Time for Transition to Transformation: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Betty A. Reardon

(Thoughts based on acceptance remarks at Pax Christi Metro New York 2020-2021 Peacemaker Awards Ceremony, May 22, 2021)


My remarks at the Peacemaker Awards Ceremony began with thanks for the award: to Sisters Kathleen Kanet and Virginia Dorgan who presented it; to Pax Christi Metro who awarded it; and to the assembled audience of those engaged in our common work of peacemaking. Each of the three represents an important contribution to my many decades of peace learning. Kathleen’s and Jinny’s steadfast friendship, the joy, and solidarity of our collaborative efforts have nourished my commitment to our common work. Pax Christi represents all the realms of learning, the reflection and action that make peacemaking possible, from individual prayer and personal acts of peace, through the communal realm of parish involvement in local endeavors, to those of national and international campaigns. Being a part of Pax Christi is one of the threads that weave us into a global community of peacemaking. Those assembled for the ceremony through the magic of zoom, a gathering of learning activists, were models of learning peace by making peace. I was as honored to be in their company and associated with the other awardees, as I was by the Peacemaker Award itself, a cherished sign of recognition from peers in the global community of peacemakers.

Time as Transition

The substance of my remarks was inspired by a sense of urgency and shortness of time in our struggles to transcend and transform the violence that stunts our humanity, blights our societies, and threatens our survival. As the conceptualization of problems was framed, as so many of my observations are, in a trinity of interrelated imperatives that merge into one common overarching challenge. Time realms for facing the challenge, as well, seemed to me to be another threesome, each a realm appearing too short for the tasks to be achieved within it. The first realm, the immediate present, loomed over the moment of the awards ceremony in the 5 minutes I had for acceptance remarks, of necessity more brief than the reflections presented here, summarized for the ceremony. A second more personal realm was the relative shortness of peacemaking time on this beautiful planet remaining to a 92 year old. Third and most urgent is the shortness of time to make the transformational changes necessary to save our Earth, reclaim our humanity and establish a peaceful world society. We know that our individual lifetimes on Earth are but a miniscule bit of the time of the unfolding of the Creation, yet, in our collective experiences of the Cosmos, our respective life-times are parts of that unfolding.  We experience the evolution of Creation in the transitions in our lives and in the world; transitions from day to night, changes of seasons, changes in light, from infancy to old age experienced changes in our bodies, and the changes social and political trends we seek to influence toward peace. As a peace educator, I seek to participate in informing those transitions with the values from which we envision the forms and processes of a transformed world.

Transition is about getting from here to there, i.e. from the violent present to our preferred future. It involves the undoing of the conditions that produce a violent global society, while simultaneously the doing of the work to establish a world of justice, peace and human solidarity. It is about how we live our daily lives, consciously engaged in the undoing and the doing of peacemaking; and it is about what we do each day through all our years of striving to realize our visions of peace.

Transitional Tasks of Our Time: Learning to Change, Change as Learning toward Transformation

The topical focus of my remarks was on transition as learning for action; learning how to engage in transformative processes that might assure the survival of Earth; striving to understand the ongoing revelation of the Cosmos and our place in it. Cosmic awareness teaches us to move beyond the limits of action against today’s existential threats, toward action for life-sustaining, humanity enhancing alternatives that give promise of to a just and inclusive human society on a healthy, vibrant planet. The present transitional learning task is to form an image of what we are striving toward, as we struggle against.  We need to vision beyond the “what” of that which we resist to planning the “how” of the undoing of the threats; to the “what” and “why” of the doing that might bring forth the envisioned life affirming human society, unfolding within the multiple living systems of Earth.

We have learned much about what there is to resist; we know what is to be undone. We need to concentrate on what is to be done; to do so simultaneously, as we go about the very difficult “undoing” in our daily lives, making behavioral, economic and political changes to overcome the threats. Let us also be ever aware of the alternatives we intend to replace the threats, living our lives and doing our politics. Both our personal and political actions are best taken with “our eyes in the prize,” an ever present awareness of our envisioned goal. While some of the alternatives may be politically and institutionally specific, as practicality dictates, the overall transformational goals are articulated in the conceptually comprehensive, larger framing of the visions of a sustainable and sustaining planet, a fair and equitable global economy, a security system designed to assure the wellbeing of all Those essential components of the goal of a transformed global order.  They are what inform the doing. In these days, we face obstacle to our vision of emergency proportions that makes the undoing urgent.

We now understand that we confront three interrelated, existential threats that call us to engage in major transitions through the undoing required to save our Earth, restore our humanity and reconstruct human society. These are concepts of undoing in which peace educators and activists might contextualize practical and particular learning programs, preparation for participation in multiple strategies, comprising transition processes. I propose three action imperatives to guide local through global political campaigns, each a global citizen response to the central moral imperatives integral to three of Pope Francis’ declarations inspired by the major existential threats: de-carbonize! de-colonize! de-militarize! These three imperatives demand necessary and fundamental changes in our lives and the systems in which we live them.

