March 20, 2016 ~ Shared Security & Peacemaking

~ By Art McDonald

In Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day, I suppose, Irish-American Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, who for many years lived in Dublin when the Globe actually had 4 international offices, one in the Emerald Isle, wrote a column the other day about a pub in Bundoran, Donegal County, entitled: “An Irish Pub where civility is always on tap.” The Criterion Bar, a 20 minute walk from where Melanie and I always spend a few days while in the land of the leprechaun, thanks to cousins. Though I’ve walked by this particular pub several times, now, I don’t believe I’ve ever gone in. So what’s so special about the Criterion? There’s no tv, no singing or other live music, they don’t serve food and, most importantly, swearing is not allowed; the criterion, which has strict “criteria,” “…is a shrine to the spoken word, the art of conversation…People come here for a drink and a chat,” says Patricia Brennan, 78, who owns the pub with her 80 year-old sister, Nan. “A television would ruin the atmosphere. And who wants to listen to foul language,” she goes on. The pub has been in the family for 116 years, opened by Nan and Patricia’s grandparents who set the tone for civility and respectful conversation over a pint all through Ireland’s tortured history of conflict and war with the English.

I suppose Cullen is also there to report on the Irish year-long celebration of the centenary of the 1916 “Easter Uprising” in which several hundred Irishmen rose up in rebellion against English occupation, only to be quickly overwhelmed by the occupying forces. I was listening to an Irish priest on the radio the other day who was asked about the theme and focus of the celebration, whether it was to rally the troops around war heroes and the ongoing struggles in the North as the 1998 peace accords continue to be challenged, or is there some other message the priest is hoping comes through this commemoration? The latter, he responded, expressing the hope that the celebration will be more about peace and the rich poetic and literary cultural contributions of the Irish; a time for national pride and to downplay the “glories” of war and revolution, i.e., looking to the future with hope for better times. The priest’s reflections made me think of an amazing, inspired poem I read many years ago by the Irish actor, Richard Harris. In it, written in the early 1970s, when the “Toubles” as the Irish call the ongoing conflicts during that time in the North with the British, Harris was decrying the violence on all sides and the use of religion to justify their actions, taking the perspective of Jesus, appropriate, I am thinking, for Palm Sunday, as Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time before his arrest and execution. The poem is entitled: THERE ARE TOO MANY SAVIORS ON MY CROSS:

There are too many saviors on my cross,

lending their blood to flood out my ballot box with needs of their own.

Who put you there?

Who told you that that was your place?

You carry me secretly naked in your heart and clothe me publicly in armor crying “God is on our side,” yet I openly cry who is on mine? Who? Tell me, who? You bury your sons and cripple your fathers whilst you bury my father in crippling his son.

The antiquated Saxon sword, rusty in its scabbard of time now rises – you gave it cause in my name, bringing shame to the thorned head that once bled for your salvation.

I hear your daily cries in the far–off byways in your mouth pointing north and south and my Calvary looms again, desperate in rebirth.

Your earth is partitioned, but in contrition it is the partition in your hearts that you must abolish.

You nightly watchers of Gethsemene who sat through my nightly trial delivering me from evil – now deserted, I watch you share your silver. Your purse, rich in hate, bleeds my veins of love, shattering my bone in the dust of the bog side and the Shankill road.

There is no issue stronger than the tissue of love, no need as holy as the palm outstretched in the run of generosity, no monstrosity greater than the acre you inflict. Who gave you the right to increase your fold and decrease the pastures of my flock? Who gave you the right? Who gave it to you? Who? And in whose name do you fight?

I am not in heaven, I am here, hear me. I am in you, feel me. I am of you, be me. I am with you, see me. I am for you, need me. I am all humankind; only through kindness will you reach me.

What masked and bannered men can rock the ark and navigate a course to their anointed kingdom come? Who sailed their captain to waters that they troubled in my font, sinking in the ignorant seas of prejudice?

There is no virgin willing to conceive in the heat of any bloody Sunday. You crippled children lying in cries on Derry’s streets, pushing your innocence to the full flush face of Christian guns, battling the blame on each other, do not grow tongues in your dying dumb wounds speaking my name. I am not your prize in your death. You have exorcized me in your game of politics.

Go home to your knees and worship me in any cloth, for I was never tailor-made. Who told you I was? Who gave you the right to think it? Take your beads in your crippled hands, can you count my decades? Take my love in your crippled hearts, can you count the loss?

I am not orange. I am not green. I am a half-ripe fruit needing both colors to grow into ripeness, and shame on you to have withered my orchard. I in my poverty, alone without trust, cry shame on you and shame on you again and again for converting me into a bullet and shooting me into men’s hearts.

The ageless legend of my trial grows old in the youth of your pulse staggering shamelessly from barricade to grave, filing in the book of history my needless death one April. Let me, in my betrayal, lie low in my grave, and you, in your bitterness, lie low in yours, for our measurements grow strangely dissimilar. Our Father, who art in heaven, sullied be thy name.

Part of the poem by Harris is an illusion to the scene in scriptures about Jesus’ arrest. If you remember he and his disciples went to the garden of Gethsemene to pray and be quiet, sensing things would go bad. Suddenly Judas appeared with armed men sent by the “chief priests” and identified Jesus for them. As these men seized Jesus, one of his followers drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of Jesus’ captors. To which Jesus responded, in one version (Matthew): “Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Then he healed the man’s ear and, subsequently, said to his captors: “Am I a brigand that you had to set out to capture me with swords and clubs? I sat teaching in the Temple day after day and you never laid hands on me.” And they led him off to be imprisoned as his followers fled.

Clearly the Jesus tradition, as we see over and over again in various stories and episodes, is a peaceful, non-violent one. And the early Jesus movement, initially all Jewish, then gentile and Jew together, then finally all gentle by the second century, until the Christianization of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, was a basically pacifist tradition. That all changed as the theologian Augustine developed his just war criterion in order to allow Christians to fight in wars of the empire of they were deemed wars of defense. Nevertheless, the pacifist tradition never totally died in Christianity and, at various points of history, went through a revival as with the left wing of the Reformation in the 16th century when the famous peace churches emerged, basing their reform on the early church movement. Although our Unitarian and Universalist forebears never adopted pacifism as did the Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren and others, both traditions always had individual champions of this early Christian peace tradition, starting in this country with the great Universalist and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush. Nevertheless, despite an ongoing  acceptance within UU of the traditional just war position, there has been a growing direction in our movement, culminating in the passage of a general resolution at our 2009 General Assembly, which advocates for the promotion of a perspective referred to as NON-VIOLENT PEACEMAKING, a viewpoint argued by many in our movement that should be an alternative to the just war tradition, basically suggesting deep skepticism that any modern war could be just or id an appropriate way to settle differences. We have the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King and Mohandas Gandhi to thank for the gradual acceptance of this position in our own day.

Last week those of us who were in church had the privilege and pleasure to hear from historian and public intellectual, retired Colonel and Vietnam Veteran and current critic of U.S. foreign policy and  recent war efforts, Andrew Bacevich, who offered a very clear denunciation of the folly of recent wars and the less than noble motivations  behinds these wars. It was brilliant. What Andrew’s talk didn’t offer, however, aside from a plea for the people to rise up, was a way forward, an alternative other than to conclude his only hope is in faith communities like ours.

And for those of you who were able to participate, that’s exactly what our Buddhist friends offered us this past week as they, once again, blessed us with their annual March for a New Spring, on their way to Washington and a congressional hearing on a Quaker document they carried entitled: SHARED SECURITY: reimagining U.S. Foreign Policy. It’s an honest document acknowledging our fears and the challenges that lie ahead but also a wonderfully hopeful analysis of some current signs of hope in the world and a way forward with a focus on non-violence and diplomacy as an alternative to war. And it’s something I believe we all need to be discussing. And we all need to figure out our own ways of acting as non-violent peacemakers, especially for the sake of our kids and all kids. I believe that is our call as UUs and human beings. And I do think there are signs that at least some of our political and military leaders are getting the message. The recent deal with Iran, our attempts to dialogue with the Russians and Chinese, and the president’s trip to Cuba underway this very day, are signs to me that there is hope, however tentative. And our job is to promote our best values of justice and peacemaking, always lived out under the ethic of love, the greatest legacy of our Universalist tradition.  And just knowing our Buddhist friends are marching through the wind and cold, maybe even snow tonight, all the way to DC, never in anger or despair, but always in hope and love, inspires me to do all I can to help transform the world in ways our faith tradition proclaims. It can be done. We must believe that.

As my Irish cousins and friends celebrate the 100th year since the bloody Easter Rising, I am hoping with the Irish priest heading up the Irish Studies program at BC, that going forward Ireland may ever more put “The Troubles” behind them and unite the Orange and the Green in a new movement of hope and courage, acknowledging the tragedies and injustices of the past, yet forging a truly new Easter Rising, one of healing and wholeness, as the resurrection of Jesus bespeaks in the ancient tradition.

But maybe on the way to this new revolution, they need to make a stop at the Criterion Pub in Bundoran, Donegal County, and spent an afternoon with Nan and Patricia Brennan to learn the ways of and appropriate language. Irish-American columnist Cullen writes, “The Irish swear more than most. They inhabit one of the few cultures in which the F word can be contorted into a noun, verb, adjective, adverb and term of endearment. But it’s not welcome at the Criterion, and when such words are uttered, Patricia Brennan unleashes what the locals call “the look.” “I’ve seen it, the look, says Peter McLaughlin, who has been a customer for more than 20 years. “It works.” Evidently it has worked for 116 years. And, concludes Cullen, if you stay and play by the rules and practice civil conversation, as Patricia finishes putting a perfect head on top of your pint, you’ll get not “the look” but rather a friendly “nod” of approval and appreciation. I’ll drink to that!