If You Want Peace…

There is an old Roman proverb that states si vis pacem, para bellum — if you want peace, prepare for war. This was mindset of empire, and it has been the mindset which has continued to this day, bringing endless wars and never bringing the false promise of peace. When we invest our time, energy, and resources into preparing for war, it seems to be no surprise that the result is a continuation of warfare. Truly we shall reap that which we sow. Thousands of years of human history have shown us time and time again that using violence or preparing to use violence is a terrible strategy for preventing violence, and while this seems tragically obvious, it is a lesson we as a society have not yet seemed to learn.

In his message for World Peace Day in 1972, Pope Paul VI wrote a profound statement wherein he declared, “If you want peace, work for justice.” This became a popular bumper sticker (one which I admit to having on my own vehicle at this time), but it is much more than that. It is a complete reversal of the message of empire; a truth which Jesus taught two millennia ago, but which as still yet to be taken seriously be the world, including those who identify as Christians; it is a truth which is valid for all regardless of faith tradition (or lack thereof). We simply cannot continue on this path of investing in and waging warfare for the supposed goal of peace.

If we want peace, we must work for peace, but we cannot settle for a “peace” which is simply the lack of conflict, for a peace build on a foundation of injustice is no true peace. True peace can only be achieved when built on the foundation of justice for all. We all want peace, so maybe we should lay down our swords, beat them into plowshares, and put those tools to use planting the seeds of justice, which will grow into the mighty trees of peace.

Answering the Call: A Brief Tale About How I Found Myself In Seminary

“Change makes you find your calling, your legacy, and God’s divine plan for your life. Don’t run from it.”
—Iman

About a month ago, I packed everything I owned into the back of my mother’s Prius and, along with my mom and my 9-year-old niece, set out to Richmond, Indiana from my lifetime home of Portland, Oregon. The reason? To begin seminary at the Earlham School of Religion, where I am working on my M.Div. with a focus on peace and justice. Several months ago, if you had told me that I would be starting seminary in August, I would have thought you were mad, and yet here I am. But as unexpected as the change was to me at the time, looking back, it’s really not all that surprising at all.

A few months ago I wrote about how I had been planning to pursue a future in multiple sclerosis research, and in fact, I had been eyeing a Ph.D. program at Penn State on the neuropsychology of MS which I was fairly convinced I should be a natural candidate for. As I mentioned in my MS blog post, I had been doing a lot of work in neuroscience and neuropsychology, in the areas of study, research, and educating (as both a teaching assistant and doing outreach to K-12 schools). But then, everything changed.

While catching up with an old friend over some tea one day, I was telling her about my plans, when suddenly I found myself saying, “but there’s still that part of me that can’t stop thinking about getting my M.Div and going on to do chaplaincy.” This had been something I had thought about for several years, dating to my time as a religious studies student at Marylhurst University until they dissolved that undergraduate program and I left feeling a sense of defeat. But now, suddenly, this was no longer a silent thought, but something that had been given vocal power, and it put me in a situation where I couldn’t escape the thought, which was coming up nearly constantly at this point. I finally asked myself the question: If I chose one path vs. the other path, what would each path feed? My answer to this question was that to pursue a Ph.D. in neuropsychology would do a really good job at feeding my ego, but pursuing my M.Div. would feed my soul. At that point, the matter was no longer an open question.

At this point, I began exploring schools. It was important to me that I found a school where I could pursue my M.Div. that would align with my deeply held values and convictions. It very quickly discovered the Earlham School of Religion, which is a Quaker seminary in Richmond, Indiana. To my surprise, not only did they meet all of the requirements that I needed to be met to feel comfortable studying there, they even offer an M.Div. with an emphasis on peace & justice, and with that, I felt very strongly that this was where I should be, so I gave it some time to pray about, but the sense that I needed to be there only grew stronger. I applied and I was accepted, and I couldn’t be happier.

Little Lambs, Vicious Wolves: A Poem

Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” (Luke 10:3 NRSV)

You are being sent out, little lambs from the flock;
danger will follow you around the clock.
You will be hunted wherever you roam,
but the reward will be a heavenly home.

The wolves will surround you both day and night;
with perils to be found to the left and the right.
They will be vicious and they will be cruel,
and know that they side with the rich that rule.

The wolves have a system of oppression to defend;
a system of violence which the lambs must transcend.
The wolves will crush you, or stone you, or eat you alive;
so stay close to the Shepherd so you can survive.

The wolves count as allies those with power and gold,
the kings, priests, and landlords are in their fold.
The lambs must be different, so to speak,
embracing the poor, the powerless, and the meek.

The wolf is a creature who lives by what it knows,
so beware of hungry wolves dressed in sheep’s clothes (cf. Mt. 7:15).
A wolf may be honest, or he may be a liar,
But the wolf is devoted to the wicked empire.

Keep an eye on the dens of these hungry beasts,
beware of the Temple, of the scribes and the priests.
“Its officials within it are like wolves tearing the prey,
shedding blood, destroying lives to get dishonest gain” (Ez. 22:27).

Little lamb—so vulnerable, so innocent, and so pure,
the troubles of this world will bring much to endure.
So follow the teachings of your Shepherd—the LORD,
for one day the order of peace will be restored.

The Grail King: A Spiritual Quest in a Material World

The following was a short essay I wrote about the spiritual quest present in the Grail King stories within the Arthurian mythos several years ago while taking an Arthurian Legends course at Mt. Hood Community College.

What is it that makes one worthy of being the Grail king? In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s medieval tale, Parzival, Gawain is a caring knight, always looking to avoid conflicts when possible, and living up to a very high standard of honor; Parzival, on the other hand, bumbles through life, usually with little concern for others, and often engaging in battle – even to the extent that he fights several knights at one point without even realizing it. And yet it is Parzival, not Gawain, who is destined to become the Grail king. Why?

