Stopping Violence

Forgiveness after Murder

Nancy & Diana exude compassion

Kim Odom is a friend who lost her 13-year-old son because of a drive by killing. She speaks openly about the pain and need for forgiveness in order to help others.

She, and a group called Mothers for Justice and Equality are looking at how do you offer curricula to our youth to prevent violence, inner and outer.  Odom believes each person, saints and murderers, are worthy. “It’s about the value of life, not just about stopping the killing.” Bullying can lead to arson; targeted abuse can lead to suicide.  Odom wants to take a peacebuilding curriculum with juvenile offenders to help teenagers before incarceration. She is heaven-bent on changing the cradle to prison pipeline talked about in The New Jim Crow (the cradle to college pipeline.)

Our cities are killing fields. US foreign wars and increasing poverty claims many lives. But in the Boston area these neighborhood murders are preventable. In 2010 in Massachusetts 48 people were killed because of family violence. That same year 72 lives were claimed on the streets of Boston. 2011 was less of a bloodbath: 63 street murders and 27 family killings. The pain for survivors like Kim and the Odom family is immense.  So many of our resources are overtasked:  police, court system, hospitals, detective units, safety officers, public health all at cost to our communities.

“After he [son Steven] was killed I was so depressed I couldn’t leave the house.” After 2 days of seclusion some neighbors and friends had a candle-light vigil at the Odom house. With the love surrounding her, she couldn’t hide. After many prayer meetings, Kim Odom gained perspective. “I was determined…I didn’t want anyone retaliating. God is in the midst of us. Steven’s death will not be in vain. God will redeem the pain, the tragedy, and our sacrifice. Ephesians 4 says, ‘In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

How to endure the darkness, when the sky
Is totally eclipsed by evil, when
Foul grinning Chaos spreads its reign again
And all good things in senseless ruin lie.
Must we be hard as stone?  It wears to dust.
As stiff as oaks?  But they untimely break.
As pitiless as steel?  It turns to rust,
And time from Pyramids will ruins make.
In violence, decay, starvation, need,
What can endure?  Only the Living Seed.  (K. Boulding)

After losing your child to a speechless crime, grief comes in many shades, all of them tinted with anger. Outside her house after Steven was killed, lots of objects in memory came to the place where blood was spilled. There was a mound of teddy bears with candles and cards and photos. It resembled a gravesite. Friends covered it with plastic when it rained. Then it appeared ghastly, like Steven’s body was covered up right there. “It was too much for me to bear the site of what that mound represented. I expressed to others the need to take it down. We had a tree planted in that spot to replace the stain of death with a symbol of life.”

Then Kim tells me about what she calls the ‘algebra of prayer.’ On one side, the first side is praying for the victims, the family, the innocent ones. But when you pray for that side you can’t complete the formula without considering the other side. With discipline and struggle Kim wants to pray as much for the offender, his (or her) family and those that enabled the act. Kim works to pray equally on both sides. The answer to her algebra comes out as peace.

Four deaths and a Bird

The hot summer gusts bow to a rain squall. A hard rain pours into the ground and the air is sharp and ivory. A bluebird flickers among the cedar tree out my window. His eye like a wet stone, fixes on a reality I cannot know. Boston has seen humid days, but the sultry weather has thunder-headed into a storm. Three women were killed in Dorchester this week: Genevieve Philip, 22, Kirsten Lartey, 22 and Sharrice Perkins, 22. Another man Raschad Lesley-Barnes, 24 was killed on Aug 15th at 2 pm outside Dudley Square library. Four deaths in 4 days.

On Sunday Aug 12 four girlfriends were driving together, in a red sedan after a picnic in Franklin Park. At 10:30 they were dropping Sharrice off at her house in Dorchester when a series of shots killed three of the four women.

Kirsten had graduated from St. Johns College and  died on the same day as her father’s birthday, August 12th, 2012. Agabus Lartey, pastor of the Family Life Fellowship church, lost his daughter on his 55th birthday; he lost his wife to cancer in 2010. He said. “This is purely animalistic behavior. This is not human.” Genevieve Philip had her own beauty salon business and was the mother of a 5 year old girl. Genevieve’s mother said, “We’ve just told [the girl] that her mother will be at the hospital for a very long time.”Read more

A Dark, Sad Knight

Take note of these killings:

  • 2012 The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora with 12 dead, 58 wounded, heroic moviegoers.
  • 2011 Remember the shooting rampage in Tucson when Rep Gifford was shot and ultimately resigned from office.
  • 2009 Remember at Fort Hood, an army psychiatrist killed 13 soldiers.
  • 2007 Remember Virginia Tech where 32 were killed in a rampage.
  • 2005 Remember Columbine with 12 students and a teacher killed.
  • 1998 Remember Jonesboro AR two boys under 13 years old killed 4 girls and a teacher.
  • 1995 Remember Oklahoma city bombing claimed 168 lives and damaged 324 buildings.

Does there seem to be an alarming pattern? Aren’t these mass murders happening too often? Then we have other disasters, some are natural, but more and more are unnatural.

  • 2011 Remember the twister in Joplin MI with 161 dead. Other tornado deaths 349 .
  • 2010 Remember BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill killing 26,000 dolphins, 6,000 sea turtles, and 82,000 birds.
  • 2005 Remember Hurricane Katrina with the FEMA botch-up claiming 1,836 lives.
  • 1995 Remember Chicago heat wave withering 739 lives.

Now that we’re aware of global warming, we can expect erratic weather, electric shortages, and higher food costs.

Obama cut a sharp figure in Aurora CO this weekend hearing stories of victims, called the shooting, “senseless violence”. Our Counselor in Chief has great bedside manner. He loved the story of Stephanie who saved the life of her best friend Allie. Allie took a bullet in her neck and as she fell to the floor, Stephanie applied pressure to the wound, preventing her from bleeding until they got to the ambulance. She saved a life.

“As tragic as today is…, it’s worth reflecting on young Americans like Allie and Stephanie. They represent what’s best in us, and they assure us that out of this darkness a brighter day is going to come.”

Obama is empathetic. But he isn’t providing the backbone to prevent such mass killings. A doctor needs to provide a diagnosis and solutions. It’s not solely up to Obama, but our leaders are not addressing gun violence. We need better laws. We need to stop crime and bloodshed. When the 2nd amendment right was given, it didn’t include automatic machine guns. Can we look at the wider picture for a minute?

We are weeping and mourning for the loss of life. Isn’t all life, whether in Colorado or in Kabul precious? Can we call the Taliban terrorists, but not Americans when they spew bullets? We are hearing about the victims’ backgrounds-- stories are all over our front pages. How can our country honor the survivors and condemn the killer while we still praise military intervention, and glorify guns. But we in the USA are conducting raids and killing innocent people in Paskistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan- civilians leading ordinary lives.

Mourning the Dead

+Jessica,+ John, +Gordon, +Alex, +Rebecca, +Matt, +Jon, +Veronica, +AJ, +Micayla, +Jesse who fell to violence in Aurora.

+Nazar, +Farida, +Akhtar, + Mohamed, + Shatarina, +Zahra, +Esmatullah, +Nazia, +Palwasha, +Robeena,+Essa, +Faizullah who were killed by rogue violence in Kandahar.

This is a story of sorrow. But God is present. We may not understand why young people are shooting, or why in 2010 Boston tallied 72 murders on its streets. But we can intervene. This is where prayer and action intersect.

Maybe it's the magazines, maybe it's the internet

Maybe it's the lottery, maybe it's the immigrants

Maybe it's taxes, maybe big business

Maybe it's the KKK and the skinheads

Maybe it's the communists, maybe it's the Catholics

Maybe it's the hippies, maybe it's the addicts

Maybe it's the art, maybe it's the sex

Maybe it's the homeless, maybe it's the banks

Maybe it's the clear-cut, maybe it's the ozone

Maybe it's the chemicals, maybe it's the car phone

Maybe it's the fertilizer, maybe it's the nose ring

Maybe it's the end, but I know one thing

If it were up to me, I'd take away the guns

I'd take away the guns,    I'd take away the guns              by Cheryl Wheeler



Salt and Light- Quaker World Gathering

When I first read about the 6th World conference of Friends in Nakuru Kenya in April 2012, I was mostly excited. My heart palpitated. Then as I heard the theme a cloud descended: Being Salt and Light. Being Salt? What does that mean? Salt wrinkles the skin and all those potato chips causing stomach rolls. As a dyed in the wool Quaker I understand God, the metaphor of Light works for me.

