I have been at a loss for what to write to begin the new year. Everyone else has already looked back on 2009 as well as the entire past decade. No matter how one attempts to focus, it is all pretty nauseating. And so we approach a new year filled with extraordinary challenges. In the U.S. we face an ever growing Military Industrial Complex fueled by the continuing Global War on Terror, a cancerous Financial Predatory Complex fueled by supersized influxes of cash and superficial regulation, and an Energy/Corporate Industrial Complex that is still using resources (and spewing carbon dioxide) as if there is no tomorrow.
And of course, that's what it's all about - tomorrow. It's about how each of us can sleep at night knowing that we are preparing to leave future generations a legacy of endless war, bankruptcy (both moral and financial) and environmental degradation on a scale we can scarcely imagine. And therein lies the rub; we desparately need our imaginations to be able to envision something better for both ourselves and future generations. We need to ask ourselves the question, "Will our children one day thank us or curse us for having brought them into this world?"
This is a time for perserverance; forget the cynicism and pessimism. There is serious work to be done in the coming year; the words of theologian, philosopher, educator, civil rights leader and author, Howard Thurman come to mind:
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart.I will leave it to each of you to dig deep within to find your place in this picture. For now, I will leave you with a story of a peacemaker I recently had the pleasure to meet.
If you drive (or walk) by the corner of Second Avenue and Madison in downtown Seattle, Washington on any tuesday between 11:00am and 1:00pm, you will see a group of people standing with signs conveying a variety of peace and justice messages. You will also see a display of photos of every U.S. soldier (from Washington State) who has been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. If you stop at the information table you can write postcards to your Senators asking them to stop funding both these wars. And if you stick around long enough you may have the pleasure of meeting Joe Colgan, the person behind (and in the middle of) this vigil.
Joe Colgan, and his wife Patricia are long-time peace activists. From vigils protesting the white trains delivering nuclear warheads to the local Trident nuclear submarine base in Kitsap County in the 1970s to peace and justice work with neighbors and Catholic parishes in South King County in subsequent years, the Colgans have a deep committment to peace and justice for all.
This is not, however, the whole story. Joe and Patricia have raised eight children. One of them, Ben, enlisted in the Army, became a First Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, and was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on November 1, 2003, at age 30. And now, the Colgans "hold a much more personal vigil" (as my friend Jean Sundborg described it) every Tuesday in downtown Seattle. Joe pulls up a little before 11:00, and a few faithful regulars help unload all the gear. Besides the regulars, others show up from time to time to join in; everyone is welcome.
Joe Colgan faithfully stands on the corner of Second and Madison each week, both as a vigil to honor his son Ben and as a way to speak out for peace and justice. Both require strength and courage, which Joe has in abundance. Here is an excerpt from Joe's guest column in the Seattle Times, published November 21, 2007; it gives a glimpse into the deep, nonviolent roots of Joe's journey:
As a Catholic, am I wrong in my understanding that nonviolence, for Christians and all people of goodwill, is not merely tactical behavior but a person's way of being? It is the attitude and stance of one who is convinced of God's love and power and who is not afraid to confront evil with the weapons of love and truth alone.
Joe goes on to say that, "Those weapons of love and truth must be more than just words." And so, he puts his feet to the pavement - one might say putting his faith into action - and presents a model for us all. If you happen to be in the vicinity of Second and Madison some Tuesday, drop by and meet Joe and company. There are always extra signs in case you decide to join the vigil. And don't forget to sign a postcard.
Keeping the Faith in 2010,
Click here to read the article about Joe, written by Jean Sundborg, in the July 2009 Ground Zero for Nonviolent Action Newsletter. Thanks to Jean's article for much of the material in this post.