A picture of lush ferns in a dense forest
Our Stories, Peace Spirituality

Soil, Soul, Society: A new trinity – not for realists or pragmatists

The following is a reflection from Fr Claude Mostowik, president of Pax Christi Australia. It was originally published to the Edmund Rice Centre website

Soil, Soul, Society – A new trinity – not for realists or pragmatists

In the wake of increasing global climate catastrophes, the global population is progressively being forced into reforming the way that it functions. The need to create a new consciousness, focusing on our important relationship with the environment has become apparent. As people look to complex and intricate solutions to immediate problems, there are people who suggest a more wholistic yet simpler response, considering three things, our environment, ourselves, and our community.

The New Trinity

Historical movements have at times had their three key words or ideas to express the spirit of their movements1. The French had ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ and the Americans have ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness’. Though relevant at the time, for the French revolution and the American War of Independence, these ‘mottos’ are outdated. They represented a human-centred view of the world where the human being is at the centre of the universe and all other life forms at its service.

In his book, Soil, Soul, Society: A New Trinity of Our Time, Satish Kumar refers to another trinity that reflects a comprehensive way of nonviolent living; soil represents the natural world; soul signifies the spiritual world, and society stands for the human world. This is a new trinity for our age of sustainability and nonviolent living by emphasising that we are all connected2.

Kumar argues that the spiritual aspect of the environment is what has been lost in the great debate about the way we live; and that the broad environment movement has not understood the power of concepts such as love and reverence. He insists that love and reverence are not to be confused with religion, ‘The environment movement here is very logical and analytical. But it is driven by doom, gloom and disaster.’

‘There are no unsacred places. There are only sacred places and desecrated places.’ (Wendell Berry)

People view nature from a very utilitarian point of view, and see what is good for them only, he says, and seek to manage it rather than protect it. ‘I want to move people to a more experiential philosophy of the natural world,’ he says. ‘That way you can protect it.’ He sees no reason why governments and authorities should not be driven by philosophies of reverence to nature rather than violence to nature.

Nonviolence

The basic principle for a harmonious relationship with creation, the spiritual world and the social world is nonviolence. This concept is not abstract but a guide for a new way of living. It informs how we live our everyday lives, how we work, and how we interact with others and our environment. It is important that we do not compartmentalise our relationship with the natural world, our personal spiritual world and our social world. This was the message of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’3, which coincided with the United Nations’ International Year of the Soil. We are all members of a one-earth society, and caring for the earth and soul is interrelated. Laudato si’ has been called a magna carta of integral ecology. It is a powerful reminder of the connections that we have, but do not always recognise, and a warning of humanity’s self-destructive course. It has parallels to the nuclear weapons crisis as well as a paradigm shift from people being rulers of the environment to be participants in the universal sister and brotherhood in our common home.

There is a need to create a new consciousness that reveres nature and explores how, as a global society, we need to embrace diversity and become pilgrims on this earth not tourists. To bring about change in the world we must be the change we wish to see. This is nothing other than a call to conversion called for by both Popes Benedict and Francis.

The Lost Connection with Soil

In our modern world the innate connection of earth and people has been lost, and as a result we have seen devastating effects on people’s spiritual and social health. For a majority of the community we receive food coated in plastic packaging, underneath artificial lights, at supermarkets. Never thinking about where they come from, we sit indoors talking to others through a screen, in our air-conditioned offices, while many even walk to work on concrete sidewalks. In essence we have lost our connection with nature, because it has become something not apparent in our day to day lives; which considering we live on earth is perplexing.

Earth is life; without it there is no food, no oxygen, no means of our society’s existence. Our ancestors revered and lived by this. Australia’s Indigenous peoples understood the land and their links to it formed their entire being. They lived out this ‘new’ trinity of soil, soul and society centuries before it was new, through their own connection to Land, The Dreaming and Kinship. There are many examples of how peoples of the past had a key understanding of the importance of soil, even down to the word human and its connection to the top layer of soil. “We are the earth. What we do to the soil, we do to ourselves. And it is no accident that the words “humus” and “humans” have the same roots.”4 Both Catholic and Buddhist teachings refer to the way the land provides and creates. The biblical passage, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”(Genesis 3:19)5 is reciprocated in the Buddhist teaching as Satish Kumar exclaims “You are earth, air, fire, water, imagination, creativity, consciousness, time and space – you have this all in your genes and in your cells. You are billions of years old. You have been recycled and recycled.  You are a beautiful example of the total recycling principle of the universe.”6

Nevertheless this message does not translate into any of our everyday being, rather than people feeling as part of the earth, we see ourselves as owners of it. Our policies, attitudes and actions speak of violence. “The trees have a right to exist. We have no right to cut them down without proper purpose.”1 We recognise our own rights yet not that of the creation around us, and this shows the way we have lost the connection our ancestors had recognised. “In our education systems, we have come to think that soil simply means dirt and that dirt means dirty. But dirt is not dirty; it is the source of life.”

Real World Implementation

Soil, soul, society as a new trinity provides a guide for our global community establishing the need for a transformation in the way we approach our lives. Society, the environment and individuals are calling for it. We are so removed in our humancentric views that we only ever put into action environmental initiatives when we are directly affected by the environment’s outcries for help. When our beaches suddenly disappear, and temperatures rises. Rather than this approach focusing on the impending catastrophe or inevitable doom and blame we need to look for solution 7. Integrating the environment into our social, political and environmental structures is how we will be able to establish this trinity to positive effect. Kumar explains how this can be:

‘Social systems can be changed,’ Kumar insists. ‘The ones we have now are not very old. The trouble is we are driven by fear and so we take panic decisions, like opting for nuclear power. At the moment, our culture is of violence – to nature, animals, people, ourselves. We are not protecting nature these days so much as managing it without knowing it. If you want to protect it, go out in it.’1

People need to return to their innate connection with land to be able to coexist in harmony with creation. Recognising the trinity of soil, soul, society into our global vocabulary and cultures could be for the benefit of all life.

With thanks to Beth Hansen for her contribution

REFERENCES:

1: Kumar, S., 2013. Satish Kumar: The Link Between Soil, Soul And Society. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/satish-kumar-soil-soul-society&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

2: Vidal, J., 2008. Soul Man. [online] The Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/jan/16/activists&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

3: Francis, 2015. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ Of The Holy Father Francis. 1st ed. [Vatican City]: [Vatican Web Site].

4: Shiva, V., 2014. We Are The Soil. [online] Seed Freedom. Available at: <https://seedfreedom.info/we-are-the-soil/&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

5: Genesis 3:19, The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version

6: TEDx Talks, 2012. Soil, Soul And Society: Satish Kumar At Tedxexeter. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSLUd0veioU&gt; [Accessed 24 May 2020].

7: Eisenstien, C., 2019. CLIMATE — A NEW STORY. [S.l.]: READHOWYOUWANT COM LTD.

 

OTHER RESOURCES:

  1. Nonviolence And Quality Of Life: Soil, Soul And Society. [ebook] Available at: <https://www.cpp.edu/~ahimsacenter/files/conference_06_workshops.pdf&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Brogan, K., 2020. Climate: A New Story. [online] Kelly Brogan MD. Available at: <https://kellybroganmd.com/climate-a-new-story/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Brogan, K., 2020. Sacred Activism: Moving Beyond The Ego. [online] Kelly Brogan MD. Available at: <https://kellybroganmd.com/sacred-activism-moving-beyond-ego/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Eisenstein, C., 2017. The Age Of We Need Each Other. [online] Charles Eisenstein. Available at: <https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-age-of-we-need-each-other/?fbclid=IwAR1ZMyu9HoxqPgBOfVNF7c2rnll18JX65hn4_OtZOTa82mUPsDmFvgy_4_M&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Eisenstein, C., 2019. Why The Climate Change Message Isn’T Working. [online] Yes! Magazine. Available at: <https://www.yesmagazine.org/environment/2019/01/04/why-the-climate-change-message-isnt-working/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Findhorn New Story Hub. 2018. A New Story Of Climate Change – Charles Eisenstein At New Frontiers. [online] Available at: <http://newstoryhub.com/2018/06/a-new-story-of-climate-change-charles-eisenstein-at-new-frontiers/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Jensen, R., 2010. Soils And Souls: The Promise Of The Land. [online] The Texas Observer. Available at: <https://www.texasobserver.org/soils-and-souls-the-promise-of-the-land/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Kingsbury, D., 2019. Climate: A New Story | Suzuki Elders. [online] Suzuki Elders. Available at: <https://www.suzukielders.org/climate-a-new-story/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Kumar, S., 2012. Soil, Soul And Society. [online] Resurgence & Ecologist. Available at: <https://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article3877-soil-soul-and-society.html&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Kumar, S., 2012. Soil, Soul And Society. [online] The Ecologist. Available at: <https://theecologist.org/2012/dec/07/soil-soul-and-society&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Minami, K., 2009. Soil and humanity: Culture, civilization, livelihood and health. Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, [online] 55(5), pp.603-615. Available at: <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1747-0765.2009.00401.x&gt;.

Penniman, L., 2019. By Reconnecting With Soil, We Heal The Planet And Ourselves. [online] Yes! Magazine. Available at: <https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/dirt/2019/02/14/by-reconnecting-with-soil-we-heal-the-planet-and-ourselves/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=YTW_20180215&utm_content=YTW_20180215%20CID_b10737bb9c6465fc7638788aec3c6992&utm_source=CM&utm_term=By%20Reconnecting%20With%20Soil%20We%20Heal%20the%20Planet%20and%20Ourselves&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Spire, S., 2018. Review: Charles Eisenstein’s Climate—A New Story. [online] Simon Spire Emergent Inquiry. Available at: <https://www.simonspire.com/blog/climate-a-new-story&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Swennerfelt, R., 2020. A Story Of Interbeing: A Book Review Of Climate: A New Story By Charles Eisenstein. [online] Quaker Earthcare Witness. Available at: <https://www.quakerearthcare.org/article/story-interbeing-book-review-climate-new-story-charles-eisenstein&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

TEDx Talks, 2012. Soil, Soul And Society: Satish Kumar At Tedxexeter. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSLUd0veioU&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Transition Consciousness. 2014. Book Review: Satish Kumar – Soil Soul Society – A New Trinity For Our Time. [online] Available at: <https://transitionconsciousness.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/book-review-satish-kumar-soil-soul-society-a-new-trinity-for-our-time/&gt; [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Photo: Matthew Paul Argall CC by 2.0 via Flickr.

 

 

Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality, Social Issues

Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself: Peace within one’s own society

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

To work on peace in one’s own society constitutes working on opportunities for everyone. Of central importance is the notion of human dignity for everyone. Human dignity and security are the same for everybody and shall be inclusive. It is important for every individual to experience leading a meaningful life. In order to do so, people require sufficient opportunity to think and act.

This reflection is based on the notion that our own society has both ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ elements: It is small, it houses a diverse array of people, languages and cultures, and it displays an open attitude to the world. Our own society is concerned both with domestic and global injustice. Our regions encounter tensions from abroad like (armed) conflicts between population groups through migration.

There are so many things that move us and that could shape concrete initiatives to strengthen democracy and peace in our own society. In order to contribute to peace in our own society in a meaningful way, we shall search the depth and the width of what moves us; through the ensuing peace spirituality, we shall make a difference in our society and in the international community.

From the experience of injustice to indignity

The road to peace in our own society starts with one’s own perception and experience of injustice, unfairness and immorality. A high degree of indignity accompanies this process. This human reaction can lead to passivity or activity and – in case of the latter – either to nonviolent action or to armed resistance (such as the new IRA[1]).

Radicalisation can be both violent and non-violent. To think radically can lead to radical behaviour. People can radicalise, with different outcomes as a result: From the Occupy movement to Al-Qaeda or IS (Islamic State). In the past, such as in the 1980s, we knew both radical extreme-right and extreme-left groups in Europe that did not shy away from the use of force. Left- and right-wing extremism continues to exist and religious fanaticism has become more visible.

It is important to systematically analyse why people radicalise. What is the situation? How do they think? How do they behave and how does this evolve? Society should seek to act preventively with regard to extremely radical behaviour.

It is important to be aware of feelings and sentiment as these can contain cues that something is not right. They point to possible problems in the environment that require attention. This indicative function of feelings is an important factor in human behaviour.

Political radicalism is the consequence of isolation and threats, which result in strong communal feelings among group members, but which also speaks of the experience of being excluded from the larger environment. Others are confronted with an unclear identity, perceptions of exclusion, humiliation, and direct experiences of discrimination, racism and exclusion.

Working toward social change

Our society is not perfect and requires a patient and consistent approach when it comes to working toward social change. Change starts bottom-up. If people feel like they are being treated unjustly and experience injustice within society, this can nourish forms of social unrest and can lead to a strong need for societal change.

We shall transform our individual or collective indignation into responsibility and action. Peaceful actions have the power to transform social questions, injustice and conflict into social change and they shall promote the common good. Most people are social beings who consider honesty and justice important and who want to do the right thing.

Aspects of social imperfections

The societal challenges that we see both in our own environments and globally are centred around poverty; employment; migration and asylum seekers; the use of social media and Internet; global warming and/or climate change. Gender inequality constitutes another problem: in many regards, women are being treated differently. This is a huge injustice that also hinders development: the productivity of many population groups is severely hindered because women are denied opportunities. Other examples, within Western societies, that require our attention concern sufficient educational opportunities for children and youth, as well as the ageing of the population (an ever-growing number of people gets older and older). Care is at the heart of society!

Quality of life

Our grounding principle is that all people should be treated equally, with equal respect. This concerns decent quality of life. Authorities should treat people respectfully and should refuse to humiliate them. Sometimes, some people require a bit more help and care, and they should be able to receive that. The means to the disposal of the authorities should be distributed as equally as possible among all citizens, yet with special care for the weaker and more vulnerable. People have to be taken seriously. In general, people want to participate in society.

A just distribution of goods and means is an important basis for peaceful coexistence. Human rights offer moral guidance that help the vulnerable against the powerful. Respect for human rights constitutes a ‘basic ingredient’ for peace and for nonviolent dealings with conflict.

A nation’s richness lies with her population and her quality of life. Human development should contribute to the creation of an environment that enables people to enjoy a long, healthy and creative life. Development is a dynamic concept and entails that things can improve. A simple and basic rule is that injustices should be decreased and eliminated.

Diversity is a treasure

Our world needs more critical thought and more respectful discussions. To think critically by entering into dialogue with others. Also in public debates, there needs to be respect for all people’s equal dignity. Diversity is a treasure. Uniformity is boring!

Philosophy’s Golden Rule goes as follows: treat others the way you want to be treated.[2] This regimen also dates back to the command of charity from the Biblical book Leviticus 19:18. People desire to be treated as full members of society and want to feel like their opinion matters. Of course, this is not solely about the rights but also about the responsibilities, that all people have with regard to humanity.

Freedom of opinion is a primary right, but it also comes with certain restrictions. Some freedoms limit others. It is for instance not allowed to incite violent extremism or to idealise terrorism.

There is much to do about civilians’ identity. Someone’s loyalty should in the first place lie with complete humanity and only then with his or her country, region, religion or family. Often, a Frenchman is first and foremost a Frenchman, and only then a human being! A Christian Palestinian is a human being first and then a Palestinian. All of us are human beings first and foremost.

Displaying loyalty or identity can take place secondly, with regard to ethnicity, religion, gender, and so on. Nations can be large and diverse. India alone is home to 320 languages and 1.2 billion people. Flanders has many different dialects and most of the larger cities are home to tens of different nationalities and a mix of Christian and other religions.

Religion and society

One’s religion does not automatically lead to radicalisation. The belief in a just world may provide meaning and direction. The convergence of state and religion is not a positive thing, especially not if it is codified in the constitution. No against state religion doctrine! No against religious ideology! But yes against a doctrine of freedom of religion that provides the necessary protection of human possibilities and equality with regard to religion.

The free practice of religion is a given. A situation in which a religious majority is dominant vis-à-vis religious minorities is an unhealthy situation. Here too, the rule states that all people should be respected, no matter their religion or ideology. Minorities require equal treatment. A democracy shall protect the rights of both its majority and its minorities. This requires decent governance by the authorities.

All religions and churches shall take their responsibility for society’s well-being, but they shall do this from a viewpoint of both critical reflection and distance. One religion cannot impose its rules and laws on a population, just like an ideology should not be able to do this.

Religion can provide extra value to a population’s growth and development. Religion – from the Latin relegare or ‘to reconnect’ – can inspire public life and can stimulate moral and social behaviour. This is closely related to reconciliation work, which means the restoration of relations – reconciliare or ‘to arrange anew’.

As meaningful frame and moral compass, religions often satisfy a wide array of fundamental needs, such as the need for meaning, social identification, connection, certainty and stability. It is true that some (ab)use religion to interpret it in a violent way and to promote violence. Religion cannot and should not be used to accept and justify the use of force.

Religious singularity can be used to work toward a pluralistic society. Freedom of speech, of association and of conscience, political access, and so on, are each crucial elements of a society that protects cultural and religious pluralism.

Humanitarian interventions

Sometimes, one’s society is violated within or by a democratic state. Democracies are not perfect either. Intervention may be considered, especially in failed states. Military and economic sanctions are only justified under certain grave conditions, for instance in case of a crime against humanity like genocide.

Even when such crimes take place, intervention may often be a mistake from a strategic point of view, especially when the country in particular is sufficiently democratic and can be convinced to reject its own actions. As long as there is a reasonable chance that the democracy in question can solve the issue, intervention by force is completely unwarranted.

However, authoritarian regimes where the mechanism to resolve such severe crimes is absent – for instance through suitable criminal tribunals – provide an altogether different context. Each person who is not safe in his/her own country or society has a right to protection. We shall reject indiscriminate use of force against civilians. There is a duty to guarantee all people’s safety. Authorities have the duty to protect their civilians. A secure society is a free society.

Emotions control people and policy

Civilians’ (peaceful) coexistence is dominated by emotions. Compassion is about empathetic concern, respect and solidarity. Compassion may never be used passively or selfishly. Compassion is only real once it is used actively and when it is directed toward other people. It is important to try and understand underlying emotions. Emotions can support policy that is aimed at furthering peaceful coexistence and the notion of human dignity and equality.

Conclusion: choose nonviolence

Democratic rules can bring about the nonviolent resolution of conflict. The authorities shall allow their citizens to act in accordance with their conscience, as long as this entails that they act according to democratic principles and to norms of nonviolence. Civil obedience is acceptable when it takes place in a public, conscientious and nonviolent manner.

Active nonviolence is a way of life and a way of treating others. We shall work towards a ‘warm’ society in which everyone is respected, no matter their beliefs or origins, a society free from prejudice, discrimination and repression. We shall cooperate with other religions and ideologies and work towards trusting one another.

____________

[1] https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provisional_Irish_Republican_Army
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule
Lent, Peace Spirituality

Holy Week: Reflection for Easter – Life is stronger than death; Rise up to live again

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the final entry in a series of reflections throughout Lent and Holy Week from Rev. Paul Lansu. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Acts 10:34a, 37-43 | Ps 118 (117) | Col 3:1-4 | John 20:1-9

Today is Easter. How will we celebrate, being that Easter is the feast of the victory of life over all negativity?

Hopelessness pollutes our life space. So many streams flow into the sea of our despair. Long-term unemployment scars many a heart. Violence awakens fear in the vulnerable, young and old. Famine gnaws away at the fabric of our society. Scandals in high places erode trust. It gets easier and easier to paint a grim picture of a pointless life ending in disastrous faith. But the darker the night, the more significant is the torch.