Parzival may be confused, and far from perfect, but he has, I believe, the seed of spirituality within him. He was not, like many, raised with a religious doctrine, but was instead completely ignorant of God as a child. When he asks his mother what God is, she gives him an oversimplified answer, telling him that God is, “He who took on a shape in the likeness of Man is brighter than the sun”[1]. Without much more information than that to go on, Parzival sees some knights in their shining armor and assumes they must be God. This, to me, symbolized the importance of when Parzival is setting out on his great spiritual quest, he knows nothing of spirituality or religion at all. As Parzival stumbles through life, he comes to learn to hate God; here we see Parzival having a crisis of faith of sorts, before he has any faith at all.

With time, Parzival becomes more and more aware of the world around him. With the help of his uncle – the hermit Trevrizent – Parzival is able to germinate that spiritual seed within – a seed uncorrupted by dogma – and flower to become a truly spiritual and compassionate person who is ultimately successful in healing the Fisher King and becoming the new Grail king himself.

Gawain on the other hand, as has already been stated, is an overall good man, caring and wise to the ways of the world, but yet he is lacking that seed of spirituality that is within Parzival. As the great scholar, Joseph Campbell once put it:

Gawain is a lady’s knight; he is the counterweight to Parzival. Parzival is young, this is an older and sophisticated man, a very gracious man who is a man of the world and Gawain’s adventure… is in balance and counter-play to Parzival’s. Parzival’s is that of the ideal of life, the youth who for Heaven’s sake meets just the right girl in just the right moment that way, Gawain never did, so Gawain is the rest of us you might say.[2]

Gawain is, in many ways, that which the majority of us would aspire to be; His quest is a noble one when concerning material things, and he is rewarded with the kingship of the castle of Marvels in return. Parzival, on the other hand, is not the greatest at worldly things but comes to embrace that which is reserved for very few: true spiritual attainment. It is this spiritual attainment, encompassed in his growth from ignorant fool to one with a true sense of compassion, that makes him suitable for the role of the Grail king.

References:
1. ^ Eschenbach, Wolfram Von (1980). Parzival. Trans. A. T. Hatto. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin. ISBN: 0140443614. Buy now.

2. ^ Campbell, Joseph. “The Joseph Campbell Audio Collection Vol 6: Western Quest.” Lecture. ISBN: 1565117352. Buy now.

Movement of Jah People: An Exegesis on Exodus 12:37-42 (with Retreat)

The following exegetical essay was written in 2014 for a class I took on the Torah while studying at Marylhurst University. 

1. Introduction

The story of the Israelite slaves and their exodus from Egypt is one of the most well-known biblical stories, and it has served as an inspiration for other downtrodden groups looking for hope of escape from the bondage of oppression. It is from this iconic story of liberation that our investigation begins, and it tells us that when the Israelites departed Egypt on their legendary journey, they had others with them. On the cusp of their departure from Egypt, we are told in Exodus 12:37-42:

The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds. They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations.[1]

How can we better understand this text? How it has been understood throughout the ages by both Jews and Christians, and what, if anything, can we glean from looking for Ancient Near Eastern similarities? To begin, we must take a closer look at the text.

2. Close Reading of the Text

Reading the text closely, I came up with a list of questions, some of which I will attempt to answer below and others which are beyond the scope of this study. Some of these questions were: Where is Rameses? Where is Succoth? What is the distance between the two places? If we know how many men there were, how many women and children may there have been? Who were the mixed crowds that went up with the Israelites? Why did they go with them? What happened to them? What kinds of animals may have been in the flocks and herds? If the Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years, how long were they slaves there? Why do the Israelites have the command to remember the event but the mixed crowd that went with them does not? Is it possible to extrapolate from the fact that there was a mixed crowd that went up out of Egypt with the Israelites the idea that all people—specifically all oppressed people—are God’s people?

3. Grammatical Criticism (Verb Analysis)

Below you will find a list of each of the English verbs found in our passage, accompanied by the subject, mood, tense, and voice, along with whether or not the verb is being used in a question (which it never does in this passage).

4. Word Study

We will now take a look at each Hebrew word in our passage and, when an entry exists in the lexicon, use that information to extrapolate the meaning of the word in our passage:

5. Historical and Literary Criticism / Analysis of Social World

Understanding the historical and literary construct of our passage requires us to attempt to find the original source of our text. Verses 37-39, according to Brevard S. Childs, is probably from the J source[2]. Verses 40-42, according to Childs, is easily distinguished as having a priestly (P) source. This passage has long served as part of the foundation for the annual Jewish Pesach (Passover) festival.

It is important to note that the events in our passage happen in Egypt, before the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, but just as the multitudes are fleeing their Egyptian masters to ultimately seek refuge in the wilderness. The participants have just been witness to the ten plagues, we can assume they have just managed to hold onto the lives of their first born children by obeying Moses’ command to put the blood of a lamb above their doors, and now they are fleeing Egypt to participate in a slave revolt of truly biblical proportions.

The text tells us that “The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth” (Exod 12:37a). The commentary in Etz Hayim suggests a possible location for Rameses:

Raamses can be none other than the famous delta residence built by and named after Pharaoh Ramses II; its beauty and glory are extolled in poems still extant. The city was situated in “the region of Goshen,” a phrase that is synonymous with “the region of Rameses,” where the Israelites lived.[3].