I love Quaker expressions such as Inner Light, Children of the Light, Seed, magnifying, illuminating. But salt ? Sailors are ‘old salts’, and Massachusetts is known for Quaker shipmasters in the past. Paul Cuffe was a venerable Quaker Salt. Salt comes in the form of potato chips; nacho cheese; cholesterol. I wasn’t thrilled about it, so I returned to prayer.

I waited and studied before going to Kenya. At the foundation of our faith, salt was a symbol of the eternal nature of God’s covenant. “The Lord gave the kingdom of Israel to David (and his sons) forever, by a covenant of salt.” 2Chronicles 13:). Salt preserves a relationship just as it preserves food. With salt food tastes better, and salted meat won’t putrefy. For 1,000s of years, salt was wealth. salt was used as money: Soldiers and servants were paid in salt. I know salt, like light, has multiple uses and has been invaluable to humans. The tough part was Being Salt: if you lose your saltiness, what use are you? Matt. 5:13. After months I felt clear, expecting more Light out of the conference than Salt.

As it turned out jettisoning myself, and 70 pounds of luggage to Kenya, was hard work.

I dragged the weight around sweating through airports and buses. Sore muscles and sweat salted my arrival.  Nairobi is a western city with skyscrapers, Barclay’s bank, Cadbury chocolate, therefore despite my Kenyan hosts, I had to keep alert.  I was thirsty to know what Creator had in store for me. I hungered. Here I am Lord, use me. I didn’t just come to eat ugale (type of millet polenta) and goat meat. Some inner saltiness spurred me to Kenya, now what?

Before the world conference, I traveled around Kaimosi, Chwele and Lugari yearly meetings with beautiful days of brilliant sun and sudden downpours. I had a mission to encourage peacebuilding skills. I’ve been teaching peace through Friends Meetings for 20 years; I’ve worked stopping domestic violence. Kenyans have an amazing amount of groups working for peace. I witnessed their power despite family members dying from AIDS and parents walking miles for clean water.

In 1992, in 1997, and recently in 2007 there was much violence as factions vied for the presidential election. In 2008 about 1,500 people were killed, many raped, houses burned and 600,000 internally displaced persons.  How can Friends respond faithfully with another presidential election this year? Many Kenyans Quakers lost their farms (livelihoods) and some lost family members.

In 2009 a program Healing and Reconciliation in our Communities (HROC) was introduced in Kenya by Friends. I participated in a 3 day HROC workshop, altogether there were 20 of us, some Westerners, many Kenyans. Our guest facilitator was Theo Bizimana from Rwanda. The workshop is based on trauma healing so that the first day is building safety and trust. The second day we spoke the painful stories, and mourned.  In 2007 one woman watched her family including her husband killed by a group called the Land Defense Force near Mt. Elgon. They were about to kill her, but a phone call interrupted the killing and the murderers changed their course. Other stories ensued of hiding children in sheets, burning houses and stealing cows and land. I heard someone say, “I called to God day and night and only saw machetes in my dreams.”  It was heart-breaking.

The third day we looked at reconnecting and rebuilding our communities. We were asked to name a person that we trusted and why. We drew a tree of trust. What elements do we need to nourish the roots? People spoke of what steps they could take in the community of trust. One neighbor paid for a child’s school uniform. Someone had extra seeds, and shared them. Children from different tribes played football together.

As a witness to the healing, I stayed curious and encouraged as much as I could. It seemed that as the shameful stories were exposed, the light burned brighter. HROC is a quiet way for those who suffered to take their light out from under the bushel basket.

The world gathering was a wonderful blend of young and old; programmed and unprogrammed Friends. I learned a lot by the sharing from my home group where we had Brits, Kenyans, Americans, one Ugandan, and one Zimbabwean. We shared respectfully our hopes, our loneliness, concerns of gay marriage and Biblical prophecy. We were kind to each other, and sometimes peppery. I heard more stories of violence from each country: broken relationships, drinking excessively while children go without. We looked at the violence of human greed. Everyday Kenyans carry firewood from the forest, while we collectively confessed our dependence on fossil fuels. I vowed to honor Wangari Maathi’s vision of re-forestation.

I came home exhausted and exhilarated. The best part of any world conference is returning back to your own Meeting, where you are loved and known. Now I need to learn how to transplant Healing and Reconciliation in my own community. And I will plant that pear tree I’ve been dreaming of in my yard. The world gathering starts when you get off the airplane, not when you embark.