De-carbonize! a response to Laudato Si. For years we have been aware that all the daily, individual steps we take “to save the environment” are a drop in the bucket of the true problematic of the climate emergency that calls for immediate, in many cases, drastic systemic change in our techno-industrial economic systems and daily ways of life. Our individual actions signify a commitment to save the Earth. However, without a transformation of our systems of production, distribution and consumption, we may well fail. In addition to what we can learn about alternative energy sources, restorative agriculture and Earth friendly production processes. We, the resource gobbling North, must significantly change our lifestyles, consume less of Earth’s resources, and share more of the benefits a healthy planet might offer to all.  We, the privileged can no longer “have it all,” while others, our brothers and sisters of the Global South, the poor on our own doorsteps, and the Earth itself are obliged to “pick up the tab.” To save the Earth, we must de-carbonize or economy, kick the fossil fuel habit, to reduce the stresses our material aspirations and their energy requirements have imposed on the planet.

De-colonize! a response to Fratelli Tutti. De-carbonizing, is only possible through an economic transformation, that is, in turn, only possible through a radical restructuring of the political order that makes irresponsible consumerist lifestyles possible. A neo-colonial global political system makes possible the fulfillment of the aspirations that led Euro-Americans to colonize the Global South, taking control of resources extracted from lands of other peoples. The post World War II “independence” movements did not result in actual de-colonization, they only shifted the locus of control of former colonies from imperial nation states to international corporations, owned and controlled by male Western elites. The “Christian” nations that brought “civilization” to the rest of the world convinced themselves that the social Gospel did not apply beyond their borders, other than as the subject of instruction necessary to “save the souls” of the colonized.

Today’s “good news” is that, we begin to understand this history as unjust, even sinful. Among the lessons we learn from Pope Francis is that we must own up to this flouting of the teachings of Jesus, especially in rejecting the behavioral and, I believe, the political responsibilities integral to Jesus’ articulation of the second greatest commandment, enjoining us to love our neighbors. The primary transitional task to reclaim our faithfulness is the decolonization of the mindset of white supremacy that still informs the Western neocolonialism.  To save our humanity, to affirm that we are one with all peoples of Earth, we must decolonize our minds, overcome our impulse to control, embrace an ethic of sharing and restore the reverence for Earth that inspirits the lives of first peoples throughout the world.

De-militarize! a response to Pope Francis’ Hiroshima statement. The neocolonial power order defends itself vigilantly with an extensive and lethal, militarized state security system that circles the globe with American military forces in long term stations. Forces are dispatched from these bases when threats to the dominant order anywhere in the world are deemed threats to “the homeland.” The “forever wars,” asserted to be in defense of “national security,” are pursued to continue the order and assure access to the greatest climate threat, fossil fuels. The human and environmental costs of the war system and its disastrously destructive weapons make its transformation essential and urgent.

The existence of and proposed development of nuclear weapons makes war itself an existential threat. Enforcement of the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is an essential first step toward demilitarizing security systems. Weapons reduction and elimination at all levels from our city streets and local police to NATO, could move us toward the demilitarizing of society and serious consideration of alternative security systems. Proposals for alternatives to state centered security strategies and systems that center on human security are coming from multiple peace organizations and research institutes. Many of those proposals, if brought together in a common, comprehensive framework, prioritizing the interests of flesh and blood citizens over the abstraction of the interests of the state, could offer a practical alternative toward which we could plan actionable transition strategies. That possibility is there for the learning, the doing and the undoing. Most of the doing in the multiple actions for change in the security system is initiated and carried forward by civil society organizations, Pax Christi being one in the forefront, along with various women’s peace initiatives.

Women have been in the forefront of peace initiatives for centuries, but seldom in making the arrangements of state that men have called peace. At the dawn of this century the international community recognized the folly and the injustice of the exclusion of women from security policy making and peacemaking. The great cultural shift of our times toward gender equality was, in these matters, institutionalized in 2000 by UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, declaring that women must be equal partners in confronting all issues related to peace and security. In this resolution lies the potential to transcend the multiple human inequalities imposed by patriarchy, the hierarchical, authoritarian view of humanity that planted and tended the roots of all three existential threats. Sexism integral to militarism is evident in military violence against women and the exploitation of Mother Earth to support it. Denial of human needs to pay for wars, and continued colonization, achieved and enforced by arms is a violation of the human rights of millions. All this human and Earth destruction, wrought to fulfill the aspirations of patriarchs, is most painfully experienced  in the spilling of blood, to water  the patriarchal roots of militarism to the advantage of states and corporations, today’s  strongholds of global patriarchy.

In making woman the first other, patriarchy made human difference a rationale for multiples exploitations and oppressions. The systematic suppression of human differences was deemed normal, even “divine will.”  Through the undoing of “othering” we may fulfill Jesus’ call to love of neighbor.  When we learn to see the image of God, the reflection of the equal value of every member of the human family, we may create a world in which all human beings are “born free and equal in human dignity,” (Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights). We glimpse that image in the friendships that sustain us, in the solidarity we experience in our peacemaking and in the gratitude that fills us with images of the possibilities for peace that inspire and energize our actions for peace. I am grateful for this award and the image of possibilities it carries.  Thank you, Pax Christi!!!

BAR, 7/24/21

Published by S Fava

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