Later in the commentary, Etz Hayim says that Rameses “served as the assembly point for the departing Israelites” (388). Rabbinic tradition has it that “Rameses itself encompassed a large area, some eight leagues (24 miles) in diameter” (Culi 103). To find the possible location of Succoth, we again turn to Etz Hayim:

[Succoth] is apparently Egyptian Tjeku, mentioned on several monuments and in a hieroglyphic papyrus. It is said to have been a day’s journey from the royal palace at Rameses. Tjeku was the capital of the eight nome of Lower Egypt in the eastern part of the Delta. The region is known to have served as pastureland for Semitic tribes and was the usual Egyptian gateway to and from Asia.[3]

The next area of interest in our passage is that concerning the עֵ֥רֶב רַ֖ב—these erev ravare the mixed crowds, also commonly translated as mixed multitudes, that left with the Israelites. As the text tells us, “A mixed crowd also went up with them…” (Exod. 12:38a). According to one Rabbinic source, these were converts:

Besides the native-born Israelites, a huge number of proselytes left Egypt with them. These were Egyptians and other gentiles, who had seen Israel’s glory in Egypt, and had converted to the Hebrew faith. There were 2,400,000 such converts among those who left Egypt.[4]

According to this same tradition, “[a]t first Pharaoh did not want to allow the proselytes to leave. However, the Egyptians saw that the Israelites would not leave without them, and if there were any delay, the plague might kill them all” (Culi 105). One tradition even has it that these erev rav were “the great occultists of Egypt… who had initially laughed at Moses’ ‘magic tricks,’ but had become convinced of his greatness when they saw him do wonders that they could not duplicate. Seeing these wonders, they wanted to convert to the Hebrew religion”[4]. By turning once again to Etz Hayim, we learn a bit more about the possible nature of these erev rav:

[A] varied group of forced laborers seem to have taken advantage of the confused situation and fled the country with the Israelites. Note that the Hebrew word translated as “mixed multitude” (eirev) is from the same root as the plague in 8:17, suggesting the rabbinic tradition that these people were a major source of troubles in the desert.[3]

Ibn Ezra seems to agree with that sentiment, as he “identified them with the people referred to as ‘riffraff’ in Numbers 11:4”[5].

Our passage concludes with several verses discussing how the Israelites made unleavened bread, and concludes with the establishment of the Passover festival.

6. Conclusion

In digging more into this passage, one quickly cannot help but realize that each verse could easily consume tens of pages of analysis and commentary, and rich concepts like the understanding of the erev rav could easily fill an entire volume on its own. With that said, it is perhaps this group described in this passage which was found to be the most interesting, and which taught me the most about being careful with jumping to one’s own conclusions in interpreting a text.

As I mentioned in Section 2 above, I had initially been drawn to the idea that these erev rav were positive figures bringing diversity and tolerance into the exodus story. And while there is the idea within the Rabbinic tradition which has them as converts embracing the Hebrew faith, the idea that they were “riffraff”, sorcerers, or worse bringing trouble upon the Israelites in the desert is not a reassuring image.

7. Application: Movement of Jah People: A 7-Day Retreat on Exodus 12:37-42

Day 1: Oppression

Ultimately the story of the exodus from Egypt is a story of liberation from bondage and oppression. In what ways have you witnessed or experienced oppression in your life? What are some major things that you have felt chained to in the past? What are some major things you feel chained to right now?

Day 2: Binding your liberation up with that of others.

“The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children” (Exod 12:37).

The Israelites did not escape Egypt through individuals attempting to thumb their noses at Pharaoh and his rule, but by joining together en masse. We are told there were 600,000 men, not including women and children were part of this journey, putting some estimates of the total number in the 3 million range. Regardless of the actual number, what can this teach us about the role that others have in our own liberation? How can you join with others so that God can liberate us all together? The journey from Rameses to Succoth was not short, so when joining with others, are you prepared to stay the course with them?

Day 3: Bringing the outsider in with you

“A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds” (Exod 12:38).

In addition to the enormous crowd of Israelites traveling out of Egypt, there were many others that left with them. Commentators are mixed as to who these “mixed crowds” were, but we can be sure that it was part of God’s plan that they left with them. It is perhaps fitting that some commentators see them more positively, as fellow slaves in the land of Egypt, or as converts to the Hebrew religion; others see them as “rifraff” or even sorcerers bringing all kinds of trouble upon the Israelites. But whether they had a good influence, a bad influence, or some combination on the circumstances, their liberation from Egypt was also tied up with the liberation of the Israelites.

Can you think of people in your life that help bring you closer to God? Closer to freedom? What about people that seem to push you further away from God? And freedom? How can these people, in spite of their good or bad qualities, help you in your journey toward liberation? How can you help them in theirs?

Day 4: Making do with what you have

“They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves” (Exod 12:39).

The Israelites were used to making and eating soft leavened bread made with the luxury of time. As the frantic time of escape came, they did not have the time to bake the bread the way they normally did. Instead, they baked cakes of unleavened bread that could be quickly prepared to meet the needs of the people, even though they didn’t have the time to let the bread rise.

In what ways have you had to make do with what you have available to make ends meet? What comforts might you need to leave behind to move on to the next stage in your life? The Israelites could have stayed in Egypt and waited for their bread to rise; in a similar way, is holding on to your comforts getting in the way of your liberation?

Day 5: Perseverance

“The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt” (Exod 12:40-41).

The Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years. When they got there things weren’t so bad for them, but as time went on, things got worse and worse. When things started going bad, however, it was not the right time to leave for whatever reason. After 430 years in the land of Egypt, God intervened and set the Israelite captives free from Egyptian rule.

What things in your life seem overwhelming—like they have always been and will always be this way? How can we spot God calling us to tell us that the moment when our perseverance pays off and the time for our liberation has come? When the time is right, will you be willing to drop everything to follow God into the wilderness?

Day 6: Gratitude

“That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations” (Exod. 12:42).

To this day, every year Jews around the world celebrate their liberation from the Egyptians by the hand of God. When God acts in our lives, do we give thanks? Do we celebrate and tell and retell the stories of God’s actions in our lives? If not, why?

What are some things that God has done in your life that you are grateful for? What might you do to commemorate God’s actions in your life?

