PEACE, that elusive commodity, is something for which we all hope, but for which only some work. The announcement of the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 came as a shock for many of us in the peacemaking community. The statement from the Norwegian Nobel Committee said that this year's prize "is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." Click here to read the full press release.
Although President Obama has, indeed, made progress in mending international relations after the debacle of the previous 8 years, I would argue that his first nearly 9 months in office does not constitute any yet significant work towards a world without nuclear weapons. Yes, he has started in the right direction, but has a long way to go. Perhaps we will be able to better judge his "work" once the results of the 2010 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference are in.
I always thought that John F. Kennedy should have been given the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously for giving so much of himself (and ultimately his life) to prevent nuclear Armageddon during his time in office. If not for his heroic efforts working with Soviet Premier Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, you would most likely not be reading this blog, and heaven knows whether humanity would have survived the massive exchange of nuclear weapons that would have ensued had his efforts failed. His sacrifice gave us a second chance; I can only hope we are using it wisely.
The day before I heard the Nobel Committee's announcement, I spent some time with Father Bill "Bix" Bischel, a Jesuit Priest from the Tacoma Catholic Worker. If you are familiar with the Catholic Worker Movement, you know that it is grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every person. 76 years since its inception, "over 185 Catholic Worker communities remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and foresaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms" (source: catholicworker.org).
The Catholic Worker is unique among "religious" communities (at least as I have experienced them) in as much as it truly embodies the words of Micah 6:8, "and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (source: New Oxford Annotated Bible) I have found that most Christian communities are good at charity, but when anyone even whispers the word "justice", the people cringe in the pews. Charity feels good, but when asked to pick up the cross and carry it, the people get squeamish. Justice is messy!
And that has been the problem of the church for roughly 1700 years. It has mostly practiced charity, while the word "justice" is rarely uttered, or is practiced when convenient. The Catholic Worker, however, has embodied Micah 6:8 in its purest form, serving the poor while working to change the conditions that often make them poor, and all the while doing it with humility.
When Bix is not working at Guadalupe House, which is itself a full time job, he can be found working for justice, including engaging in nonviolent resistance to nuclear weapons at the nearby Trident nuclear submarine base. Bix understands that nuclear weapons, and the militarism surrounding them, sucks money from desperately needed programs of social uplift. Bix would much rather lift up the poor than a bunch of weapons makers.
As I look at the photo of this humble peacemaker, knowing his history as well as the history of the movement of which he is part, I nominate the Catholic Worker for the Nobel Prize, and I trust the Nobel Committee will give them due consideration next time. They would surely put the prize money to good use. At any rate, I know the prize is unimportant to them; the good people of the Catholic Worker Movement don't do this work expecting anything but the joy they receive from the work itself.
The prize they want (and everyone should want) is simply PEACE!
Working for Peace,
Note: The photo of Father Bix was taken on October 7, 2009 in front of the U.S. District Courthouse, Tacoma, Washington, while bannering and leafleting for Keep Space for Peace Week. Photo by Leonard Eiger.
For a thorough analysis of Kennedy's journey from Cold War Warrior to Peacemaker, I highly recommend James Douglass' book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters.