Category Archives: peace

Pentecost and Peacemaking

Dear Folks,

This is Pentecost, the great feast of the Holy Spirit, and the birthday of the Catholic Church.

The Holy Spirit came and brought people together, breaking down barriers between people, and enabling them to have relationships. This is a path to peace. This is the path to peace.

With the recent shooting that was in the news, I think it is good to talk about some violence in our society. There has been so much lately, such increases in different kinds of violence and cruelty, from shootings to rioting, to assaulting people on the subway, to suicide. What has caused this? I think as a society we need to put our collective energy behind building some values, some norms, and some habits.

On is empathy, an awareness and attentiveness to the state of another person. Often, we are focused on how things affect us, but deep awareness of what’s happening in others is precious.

This is built in good relationships, interacting sharing, and working together (texting is not enough). Essential is good fathering and good mothering. Could we agree that fathering and mothering are crucial, heroic vocations that should be honored and celebrated? Could we work to develop respect for people when we disagree, and try to understand them rather than insult them? This requires recognizing that the way things look to us in not always how they look to others, and we can’t just demand they see things our way.

Humans have a desperate need for agency. I have observed that we humans have a real need to make a mark in the world, ideally to do great and noble things, but if we feel we cannot, it is easy to make a mark by being destructive. We must nurture the potential greatness in each person, so they can see themselves as heroes and not victims. We must build the fortitude to keep going when that road gets harder than expected (which it will). We must focus on strategy and tactics for making changes large and small.

We need reverence for boundaries. Because we think we are right does not give us the license to use tactics that we would condemn in the other side (they think they are right too). We must measure violence by those on our side with the same scale we measure violence by our opponents. We need support and for law enforcement and consistent enforcement of laws.

Some people have been proposing what they consider the solution, and berating those who do not agree. They do not make a case for their solution but seem to presume it is obviously the thing to do, and they say that those who don’t follow their plan do not care and do not love children. I think this is the exact opposite of what we need. What if there are intelligent people of good will who do care very much, but believe that this proposed solution will not help, but will in fact do harm? This approach is guaranteed to fail. It completely neglects to look at other people’s point of view. It makes both sides feel more helpless and pushes people farther apart. No amount of browbeating is going to make me accept a solution that I think will just make things worse. Let people make a case for their proposed solution, recognizing that their other side has their case too. We need to go through how it would be implemented in practice. We need to recognize that we are all biased in favor of our own arguments, and we need to work harder on making our case than we think we do.

As a Christian, I believe that the starting point is Jesus, and I highly (very highly) recommend getting to know Jesus better. However, if anything I’ve said resonates with you, my efforts have not been wasted. Let’s move the conversation forward. Let’s make the situation better.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Loving People Hard to Love Part II

Dear Folks,

We all have a deep need to tell our story, to be heard, to be understood. Much anger, frustration, and resentment come from a feeling of not being heard, not being understood. It is often difficult to make ourselves understood to someone, and what makes the experience much harder is when we get the feeling that the other person isn’t trying. Sometimes the truth is more complex.

Perhaps we underestimate the depth of the chasm between our minds. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Talking to Strangers” he mentions that we tend to underestimate how we can use the same words and gestures and mean different things. Both sides might be trying and failing to connect.

Stephen Covey said, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.” Consider what that means, that what we experience ourselves can be very different from how others experience us.

In “The Screwtape Letters” C.S. Lewis portrays the devil Screwtape teaching his nephew Wormwood how to lead a soul into hell: “Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the states of his own mind—or rather the expurgated version of them which is all you should allow him to see. Encourage this. Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are

perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office (Letter 3).” And “Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him (Letter 3).” I believe this sort of thing is not uncommon. How do we watch for such behavior in ourselves? I suspect we tend to be very aware of how the other person tries our patience, but we might have no idea how much we try the others’ patience. How can we watch for that?

There may be times, and certainly there are abusive relationships, in which we are innocent, and the other person is quite guilty. We want to be careful about getting to that conclusion too quickly and too easily. When it is such a situation, we still have the challenge of how we are going to deal with the situation. Waiting for the other person to change is not going to get us anywhere. When we must play a game that is rigged against us, we must play it well. In Matthew 16:10, Jesus says, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be as clever as serpents and innocent as doves.” We must be clever as psychological tricks and traps are thrown at us. Though there is a temptation to use the other’s behavior as an excuse to lower the standards of our own behavior, it is essential to strive to be innocent, first because it is right, and second because others might use any lapse on our part as a reason to attack us and make us the villain (never mind they do worse on a regular basis).