Thomas Owen Aotearoa Yearly Meeting spoke in a keynote at the world gather of Quakers attempts to “overcome our divisions and attain unity. The work of the United Nations, Friends’ international peace work, the intergovernmental panel on Climate Change, to name just  a few, are recent international examples of this (peace-building). The African Great Lakes Initiative’s AVP, HROC, and mediation work happening right now here in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi is another – which, to my mind, is some of the most important work Friends are doing right now. It is a privilege to be here to witness it.

Thank God for small salty acts.

Occupy Power :~) Dude!

Occupiers, like our sisters/brothers in the Arab Spring are determined to spring forward with democracy. The Occupy movement is making a difference. We have delayed the XL  pipeline and fracking (hydraulic fracturing). We are shaking down the US oligarchy, the US plutocracy which is no less than a plutarchy. (Don’t you love my newest vocab word?--plutarchy?)  The tectonic plates of the Middle East are changing. I am seeing a surprising Spring in the West.

I go into a General Assembly of OccupyBoston (OB) and see tall, short; curly and straight; pale and dark-eyed. Some, with a smile, are more polite to me, some are bluntly more honest with me. I like it. OB has a friendly grittiness.

I write about OB to focus our lens on 3 issues: decision-making, image, and tactics. As a Quaker wedded to equality, I’m the last to complain about OB’s commitment to consensus.  Occupiers and Quakers use 2 variations of consensus: both are sticklers for process. For instance if you overspeak in Quaker Meeting, the room becomes full of porcupines, with quills about to dart.

What form of decision-making is fair?  As Process Queens OccupyBoston spends a lot of time accepting every proposal (value of egalitarianism), putting 3-5 proposals on the ‘stack’ each general assembly (1st working groups and then individual proposals). Thirdly, Occupiers scrupulously deal with anyone who ‘blocks’ a proposal. Blocking can be mostly an attention-getter for those who disagree. But blocking a well-reasoned and well-seasoned proposal is a serious move.

Blocking isn’t baring your teeth or growling because you disagree.  You block because the proposal is damaging, like a bear trap that will hurt. Examples of blocking consensus is when a march excludes trans gender folks or a proposal asks for money already assigned for the May 1st strike. If I don’t want to participate or I am ambivalent about pouring blood on the floor of a bank, that’s not a reason to block. If 10% or more are on principle opposed, then the proposal is sent back. Then there are clarifying questions, small group discussions, objections, checking to see if there’s a 75% in favor, adding friendly amendments, going back to clarifying questions, and trying again for 75% approval.

At OB General Assemblies, we need to find a less time consuming way to communicate our ideas. Yes, work on decision making, and find ways during General Assembly to anchor our trust and common values.  Consider whether anonymous masked people with black robes at a public hearing on cutting transportation communicates the right message.  Of these values: creative, distrust, solidarity, dead-seriousness, freedom, child-friendly, I don’t think the Direct Action black disguise communicates what we want. The Guy Fawkes disguise at OB reminds me more of Darth Vader than Dan Berrigan.  Guy Fawkes was hung in Britain after trying to blow up the Parliament. Does he stand for revenge and retaliation?

I have another bone to pick with my sister Occupiers. What is this commitment to a diversity of tactics which overrules a commitment to no violence? Why don’t we have both? We can shut down military recruiter offices, start a love-fest in the JP Morgan lobby, and send Scott Brown a gallon of tar sands crude oil for his birthday. There are soooo many tactics. Of course we want diversity. Nonviolence is more of an approach that says, I will not harm another being. I will preserve the sacredness of all life. Is this confining? I think not.

The cliché, ‘God Bless America’ echoes of patriotism and supremacy. The Occupy movement shakes us off the altar of nationalism. I honestly fear that collective patriotism becomes fascism. We have changed the discussion away from butchering public transportation in the MBTA, we have stopped for a while nuclear energy and odious oil pipelines.  We

Mural of OB Vision

Occupiers live in an orchard with exotic seeds and nutty doctors. We are apples and pears; mangos and papayas. I am a nonviolent Quaker, and I want us all to grow. When I tell Dick Cheney or Whitey Bulger you can’t Occupy the orchard because you are evil, then I’m an OB snob. We welcome kiwis and watermelons. If the watermelon rolls over my strawberry, then OB has to restrain the watermelon.  Welcome melons, immigrants, circus acts and donkeys. And an absolute whistle-blowing to any violence committed.

Anarchy arises with the Occupy movement, and has been a vocal voice for centuries. Here’s a poem by Shelley written as a tribute to the British citizens after Manchester massacre. We are all dependent on ‘one mighty mother’ which is the movement, the homeland. Notice the poem names slavery as an echo of our own name. (stanza XL). Are we are slaves to a tyrant today? Isn’t the 21st century tyrant Bank of America, Read more

Occupy "Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Wall Street"

I love the idealism of this country. The Declaration of Independence is a creed as much as it is a manifesto. In 4th grade I studied the launching of this nation. We believe in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Americans proclaimed in its violent birthing pangs. US history converts children  into the American dream.  At 8 years old, I saluted the flag with wide starry eyes. My spine stood ramrod as straight as any Marine. My hair hung in pigtails. My mouth said the Pledge of Allegiance  "one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all," My young mind was thinking “freedom to do whatever I want to in order to be happy.” By 6th grade I refused to recite the Pledge, because I knew better.  The truth was more important than my country. I silently saluted the flag and spoke to my heart up my own promises. Is the American dream about aspirations or more about economic prosperity? What pledges can each of us make to each other?  Where in the American dream is being compassionate? Where is taking responsibility?

Pride in my nation depends on the dignity of the people.  I need this country to continue its pilgrimage in acting justly. I want us to talk openly about the 1st amendment. Does the Patriot Act passed in 2001 corrode our freedom of speech? Is creationism still taught in schools as an alternative to evolution and do school children debate freedom of religion? As a child growing up in US schools I wanted liberty to do whatever I want; but now I've grown up.  I need justice for all to feel national pride. I heard what fascism did in 1939, my freedom doesn’t mean I can take wantonly.

There needs to be fundamental change in tax structure. We can't have rich Americans hoarding obscene amounts of money. Corporations aren’t beings, they are money machines. We need decency towards immigrants and generosity to the poor. However charity is not structural change. Galtung, a peace researcher, calls structural nonviolence positive peace. Negative peace is the absence of war, positive peace builds the peace movement. We, the 99%, need to refrain from personal violence and find a reform that includes structural change. This change is not just protesting injustices. Does the protest movement voice discontent, it's one step toward peace.  Are the US Occupiers morally persuasive? Let’s each join in knowing that nonviolent democracy has many growing pains. Find a way to help the dispossessed. So as Eldridge Cleaver says, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Dear readers, you who are hungry, curious or piqued, keep reading for synopses on Occupation, Nobel Peace winners, and the wily fall weather.

I spend a night during the week at Occupy Boston.Read more

Practicing Peace part II

I’ve been a student of nonviolence since before I cut my 12-year molars. Rather I, and you, have learned about violence since 1st grade.  We get inculcated by violence when we state the Pledge of Allegiance and recite stories of pioneers conquering the American frontier. I learned George Washington and Patrick Henry were patriots, not terrorists. Think about it. Aren’t all wars, including the American Revolution terrorist acts? How do you take up a nonviolent stand in 2011 while living in the bloated gut of a military regime? This great education system never taught me to question the USA’s avarice.  

Have we been programmed to accept violence? Do we need to reboot the computer? We in the USA breathe in ideals like bravery… protection… defense.

I know that your bravery may be my fear;

Your protection may prescribe my poverty;

Your defense may interpret, for me, an attack.

I’ve been practicing nonviolence in fits and starts since at least as long as I’ve heard about Jesus. My Quaker faith community has been my coach, team and referee in the game of life. In public school and in the living room and sports field I ‘ve dabbled in nonviolent skills. I bet you have too.

I’m not a NV saint. Don’t ask what authority I have to teach love and charity.  In fact in my lifetime I’ve stolen, I’ve lied, I’ve cheated and I’ve done drugs. I’m not proud of it. Despite a life of privilege, I’ve had some hard times, sleeping on park benches and hitchhiking across the country. In an earlier post I por trayed AVP, a unique program where inmates focus on Stopping Violence. I can hear my Dad tease me, It Takes one to Know One. But, seriously. Can each of us build a reservoir of stories? The following is a story of violence prevented--


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