Thursday 31 December 2009

On the Cusp of a New Year: Striking At the Roots of Fear and Engendering Hope for a "Change!"

It's New Years Eve in Australia as I compose this, and it's finally, the start of a new decade. Thank God the last one is over!

Let's all celebrate that fact - because it was during those "noughties" (a play on the meanings of two words, one connoting the sum total effect of zero, and the other being "naughty") that the whole world developed a very bad case of "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!" That doesn't go away quickly and requires some effective long-term treatment.

So I've come up with one main resolution for the next decade: to either create something new - or join something I discover is already quite effective but which captures my passion - to help ratchet down the fear factor and bring on real hope in people's lives and in my world!

It's also your world. Thus, such a project necessarily has both personal and collective dimensions, and will require careful assessment of the time, energy and commitment available.

Meanwhile, I'm calling upon my friends and family members reading this to share and celebrate some of the energizing, positive stories and models that you know are already working to make a difference in people's lives and to counteract the problem of paralyzing fear - a huge issue in our times. It's a challenge the rest of this column lays out...

[Speaking of case you prefer not to take the time, just yet, to read this whole reflection with some examples I included to stimulate more conversation and engagment with this challenge, then for goodness sake at least scroll to the bottom to find the link and enjoy a CELEBRATION CARD I put together this past weekend for my family and friends!]

Fear of "the enemy" is such a pervasive and persistent problem, especially in America now. We all understand the tremendous power of "the news" and how it gets packaged to shape reality. For the masses who rely solely on what the "mainstream" news and television have to offer (and much of America's gets rebroadcast here in Australia or is readily available via online sources) then for them this past decade ended pretty much the way it started: focused on fear, more travel restrictions, ramping up a surge in Afghanistan under the pretext of trying to protect America from whatever the terrorists are up to next, etc.

IMHO, a long-term strategy for turning America's enemies into friends is sorely needed - now more than ever - which I think was part of why America elected Obama, to begin doing that. But how can the foundations for such an endeavor get built given the current political climate of pervasive fear?

As 2009 wound down, America's "fear factor" blew wide open again with calls for a "knee-jerk" response to an Al Qaeda supporter's failed attempt to set off an explosive sewed into his underwear on an international flight with 300 people on board preparing to land in Detroit on Christmas Day. While not minimizing the threat Al Qaeda represents, careful reflection about what has motivated its rise and attracted its adherents, and how to best respond from here on forward in ways that defuse rather than exacerbate that movement's influence is certainly much in order.

Steve Benen from the Washington Monthly attempted to reflect and articulate the Obama administration's calculated response, thus far, in dealing with "terror attacks" from a political and strategic perspective. Benen and others are hoping Americans will be able to see through the current condemnations of the White House by "the opposition", and will recognized them for what they are: petty and politically motivated, or worse!

But, I ask, how can such threats to the world's collective security and well-being be reduced with the type of political-military strategy and "diplomacy" that Americans at least have come to depend on but which are, unfortunately, strongly rooted in the fallacious "myth of redemptive violence." It's like trying to fit the square peg of Just War Theory into the round hole of current "reality." (sigh) Not something that even President Obama applied very well during his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, somewhat tarnishing expectations around the world.

Personally, I've largely given up hope for depending much on military or even on political solutions nowadays. I think we're all seeing now how this has to come from "Somewhere Else." Isn't it obvious that many of the big problems in our world are exacerbated by leaders' resorting to failed strategies and inept responses to people's strong feelings of fear and vulnerability - and sometimes downright selfishness (which, in my view, includes the twin issues of national self-interest and self-protection.)

I am convinced that people of faith (and not only the Christian faith) have powerful and amazing resources for dealing with these problems and finding creative alternative responses that can really change things at the personal, and ultimately, at the global level. I think there are good models all around us. We simply need to share them. Young people especially need to hear about these stories and see them in action to engender hope and motivation for their own lives and future.

I proposed on New Years Eve to this
e-group forum I'm part of - which happens to be connected to my own "branch" of faith - that one of the best ways to use our time is to start telling stories again, the ordinary and the extra-ordinary. To start lifting up some of those models and stories of people and their passions; movements in our own local communities and in the world we think are making a difference. We can be very good at that - and utilizing the internet creates a world-wide forum.

That's what usually "gets me going" - what inspires me to also get off my duff and "do something" - or to make a fresh committment to a cause or project that hooks into my passion. It motivates because it can literally create a positive change in my perspective.

From my observation, taking the time to care about what is stretching or challenging a person I know, even in some far-flung corner of the world, and rallying support because of that personal connection - or - taking the risk to share a significant personal story...all that sort of thing has served well to enliven communications and deepen relationships I have within almost every group I've been part of on a sustained basis - including e-groups! I'm simply calling on us to expand the principle across the board.

For example, the extra-ordinary story of what Greg Mortenson has been doing continues to inspire me. You can find it in various places, but
here is one good place to start if you haven't heard of him.

My friend (ORU and AMBS - Mennonite Seminary graduate) Titus Oyeyemi's longsuffering efforts to stem the roots of pervasive violence in Nigeria by instilling peace-making skills into the training of children and youth - and indeed, throughout all levels of the education system in various states throughout that country - were recently highlighted here in an article written by another good friend, Dan Shenk. Titus and his staff are successful not because of widespread financial support (which is severely lacking) but because of his Christian commitment, and because he involves community leaders from both Islamic and Christian traditions, working together at the grass roots level.

A more "ordinary" yet effective story - like this one Paul Shrock lifted up recently - inspires me to ask (since most of "my people", the Mennonites, are NOT farmers anymore) where are we now "making contributions better than if they were using a gun" - to quote Abraham Lincoln!

So, I challenge us all to join me in a bit of reflection at the genesis of this new year:

--Who are the story-makers, the extra-ordinary as well as "the ordinary" people, who have impacted your "world" or who have built a stronger sense of trust and community, or been effective in defusing "the fear factor" in your life?

--Where do you see people taking on or creating opportunities to make a real difference, doing things that have inspired you and could potentially challenge the rest of us as a fresh new year - indeed, a new decade - now presents itself?

(If you came here via a link you saw in an e-group that we happen to both be part of, then in response I encourage you to go back there and tell your story, or at least someone else's story that you have observed! Or make a comment below.)

To end this on a high note of celebration and challenge... click on this to see a New Year's "card" I made for my friends and family. (And if you came here without reading the whole column, I do hope you'll first "bookmark" this column and come back to it later, because it relates to the significant message you'll see at the very end of the card - a powerful quote from Howard Thurman which I adapted.)

Holding out good thoughts, and wishing my friends and family all the very best for 2010...

-Clair in Canberra

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