Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called the sons and daughters of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice,
for theirs is the reign of heaven.
Matthew 5:9-12, The Beatitudes
The Beatitudes often come in handy for someone like Father John Dear, a 49-year-old Jesuit priest who has dedicated his life to a path of nonviolence. Like Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many other change agents before him, the passion for peace has only paved the way to prison.
While described by some as “abundantly courageous,” the U.S. government regards the peace activist, lecturer and author of 20 books and hundreds of articles on nonviolence as a high-level terrorist. In fact, he has been arrested more than 75 times “for the cause of human decency” and spent more than a year of his life in a tiny jail cell due to nonviolent acts of civil disobedience.
Parish priest and Peace Prize nominee
John was arrested on December 7, 1993, at the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C., for hammering on an F15 nuclear fighter bomber.
But for now he is a free man, standing before a crowd in Sedona, Ariz., looking more like any normal parish priest about to say daily Mass and maybe hear a few benign confessions from local grandmothers who have never seen the inside of a prison. Yet this ordinary clergyman was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The long list of exhausting nonviolent endeavors in global locales does not offer an appealing or luxurious travel itinerary. John’s peace work has taken him to El Salvador, where he lived and worked in a refugee camp; to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Middle East, Colombia, and the Philippines; to Northern Ireland where he lived and worked at a human rights center for a year; and to Iraq, where he led a delegation of Nobel Peace Prize winners to witness the effects of the deadly sanctions on Iraqi children.
Soft-spoken but passionate, Father Dear exudes an amazing sense of grace and calm after weathering so many violent storms. For someone whose work has taken him to some of the most strife-torn parts of the world – from working with Mother Teresa in India to Ground Zero in New York shortly after 9/11 – the first thing that strikes people is the profound serenity of his face.
Starting point: the back yard
As though he were able to read people’s minds, he poses the question everyone in the Sedona crowd is already pondering: How can someone live as a peacemaker in today’s world?
Father Dear answers his own compelling question with a quote from Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords with plowshares…” before continuing his explanation.
“A global movement of people coming together for unity and peace begins on the local level, right in our back yards,” he says. “It’s a Herculean undertaking, and the journey’s the thing. All we have to do is stay on it and stay committed to it, one step at a time.”
While Dear currently resides in New Mexico – when he’s not taking up residency in some unwelcome jail – that journey began in his own North Carolina back yard as a student at Duke University.
Frat boy to faithful follower
According to Loyola Press, publisher of his latest book,A Persistent Peace, Father Dear’s “unflappable social activism and persistence in speaking and acting on behalf of peace stems from his life-changing decision in college to leave behind his frat-boy lifestyle and instead become a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. That decision has, over many years, led him to live out the Beatitudes of the nonviolent Jesus not only through social activism but in every dimension of his life.”
How does a “frat-boy” shift from college parties to global war zones in his quest for peace?
The book “invites readers to follow the decades-long journey of social activism and spiritual growth and to witness his bold, decisive, often unpopular actions before government officials, military higher-ups and even hostile representatives of the Church.”
From his conversion to Christianity and calling to the priesthood to the “extreme dangers and delights of a life dedicated to truly living out the radical, forgiving love of Jesus,” Father Dear’s stirring saga of social activism touches those who believe in the power of peace.
“Perhaps most important of all, readers will come to understand through John that the most essential disarmament is the one that happens inside each heart—when we finally let go of our own self-righteousness, resentment and anger,” Loyola Press concludes.
A constant agenda
Father Dear cites some astounding statistics that serve as the catalyst for his nonviolent campaigns.
“There are 35 wars happening right now, 3 billion people living in extreme poverty, 900 million facing hunger and a war on the poor, on children and on the earth,” he claims. “Since March 2003, 1.2 million Iraqi civilians have been killed and 15,000 of our troops have committed suicide.”
Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., he reminds everyone: “It’s not about war or peace; it’s either nonviolence or nonexistence. We have to stand up and say NO to the culture of war by becoming the new abolitionists and be daring.
We must refuse to be silent,” he urges, “in war or in health care. Refuse to live in fear – NOW, today – not some far-off era.”
And then Father Dear recites the most revolutionary words in all of literature.
“Love your enemies,” he declares. “Love them not because it’s right or moral but because God loves them. Infinite grace hovers over us, loves us and empowers us like a mother over her child. We are each the beloved apple of God’s eye. Turn to the gospel of nonviolence, which holds the key to social justice. We are already one and need to share that common unity with all creatures.”
No dull moments
What’s next on Father Dear’s exciting itinerary of world peace?
After giving 75 talks across the U.S. on non-violence through early 2009, he will travel to Iran for a peace mission in February. Then the organizing begins for an upcoming rally with five Nobel Peace Prize winners at the Los Alamos National Laboratoryin New Mexico.
As one of the largest science and technology institutions in the world, the lab was built in 1939 for The Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear weapon(atomic bomb). It remains one of two such facilities in the U.S. concentrating on classified work in the design of nuclear weapons.
“As I ponder God’s spirituality of nonviolence, I marvel at the dramatic contrast the Beatitudes present to the culture’s spirituality of violence,” he writes. “The Beatitudes are the primary text, the basic guidelines of nonviolence. Only, as we let go of everything we possess to the point of giving our lives for others, do we let go of every trace of violence or domination. This is a great and difficult lesson − the beginning of wisdom.”
John: I think the next place your life journey should take you is Syria or maybe Iran. They need you there more than anywhere. Your words of enlightenment will fill them and they will all hug and be as one. They will stop killing thousands in the name of Allah. War has never solved anything, except for ending slavery, fascism, Nazism and communism. But don't let reality get in the way. Just keep on preaching one-sided disarmament and you too one day will be a slave or prisoner.
San Diego, Calif.
Keeping the Peace
A walk with those who
chose the path less traveled
By Catherine J. Rourke
Published January 15, 2009
Have you ever wanted to meet Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., or even Henry David Thoreau and learn more about the personal details of their lives that influenced millions of others?
Now, you can.
In their book Great Peacemakers, True Stories from Around the World (LTS Press, 2008), Sedona authors Ken Beller and Heather Chase offer intimate glimpses into the triumphs and tribulations of 20 inspiring individuals from around the world who chose peace as their path in life — from a Vietnamese monk and a Brazilian musician to a Swedish children’s author and an Iranian-American architect.
Organized into five sections, or paths to peace — Choosing Nonviolence, Living Peace, Honoring Diversity, Valuing All Life and Caring for the Planet — each section of the book profiles the true-life stories of four people who exemplify that journey. These include famous leaders as well as lesser-known individuals from recent history who have made, or are making, a positive difference in the world.
What made them tick?
Walk with Thoreau in the woods and with Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta. Watch chimpanzees in the Tanzanian forest with Jane Goodall and explore seaside pools with Rachel Carson. Then discover the common vein of truth they all share through the seemingly small but profound details of their personal lives.
Take Thoreau, for example. Did you know that he was the son of a quiet pencil maker? After taking a teaching job, he resigned just two weeks later for refusing to administer corporal punishment to his students — an unjust command he refused to obey.
One enlightening passage offers a timely message for 21st century Americans as their workplace and security structures disintegrate, with looming foreclosures and pensions turning to dust:
…Thoreau wanted nothing to do with a typical career because, to him, it was a trap. It locked people into working their lives away in jobs that they did not enjoy, that did not contribute to the true betterment of humanity, and that plundered the environment, only to get money to buy things they did not really need and that did not bring them lasting joy. In short, Thoreau believed that people were so engrossed in making a living that they did not live, and he observed, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” To Thoreau, this was a tragic waste of time, natural resources, and human potential. Through simple living, Thoreau hypothesized that people could break out of this trap and thereby enjoy greater freedom and happiness.
Accolades and awards
Endorsed by many prominent individuals, including heads of state and Nobel Peace Prize recipients, Great Peacemakers has already received numerous literary awards including:
An International Peace Writing Award from The Peace and Justice Studies Associationand the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice, and Ecology for writing in support of nonviolent peacemaking and peacemakers.
The Skipping Stones Honor Award from Skipping Stones magazine for books that encourage an understanding of the world's diverse cultures, nature and ecological richness, and promote cooperation, nonviolence, respect for differing viewpoints and close relationships in human societies
Four National Indie Excellence Book Awards, including First Prize overall for outstanding work by independent publishers and authors.
Two National Best Book Awards from USA Book News for outstanding books from mainstream and independent publishers in the World History and Historical Biography categories.
Madelyn Blair, Ph.D., cofounder of The Center for the Study of Peace, describes the book as bringing “to light story after story of how peace is created one person at a time. If you have ever thought you couldn’t make a difference in this world, just read this book,” she writes.
With unique insights and inspiring quotations from each profiled peacemaker to enlighten readers, Great Peacemakers should be present in every waiting room in America.
About the authors
A closer look into the background of the authors themselves reveals a husband-and-wife team whose own endeavors echo the integrity and visionary qualities of the very peacemakers characterized in their book:
Ken Beller is cofounder and president of Near Bridge, Inc., a consulting firm that links values to the bottom line and specializes in generational and cultural diversity, visionary leadership and global sustainability. He is the lead author of the highly praised book, The Consistent Consumer: Predicting Future Behavior Through Lasting Values (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2005). Beller has worked in more than 20 countries leading innovative programs for some of the world’s most prominent companies and organizations.
Ken Beller and Heather Chase
Founder of Models with Conscience, an international group dedicated to promoting animal-friendly and environmentally-conscious products and causes, HeatherChase is also the author of Beauty without the Beasts: a Guide to Cruelty-Free Personal Care (Lantern Books, 2001). She has received a Positive Notes Award from the Earth Island Journal and a Giraffe Award from The Giraffe Project for “sticking her neck out for the common good.”
Together, the authors are working to promote peaceful and sustainable living throughout the world.
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