land because when we have a man who is a "Christian" in office, we don't need the rule of law! The caller and I am afraid too many more people in America are saved from the responsibility of democracy because they believe that George follows a higher law than our Constitution. The person who called in really meant that. I found that call disturbing for several reasons, but to think that a man who kills his pretend enemies and is a warmaker with wanton disregard for the teachings of Jesus Christ is a Christian flies in the face of everything that I was taught about Jesus of Nazareth and about the Christian faith.
Thinking about how unloving, punitive and unjust the brand of Christianity that George Bush practices is reminded me of an experience that I had in Assisi the first time I visited Italy in January of this year. The Franciscan model of Christianity is totally the opposite of Bushianity.
On that sunny but cold January day, when I awakened in the back seat of the silver BMW that picked me up from the airport in Rome, I was in a charming plaza in front of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The Basilica was heavily damaged in an earthquake in 1997 but is now almost entirely restored.
My hotel room overlooked the same magnificent view of Italy's "Green Heart" in Umbria as the plaza of the Basilica. In the distance I could see all the way to the hills of Perugia, where I would visit next. Breathtaking is merely a word that cannot adequately describe the views!
After cleaning up from a 15-hour trip, my traveling companion and fellow Gold Star Families for Peace member Beatriz Saldivar (nephew, Daniel Torres, KIA in Iraq in 2005) and I were taken to lunch by the peace coalition that invited us to Italy. After lunch we toured the Basilica.
Walking through the Basilica and looking at the amazing architecture and medieval icons and appreciating the historicity of the building reminded me that in my pre-April 2004 life, I used to be a faithful, practicing Roman Catholic who went to mass every Sunday and worked for the church as a Catholic Youth Minister.
The entire time I was in Assisi, I was also reminded that before Casey went into the Army and was killed in George's immoral war, he had traveled to Assisi as part of the World Youth Day 2000 celebrations. Every step I took, I wondered if Casey's feet had walked those steps. I know that Casey would have been filled with reverence and love when he was there and, in fact, he spoke very respectfully and reverently about his trip to Italy, but especially Assisi.
Many people who knew Casey well always said that he reminded them of a young St. Francis, who said: "Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." That was how sweet Casey lived his life and that is why it is so ironic that George in his exploitation of the Gospels and of the religious right claims that God tells him to invade innocent countries, while he is using wedge issues like abortion rights and gay marriage to energize the base, when anyone who really cares about a right to life knows he is an amazing hypocrite who couldn't care less about preserving life or insuring a basic standard of living for the born.
George W., the self-proclaimed born-again Christian, has said in reaction to being accused of breaking the FISA law: "That's an old law, it was made back in 1978, and the world is a different place now." Well, similarly, I guess he believes that the 5th Commandment,"Thou shalt not kill," is also a quaint law that was made a long time ago when the world was a far different place. One that he can disregard while claiming to be "pro-life." The Bush regime tramples and makes a mockery of the commandments, but what is more important is that as a secular leader of a country founded on religious freedom, he shreds the constitution to tiny pieces and calls it "an old piece of paper." He is not a pope, bishop, priest, prelate, minister, deacon, or even an acolyte. He is a president who is bound by our country's rule of law and is not above the law.
I left the Roman Catholic Church permanently after the 2004 elections, when many Roman Catholic Bishops and priests encouraged their flocks to vote for George W. Bush because he was "pro-life." I am disappointed with many Christian traditions and other institutional religions that don't loudly and with great moral authority, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the saints about peace, love, and forgiveness, denounce George W. and his immoral war against humanity. People don't see the hypocrisy of George killing tens of thousands of innocent people in the Middle East and executing a record number of people in Texas (including minors and mentally challenged people) and then voting for him because he is "pro-life!" What about Casey's life? What about Daniel's life? What about the lives of the babies and innocent citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan? George is definitely not "pro-life," he is "pro-birth." Anyway, I digress.
I was starting to recall my Roman Catholic roots more and more while in the Basilica, when those same roots were brought back sharply into focus as I came to the "Tomba di San Francesco," the Tomb of St. Francis. I walked into the chapel and stood in front of the Saint's remains and was struck by the fact that I was in a holy place. A sacred spot that has been sanctified not by the sprinkling of holy water or the sometimes empty chanting of the faithful, but by the life of one person who preached a message of simplicity, peace, love, hope, joy, faith, forgiveness and the light of goodness. Good people have followed in the tradition of St. Francis, and one does not have to be a practicing Catholic, or a practicing anything, to appreciate the words of St. Francis. I think the Peace Community who takes Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Henry David Thoreau rightly as its icons can also look to St. Francis for guidance and inspiration.
One of St. Francis's most simple yet important and meaningful works is the "Peace Prayer of St. Francis" … which I assume wasn't his title for it, because he wasn't yet a Saint when he wrote it. The first stanza reads:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love, Where there is injury, pardon, Where there is doubt, faith, Where there is despair, hope, Where there is darkness, light, Where there is sadness, joy!
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Being an instrument of peace is immensely more important than working for peace. Our entire lives must radiate this peace. We must be peace to have peace. I am coming into an understanding of this as I strive for true and lasting peace. Being anti-war is not enough. If we are solely anti-war, when the war is over the movement will be over. While we are congratulating ourselves on our victories for bringing the troops home, our government, in cahoots with the war machine (I am also beginning to understand that the war machine and the government are two different sides of the same worthless coin), is already planning the next war and the next way to kill our children and spread death and destruction for profit!
Non-violence should always be the means we use to solve problems, from our nuclear family life all the way up to the office of the most powerful person in the world. Peace is not an absence of conflict, but resolving conflict non-violently.
Where there is hatred let me show love.
Hatred and frustration are the fuels of violence and terrorism. Our mis-leaders exploited the tragedy and devastation of 9/11 to attack two innocent countries that didn't attack the US. After 9/11, if our so-called president had taken a course of action that reflected what he claims to believe in, he would have evaluated our policies towards the people of the Middle East and seen how he could have solved them intelligently and non-violently. Of course, we needed to bring the perpetrators of the 9/11 crimes against humanity to justice, but not commit crimes against humanity of our own. Jesus said: "It is written, an eye for an eye, but I say, turn the other cheek." I have never believed that Jesus meant for us to let ourselves be slapped silly for peace, but I believe that he meant for us to put on an attitude of understanding and compassion for the slapper that transcends our humanness and forces us to look inwards and pull out of us all of our humanity and love that solves problems non-violently and with courage and integrity.
I also am convinced that religious fundamentalism is the root and cause of much of the violence throughout history and even up until today. The leaders of our world know and exploit the fact that humans will blindly and brainlessly follow a religious symbol into war more quickly and readily than we will follow a flag or standard. If we espouse or claim a doctrine, then we must also deeply know in our minds and hearts the teachings of the prophets of that religion: Whether the prophet was Jesus, Mohammed or Moses. We should never allow ourselves to follow false prophets to doom: Especially false prophets who claim that the Universal Creator has told him to ravage a country and kill its people.
Where there is injury, pardon.
I always wondered how I would handle a situation regarding pardon and forgiveness if one of my children were murdered. I can never sit in judgment of anyone until I have walked in their shoes, but I sure hoped that if one of my children were murdered, I would not call for the death of his/her murderer to attain some measure of "closure" or vengeance. I didn't know how I would handle that, though, until I was forced to walk in those shoes by the murderous policies of the neo-cons. Am I angry that the neo-cons lied us into this war and that Casey and countless others are dead for their lies? Yes! Do I want to see the people responsible for his murder held accountable for that murder? Yes! Do I want the killers executed for it? No! I believe that capital punishment is as barbaric as war. Have I forgiven his killers for murdering Casey and so many more of our brothers and sisters in the world? I can't say I am fully there yet, but I know I will be there eventually, because I don't hate his killers. Hate is a wasted emotion that just hurts the hater, not the hatee. For the person that actually pulled the trigger that killed Casey, I have nothing but compassion, and I would like to tell the people of Iraq that I am sorry that my country is destroying their country and murdering so many innocents.
Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. Hope and faith are the truths that get me out of bed in the morning. People always ask me, "Cindy, will your campaign for peace be successful?" My answer is: "Of course!" If I didn't truly believe that the efforts of the progressive peace movement would not prevail over the darkness of the blatant disregard for truth, justice, and all human life that George and his fellow criminals spread, I would lie in bed all day staring at the walls in grief and depression!
Yes I am sad. I am always sad and I will always be sad. I thought one of the lights of my life was extinguished on 04/04/04. We also know from the teachings of Jesus Christ that darkness can never overcome the light. But with the sadness of eternal loss and pain comes the joy of knowing that Casey's sacrifice for his buddies blossomed into a movement of light against the darkness that is saving and will save many more of his buddies and innocent Iraqis. I am filled with joy that my son's death will not be wasted and used to justify more violence and death.
The second stanza is self-explanatory:
Oh master grant that I may never seek So much to be consoled as to console, To be understood as to understand, To be loved as to love with all my soul. Casey's light will shine always as long as there are people working for peace.
Cindy Sheehan is a co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace and the mother of Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq.