by Pat Hoertdoerfer
We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,
tied in a single garment of destiny.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…
One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant
goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
The most serious issues facing the world today are issues of justice and peace. Terrorism, gun violence, hunger, poverty, wealth inequality, discrimination, torture, pollution, depletion of natural resources, and global warming are all issues of justice and peace. Although the magnitude and urgency of these problems are unprecedented in human history, issues of justice and peace have always been central concerns of human beings. Yet today we seem to be at a critical threshold.
Remembering what we understand about the interdependency of justice and peace, we know that each requires the other. Peace and Justice are in a relationship that expresses both absence and presence:
The absence of uncontrolled violence within the individual’s psyche, and the presence of the sense of wholeness, self-worth, and empowerment;
The absence of interpersonal violence, and the presence of interpersonal justice in which justice is defined as fairness and the respect due to each person by right;
The absence of violence among people of different nations, religions, and cultures, and the presence of justice based upon nonviolence, effective communication, conflict resolution, and cooperation; and
The absence of destruction of the natural environment, and the presence of reverence for nature, with human behavior guided both by this reverence and by an understanding of our status in the interdependence of nature.
Throughout the centuries, wise ones among us served as living examples of nonviolent engagement in dismantling oppression. Mahatma Gandhi expressed the heart of social justice transformation with his list of “Seven Social Sins”:
- Politics without principle
- Wealth without work
- Commerce without morality
- Pleasure without conscience
- Education without character
- Science without humanity
- Worship without sacrifice
Gandhi’s activist strategy seeks to hold up a mirror to oppressors to help them see how ugly and self-defeating their exploitation is. Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights leadership embodied a similar nonviolent strategy.
In 2016 we witnessed a unique gathering of frontline communities. The Standing Rock Water Protectors practicing the art of collective resistance against a most powerful United States oil industry while being a living prayer. And the broader Standing Rock resistance comprised of seven Lakota and Dakota Nations alongside 30 other Indigenous Nations—an unprecedented initiative, yet its roots are centuries old. While you are probably aware of this 2016 gathering, let’s understand its context again:
“The 500 year-long impact of Colonialism on First Nation People inflicted one of the largest genocides in human history, alongside mass invasion of Native lands, a litany of broken treaties, legislated cultural oppression including removal of children through forced Christianized education at boarding ‘schools’, and ongoing marginalization of Indigenous rights. This generational domination remains firmly in place, as illustrated by the State of North Dakota attempting to force, through intimidation and violence, the Sioux Tribe to accept what white society, a few dozen miles away at Bismarck city, rejected; the Dakota Pipeline through the heart of their community.” (Thanissara, “Standing Rock: Being a Living Prayer & the Art of Collective Resistance” November 28, 2016.)
Standing Rock offers an indigenous template of Lakota values, linking ideal goals of peace and justice to real processes. The elders (and youngsters) who carried the knowledge of their traditions and the wisdom of their hearts walked in truth and dignity. At the heart of the prayerful, ceremonial resistance is the commitment to nonviolence and respect for the sacredness within all life. Standing Rock Water Protectors spoke these words: “What should be remembered is that it began with the children calling us to pray with the Elders. Fighting from violence disrespects the ancestors. You must pray for yourself … take out your pain and put love in your heart instead. Respect Mother Earth. She will heal us.”
A recent interview, “Where Does It Hurt?”, caught my eye and captured my heart and soul with its prophetic wisdom, honesty, and spirit. It is with civil rights icon Ruby Sales, by Krista Tippett of On Being. Ruby Sales names “a spiritual crisis of White America” as a calling of this time. Here’s a taste of the interview and I invite you to read and/or listen to the entire probing conversation as she seeks to reimagine the public good of theology for this century. (www.onbeing.org/wheredoesithurt?)
Ruby begins: “I grew up in the South. I’m from three generations of Southern Baptist preachers. And I was bred on black folk religion. It was a religion that combined the ideals of American democracy with a theological sense of justice. It was a religion that said that people who were considered property and disposable were essential in the eyes of God and even essential in a democracy, although we were enslaved. And it was a religion where the language and the symbols were accessible…
“Our parents were spiritual geniuses who created a world and a language where the notion that I was inadequate or inferior or less-than never touched my consciousness. I grew up believing that I was a first-class human being and a first-class person, and our parents were able to shape a counterculture of black folk religion that raised us from disposability to being essential players in society. And it also taught us something serene about love—I love everybody. I love everybody in my heart. And so “hate” was not anything in our vocabulary.”
Later Ruby Sales talks about Black Lives Matter: “Although we are familiar with Black Lives Matter within a contemporary context, what has always been the cry of African Americans, from the point of captivity through enslavement to Southern apartheid and Northern migration and de facto segregation, was the assertion that black lives matter in a society that said that black people were property, in a society that said that black lives did not matter. And part of what happened after—post-civil rights, Southern freedom movement—is that people thought that what the movement had been about was jobs, position, status, when in fact it had not been about that at all. It had been about—when King talked about “the mountaintop,”—a higher level of consciousness… where we harmonized the ‘I’ with the ‘we’ and the ’we’ with the ‘I’.”
She asks the essential questions: “I think one of the things we have to deal with is—how is it that we develop a theology or theologies in a 21st-century capitalist technocracy where only a few lives matter? How do we raise people up from disposability to essentiality? And this goes beyond the question of race. What is it that public theology can say to the white person who has been told that their whole essence is whiteness and power and domination, and when that no longer exists, then they feel as if they are dying? Where is the theology that redefines for them what it means to be fully human?”
After reflecting on these peace and justice activists of our time—Natives at Standing Rock and Ruby Sales with Black Lives Matter—let’s pause to learn the lessons and reflect on the meanings of their words and actions.
Poet Drew Dellinger names the essence of our time as a fundamental clash of worldviews:
“The Water Protectors at Standing Rock are challenging much more than a pipeline. They are confronting and transforming the cosmology of the modern world and its destructive, unjust economy.
“Like the Movement for Black Lives which is a direct challenge to 400 years of white supremacist worldview, the visionary resistance at Standing Rock is leading our way into the future. By connecting ecology, social justice, and worldview, and using the power of spirituality, dream, story, art, prayer, and action, these movements are bringing forth—in practice and politics and society—what is needed most: a cosmology of interconnectedness.” (Drew Dellinger “Cosmology and Justice” Blog)
These activists for a just and peaceful world offer to us a stimulus for action and a standard by which to judge our efforts. Peace and justice are integral parts of the process by which their goals are sought. The means for achieving peace and justice must be congruent with the ends of peace and justice.
We are all peace makers and justice builders: within our own psyches… in our relationships with all members of the human family… in our roles as global citizens… and in our identity as human beings living on Mother Earth.
Pat Hoertdoerfer is a mother to 4 adult children, partner to Manfred for 50+ years, Oma to 7 grandchildren, and enjoys retirement living in the lakes region of New Hampshire. Through her many decades, she has lived her passions of sharing stories around a campfire, engaging multigenerational spiritual growth and participating in cross-cultural adventures. Rev. Patricia Hoertdoerfer is a professional educator and a retired Unitarian Universalist minister who practiced her leadership in academic institutions, congregations, community organizations, UU camps and conference centers, and interfaith communities over the past 40 years. As a certified Sage-ing® Leader, she is currently sharing her ministry with elders while engaging in service to future generations.
Thank you! Words/feelings that call me to further action; I honor you and your message to us all
Pat, to me the key question you pose is “Where is the theology that redefines ….. what it means to be fully human?” Holding collectively a clear answer to that question with a steadfast commitment to strive for that state would serve us all well.
“We are all peace makers and justice builders: within our own psyches… in our relationships with all members of the human family… in our roles as global citizens… and in our identity as human beings living on Mother Earth.” Thank you, for this inspiring article at this critical time in the health of our nation and the planet. You articulate clearly the path we can take to make a difference. This post is timely and has inspired me to walk in a rally on Saturday in Savannah to protest the unspeakable policy effecting asylum seekers and their families. With gratitude for your commitment and inspired leadership, Pat!
Thank you for this insightful and useful article. Lifting up the voices of Black and LatinX leaders, particularly women like Ruby Sales, is vitally important. As.Ms. Sales says, there is, indeed, a crisis of spirituality in White America. As I add my voice and energy to a local multi-racial, intergenerational social justice movement, I am realizing anew that “The first revolution is within,” or, as you put it “We are all peace makers and justice builders within our own psyches.”
Thank you Pat for this important message at a time when we see exclusion and wall builders trying to dominate the discussion. Thank you for your leadership at this critical time, especially in setting the example of the power of elder voices. ” if not now,- when”.