This stuff is hard, at least I find it hard. I suggest that if more people took these things into account, we could get along better. Can you think of anything to practice during Lent for more peace in the world?

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Loving Those Hard to Love Part I

Dear Folks,

In our Gospel today, Jesus teaches us unconditional love, even our enemies. If people know anything about Christianity, they know we are to love one another. This is wonderfully easy to say. It is much harder to do. The first issue is spiritual. There are some

people it is easy to want to love, while others, who can be so aggravating, are much more difficult. It is hard to empathize with someone who has caused pain, difficulty, or harm, and seems not to care about it.

It helps to pray for such people. It always begins with seeking God’s help. It is good to remember the goal: not to destroy the person but purge the evil from them and rejoice with them in heaven. God says, “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked—oracle of the

Lord God? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 33:11; Luke 15:7).” The more focused we are on the eternal goals the more we can handle worldly problems.

Another problem is practical. In Christianity love is not a feeling but a decision to seek the good of others for their own sake.

In Ann Garrido’s excellent book “Redeeming Conflict” habit #4 is “Undo the knot of intention.” Good intentions don’t necessarily mean good consequences, and bad consequences don’t necessarily mean bad intentions. It is harder. I have learned, again and

again, that I can intend to do good and have it not work well. Now, God will judge our hearts, and if we are doing our best, that is having a loving heart. That said, if we do less than our best to find out if we are really doing good, I don’t think that will go well.

Doing parish work, I’ve found that there are some people who focus their energy and skill in getting resources from helping agencies, and they can refine that to an art. I think about

what they could do if they put that intelligence and energy into doing something constructive. Some people say to just give them money, and if they misuse it, “that’s on them.” Is that really seeking others’ good, or is that about making ourselves feel good?

Someone referred to one such person as “he helps the poor to stay poor, because he needs them to be poor.” I know that sometimes I risk being taken. I’m quite sure I do get taken from time to time, but we can’t close our hearts in an effort to be safe. One thing I’m sure of, we don’t want to be in the position of explaining to God why we didn’t try (Matthew 25:14-46). Sometimes the aggravation is part of the price for loving our neighbor. Direct help in emergencies is great; helping people who cannot help themselves is great; when we can help people move themselves into a better situation where they can flourish, that is wonderful. I love our community dinners and our food pantries; sometimes getting a meal from someone who treats you with courtesy, kindness and respect can make all the difference. I love Habitat for Humanity, because people who participate in their program tend to flourish

more afterward. I love Have Mercy, the program for the homeless in Montcalm and Ionia counties. They give a great deal of immediate help and will regularly move homeless people into permanent homes. I love Alpha Family Center who help people in a uniquely vulnerable time in their lives, giving help they can be grateful for for the rest of their lives. There are some many good things being done, and I hope we can learn more and more ways to help people in need. We don’t ask if they deserve it; we ask what is truly helpful. How to be helpful is something we can spend the rest of our lives learning and practicing.

If we dedicate ourselves to helping people we don’t know and can do nothing for us, maybe that will strengthen our ability to love even the people who harm us.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Making 2022 a More Peaceful Year

Dear Folks,The Christmas season has just begun, and today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, and also St. Stephen (Holy Family takes precedence over St. Stephen, but I’m sure he doesn’t mind). The Story of Christmas includes the story of Herod and all the nastiness that he did, so even our season of joy has a reminder that there is great evil in the world and forces that seek to stamp out the light. The story of St. Stephen, the first martyr, reminds us that the Gospel sometimes faces a harsh response. Family often includes conflict, and it has a special poignancy because these are people so special to us. God made us all to be one family, a family united by His peace and love. I want to start out this year returning to a theme that I have touched on before, but I believe that it is worth reemphasizing.There has been so much violence in the news. I’m so tired of hearing about violence, whether it is with a knife, gun, vehicle, fists, it is horrifying that there is so much. Various things have been proposed, and I do believe that law enforcement is essential, but it won’t solve the ultimate problem. We must become a more peaceful people from the inside out. In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays that all may be one, and says that if we are, that will help people believe in the Gospel. We can’t control others, but we can look at our own behavior, and see how we can get closer to the Christian ideal. We remember what the Scriptures teach. “Bless those who curse you; bless and do not curse them (Romans 12:14).” “Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).”Does this mean being passive in the face of malice? Doormats to bullies? I say no, emphatically no. It does mean trying to respond in a way that has a chance of making the situation better. My whole life’s experience tells me that good intentions are not enough, that we must learn peacemaking as an art. I have found books to be helpful. “Remembering God’s Mercy” by Dawn Eden is about healing painful memories (especially childhood memories), and we must begin to heal if we are to be healers. “No Future Without Forgiveness” by Desmond Tutu is an inspiring call to forgiveness. “The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond and Mpho Tutu, “Don’t Forgive Too Soon” by Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Dennis Linn give practical thoughts on the process of forgiveness. “Verbal Judo” by George Thompson is about de-escalating conflict. “Love Your Enemy” by Arthur C. Brooks is about dialog with those with whom we disagree, and how such people can be gift. “God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts!” By Gregory Popcak talks about seeking win-win solutions rather than working against each other. If you will only read one book from my list, I would encourage “Redeeming Conflict” by Ann Garrido. It is twelve habits (virtues) that transform conflict into a spiritual journey, and I believe would make it more productive. I again emphasize that I don’t speak as one who has mastered this. I have come a long way from where I used to be, but I can see that I have a ways to go.We cannot do it by our own power. We must begin by opening ourselves to Jesus. It is by His transforming power that we became able to love and forgive our enemies and bless those who curse us. If we want a better world, the first step is always falling more deeply in love with Jesus. There’s no better way to start our year.Blessings,Fr. Jim

More Peacemaking

Dear Folks,
Last week I talked a bit about peacemaking, and I mentioned Dale Carnegie’s book “How to
Win Friends and Influence People” and Ann Garrido’s “Redeeming Conflict.”
George Thompson’s book “Verbal Judo.” is about deescalating tense situations, and many
police and other first responders are trained in this method. When someone gets belligerent to
us, the temptation is to respond in kind. As the anger wells up in is, we can be like a pressure
cooker without a safety valve until it bursts out. If we have an alternate response at the ready,
we can treat this as another task to be done, and approach it deliberately. The difficult
question is how to deescalate. It involves receiving the other persons energy and directing the
conversation toward a more useful direction. One important feature of this approach is that it
does not require the other person to have the same good intentions. A lot of Christianity is
treating people better than they treat us (See, for example Romans 12:9-21).
“Thanks for the Feedback” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen involves the dynamics of
getting and giving feedback, whether it is “affirmation, coaching, or evaluation.” It tried to do
a one paged summary of the book but failed miserably because there are so many facets to
this. I think the central takeaway is that how we see and hear ourselves is very often quite
different from the way that other people see and hear us. What we intend and what the other
perceives can be very different, and that disparity can doom a conversation if we are not
attentive to it.
One fascinating point they make is that there is a part of the brain “dedicated to taking in
language and reading tone and meaning (called the ‘superior temporal sulcus’ for those who
are curious).” Then this is critical: “When we ourselves speak, the STS turns off.” We don’t
hear our tone like we hear other’s tones. We do not naturally hear how angry we sound, or
how condescending, or how harsh. We hear it in the other person though, hear it very
clearly. C. S. Lewis noticed this tendency and included it in his “Screwtape Letters (Letter 3.).” Screwtape, a senior devil, is giving advice to his nephew Wormwood about how to lead a soul to hell. He shared a trick for encouraging his “patient” to quarrel with his mother:
“Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and
judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances
with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the
suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him.”
It is my observation that communicating well is harder than we think. That means first that
we tend (strongly tend) to overestimate how well we are communicating based on how hard
we are trying. It also means that we underestimate how hard the other person is trying to
communicate based on the results of their efforts. It has been a common observation that we
tend to judge ourselves by our best intentions, and other people by the consequences of their
actions.
I would emphasize once again that I do not speak as someone who has all this mastered, but
as one who has made significant progress from where I used to be. It has made a huge
difference in my life, and I believe I am better able to serve God because of it. I plan to
continue to work on this until I die. I believe that striving to interact with others more
peacefully and more productively will help the world get better, and it is desperately needed. I
believe it will also please Jesus.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim