Monday, November 24, 2008

Peace and Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most important first steps
to ending conflicts
within ourselves,
and within in our families,
and within our communities,
and between nations.

-- Robert Alan

1994 was a bad year around the world. While I was suffocating with my own grief following Chey's death in July of that year, unspeakable atrocities erupted in Rwanda, where the Tutsis were being butchered en masse by the Hutus.

Dread and despair amassed in a small African country where genocidal unrest would leave nearly one million Tutsis dead. Amongst those dead included all five children of a remarkable woman of Tutsi descent named Iphegenia Mukantabana.

During the uprising, a Hutu militia that included Mukantabana's neighbor, John Bizimana, armed themselves with clubs, hoes, and machetes and murdered all five of her children, her husband, and many others in her village. It was an inconceivably violent slaughter that would last for 100 days at the behest of the Rwandan government.

Years later, Mukantabana took a remarkable step toward forgiveness for her neighbor, Bizimana, the man who took the life of her entire family. And, after serving only seven years in jail for the murders, Bizimana went before the city council and asked Mukantabana for her forgiveness. She granted that forgiveness. And she transcended it.

In an effort to promote peace, Mukantabana, a master basket weaver, agreed to participate in Path to Peace, a cooperative effort that joins Hutus and Tutsis together to benefit Rwandan children and families. Mukantabana now weaves baskets in her village with Bizimana's wife. Together, they have helped to employ more than 2500 weavers, raising much-needed money and support for education, HIV/AIDS, and for healthcare. More than that, they have created a milieu in which reconciliation and forgiveness can flourish.

I am startled by human endowment. It feels nearly supernatural to me, this forgiveness for such a heinous crime against her family. I do not honestly know if I would have this within me. Mukantabana credits her faith; And while I do not understand, I dare not question. Rather, I only stand in awe.

And I am reminded that peace- true peace- will only be possible within and between people. Peace will not come from institutions. It would be an grave and improvident error to anthropomorphize: Governments do not have the capacity for compassion, or kindness, or love. Governments cannot offer peace, nor harmony, nor tolerance. Nor forgiveness. In fact, a brief review of history will demonstrate that governments have most often brought systemic angst and despair to its people through manipulation and coercion. Divisiveness. Slaughter. Impoverishment. Exploitation. Oppression. Fear. It is not this machine that will change the world. The machine cannot feel. Rather, it will be conscious, courageous, and intentional human beings who change this world in which we live for the better.

Only people - with the possibility for those insuperably human traits of compassion, kindness, and love- can create peace, and harmony, and tolerance. These are the consummate qualities of humanity, what it really means to be a person.

Only people can forgive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Neolithic Love and Death

An artist's rendering of the likely burial position 4,600 years ago

Come out of the circle of time
And into the circle of love.


Scientists have discovered a burial site in Germany that tenderly held the remains of a Neolithic family who died, apparently together, in a brutal attack about 4,600 years ago. DNA evidence gathered at the site suggests that the four were related: mother, father, and two children. They were carefully buried facing one another. " "Their unity in death suggests unity in life," the researchers asserted.

While the idea of core nuclear families during this period of human history may seem an unusual archeological discovery, family scientists, myself included, are not at all surprised by this finding. There is something timeless and pure about a parent's love for his or her offspring. Something that is able to withstand any force that rises up against it- even, or perhaps especially, Death.  

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Juxtaposing Joy with Thoughts of War (*Warning*)

Bella detesta matribus
Wars, the horror of mothers 


There is no government so worthy
as your son who fishes with you
in silence beside the forest pool.

There is no national glory so comely
as your daughter whose hands have learned a music
and go their own way
on the keys.

There is no national glory so comely
as my daughter who dances and sings
and is the brightness of my house.

There is no government so worthy
as my son who laughs,
as he comes up the river path in the evening,
for joy.

-Wendell Berry

I took my son to the fall carnival in Anthem, Arizona, a magical event to celebrate the transition to cooler weather from the long and relentless desert heat. I let Josh and his friends run and play in the park as I sat under a tree reading a book about Freud and Jung. Children to my left were standing in line for hair-raising rides decorated with flashing lights and wild music. Masked children to my right were dancing to the Monster Mash as proud parents watched and grand parents gloated. Sticky-faced children ate their pink cotton candy and red-patent apples. It was a smorgasbord of panoramic festivities. Laughter filled the air and shadows leapt on concrete. Several fighter jets from a nearby military facility graced guests with a gratuitous fly-over.

"How bizarrely ironic," I thought to myself. Military jets flying above the heads of hundreds of people, families, here in Arizona. There was no fear, no terror, no bloodshed or bombs dropping from the sky. No. Not here. But in Iraq (or Afghanistan or any other country plagued by war), nearly 8000 miles away, there are no family festivals, no enchanting rides, and no tooting community park choo-choos with giggling children on board, led by a strange bearded Santa-type iconoclast.

My son approached me, drenched from water toy combat with other boys at the playground. And I realized that somewhere in Iraq an 11-year-old boy, just like my own, was also drenched. Drenched in his own blood. A wound that is not pretend, that will not heal, and that will cost his family the ultimate price. I looked around and really saw... our children were playing. Our children were eating. Our children were joyful, laughing, unscathed, and fully-limbed. Our children were privileged with abundance.

And as our children enjoyed their comfortably cool fall day, somewhere in Iraq children, countless numbers of them, were dying. Starvation. Bombs. Disease. Lack of clean drinking water or electricity. Scarcity. Luxuries of our lifestyle are the antithesis of the suffering, terror, and death in battle spaces of America's choosing such as Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan.

War is ugly. We know this. But how many are willing to truly contemplate the cost? Truly? Wendell Berry, in The Failure of War asks:

"How many deaths of other people's children by bombing or starvation are we willing to accept in order that we may be free, affluent, and (supposedly) at peace? To that question, I answer pretty quickly: none. And I know that I am not the only one who would give that answer: please, no children. Don't kill any children for my benefit."

"We seek to preserve peace by fighting a war, or to advance freedom by subsidizing dictatorships, or to 'win the hearts and minds of people' by poisoning their crops and burning their villages, confining them to concentration camps; we seek to uphold the 'truth' of our cause with lies, or to answer conscientious dissent with threats and slurs and intimidations."

Berry goes on to answer his own question: Is there any reason for which he could surrender his own child's life to war. "No," is his clear response.

I cannot imagine a more necessary time in history for a radical change. It begs the question in my own heart: Is the life of an Iraqi child any less worthy than the life of my own?

I must also answer a resounding no.

And I packed for home, placed Sigmund and Carl in my bag, and walked to the car, past children doing the Monster Mash, juxtaposing joy with thoughts of war.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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