Our torch is the risen Christ. This Easter, as perhaps never before, Christ’s message is vital for the people of our time. It is vital because it is life giving. It is a message of hope highlighting that the God who made the world and its people has both safely in his hands and his helping is nearer than the air we breathe. In fact, he is living in our hearts and in our relationships. He has taken on our human condition even unto death. Rising from the dead, he has changed utterly the meaning of our lives.

Search and find

“Who are you looking for?” Jesus asks Mary Magdalene as she weeps by the side of the empty grave. The Easter Gospel left behind the women and disciples confused. They did not know where the Lord was and did not yet understand anything about rising from the dead. They also experienced deep loneliness and abandonment in their great loss and distress. Where are you Lord? When we need you most, where are you? Why should we believe in a good God of Life, when he could have prevented so much unnecessary suffering symbolised on Good Friday?

The resurrected Christ is asking to be found or discovered. If we really look, we can see him everywhere. He can be found among people who pray and work together in a constructive way, in open-minded people who follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle, and in people who have become wise enough not to judge others because they prefer to give life rather than be excluded from it.

We are made to love and to be loved, to reach out in forgiveness, generosity and trust to every brother and sister, especially those in greatest need. Following the torch of his example, we are called to keep hope alive for all those whose lives we touch, hope in the power of God’s love working in and through us for one another. To undermine this hope is the essence of evil.

In a hopeless situation, prayer gives us an instrument for inner peace and solidarity. Through our faith and prayer, we connect with each other in a way that we cannot explain but can feel. This feeling becomes an uplifting presence that translates itself in silence, music, words, body language and empathy. We literally stand next to each other and turn our eyes in the same direction for hope. Standing empty-handed together before God is better than simply standing with empty hands.

Look deeper than what you see

The point of Easter is to see beyond the grave, to see beyond the destruction of human life, to see beyond the observable facts. If we try to understand and rationalise everything, we could go mad. Easter gives us a window through which, besides looking at the world with our brains, we can also look with our hearts and hands.

Faith should keep us alert and in tune with the world. Faith adds something that the modern world has lost — namely a sense of belonging to a love greater than our understanding. This source of love inspires us to deal with our neighbour with more tolerance and to look at ourselves in a less egocentric way.

The religious answer to the question of “who or what are you looking for” is that we should look beyond what we see and understand. He is to be found in the victory over suffering, in the bare helping hands that remove the stones, in the protest of workers who demand changes in the financial world, in the volunteers and professionals who risk their lives working among the victims of poverty and conflict.

At Easter, we celebrate the fact that God moved Christ beyond the Cross. On this instrument of torture he cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and “Your will be done.” On Easter Sunday, God responds to that cry by showing that he wants to live. Even though life is destroyed, his last will and final testament is to restore it.

The positive in life is much stronger than the negative

Negativity has not the last word. We celebrate that at Easter. Only God has the last word. Beyond so many dead spots in our existence, there is another way to discover that brings us back to life. That is why Christians dare to celebrate Easter without forgetting Good Friday. We can continue to believe in the power of life. We must testify to that power with so many who now need support and encouragement in these days. It is our Easter mission as Christians.

Light a candle

The Easter candle is a symbol of the Risen Lord, the source of all our courage, hope and love. However, we must not reduce the energising flame of faith to the flickering flame of a simple candle. Easter is a time to fan the flame of faith into an inferno that will burn away all fear and selfishness and inflame all hearts with love and hope. Such is the vision. Easter people will not settle for less.

Peace events or marches are organised in many places in different countries on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday. Participants manifest, for instance, against nuclear weapons and/or other contemporary challenges such as the climate, exclusion or migration. Many believers also carry a candle as a sign of life. It remains a task to keep policymakers alert to keep looking for solutions to the major challenges of our time.

At Easter Sunday, we will see the result of our Lenten campaign as an expression of our solidarity with the poor, the weakest, especially with those populations that live in oppression or occupation. We are the risen body of Christ in our world, called to love one another.

Alleluia – Christ has risen! Alleluia.

I wish you a Happy Easter.

 

Lent, Peace Spirituality

Holy Week: Reflection for Good Friday – Die to find life again

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the eighth in a series of reflections throughout Lent from Rev. Paul Lansu. Reflections on the Sunday readings will be posted each week on the Friday before the Sunday which the reflection references. Holy Day reflections will be posted the day before the actual Holy Day. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Is 52:13-53:12 | Ps 31 (30) | Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9 | Jn 18:1-19:42

Believers gather around the cross today. They listen to the stories from the Scriptures. These stories offer us a message that is new: suffering acquires meaning in God. Death never has the last word in Him. Through the suffering of Christ, God brings reconciliation for all. This gives many the strength to endure suffering, even today, and to look for a world where every tear will be dried and all the pain will have disappeared.

People can hurt others a lot

The memorial events marking the nearly seventy-five anniversaries of the liberation of Auschwitz/Birkenau and twenty-five years of genocide in Rwanda remind us again of the savagery that human beings inflict on one another. It is not that we need to delve into history for evidence of such brutality with current ongoing wars and totalitarian regimes which are always developing more sophisticated techniques of human torture and destruction.

What is new is that television and social media now brings the experience of such depravity from all over the world into the heart of our homes–where sometimes there is great cruelty already. Every day we are confronted with war and violence, with poverty, hunger and injustice. A great danger here is indifference or powerlessness.

One risk is that familiarity makes us almost immune to the pain of this indescribable suffering. It also means that the suffering of Jesus in his passion pale into insignificance by comparison with modern atrocities. But the core of the passion story of Jesus is not the intensity of his pain–intense though it was–but the person who endured the suffering and the love that motivated him to do so.

Calvary is not the end!

Life will continue. We will live on in our children. There is a new beginning. At death, the questioning can be sorrowful, somber and heart-rending. Why death now? What of the bereaved? The joyful anticipation is replaced with pain-filled loss and anxiety. Even in the presence of vibrant faith, there is often a sense of finality, of completion of an era.

This atmosphere of finality pervaded Calvary on Good Friday. Calvary seemed to be the end. Is this the last moment of life? Is death the end of life? The great hopes of a promising life were dashed. With hindsight, it was easy to see that it would end in this way if Jesus insisted on justice, forgiveness, love and peace. Now the miracle worker from Nazareth fails to come down from the Cross even though he had raised Lazarus from the dead. Dead he was now himself, the same as those who had gone before him.
But Jesus had the power to take up his life again. That he would do at the Resurrection, but first he would endure the intense pain of the human condition. He must know the loneliness of death first-hand, the sense of abandonment by God.

Death is where there is no hope

Good Friday shows that people without hope die in despair. A society or world without hope degenerates into humiliation, indifference, fear and violence. Only the person who is prepared to light a candle of goodness at every opportunity rather than curse the darkness of evil. Only the person who daily takes that first small step in building a chain of goodness. Only the person who believes that oftentimes a majority for hope is just one individual with faith and courage. Only the person who knows it is in giving away time, energy and even life itself that one comes to experience lasting love, human and divine. It is only such a person that can create new life and joy in today’s world. We are enabled by the Spirit to keep hope alive in the hearts of those whose lives we serve.

No matter how grim the suffering or bleak the future seems, the Father has a great dream for us which he will realise just as he did for his Son. Today’s message is not to be afraid: I have overcome the world, and so can you.

Presente! Consider the suffering of this time

For many years a quiet event has been organised by different solidarity and faith groups on Good Friday to commemorate the suffering of many human beings and remember the misery of many peoples today. People come together in silence to remember those who are suffering, for those who have been killed yesterday and today in wars or other forms of violence and injustice.

Participants walk with crosses with names of victims of violence on them. This gives the victims a name and identity. Names of victims are prayed aloud one by one and those present answer each time with: Presente! It’s about people! They are not dead before God. The faithful walk from one religious or symbolic place to another. Along the way people stand still for a short reflection. They reflect on the suffering of today. It is also a public testimony to our faith. All people of good will are invited to join these events. It is the Way of the Cross today.

Let humanity speak!

Such an action is a powerful sign of solidarity with all victims of senseless violence. It is an act of resistance against all systems that prevent people from developing themselves in our own societies and elsewhere, not the least in the developing countries. Considering that suffering is a tender gesture of love for people who are in pain, who are sick, who are facing death. Let humanity speak!

All of Christ’s way of life is characterised by his gift to the utmost: the love for the enemy, the mercy for the neighbour, the infinite forgiveness, the unconditional faith in God, the constant prayer, the attention to the least and respect for the stranger.

On Good Friday, we see that Jesus’s choice for the poorest, the weakest and victims bring him into conflict with the powerful. They feel threatened and want him on the cross. The death on the cross in itself makes no sense. But death does not have the last word. Jesus lives. Life is stronger than death. God continues to choose for justice and love over death. No Good Friday without Easter. No Easter without Good Friday.

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Photo credit: The 8th Day Center, Chicago, Illinois, USA

 

Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for Palm/Passion Sunday – Where there is friendship and love, there is God

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the seventh in a series of reflections throughout Lent from Rev. Paul Lansu. Reflections on the Sunday readings will be posted each week on the Friday before the Sunday which the reflection references. Holy Day reflections will be posted the day before the actual Holy Day. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Lk 19:28-40 | Is 50:4-7 | Ps 22 (21) | Phil 2:6-11 | Lk 22:14-23:56

We are at the beginning of Christianity’s most impressive week. One in every three people in the world calls him/herself a Christian. To be a part of this family means to stand in a two-thousand year tradition that has left many marks on society — bad as well as good. For centuries, the liturgy of Holy Week has been directed to renewing faith, deepening love and awakening hope.

