"When we have peace, then we have a chance to save the planet,"
--Thich Nhat Hahn
"Blessed are the peacemakers." We all know that phrase from the Bible, the Beatitudes. But how many of us center our personal, much less our professional lives on working to create a world in which peace is the dominant factor.
It's not hard to argue that the word "peace" has somewhat disappeared from the national conversation. Drones, guns, war, military intervention, political polarization, bullying, hate talk. But for Sister Patricia Chappell, Executive Director of Pax Christi USA, peace and what it means in the 21st century is the cornerstone of her daily personal and professional life.
"We may not be using the actual word "peace' in today's social justice and peace movement, but all of our efforts are centered around trying to provide peace and to bring peace in a non-violent way," Chappell said in a recent interview with Wisdom Voices.
"Our four foundational principles are our priorities," she said. "And one of the things we found as Pax Christi USA moved into 2013 is that we needed to go back and to look at those priorities. We needed -- as a staff and a council -- to go back and say, what do those principles mean to us when we say we are peacemakers.
"We need a sense of how that word is rooted in us before we can make it plain to the people in the pews. We can speak about spirituality, and disarmament and economic and interracial justice and human rights and it becomes so abstract that often times the people on the street and in the pews don't have any idea of what we're talking about. So one of the things we are trying to do is look at if we're going to talk about a spirituality of non-violence, what does that mean to us.
"As I've traveled the country, we have also tried to ask, "how is what we are doing rooted in the Beatitudes?' I think people are then able to look at those Beatitudes and concretely look at ways on how they can be implemented in their personal lives, in one's family, in one's neighborhood, and hopefully the nation. That's a much better way to look at peacemaking than just saying we are peacemakers.
"When you look at it from your own personal lives, it can lead to a conversion and transformation (for peace)," she added. "It may sound simple, but it's hard work. It's work to stay on top of issues. It's work to try to understand all aspects of an issue and it's work to allow yourself to be prayerful and reflective on what one needs to do to change one's own attitudes and behaviors. But that's where it has to begin. It has to start with an individual conversion and transformation, and then it spreads."
The prioritization and refocus on the four foundational principles of PCUSA are the driving force behind much of the organization's work. The principles include:
1. Spirituality of Non-Violence and Peacemaking.
"Certainly there are all kinds of violence that continues to take place in our world both on international and domestic level," Chappell said. "From our perspective we are trying to say that peace can only occur initially if one is open within themselves for their personal transformation to happen. Once that personal transformation happens, one becomes deeply steeped in the fact that we are each other's keepers and if you truly believe that then what you begin to do is collaborate with others of that mind set. And so then you become committed to how do we approach the issues, which certainly means being active, vocal, and calling for reform -- but doing it in a non-violent way."
2. Disarmament. Demilitarization. Reconciliation With Justice.
"What that means is that we believe in non-violent alternatives to war as a way of life," Chappell said. "It makes sense to people that when there is conflict, we do not have to go to war -- that we are always looking for alternatives to how can we resolve differences and disputes and conflicts. Whether it's in families, dealing with children in schools who are being bullied or around the issues of drones. It's our belief that we want to collaborate on a national level to say we do not believe in war. We have to put our faith into action. We need to call on our government and join with others to call for drone reform; to call for the closing of Guantanamo and to look at providing aid and humanitarian opportunities to Syria -- and to work with the UN to make sure that it comes about."
3. Economic and Interracial Justice in the United States.