John Dear "Praise be Peace" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal, the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society and I want to welcome you to a new episode of Henri Nouwen: Now and Then. Today I’m delighted to introduce you to another person who knew Henri Nouwen well while he was alive. My guest is Father John Dear. John Dear is an internationally recognized voice and leader for peace and nonviolence. We were looking forward to having John as our keynote speaker at the third annual Voices for Peace gathering here in Toronto, and then the coronavirus happened and everything ground to a halt. I’m sad that we had to postpone this event, but I am delighted to have an opportunity to talk with John Dear today. John is the co-founder of the Campaign for Nonviolence and the Nonviolent Cities Project. He’s been nominated many times for the Nobel Peace Prize and he is the author of 35 books. John Dear please tell me how are you weathering this huge COVID 19 storm?
John Dear: Well, thanks for having me Karen and I’m fine. I was just going to head out on this big two-month, 25 city speaking tour. Been working on it for six months, every minute lined up and much of it I was literally driving across the country. I live right on the coast near Big Sur in California now and I was going to drive to Maine with speeches all along the way. And I got three or four days into it and had a couple of great events and then one morning it was so clear to everybody about the pandemic and everybody canceled it. And so, I turned around and drove home. It’s been strange for me because I had this big tour, I was going to go out and be gone for two months and now I’m home, but I’m fine. Been talking to friends and been working away with my peace group, Pace, and enjoying the coast. I live on this—it’s really embarrassing—stretch of 10-mile beach with nobody else around. So somebody found me a little Hermitage on a thousand acre ranch which was owned by a very elderly peace activist and they fixed it up for me. And now I live here and I’ve joined the diocese in Monterey, so it’s paradise. I’m actually sitting in my car here because the phone reception is better right on the ocean looking over 10 miles in either stretch of the California coast. So, don’t feel too sorry for me, Karen.
Karen: I don’t at all. You got to isolate in the perfect place. I’m so envious.
John: I’ve been practicing self-isolation for a long time, so it’s kind of normal for me. It’s kind of a hermit life, so anyway, I’m fine. And how are you?
Karen: I’m doing well. And the Nouwen Society is doing well, but of course events that we were excited about have all kind of ground to a halt and we definitely want to be able to speak into the lives of people that are listening to this podcast. You know where we find our strength and resources in the midst of a world that has changed so dramatically overnight for all of us. But one of the things I wanted to ask you and I want to start here. Clearly the call on your life has been as a peacemaker, as somebody called to this as a follower of Christ, how did this take hold of your life John?
John: Well, these are great mysteries. What happened to me and I think about it all the time and well it’s hard to say in a nutshell. I’ve just turned 60. I was what, eight or nine when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were killed. And I came from a very politicized family in Washington, DC. My father was one of the heads of the National Press Club. So, I was totally aware of the Vietnam war and Dr. King at age 6, 7, 8 and when they were killed it changed my life. I know that sounds weird, but maybe I was a weird kid or precocious or something. And I went into a long depression that lasted many years. And then when I was in college at Duke, I studied African American history as a major. But I was going through a spiritual crisis too and deciding to leave the church. Anyway, that came to a head and I thought, well, if I really believe in God I have to give my whole life to God. And I’m always reflecting on Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy and particularly their deaths. And I thought, well, if they kill the greatest people our country has produced there’s not much you can do. And so—I know this is convoluted—but I then decided one day, well, I’m just gonna give my whole life to God and to Jesus, and become a priest and become a Jesuit. So that was my plan. And then my parents were quite appalled by this as were a lot of friends. And my parents asked me to wait. And so I spent a year working for the Kennedys when I was 20 or 21. And I’m pretty close to Mrs. Ethel Kennedy now and was going to see her next week, it was part of the tour and Kerry Kennedy who runs the RFK Human Rights Center, which I used to work for when I was 20. It’s the only job I ever had in my life. And I always joke with Ethel Kennedy that she paid me $50 a week which was not much.
But I thought if I’m going to give my life to Jesus, I want to go see where he lived. And I announced to my parents that I was going to go hitchhiking through Israel for the summer, 1982, before I entered the Jesuits. And what happened was Israel invaded Lebanon. All the Holy land tours were canceled. I went ahead, a very dopey kid, and hitchhiked through Israel and camped out for several weeks by the Sea of Galilee. And there was nobody else there visiting the chapel of the Beatitudes, really, really pondering the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount and the call Blessed are the Peacemakers and love your enemies. I was really shaken by those words. And as I was pondering those words, I saw all these jets swoop down over the Sea of Galilee and drop bombs a few miles away at the Lebanon border. And I decided then and there that I would spend the rest of my life working for peace and the Sermon on the Mount.
And that’s what I’ve been trying to do. And I really came back from that trip a different person. I entered the Jesuits a different person than the one who applied. And within several weeks I was with Daniel Berrigan. I was getting arrested. Later I went and lived in the war zone in El Salvador with the Jesuits who were later killed. And now I’ve been in and out of jail my whole life since 1982. And I was a kid and I’m going, ‘Well, how do you be a peacemaker?’ I don’t know. So, I’m looking at Dan Berrigan and Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King and Gandhi, they all give speeches. They all wrote books and all of them got arrested. And so that’s what I started to do regularly. I wasn’t that bright.
And in terms of Henri, later I wrote to him about this and he was a big support. But that’s what happened to me. And I just have – I’m stubborn. I’ve just stayed with it because I do think that peacemaking is the heart of the gospel of Jesus. And his way of nonviolence is the only thing that works and makes sense. And that the gospel doesn’t make sense without reading it from like a Gandhian, Kingian perspective of peace and nonviolence. So I’ve actually gotten more committed. The older I get the more I understand these great peacemakers and the life of Jesus. And I, like this morning, I feel like I’ve been a total failure at this call that I… but I’m at, I’m still at it.
Karen: Really? But you’ve been so committed to it.
John: And I think that’s pretty normal. It’s almost impossible to make peace in this world and that’s why everybody gives up. But I I’m trying not to give up.
Karen: Well, how did you and Henri actually meet? You said you wrote to Henri. Well, tell me a little bit about that. How did he impact you? and how did you impact him?
John: The weekend before I left to live in El Salvador for like six months in 1985, I spent a day with Henri at the Sojourners Peace Pentecost, which is one of the greatest peace events I’ve ever been to in my whole life. And there were a thousand people there and all these great speakers and Henri was actually… it was in the gym at Catholic University in Washington, DC. And on that Pentecost Sunday morning, May, 1985 Henri was on the program to be the main speaker and preacher. He was the keynote that morning. Well, he talked for three hours! I’d never seen the likes of it in my whole life and it was the best speech I ever heard. And I bought the tape and I had a little cassette tape thing, like four inches by five inches.
And the next day everybody went and got arrested all over DC, at the Congress, the White House, the State Department. I didn’t get arrested because the next day after that I was flying by myself to El Salvador, into the war zone at the height of the war. And it was really scary. And so Henri was incredible and his talk was about, “Hey, you all are activists”. And he had three texts as his one. And I used to listen to that tape over and over and practically memorized it. I probably listened to it hundreds of times. And by the way, after Henri died, I sent the actual physical cassette tape to the Nouwen Center, the archives, you have my copy because you didn’t have a copy of that talk. And anyway, so he said he thought that the question for peacemakers was not … Jesus wasn’t saying to peacemakers, ‘What have you done for peace? But do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?’ The question from John 21. I didn’t know what the heck Henri Nouwen was talking about, but it was challenging because he’s saying, everything you do for peace and justice should come out of your relationship to Jesus. Now I was a member of the Society of Jesus and I never heard that or thought that. And I’m Daniel Berrigan’s best friend and Dan lives that, but he didn’t talk about it like that. If you see what I mean, which is, no one talked like that. Well, I was sitting there and I was too scared to go up to Henri and I noticed nobody went up and talked to Henri. It’s like right out of his books Karen, he was lonely in the center of the crowd.
