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Bob Koehler--Co-creating a Culture of Peace

by John K. Stoner  (January 29, 2018)

     In a column titled “The Illusion of Armed Salvation,"  Robert C. Koehler writes: (click here)

This time, the “the fire and the fury” of American mass murder erupted in church. Twenty-six people were killed, including children, one only 18 months old.  [Sutherland Springs, Texas]

How do we stroke their memory? How do we move forward? This is bigger than gun control. We should begin, I think, by envisioning a world beyond mass murder: a world where rage and hatred are not armed and, indeed, where our most volatile emotions can find release long before they become lethal. …

Envisioning a world without mass murder — which means a world without war, waged either collectively or privately (with both types of war generating handsome profits for the weapons industry) — means envisioning a world where guns are not a precondition for empowerment and us vs. them isn’t society’s default setting.

Guns are a symptom of society’s addiction to fear. And efforts to pass gun control legislation are continually on the political defensive, caught between the addicts and the profiteers.

And thus, as the Baltimore Sun noted: “If Kelley was eligible to buy a gun, it was only just barely. Yet even so he was able to buy not just any gun but a civilian version of a military assault rifle, designed not for hunting or self-defense but combat.”

Where does Robert Koehler get the idea of “envisioning a world beyond mass murder—which means a world without war, waged either collectively or privately?” 

Or an idea like “The Wisdom of Mass Salvation,” which must surely be an alternative to the weapons of mass destruction?  

Look at Bob here—a picture might be worth a thousand words. (click here)   What can I say—he looks like a man you can trust.  And what is that worth?

Here’s the way he starts the essay introducing himself:

Achievements and awards are the stuff of bios, but what seems more important to me is the fact that my great-nephew, Joey, then 5 years old, tore across the entire length of his parents’ kitchen with a look of wild glee in his eyes to say goodbye to me; I waited for him in a crouch, caught him full on, barely kept my balance. “Bye, Uncle Bob! I love you!” Wow, I think he meant it. All of which is to say, life itself is infinitely more precious than the masks we don or the monuments we build.

I’m at a point in my life where the resumé I’ve spent a lifetime carving feels like such a damn mask I just don’t want to wear it anymore.

What have I done that is equal to a child’s love? This question humbles me, and the only honest answer is that . . . I have tried to love beyond the edge of my own ego. I held my wife’s hand as she died. I hung in there with my teenage daughter after Barbara’s death, and — with the help of aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandma, countless friends — parented her toward her own luminous adulthood.

In the midst of all that, I managed to scribble down a few million words, a small percentage of which found their way into public view and generated enough positive response to make me think they contributed something of worth to our collective struggle for understanding. I call myself a writer.

 I like to think about what America would be like if our media were led, actually dominated, by people with that kind of attitude.  I invite you to think about that.  

For those who want a little more of Koehler now, read further from his bio:

I’ve won awards for my writing: from the National Newspaper Association, Suburban Newspapers of America, the Chicago Headline Club and other organizations that bestow blessings on journalists. I’ve been called a hero of democracy and, oh yeah, been wished an inoperable brain tumor. I’ve trespassed, as a journo aiming at a mainstream audience, upon the sacred consensus that America is a dumbed down, spectator nation, yet somehow special, God’s Chosen Superpower, the greatest nation on Earth. Let’s get beyond our limited allegiances, I say, and celebrate our wholeness as a species and a planet.

I’ve been called blatantly relevant.

And I have proclaimed myself, ever since coming across the term at Transcend Media Service, a peace journalist.
“Peace journalism is when editors and reporters make choices — about what to report, and how to report it — that create opportunities for society at large to consider and to value nonviolent responses to conflict.” — Jake Lynch

This idea is so deceptively simple, but unbelievably rare in the 24/7 mediastream that flushes through our lives, peddling horror and fear as though they were . . . sex. News and “entertainment” have lost much of their reflective component and become almost purely reactive. This is intensely troubling to me; the long-term social consequences can’t be good. For this reason, I embraced the concept of peace journalism kind of the way Joey slammed into his great uncle: breathlessly, with full-tilt enthusiasm. It became the lodestar of my maturity as a journalist, and so it remains.

“Nonviolent response to conflict” is, simply put, the foundation of civilization, is it not? Conflict — between and among people, between species, with our planet and universe — is inevitable. Violent response belittles the conflict, shatters the complexity, perpetuates the problem, endangers the innocent and often blows up in our faces. But violence is an industry, shrouded in mythology and consensus. We’re stuck with it, apparently. To my mind, working to undo the mythology of violence is the most responsible act a writer can commit.

Robert C. Koehler, peace journalist. 

Ajamu Baraka, The Black Alliance for Peace

by John K. Stoner -- January 26, 2018

     Ajamu Baraka is founder of “The Black Alliance for Peace.”  Did you know there is such a thing?  What do you think about the significance of such an alliance?  

Here is Baraka writing under a title that would surprise all Americans and seriously shock most of them: “ Why We Must Protect the World From the United States.”  But then I wonder, could you, or I, write a convincing refutation of what he says?  What would our evidence be for such an argument?  (Black Agenda Report)

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated the obvious: The United States was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. He also said the public allowing this violence would lead to a kind of national spiritual death that would continue to make the U.S. state a danger to the world.

That spiritual death has not quite happened completely. Yet accepting the “inevitability” of violence and the necessity for waging war is now more deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness of individuals in the United States than it was 50 years ago when King warned of the deep malady of U.S. society. For most of the 21st century, the United States has been at war. Culturally, mass shootings, the wars on drugs and terror, violence and war as entertainment, livestreamed videos of horrendous police-executed murders as well as of a head of state being sodomized with a knife have resulted in what Henry Giroux refers to as a “culture of cruelty.

But the very fact that the authorities need to lie to the people with fairy tales of the “responsibility to protect” in order to give moral coverage for the waging of war is an acknowledgement that they understand that there is enough humanity left with the public that it would reject U.S. warmongering if it was only seen as advancing narrow national interests.

It is this remaining moral core—and the objective interests of the clear majority of the people to be in opposition to war—that provides the foundation for reviving the modern anti-war movement. …(more)

And here, Baraka on the U.S. role in one current horrendous war, in Yemen: (Ajamu Baraka blog)

Ajamu Baraka, a Black voice for truth and peace in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr.

William Barber and the Poor People's Campaign

by John K. Stoner —  January 23, 2018

“The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.  We need you to step up and join our efforts.”  Click on this page, scroll down a little and watch the 3 minute video and read the “principles” of this campaign.  

This is the voice of the Rev. William Barber II and associates.  His is a voice crying in the wilderness which we must hear.  His call to “step up and join our efforts” goes out to all who ask “But what can I do?”  I would say that all who fail to respond here should, for the sake of honesty, admit their defeat by the empire and prepare for disaster—if they know how to do that.  

Rev. Barber made his mark by leading the “Moral Mondays” movement in North Carolina. 

His Poor People’s Campaign takes up, 50 years later!, Martin Luther King’s campaign, which many people believe cost him his life at the hands of the Empire.  Like King, Barber is naming “the war economy/militarism” as one of the great evils.  Think about it, in your search for a viable political party, which one is naming war as a central part of the problem? 

The Poor People’s Campaign quotes ML King:  (click here)
There can be no gainsaying of the fact that a great revolution is taking place in the world today. In a sense it is a triple revolution; that is a technological revolution, with the impact of automation and cybernation; then there is a revolution of weaponry, with the emergence of atomic and nuclear weapon of warfare. Then there is a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion that is taking place all over the world. Yes, we do live in a period where changes are taking place and there is still the voice crying the vista of time saying, “Behold, I make all things new, former things are passed away”… Now whenever anything new comes into history it brings with it new challenges … and new opportunities … We are coming to Washington in a poor people’s campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses … We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists … We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that is signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic non-violent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.

Rev. Barber comments:
The triple revolution that Rev. Dr. King highlighted in this sermon emphasized: 1. a technological revolution, 2. a revolution of weaponry, and 3. a human rights revolution, with the freedom explosion taking place all over the world. He argued that social transformation was not inevitable, arising solely out of the historic conditions, but rather needed the commitment, consciousness, capacity and connectedness of the “new and unsettling force” to build a credible and powerful campaign.

The first gathering of over fifty multiracial organizations that came together with SCLC to join the Poor People’s Campaign, took place in Atlanta, Georgia in March 1968. Key leaders and organizations at this session included: Tom Hayden of the Newark Community Union, Reis Tijerina of the Federal Alliance of New Mexico, John Lewis of the Southern Regional Council, Myles Horton of the Highlander Center, Appalachian volunteers from Kentucky, welfare rights activists, California farm workers, and organized tenants. Rev. Dr. King addressed the session saying that it was the first meeting of that kind he had ever participated in. Indeed, meetings where leaders of different sections of the poor and dispossessed come together on the basis of their common needs and demands remain rare and politically taboo.

Today we introduce the honest voice of Rev. William Barber and The Poor People’s Campaign.”

Berry Friesen, Goodbye


Age 69

Died January 17, 2018

Berry died of renal cell carcinoma, but maybe too of grief for the world.

He wrote this blog for several years, his last one in December,  here.

His obituary is  here.  But if the link no longer works, here is the text of the obit.

Berry Friesen, 69, of Lancaster, died on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 of advanced Renal Cell Carcinoma at Hospice & Community Care, Mount Joy.
Berry was born in 1948 to the late John V. and Blondina (Blanche) Friesen in Mountain Lake, Minnesota. The third of three boys, he grew up on a farm in Cottonwood County where he tended chickens, swam in nearby lakes, and planted soybeans row by row with his dad. He met his future wife Sharon Klassen in Sunday school at Carson Mennonite Brethren Church where both families attended.  
He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Sharon; his two daughters, Amber Friesen, married to Rehan Hanif of London, England, and Emily Burkholder, married to Guy Burkholder, III of Lancaster; six granddaughters, Saffiyah Friesen Hanif and Anna, Elena, Addie, Olivia and Clara Burkholder; and one brother, LeRoy Friesen. His brother, Marlyn Friesen, and nephew, Chad Friesen, predeceased him.
Following graduation from Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas in 1970, Berry volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee as an alternative to the draft; he and Sharon spent three years in Jamaica (1970-1973) teaching in a local secondary school. Berry continued to teach after returning to the US, until deciding to pursue a law degree at the University of Minnesota, where he graduated Juris Doctor cum laude in 1979. After graduation Berry joined Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services where he spent ten years advocating for Native Americans, Hmong refugees, farmers, and families on social benefits, and also leading the Minnesota Family Farm Law Project.  
During those years in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Berry and Sharon had two daughters, Amber and Emily, and were active members of Faith Mennonite Church. He loved to play pickup basketball, sing and play his guitar, tease his girls, and watch the Minnesota Twins lose … and then win big. 
Berry left his legal career in 1989, in order to continue his work for social justice within a faith-based organization. The family moved to Lancaster where he worked for Mennonite Central Committee, first as Director of the U.S. Service Program (1989-1992) and then as MCC’s Director of Administration (1993-1997). 
From 1997 to 2007 Berry was the Executive Director of Pennsylvania Hunger Action Center, leading the advocacy organization’s work related to food security. In the years following he worked for several other non-profits, the last in 2016 when he was appointed President of the Nazareth Project, which supports health care and health education services in Nazareth. Berry resigned that position after receiving his cancer diagnosis.
Berry spent his career working for people and causes he believed were important, and his passion for peace and justice infused his life. He was an avid reader, bird watcher, writer and blogger. He authored two books which have been published (“Water from Another Time” and “If Not Empire, What?”), many articles, opinion pieces and letters to the editor; prior to his death completed a third book written for his granddaughters titled “Believing in god”. Berry was committed to following the way of Jesus, and was an active member of East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster and also the 1040 For Peace organization. 
A memorial service will be held at East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church, 432 E. Chestnut Street in Lancaster, on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 10:30 a.m. The family will receive friends at East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church on Sunday, January 21, 2018 from 4:00–6:00 p.m. 
In lieu of flowers, Berry would welcome donations to The Nazareth Project,

We remember him with admiration and appreciation, and give our condolence to his wife Sharon and children and grandchildren. 