Day 7: Liberation

Let us return now to some of the questions that were asked on the first day. What were some major things that you have felt chained to in the past? What were some major things you feel chained to now? How did God act in your life to liberate you from those things you felt chained to in the past? What actions did you need to take in partnership with God to make this happen? How is God acting in your life now to liberate you from the things holding you back? What actions can you take to work with God to make that happen?

As you leave, take a moment to reflect on the journey that you have been on the last few days. Now take a moment to reflect on the journey that the Israelites took. Where do you find commonality? Differences? What parts of their journey can you take with you on your own journey to bring you closer to God and to the liberation God is calling us all toward?

References

1. ^ The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha: An Ecumenical Study Bible (2010). Oxford: Oxford UP. ISBN: 978-0195289596. Buy now.

2. ^ Childs, Brevard S. (1974). The Book of Exodus; A Critical, Theological Commentary.Philadelphia: Westminster. ISBN: 0664229689. Buy now.

3. ^ Lieber, David L., and Jules Harlow (2001). Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary.Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. ISBN: 0827607121. Buy now.

4. ^ Culi, Jacob, Isaac Ben Moses. Magriso, Aryeh Kaplan, Zvi Faier, Shmuel Yerushalmi, and Eliyahu Touger (1977). The Torah Anthology = MeAm Loʻez. Vol. 5. New York: Maznaim. ISBN: 094011805X. Buy now.

5. ^ Sarna, Nahum M. (1991). Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. ISBN: 0827603274. Buy now.

6. Hayes, John H., and Carl R. Holladay (2007). Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner’s Handbook. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox. ISBN: 0664227759.Buy now.

7. Sparks, Kenton L. (2005). Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible: A Guide to the Background Literature. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. ISBN: 0801047730. Buy now.

8. Stuart, Douglas K. (2009). Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox. ISBN: 0664233449. Buy now.

9. Vine, W.E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Hebrew Words. Ed. Merrill F. Unger and Wiliam White, Jr. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF.

Instruments of Peace: Nonviolence in the Franciscan Tradition

The following essay was originally written in 2013 while I was studying at Marylhurst University. To this day, Franciscan spirituality has had a huge influence on me and my spiritual journey, and I am happy to share this with all of you.

Legend has it that there was once a “terrible and… fierce” wolf that was bringing terror to the town of Gubbio in the medieval Italian region of Perugi.[1] The townsfolk were in a constant state of fear because, as the legend goes, this wolf “not only devoured other animals, but made a prey of men also”[1]. Because of the terror that this wolf caused the people of Gubbio, they would be “in great alarm, and used to go about armed, as if going to battle…”[1] Instead of sticking with the old method of fight or flight, Saint Francis of Assisi came along with a third creative and nonviolent approach to solving the problem. Saint Francis, the legend says, approached the wolf peacefully addressing him as “Brother Wolf,” and was able to convince the wolf to cease attacking the villagers; in exchange, the villagers would bring the wolf food each day.[1] This action was successful and from that day on the wolf of Gubbio knew he would have food, and the people of Gubbio knew that they could once again live in peace from the wolf’s attacks, all because of the creative peacemaking of one saintly man[1].

In many ways the Franciscan spiritual tradition is inseparable from the ideas of peace and peacemaking. Although not written until the early twentieth century, many modern people view Saint Francis through the lens of the Prayer of Saint Francis—a prayer that begins with the words, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace,” though the connection to Saint Francis and peacemaking is surely much older. The words “pace e bene”—Italian for “peace and good”—and the Latin counterpart “pax et bonum” have long been used as something of an unofficial motto of the Franciscan family. Peacemaking has been a part of the Franciscan tradition since Saint Francis himself, but what exactly has been the role of peacemaking and nonviolence over the last 800 years?

To understand the Franciscan tradition, it is important to understand a bit about the man the tradition is based on. Orthodox theologian and peace activist Jim Forest says that “no saint in the west has been more identified with the beatitude of peacemaking than Francis of Assisi.”[2] Francis, who was born into a wealthy family, joined the military in his youth in an attempt to gain wealth and glory. In a battle between Assisi and Perugia, Francis was captured along with many others and was held for a year as a prisoner of war. After his release from prison, Francis spent some time recuperating and then set out to fight in the Crusades, but he never made it. One early Franciscan document tells the story:

When [Francis] set out for Apulia, he got as far as Spoleto, where he began to feel a little ill. No less anxious about the trip, as he was falling asleep, half awake, he heard someone asking him where he wanted to go. When Francis revealed to him his entire plan, the other said: “Who can do more good for you, the Lord or the servant?” When [Francis] answered him: “The Lord,” he said to him: “Then why are you abandoning the Lord for the servant, the patron for the client?” And Francis said: “Lord what do you want me to do?” “Go back to your land,” he said, “and what you are to do will be told to you. You must understand in another way the vision which you saw.”[3]

This experience led Francis to abandon his military career to adopt a life of humility, simplicity, poverty, and peace. In the Franciscan tradition, the values of poverty, humility, and simplicity are inseparable from each other, and all of them are intertwined with the idea of peace. After Francis’s conversion, he abandoned every earthly possession to live a life of gospel poverty and charity, attempting to follow in the footsteps of his greatest example: Jesus of Nazereth. Forest speaks of Francis and the possible motivations behind this decision:

Before long a dozen friends joined him, forming the nucleus of a new order, the Minores—Lesser Brothers—rather than the Majores, the great ones who ruled the cities and organized wars. They were not simply poor but had, he explained, married the most beautiful bride, Lady Poverty. Assisi’s bishop didn’t approve. “You and your brothers are a disgrace,” he told Francis. “At least you can provide what will make you a bit more respectable.” “O Domini mi,” replied Francis, “if we had possessions we should need weapons to protect them.”[2]

It was not that owning material possessions was bad in itself, but the effect that these possessions had on those who cling to them which seems to have bothered Francis the most.

The biographies of Saint Francis are many and they are filled with examples of this saint using creative and nonviolent solutions in otherwise violent situations. One of the best known examples of this can be seen when Francis met with the Sultan of Egypt in 1219. During the time of the Fifth Crusade, Sultan Malik al-Kamil was considered one of the biggest enemies to Christendom. Forest says that “Francis, who opposed all killing no matter what the cause, sought the blessing of the Cardinal who was chaplain to the Crusader forces to go and preach the Gospel to the sultan.” [2] Francis, however, was told “that the Muslims understood only weapons and that the one useful thing a Christian could do was to kill them.” In the end, Francis and his companion, Brother Illuminato, were allowed to leave the security of the Crusader encampment, all present believing they would die as martyrs.[2]

After being captured and brutally beaten by the sultan’s army, Francis and Brother Illuminato were brought to Malik al-Kamil who inquired if they had come to convert to Islam. Francis told the sultan no, in fact they had come to ask him to either convert to Christianity or behead them; neither happened. Malik al-Kamil and Francis came to have a strong respect for each other and for the faith of one another, even meeting for conversations daily for a month. In the end, Malik al-Kamil gave Francis a “beautifully carved ivory horn which is now among the relics of the saint kept in the Basilica of Assisi,” along with permission to travel safely to the holy places under Muslim control.[2]Perhaps even more amazing, however, is that it is recorded that when Francis and Malik al-Kamil parted ways, they did so considering each other to be brothers.[2]

In her examination of the encounter between Francis and Malik al-Kamil, Sr. Kathleen Warren, OSF, suggests that “Francis went to Egypt to actively oppose the Crusades.”[4]Although she does comment in the footnotes that this idea is one that is debated by scholars, with several contemporary writers taking positions on both sides of the argument.[4] With his devotion to peacemaking and the love of the enemy that Christ commanded in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:943-48), it would not be a far stretch to accept the idea that stopping the violence of the Crusades was the primary reason Francis went to Egypt.

Saint Francis rooted his peacemaking in three gospel-based convictions: “God is all good, and all good comes from God;” “the gospel way is the way of active love;” and “voluntary poverty serves and sustains true peace.”[3] It was these principles which Francis sought to establish in his community, and it is also these principles that Francis worked so hard to get put into writing as part of his community’s Rule.

Before Francis was finally able to achieve success in having a Rule written and approved by Rome for his order of mendicant friars, he put together what has become known as the Earlier Rule—a rule which would form the foundations for the Later Rule which would get papal approval, but which itself never got such reinforcement. The Earlier Rule, which clearly shows the influence of the Gospels on the teachings of Francis, pulls some of the themes of peace and nonviolence from the Gospels and refocuses them to be lived by the friars. Some of the chapters of the Earlier Rule which are specifically relevant to the idea of peacemaking include Chapter XI (“The Brothers Should Not Revile or Detract, But Should Love One Another”), Chapter XIV(“How the Brothers Should Go Through the World”), Chapter XVI (“Those Going Among the Saracens and Other Nonbelievers”), and Chapter XXII (“An Admonition to the Brothers”). This can be seen in an example from Chapter XXII:

All my brothers: let us pay attention to what the Lord says: Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you for our Lord Jesus Christ, Whose footprints we must follow, called His betrayer a friend and willingly offered Himself to His executioners.

Our friends, therefore, are all those who unjustly inflict upon us distress and anguish, shame and injury, sorrow and punishment, martyrdom and death. We must love them greatly for we shall possess eternal life because of what they bring us….[5]

The Final Rule of the Friars Minor, also known as the Later Rule, was given papal approval on November 29, 1223. Chapter III (“The Divine Office and Fasting and the way the Brothers should go about the world”) of this Rule again called the early Franciscans to adopt a lifestyle of humility and peacemaking:

I counsel, admonish and exhort my brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ, that, when they go about the world, they do not quarrel or fight with words, or judge others; rather, let them be meek, peaceful and unassuming, gentle and humble, speaking courteously to everyone, as is becoming.[6]

Chapter III of the Later Rule goes on to instruct the friars that “[in] whatever house they enter, let them say: Peace to this house.[6]

The Rule for the Third Order Franciscans—lay men and women who desired to answer Francis’s call of Christ-centered living but who were unable to become friars or nuns—included in it the prohibition against carrying weapons. Chapter 16 of the Third Order Rule from 1221 simply stated: “They are not to take up lethal weapons, or bear them about, against anybody.”[7]

With many men and women joining the lay Franciscan movement, it became harder to recruit people to fight in the feudal wars of the day. Fr. Noel Muscat, OFM, writes that this “was a courageous witness of evangelical peace in a quarrelsome society, and it certainly dealt a blow to the feudal regime and to the petty quarrels between rival Comuni in the Italian peninsula.”[8] According to Fr. Muscat, this “evangelical witness of peace” resulted in frequent persecution of these early peacemakers, leading to Pope Gregory IX releasing the Papal Bull “Detestanda,” defending the right of the Third Order Franciscans to not carry arms or participate in military service.[8]

The first real great Franciscan theologian was a man named Giovannie di Fidanza—better known as Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. Peace was an essential element of Bonaventure’s theology, and he viewed Francis, Jesus, and peace as being inseparable in many ways. Bonaventure writes about Saint Francis:

At the beginning and end of every sermon he announced peace; in every greeting he wished for peace; in every contemplation he sighed for ecstatic peace— like a citizen of that Jerusalem of which that Man of Peace says who was peaceable with those who hated peace: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.[9]

For Bonaventure, peace is rooted in love and willingness to die for that love. Franciscan scholar Sr. Ilia Delio, OSF, says that it is this “level of peace and perfect love [that] is the desire for martyrdom”.[9] Sr. Delio goes on to say that this “is the desire to love one’s neighbor by way of self-gift out of love of God”.[9] This same willingness to suffer self-injury or even death in the name of peace is a core tenant of nonviolence today, and it is a concept which is in many ways epitomized by the crucifixion of the nonviolent Christ on Calvary:

If we follow Bonaventure’s thought through his labyrinth of symbolic language, we come to realize that peace is a choice…. Clearly, in Bonaventure’s mind, peace must flow out of an inner source of love and be expressed in the actions of our lives. Thus, if we fail in love we fail in peace, and if we fail in peace we must bear the triumph of violence. Such is the sorrow of being called Christians or the joy of loving Christ.[9]

It is this sense of complete love and total giving of oneself which characterizes the ideal follower of Christ, and it is this incredibly radical idea which is also at the heart of nonviolence.

When people speak of nonviolence today, they are typically speaking of the active refusal to resort to violence or harm. In the twentieth century, Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood out as the two greatest examples of this kind of nonviolence in action. The term nonviolence is a relatively recent addition to our lexicon, and was not known or spoken of specifically by the early Franciscans. The term is actually an attempt to translate the Sanskrit word ahiṃsā: “The doctrine of non-violence; avoidance of killing or causing harm out of respect for all living things” as found in the Eastern traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.”[10] The concept, which was in integral part of Gandhi’s own nonviolent Satyagraha movement, became commonly known as nonviolence in the West. But just because the term has Eastern roots, that does not mean the concept is entirely foreign to the Christian concepts of justice and peacemaking, as figures like Saint Francis or George Fox and his Quaker followers show us. Franciscan friar and nonviolence advocate Br. Alain Richard, OFM, has said that “there are deep connections between the nonviolence of the Gandhian nonviolent methods, imbued with the gospel of the Beatitudes and the example of Christ, and the Franciscan way of taking the gospel seriously.”[3]

Historian Phyllis Mack has noted another connection between these great peacemaking traditions. According to Mack, “[t]he first Franciscans, the early Quakers, and the followers of Gandhi… are three radical religious movements widely separated in time and place but sharing elements identified by their adherents as ‘feminine.’”[11] In her analysis of these different peacemaking traditions, she made a connection:

One of Gandhi’s adopted children wrote a biography of him which she called Bapu—My Mother. Disciple Margaret Fell called Quaker founder George Fox ‘our dear nursing father.’ The most intimate term used by the Franciscan brothers to address the founder was ‘mother.’[11]

Mack suggests that the qualities of Francis, Fox, and Gandhi which are perceived as ‘feminine’ “may be transposed into the public sphere and transformed into highly effective forms of activism by both women and men.”[11] She goes on to say that “[o]ne might even speculate that these feminine modes of behavior gained moral and political credibility for Francis, Fox, and Gandhi because they were being used creatively by men.”[11] Mack concludes by suggesting that “we would do well to contemplate the virtues of these partisans of nonviolent public behavior, and that we can find affinities with their compassionate activism very close to home as we move to embrace our own political and spiritual struggles.”[11] Whether creative and nonviolent forms of peacemaking are ‘feminine’ qualities or not, they are arguably necessary transformative qualities of all great peacemaking traditions.

Today it is becoming easy to associate Franciscans with nonviolent peacemaking. From the large nonviolence education organization Pace e Bene, which has been endorsed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to the work of Franciscans like Fr. Louis Vitale, OFM, who has been arrested over 400 times in nonviolent demonstrations and who cites Jesus, St. Francis, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as his guides. The General Constitutions of the Order Friars Minor—the largest and most well known of the Franciscan Orders—even calls for this peacemaking in Article 69:

(1) In protecting the rights of the oppressed, the friars are to renounce violent action and have recourse to means that are otherwise available even to the powerless.

(2) Conscious also of the terrible dangers that threaten the human race, the friars are to denounce in the strongest terms every kind of warlike action and the arms race as a very serious calamity for the world and a very great injury to the poor; they are to spare neither work nor sacrifice to build up God’s kingdom of peace.[12]

The Franciscan tradition has had its fair share of sinners over the course of its history (and quite a few saints, as well!), but the Franciscan tradition has always been filled with men and women desiring to follow in the footsteps of Christ by following the example of Saint Francis, and Francis’s example was one that required of all who chose to follow him to seek always to apply the gospel message of peace to their daily lives.

Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, commented once on the beatitude of the peacemakers that it is clear that “Jesus is not on the side of the violent but on the side of the nonviolent. Jesus is saying there must be a connection… between means and ends. There is no way to peace other than peacemaking itself.”[13] Fr. Rohr than reminds us that Jesus followed this with a warning that the peacemakers will “be hated from all sides.” Fr. Rohr says that whenever “you’re working outside the system, when you work for peace you will not be admired inside the system. In fact you will look dangerous, subversive, unpatriotic, and all the other things that people’s fears will create.”[13]

The very heart of Franciscan peacemaking is the love of the enemy. Biblical scholar Walter Wink believed that “love of enemies has, for our time, become the litmus test of authentic Christian faith.” Wink goes on to note that “[l]ove of enemies is the recognition that the enemy, too, is a child of God.”[14] As more people become increasingly aware that one of the core messages at the heart of the Gospels may very well be the need for nonviolent peacemaking in the world, there will continue to be an 800-year-old tradition of Franciscan peacemaking to support them—a tradition itself supported by the 2000-year-old faith founded by the Nonviolent Christ.

References:

1. ^ Francis and Clare: The Complete Works (1982). New York: Paulist Press. ISBN: 0809124467. Buy now.

2. ^ Forest, Jim. “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” In Communion. Orthodox Peace Fellowship, 11 Dec. 2004..

3. ^ Butigan, Ken, Mary Litell, and Louis Vitale (2003). Franciscan Nonviolence: Stories, Reflections, Principles, Practices, and Resources. Las Vegas, NV: Pace E Bene Nonviolence Service. ISBN 0966978390. Buy now.

4. ^ Warren, Kathleen A. (2003). Daring to Cross the Threshold: Francis of Assisi Encounters Sultan Malek
Al-Kamel.
 Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock. ISBN 1620324210. 
Buy now.

5. ^ Long, Michael G. (2011). Christian Peace and Nonviolence: A Documentary History. Maryknoll, MY: Orbis. ISBN 1570759227. Buy now.

6. ^ Armstrong, Regis J., and Brady, Ignatius C., eds. (1982). Francis and Clare: The Complete Works. New York: Paulist Press. ISBN: 0809124467. Buy now.

7. ^ Handbook of the Confraternity of Penitents: Living the Original Third Order Rule of Saint Francis as a Lay Person in the Modern World. Sixth ed. (2010). N.p.: Confraternity of Penitents. ISBN 1452877386. Buy now.

8. ^ Muscat, Noel. “History of the Franciscan Movement.” The Franciscans of the Holy Land and Malta, 30 Dec. 2001.

9. ^ Delio, Ilia (2013). Simply Bonaventure: An Introduction to His Life, Thought, and Writings. 2nd ed. Hyde Park, NY: New City. ISBN: 1565484843. Buy now.

10. ^ “ahimsa, n.” – Word of the Day from the OED. Miami Lakes Educational Center, September 20, 2015.

11. ^ Mack, Phyllis. “Feminine Behavior and Radical Action: Franciscans, Quakers, and the Followers of Gandhi.” Signs 11.3 (1986): 457-77.

12. ^ Horan, Daniel P. (2013). Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century. Boston, MA: Koinonia. ISBN: 061559753X. Buy now.

13. ^ Feister, John and Rohr, Richard (1996). Jesus’ Plan For A New World: The Sermon on the Mount. Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media. ISBN: 0867162031 Buy now.

14. ^ Wink, Walter (2003). Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress. ISBN:0800636090 . Buy now.

Multiple Sclerosis and Why I Care

Over the course of the last year and a half, a series of unexpected circumstances have put me on a trajectory I never before could have imagined. In the fall of 2016, I returned to school to finish my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Social Science at Portland State University. I decided to take a course that first term back to academia taught by Dr. Bill Greisar, Ph.D. called “Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory,” and little did I know, that class would open me up to a world of neuroscience that I had never before been exposed to. During Spring term of 2017, I registered for another of Dr. Greisar’s courses — “Perception” — which he teaches in collaboration with Jeff Leake. Bill and Jeff, as they prefer to be called, also run NW Noggin, and through involvement with the 2017 March for Science, I found myself getting more and more involved with volunteering with the organization.

I had now found myself, through nothing but chance, visiting K-12 schools with other volunteers, teaching kids the little bit about neuroscience that I had learned, and simultaneously learning more about the brain than I could have ever imagined possible myself. During this same time, I had begun to experience some strange things with my body, including tingling and weakness on the right side of my body, especially my right hand and arm. Through a series of visits to various medical providers, I found myself being sent to get an MRI by a neurologist, followed by a lumbar puncture — also known as a spinal tap — and on May 30, 2017, I received a phone call that would shake the very foundation of my life.

It was late on a Wednesday morning, and my phone rang. My neurologist was on the other side of the line and I turned my speakerphone on so my partner could hear what he had to say. “I’m sorry to tell you this,” he began, “but your results came back and there is no doubt, you have multiple sclerosis.” He explained to me briefly that multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a neurological disorder where my immune system is attacking and destroying the myelin insulating my nerves. Because of my exposure to neuroanatomy from my studies in the university combined with my outreach to youth in K-12 schools, I knew exactly what he was talking about as he described it, and I held my partner’s hand and began to cry. “I want to see you sooner than we were originally scheduled for,” he said before telling me that he had fit me into a time slot the following week.”Finally,” he concluded, “between now and then, I highly encourage you to go to the website for the National MS Society and learn as much as you can.”

I had, without ever having been able to foresee it, found myself in a unique position where I had been desperately searching for a new direction with my studies, I had serendipitously began learning and teaching about the brain and had developed a strong desire to do something with my life that could use this knowledge, and I was being diagnosed with a disorder that affects the same things that I had been studying. I knew then and there that whatever I was meant to do, working to learn more about and helping contribute to the body of knowledge related to MS was going to be a big part of that.

In autumn of 2017, as the heat of summer loosened its grip, I again found myself in Dr. Greisar’s lecture hall, but this time playing dual roles. 3 days a week I would spend my mornings working as a teaching assistant for 2 of his courses, and then I would switch back to my role as a student in the afternoons as I attended his “Intro to Neurophysiological Psychology” lectures. I also started volunteering with the National MS Society and reading everything I could find on MS.

Things changed yet again for me earlier this year after a chance communication introduced me to Dr. Jacqueline Bernard, M.D., F.A.A.N., associate professor of neurology at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine, physician, and researcher at the OHSU Multiple Sclerosis Center. I had been awarded the opportunity to do a research project through the McNair Scholars program, and Dr. Bernard graciously agreed to serve as my mentor. I am now preparing to conduct my own research at OHSU looking at depression in multiple sclerosis, with the intention of having it published in an academic journal and presented at a conference either later this year or early in 2019. This is, I hope, only the first step on a journey with much more research ahead.

This year I have also been accepted onto the NW Noggin Resource Council as the resource council member for MS research and I have continued my involvement with the National MS Society, including volunteering and fundraising for this year’s Walk MS event a few weeks ago and the upcoming Bike MS event taking place this coming August (if you would like to support the cause, you can make a donation here). Living with MS is not always easy, but it has opened me up to a world of opportunities I could never have fathomed, and it has given me both a direction in my studies and academic career, but also an incentive to work to improve my own health in an effort to maximize my quality of life. Being diagnosed with MS has given me a chance to devote my life and use my experiences to raise awareness about MS, write about MS, research MS, and most importantly, change the lives of others living with MS for the better.

Taking the Psychology Club to SfN Oregon

On April 13 and 14, I had the immense privilege of being able to attend the Oregon Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience conference at McMennamin’s Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon. But learning about the latest regional research in neuropsychiatry (the main topic of Friday’s talks) wasn’t the only reason I was there. I was presenting a poster at the conference about the Psychology Club at Portland State University, which I have served as the vice president of over the last year. Also in attendance was club president, Alison Mack of Dancing Green. Our amazing club secretary, Melissa, was, unfortunately, unable to attend due to prior obligations.

This was an exciting experience for me as it was the first time I have had the chance to present a poster in-person at a conference. I was part of a poster about NW Noggin that was presented at Neuroscience 2017 in Washington DC last November, but due to financial constraints, I was unable to attend due to financial constraints, so this felt like an important moment for me, and a great preparation for when I will be presenting the findings of my research multiple sclerosis research at a conference sometime next year.

NW Noggin’s Dr. Bill Griesar did an amazing write-up on the event, which I would encourage you to check out. You can download a full-sized .pdf of our poster here.

When Depression Meets Compassion

DISCLAIMER: The following blog post may be triggering to those who struggle with depression or suicidal thoughts. If you feel you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or send a text message to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

We all have good days and bad days. For some of us, our bad days are worse than for others, and for those individuals living with Major Depressive Disorder, those bad days can run into each other, stretching on and on until all hope feels lost. Our society carries a lot of stigma around being open about mental illness, but it is essential that we work to #EndTheStigma. According to the NIMH, an estimated 16.1 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2015 alone, accounting for 6.7% of the adult population in the United States (Source), making Major Depressive Disorder the leading cause of disability for individuals aged 15-44. It is also important to remember that major depressive episodes often include intense suicidal thoughts, and according to the CDC, in 2015 alone, suicide took the lives of over 44,000 people in the US, making it the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 15 to 34 (source). With data like this, it seems well past time to step up and have an open conversation about the topic. Today (11/27/2017) is World Compassion Day, and in the spirit of that day, I would like to share a personal experience that involves depression and compassion.

Not long ago, I had been having a particularly bad day. This bad day was preceded by many prior bad days, and I had reached an all-time low. Thoughts of abandonment and feelings of being both unwanted and unloved were high, not to mention feelings of being overworked and underappreciated. Things were volatile, and I had put a lot of stock into the need to have a pleasant and peaceful day. Instead of peace and calm, an argument broke out between myself and my partner, and any remaining threads of hope were severed. Not knowing where to go or who to turn to, and being overwhelmed with feelings of terror, pain, rejection, and panic, I found somewhere to sit down, knowing that standing much longer would probably lead to collapsing and further injuring myself.

I sat out of the way, trying to hide from the world that had turned itself against me, doing everything I could to hold myself and grasping for some thread of hope or some light in the darkness. To my surprise, that light came in the form of a stranger. I had no idea who she was, or even what she looked like (my vision was a blur from the intensity of my tears), but her voice spoke kind words and she held my hand with a gentleness that can only come from someone with a giant heart. Those soft words and that caring touch reminded me that there is indeed some good in the world, even when it’s hard to see it. She was, in that moment, the beacon of light that I needed in a sea of darkness.

At some point in this, another individual appeared to help as well, although my memory of how he got involved is very fuzzy. I gave both of them my number, and we discussed briefly the need to make new friends. I am still waiting to hear back from the second kind individual, but both of them took a few moments out of their day to show kindness to a complete stranger in a time of intense emotional pain, and for that, they are both the greatest kind of hero in my book — heroes of the heart. The first person that came to my aid called me and left a voicemail checking on me later that day, and then she texted me as well. In our first few text messages back and forth, she said to me, “you’re allowed to fall apart, you’re only human.” And that is the key that I always need to try to remember: that we are all fully human in all of the best and worst ways — and that I am allowed to be that. That moment of kindness didn’t magically make everything in my world better, but it did, for just a moment, give a small reminder that it is okay to be human.

The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying, “love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Love and compassion are essential for humanity, but they are just as essential for the survival of each of us as individual humans, and indeed, our capacity for love and compassion are the greatest qualities we can have as one that is fully human. To use this quality for just a moment can make a bad day just a little better, or maybe, it could even save a life.

NW Noggin at Neuroscience 2017

Last April, my partner Alison and I got involved with NW Noggin through volunteering at the Portland March for Science. We had been exposed to NW Noggin by co-founders Bill Griesar and Jeff Leake while taking their courses at Portland State University. Since April, both of us have been active with the nonprofit, volunteering to visit schools throughout Oregon and Washington, and participating in events that blend neuroscience and the arts.

Our neuroscience outreach efforts — almost always coupled with Noggin’s signature pipe cleaner neurons — earned us a chance to be a part of a poster presentation about Noggin and how it has influenced us, alongside Noggineers Rebekah Hough, Thomas Madison, and Jessica Patching-Bunch. This poster was to be presented at this year’s meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, Neuroscience 2017, which is taking place 11/11-11/15 in Washington, DC. I am honored to have been a part of this poster presentation, although I was unfortunately unable to physically attend the conference due to financial limitations. Alison, Rebekah, Thomas, and Jessica are all in Washington, DC right now, and they will be taking the opportunity to not only present our poster at Neuroscience 2017, but to visit schools in Washington, DC to do outreach, and to present to the STEM Caucus in Congress.

Having had a chance to design the poster, with the help of Alison Mack — who provided the pipe cleaner neuron artwork — will be something I will always remember. If you would like to see a full-sized .pdf of our poster, you can download it here.