After he speak spoke, I can see it in my mind right now, he stood like in the middle of the gym and no one would go up and talk to him as opposed to being mobbed. Now the activists are different. And I was way too scared and it was a lot of younger people. There was no way I was going to go up to him after that. And I thought about that a lot having become a public speaker myself.
Well, anyway, a year later, Brother Patrick Hart, maybe a year or two years later, Brother Patrick Hart who was also a friend of mine- he’s a Trappist monk at Gethsemane and he was Thomas Merton’s secretary. He and I became very close and I used to go to Gethsemane twice a year for over 30 years. Patrick just died last year. He was the editor of a monastic journal. And, of course, everybody knew Henri and I had a lot of friends who knew Henri, the people at Orbis books, my publisher and all, but he wrote me and asked me to review Henri’s new book. I’m having a senior moment – about Jesus and following Jesus and (it’ll come to me at some point) and I wrote back and said, yes. And it was a little Crossroads book and I was at a demonstration. It is so crazy. I was at a demonstration in Washington, DC with the homeless shutting down the DC City Council, as you do. And I organized the whole thing and 15 people were getting arrested and I was in a building and I stood away and wasn’t getting arrested that day because the Jesuit community told me I couldn’t get arrested. And the cops came after me into the crowd and handcuffed me. So I’m put in jail and the Jesuits never believe me. They said, oh no, you did that on your own. I’m like, no, but they knew who I was. So I’m in jail and I have Henri’s book in my coat pocket. So I had a pencil and I wrote the review in my copy of the book when I got out of jail, which was really great. I was in jail for about 48 hours and I mean in a tiny cell that hadn’t been cleaned since 1841. It’s the DC central cell block, one of the scariest places I’ve ever been. And so I wrote my review of Henri’s book in jail. And I typed it up. I loved the book and I’m sorry I can’t remember it. It’s just my age now I’m very forgetful. And then I thought, well, I’m gonna send it to Henri. And I wrote him a long letter about how I saw him at Peace Pentecost, how I got arrested. And I had the book and Patrick Hart wanted me to review it and I loved it and it helped me. It’s those three things about letting go based on the temptations of Jesus and the minister moving into powerlessness. Maybe you’ll remember the book.
Karen: I will. And I promise our listeners that they’ll get this book in our notes for this podcast. We’ll be sure to have it there, but I’m not going to offer up which one it is because there’s obviously almost 40 books. It’s hard to remember which one.
John: And Henri wrote me right back like that, the day he got my long letter and sent me five autographed books. And I wrote him right back and he wrote me right back and we wrote till the day he died. You know the day he died, I got a big package in the mail from him. He clearly had mailed it on the way to the airport or something. But several of us got letters. Now I was with friends who were on the phone with him. And then three times we were going to meet, he wrote me and said, I’m coming to Berkeley I’ll see you there. Of course, being a young whipper-snapper. I didn’t go.
Karen: So you had a good letter writing relationship, but you didn’t connect in person.
John: And I never connected with him in person. And I remember at that point I was in prison for a Plowshare’s action facing 20 years in prison. And I did 10 months in a tiny cell the size of a car. And I wrote to Henri from jail, “Hey look, this is what I’ve done. I want you to understand.” He wrote me right back and said, “I’m making a commitment to you.” And he wrote me every week. Now, I don’t know – by that I mean – so from his perspective, he’s in Toronto, I’m in the county jail in North Carolina, in a cell with Philip Berrigan and Henri knew Dan and Phil very well. He just felt responsibility toward me because he knew me as a seminarian. And then he almost came to my ordination. He would’ve, that would’ve been our first meeting. But his schedule was booked. He sent me this – I’ll never forget – I was getting in the car with a pile of Jesuits to drive to Baltimore, to be ordained a priest. And the UPS truck pulled up and there was a five-foot long box from Toronto. And all the Jesuits said, what the heck is this? What have you done now? And we all opened it up and it was four foot by five foot poster of the Return of the Prodigal Son.
Karen: Oh my goodness!
John: And it was mailed by Henri himself. I took it to you because it was all his handwriting and it just said, “A gift for your ordination.” But my point was, then I went and did this action and was in prison. And I think like every Monday morning in Toronto when he got to the office and I think this was when, was it Sue? Connie the secretary was still alive. And he just made sure that something was in the mail to me in jail every Monday. So by that, in the end, I think I have every book that he ever wrote signed to me. Or I have a lot of manuscripts from him and short letters or long letters or things, speeches with notes scrawled on it.
I don’t remember it all but he would write, “What can I do for you”? And I was writing, “Well, you can come and see me. You’re a priest you can get in to see me.” And that would’ve happened but I eventually got out sooner than I expected. And then I remember, which is in the big letters, if you see the big Love, Henri book, there’s three of his letters to me in there. And there’s a long letter to me in jail at the very end of the book. And he said, “Well, what exactly can I do for you?” And I wrote back in a handwritten pencil letter, “Well, we haven’t got to meet yet. So why don’t you tell me exactly what your life is like, what is it like to be Henri Nouwen?”
And you’ll see in the book, the long letter. It was like a three-page single spaced letter he wrote to me. My mother was a professor of nursing and after Henri died, I showed her the actual physical letter that I got in jail and she read it. I remember we were in the kitchen of my parents’ house and she said, “Well, no wonder he had a heart attack and died.” Because you read that letter as you read the journal of his last year, how did he live as long as he did? He was so tired and he was working like a maniac 24 /7. Anyway, that’s a lot longer answer. Sorry about that, Karen.
Karen: Oh, it’s so good. I really, really appreciate hearing that. It helps me so much. Now after Henri died, you did something which I thought was amazing. You have something to do with putting together The Road to Peace. Didn’t you come to Toronto and work on pulling that together?
John: Yeah, it was. So yes I did. I’ve done two books for Henri. One is The Road to Peace which was all his writings on peace and justice and the first version of his manuscript on peace. And then about five years ago, Orbis’ Robert Ellsberg and I went back and re-edited his manuscript on peace and published that as a stand-alone book, it’s called Peacework, which is great book. What happened there was also very interesting. When I say I got a package from him I didn’t know he was dying in Holland. He sent me a note and a copy of Can You Drink the Cup? Remember one of his last books while he was alive? And I was running this huge center for the poor in Richmond, Virginia, and I had been corresponding with Henri about it. It’s called the Sacred Heart Center for a thousand African American women and children. And I had 50 staff people and I had to raise $2 million a year to run it. And I don’t know how I did it. And I was writing him letters like, “Help. How do you be a contemplative in the midst of this?” Well, his book, I stayed up all night reading his book and I loved it so much. And he had a long note scrawled in the book. So, I sat down and wrote him a long letter saying, “I’m coming to Toronto to see you,” and I gave him three weekend dates over the next four months that I was free. And I just said, “Enough is enough.” And then I got a lot of phone calls that Henri had died, from his friends.
And we decided to drive to Toronto from DC to go to the funeral. And when I got there, we spent a couple of days there. Kathy Christie showed me my letter to Henri unopened on his desk. Of course, he never got it. I was shaken by that. And then they asked me to be one of the people to do the Prayers of the Faithful with Fred Rogers and others, so I met all of Henri’s friends and family very quickly and I was very moved by the funeral. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life to be at that funeral. The amount of love and humor, sense of resurrection was all amazing. And he became more of a real person to me than the famous person I was writing letters to. So, what happened is Art Laffin and I—this is more than you want to know, but nobody ever asked me about Henri, asked me – we had a car and you may remember the funeral was the big Church of the Transfiguration way out in the boondocks, in Markham, outside of Toronto. And then Henri is buried farther, even farther away, little tiny country cemetery. And for some reason, I mean, there was going to be a funeral procession, but I don’t like those. And I didn’t like the wait in the car and all that, I said to Art, let’s go and get there early. Not everybody was going to the actual burial . So Art and I drove way out in the country to the burial of Henri, which again, I think only maybe a hundred people were invited. I was invited to that and it was very peculiar. We couldn’t find it and we’d get there and we’re looking around and there’s nobody there in this little church cemetery except this big empty hole. Oh, now I know this sounds corny, but I’m standing over it and I’m going, hey Art, this is an empty tomb. And the way my mind works, I’m going, oh, Henri’s risen, Amen. And I was overwhelmed.
And I suddenly felt, now this is very confessional, I was pretty mean to Henri in some of my letters to him. And I’ve said this publicly, you may have heard me Karen. I’m a young activist in and out of jail and I know he’s written a manuscript on peace and he’s never published it. And I write him young activist, nasty letters as a Jesuit, ‘Why aren’t you doing more for peace?’ That’s exactly what he said in 1985 was not the question. And I think, I’m sure I must have hurt his feelings and it only hit me that moment at the grave. I was kind of overwhelmed with consolation, how nice he was to me especially when I was in jail. Now I can tell you, a lot of activists wrote me off and relatives and friends did not write to me. When Henri’s writing to me once a week he’s the last person I thought would do that. And that’s why he really is Henri Nouwen. I’ve learned a lot from that guy. I mean, talk about pastoral ministry to me as an ex-con in jail. And I wasn’t so nice to him.
So, there I am and I thought, it wasn’t guilt, but it was suddenly, oh my God. So it was the day of his funeral that was the first time I realized how nice Henri had been to me for 10 years. And regularly and faithfully. And I thought, oh I owe him, I gotta do something. So well actually at the funeral, I think we went back to L’Arche and I started asking around about the archives and Kathy said they’re all in Yale and nobody has ever looked at them. And I said, can I? She said, yes. So I took a week off from my work about three weeks later and drove to Yale and spent two or three days. And I was the first person really to go through Henri’s papers. That’s what Kathy Christy later told me. And I found all this stuff, Karen. Oh, that’s where I was the first person to find – it was clearly written in Dutch – his journal from attending the March on Selma. And he heard Martin Luther King speak. And he had never talked about that. And I’m yelling at him, “what have you done for peace”? And then I find he was a keynote speaker at all these demonstrations. He had been to the Nevada test site before me and I was on the board of the Nevada test site for 10 years, which is a big protest movement in Nevada where they test nuclear weapons.
And one of his letters to me, so I went back and studied his letters after the funeral, and he’s writing to me on the day the Persian Gulf war started January 15th, 1990. I’m getting arrested and organizing the movement, but he spoke to several thousand people in front of the White House at night, organized by Jim Wallis. That never sunk in with me. I’m telling him, what are you doing for peace? And he’s calmly telling me, a young activist whipper snapper, “You know, John, this peace work is really hard. I spoke to the crowd last night in DC and they don’t want to hear it.” Well, the crowd was 2000 people. That was amazing. So, I found all this stuff he’d done. And I think The Road to Peace is a great book and I wish everyone would get it and go back and reread it. There’s a lot of gold there.
Karen: It’s interesting to hear you talk about the history of this. It means so much to us because yes, I would encourage people to read that book and encourage them to read Peacework. I think it’s terrific. But I love hearing this history because I know that Henri – the tension for him was he definitely had an activist heart and a passion for justice and for rights and for peace. I wondered often if he was held back by the reality that he was a foreigner; he didn’t have U.S. citizenship and whether he worried about if he got arrested, whether they would kick him out.
John: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I either wrote down about that at some point or I’m sure he wrote to me because I knew that while he was alive. I’m in jail and he definitely wrote and said, “I thought about doing that, but of course I’m not a U.S. citizen.” And I would’ve probably written him some nasty thing like, “Well, you should do it anyway.” And later as I became friends with all his friends, I mean really became close friends with some of his friends. They told me, like Carrie who was living with Henri at L’Arche she used to talk with Henri about me a lot. And Henri had that kind of, “Well, I could never do what John is doing because I can’t get arrested.” Which now of course I totally agree with. But on the other hand, what I’m trying to report is he did an awful lot, he really was passionate about justice and passionate about the poor and peace. So, for example, he was close to hardcore activists, me, Dean Hammer and Art Laffin. He did not have to do that. And he helped Art and Dean a lot and he was kind of mentoring us or just ministering to us, being kind to us because he could clearly see we were angry young men. Angry about nuclear weapons and all. And he was too, but he could help us and he really helped me a lot, which is why I worked so hard on that book.
The introduction to that book is all my thoughts on Henri because I spent a year reflecting on the whole thing and up to then that was the best piece of writing I ever did. And there’s a lot. What I learned from Henri is all lined up in that introduction to The Road to Peace which still stands today. And I hope people get it. But he was great. And you know, he was doing so much, he was just trying to help everybody, I think, including peace and justice activists.
Karen: It’s wonderful to hear this. Sorry, go ahead.
John: Well, he wrote me a letter. Carolyn Whitney Brown told me that at the morning masses at L’Arche in the homily, while I’m in jail, he would read my letters, handwritten letters from jail for the homily.
Karen: Hmm. Isn’t that amazing.
John: Yeah. And the community didn’t like it.
Karen: Oh, interesting.
John: That’s more normal to me. And they said to him, “Why are you bothering us with that guy, that crazy activist who hammered on about nuclear weapons?” And Carolyn told me afterwards, and it’s in my introduction, that Henri said to the community, “This guy is so passionate about peace and getting rid of war and nuclear weapons we have to be as passionate about that too. And what we are doing here at L’Arche is the same passion for peace, but we have to articulate it to ourselves the way this guy’s articulated it.” And that silenced them and Carolyn thought, “Hey, this is fabulous.” She had met me and heard me speak at the Sojourner’s 20th anniversary. And she came back and gave Henri a tape of my talk. So I heard Henri speak at Sojourners and Henri went and then listened to my tape of my hour-long talk from Sojourners. And he came to Carolyn—this is an aside—but the thing that he was most interested in, he said, “How come John Dear gets to go and speak at Sojourners and they didn’t invite me again?”, which I thought was pretty funny.
Karen: His feelings could get hurt. There’s no two ways about that, but you know something…
John: But he wrote to me that, “My work at L’Arche and your work for peace is one work for peace.” And that was mysterious to me and helpful. Isn’t that great?
Karen: Oh, that’s lovely. That is so lovely to hear. And you are giving us such a rich insight into Henri from knowing him from a different position than many people know him. I really appreciate that. And I’m really going to encourage people to get those two books and read them. But there’s a book right in front of me that I also want to promote and it is called Praise be Peace. And it is by you John. It was the book you were setting out to do this 25-stop tour across North America on. Tell us a little bit about this book. I love it and it’s really a book that praises Praise be to Peace. Why did you write this one?
John: Well, actually a couple years ago, the publisher asked me to write it and I thought… they said we want you to write another book. This is a small press called 23rd Publications and on something about the scriptures. And I had written a little bit about the Psalms and like everybody, had read the Psalms and scriptures my whole life. And I thought, okay, I’ll do that. And I waited till I moved here to California. I had a big transition after 20 years in New Mexico. You heard me say, I live up here in Big Sur and here there’s a monastery,The Camaldoli Hermitage, Monastery. It’s Camaldolese, which is a very strict monastic community, Catholic community, but each Monk has their own Hermitage around the church. It’s very interesting. Merton loved them. So, I went, ‘How do you write about the Psalms?’ I hate the Psalms – like half of them. I shouldn’t say that. A lot of them are full of violence and war and my whole life is teaching peace and nonviolence. Well, if you look carefully about 40 or 50 of the 150 Psalms are totally anti-war and they’re all in praise of God for the wonders of creation. My last book was about war and climate change and nonviolence. It’s called They Will Inherit the Earth: Peace and Nonviolence in a Time of War and Climate Change. And I was basing it on the third Beatitude where Jesus says, ”Blessed are the meek,” which is all about nonviolence. And he connects nonviolence with, “They will inherit the earth,” with creation. So, you see nonviolence in Jesus’ mind. If you live a nonviolent life you are one with the earth. Well, we’re totally violent. We’re disconnected with the earth and here we have climate change. It all makes sense. Jesus was a genius among other things. Well, he got those lines from the Psalms.