—John K. Stoner

Tom Engelhardt on The American Empire

by John K. Stoner (January 16, 2018)

Tom Engelhardt’s engaging smile on his home page is real.  Why wouldn’t it be—his website  is described as "A Regular Antidote To the Mainstream Media."
Whose face wouldn't break into a smile if they knew they were providing such a needed public service?

Tom is on my short list of trustworthy commentators.  He is a Consulting Editor at Metropolitan Books, as well as co-founder and co-editor of Metropolitan's The American Empire Project.

Today I introduce Tom Engelhardt via his last column for 2017 and his first for 2018.  On December 21 Engelhardt wrote:

The Most Dangerous Man on Earth: Who Cares?Not Them, Not It, Not Him, Not (Evidently) Us 
      Let’s start with the universe and work our way in. Who cares? Not them because as far as we know they aren’t there. As far as we know, no one exists in our galaxy or perhaps anywhere else but us (and the other creatures on this all-too-modest planet of ours). So don’t count on any aliens out there caring what happens to humanity. They won’t.
As for it -- Earth -- the planet itself can’t, of course, care, no matter what we do to it.  And I’m sure it won’t be news to you that, when it comes to him -- and I mean, of course, President Donald J. Trump, who reputedly has a void where the normal quotient of human empathy might be -- don’t give it a second’s thought.  Beyond himself, his businesses, and possibly (just possibly) his family, he clearly couldn’t give less of a damn about us or, for that matter, what happens to anyone after he departs this planet.
As for us, the rest of us here in the United States at least, we already know something about the nature of our caring.  A Yale study released last March indicated that 70% of us -- a surprising but still less than overwhelming number (given the by-now-well-established apocalyptic dangers involved) -- believe that global warming is actually occurring.  Less than half of us, however, expect to be personally harmed by it.  So, to quote the eminently quotable Alfred E. Newman, "What, me worry?" ....
Engelhardt goes on to help us to think about Donald Trump in context--as an expression of American character and Commander in Chief of the world's biggest military machine. This is help which we need, and I hope you will (read more).  
On January 4 Engelhardt wrote:  Seeing Our Wars for the First Time: Mapping a World From Hell ,,,76 Countries Are Now Involved in Washington’s War on Terror  
He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, “shrouded in secrecy,” flew on an unmarked C-17 transport plane into Bagram Air Base, the largest American garrison in Afghanistan. All news of his visit was embargoed until an hour before he was to depart the country.
More than 16 years after an American invasion “liberated” Afghanistan, he was there to offer some good news to a U.S. troop contingent once again on the rise. Before a 40-foot American flag, addressing 500 American troops, Vice President Mike Pence praised them as “the world’s greatest force for good,” boasted that American air strikes had recently been “dramatically increased,” swore that their country was “here to stay,” and insisted that “victory is closer than ever before.” As an observer noted, however, the response of his audience was “subdued.”  (“Several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, but did not applaud.”)
Think of this as but the latest episode in an upside down geopolitical fairy tale, a grim, rather than Grimm, story for our age that might begin: Once upon a time -- in October 2001, to be exact -- Washington launched its war on terror.  There was then just one country targeted, the very one where, a little more than a decade earlier, the U.S. had ended a long proxy war against the Soviet Union during which it had financed, armed, or backed an extreme set of Islamic fundamentalist groups, including a rich young Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden. 
By 2001, in the wake of that war, which helped send the Soviet Union down the path to implosion, Afghanistan was largely (but not completely) ruled by the Taliban.  Osama bin Laden was there, too, with a relatively modest crew of cohorts.  By early 2002, he had fled to Pakistan, leaving many of his companions dead and his organization, al-Qaeda, in a state of disarray.  The Taliban, defeated, were pleading to be allowed to put down their arms and go back to their villages, an abortive process that Anand Gopal vividly described in his book, No Good Men Among the Living
It was, it seemed, all over but the cheering and, of course, the planning for yet greater exploits across the region.  The top officials in the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were geopolitical dreamers of the first order who couldn’t have had more expansive ideas about how to extend such success to -- as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld indicated only days after the 9/11 attacks -- terror or insurgent groups in more than 60 countries.  It was a point President Bush would reemphasize nine months later in a triumphalist graduation speech at West Point.  At that moment, the struggle they had quickly, if immodestly, dubbed the Global War on Terror was still a one-country affair.  They were, however, already deep into preparations to extend it in ways more radical and devastating than they could ever have imagined with the invasion and occupation of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the domination of the oil heartlands of the planet that they were sure would follow.  (In a comment that caught the moment exactly, Newsweek quoted a British official "close to the Bush team" as saying, "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.") ...

One simple question: where did Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, just a few days after 9/11, get the number 60 as the number of countries where the US would take the war against terror, and  George Bush get the same number for a speech at West Point nine months later?  (See the links to their speeches in the excerpt above.)  To me this sounds like a prepared script. 
Read Engelhardt's full column to help yourself be impressed at the beginning of 2018 that the US has now taken the "war on terror" to 76 countries.  (seeing our wars)

Tom Engelhardt--a voice of truth. 


John Dear--Teacher of Nonviolence

by John K. Stoner (January 12, 2018)

    We have all heard people say, “I don’t know who to trust, the media is so unreliable.”  And that is a serious problem.  But I wonder, are all of the people who are saying this making a serious effort to find reliable voices?  I don’t see the evidence that they are.

This has set me on a course to use some blog entries here to share with readers some of the voices I have found reliable over the years

Last blog I shared John Dear’s essay “The Year of Nonviolence or Nonexistence.”  John is in the Roman Catholic tradition, which has a mixed record on the embrace of Jesus message of nonviolent  resistance to empire—actually more dark than light over the centuries.  And the Jesuit Order to which John belonged for years saw fit to make his life so uncomfortable that he left it a few years ago.  But John has remained firm in his witness.  Here you can learn more about that. Breaking Ranks 

As a teacher and educator, John has written many books and articles.  He now works with Pace et Bene (Peace and all good).  You can educate yourself and help others understand the power of nonviolence by reading his writings.  And learn about the nonviolence workshops taught around the country—these are a strong alternative to the apathy and despair into which people sink when they do nothing to act on their sense that something better must be done for our world.  See John’s books and workshops here

John Dear, a reliable voice. 

Year of Nonviolence or Nonexistence--John Dear

by John K. Stoner  (January 9, 2018)

The Rev. John Dear, a consistent and courageous peacemaker, wrote recently in Common Dreams

“Sadly, in the same way that warnings of climate change have mostly been dismissed for decades, Dr. King’s stark framing of the pivotal choice before us—nonviolence or nonexistence—was steadfastly ignored over the past half-century as the United States lurched from another seven years of the Vietnam War to decades of war in Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other places, even as the violence of racial injustice, economic inequality, environmental destruction, nuclear proliferation, gun deaths, armed drones, and many other forms of violence spiraled out of control." 

Today I introduce you to, or remind you of, John Dear and his call to active nonviolence as the road to peace and justice, rather than war and superior violence as the road to peace and justice, as advocated by the American empire.  

There is a clear choice between these two ideas of how to make the world a better place.  Nonviolence or nonexistence, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. framed the choice at the Riverside Church in New York in 1967, is the stark choice which faces us more dramatically in 2018 than ever before.  

Dear goes on to say, "Indeed, over these decades we have consistently opted for violence even as we have shunned the word “nonviolence,” as if it were the most dangerous word in the English language" (full article).

I invite you to read Dear's article, and to make a commitment in 2018 to act on the truths he and Martin Luther King have set before us.

Generals Speak on Human Flourishing

by John K. Stoner  (January 5, 2018)

I promised blogs about those who pursue the goal of peace with the methods of peace.  

But first, one more on how hard it is to believe that war will get us to peace. 

Here it is:  How hard is it to believe, as the networks and millions of their viewers obviously do, that retired generals are a good source of wisdom and guidance on world affairs?  

Having generals, active or retired, comment on world affairs makes as much sense as having slave owners comment on civil rights.

Would you believe it?   Generals on human flourishing.   Slave owners on human rights.