Serving love

Jesus is welcomed today like a king. He makes his happy entry into Jerusalem. The happy entry gives way to the horrible agony: the Calvary trip to Golgotha, the way of the Cross. Jesus chooses a kingdom of love and not of power. He is a Servant King. We compare the political, economic and other driving forces of our societies to a different kingdom, one based on another set of values, one with a constitution that casts the mighty from their thrones, feeds the hungry, places the poor in the front seat and heals the broken.

Processions are forms of protest

Processions of all shapes, sizes and motivations are part of our human culture. No protest is complete without a procession. Processions may be simple and casual but even these can be very significant, telling what is in the heart of a people. Many members of Pax Christi and other justice and peace groups regularly come together to raise many forms of injustice in silent protest, through processions and silent walks. They are a visual expression of indignation. They are always cries for change and improvement for people and their environment.

In many parts of the world, Passion Plays and processions are being held during Holy Week. In spite of questioning God’s existence or of life after death, in spite of all the recent press about child abuse by religious, the story of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection continues to move the hearts of hundreds of millions around the world. The unique story of Christ belongs not only to one denomination or Christian tradition but belongs to the whole of humankind. Churches and denominations are merely the instruments pointing towards Christ.

The story about an innocent victim being subjected to a mock trial resonates because it still happens today. We still cover up the truth, defend our own interests, and deny compensation, lying and cheating. We still discriminate against people, tell half-truths, live by corruption, let jealousy or rivalry stand in the way. You name it, it happens. Human rights are violated in many situations often involving the poor and the innocent. Recent decades have brought us face-to-face with accounts and pictures of unbounded human cruelty and suffering. The savagery of war is rivaled only by the violence of crime in a spiral of destruction that endangers our world.

The core of the Passion story is not to highlight the cruelty of human beings, severe though it be, but rather to recall in faith who suffered and why Jesus went through it all, not only freely but also with a sense of genuine fulfillment.

Identification with actors in the story

We relate to the Passion story because we can identify with the different actors in it:

  1. Peter: He struggled with his loyalty. Under pressure, many of us find it difficult to choose what is best. Whose interests do we serve? What will be the consequences of our actions? We struggle with values and norms, the choice between a quick fix and escape, as opposed to the long, difficult road of honesty and solidarity.
  2. Look at the role of women in the Passion. We recognise mothers who have lost their children because of violence. They constantly appeal for truth or alternative ways to resolve conflict. The dedication of women in the midst of conflict demonstrates the existence of the healing and loving hands shown for the sick, the accused or refugees, as well as to the rejected.
  3. The Passion also highlights the role of the military, those who had to follow orders they themselves did not believe in. The soldiers came to the conclusion that their violence could lead to greater chaos rather than peace, because they knew that a good and innocent man was being brought to an undeserved end.
  4. We note the actions of the political leaders. They worried about who held the highest rank in the hierarchy. If Jesus claimed to be King, he was dangerous to their “throne”. The very thought of leadership from a different set of values was, and still is, seen as a threat, rather than an opportunity for change and self-evaluation.
  5. Many of us like the environmental aspect of the story. The whole of creation is involved, from the Garden of Olives to sour grapes, from the donkey to a rooster and a lamb. Just as with the birth of Christ, the story about his suffering and death has cosmic proportions; everything is affected by the choice between the destruction or the restoration of life. We may ruin a few palm trees on Palm Sunday, but with the oil from the branches we anoint ourselves for the task of improving the global quality of life.

The Passion story is about you and me

Of course, there is the Suffering Servant himself. Like all innocent victims, he doesn’t say much in the longest gospel reading of the year. At this stage in his life he acts rather than speaks. His silent witness becomes a universal language understood by all cultures and races at all times and places.

The Passion story is about you and me. We are called to change things for the better, to right an injustice, to protect the defenceless, to welcome the stranger, to challenge the established, to build peace. We need to end the globalisation of indifference which gives rise to a culture of exclusion in which the poor, marginalised and vulnerable are denied their rights, as well as the opportunities and resources that are available to other members of society. Words are good but that is not enough! Words alone will not produce change. To make change happen, we have to give of ourselves. Action is needed.

The Cross is part of the search for authenticity and credibility. From that Cross we learn about concepts like commitment, reliability, solidarity and trust. In biblical terms this is called Passion; in today’s terms, we call it love. When there is love, there is life worth living.

Ubi caritas et amor. Deus ibi est.
Where charity and love are, God is there.

The Passion story invites us to begin Holy Week as an annual retreat for all Christians. We go back to the roots of our faith, and from these roots, we plant a life-giving tree.

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Photo credit: Splatter Tree

 

Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent – Do not stay in the past; make openings for new beginnings

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the sixth in a series of reflections throughout Lent from Rev. Paul Lansu. Reflections on the Sunday readings will be posted each week on the Friday before the Sunday which the reflection references. Holy Day reflections will be posted the day before the actual Holy Day. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Is 43:16-21 | Ps 126 (125) | Phil 3:8-14 | Jn 8:1-11

Once, a people had left slavery behind. They found a way through the turbulent sea with an entire army chasing after them. Then they went through a long, difficult journey in the desert. That exodus remains in the memory. Prophets say that a new exodus is always possible: “Don’t stay in the past.” God says: “I am undertaking something new.” The beginning is already there, don’t you see it? A new exodus is possible for a people that can pull away from their burdensome past.

In this period of Lent, God is guiding us in our efforts to move and transform from slavery to freedom, from evil to good, from war to peace, and from injustice to justice. Evil, injustice and war still exist in our world. War, just as slavery, should be abolished.

Do we need scapegoats?

Labeling a person as a legitimate target is a nerve-racking tactic in present-day violence. Whether it is a terrorist group pointing to a lawyer or a building contractor, or whether it is a fundamentalist leader singling out a writer for execution, the fear aroused often evokes a sense of powerlessness in the community of the endangered person. Usually the labeled one is represented as a threat to some value that is important to the group; they in turn proffer execution as the best solution to protect their interest. Their authority to execute comes from their inner self-righteousness as guardians of what is good. Our human history has regularly designated scapegoats in order to resolve a conflict. Often it is a different people or nation, or a different religion, that we call scapegoats. Eliminating a scapegoat can only bring peace for a while and only for the powerful, but is not a structural solution to conflicts. The outbreak of discontent and war remains a possibility.

Execution horrifies us but character assassination is alive and well among us. To eradicate it from our lives would make us more human and make our families and communities oases of peace, joy and hope. To refuse to do so is to allow the cataract of self-righteousness to blind us forever.

The pillory – the end of future

In the centre of Dworp, a village close to Brussels, near the old town hall, there is a pillory that is now a monument. I can imagine it was no fun being tied to it when you had done something wrong or something that was not acceptable to those in charge. Today we no longer use that pillory. To put someone to shame now happens in other ways: via the internet, Facebook, Twitter and other social media for example. Pin people down for their behaviour so that they no longer have a future. It certainly happens.

The scribes and Pharisees make use of a woman, a public sinner, to put before Jesus a specific dilemma. The woman is only a “case” to make Jesus stumble. According to the Law, she must be stoned. Practices like this still exist today. So how does Jesus react? He writes in the sand. Opposite the words of the Law carved in stone, Jesus writes in the sand. You can wipe out what is in the sand with one gesture. This gesture of Jesus is of great significance. What he wants to say follows in his response: “He who is without sin must throw the first stone.”

Those words give a different turn to the situation. The Law may be so, but take a different look. Look at the person in front of you. It is possible that this person, here this woman, has misbehaved. However, a person is always more than his or her actions. Look at yourself for that, and you realise that there is also a lack of wholeness in yourself, even failure. How often do we ourselves have to count on the patience or mercy of others? Would God not have that patience, he who is Mercy himself?

Opening to new life and a future

We find Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem. Scribes and Pharisees wave the law to give an adulterous woman her appropriate punishment. Jesus sees through them. Quietly he says: “He who is without sin may throw the first stone” One by one they drop off, the elders first.

They drop off, these would-be attackers. The closed circle around the woman opens. The future dawns again. “Go and sin no more.” The word of Jesus makes that future visible. It means: “I don’t pin you down for your past. I don’t judge you. A new beginning is always possible for God.” That sounds incredibly liberating. God wants life for us; he does not work with pillories. God asks that we would also grant each other this. Such a road leads to Easter. We can hopefully continue on that way.

Human rights are the underlying foundation of peacework

People can revive again, even after difficult times. God’s answer is that we should make room for mercy for everybody, for each human being. Each person has the right to live in dignity and experience the values of human rights in a reciprocal manner. Jesus breaks open the spiral of evil and opens perspectives for a new beginning for those who have made mistakes in their lives.

The dignity of human life is the cornerstone and foundation of human rights. When human rights are neglected, a systematic exclusion of the vulnerable happens. People are part of different social networks: family, upbringing, culture, religion, career, etc. The (shared) responsibility for social/public life lies with people themselves in the first place. Jesus calls the woman, a public sinner, to change her life, convert, and is reminding the broader society of creating learning places of hope and new perspectives as a way forward.

New life includes hope for a better way to live together

Hope is an expression of confidence and is based on the belief that the situation today is better than that of yesterday and that tomorrow it will be better than today.

There is a spiritual conception of hope: the belief in the redemption of humanity through the liberation of sin. People cannot continue without hope. In a way, we all share the calling to be “givers of hope” to one another. Give hope. Encourage each other and try to be ahead of despair, or to at least make room for despair to pass through your life. Hope is central to our Christian culture, just like belief and love.

In the secular sense of the word, hope represents the belief in one’s own identity, in one’s ability to interact with the world in a positive way. Hope is the opposite of resignation or surrender; rather it is a form of confidence that encourages us to draw close to other people, to accept how they are different from us without fear. Peace workers are people of hope and pass that hope on to others.

We continue our Lenten season, a time of stillness, austerity and preparation for Easter.

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Photo credit: Hope