Karen: You described Jesus as being meticulously nonviolent. I thought that was an interesting phrase for you to say.
John: He was totally nonviolent; very, very nonviolent. And his text was the Psalms. And I’m telling you 40 or 50 of the Psalms are radical anti-war Psalms and in celebration of creation. And that’s where you get the word meekness. It’s the only time it’s used in the Bible is in the Psalms of peace and the Psalms about creation. The meek will inherit the earth. That’s a line in one of the Psalms. So, I was up at the monastery and it all came to me one day about a year and a half ago. And I just outlined these 40 or 50 Psalms that are totally anti-war and pro peace. And I wrote little meditations on them and in the translations I don’t use the word God or him. I keep saying, “the God of peace.” So for example in – I just want to look it up here for one second, Psalm 46 has the line, “come and see the works of the God of peace who has done awesome deeds on earth, who stops wars to the ends of the earth, who breaks the war bow, who splinters the war spear and burns the war shields with fire,” who then says, “be still and know that I am the God of peace.” Have you ever in your life, Karen heard anyone talk about that line? God is ending all the wars and burning all the weapons of wars. I never heard anybody talk about that in my life.
Karen: No, I found it so powerful. I found that this little book is a treasure. I really have enjoyed it. And you’ve caused me to see God in a fresh light. I mean, the fact that every time you refer to God, it’s the God of peace. Really, it forced me to go back to the scriptures and say, does it always say the God of peace? It doesn’t, but that’s how you have brought him it through in this. You’ve introduced me to the God of peace in a fresh way, in a deep way.
John: It all goes back to my experience in Galilee in 1982, because I spent months on that line, ”Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called the sons and daughters of God.” Well that means you are sons and daughters of God, because God is a peacemaker, which means God is the God of peace. Pope Francis has been using this phrase and you know, we’re working to get Pope Francis to write an encyclical on peace and nonviolence. I think it’s going to happen. But this is not a new phrase, but we need to say that and help unpack these great texts that say, if you worship God, you are working to end war and you’re practicing nonviolence. And you’re one with creation and therefore… so the book is called Praise be Peace: Psalms of Peace and Nonviolence in a Time of War and Climate Change. And my idea was that these teachings and Psalms can help us go forward to live in solidarity with the earth and work and climate change. By the way, it also works when you’re under pandemic.
Karen: It does, it does.
John: Spiritual reading in this time. In fact, I hope people would get the book.
Karen: I pulled something out this morning which I thought was just beautiful. I’m just going to read it for our audience because I felt like this really captures how valuable this text is in the very things that we’re going through right now. And you write, “Even if all hell is breaking loose around us, God will protect those who take refuge in God.” Here, for example is Psalm 3, the portion you choose, “God of peace you are a shield around me, my glory. You keep my head high. Whenever I cried out to the Lord, I was answered from the holy mountain. Whenever I lay down and slept the Lord sustained me to rise again. I am not afraid if 10,000 people array against me on every side. Safety comes from the God of peace.”
And you go on in Psalm 4 we hear the same, “Answer me when I call, my saving God. In my troubles you cleared a way. Show me favor, hear my prayer. You have given my heart more joy than they who have when grain and wine bound. I shall lie down and sleep in peace for you alone God, God of peace make me secure. If we take refuge in God and call upon God for help and trust in God, God will protect us. Answer our call, be with us and give us peace.”
I think this book is a treasure and you have a big vision for calling us all to be peacemakers. But I also felt like it has a voice of peace to the very hour we’re living through right now. Clearly people are deeply traumatized by what’s going on around them. The world has changed overnight. And I just love to kind of hear from you again about, in a sense, you bringing a word of peace to us in the circumstances we’re all living in and sharing in around the world.
John: Well, thank you so much. Well everything is an invitation to prayer and Henri would say that. So, this time when the rug has been pulled up from all of our lives, in fact, the whole world, we’ve none of us have ever been through anything like this. And it’s just overwhelming. And meanwhile, the violence and poverty continues and so many people could die. Well, it’s an invitation to turn back to God and if you’re under lockdown to spend more time intentionally with the God of peace in prayer and meditation. Certainly, I invite everybody to take a half hour or an hour alone with Jesus every day during the lockdown, and then try to make that the regular path for the rest of their lives. And go back to the scriptures to deepen your faith in God. Also use this time to deepen your nonviolence, to be more nonviolent to yourself and nonviolent toward others and be really attentive and mindful about being nonviolent because we have to care for one another and just to be praying for the whole human race. And it’s a prayer of repentance that we would turn away from a culture of violence and the destruction of the earth and not having healthcare for others and so forth that the whole world would like wake up and welcome Jesus’s kingdom of justice and peace.
But ultimately for me personally, and I think for us Karen, it’s an invitation to prayer, to go and be with God and ask God to help us individually and the whole world. Maybe it’s like never before in our lives because I think the world will never be the same. And the hope is, and what we’re talking about in the movement is that this has to become an opportunity to wake people up and change for the better. 9/11 was an opportunity and we didn’t use it. It was used as a trigger event to lead to the deaths of another million people in Iraq, in Afghanistan. That could happen with this too. We all need to wake up in prayer, but also prepare to redouble our efforts in the movement to work for a new world of justice and peace because the empire’s going to use it to bring further death and destruction unless we’re all more involved than ever. So those are some of my thoughts.
Karen: Oh, that is rich. And it’s particularly meaningful. I’m going to want this to go out really this Easter weekend, to be honest with you, because I think as we are in a sense held back from our usual rituals for Easter and for this time of year, it’s a wonderful opportunity to deepen. In a sense, like you were alone at the side of an empty grave, we are alone at the side of an empty grave and really asking the Prince of Peace, the God of peace to become profoundly and deeply centering us and leading us into the world that we are responsible for and the world that we’re going back into. Things may return, not necessarily to what we call normal, but they will go on from this place. We’re going to be standing on the trauma of this and the impact of it for years to come and in the midst of it.
John: Yeah, it’s very strange that it’s about where we are entering the Easter season. And resurrection means peace and nonviolence means having nothing to do with death. And it’s a good time. I mean, what happened at Easter is Jesus came and said, “Peace, be with you, peace, be with you.” That’s his Easter gift to us. And what we want to do as Easter people in this time is really welcome his resurrection gift of peace. And that means like we are really going to become peacemakers, peaceful people like Jesus, nonviolent like Jesus. And use this time wisely to become public peacemakers when the time is lifted. I urge people to go and be with the risen Jesus and really receive his gift of peace, which is wonderful. It’s a blessing and there’s hope there.
Karen: Oh John, thank you so much. Thank you so much for this. This is rich. You’ve given our listeners something special. I thank you so much for being with us and I’ll make sure that links to your books, links to “take the pledge”. There’s all sorts of rich things here. The Campaign for Nonviolence national conference, which I think probably is up in the air, I’m sure. Because who knows when we will be able to gather again.
John: Hey, that Henri book, Karen, I remember it’s called In the Name of Jesus. That’s the one that I wrote the review of in jail. But I’d love people to check out our group campaignnonviolence.org. And my website is johndear.org.
Karen: I promise you all those details will be in the web notes. Thank you so much, John. This was a delight for me, I really enjoyed your company in this. Thank you.
John: God bless you.
Karen: God bless.
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