This essay is part of the Vocation of Peacemaking series where we asked members and friends of BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz to write brief essays on their peacemaking work. The Vocation of Peacemaking stories come from students, activists, teachers, parents, pastors, lay people, and retirees who work for peace in their jobs, their communities, their families, their volunteer time, and their neighborhoods in a wide variety of ways. Each story is a wonderful reminder that there are as many ways to live a life of peace as there are people, and that we can act for peace in real and important ways wherever we find ourselves.
We will be publishing the stories one at a time over the next few weeks and then compiling them into an Issue Monograph. The monograph will be available as a free download from the BPFNA website. Volumes I and II are already available.
Keep checking the Vocation of Peacemaking webpage for more!
My first awareness as I awaken in the morning is that my heart is racing. The question takes shape in my mind: What is my priority today? How shall I best spend my time for the benefit of the world? It is the question posed for this Viewspaper: “Crisis after crisis after crisis...What’s a peace and justice activist to do?”
Then I remember to breathe. “Four in...hold for seven...out for eight” with my tongue behind my teeth. . .just as I learned from Dr. Andrew Weil. Eight times. I am calm. I thank God for the opportunities of the day. I meditate, “May I be compassionate today. May I balance contemplation and action today.” My priority today is to be a peaceful breathing presence.
I move into the day seeking to love the person in front of me. I take a call from a woman referred by the Shalom Free Clinic for counseling. I coach her in sorting out and advocating for her healthcare services. I check my email and sign several petitions against the death penalty, against sending more troops to Iraq, in favor of closing Guantanamo, for immigration and prison reform, against the Keystone Pipeline. I make a few phone calls to the White House and Congress and Sacramento on the same issues. I respond to more email as secretary of the board of BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz, participate in a conference call to allocate money for our clergy brother in the Republic of Georgia so he can take the supplies we have gathered for Syrian refugees and meet with a Christian-Muslim reconciliation group in Beirut. I listen to Spanish tapes as I drive to join in solidarity with our Spanish-speaking sisters and brothers.
I start to feel overwhelmed again. I wonder if what I am doing is the right thing. It never seems like enough. I wonder if anything I do makes any difference. Then I remember to breathe and to love the person right in front of me. I remember what one of my social activist mentors advised, “Pick one issue where you have some skin in the game, where you have personal authenticity, and one where you don’t, where you can’t be accused of self-interest, and go for it.” Or said another way I have rejoiced in for years by writer-theologian Frederick Buechner, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”
I breathe. I hold myself and the world in peace. I think in a way it doesn’t matter which issues I pick. The important thing is to be a calm presence on whatever team I join to work on the issues. I choose not to expend any more energy worrying about it being the right issue. I study the information I learned in my active engagement class on how to turn a polarized conversation into one that instead seeks our shared aspiration. I pick healthcare reform and talk to some people I know professionally to join together in advocacy for universal coverage. I feel I make some progress in seeing the anger of some who disagree also as their passion or protection and understand them better.
What’s a peace and justice activist to do? Breathe! Relax! Love! Act on some issue in some way and know that it is enough.
Sandi John is the current secretary of the BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz board of directors. She finds her heart in seeking to be a healing presence in the world and pays her bills working as a pastoral counselor and behavioral health nurse.